A 245-page report claims the European Commission (EC) has committed ‘crimes against humanity’. The report, prepared by a group of international lawyers, is to be presented before the International Criminal Court (ICC) — a court established in 2002 to prosecute those who have perpetrated the ‘world’s worst crimes’. The EC, however, has argued it has a track record of saving refugee lives in the Mediterranean.
Relying on public EU documents and statements from top world and EU leaders, the report calls out those EU member states, specifically Italy, Germany, and France, who have played a significant role in the refugee crisis. The report demands the prosecution of these states for failing to prevent thousands of migrant casualties in the Mediterranean. The EU further faces criticism and allegations concerning the exploitation and abuse of migrants by a Libyan coastguard who received training through EU funds.
The document articulates the gravity of the aftermath of the termination of the Mare Nostrum rescue operation in 2014. The operation, launched by the Italian government, rescued 150,810 migrants at sea in just one year. Since the end of Mare Nostrum, more than 12,000 refugees have lost their lives in the Mediterranean while fleeing from Libya. The UNHCR consequently has described that route as the ‘world’s deadliest sea crossing’.
EC spokesperson Natasha Bertaud stated that the EC will not comment on a lawsuit that has not yet commenced, and stressed that saving the lives of migrants at sea has been the EU’s top priority, noting ‘the EU track record...[which] speaks for itself’. Bertaud also recalled EC President Jean-Claude Juncker’s 2015 statement, which admitted to the mistake of terminating the Mare Nostrum operation and further highlighted the fact that the EC sought to remedy this by ‘immediately tripling the EU’s rescue capacity in the Mediterranean in 2015’. As a result, 730,000 people have been rescued with the aid of four EU operations, leading to a significant decline in casualty rates compared to statistics from the previous year. Responding to the criticism regarding the EU’s migration policy, Bertaud emphasised that such tragedies are caused by the ‘cruel and dangerous business model used by traffickers and smugglers exploiting human misery and putting peoples’ lives at risk’. She further explained that the Libyan coastguards’ training outlines the ways of countering human trafficking, and finally stated that EU efforts are aimed at responding to the urgent issue of migrants in Libya.
Regardless, EU member states, particularly Italy, have rendered the operations of NGOs in the Mediterranean impossible, and these efforts have not been effectively replaced. Furthermore, EU member states have failed to demonstrate solidarity with Italy, despite the country’s particular exposure to the influx of migrants rescued at sea.
According to a statement from Jan Branco, lawyer and former ICC jurist, the 245-page report took two years to prepare. He responded to Bertaud’s speech by stating that ‘the EU has crafted a very elaborate strategy to hide its own responsibilities’.
The Foreign Ministry of France rejected the accusations by stating that the claim ‘makes no sense and has no legal basis’, and added that France has significantly contributed to the fight against human trafficking and smugglers.