Tag Archives: Search and Rescue

The Guardian’s Advance Coverage of PACE Report – “Lives Lost in the Mediterranean Sea: Who is Responsible?”

The Guardian has reviewed a copy of the report prepared by Ms. Tinke Strik which will be presented to the PACE Committee on Migration, Refugees and Displaced Persons on Thursday, 29 March.  The Guardian describes the report as “a damning official report” that documents “[a] catalogue of failures by Nato warships and European coastguards [which] led to the deaths of dozens of migrants left adrift at sea [ ].”

Click on the following links for the Guardian’s articles:

Migrants left to die after catalogue of failures, says report into boat tragedy

How a migrant boat was left adrift on the Mediterranean

Drastic action needed to prevent more migrants dying in boat tragedies

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Human Rights Organisations Renew Call for NATO and Governments to Release Information Regarding Migrant Deaths in Mediterranean Sea

Human Rights Watch, the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH), and 9 other human rights groups on 26 March sent letters to NATO and the defence ministers of France, Italy, Spain, Canada, the UK, and the US calling for the release of information to clarify events surrounding the deaths of 63 migrants who died approximately one year ago after their disabled boat drifted for days within an area that was heavily patrolled by NATO warships.  The renewed call for release of information is being made in connection with the scheduled release on 29 March of the PACE Migration Committee Report, “Lives lost in the Mediterranean Sea: who is responsible?”  Representatives of HRW and FIDH will participate in a press conference on 29 March, 2 p.m. CET, with Ms. Tineke Strik (Netherlands, SOC), when Ms. Strik releases the report.

Click on the following links for copies of the letters sent to: NATO, France, Italy, Spain, United Kingdom, and the United States. (EN)

Click here for the 26 March PACE press release and information regarding 29 March press conference.

Click here for the 26 March HRW press release.

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PACE Report on “Lives Lost in the Mediterranean Sea: Who is Responsible?” Scheduled for Release on 29 March

The draft report prepared by Tineke Strik (Netherlands, SOC), “Lives lost in the Mediterranean Sea: who is responsible?”, will be considered on 29 March in a closed session by the PACE Committee on Migration, Refugees and Displaced Persons.

If the draft report receives committee approval it will be released to the public by Ms. Strik at a press conference scheduled for 2 p.m. CET.  Representatives from HRW and FIDH will participate in the press conference.  (Click here for HRW press release.) The report will be next be considered during “plenary debate by the 318-member Parliamentary Assembly, probably on Tuesday 24 April during its spring session in Strasbourg.”

Full text of PACE press release:  “Strasbourg, 26.03.2012 – Tineke Strik (Netherlands, SOC), rapporteur for the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) on ‘Lives lost in the Mediterranean Sea: who is responsible?’ will present her draft report at a press conference in Brussels on Thursday 29th March 2012.

The report is the result of a nine-month inquiry, launched at the request of 34 Assembly members, following a March 2011 incident in which it is alleged that 63 people attempting to flee the conflict in Libya died at sea after their appeals for rescue were ignored, including by armed forces operating in the area.

Ahead of her presentation, Ms Strik commented: ‘Since the beginning of 2011 at least 1,500 people are known to have perished in the Mediterranean trying to reach European soil – despite this being one of the busiest and best-monitored seas in the world. My inquiry has focused on one particularly tragic incident, in which 63 people died, to try to establish who bears responsibility for their deaths. I have been deeply shocked by what I have learned.’

As part of her inquiry, Tineke Strik spoke at length with survivors, search and rescue authorities from Italy and Malta, as well as NATO and EU officials, and put detailed written questions to a number of governments, including those with vessels with aircraft-carrying facilities in the area at the time. She also obtained a reconstruction of the voyage using the science of forensic oceanography.

The same day, prior to the press conference, Ms Strik will present her report to PACE’s Committee on Migration, Refugees and Displaced Persons, meeting in closed session. If approved by the committee, the report will go forward for plenary debate by the 318-member Parliamentary Assembly, probably on Tuesday 24 April during its spring session in Strasbourg.

