Institute for Justice and Democracy in Haiti

Hirsi and Others vs. Italy in the European Court of Human Rights

On May 6, 2009, the Italian coast guard forcibly returned 227 migrants to Libya. According to Human Rights Watch, “[n]o screening was conducted to identify refugees, the sick or injured, pregnant women, unaccompanied children, victims of trafficking, or victims of violence against women.” While the Italian interior minister called this interdiction at sea a historic “turning point” in the campaign against illegal migration, human rights advocates have filed a complaint with the European Court of Human Rights arguing that Italy’s actions violate article 3 of the European Convention on Human Rights, which prohibits a state from returning anyone to a country where there is a risk of inhuman or degrading treatment.

The Human Rights Clinic recently submitted an intervenor brief in this case describing the approach of regional and international bodies to interdiction, including the extra-territorial application of human rights law. The brief also describes the historical and current responses of states to boat migration, including the U.S. response to Haitain asylum-seekers in the 1990s.

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