Italy failed to rescue more than 200 migrants on a boat that sank in the Mediterranean Sea in 2013, the United Nations Human Rights Committee found Wednesday.
The Human Rights Committee said that Italy failed to respond promptly to various distress calls from the sinking vessel, carrying more than 400 people. Due to the delayed action, more than 200 migrants, including 60 children, drowned.
Some of the survivors took Italian authorities to different courts, in addition to the U.N. body, for the nation failing to take appropriate measures to save their relatives, and thus violated their right to life.
"It is a complex case. The accident happened in the international waters within the Maltese search and rescue zone, but the location was indeed closest to Italy and to one of its naval ships,” committee member Helene Tigroudja said.
"Had the Italian authorities immediately directed its naval ship and coast guard boats after the distress calls, the rescue would have reached the vessel at the latest two hours before it sank.”
Italy failed to explain the delay in dispatching its navy ship ITS Libra, about an hour away from the scene.
The committee's decision followed a joint complaint by three Syrians and a Palestine national, who survived the accident but lost their families.
On Oct. 10, 2013, they arrived in Zuwarah, a fishing port in Libya, and joined a large group of people mostly escaping from Syria. They boarded a fishing vessel and set to sea around 1 a.m. A few hours later, water flooded the ship. It was shot by a boat flying a Berber flag in international waters, 113 kilometers (70 miles) south of the Italian island of Lampedusa and 218 kilometers (135 miles) south of Malta.
One of those aboard called the Italian sea emergencies, saying they were sinking, forwarding the coordinates. He rang several times again in the following hours, only to be told after 1 p.m. that they were in the Maltese search and rescue zone.
The Italian authorities had forwarded their distress call to the Maltese. Despite the emergency, the Italian operator only passed the phone number of Malta's Rescue Coordination Center to them.
The migrants made increasingly desperate phone calls to the Rescue Coordination Center and the Armed Force of Malta for two hours. When a Maltese patrol boat arrived at the scene at 5:50 p.m., the vessel had already capsized.
Italy finally instructed its navy ship ITS Libra, which was in the boat's vicinity, to come to the rescue after 6 p.m. in response to Malta's request. "Even though the sinking vessel was not located in Italy's search and rescue zone, the Italian authority had a duty to support the search and rescue mission to save the lives of the migrants,” said Commissioner Tigroudja.