Sicilian prosecutor Carmelo Zuccaro stated to reporters on Sunday that an investigation has revealed evidence of direct contacts between some non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and human traffickers in Libya. It is suspected [La Stampa report, in Italian] that NGO migrant rescue ships have been colluding with Libya-based human smugglers. While some Italian politicians have criticized the work of these NGOs for running “taxi services” for migrants, some of which could say could be “criminals,” human rights and humanitarian groups such as Amnesty International (AI) [advocacy website] have applauded the NGOs for saving countless lives. Some NGOs involved in the migrant rescues include Doctors Without Borders, SOS Mediterranee, Save the Children and Malta-based Mobile Offshore Aid Station (MOAS) [advocacy websites], though all have denied these accusations. Though it is common for Italy’s coast guard to call upon private vessels to assist in rescuing migrants in the ‘rescue zone’ in the waters between Italy and Libya, Zuccaro has called into question the propriety of the new NGOs dedicated to this task, as well as the policy of relying upon established NGOs to intervene in the Mediterranean.
Protection of migrants from Libya, including a call by UNICEF [JURIST report] last month for the protection of migrant women and children traveling through the Mediterranean, has been a significant issue due to instability within Libya. Libya has remained politically unstable since the 2011 deposition of Muammar Gaddafi [JURIST backgrounder] and subsequent civil war. In September the UN Deputy High Commissioner for Human Rights, Kate Gilmore spoke on the deteriorating human rights situation [JURIST report] in Libya and called for accountability and reform. Earlier last year the UN released a report detailing a “litany of violations and abuses” being committed by both state and non-state actors in Libya that may amount to war crimes [JURIST report].