More than 40,000 people have been intercepted in the Mediterranean and taken to detention camps and torture houses under a European migration policy that is responsible for crimes against humanity, according to a legal document on Monday asking the International Criminal Court (ICC) to take the case.
Citing public EU documents, statements from the French president, the German chancellor and other top EU officials, the document alleges that EU officials are knowingly responsible for deaths of migrants at land and sea, and their widespread rape and torture at the hands of a Libyan coast guard funded and trained at the expense of European taxpayers.
It names no EU official but cites an ongoing ICC investigation into the fate of migrants in Libya.
“We leave it to the prosecutor, if he dares, if she dares, to go into the structures of power and to investigate at the heart of Brussels, of Paris, of Berlin and Rome and to see by searching in the archives of the meetings of the negotiations who was really behind the scenes trying to push for these policies that triggered the death of more than 14,000 people,” said Juan Branco, a lawyer who cowrote the report and shared it with reporters.
The ICC is a court of last resort that handles cases of war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide when other countries are unwilling or unable to prosecute.
The first crime, according to the document, was the decision to end the Mare Nostrum (Latin for “our sea”) rescue operation near the end of 2014.
In one year, the operation rescued 150,810 migrants in the Mediterranean as hundreds of thousands crossed the sea.
The operation cost more than 9 million euros (US$10 million) a month, nearly all paid for by Italy.
It was replaced by an operation named Triton, financed by all 28 EU nations at a fraction of the cost.
However, unlike the previous operation, Triton ships did not patrol directly off the Libyan coast, the origin of most of the flimsy smuggling boats that were taking off for Europe.
Deaths in the Mediterranean then soared. In 2014, about 3,200 migrants died in the sea. The following year, it rose to more than 4,000, and in 2016 peaked at more than 5,100 deaths and disappearances, International Organization for Migration figures showed.
“The objective of this new policy was to sacrifice the lives of many in order to impact the behavior of more,” the complaint says. “It also failed. Crossings did not decrease as predicted, because the risk had little deterrent effect on those who have little to lose to begin with.”
At that point, that EU countries turned to the Libyan coast guard, sending money and boats and a degree of training to units of the loosely organized force linked to various factions of Libya’s militias.
For Alpha Kaba, a Guinean detained in slave-like conditions in Libya before ultimately making the crossing in 2016, that decision is a travesty.
Kaba was rescued by a ship operated by humanitarian organizations. Those are all but gone now from the Mediterranean, after Italy, Malta and other countries repeatedly refused to allow them to dock with migrants on board.
In the past two years migration has considerably dropped to Europe. The total for the first four months of this year was about 24,200 for irregular migration, 27 percent lower than a year ago, according to Frontex, the EU’s border agency.
“Yes, there’s no more migration, but where are all those young people that they picked up? They’re in the prisons. They’re in Libya and in prisons, and they’re being tortured over there. If they aren’t allowed in Europe, then let them go back to their countries quickly and under good conditions,’’ said Kaba, who has received asylum in France. “There are no more entrances or exits.”
The EU has repeatedly acknowledged that the treatment of migrants in Libya is of great concern, although it has declined to waiver in its support for the Libyan coast guard.
Libya’s role in the migrant crisis is already on the radar of ICC chief prosecutor Fatou Bensouda.
In a statement to the UN Security Council in May 2017, she said that her investigators were collecting and analyzing “information relating to serious and widespread crimes allegedly committed against migrants attempting to transit through Libya.”
“I am deeply alarmed by reports that thousands of vulnerable migrants, including women and children, are being held in detention centers across Libya in often inhumane conditions. Crimes, including killings, rapes and torture, are alleged to be commonplace,” she said.
The court receives many similar requests every year for formal investigations into war crimes and crimes against humanity, and it is up to the prosecutor to decide whether to investigate and ultimately bring a case.
“The more detailed the communication, the more likely the prosecutor will take it seriously,” said Dov Jacobs, a defense lawyer at the ICC who is not connected to the 243-page request.
Branco said he believed the details in the report would leave the court little choice.
“[European officials)] pretended that this was a tragedy that nothing could be done against it that they had no role in it,” he said.
“And we demonstrate very carefully that, on the contrary, they triggered this so-called tragedy,” he added.
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