Counter-investigation of the events leading to the seizure of an NGO rescue vessel
18 June 2017
Realised with the support of Borderline Europe, the WatchTheMed platform and Transmediale
As the EU’s policies of deterrence deployed since the Arab uprisings failed to stem migrants’ crossings across the Mediterranean, the Italian government – in collaboration with other European governments and agencies – deployed a two-pronged strategy to close off the central Mediterranean: on the one hand, by criminalising and limiting the rescue activities of the NGOs that have stepped in to make up for the lack of state rescue operations; and on the other, by reinforcing the collaboration with Libyan authorities and militias to prevent and intercept departures, thus physically containing migrants on the Mediterranean’s southern shore without requiring the direct involvement of Italian or EU authorities. This undeclared operation, which dramatically escalated over 2017, is what Forensic Oceanography has called ‘Mare Clausum’ (‘closed sea’ in Latin).
Forensic Oceanography and Forensic Architecture have investigated two cases central to this ongoing ‘Mare Clausum’ research, The Iuventa and Sea Watch vs. Libyan Coast Guard (forthcoming), each concerning one of the dimensions of this policy which entails migrants being brought back to a country where their lives are endangered, and their human rights are systematically violated. These ‘in progress’ investigations have been made possible by an exponential increase in video documentation by the different actors involved, allowing for a unique form of 3D modelling of incidents developed together with Forensic Architecture.
Since the end of 2016, culminating in summer 2017, a growing campaign of delegitimisation and criminalisation has systematically targeted NGOs engaged in search and rescue. On August 2nd, the ship Iuventa, of the German NGO Jugend Rettet (‘Youth Rescue’), was seized by the Italian judiciary under suspicion of ‘assistance to illegal migration’ and collusion with smugglers, concerning in particular an incident that occurred on June 18th. This came only days after the NGO, along with several others, had refused to sign a ‘code of conduct’ that would have dangerously limited their activities. The video presented here offers a counter-investigation of the authorities’ version of one of these episodes, a rescue operation that occurred in the early morning of 18 June 2017. An analysis of the other two episodes in which the Iuventa is accused of colluding with smugglers will be published in the coming weeks.
This investigation is currently exhibited as part of Counter Investigations: Forensic Architecture at the Institute for Contemporary Art, London (UK), 7 Mar – 6 May 2018.