Open letter asking the International Maritime Organization (IMO) to deregister the Libyan SAR zone

In Arab Countries, International Advocacy Program by CIHRS

On Monday, June 20, 2020, the civil liberties organisation Statewatch delivered an open letter with hundreds of signatories, among them the Cairo Center for Human Rights Studies. Addressed to Mr Kitack Lim, Secretary-General of International Maritime Organization (IMO), the letter called on him to revoke the Libyan maritime search and rescue (SAR) zone in order to prevent the so-called Libyan Coast Guard from undertaking ‘pull-backs’ of migrants to Libya, where they face violence, abuse and mistreatment.

Statewatch c/o MDR
88 Fleet Street
London EC4Y 1DH
[email protected]
Secretary General Kitack Lim
International Maritime Organization
4 Albert Embankment,
London SE1 7SR

29 June 2020

Open letter asking the International Maritime Organization (IMO) to deregister the Libyan SAR zone

Dear Secretary General Kitack Lim,

After Libya and Malta signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) on 28 May 2020 to provide a bilateral legal basis for unlawful practices, it is urgent for the IMO, as the UN maritime authority, to remove the Libyan SAR zone from official records. Italy also renewed its MoU with Libya in February 2020, despite acknowledging that it was problematic from a human rights perspective. This appeal builds on a submission to the IMO from Italian parties on 31 March 2020 for which the signatories are still awaiting a reply.[1] The complaint raises relevant and contentious points about the underlying irregularityof the Libyan declaration of a SAR zone in December 2017. It highlights the effects that this has had regarding unethical state practices in the Mediterranean Sea. Such practices amount to human rights violations, if not state crimes,  which undermine the law of the sea as a universal insurance mechanism for people who are at sea and seafarers in general, as well as result in refoulements to Libya that are illegal under international law. Policies against so-called irregular migration are being used to dismantle international legal instruments and conventions in pursuit of strategic policy goals (nobody must enter the EU irregularly). This involves using pseudo-legal measures like MoUs to undermine normative frameworks enshrined in hierarchically prevalent national constitutions, international law and human rights conventions.

In concrete terms, apart from the issues raised in the March submission, this request to strike off the Libyan SAR zone from international records relies on the following elements:

1) Libya is unsafe and does not offer any safe ports in which to disembark migrants, considering the civil war that is underway and well-documented abuses and violence to which migrant detainees are subjected. This should rule out the possibility of it being assigned a SAR zone.

2) The Libyan Coast Guard is notoriously inadequate for the tasks assigned to it, in material and ethical terms. The Libyan MRCC often fails to answer or respond to distress calls; it is coordinated by Italian, Maltese (as has recently emerged) and EU assets; its membership includes people who have been identified as, or have links with, traffickers; ill-treatment of migrants during SAR operations and after “pull-backs” have been reported.

3) Even when the Libyan Coast Guard enacts successful rescue operations, they amount to catching fugitives from detention and mistreatment centres, and rescued people are returned to places in which they experience torture and inhuman and degrading treatment. National and international courts have repeatedly certified this, and the ICC is conducting an investigation for crimes against humanity regarding the treatment of migrants in Libya. As part of the United Nations system, the IMO can consult statements by UNHCR, UN special rapporteurs on human rights and on migrants’ rights, IOM and the Council of Europe’s Commissioner for Human Rights on these points.They consistently argue that migrants must not disembark in Libya.

4) The IMO declaratory procedure allows states to claim a SAR zone unless other state parties object.This system has been used opportunistically to create a fictional account that allows several states, and the EU, to relinquish their duties under the law of the sea, international, refugee and human rights law. This undermines fundamental principles like the right to life and states’ duty to assist rescues (rather than delaying and obstructing them using any available pretext), thereby jeopardising maritime safety. Captains risk suffering negative effects from acting as is prescribed by the law of the sea. They also run the risk of being ordered by MRCCs to deliver people to places where they are likely to be abused. Although they should technically disobey, they face detrimental consequences for doing so.