* * *

Notes for editors

Press conference

The press conference will take place at 2 p.m. on Thursday 29th March at the Council of Europe office in Brussels (Avenue des Nerviens 85 / Nerviërslaan 85, B-1040 Brussels). The rapporteur will be joined by representatives of the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH) and Human Rights Watch. A video recording of the press conference will be made available at the link above, and on the PACE website, as soon as possible after it ends.

Copies of the report

If approved by the committee, the full text of the report will be posted on the Assembly’s website at around 2 p.m. Central European Time.

Contacts

Angus Macdonald, PACE Communication Division, mobile +33 (0)6 30 49 68 20.
Andrew Cutting, Council of Europe Office in Brussels, mobile +32 (0)485 21 72 02.

Motion: the request for an inquiry

PACE President’s statement, May 2011

Web file and timeline: Europe’s boat people

Video recording of press conference (when available)

Click here for PACE Press Release of 26 March.

Click here for Committee meeting agenda.

Click here for HRW Press Release of 26 March.

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Drones for Human Rights

The New York Times on Monday published an opinion article entitled “Drones for Human Rights” by Andrew Stobo Sniderman and Mark Hanis who are the co-founders of the Genocide Intervention Network.

They write that “[d]rones are not just for firing missiles in Pakistan….  It’s time we used the revolution in military affairs to serve human rights advocacy.”  They acknowledge the legal, political, and practical problems of using surveillance drones to monitor human rights abuses, but using the current situation in Syria as an example, argue that one “could record the repression in Syria with unprecedented precision and scope. The better the evidence, the clearer the crimes, the higher the likelihood that the world would become as outraged as it should be. … If human rights organizations can spy on evil, they should.”

Mark Kersten, writing on his Justice in Conflict blog, acknowledges the potential value of drone surveillance, but is generally critical of the proposal: “[I]n the context of ‘drones for human rights’, the risk is that the human gets removed from the experience and accounting of human rights violations. What would seem to matter is not personal experience but the particular configuration of pixels on a screen. This is folly. The process of victims, survivors and witnesses being involved shouldn’t be exchanged for the ‘unprecedented precision and scope’ of the photographs offered by drone technology. If anything, the role of victims, survivors and witnesses in the process of seeking and delivering justice should be enhanced.”

As the NY Times opinion articles points out, surveillance drones are deployed in a variety of non-military missions, including border control.  The U.S. Customs and Border Protection agency has deployed surveillance drones on the U.S.-Mexican border for years.  Frontex has been exploring the possible use of surveillance drones (unmanned aerial vehicles or UAV) for some period of time.  In January Frontex organised a 3 day live demonstration of UAVs at Greece’s Aktio Air Base where international manufacturers performed a series of test flights over the west coast of Greece.

Surveillance drones could certainly be used for search and rescue operations at sea and along remote international borders.  Could human rights organisations deploy their own drones in an effort to detect and monitor migrant boats as they embark on a dangerous trip across the Mediterranean?  Presumably this could happen, but practical problems, including the expense and legality of such missions, make such a possibility unlikely anytime soon.   But the use of drones by Frontex or national coastguards is not far off and it will be important to ensure that this new capability is used properly and not only as a border control tool to facilitate push-back operations at sea.

Click here for link to NY Times op-ed.

Click here for link to Justice in Conflict blog post.

Click here and here for links to Frontex research regarding drones.

Click here for Guardian article about the UAV industry’s plan for a “public relations effort to counter the negative image of the controversial aircraft.”

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Filed under Aegean Sea, Analysis, European Union, Frontex, Greece, Mediterranean

PACE Rapporteur Completes Malta Trip

Ms Tineke Strik, the PACE Migration Committee rapporteur heading up the investigation into the deaths of boat people in the Mediterranean, completed a two day fact-finding visit to Malta.  From the Times of Malta reporting:  Ms Strik said that the “visit to Malta was important for my inquiry into who is responsible for lives lost in the Mediterranean Sea, and enabled me to piece together another part of the puzzle in the case of the ‘left-to-die boat’. … Nonetheless, the puzzle remains incomplete. Gaps remain and important questions still need to be answered. As time is precious in this kind of inquiry, I very much count on national authorities, NATO and the EU to provide me swiftly with the information I have requested.  … [T]he on-going dispute between Italy and Malta on their respective responsibility with regard to the disembarkation of boat people rescued at sea remains a cause of serious concern.”

