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Time to Investigate European Agents for Crimes against Migrants in Libya

Published on March 29, 2018        Author: , and
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In March 2011, the ICC Office of the Prosecutor of the international criminal court opened its investigation into the situation in Libya, following a referral by the UN Security Council. The investigation concerns crimes against humanity in Libya starting 15 February 2011, including the crimes against humanity of murder and persecution, allegedly committed by Libyan agents. As the ICC Prosecutor explained to the UN Security Council in her statement of 8 May 2017, the investigation also concerns “serious and widespread crimes against migrants attempting to transit through Libya.” Fatou Bensouda labels Libya as a “marketplace for the trafficking of human beings.” As she says, “thousands of vulnerable migrants, including women and children, are being held in detention centres across Libya in often inhumane condition.” The findings are corroborated by the UN Support Mission in Libya (UNMSIL) and the Panel of Experts established pursuant to Resolution 1973 (2011). Both report on the atrocities to which migrants are subjected, not only by armed militias, smugglers and traffickers, but also by the new Libyan Coast Guard and the Department for Combatting Illegal Migration of the UN-backed Al Sarraj’s Government of National Accord – established with EU and Italian support.

These acts are not usually regarded as the bread and butter of international criminal law. Yet, for influential observers, they have seemed to reinstitute a modern form of slavery and to conjure images of mass arbitrary killings reminiscent of atrocity. For example, in a statement from November 22, 2017, French President Emmanuel Macron invoked slavery, explaining that trafficking in Libya has become a crime against humanity. For its part, the International Organisation for Migration, via its Missing Migrant project, has documented 46,000 cases of dead or missing worldwide since 2000.

During the whole time, however, various observers have pointed to the complicity of European countries with the relevant acts. Since 2011, Forensic Oceanography has been doing important investigative work in which the ethically fraught European involvement in preventing migration from Libya has been unfolded. Amnesty International has exposed a dark web of collusion, whereby EU states and Italy in particular have used Libyan militia to ensure migrants do not make it across the Mediterranean. Last December, John Dalhuisen, Amnesty International’s Europe Director, denounced European governments for:

“not just be[ing] fully aware of these abuses; by actively supporting the Libyan authorities in stopping sea crossings and containing people in Libya, they are complicit in these abuses.”

In perhaps the most recent evidence of such complicity, Italian authorities have seized the Spanish NGO rescue boat Open Arms and initiated a criminal investigation against members of its crew. The Open Arms, in response to a call from MRCC Rome of March 15, 2018, had rescued 218 people on the high seas and subsequently refused to deliver them to the (so-called) Libyan Coast Guard. After a row lasting several hours and including death threats, the vessel headed north for a medical evacuation in Malta, before requesting permission to disembark in Sicily. Despite Italy’s authorization, the captain and mission coordinator have been charged on counts of “criminal association” and “facilitation of irregular migration”. Italy claims they were obliged to hand over the survivors to Libya under its NGO Code of Conduct, disregarding that that would have amounted to refoulement. Italy thus flouted the requirement of delivery to a “place of safety” under the maritime conventions. It has become overwhelmingly clear that Libyan rescue operations in the Mediterranean are tantamount, as Charles Heller put it, to a plan of “rescue at gunpoint.”

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Itamar Mann Concludes the Discussion on “Humanity at Sea”

Published on August 7, 2017        Author: 
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This symposium brought together four of my favorite scholars to engage with Humanity at Sea, and I couldn’t be more thankful. I learned a great deal from each of the reviews and entirely agree with Jaya Ramji-Nogales when she writes, in an understatement, that they leave me with “ongoing questions to address.” I will only begin to lift the burden here.

The Place of Human Rights  

If human rights are to be conceptualized around a dyadic encounter, asks Chantal Thomas, must this encounter be a physical one? “Perhaps the horrific reports of Mediterranean crossings on television or in other media might stage a form of virtual encounter […] that serves as the catalyst for generating human rights.” In the book, I try to provide a starting point for approaching such questions.

Chapter 5 examines the use of surveillance systems and other technologies both by states engaged in “migration management”– and by migrants, refugees, and smugglers. Using such technologies, relevant actors re-construct and manipulate the physical encounter at sea (which is discussed in previous chapters). They are thus able to partake in the transformation of human rights jurisdiction. Since I completed the book, the use of these technologies has developed quickly and there are many more examples to discuss: Read the rest of this entry…

 

Book Discussion: Itamar Mann Introduces “Humanity at Sea”

Published on August 2, 2017        Author: 
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Legal and political discussion around maritime migration began long before the current crisis. In 1976, a speaker at the American Society of International Law annual meeting warned his listeners of a surge of migrants that will land on beaches in the early 21st century: “The little old ladies in tennis shoes will bring them tea and toast – at first [But] What will the Australians do when the number reaches one million or two or three?”

When I started to ponder Humanity at Sea about a decade ago, migrants at the maritime crossings between the “developed” and the “developing” worlds had already generated significant interest among commentators.  But these earlier conversations did not prepare for the events of the so-called refugee crisis, and the media’s near-obsession with the subject. The images we all saw starting from August 2015 chillingly rendered real what I initially thought of as a metaphor — bare and extreme – for the most basic dilemma about human rights: where do human rights come from?

In the book, I argue that human rights obligations cannot emanate from consent to human rights treaties, as voluntarist and positivist accounts of human rights would argue. Read the rest of this entry…

 
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Killing by Omission

Published on April 20, 2016        Author: 
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On Monday, the Forensic Architecture team at Goldsmith College, London, published Death by Rescue. The report exposes a rather complex set of facts, but the basic argument is as simple as it is alarming.

Operation Triton, facilitated by Europe’s border security agency, Frontex, began on 1 November 2014 and is mandated to enforce Italy’s maritime border. Triton replaced an earlier and much wider Italian Navy operation, Mare Nostrum, which began in October 2013 and was mandated to save migrant lives beyond Italy’s territorial waters. When EU officials decided on the more limited scope of Triton, they knew their decision would result in the drowning of numerous migrants. As one Frontex official wryly noted, “the withdrawal of naval assets from the area, if not properly planned and announced well in advance, would likely result in a higher number of fatalities.” But the European Commission turned a blind eye – leading to a spike in migrant deaths, which the authors, Charles Heller and Lorenzo Pezzani meticulously document.

From a legal perspective, this set of circumstances raises the question whether the migrants’ rights were violated, and if so, whether EU actors can be held legally accountable. In my view, the report exposes no illegal activity by European agents, either at the operational or at the policymaking level. Perhaps more troubling, the report raises the specter of unaccountable violence ingrained in the very structure of international law. If international law is somehow to blame for circumstances that made these utterly preventable deaths possible, then perhaps it is law itself that should be indicted.

Law of the Land, Law of the Sea

To explain what I mean by that, several rather theoretical remarks are required.

In common law countries, one of the first things law students learn is that law imposes no duties of rescue upon individuals qua individuals.  The classical jurisprudence on this includes comically macabre examples. A characteristic hypothetical describes a bystander witnessing a drowning baby. Law professors often use the initially astonishing absence of a duty of rescue to illustrate a basic tenet of legal positivism: the distinction between legal and moral prescription (or “the separation thesis”). Students are expected to adopt this distinction as a second nature. Rescuing the drowning stranger, they are comforted, is morally required. Of course, there are important exceptions to the general absence of a duty of recue. The basic point nevertheless stands: law does not impose a duty of rescue. Law does not always follow moral prescription. Read the rest of this entry…