UN experts fault Italy in drownings of over 200 migrants

GENEVA (AP) — Independent human rights experts who work with the United Nations say Italy failed to protect the “right to life” of over 200 migrants who died when the boat they were on sank in the Mediterranean Sea over seven years ago,

The Human Rights Committee also called on Italian authorities to “proceed with an independent and timely investigation and to prosecute those responsible” for the deaths.

The boat departed from Libya on Oct. 10, 2013 carrying some 400 people, mostly Syrians. In a decision published Wednesday, the committee said Italy “failed to respond promptly” to distress calls after the vessel was shot “by a boat flying a Berber flag in international waters” some 113 kilometers south of the Italian island of Lampedusa.

The committee of 18 experts says distress calls to Italian authorities were redirected to Malta, which was some 218 kilometers away. By the time a Maltese patrol boat arrived the boat had capsized. More than 200 people, including 60 children, drowned.

Committee member Helene Tigroudja called it a “complex case” since the migrants’ boat was in international waters within Malta’s search and rescue zone, but she said a timely response might have averted the tragedy.

“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,” Tigroudja said.