The letter, drafted by Statewatch and Osservatorio Solidarietà demands that the Libyan SAR zone, which was declared in December 2017 and has been operative since mid-2018, be struck off from international records for five key reasons:
- the country cannot be considered a safe port in which to disembark people, a requirement of international law;
- the Libyan Coast Guard and the Libyan Maritime Rescue Coordination Centre do not have the requisite capabilities to conduct operations of their own accord, often relying on the technical assets of the EU and/or its member states, in particular Malta and Libya, to coordinate operations;
- the Libyan Coast Guard’s membership includes persons identified as being or having links with human traffickers and its missions frequently involve ill-treatment of those ‘rescued’;
- the IMO’s declaratory procedure, which allows states to claim a SAR zone unless other state parties object, has been used to undermine fundamental principles such as the right to life and the duty to assist in rescues at sea, with EU member states relinquishing their duties in pursuit of immigration policy goals;
- the existence of a Libyan SAR zone is being used to criminalise NGOs in order to prevent them undertaking rescues in Libyan waters and bringing people to genuine ports of safety in the EU.
This letter supports a submission made to the IMO in March 2020 by the NGOs Comitato Nuovi Desaparecidos del Mediterraneo, Progetto Diritti and Open Arms, to which the IMO has still not responded.
More than 200 individuals and over 70 associations, groups and networks (some of which represent dozens of civil society organisations) from Europe, North Africa and beyond have signed the letter. 14 MEPs from nine Member States (Germany, Greece, Ireland, Italy, Netherlands, Portugal, Slovenia, Spain and Sweden) and three groups in the European Parliament (European United Left/Nordic Green Left, Socialists & Democrats and Greens/European Free Alliance) have given their support to the initiative.