Sea-Watch Legal Aid
Rescuing people in distress at sea is not only a humanitarian duty but also a duty under international law: According to Art. 98 of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, masters of ships are obliged “to render assistance to any person found at sea in danger of being lost”.
Nevertheless, not only the activists of civil sea rescue NGOs but also the crews of commercial ships and private vessels are increasingly affected by the criminalisation of sea rescue by the European Union and its Member States. The criminal proceedings faced by many people are not only lengthy, but also costly, and serve a policy of deterrence: commercial and private vessels are increasingly reluctant to rescue people in distress, while the additional risks and challenges further complicate the work of activist sea rescue.
Despite or even because of the escalating political situation, the protection of individuals and groups in connection with the activities, demands and objectives of sea rescue is essential. The aim of the Sea-Watch Legal Aid Fund is to support people in protecting and enforcing their rights in the field of sea rescue. This is to ensure that the humanitarian and international legal obligation of sea rescue continues to be fulfilled in the future.
The Administrative Repression of Search and Rescue: a History
Beyond the criminalisation of civil rescue, states have relied for decades on administrative means of suppressing solidarity at sea. These attempts to restrict rescue operations are couched in technical, bureaucratic language but serve a political end: to limit the movement of people seeking safety.
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The EU’s hardening borders prevent people from seeking protection
After 172 people were rescued as their boat became distressed, the six people in charge of the vessel are put on trial for migrant smuggling. This marks a further hardening of the European Union’s project of criminalisation people seeking protection.
COVID-19, a pretext for criminalisation
After Greece implemented one of the toughest lockdowns in Europe, the restrictions were lifted for the majority of the population at the start of the 2020 tourism season and not reintroduced. In the camps on the East Aegean islands, however, they continue to apply: people are only allowed to leave for very specific reasons and are effectively locked up.
Employment blockade for engagement in search and rescue
Kai Kaltegärtner faced employment discrimination because of his work for a Search and Rescue NGO. Although the employment agency denies this, they failed to provide compelling evidence that the decision was not discriminatory. This led the Dutch Human Rights Committee to conclude that Kai Kaltegärtner was discriminated against because of his political opinions.
Defence of the Mykonos 6 following Syros prosecution
The Prosecutor of Syros, Greece, has charged 6 individuals with facilitating a shipwreck and setting up a criminal organisation after their vessel ran into distress of Mykonos. The Sea-Watch Legal Aid Fund supports the Human Rights Legal Project in their defence of the accused. Such criminalisation of migrants seeking safety and asylum cannot be allowed to continue.
Legal aid granted for victims of arbitrary arrest after Samos camp fires
The outbreak of fires at a refugee camp on Samos (Greece) in 2020 has worsened the already precarious living conditions on site. It is appalling that Greek authorities have blamed camp residents for the fires, subjecting them to arbitrary arrests. The Sea-Watch Legal Aid Fund has decided to support the Human Rights Legal Project in their fight for a fair trial.
Seehofer-Deal, an intra-European push-back agreement
As part of the so-called Seehofer-Deal, people are being deported from Germany to Greece without legal protection and without a procedure. These intra-European pushbacks affect people’s fundamental rights. In an otherwise successful summary proceeding, Equal Rights Beyond Borders lost the main proceeding for procedural reasons and incurred costs.
Shipwrecked and left to drown in the sea of injustice
On Christmas eve, when many families are celebrating their love for each other, others die trying to reach the supposed safety of Europe. But Fortress Europe pushes them back, and should people nevertheless be successful, they will be charged for their attempt to find life in dignity.
Amendment to the regulation to prevent civil sea rescue
When the Federal Ministry of Transport amended two regulations to the effect that ships used for humanitarian purposes must meet commercial safety requirements, this was tantamount to a de facto ban for some organisations. Mare Liberum e.V., in close cooperation with other sea rescue organisations, has taken legal action against the legal change. The Sea-Watch Legal Aid Fund has financially supported the legal action.
Suing for the right to save lives
Following a port state control, the Alan Kurdi is detained in the port of Palermo. Even an objection by the German flag state did not secure the release of the ship. This is not about the safety of the people on the ships, but about a political strategy to preserve the fortress Europe. The case before the administrative court in Palermo is financially supported by the Sea-Watch Legal Aid Fund.
Seizure of IUVENTA and prosecution of its crew
In August 2017, one of the first civil sea rescue vessels was confiscated: The IUVENTA of the organisation JUGEND RETTET e.V. One year later it becomes known that 10 former crew members are also being investigated. Even after three years, there is still no verdict - in 2020 the campaign work is financially supported by the Sea-Watch Legal Aid Fund.
Sued for saving people
Following a state of emergency on board, Captain Carola Rackete brings 40 people rescued at sea to the port of Lampedusa. Subsequently, she is put under house arrest and is being investigated on multiple counts. The ship, the Sea-Watch 3, was seized for months. The Sea-Watch Legal Aid Fund financed the detention trial all the way to Italy's highest court, as well as the release of the ship.
Unlawful detention of the Sea-Watch 3
In June 2018, Sea-Watch 3 was refused permission to leave the port of Malta. Despite meeting all security requirements, it took four months before the ship was allowed to leave the port again. Sea-Watch sued the Maltese authorities for the unlawful detainment and the resulting costs. The Sea-Watch Legal Aid Fund supported Sea-Watch by covering the legal costs.