5) The Libyan SAR zone is being used to justify the criminalisation of NGOs that have taken on a SAR role after the EU relinquished this function and pressured member states that were conducting it to stop, because of migration policy considerations. Beyond legal and ethical issues concerning the regularity of the SAR zone in question, its use to assert a systematic misreading of the law of the sea to benefit EU states and policies entails serial irregularities that should concern the IMO. In concrete terms, SAR zones are not meant to be exclusive, but Italy and Malta are using Libyan authority as a pretext to omit or delay rescues of vessels in distress beyond their own territorial waters, sometimes resulting in deaths. Coast guard authorities from Italy to Malta (and Greece in the Aegean) are often failing to intervene or, notably in recent weeks in Malta and Greece, they have intimidated people and/or sabotaged vessels carrying migrants, also enacting pushbacks from their territorial waters towards Libya and Turkey. The people attempting irregular border crossings may often be refugees, but they must be prevented from accessing relevant procedures, from national and EU institutional viewpoints. The nationality of rescue crews should be irrelevant to the duty to ensure the swift completion of rescue operations. However, nationality is being used as a pretext to keep people who are rescued and the crews saving them at sea for long periods, as a form of punishment and to waste the funds collected by civil society to counteract wilful shortcomings in states’ SAR provision. Ships are being confiscated on spurious grounds because they may save people from drowning, and private ships are being hired to enact refoulements by proxy. The Covid-19 crisis appears to have emboldened state parties, which are now using ships as sites to keep people in quarantine at sea. States are not supposed to instrumentally work to make sea crossings more deadly in order to achieve their strategic migration policy objectives.

For the above reasons, and because we believe that the IMO does not appreciate states using its procedures instrumentally to undermine the law of the sea, maritime safety, human rights and international law, the undersigned ask that formal recognition of the Libyan SAR zone be revoked. This would be an important step towards fulfilling the IMO’s function to uphold the SOLAS, SAR and UNCLOS conventions, because the EU and its states appear to consciously and insistently work to dismantle the law of the sea in pursuit of their migration policy goals. In the central Mediterranean, it appears obvious that the IMO’s recognition of the Libyan SAR zone is used instrumentally for this end. We are aware that IMO does not wish to be pulled into political disputes but feel that this issue falls squarely within its remit as the guardian of the law of the sea at a global level, which is endangered by policies against human mobility.

