Italy failed to protect the right to life of more than 200 people on a boat that sank in the Mediterranean in 2013, the UN Human Rights Committee found on Wednesday.
Italy “failed to respond promptly to various distress calls from the sinking boat, which was carrying more than 400 adults and children,” the committee found.
Rome “also failed to explain the delay in dispatching its navy ship, ITS Libra, which was located only about an hour away from the scene”.
Three Syrians and a Palestinian, who survived the sinking but lost their families in the tragedy, brought a joint complaint before the committee, a
body of 18 independent experts tasked with monitoring the implementation of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.
On October 11, 2013, the boat had set out from the Libyan fishing port of Zuwarah, carrying mostly people who had fled from Syria.
The fishing vessel began taking on water after it was fired on by a boat flying a Berber flag when in international waters, 113 kilometres (70 miles) south of the Italian island of Lampedusa and 218 kilometres south of Malta.
Those on board made several calls to the Italian number for emergencies at sea, but were eventually told after 1:00pm that they were in the Maltese search and rescue zone.
This is the deeply disturbing recording of calls for help from a sinking boat w 400 mostly Syrian refugees that Italy ignored. 200 people drowned. A UN Human Rights Committee has found #Italy failed in its duty to protect human life. More @CBCWorldReport https://t.co/OOFdWtm5Gj
— Megan Williams (@MKWilliamsRome) January 28, 2021
After desperate calls to the Maltese authorities, a Maltese patrol boat arrived at 5:50pm. The vessel had already capsized. Malta urgently requested Italian help, and the ITS Libra navy ship, which was nearby, was finally instructed to go to the rescue after 6:00pm.
As a result of the delayed action, more than 200 people, including 60 children, drowned.
“Had the Italian authorities immediately directed its naval ship and coast guard boats after the distress calls, the rescue would have reached the vessel at the latest two hours before it sank,” said committee member Helene Tigroudja.
“The Italian authority had a duty to support the search and rescue mission to save the lives of the migrants. Italy's delayed action had a direct impact on the loss of hundreds of lives.”
The committee urged Italy to conduct an independent and timely investigation, and to prosecute those responsible.
Italy and other countries involved in the tragedy also need to provide effective remedy to those who lost their families in the accident, the committee concluded.