Italian government breaks the rule of the Montego Bay Treaty


Italian Minister of the Interior Matteo Salvini, together with Giusseppe Conte, Italy's Prime Minister since June 1st 2018, are acting concerning situations of emergency and force majeure, as if they never existed, and this way they break the rule of the Montego Bay Treaty, which was signed on December 10th 1982, in Jamaica. The treaty refers to the law of the sea, mainly containing principles and rules related to the conversation and management of the living resources of the sea, while at the same time describing the context in which a ship or boat can "trespass" the seaboard of a state.

But let's see the facts step by step.

During end of June 2019, there has been a boat of the german non-governmental organization "Sea Watch" with more than 40 immigrants in it, who remained in the boat for more than 2 weeks, in the open seas. Eventually the ship started to cross the seaboard of the italian state,by ignoring prohibitions of the italian government for the ship to berth. The 31 year old captain of the boat Carola Rackete, got arrested, but some days after was left free of charges, while according to the judge, she acted for the sake and the protection of human lives.

A few days after "Sea Watch" entered the seaboard of the italian state, another boat "Alex" entered the port of Lampeduza, with 41 immigrants, ignoring the strategy of closed ports, implemented by Salvini.

Malta offered to accept the boat, but due to health situations in the boat and the time they remained in there, they decided that Malta was very far and a great risk for the lives of the people in the boat. So finally, "Alex" entered Lampedusa in Italy.

And somehow, at this point starts the irrationality of the italian government, by threatening non-governmental organizations with a fine of 5.500 euros for each person they rescue.

And of course according to the Montego Bay Treaty of 1982, signed in Jamaica and describing the rules and principles of the law of the sea, a state is dominant in its seaboard area, by means of forbidding exploitation of its own resources, of overflights and even of boats tresspassing it for non-peaceful reasons.

But the Montego Bay Treaty, also refers to another notion which is called "innocent passage" and means that it is allowed to a boat to enter the bordering area of another state, without asking the permission of the state (and that is an international customary rule), as long as there is a situation of force majeure, or for rescuing people or ships in danger. There is a limitation of course to this provision, and has mostly to do with non-causing any non-peaceful events or putting in danger the safety of a state by collecting information which could threaten its security.

In the above-mentioned cases, the boats were only rescuing people in danger. And of course, except for the explicitly mentioned provisions in the articles of the treaty, describing the limitations of an "innocent passage", a state maintains the right to define case by case, which situations could cause "harm" to the security of the state. And that is exactly the way for a state to trespass international treaties, to ignore international agenda and impose its absolutist mentality.

Italian government under Conte and Minister Salvini, ignore the notion of "innocent passage" and act as if rescuing human lives from death could be harmful to Italy. And this way of thinking prevails in all sovereign states, as they tend to confuse their safety and development with lacking in structures capable of inviting people in danger. A provision that should be number one in the list, given the fact that so many people suffer all around the globe and you cannot close the door and let them die. There must be some other way to act and protect both people and your safety. Closing the door, seems to be a solution only for perpetuating the miserable logic that you are dealing with your own problems and you have the right to do nothing about creating the infrastructure which can permit other people to feel rescued in your country. 

Extreme-right voices seem to thrive around Europe. Fear has proved to be historically the most common reason, why a state chooses a pasive aggressive policy against external "threats". But the notion of an "innocent passage" will still remain as a provision in the Montego Bay treaty of 1982. And it only remains to the eyes of the beholder, to "read and implement it right".

                                             written by Themis Panagiotopoulou, PhD in Political Science 

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