Yours sincerely,

The undersigned

Groups, associations and networks

  1. Statewatch
  2. OsservatorioSolidarietàdella Carta di Milano
  3. Pressenza international press agency
  4. ComitatoVerità e Giustizia per iNuoviDesaparecidos del Mediterraneo
  5. ReteAntirazzistaCatanese
  6. AssociazioneStudiGiuridicisull’Immigrazione (ASGI)
  7. Fondazione E’ stato il vento-Per Riace
  8. borderlinesicilia
  9. LasciateciEntrare
  10. Dossier Libia
  11. Forum per Cambiarel’OrdinedelleCose
  12. AssociazioneLaudatoSì
  13. A BuonDirittoonlus
  14. Borderline-europe
  15. Carovanemigranti
  16. ADIF – AssociazioneDiritti e Frontiere
  17. CADI – ComitatoAntirazzista Durban Italia
  18. CIAC – Centro ImmigrazioneAsilo e Cooperazione
  19. Transbalkanskasolidarnost – Transbalkan Solidarity
  20. Open Arms
  21. Open Arms Italia
  22. Sea-Watch e.V.
  23. Kopin, Malta
  24. Migreurop
  25. Gisti (Groupe d’information et de soutien des immigrés), France
  26. Welcome! Initiative, Croatia
  27. Border Crossing Spielfeld, Austria
  28. Spark15, Malta
  29. aditus foundation, Malta
  30. SOS Malta
  31. ERIM, European Irregularized Migration Regime research group, (Croatia – Serbia –
  32. Slovenia)
  33. African Media Association Malta
  34. Institute of Race Relations (IRR)
  35. Are You Syrious?
  36. Push-Back Map collective
  37. VluchtelingenwerkVlaanderen
  38. Integra Foundation (NGO) Malta
  39. iuventa 10
  40. CISS/CooperazioneInternazionale Sud Sud, Palermo, Italy
  41. Forum Antirazzista Palermo, Palermo, Italy
  42. EMERGENCY ONG ONLUS
  43. Mediterranea Saving Humans
  44. Saving Humans USA
  45. PRO ASYL
  46. MovimentoCaschi Bianchi
  47. Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies (CIHRS)
  48. Belaady Organization for Human Rights (Libya)
  49. Youth Gathering for Tawergha (Libya)
  50. Independent Organisation for Human Rights (Libya)
  51. Aman Organization Against Discrimination (Libya)
  52. Libyan Crimes Watch
  53. Libyan Organization for Legal Aid
  54. Progetto Melting Pot Europa
  55. Casa Memoria Giuseppe e Felicia Impastato
  56. Alarm Phone
  57. Associazione SOS DirittiVenezia
  58. All Included Amsterdam
  59. Kritnet (NetzwerkKritische Migrations- und Grenzregimeforschung)
  60. Forum Tunisien pour les droits Économiques et Sociaux (FTDES)
  61. Solidarité sans Frontiêres (Berne/Switzerland)
  62. Rete InDifesa Di
  63. CILIP, Institut fur Bürgerrechte&öffentlicheSicherheite.V.
  64. Rima, Malta
  65. Welcome to Europe network
  66. FOCSIV – FederazionidegliOrganismiCristianiServizioInternazionaleVolontario
  67. GiuristiDemocratici
  68. Un Ponte Per
  69. Associazione “Basta torture allefrontiere”
  70. Individuals
  71. MalinBjörk, MEP (GUE/NGL), Sweden
  72. Clare Daly MEP (GUE/NGL), Ireland
  73. Mick Wallace MEP (GUE/NGL), Ireland
  74. Miguel Urbán Crespo MEP (GUE/NGL), Spain
  75. Kostas Arvanitis, MEP (GUE/NGL), Greece
  76. PernandoBarrena MEP (GUE/NGL), Spain
  77. DietmarKöster MEP (S&D), Germany
  78. Cornelia Ernst MEP (GUE/NGL), Germany
  79. Domènec Ruiz Devesa MEP (S&D), Spain
  80. TinekeStrik MEP, Groenlinks (Greens/EFA), Netherlands
  81. Pietro Bartolo MEP (S&D), Italy
  82. PierfrancescoMajorino MEP (S&D), Italy
  83. Dr. Milan Brglez MEP (S&D), Slovenia
  84. Ann Singleton, Senior Research Fellow, University of Bristol, Co-Chair Statewatch Trustees
  85. Giovanna Procacci, president OsservatorioSolidarietà
  86. Daniela DeBono, Senior Lecturer, University of Malta; Assoc. Prof., Malmö University (on
  87. leave)
  88. Prof. Bridget Anderson, Director of Migrations Mobility Bristol (MMB)
