ICCPR Case Digest




Submission: 2017.05.19

View Adopted: 2020.03.13

A.S. et al. v. Malta

In a claim of the violation of the right to life after more than 200 die at sea, Committee rules that the authors failed to exhaust the domestic remedies

Substantive Issues
  • Effective remedy
  • Exhaustion of domestic remedies
  • Jurisdiction of the Committee
  • Right to life
  • Torture / ill-treatment
Relevant Articles
  • Article 2.3
  • Article 6
  • Article 7
Full Text


The authors of the communication are submitting the communication on their own behalf as well as on the behalf of 13 of their relatives who, on the 11 October 2013, were on board a vessel that shipwrecked in the Mediterranean Sea. This shipwreck happened 113 km south of the Island of Lampedusa, Italy and 218 km from Malta, which caused the death of an estimated 200 people.

The authors allege that the State Party authorities failed to take the appropriate measures to render assistance to their relatives, who were in distress at sea, in violation of their rights under article 6 of the Covenant. The authors also allege that the State authorities failed to carry out an effective investigation into the events of the shipwreck, in violation of Article 6 read in conjunction with article 2(3). Additionally, the authors allege that this was a violation of their rights under article 7 read in conjunction with article 2(3), as the lack of investigation caused and continues to cause them anguish, amounting to inhuman and degrading treatment.  

On the 10 October 2013, the authors relatives arrived in Libya and were transported, in a large group including Syrian refugees, to a fishing vessel with over 400 people. After an accident with another boat, the vessel started to allow large quantities of water to enter into it. Around midnight, the vessel  informed  the emergency operator (an Italian number for emergencies at sea) that the vessel was going to sink and children were aboard. The first call was followed by several others within until 3pm to  the emergency operator and to the Armed Forces of Malta as well as to the Italian Rescue Centre. The Maltese Rescue Forces only located the vessel in their waters around 4pm, then sent a rescue mission at 5pm whereas the Italian Rescue Control sent assistance at about 6pm. Apparently, the Italian Rescue Control did not receive any instructions to rescue the vessel until the vessel had capsized, due to the fact that if they interfered, the Maltese authorities would not have taken responsibility for the vessel or the members aboard. The authorities are unable to ascertain exactly how many people died in the shipwreck, but estimate over 200 people, including 60 children did not survive.

The authors claim that the Italian and Maltese rescue centres tried to pass off the responsibility to save the vessel onto one another, instead of intervening at crucial times. Apparently, the Italian Rescue centre informed the Maltese authorities of the vessel at 1 pm, and gave them the location of assets that would be near to the shipwreck, yet they failed to give a specific location until 3.37pm. Apparently, the one asset close by, the ITS Libra (an Italian Ship), was given instructions to move away from the shipwrecked vessel so that the Maltese authorities would not be able to avoid taking responsibility of the rescue mission. At 4.38 pm, the Maltese Rescue Centre requested the assistance of the ITS Libra, in the rescue operation but the commercial ship received instructions to look at other solutions instead of involving a commercial ship in the rescue operation. It was only at 5.07pm, when the vessel had capsized that the commercial ship was given instructions to intervene and aid the distressed vessel.

The authors submit that this complaint was brought forward, as there was no effective remedy that would be available to them in order for them to address this issue to the domestic authorities. Neither Malta or Italy initiated any form of investigation into the circumstances of the shipwreck and the prosecutor requested that the criminal proceedings to be discontinued.

Finally, the shipwreck occurred outside both national territories of Malta and Italy, thus the complaint falls under the jurisdiction of both Malta and Italy for several reasons. Firstly, both State Parties are parties to the International Convention on Maritime Search and Rescue, 1979. Even though the Maltese authorities were responsible for the search and rescue maritime area, the Italian Authorities were exercising de facto control over the Maltese search and rescue area and they were both in communication with the vessel in distress. The authors argue that there is a causal link between the negligence and failure to act from both State parties and the resulting deaths and disappearances of the victims of the shipwreck. Thus, there is a jurisdictional link between the State Party that receive the calls of distress in having the obligation to provide emergency services.

Thus, the authors reiterated the complaints under article 6 and 7 of the Covenant, read in conjunction with Article 2(3).


The Committee notes that under article 1 of the Optional Protocol that the State Party declares the communication as inadmissible, as the events occurred outside the territorial waters of the State Party. The committee recalls it has the competency to receive and consider communications from individuals subject to the jurisdiction of the State parties, within their territory and to all persons subject to their jurisdiction. That means that a State party must respect and ensure the rights laid down in the Covenant to anyone within the power or effective control of that State party, even if they aren’t directly situated on the territory of the State party. In addition, as indicated in in general comment No.15 (1986), the positions of aliens under the Covenant, that the enjoyment of Covenant rights are not limited to the citizens of the State Party but all individuals, regardless of their nationality or statelessness (such as refugees or migrant workers) that may find themselves in the territory or subject to the jurisdiction of the State party. This position applies, even when States are operating outside their given territory where such power or effective control over individuals is enforced.

According to paragraph 63 of general comment No.36 (2018) on the right to life, the State party has the obligation to respect and ensure the rights under article 6 of all person within their territory and to all persons subject to their jurisdiction, that is "all persons over whose enjoyment of the right to life it exercises power or effective control" including individuals located on marine vessels and aircraft registered by them or flying their flag, and over those that find themselves in a situation of distress at sea, in accordance with their international obligations on rescue at sea.

Furtherly, the Committee notes that according to article 98 of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, each State is to require the master of a ship flying its flag to proceed with all possible speed to rescue of persons in distress, if informed of their need of assistance, as far as reasonably can be expected of them. Furthermore, coastal States are encouraged to promote the establishment, operation and maintenance of adequate and effective search and rescue services regarding safety on and over sea and are required to set up mutual regional arrangements. The Committee also refers to the International Convention on Maritime Search and Rescue (1979) and the International Convention for the Safety of Life at Sea (1974) – which include that States should lead coordination search and rescue operations.

In the present case, the Committee notes that is an undisputed fact that the issue concerned happened outside the territories of the State and that the vessel concerned was not flying a Maltese Flag. The question before the Committee is therefore whether the alleged victims could be considered having been under the effective control or power of the State party, even though it happened outside the jurisdiction of the party. The Committee understands that the it is an undisputed fact once more, that the State party formally accepted to assume the coordination of the rescue and search operation of the vessel at distress, therefore exercising effective control over the vessel and the individuals concerned. Due to this, it can be stated that there could potentially be a direct and reasonably foreseeable causal relationship between the State parties acts and omissions and the outcome of the operation. Therefore, the Committee is not precluded in considering this communication according to article 1 of the Optional Protocol.

Secondly, the Committee would need to analyse whether the communication should be considered on the basis of the fact that the authors of the communication have not exhausted domestic remedies available to them. The Committee notes that the State party has argued that there were various domestic remedies available to the authors of the communication and considers that even though domestic remedies can appear to be ineffective and with no prospect of success – that the authors of the communication should have expressed due diligence in this regard and followed the procedures in raising their claims. In this specific context the Committee concludes that the authors failed to raise their claims before any State party judicial or quasi-judicial authority and therefore the communication would need to be considered inadmissible.

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