Urgent Interventions

Judicial harassment against the Iuventa10 as a reprisal for their search and rescue actions in the Mediterranean sea


ITL 001 / 0519 / OBS 041
Seizure /
Judicial harassment /

May 13, 2019

The Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders, a partnership ofthe World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT) and FIDH, requests your urgentintervention in the following situation in Italy.

Description of the situation:

The Observatory has been informed by reliable sources about the ongoingjudicial harassment against ten volunteers[1] who were working for theGerman search and rescue (SAR) NGO Jugend Rettet e.V.. The ten human rightsdefenders, of German, Portuguese, Spanish and British nationalities, wereengaged in SAR operations in the Mediterranean Sea on the vessel flying theDutch flag Iuventa, which rescued more than 14,000 migrants between July2016 and August 2017.

According to the information received, on March 19, 2019, the Court ofTrapani postponed a hearing to review the decision by the Trapani Prosecutorconcerning the confiscation of electronic devices belonging to the Iuventa'svolunteers to May 21, 2019.

The Observatory recalls that the Iuventa rescue vessel has beenimpounded in the port of Trapani, Italy, for almost two years, preventing itfrom pursuing SAR activities and that the ten volunteers operating the Iuventavessel face charges of “aiding and abetting illegal immigration” (seebackground information).

Moreover, according to the same information, confidential information onthe ongoing investigations, as well as the full names of the ten defenders,were leaked by the Italian authorities to the national press, leading to amedia smear campaign against the ten human rights defenders as well as onlineand off-line threats by right wing extremists. The 10 defenders have not yethad access to the investigation file.

The Observatory expresses its utmost concerns about the increasingharassment and criminalisation against human rights defenders working onmigration issues in Europe[2]. Asto April 2019, at least 24 search and rescue workers were being officiallyinvestigated by the Italian authorities under charges of “aiding illegalimmigration”. The trend of criminalising migrant rights defenders has also beendocumented in other European Union countries such as France and Greece. TheObservatory further recalls that migrants’ rescue at sea is an obligation underinternational maritime law, as enshrined under Article 98 of the United NationsConvention for the Law of the Sea and by customary law, and deplores that inthe current context, vessels have virtually stopped conducting SAR operationsin the Mediterranean.

The Observatory calls on the Italian authoritiesto immediately put an end to the impoundment of the Iuventa ship, todrop all charges against the 10 migrants’ rights defenders and to ensure thatall human rights defenders are allowed to carry out their legitimate humanrights activities in particular with regard to SAR operations in theMediterranean Sea.

Background information:

In June 2017, the Prosecutor of Trapani opened an investigation againstten volunteers operating the Iuventa vessel[3] and on August 2, 2017, the Iuventavessel was seized as a pre-emptive measure upon charges of possession offire-arms, collusion with organised crime, and aiding and abetting illegalimmigration. Personal electronic devices belonging to the volunteers of therescue team on the vessel were also confiscated at the same time. The chargeswere triggered by an investigation conducted by a private security company,which later appeared to be linked with one of the spokespersons of thefar-right, white nationalist “Identitarian Movement”.

The vessel was then searched for fire-arms in August 2017 and August2018, upon request of the Prosecutor of Trapani. However, no weapon was foundon board.

In June 2018, the Prosecutor of Trapani issued an official notificationto the Iuventa crew volunteers, informing them of the opening of aninvestigation on charges of “aiding and abetting illegal immigration” (Article12 of Legislative Decree No. 286 of 1998). The other two charges of “possessionof fire-arms” and “collusion with organised crime” were dropped. If convicted,they could face up to 20 years in jail, with a minimum of five years, and afine of 15,000 EUR for each migrant rescued and disembarked in Italy.

Two appeals against the impoundment order were rejected by the Court ofTrapani. A third appeal was also rejected by the court of cassation under theargument that the owners of the Jugend Rettet did not provide evidence thatthey had taken sufficient measures to prevent the ship from being used forcriminal activities.