Click here and here for articles.

 

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PACE Rapporteur in Malta

Ms Tineke Strik, the PACE Migration Committee’s rapporteur who is heading up the investigation into the deaths of boat people in the Mediterranean, is in Malta today and tomorrow in connection with the ongoing inquiry.  PACE Press Statement:  Ms. Strik “will make a fact-finding visit to Malta from 15 to 16 December 2011.  During her visit, the rapporteur will meet refugees who arrived from Libya after January 2011 to gather testimony on their experiences, and will meet officials from the Maltese armed forces who are involved in organising rescues. She will also meet representatives of NGOs and European and UN officials dealing with refugee matters on the island, and the Maltese delegation to PACE. … Her report is expected in the spring of 2012.”

Click here for press statement.
 

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ECRE Interview with Tineke Strik Regarding PACE Investigation into Migrants Deaths in Mediterranean

ECRE last week published an interview with Ms Tineke Strike regarding the PACE Migration Committee’s ongoing investigation into the almost 2000 migrant deaths that have occurred in the central Mediterranean this year.  The Committee is focusing in particular on the incident that occurred in late March 2011 when unknown ship(s) and aircraft observed and then failed to rescue a disabled migrant boat.  Approximately 60 persons subsequently died.

Excerpts from the ECRE interview:

“[***]  What are the main findings of your report on the death at the Mediterranean so far?

We have spoken with survivors and with the priest who received the request for assistance from the boat in distress, Italian border guards, and the Italian refugee agency, as well as the Italian Refugee Council (CIR), a Member of ECRE. We also talked to different people in Brussels, including NATO, the ambassador of the Council of Europe, Amnesty and several MEPs. Today, during the PACE hearing on November 30 in Paris, we had a discussion with a number of experts in international law, Frontex, UNHCR and ICRC. All in all a lot of information has been gathered.

We have already sent requests for information to find out via satellite maps and logs if there were boats near the distressed boat Once we know under which flags these boats were sailing, we will be able to track which governments might have been responsible and ask them whether they knew that the boat asking for help was in danger or not and how they acted upon that information.

We are actually still waiting for information for this information. It is unfortunate that it takes time to get this information but we are trying to get hold of it through different channels. We have approached High Representative Ashton and asked for her consent to provide us with information from the European Satellite Centre. We have already used this kind of information at the Council of Europe, for example to detect the illegal detention centres that the CIA was using. We therefore hope that Ashton once again will cooperate.

We also asked NATO to provide us with information and have asked all the countries who took part in the NATO action in Libya and who had ships in that region during that period to give us data on where their boats were and when. NATO has promised to request the Member States to provide us with this information, also if these boats were not under the command of NATO. If this does not succeed, we still have our own national parliamentarians that could push their governments in their own country if it is necessary to gather the information.

If countries were involved they might not want to admit that, which makes my position difficult. I am not a judge and I don’t have enforcement powers so I’m partly dependent on the cooperation of various parties.  But I think all parties can benefit from transparency on what has happened, in order to avoid such tragedies in the future.

[***]

How do you think the EU has responded to the turmoil and war in North Africa and, in particular, the following displacement of people in the region and the arrival of some of them to Europe?

In my report following the protests in North Africa, we see that by far the largest part of the people who have fled Libya went to Tunisia and Egypt. There was a lot of fuss in the EU about the 25,000 who eventually fled to Italy. Tunisia took half million, Egypt took a half a million which shows how big the contrast with the EU was, especially considering that Member States were reluctant to resettle refugees from camps in Tunisia. This while Tunisia and Egypt were in a very vulnerable position in the post-revolutionary period. If we really want to help and strengthen stability in the region, we must show these states that they are not alone. These countries generously opened their borders, they understood the situation of the people there and to a great extent we stood aside and just watched.