  89. Paola Regina, international lawyer
  90. Dr. Victoria Canning, Senior Lecturer in Criminology, University of Bristol
  91. Flore Murard-Yovanovitch, author, journalist
  92. Tony Bunyan, Director of Statewatch
  93. Guido Viale, sociologist
  94. Dr. YashaMaccanico, Statewatch, University of Bristol School for Policy Studies, MMB
  95. Dr. Madge Dresser, Honorary Professor, Department of Historical Studies, University of
  96. Bristol
  97. Anna Polo, editor of Pressenza Italia
  98. Stefano Pasta, Post-Doctoral Researcher, Catholic University of Milan
  99. Mariana Gkliati, University of Leiden, Law
  100. Frances Webber, retired immigration lawyer, author, Institute of Race Relations
  101. Daniela Padoan, author, president AssociazioneLaudato Si’
  102. Filippo Furri, Researcher of Anthropology, member of Migreurop
  103. Diego Acosta Arcarazo, Professor in European and Migration Law, University of Bristol
  104. Emilio de Capitani, former secretary of the LIBE Committee (EP), executive director FREE
  105. group
  106. Prof. Salvatore Palidda, Università di Genova
  107. Marcello Maneri, Università Bicocca – Milano
  108. Alessandra Mecozzi, Rete – In Difesa Di
  109. Angelo Baracca, Professore a riposo, Università di Firenze
  110. Laura Marcheselli, Firenze
  111. Alistair Drummond Petrie, musician, Castel Volturno
  112. Emilio Drudi, journalist, ComitatoNuoviDesaparecidos
  113. Arturo Salerni, lawyer, President of ComitatoNuoviDesaparecidos
  114. Stefano Greco, lawyer
  115. Marco Antonio Pirrone, Assistant Professor, Sociology, Università di Palermo
  116. AsjaKorbar, translator, activist, Croatia
  117. Veronica Rasoli, lawyer, expert in penal law
  118. Manfred Bergmann, CADI, ComitatoAntirazzista Durban Italia
  119. Chiara Marchetti, Universities of Milano and Parma
  120. Luca Ciabarri, Università di Milano
  121. Barbara Pinelli, Università di Roma Tre
  122. Jean-Pierre Cassarino, Collegio d’Europa
  123. Elena Fontanari, Università di Milano
  124. Emanuela Dal Zotto, Università di Pavia
  125. Martina Tazzioli, Goldsmiths University of London
  126. Jean-Paul De Lucca, Senior Lecturer in Political and Legal Philosophy, University of Malta
  127. Eline Wærp, University of Malmö
  128. Dr Giacomo Orsini, Université Catholique de Louvain
  129. Barbara Sorgoni, Università di Torino
  130. Sofia Venturoli, Università di Torino
  131. Dr. AntonijaPetričušić, University of Zagreb, Law, Croatia
  132. MarijanaHameršak, Senior Research Associate, Institute of Ethnology and Folklore
  133. Research, Zagreb
  134. Isabelle Johansson, Lund University, Kristianstad University
  135. Luigi Achilli, European University Institute, Italy
  136. Paola Sacchi, Università di Torino
  137. Céline Cantat, Research Fellow, Sciences Po, Paris
  138. Chris Jones, Project Director, Statewatch
  139. Sara Pozzi, Phd Candidate, University of Manchester
  140. Filippo Miraglia, ARCI, Italy
  141. Amandine Bach, Policy Adviser, GUE/NGL group in the European Parliament
  142. Barbara Spinelli, journalist, former MEP, Italy
  143. Alessandra Ballerini, lawyer and human rights defender, Genova
  144. MarikaSurace, lawyer, foro di Milano, human rights defender
  145. Dr Ahmed ZanyaBugre, Foundation for Shelter and Support to Migrants, Malta
  146. Dr Colin Calleja, Office of the Dean, Faculty of Education, University of Malta
  147. Dr Angele Deguara, Junior College, University of Malta
  148. Dr Lidia Demontis, Maritime Logistics, Malta
  149. Erica Schembri, EFL/ESP teacher, MovimentGraffitti member, Malta
  150. Dr Lena Karamanidou, Research Fellow, Glasgow Caledonian University
