Joint Press release

63 Migrants Died in the Mediterranean - The French Army to Finally Explain Itself

Paris, June 26, 2014 - Pursuant to the disastrous Left-to-die-boat incident which took the life, in March 2011, of 63 people near the coast of Libya, at the height of the the Mediterranean military operations, a few survivors and several organisations filed a complaint on June 14, 2013, accusing the French army of not providing assistance to persons in danger.

Without the slightest investigation investigating, the presiding judge, on December 6, 2013, announced there was no grounds to prosecute ab initio, by restating the Army headquarters’ assertions that no French ship was in that zone. The judge also made light of the reports of European organisations that felt there was a need to conduct more research into what ships were involved.

Because the survivors and victims’ families, as well as the organisations that support them, had the right to know more, an appeal was made against the dismissal of the case.

The investigating chamber has just quashed the dismissal. It believes that legal information must be transparent and complete.

This decision sounds like a warning to the European Union and to its member States that are busy setting up all kinds of obstacles. These are judicial, physical, and paramilitary at border crossings where migrants are considered undesirable as long as they have not been "chosen". It is well known, however, that the accumulation of devices that are costly and sophisticated do not prevent candidates from leaving but rather compels them only to seek ways to reach Europe that are more and more dangerous.

The decision by the French judges to open an investigation may cause people to stand up and take note that these deaths at sea, whose list grows by the day, are not simply a collateral effect of this cynical policy of migratory flows management. It will encourage, let us hope, the end to turning a blind eye to the disasters caused by this policy, a fortiori while they are happening in front of the eyes of our own armadas.

Signatory Organisations : FIDH, Gisti, LDH and Migreurop

Summary of facts

In March 2011, 72 migrants fled the war in Libya aboard a Zodiac boat bound for Italy. They very quickly lost control of their boat and launched an SOS appeal. The call was received by the Italian Coast Guard who forwards distress calls to NATO military ships on the Mediterranean and indicates their positions. These calls were made every 4 hours over a period of 10 days. No one came to their aid. The Zodiac was seen by an airplane, a military helicopter, two fishing boats and a large navy vessel, which all ignored its distress signals. After floundering for 15 days, the boat ended up on the shores of Libya. Aboard were only 11 survivors. Two died shortly after arriving in Libya. 63 persons, 20 of whom were women and 3 children died because of not being rescued. (See Press Release, “63 Migrants Die in the Mediterranean : The French Army accused of not providing assistance to persons in danger” and the Forensic Oceanography report).

This incident also raises questions about the role of British, Italian, Canadian, Spanish, American and Belgium navy ships that were in the vicinity of the troubled boat. Survivors have already filed complaints, in Italy in 2012, in Spain in 2013, and in Belgium on November 26. 2013. In addition, information requests were made to the United Kingdom, United States and Canada to ascertain the precise actions of these countries’ forces in the Mediterranean at the time of the alleged incident.

An investigation conducted by the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe concluded in its April 2012 report that, “Countries with their own ships nearby failed in their obligation to rescue these people” (See the report, “Lives Lost in the Mediterranean : Who is Responsible ?”) Recently, the European Human Rights Court was led to pronounce on the responsibility that Italy has for the migrants who try to reach Europe by sea. In the case of Hirsi vs. Italy, it described the contempt and indifference shown towards migrants as unacceptable, and stated that the Mediterranean Sea is not a "zone of lawlessness”.