Then we failed to help out Italy and Malta, especially when countries like France and Denmark wanted to close their borders. This shows exactly how much we are still not politically ready for a common asylum system. We provide beautiful public statements but when it comes down to it, Member States do not want to lose their sovereignty or be troubled by developments elsewhere. I do not think you can have both: either you have a joint system and you show solidarity, or you close all the borders and reinvent the wheel.

Common policies go hand in hand with solidarity and in fact we should look beyond the European borders.  What you see now is that border controls at the external borders of the EU continue to shift to North Africa and sometimes even further. One cannot claim that our responsibilities only begin when people have reached our territory. I was therefore very disappointed when the European Commission replied to a question by MEP Hélène Flautre on this incident saying that the boat was in Libyan waters and therefore they had no power to get involved. If certain acts like push backs at high sea or bilateral agreements with unsafe third countries such as Libya, lead to death or inhumane treatment, EU member states or other countries of the Council of Europe are accountable for a violation of the European Convention on Human Rights. In that sense I have high expectations of the decision of the ECHR in the case of Hirsi and others v. Italy.

[***]

What do you think the impact of your work and the investigation will be?

I hope the report will raise the awareness of the international obligations and also the awareness of the importance of avoiding such tragedies. It is important that violating the obligation to rescue does not remain unmentioned or lead to impunity. If we succeed in proving which actors were wrong. Member States will be more careful and there will be more pressure to cooperate and share the responsibilities, and to establish practical and binding solutions. Being a parliamentary assembly of national parliamentarians, I also hope that the discussion will also take place in Member States. I find it really outrageous that such a tragedy can occur so close to our borders and that we have been so silent about it.

[***]”

Click here for full interview.

Click here for my last post on this topic.

 

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Update Regarding PACE Investigation into Migrant Deaths in the Mediterranean

I have sought additional information from NATO and PACE regarding the 29 November hearing held in Paris by the PACE Migration Committee regarding the deaths of boat people in the Mediterranean.  I was informed by a PACE official that the minutes of the 29 November hearing will be released during or after the Committee’s next scheduled meeting which will take place in late January 2012.

In my previous post on this topic I incorrectly said that NATO officials attended the 29 November hearing.  Instead Ms Strik, the Committee’s rapporteur, met with a senior NATO official in Brussels on 28 November.  A NATO official informed me that “during the meeting [with Ms Strik], NATO offered to look into new details of the 28 March 2011 incident which were provided to NATO by Ms Strik. This process is ongoing and we will reply to the Council of Europe in due course.”

The NATO official reiterated to me that NATO ships were “fully aware of their responsibilities” to respond to vessels in distress and noted that during Operation Unified Protector “NATO ships have directly assisted in the rescue of more than 600 people in distress at sea.”  The official provided information about two incidents which have previously been reported on:

  • “[O]n 26 March 2011, NATO ships responded to information that two migrant ships with over 500 people on board were in distress, which were then provided direct assistance by the Italian authorities. That included a NATO ship using its helicopter to airlift two women and a newborn child to medical help”; and
  • “On 10 July 2011, a NATO ship responded to a vessel in distress approximately 75 miles off the coast of Libya. The NATO vessel provided medical support, food and offered mechanical assistance to the distressed migrants. In response to a deterioration of the humanitarian situation onboard, the 114 migrants were transferred onto the NATO ship in accordance with the Safety of Life at Sea (SOLAS) protocol and delivered to safety in Tunisia.”

The reference to the 26 March incident presumably relates in part to the Canadian warship, HMCS Charlottetown, which made contact with a disabled migrant boat carrying over 250 migrants on 25 March.  The Charlottetown provided food, waters, and repairs to the migrant boat and escorted it until 26 March when the Italian Coast Guard arrived on scene.  As far as I can tell from news reports from the time of this incident, there was only one migrant boat involved.   NATO’s current statement indicates there was a second migrant boat encountered by NATO at this time.

Click here and here for my previous posts on the March 2011 incident.

The 10 July incident relates to the rescue of over 100 migrants by the Spanish Navy frigate, the Almirante Juan de Borbón.  The rescued migrants remained onboard the Spanish frigate for six days after Malta and Italy refused to permit the NATO ship to enter port to disembark the rescued migrants.  The migrants were transferred to a Tunisian navy ship on 16 July and presumably then taken to Tunisia.

