Courts sticking with “common sense” when faced with nationalist populist discourse

9 May, 2016

“More than one million desperate refugees fled to Europe last year, redefining the meaning of being down and out and in the search for a place where one might live in relative safety. This context of human suffering made the ruling last week by Italy’s highest appeals court ring all the more with mercy in the case of a hungry Ukrainian immigrant facing jail time for stealing $4.70 worth of sausage and cheese in a Genoa supermarket.

“He took possession of that small amount of food in the face of the immediate and essential need for nourishment, acting therefore in a state of need,” the Supreme Court of Cassation ruled, finding that the meal purloined by Roman Ostriakov, a destitute homeless man, “does not constitute a crime.”

No one knows for certain what the ruling might trigger as a precedent. But the news of Mr. Ostriakov’s victory after a three-year court fight quickly spread worldwide as a bit of delight in the day’s welter of assorted sufferings. Italians, who have endured high rates of poverty and unemployment, could be encouraged that court scholars cited an underlining legal doctrine — “Ad impossibilia nemo tenetur,” which means, “No one is expected to do the impossible.”

Pope Francis has described the misery of being poor in the modern world: “These people stand at the edges of our great avenues, in our streets, in deafening anonymity. They become part of an urban landscape which is more and more taken for granted, in our eyes, and especially in our hearts.” He warns: “The coexistence of wealth and poverty is a scandal, it is a disgrace for humanity.”

The Italian court ruling comes perfectly timed for Francis, who has invited thousands of homeless and impoverished people to Rome in November to dramatize global poverty at the European Festival of Joy and Mercy. There’s no word yet whether Roman Ostriakov might be invited.” The New York Times – Mangia! Signore: Italian Court Spares Hungry Shoplifter.

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  One of a few photographs taken by the crew of the OOC Cougar (rescue ship) as the migrants’ boat capsized upon approaching the ship that was attempting to rescue it. Photo credit: OOC Opielok Offshore Carrier.

Death by Rescue Report

1 May, 2016

Please see this excellent report by “Death by Rescue”:

“The week commencing 12 April 2015 saw what is believed to be the largest loss of life at sea in the recent history of the Mediterranean. On 12 April, 400 people died when an overcrowded boat capsized due to its passengers’ excitement at the sight of platform supply vessels approaching to rescue them. Less than a week later, on 18 April, a similar incident took an even greater toll in human lives, leading the deadliest single shipwreck recorded by the United Nations’ High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) in the Mediterranean.   Over 800 people are believed to have died when a migrants’ vessel sank after a mis-manoeuvre led it to collide with a cargo ship that had approached to rescue its passengers. More than 1,200 lives were thus lost in a single week. As Médecins Sans Frontiers (MSF) commented at the time, these figures eerily resemble those of a war zone.


Beyond the huge death toll, what is most striking about these events is that they were not the result of the reluctance to carry out rescue operations, which has been identified as a structural cause of migrants’ deaths in the Mediterranean Sea.   In these two cases, the actual loss of life has occurred during and partly through the rescue operation itself. The detailed reconstruction of these two successive tragedies provided in this report shows, however, that in all likelihood the merchant vessels involved complied with their legal obligations and did everything they possibly could to rescue the passengers in distress. While it could appear that only the ruthless smugglers who overcrowded the unseaworthy boats to the point of collapse are to blame, the report focuses on the deeper responsibilities of EU agencies and policy makers. 

Frontex operational planning of the Triton operation thus deliberately disregarded not only the external criticism of human rights advocates, but also its own internal assessment predicting increased deaths at sea.” – “Death by Rescue” Report, at:

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  Protesters outside a newspaper office in Istanbul on Saturday after police officers fired tear gas. Credit Ozan Kose/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

The costs of the EU’s deal with Turkey

9 March, 2016

The contrast was jarring: Just days after the police broke into the offices of an opposition newspaper using tear gas and water cannons, Turkey’s prime minister was greeted in Brussels with offers of billions in aid, visa-free travel for Turks in Europe and renewed prospects for joining the European Union.

The juxtaposition highlighted the conundrum Europe faces as it seeks solutions to its worst refugee crisis since World War II. To win Turkey’s desperately needed assistance in stemming the flow of migrants to the Continent, European officials seem prepared to ignore what critics say is President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s steady march toward authoritarianism. – The New York Times, ”E.U. Woos Turkey for Refugee Help, Ignoring Rights Crackdown”.

The only objective of European leaders is thus clearly stopping migrants. At any cost. At any financial cost. At any political cost resulting from endorsing an increasingly undemocratic regime. At any human cost to the migrants. All this to assuage the European electorates who are fired up against migrants by nationalist populist discourses.

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  Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. Photo: Legnan Koula/EPA

Forcibly returning refugees to Turkey is not the answer

8 March, 2016

Seeing how political leaders are haggling over human lives as if they were boxes, and deciding arbitrarily that half the Syrian refugees are not deserving of European protection, while covertly accepting that Turkey is a safe country to which they can be returned, is nauseating.

Turkey “is waging war on an ethnic minority, its riot police just stormed the offices of a major newspaper, its secret service faces allegations of arming Isis and its military shot down a Russian bomber” (The Guardian, Can a Turkey sliding into despotism and censorship still join the EU? The answer must be no): how can it be a safe country for Syrian refugees, when Greece was declared by European courts not to be a safe country for refugees? Are we going to have to wait years until European courts are called to intervene to see that this kind of deal is unacceptable?

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  Gov. Mike Pence of Indiana Credit Darron Cummings/Associated Press

An independent and competent judiciary is essential to fight the oppression of minorities

6 March, 2016

A federal district judge in Indianapolis [blocked] the attempt by Gov. Mike Pence of Indiana to cut off federal resettlement funds for Syrian refugees who had passed a vetting process that took up to two years. Mr. Pence’s order was unconstitutional and “clearly discriminates” against Syrians compared with other refugees, Judge Tanya Walton Pratt ruled in a suit brought by a nonprofit resettlement agency. The judge found that Mr. Pence’s move to withhold resettlement funds was “in no way” justified by his claim that his main concern was the safety of Indiana residents.

The ruling delivered a jolt of reality to the xenophobic politics now inflaming the presidential primary campaign. – The New York Times, ”A Judge’s Message to the Xenophobes”.

This judgement is a great example of why we need an independent and competent judiciary. One commentator mentioned that, if the law was on the judge’s side, the people are largely on Trump’s side. What was implied was that, if a majority of Americans agreed with Trump, then Trump must be right. Isn’t this exactly the reason why independent judges are necessary?

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