Thursday, September 20, 2007

Where humanity is a crime

The customary law of the sea (since codified in the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea) includes one of the most basic and oldest statements of humanitarian law. If someone is in trouble, people have a duty to "proceed with all possible speed" to assist them. And if their boat sinks, they must be rescued and put ashore in the nearest port. This is a basic moral duty, which has been enforced for hundreds of years. Those who carry it out, such as Captain Arne Rinnan of the MV Tampa, are deserving of moral praise.

Except, apparently, in Italy. There, a group of fishermen are being prosecuted for following international law and rescuing a group of drowning illegal immigrants and taking them to shore. Their crime? "Aiding illegal immigration".

The effect has been immediate. There have already been reports of fishermen leaving migrants to drown, even beating them away with sticks rather than rescue them. And that is exactly what the Italian government wants them to do. Anything, apparently, rather than accept their duty to process these people's claims for refugee status.

Simple humanity should not be a crime. And the government which makes it one deserves to be overthrown.