(Picture: Western Libya’s Coast Guard arriving in Tripoli following a SAR operation on May 10th, 2017. Source: Reuter‘s Ismail Zitouny via Human Rights Watch).
by Alessandro Pagano Dritto (Twitter: @paganodritto)
Summary: Human Rights Watch‘s June 19th report has severely – but implicitly – judged the outcome of the Italian lead training of the Western Libya’s Coast Guard: Libyan units are accused of putting in danger the lives of migrants and are not hold able, yet, of carrying out safe search and rescue operations. That’s despite the training is seen as capital in the Italian and European plans to both support the rebuilding of the Libyan armed forces and stem the migrants’ flows.
[June 20th, 2017 – Italy] Human Rights Watch has severely judged the outcome of the Italian training of the Western Libya’s Coast Guard in its last report over migrants illegally crossing the Mediterranean.
An implicit but severe judgement.
The judgement comes quite implicitly as the report reads that
“Libyan authorities lack the capacity, equipment, and training to perform safe rescues, which should be required before they can assume coordination”.
Shortly after that statement, HRW also openly blamed Italy warning that
“If Italy is directing a rescue operation, it should ensure safe rescue and disembarkation, and not hand over command to Libyan coast guard forces, except in situations of imminent loss of life and the absence of alternate rescue vessels”.
The report openly refers to some episodes reportedly occured last May, when Italy “allowed a Libyan coast guard vessel to assume coordination over a rescue operation in international waters” that allegedly revealed to be dangerous and risky for the lives of migrants with shots fired panicking people. Human Rights Watch then blames an Italian Captain’s opinion that allerting Libyan authorities in that case was appropriate.
“Given the lack of capacity to carry out safe rescues, the Italian Maritime Rescue Coordination Centre and EU authorities should not allow the Libyan coast guard forces to assume operational command of rescue operations in international waters. In addition, the real risk of prohibited ill-treatment in Libya for any migrant returned there means anyone rescued by an international vessel should not be disembarked in Libya”,
the report concludes.
Italy and the Western Libya: Coast Guard, GNA, Mission Hyppocrates.
Operating in the framework of the European naval mission in the Central Mediterranean EUNAVFORMED Sophia, Italy has been training the Western Libya’s Coast Guard since 2016, also providing equipment such as vessels that had been taken to Italy for reparations after the 2011 war and never turned back over the following years. 4 out of 10 foreseen vessels have been handed over to Libya up to now, the others due to follow shortly.
[Read about the last reinforcement to the Western Libya’s Coast Guard by Italy on Between Libya and Italy]
The training of the Western Libya’s Coast Guard comes as a step of the Italian and European plan of supporting the rebuilding of the Libyan army; an issue highly sensitive, as no one of the armed forces based in the Western and Eastern Libya recognize each other as legitimate. Nor the Western Libya’s forces can be assumed as an only group, as some of them recognize the legitimacy of the Government of National Agreement (GNA) in Tripoli and others do not. Eastern Libya’s forces, generally known as the Libyan National Army (LNA), depend from Marshal Khalifa Hafter as their most prominent leader and are nominally linked to the internationally recognized Libyan parliament, the House of Representatives (HOR). Yet, the Libyan Political Agreement (LPA) signed in Skhirat, Morocco, in December 2015 states that the legitimate Libyan National Army should be linked, otherwise, to the head of the GNA, not to the parliament: given that the parliament has never officially approved the signature of Skhirat’s LPA – demanding, instead, some amendements to it – and given that the international community has practically welcomed it as well despite the parliament’s behaviour, there’s no practical and unique consensus on the legitimate army, as of now, and consequently also on the legitimate Coast Guard.
Yet, Italy has been the most prominent international supporter of the GNA, practically engaging with it at least since April 2016. Being the first – and only, as of now – Western Country to have moved back to Tripoli with a permanent representative since January 2017, Italy and GNA signed a memorandum of understanding over migrants in February 2017: it has been declaired unvoid from Tripoli’s judiciary court, but collaboration between Tripoli and Rome continued as well, also providing training and equipment to the Western Libya’s Coast Guard.
Nontheless, Italy has tried to reach out also Eastern Libya, meeting its military and political authorities, medically treating some of the LNA’s members wounded and proposing to reopening its Consulate in Benghazi.
But, as of now, there is a big difference between the help Rome is providing to the Western Libya and the one provided to the East, as the only official foreign military mission existing in the Country, Hyppocrates, had been set up in Misrata in 2016 with the original task of medically treating the pro GNA fighters wounded during the Sirte’s battle against the Islamic State. As the battle officially ended in December 2016, Hyppocrates still lies there, as confirmed by the Italian Chief of Staff Claudio Graziano. Who stated, while recently interviewed:
“As it is known, we take care of the wounded of Misrata and of the people. We also attend and train the local medical personnel. That is, itself, a form of “capacity building”, as we’re also clearly trying to earn some consensus in a such sensitive area. Then, we also take care of the wounded from the other part: they’re being treated both in Celio[‘s military hospital in Rome] and in Milan’s military hospital”.
The Western Libya’s Coast Guard and the SAR operations.
[Read about the seven points Italian press revealed about Italy and the Western Libya’s Coast Guard on Between Libya and Italy]
Human Rights Watch‘s report has been issued at a time when Western Libya’s Coast Guard is increasingly dealing with search and rescue (SAR) operations in the Mediterranean Sea: Reuters reported on June 16th that 906 migrants had been rescued by the Libyan units off the city of Sabratha, while a report by the UN agency International Organization for Migration (IOM) reported at the beginning of May that Western Libya’s Coast Guard had rescued about 4000 people since the beginning of 2017. That’s despite
“Libya has never officially delineated its search-and-rescue zone or provided the International Maritime Organization with information on these services even under Muammar Gaddafi”
Human Rights Watch states.
Once back to Libya, concerns rise on how migrants are treated in the Libyan detention centres, where international standards are often missed: Human Rights Watch has counted 24 official centres, hold by the GNA, while an undetailed number of parallel, illegal cetres, still exists.
Despite that, voices unhappy with the huge numbers of migrants rescued and taken to Italy come from the Italian political scenario, sometimes calling for them to be hold in Libya: one of the last cases has been the governor of the Northern Italian region of Lombardia, Roberto Maroni, a former Interior Minister who last June 17th stated on Twitter that “facilities to identify and distribute the refugees should lie in Libya”.
A IOM official has recently figured 800.000 migrants to be in the North African Country.