ICC called on to investigate EU politicians over alleged crimes against humanity in migration policies

EU foreign policy chief and Italy’s deputy prime minister among politicians and officials named by lawyers in submission to court

A new submission to the International Criminal Court (ICC) has called for European politicians and officials to be investigated for their alleged involvement in crimes against humanity, because of migration policies implemented in the central Mediterranean, off the coast of North Africa.

Those named by lawyers include former European Union foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini; Italy’s deputy prime minister Matteo Salvini and former interior minister Marco Minniti; and the current and former prime ministers of Malta, Robert Abela and Joseph Muscat.

Fabrice Leggeri, the former head of EU border agency Frontex, is also named. Mr Leggeri stood down in April amid criticism about the agency’s involvement in human rights violations.

The new ICC submission says these “co-perpetrators” should be investigated and that there are “reasonable grounds to believe that the identified individuals can be held criminally responsible”.


The central Mediterranean route, which sees people fleeing from situations including dictatorships, conflict and extreme poverty attempt to cross the sea from North Africa to Malta or Italy, has been called the “deadliest migration route in the world” by the United Nations. More than 20,100 men, women and children have died or gone missing there since 2014, while trying to reach Europe.

In 2017, the EU began funding the Libyan coastguard to intercept boats of refugees and migrants. While the EU supplies the Libyan coastguard with vessels and equipment, it also carries out surveillance, flying helicopters, planes and drones to spot refugee boats and transmit that information to aid the interceptions.

More than 108,000 people have been forced back to Libya over the last five years, with many locked up indefinitely in detention centres that Pope Francis, among others, has compared to concentration camps. The new ICC submission argues that these interceptions and returns are crimes against humanity “in the form of the severe deprivation of physical liberty, committed as part of [a] widespread and systematic attack”.

The submission was filed in The Hague by the European Center for Constitutional and Human Rights (ECCHR), an NGO dedicated to enforcing civil and human rights through legal means. It was compiled using information from sea-rescue and civil-society organisations, particularly German charity Sea-Watch, as well as publicly available data. It focuses on 12 specific incidents that have taken place between 2018 and 2021.

“The incidents present a particularly clear and detailed picture of the co-operation between European Union agencies … and member states … with Libyan actors, on both the policy and operational levels, with regard to the interception of migrants and refugees at sea for the purpose of their return to and detention in Libya,” the submission reads.

It follows on from a previous submission by the ECCHR last year, which focused on the individual criminal liability of individuals in Libya for alleged involvement in crimes against humanity, with a focus on crimes including enslavement.

Another ICC submission by lawyers Omer Shatz and Juan Branco, in June 2019, also called for the EU to be investigated in relation to crimes against humanity in the Central Mediterranean, though it did not explicitly name individuals.

Sally Hayden

Sally Hayden

Sally Hayden, a contributor to The Irish Times, reports on Africa