The International Criminal Court (ICC) has been asked to investigate alleged war crimes committed against thousands of migrants trapped in Libyan detention centres with the support of Italian and Maltese authorities.
Three NGOs - UpRights, StraLi, and Adala for All - submitted evidence to the ICC on Monday and called on the prosecutor's office to investigate the alleged crimes.
According to their submission to the ICC, and seen by Times of Malta, the NGOs are alleging that six detention centres "under the nominal control of the Department for Combatting Illegal Migration (DCIM), of the Government of National Accord(now the Government of National Unity), are in fact operated by armed groups taking an active part in the hostilities".
They claim that members of those armed groups "systematically subject migrants (men, women and children) to various forms of mistreatments and abuse including murder, torture, rape, forced labour and forced conscription."
On the alleged role of the Maltese authorities, the NGOs claim the evidence submitted shows that together with the Italian authorities, Maltese officials "operated conjointly with the Libyan Coast Guard coordinating its rescue operations to ensure that migrants at sea would be intercepted and returned to Libya".
"The information available indicates a causal connection between such contribution and the crimes migrants suffered in the detention centres," the NGOs said.
The ICC was set up to prosecute individuals for gross violations of international humanitarian law, including genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity. Malta ratified the Rome Treaty establishing the ICC in 2002.
For the ICC to prosecute any such claims, it needs to prove that a country involved must be unwilling or unable to genuinely investigate itself.
On this, the NGOs said: "There is substantial inactivity vis-à-vis the alleged criminal conduct carried out by Italian authorities and officials. In Malta, only one criminal investigation addressed the conduct of Maltese authorities. It was swiftly terminated by the Maltese judiciary."
Requests to investigate alleged war crimes or crimes against humanity must be assessed by the ICC prosecutor's office, which then decides whether there are the grounds to request a full-scale investigation into claims.