Death of 63 migrants in the Mediterranean: Complaint in France holds the French military to account

One year after events that led to the deaths of 63 migrants in a boat in the waters off the coast of Libya, 4 survivors, with the support of a coalition of NGOs, filed a complaint in France concerning the responsibility of the French military for failing to assist persons in danger.

In March 2011, the chaos in Libya forced thousands of migrants to flee the country to escape violence. Amongst them were 72 people of Ethiopian, Eritrean, Nigerian, Ghanaian and Sudanese origin who boarded a dinghy bound for Italy during the early hours of 27 March. A few hours after their departure, a French patrol plane flew over their boat and informed the Italian coastguards of its location. The migrants’ voyage soon turned into a nightmare. They lacked fuel, food and drinking water and lost control of the boat. They managed to send an appeal for assistance by telephone that was picked up by Italian coastguards and passed on to boats in the area, indicating their location. These distress calls were repeated every 4 hours for 10 days. Military forces with sophisticated equipment were present in Libyan waters at the time. On two occasions, helicopters flew over the migrants’ boat. One of them even dropped a few bottles of water and biscuits for the passengers before flying off again.

9 days later, when many of the passengers were already dead, the migrants encountered a military ship. They signalled their distress and showed the bodies of the dead babies. Yet no-one came to their assistance. After drifting for 2 weeks, their dinghy washed up on Libyan shores. There were 11 survivors, 2 of whom died shortly after landing in Libya. 63 people, including 20 women and 3 children, were left to die.

This tragedy, which symbolises Europe’s indifference to migrants and refugees, is today the subject of a complaint lodged before the French criminal courts in the names of 4 of the survivors. With the support of several NGOs, a complaint “against persons unknown” was filed before the section of the Paris High Court (Tribunal de grande instance) specialising in military cases, on the grounds of failure to assist persons in danger. It will be up to the French courts to clarify the responsibility of the French military which, whilst intervening in Libya in order to protect the civilian population, failed to assist these individuals. Having received the distress calls, the evidence indicates that the French armed forces failed in their national and international obligations to protect lives.

The contempt and indifference with which those who, fleeing persecution and violence, attempt to reach Europe are treated is intolerable. This was recently affirmed by the European Court of Human Rights on 23 February 2012. Our organisations support the survivors of this tragedy and expect the French criminal courts to condemn this violation of the obligation to assist persons in danger. There is no justification for knowingly leaving human beings in distress to die.

The following NGOs have joined the coalition :

Agenzia Habeshia

Associazione Ricreativa e Culturale Italiana (ARCI)


Coordination et initiatives pour réfugiés et immigrés (Ciré)

Fédération internationale des ligues des droits de l’Homme (FIDH),

Groupe d’information et de soutien des immigrés (GISTI)

Ligue des droits de l’Homme (LDH)


Progress Lawyers Network

Réseau euro-méditerranéen des droits de l’Homme (REMDH)

Testimonies, click here


. The complaint (in French)

. The report of independent experts on the case (in English) :