  151. Stefano Galieni, President ADIF (AssociazioneDiritti e Frontiere)
  152. Maurizio Acerbo, National Secretary PRC-S.E.
  153. Paul Galea, teacher, secretary Spark 15
  154. BeritAasen, senior researcher, OsloMet University, Oslo, Norway
  155. Marie Louise Seeberg, Research professor, Oslo Metropolitan University
  156. Natalia Padrón, Vice President of African Media Association Malta
  157. Nello Scavo, journalist, Avvenire
  158. Carola Rackete, Master Mariner
  159. Leila Giannetto, researcher, FIERI, Torino
  160. Marta Esperti, PhD Candidate at Université Sorbonne Paris Nord, Lecturer at Université de
  161. Lille
  162. Lorenzo Vianelli, Université du Luxembourg
  163. Silvia Di Meo, PhD candidate Università di Genova
  164. Luca Masera, professor of Penal Law, UniversitàdegliStudi di Brescia
  165. Daniel Gyollai, Glasgow CaledonianUniversity
  166. Professor Elspeth Guild, Queen Mary University of London
  167. DilekGürsel, GIZ, Sciences Po, Germa
  168. Ester Russo – Sicilia
  169. SonerBarthoma, Uppsala University, Sweden
  170. Maria Pisani, University of Malta
  171. Lorenzo Pezzani, Goldsmiths, University of London
  172. Anna Zinnanti, Sicilia
  173. EleonoreKofman, Professor, Middlesex University London
  174. Emanuela Roman, Researcher, FIERI, Torino, Italy
  175. Pasqua de Candia, CISS ONG, Palermo Italy
  176. Dr John R Campbell, School of Oriental & African Studies, London
  177. DrAgnieszkaKubal, Lecturer, University College London, United Kingdom
  178. Dr Annalisa Meloni, University of East London
  179. Dr Liam Thornton, University College Dublin
  180. MasoNotarianni, president Arci Milano, Italy
  181. FaustaFerruzza, Palermo, Italy
  182. Elena Consiglio, University of Palermo, Italy
  183. DrMariagiuliaGiuffré, Edge Hill University, UK
  184. Olga Kravets, documentary photographer and filmmaker
  185. Muhammad al-Kashef – Consultant researcher and advocate
  186. Alan Desmond, Leicester Law School
  187. Maria Valeria Ferruzza, Napoli, Italy
  188. Daniele Biella, journalist, teacher in the project ‘Con AltriOcchi’
  189. Emilia Ferruzza – Padova – Italy
  190. Dott. Francesco M.G. Ferruzza- Palermo – Italy
  191. Niels W. Frenzen, Clinical Professor of Law, University of Southern California, Los Angeles
  192. USA
  193. ThekliAnastasiou, University of Sheffield
  194. Omer Shatz, international lawyer, Lecturer in International Law, Sciences Po, Paris
  195. Juan Branco, international lawyer
  196. Emilie McDonnell, DPhil in Law candidate, University of Oxford
  197. DilettaAgresta, ASGI, Sciabaca&Oruka
  198. SílviaMorgades-Gil, Lecturer in International Law, UPF, Barcelona.
  199. Dr Maurice Stierl, University of Warwick, UK
  200. Dr Chiara Denaro, University of Trento, Italy
  201. Dr. Gerda Heck, Assistant Professor, American University in Cairo, Egypt
  202. Sebastian Benedikt, PhD Candidate University of Göttingen, Germany
  203. Paolo Cuttitta, IDPS, Université Sorbonne Paris Nord
  204. Dr. Thomas Müller, Aachen, Germany
  205. Sophie Hinger, UniversitätOsnabrück, Germany
  206. Suzie Crowter, University of Bristol
  207. Samir Sweida-Metwally, Doctoral Researcher, University of Bristol
  208. KarwanShareef, PhD candidate, School of Law, University of Bristol
  209. Dr Anastasia Tataryn, University of Waterloo Canada
  210. Professor HarizHalilovich, ARC Future Fellow, Social and Global Studies Centre, Global,
  211. Urban and Social Studies, RMIT University, Melbourne
  212. Julia O’Connell Davidson, Professor in Marvic Social Research, University of Bristol
  213. Monique Agius, Malta
  214. Dr. Jana Häberlein, Basel