Actions requested:

Please write to the Italian and European Union authorities asking themto:

i. End all acts ofharassment, including at the judicial level, against volunteersof the German NGO Jugend Rettet e.V. and all human rights defenders inItaly, including those engaged in SAR activities;

ii. Ensure in allcircumstances that human rights defenders and NGOs are able to carry out theirlegitimate activities, including in particular SAR activities in theMediterranean Sea, without any hindrance and fear of reprisals;

iii. In line withinternational human rights standards, broaden the scope of the exemptionprovided under Article 12 of Italian LegislativeDecree No. 286 of 1998, as currently drafted is limited to SAR activitiesconcerning migrants “already present on the territory of the State”;

iv. Amend Article 1(2) of Council of the European Union(EU) Directive 2002/90/EC “defining the facilitation of unauthorised entry,transit and residence” to ensure that EU Member States do not impose sanctionsin cases where the aim of the behaviour is to provide humanitarian assistanceto the person concerned and ensure that the human rights of migrants arerespected[4];

v. Conform to the provisionsof the UN Declaration on Human Rights Defenders, adopted by the GeneralAssembly of the United Nations on December 9, 1998, especially its Articles 1and 12.2;

vi. Ensure in allcircumstances respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms in accordancewith international human rights standards and international instrumentsratified by Italy and the EU.

Addresses inItaly:

· Mr. Giuseppe Conte, PrimeMinister. E-mail:

· Mr. Luigi Di Maio, DeputyPrime Minister. E-mail:

· Mr. Matteo Salvini, DeputyPrime Minister, Minister of Interior. E-mail:;

· Mr. Enzo MoaveroMilanesi, Minister for Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation.

· Mr. Alfonso Bonafede,Minister for Justice.

· H.E. Elena Basila, Ambassadorof Italy in Belgium. E-mail:

· H.E. Gian LorenzoCornado, Ambassador, Permanent Representative of Italy to the United Nations.E-mail:

Pleasealso write to the diplomatic representations of Italy in your respectivecountries.

Addresses in the European Union:

· Mr Frans Timmermans, First Vice-President and EuropeanCommissioner for Better Regulation, Inter-institutional Relations, Rule of Lawand Charter of Fundamental Rights E-mail:

· Mr Dimitros Avramopoulos, European Commissioner forMigration, Internal Affairs and Citizenship. E-mail:

· Mr Claude Moraes, President of the Committee on CivilLiberties, Justice and Home Affairs of the European Parliament. E-mail:

Pleasealso write to the diplomatic representations of the European Union in your respectivecountries.


Geneva-Paris, May 13, 2019

Kindly inform us of any action undertakenquoting the code of this appeal in your reply.

The Observatory for theProtection of Human Rights Defenders (the Observatory) was created in 1997 by the WorldOrganisation Against Torture (OMCT) and FIDH. The objective of thisprogramme is to prevent or remedy situations of repression against human rightsdefenders. FIDH and OMCT are both members of, the European Union Human Rights Defenders Mechanism implemented byinternational civil society.

To contact the Observatory, call the emergencyline:

i. E-mail:

ii. Tel and fax OMCT +41 (0) 22 809 49 39 / +41 22809 49 29

iii. Tel and fax FIDH +33 (0) 1 43 55 25 18 / +33 143 55 18 80

[1] The names are not published for security reasons.

[2] See for instance, the Observatory urgent appeals ITA 001 / 0418 / OBS 048, published on April16, 2018, ITL001 / 1018 / OBS 125, published on October 16, 2018 and FRA 001 / 0518/ OBS 077.2, published on December 21,2018.

[3] Chargeswere opened against three captains (Pia, Dariush and Uli), two heads of mission(Kathrin and Sascha), and five rescue crew (Laura, Miguel, Zoe, Hendrik andMiguel).

[4] At the moment, the Directive allows State to decide whether or notexempt from the scope of the Directive “cases where the aim of the behaviour isto provide humanitarian assistance to the person concerned”.

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