UN human rights office welcomes ruling on treatment of migrants at sea

UN human rights office welcomes ruling on treatment of migrants at sea

A boat carrying sub-Saharan African migrant workers arrives in Lampedusa from Tripoli, Libya.
The United Nations human rights office today added its voice in support of a European court ruling that found it is wrong for a country to collectively expel migrants intercepted on the high seas without first determining whether this would place their lives at risk.

The European Court of Human Rights ruled yesterday that Italy violated its obligations under the European Convention of Human Rights when in 2009 it intercepted a boatload of African migrants outside of Italian territorial waters and returned them directly to Libya.

A group of 13 Eritrean and 11 Somali passengers on the boat had taken the case to court.

Ravina Shamdasani, a spokesperson for the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), said the ruling “reaffirms the human rights of all migrants at sea.”

Both UNHCR and the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) made interventions in the court case, and yesterday UNHCR issued a statement in which it also welcomed the judgment.

Ms. Shamdasani noted that the court, which sits in Strasbourg, France, found that the transfer of the migrants to Libya under the conditions at the time of the incident “violated the prohibition of torture because it exposed the applicants to the risk of arbitrary return to their countries of origin.”

She also said the court found that the transfer violated the prohibition on the collective expulsion of foreign nationals.

“We call on all States to recognize and respect the fundamental rights of all migrants, guaranteed by international law, regardless of their immigration status or other status. We have long expressed alarm at the interception and collective expulsion of migrants, often risking their lives, on the high seas, without the opportunity for an individual examination of their cases.

“We urge States to avoid making migration policies based on assumptions about the motivations of migrants which are based on their country of nationality or of departure, their gender, age of their ethnicity, and instead to put in place procedures premised on the protection of the human rights of all migrants.”

Ms. Shamdasani also said OHCHR welcomed discussions about revising Italian immigration policies in light of the court ruling.