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Italy Closes Ports to Migrants and Guterres Indicates the Sin but not the Sinner

The United Nations Secretary General António Guterres again avoids naming Italy as guilty of international law violations.

Secretary-General António Guterres delivers remarks on the US-DPRK Summit at UN Headquarters in New York. 11 June 2018. (UN Photo/Manuel Elias)

When asked about Italy's migration policies violating international law, the Secretary-General stated that "countries have the right to manage their borders... [but] should do it in full respect for international refugee law.” However, once again, he never explicitly stated that Italy is violating international law.

This morning during a media stakeout on the Singapore summit between the United States and the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres answered a question concerning Italy’s recent closing of ports to migrant rescue ships.

Guterres stated: “I’ve always been extremely concerned with the fact that the space for refugee protection in Europe might be shrinking, and my strong appeal is that recognizing that countries have the right to manage their borders and countries have the right to define their own migration policies. Countries should do it in a protection sensitive way, and countries should do it in full respect for international refugee law.”

This response parallels a statement he made last year to La Voce about Italy’s arrangements with Libya to not send migrants to Italy. After the Secretary-General stated that the arrangement was a situation that would result in a violation of international law, Spokesman for the Secretary-General Stéphane Dujarric emphasized in a follow-up email to La Voce that “the SG was talking in general terms of refugee law and countries obligations. He does not know the intricacies of Italian law to comment on it.”

In both situations, Guterres has stated that the situations Italy is involving itself would constitute a violation of international refugee law, yet he has never explicitly stated that Italy is violating international law. As an Italian would say, “si indica il peccato ma non il peccatore” meaning “the sin is indicated, but the sinner is not.”

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