Click here and here for my previous posts on the July 2011 incident.

Neither of these two incidents relates to the events that occurred between 25 March and 10 April 2011 when a disabled migrant boat drifted for days during which time approximately 60 persons died.  Survivors from the migrant boat reported that at various times military ships and helicopters ignored their requests for assistance.  The Guardian reported extensively on this subject and the PACE Committee has been seeking information from NATO about this particular incident.

Click here and here for Guardian articles.

Click here for my last post of the PACE 29 Nov. hearing.

HMCS Charlottetown and migrant boat 25 March 2011.

Photo Credit: Lt(N) Michael McWhinnie, Department of National Defence and Canadian Forces

Spanish frigate Almirante Juan de Borbón rescuing migrant boat on 10 July 2011 and transferring migrants to Tunisian navy vessel on 16 July 2011.

Photo Credit: Ministerio de Defensa de España (mde.es)

Photo Credit: Ministerio de Defensa de España (mde.es)

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Migrant Boat Rescued by Armed Forces of Malta

An Armed Forces of Malta patrol boat rescued 44 Somalis from a sinking 7 metre dingy early Tuesday morning.  The rescue took place about 70 nautical miles south of Malta.  The migrants have been taken to Malta.  The boat is believed to have departed from Libya on Saturday.  Survivors reported that two persons died during the voyage.

Click here and here (with video) for articles.

In an incident last week, the Moroccan Royal Navy rescued 53 migrants from a boat off Dar Kabdani.  At least four persons are known to have died in that incident.

Click here (EN) and here (IT) for articles.

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Malta Rejects UNHCR Suggestion that Malta Failed to Carry Out SAR Obligations

The Times of Malta reports that the Armed Forces of Malta (AFM) and Maltese SAR authorities have rejected what they characterised as the “impression conveyed” by a UNHCR spokesperson that “Maltese SAR authorities abdicated from their responsibilities and did not cooperate with the relevant Italian authorities” in connection with the search for and subsequent rescue of 44 migrants on board a disabled boat on 9-10 November.  The migrants were rescued by the Italian Navy ship Foscari and transported to Sicily, not to Lampedusa or Malta which were the two closest ports.

The AFM statement reported by the Times of Malta outlines in detail the Maltese response to the distress call from the migrant boat and Malta and Frontex’s participation in the air and sea search.  The AFM statement said that “[t]he decision for the Italian Navy vessel Foscari to take the rescued migrants to an Italian port in Sicily was the result of Italian insistence that Lampedusa does not represent a place of safety for the disembarkation of migrants, despite it being a mere four hours from the position where the persons were rescued.  Under the relevant legal regime applicable with the Malta SRR, the persons should have been disembarked in Lampedusa which, despite declarations to the contrary, represented the nearest place of safety.”

Click here for article.

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Migrant Boat Rescued by Italian Navy – Migrants to be Transferred to Sicily

The Italian Navy vessel Foscari rescued 44 migrants last night from a disabled boat that is believed to have departed from Libya about 4 days ago.  Maltese media reported that the Italians wanted to disembark the rescued migrants in Malta due to the earlier decision of Italian authorities to close Lampedusa for search and rescue purposes.  However Adnkronos news is reporting that the Foscari is taking the rescued migrants to Augusta, Sicily.

The first satellite phone distress call from the migrant boat was reportedly made when the boat was located within the Libyan SAR.  The migrant boat was finally sighted by an Italian fishing boat last night within the Maltese SAR.  The Italian Navy vessel Foscari rescued the migrants.  A Somali woman and her newborn infant who was born on the migrant boat were flown by helicopter to Lampedusa for medical care.  The remaining 42 rescued persons will now apparently be disembarked in Augusta some time tomorrow.  16 August was the last time a migrant boat reached Italy from Libya.

UNHCR issued a statement saying it was “grateful that the Italian navy took this initiative despite the fact that the boat was in Maltese search and rescue waters.”

Click here (EN), here (EN), here (IT), here (IT), and here (IT) for articles.

Click here for UNHCR statement.

