Final court decision: Detention of Humanity 1 was unlawful!

Alessio Cassaro / SOS Humanity

The Libyan authorities and the so-called Libyan Coast Guard are not legitimate actors in search and rescue, the court in Italy ruled, confirming that the detention in March was unlawful.

Berlin, Thursday 27 June. The civil court in Crotone (Calabria), Italy, ruled yesterday, Wednesday, 26 June that the detention of the ship of the non-governmental search and rescue organisation SOS Humanity on 4 March 2024 was unlawful. The court also found that the Libyan Rescue Coordination Centre and the so-called Libyan Coast Guard cannot be considered legitimate search and rescue actors in the Mediterranean.

The EU and its member states have been funding and equipping them for years to intercept refugees in the central Mediterranean in violation of international law and return them to Libya. In March, a rescue operation by the rescue ship Humanity 1 was interrupted by the so-called Libyan Coast Guard in a dangerous manoeuvre. Nevertheless, the Humanity 1 was later detained by the Italian authorities on the grounds that the crew had not followed the instructions of the Libyan authorities. But now it is official that the Libyan coordination centre and the so-called Libyan Coast Guard do not carry out search and rescue operations.

“The Crotone decision finally corrects the debate,” explains Cristina Laura Cecchini, lawyer for SOS Humanity. “For years we have seen a continuous criminalisation of the activities of non-governmental search and rescue organisations and a profound manipulation of the facts. Instead, the judgement based on the events of March confirms that the Libyan authorities are not carrying out search and rescue operations. They are violating the rights of refugees on a daily basis, not least because they are not taking people to a place of safety, as required by international law, but to Libya. Every day, the Italian government criminalises those who save lives at sea and contributes to illegal refoulement through its coordination. We hope that the judgement will help to put an end to this manipulation and illegitimate forms of cooperation, as practised by Italy with Libya and, more recently, with Tunisia.”

The events in spring

The ship of the civil search and rescue organisation SOS Humanity, whose crew has rescued a total of 2,689 people fleeing across the Mediterranean since it was launched in August 2022, was detained for 20 days in Crotone, Calabria, after disembarking 77 survivors on 4 March. The reason given: the crew had ignored instructions from the Libyan authorities and consequently endangered human lives. The search and rescue organisation took legal action against the inaccurate accusations in fast-track proceedings.

On 18 March 2024, the judge at the civil court in Crotone, Italy, ruled in favour of SOS Humanity’s fast-track proceedings: According to his preliminary judgement, the detention of the rescue ship Humanity 1 was not lawful and the ship was immediately released for its search and rescue mission. In an initial hearing on 17 April, the court’s urgent decision of 18 March was provisionally confirmed. In yesterday’s final judgement, the judge confirmed the unlawfulness of the ship’s detention.

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