‘Make human trafficking a crime against humanity’ say Europe’s police chiefs at Rome meet

European police and naval chiefs on Thursday called for migrant trafficking of the kind currently taking place in Libya to be declared a crime against humanity.

'Make human trafficking a crime against humanity' say Europe's police chiefs at Rome meet
Men disembark from an Italian coastguard vessel following a rescue operation at sea. File photo: Giovanni Isolino/AFP

At talks in Rome, senior figures in the fight against the deadly trade said such a move would both draw attention to the gravity of the crimes they are trying to stop and make it easier to do so.

“Migrant trafficking as it takes place in Libya should be considered an international crime, a crime against humanity,” said Admiral Enrico Credendino, the head of a European naval force charged with combating trafficking in the Mediterranean.

Europol's Robert Crepinko said it was time to redefine the nature of traffickers' actions to better reflect their tragic impact.

READ ALSO: 'They got the wrong man': Doubts remain over trafficking suspect's identity

“More than 5,000 (migrants) died in the Mediterranean last year and we don't know about the Sahara but we can assume that it is at least that figure or even more,” said Crepinko, who heads the trans-European police agency's migrant smuggling unit.

Many of the tens of thousands of migrants reaching Italy via Libya every month come from sub-Saharan Africa and begin their treks north by paying traffickers to cross the vast desert.

“There are still (African) countries that don't consider it (smuggling) as a crime,” Crepinko said. “If it is considered a crime against humanity, then of course there are certain obligations for the authorities to act.”

The proposed move would also ensure trafficking-related crimes could be prosecuted long after they are committed, he said.

The idea is in its early stages and it is not clear exactly how it would be implemented as there is no global treaty defining crimes against humanity.

Previous prosecutions have been carried about on the basis of bespoke definitions created for hearings such as the Nuremberg and Tokyo trials after World War II and the International Tribunals on former Yugoslavia and Rwanda.

A UN working group is currently attempting to plug the gap in international aw with regard to crimes against humanity.

Credendino said the traffickers could not be categorized as simply providing an illegal transport service. “There are recurring reports of migrants being detained in inhumane conditions under duress, deprived of freedom, attacked and abused,” he said.

“Some are sexually abused and some women are being forced into prostitution. The line of demarcation between migrant smuggling and human trafficking is getting thinner and thinner.”

Separately, Credendino unveiled plans to step up his naval force's training programme for the Libyan coastguard after a first batch of 130 officers underwent sessions in Malta and Libya.

Another 1,000 of the coastguard's staff will spend time with peers in Spain and Italy in the next year as efforts continue to make the force more effective at patrolling Libya's coastal waters.

READ ALSO: Suspected people smugglers 'sold organs' of migrant dead


New York returns 214 stolen artworks to Italy in seven months

Authorities in New York announced on Thursday the return to Italy of 14 more antiquities, worth an estimated €2.3 million, as part of an investigation into smuggling of stolen artifacts.

New York returns 214 stolen artworks to Italy in seven months

The Manhattan District Attorney’s office has been conducting an extensive investigation over the past two years into looted antiquities that have ended up in New York museums and galleries — including the prestigious Metropolitan Museum of Art.

During a ceremony on Thursday with the Italian consul general and Italian police representatives, 14 more artifacts – some 2,600 years old – were officially returned to Italy, bringing the total number of repatriated pieces to that country over the past seven months to 214, District Attorney Alvin Bragg’s office said.

READ ALSO: Italian ‘art squad’ police recover 800 illegally-excavated archaeological finds

More than 700 pieces worth more than $100 million have been returned in the past year to 17 countries, including Italy as well as Cambodia, India, Pakistan, Egypt, Iraq, and Greece, the statement added.

New York, a hub of stolen antiquities trafficking for decades, set up a task force in 2017 to investigate the illicit trade.

According to the statement by District Attorney Bragg, who took office in January 2022, Thursday’s repatriation included the silver “Sicily Naxos Coin,” minted around 430 BCE and currently valued at half a million dollars.

Other notable items included ancient pottery dating to 510 BCE, and amarble head of Roman Emperor Hadrian, dating to 200 CE.

Among the culprits behind the 14 returned pieces, the statement said, were well-known art traffickers Giacomo Medici and Giovanni Franco Becchina, as well as Robert Hecht, the Paris-based American art dealer who died in 2012.

The traffickers had “relied on gangs of tombaroli (tomb raiders) to loot carefully chosen and insufficiently guarded archaeological sites throughout the Mediterranean,” it added.