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UNHCR Calls on Malta and Italy to Expand Search For Missing Migrant Boat

UNHCR’s Malta office issued the following statement on Thursday while search efforts for the migrant boat by the Armed Forces of Malta continued:

“The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) expresses deep concern for the fate of tens of migrants on board of a boat coming from Libya who have sent out SOS calls on Tuesday evening.   The presence of the migrants has reportedly also been confirmed by a number of Somali relatives in Italy who have received the distress calls.  The boat has not been sighted yet and this raises UNHCR concern, especially as it is much more dangerous to cross the Mediterranean in the current season. UNHCR calls on Malta and Italy to strengthen the search operations in order to save the lives of tens of persons at the mercy of the sea.”

Click here for link.

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Reports of First Post-Gaddafi Migrant Boat [UPDATED 2345 GMT – Lampedusa “Closed” for SAR Operations]

Italian media is reporting this afternoon that a satellite telephone distress call has been received from a disabled migrant boat carrying about 50 persons from Libya.  A search in the Maltese SAR zone is being undertaken.  The boat is reportedly drifting about 70 miles south of Lampedusa.  If the report is accurate, this would appear to be the first known migrant boat to have left Libya since the overthrow of Gaddafi.

Click here and here for articles.  (IT)  Click here for article. (EN)

[UPDATE 23:45 GMT – A Malta Today report suggests, as has been the case before, there may be  disagreement between Maltese and Italian officials regarding who has responsibility for coordinating SAR operations.  Malta Today reports that Malta is now coordinating SAR operations due to the “closure” of Lampedusa by Italian officials.  Click here for article.]

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Expert Meeting on Asylum Seekers and Migrants in Distress at Sea Begins in Djibouti

From an IOM press statement:

“IOM is taking part in a three-day meeting organized by UNHCR and the Government of Djibouti on how best to respond to the needs of migrants, asylum-seekers and refugees who find themselves in situations of distress at sea. The meeting, which opens today [8 November] in Djibouti, brings together government representatives and academics alongside experts from UNHCR, IOM, the International Maritime Organization, the ICRC and IFRC….

‘Despite the tightening of existing Conventions to reinforce the global Search and Rescue regime, gaps remain when it comes to putting these principles into practice,’ says IOM’s Irena Vojackova-Sollorano. ‘Cooperative approaches that bring together governments, the shipping industry, NGOs and international organizations are therefore urgently needed if we are to ensure the safety and protection of all people rescued at sea.’…”

Click here for full press statement.

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PACE Rapporteur Conducts Interviews in Italy Regarding Mediterranean Migrant Deaths

Tineke Strik (Netherlands, SOC) concluded a two day fact-finding trip to Italy on 7 September as Rapporteur for the PACE Migration Committee.  She is investigating the deaths of boat people who have died in the Mediterranean since January 2011.  Strik interviewed Father Moses Zerai, an Eritrean priest, who was in satellite phone contact with several migrant boats during their voyages from Libya, including the disabled migrant boat that drifted for days in March-April this year and on which 61 persons are believed to have died.  In addition to Zerai, Strik interviewed three of the nine survivors from the boat, Italian Coastguard officials, and NGO and UNHCR staff.  Strik “is planning interviews with officials from Nato and the Maltese government, which the Italian coastguard says was alerted to the boat’s plight.”

From the PACE press statement: “‘There is an obligation to help all people in distress.  If anyone did not live up to this responsibility and deliberately did not assist them, they must not be allowed to get away with it. … The testimonies of witnesses directly involved in this incident are coherent, but we have to continue to collect more data and information on who was when and where in the area,’ Mrs Strik reported.  ‘My mission is to try to find out what went wrong, and if there was perhaps a gap in responsibility-sharing. The recommendation which will be contained in my report is aimed at establishing responsibilities and trying to determine how to deal with such incidents in the future. We have to draw the right lessons to prevent similar situations from occurring again.  … At the end of my inquiry, I expect national jurisdictions, governments and parliaments to carry on the investigations and I very much hope that the dynamic of truth … will pave the way,’ she concluded.”

Click here (EN), here (FR), and here (ES) for articles.

Click here for PACE press statement.

Click here for previous post.

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