  215. Daniel Bendix, Professor of Global Development, Friedensau Adventist University, Germany
  216. Mark Micallef, Malta
  217. Sonia Camilleri. Malta
  218. Ritianne Ellul, Malta
  219. Monica Ardemagni,
  220. Franca Rovigatti, Roma
  221. Maria Margherita Gaetani di Laurenzana
  222. Michael Grech
  223. DavideCarnemolla, Welcome to Europe network, Italy
  224. Francesca Cerocchi, Roma
  225. Dr Colin Calleja, Dean, Faculty of Education University of Malta. Department of Inclusion
  226. and Access to Learning, Faculty of Education University of Malta
  227. Bernard Cauchi, St Albert College, Valletta
  228. Ruth Cauchi, Malta
  229. MarvicFrancalanza, UWC Malta Alumni Association
  230. CharlotCassar, Malta
  231. Dr. Michael Siassi, Hamburg, Germany
  232. Sig.ra Daniela Del Fedele, Morbegno (So), Italia
  233. Giulia Tranchina, Lawyer, Wilson Solicitors LLP, London
  234. MarlèneMicheloni, Sociologist, Roma
  235. Marina Ottonello, Genova Italia
  236. Francois Zammit, Malta
  237. Dr. StefaniaPlacenti, University of Bristol
  238. Dawn Adrienne Saliba, Ph.D., University of Malta
  239. Anna Zammit, Sociology lecturer – Junior College University of Malta.
  240. Prof. Ray Fabri, University of Malta
  241. Marc Tilley, Malta
  242. Michael Deguara, University of Malta
  243. Letizia Palumbo, European University Institute and University of Palermo, Italy.
  244. Daniele Fiorenza, scrittore, Reggio Calabria
  245. Lorella Beretta, journalist, Milano
  246. MaaritSnellman, Teacher, Finland
  247. JuhaAirola, Helsinki, Finland
  248. Vanessa Sturn, Austria
  249. Felix Maiwald, Germany
  250. Dr. ir. Brian R. Pauw, Scientist, Berlin, Germany
  251. Nicola Damiano, Bari, Italy
  252. Elena Chiorino, Turin, Italy
  253. Loan Torondel, aid worker, France
  254. Papa Moussa Ba, London
  255. Manuela Garufi, Milan
  256. Enrico Tranchina, Milan
  257. Alessandro Luparello, Palermo, Engineer
  258. Federico Lera, S. Stefano di Magra (SP), Lawyer
  259. Franca Ruolo, Firenze
  260. Maria Luisa Coppo, Torino, Teacher
  261. Luciana Negro, Lipari (ME)
  262. Paola Spinelli, Trieste, Journalist
  263. Anna Maria Osnaghi, Milano
  264. Francesco Moria, Monza, Student
  265. Alessandra Desiderio, Chieti
  266. Maria Vaccaro, Palermo, Teacher
  267. Anna Cariani, Pisa, Journalist
  268. Patrizio Colagiovanni, Frosinone, Factory Worker
  269. Dora Farina, Altamura (BA), Student
  270. TizianaCarmelitano, Tropea (VV), Lawyer’s personal assistant
  271. Annabella Milano, Bologna, Employee
  272. Viviana Valastro, Bergamo, Consultant, expert in migrant minors
  273. Paola Valentini, Genova, Researcher
  274. Albert Mayordomo, Search & Rescue Coordinator, Open Arms NGO, Barcelona
  275. MariolucaBariona, nurse, Torino
  276. Dr Daniel Ghezelbash, Associate Professor, Macquarie Law School, Australia
  277. David Owen, Professor, University of Southampton
  278. Francesco D’Autilia, ADV Follevola
  279. Ben Cowles, journalist, Morning Star / The Civil Fleet
  280. Steve Peers, Professor of EU, Human Rights & World Trade Law, University of Essex
  281. Jane Kilpatrick, Researcher, Statewatch
  282. Isabel Santos MEP (S&D), Portugal

[1]On the submission by the ComitatoNuoviDesaparecidos and ProgettoDiritti and Open Arms, see Espostoall’IMO per demolirel’alibidella zona SAR libica, 31.3.2020, Emiliano Drudi, Tempi Moderni, http://www.tempi-moderni.net/2020/03/31/esposto-allimo-per-demolire-lalibi-della-zona-sar-libica/ ; reported in English, here https://www.statewatch.org/analyses/no-360-malta-italy-eu-libya-pushbacks.pdf

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