Rights Group Says Closing European Ports to Migrants Is ‘Crime Against Humanity’

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ANDREAS SOLARO/AFP/Getty

ROME — The human rights watchdog group Permanent Peoples’ Tribunal (PPT) has accused the European Union (EU) and its member states of systemic “crimes against humanity” because of efforts to curb illegal immigration by closing ports and borders.

The Rome-based PPT published a declaration Tuesday “on the violation of human rights of migrants and refugee people,” claiming that “the immigration and asylum policies and practices of the EU and its Member States constitute a total denial of the fundamental rights of people and migrants, and are veritable crimes against humanity.”

A self-anointed international human rights court, the PPT was established in Bologna, Italy, in 1979, inspired by the Russell Tribunal, led by philosophers Bertrand Russell and Jean-Paul Sartre against alleged war crimes committed in Vietnam.

The European Union and its Member States have subjected refugees and migrants to “the most heinous and systematic violations of their fundamental rights (to life, to dignity, to work, to health, to seek a future…),” the text states, “in an environment of total impunity of the responsible actors.”

The nine-page document states that “what is often called a migrant crisis is, in reality, a profound crisis within the European Union which has been shown to have arisen in every country of the Union in one way or another.”

The right to migrate is “being denied to the people migrating from the global South to the global North,” it declares, and the right to come and go along with the right to work “are in reality being denied by closing Europe’s borders.”

European states are failing in their “duty to receive migrants” in the name of affirming “State sovereignty over their territorial domain,” it states. “This policy of closing Europe’s borders, whose prosperity has been created based on an economic system of plundering the resources of the global South cannot be considered legitimate or politically justifiable.”

Curiously, the PPT blames tighter border security for migrant sea deaths, while failing to acknowledge that sea deaths in the Mediterranean dropped by more than half after Italy closed its ports and discouraged migrants from attempting the perilous crossing.

No single factor has been more effective at saving the lives of migrants from death at sea, in fact, than the closing of Italy’s ports.

In its most recent report on migrant deaths and disappearances in the Mediterranean Sea, the United Nations immigration office (UNHCR) found that migrant sea deaths in 2019 were less than half (207) those recorded in 2018 during the same period (433).

On reading the PPT declaration, one could be tempted to conclude that the authors’ main interest is not in fact in saving the lives of migrants but in encouraging mass migration and eliminating any attempts at reining it in.

“Banning and pushing back the NGO ships from the Mediterranean, which has also been imposed by the Italian government’s mandatory ‘code of conduct,’ has considerably weakened the migrant search and rescue operations at sea and increased the number of victims,” the text states, an assertion that is verifiably false.

The PPT seems to take for granted that European sovereign nation-states have no right to determine who crosses their borders, without the consent of the European Parliament.

“It is illegal to transform Europe into a fortress by closing ports and borders and refusing to rescue and assist those in need, because it violates binding International law and is unlawful because adopted using measures issued without any discussion and approval of the European Parliament and the national Parliaments,” the declaration asserts.

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