Italy Outsources Border Patrol Duties to Libya: Fires Live Munitions at Unarmed Civilians

By Ricardo Zamora
Impunity Watch Reporter, Europe

MILAN, Italy – Libyan officials on board Italian Naval ships continue to fire on boats suspected of carrying illegal African migrants.  Such use of force between the coasts of Italy and Libya has been commonplace since May 2009.

On May 14, 2009, Italy and Libya entered into a joint agreement to curtail the flow of migrants from Libya to Italy.  The terms of the agreement explained that Italy would supply reconnaissance vessels to be operated jointly by Italian and Libyan officials for the purpose of intercepting boats attempting to smuggle African migrants into Italy.  The agreement added that Italian officials were not to physically participate in boat interceptions and were on board the vessels only in a “maintenance” capacity.

The most recent incident occurred on Sunday, September 12, when Libyan officials on board one of the several Italian vessels opened fire on a Sicilian boat located 30 miles off the Libyan coast, Italian officials report.  The incident occurred in international waters.

Further investigation revealed that the boat was, in fact, an Italian fishing trawler occupied by ten men – all of them Italian nationals.  Although none of the ten occupants were wounded, the boat’s captain openly condemned Libya’s and Italy’s actions and inactions.  Italy has apologized for what it called a “mistake.”

“The fact that the Libyan patrol fired because it mistook the Italian boat for a ship of migrants does not make it any less serious,” center-left Democratic Party senator Giuseppe Lumia said.  “Here, it’s a question of respect for international norms and fundamental human rights.”

While only Libyan officials fired upon the Italian trawler, human rights groups worry that Italy’s silence over the matter implies that it does not condemn the use of deadly force on innocent civilians.  Both governments said they are investigating the incident.

“The Libyans and Italians appear to agree that it was a mistake to shoot at Italian fishermen, but imply that it’s OK to shoot at migrants,” said Bill Frelick, Refugee Program director at Human Rights Watch.  “The bullet-riddled boat shows a reckless use of potentially lethal force that would have been just as bad if it had actually targeted nonthreatening migrants.”

Foreign Minister Franco Frattini said the event would not have any repercussions on Italian-Libyan relations.

For more information, please see:

HUMAN RIGHTS WATCH – Libya: End Lice Fire Against Suspected Boat Migrants – September 16, 2010

SAHARA REPORTERS – Libya: End Live Fire Against Suspected Boat Migrants – September 16, 2010

REUTERS – Libya Apologizes for Firing at Italian Boat – September 14, 2010

Author: Impunity Watch Archive