REGULAR PRESS BRIEFING BY THE INFORMATION SERVICE
19 September 2014
Mediterranean mass murder
Rupert Colville, for the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), said that High Commissioner Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein had just issued a news release urging Egypt and other North African and European States with relevant information to make a concerted effort to bring to justice the people who had allegedly sunk a boat, deliberately, causing the deaths of between 300 and 500 refugees and migrants in the Mediterranean the previous week.
High Commissioner Zeid stressed that it was crucial to bring to an end the prevailing impunity surrounding such crimes and was urging States to do more to address the root causes driving people to make such dangerous journeys.
The press release contained more information as well as a wider analysis of the need to tackle the root causes of migrant and refugee movements, and could be found at the OHCHR webpage.
Joel Millman, for the International Organization for Migration (IOM), delivered the latest information on the Mediterranean boat sinking, based on talks between IOM staff and survivors in Malta, Sicily and Crete. Of those eleven survivors, eight were Palestinian, presumably from Gaza.
In some cases, the survivors could share the nickname of the trafficker who had organised the voyage from Gaza and whose name had already surfaced in Egypt a few times before. Moreover, it was reported that the three survivors in Malta, as well as a ship captain who had participated in the rescue, insisted that there were only 300, and not 500 people on the boat when it was scuttled.
According to the documents of the captain who had participated in the rescue, there had been many floating bodies in the immediate area of the scuttled vessel and it was mentioned that there had been four or five vessels in the same area simultaneously. Thus, it had to be assumed that this documentation was not complete, and it was difficult to reconcile the opposing numbers of refugees on the boat.
Despite the statements of the three survivors and the captain, for instance, another eyewitness described four to five buses with 90 to 100 passengers having arrived to the harbour. While boarding, the captain of the vessel had made a headcount, resulting in 450 people, excluding children. All witnesses had agreed that at various times during the voyage, different ships had appeared and taken over some migrants which could be a reason for the uncertainty about the exact number of passengers.
With regards to current investigations, two nicknames of persons responsible had come up. One of them was a well-known human trafficker who had apparently organized the voyage from Gaza, whereas the other one was operating in Egypt and acted as the coordinator. The investigation itself was directed by local authorities, and there was no information on unified transnational cooperation.
Mr. Colville added that, at the very minimum, there needed to be strong international cooperation. Egypt would have to play a key role, and other four to five countries ought to be involved, all with the aim of finding out who had been on the boat and who should be held accountable.