UN Special Rapporteurs call on Italian prosecution to dismiss iuventa case

May 3, 2023

Today, it’s been disclosed that three of the UN Special Rapporteurs, independent experts of the UN human rights Council, have called out the Italian government over the legal proceedings against the iuventa crew and the worrying context for migrant rights defenders.

We sent our communication to the Government in early February. Since then, the situation for human rights defenders involved in search and rescue in Italy has not improved: they remain obstructed, repressed and on trial. The State must live up to its human rights commitments and put an end to this systematic restriction of defenders and violation of the rights of migrants” said Mary Lawlor, Special Rapporteur (SPR) on the situation of human rights defenders.

Lawlor has gathered alarming information about “alleged violations of due process and other worrying developments” in the iuventa trial and about the crackdown on civil sea rescue through the Piantedosi Decree and the distant disembarkation policy. 

Together with Clement Nyaletsossi Voule, SPR on the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly of association, and Felipe González Morales, SPR on the human rights of migrants, she expressed deep concerns and urged the Italian government to take a stand and to provide clarity. 

That three different UN Special Rapporteurs now unequivocally call for the case’s dismissal is a powerful indictment: Italy is weaponizing the law to criminalize people on the move and those in solidarity with them. It also underlines the fact that civil sea rescue is not a crime, but a vital form of human rights defense” said Allison West,Senior Legal Advisor with ECCHR.

In relation to the Iuventa trial they highlight the “failure to provide the defendants with crucial documents […] in a language they understand and to ensure their full and effective participation in the court proceedings through the provision of suitable interpretation.” They consider these failures to be “systematic” and “represent a much broader trend of impingement of the right to a fair trial” for all non-Italian speaking defendants in Italy.

Lawlor, Morales and Voule also express profound regret at the Italian government’s decision to intervene as a civil plaintiff in the case, which “would appear to signal a conviction on the part of the State to pursue the further conflation of the essential work of human rights defenders as criminal activity”.

As already expressed in October 2020, they reiterated that “the opening and pursuit of the case against iuventa crew amounts to the criminalisation of their legitimate human rights activities, namely, saving of lives at sea.” In this regard, they are worrying about “the repeated use of Article 12 of Legislative Decree 286/1998 to target human rights defenders working in the field of migrants’ human rights” and underline their concerns about the compatibility of this legislation with international standards.

Mary Lawlor is available for media requests. For further information, please contact