Amnesty’s biggest human rights campaign highlights Malta plight of ‘El Hiblu 3’

Amnesty International launches flagship campaign highlighting three youths facing injustice in Malta

Armed Forces of Malta personnel aboard the El Hiblu, 28 March 2019
Armed Forces of Malta personnel aboard the El Hiblu, 28 March 2019

Amnesty International has launched the world’s biggest human rights campaign, calling on governments to put right injustices against individuals who are detained or persecuted in countries across the globe. 

The 2020 edition of the campaign features the ‘El Hiblu 3’, three youths from Ivory Coast and Guinea who are awaiting trial in Malta on baseless but grave criminal charges. They acted as interpreters for the captain and crew of an oil tanker which, in March 2019, came to rescue them – and more than 100 other people – from their sinking rubber boat. 

“These three boys fled Libya. Now they find themselves in the dock just for opposing the unlawful attempt of a ship captain to take them back there to face the violence and abuse they were trying to leave behind.  International law prohibits the return of people to places where they their lives and safety would be at risk. Amnesty International is proud to be supporting their fight for justice and calls on the Maltese Attorney General to drop the baseless charges against them. No one should be punished for standing up for their lives and the lives of others,” said Elisa De Pieri, Researcher at Amnesty International.

Photo: Amnesty International
Photo: Amnesty International

Initially, the captain of the oil tanker promised the rescued people - approximately 114, including 20 women and at least 15 children- that they would be taken to safety in Europe. But as time passed, they realised they were being taken back to Libya instead. They began to panic, horrified at the prospect of returning to a country from which they were trying to escape.

They knew that in Libya they would have to face again a multitude of abuses, including arbitrary detention in inhumane conditions, extortion, torture and rape. Their pleas became desperate, some said they’d rather die than return to Libya. The ship captain was decided to turn around and set off for Malta instead. 

But before arriving in Malta, the Maltese Armed Forces stormed the ship. The three, who were teenagers at the time and had helped the ship captain to as translators to calm the situation aboard, were arrested for allegedly hijacking the boat and forcing the captain to take them to Malta.

Despite no one being harmed and the fact that there was no damage to the vessel, they were accused of very serious offences that could carry life sentences, just for opposing an unlawful return to torture.

Amnesty International is demanding justice for the “El Hiblu 3” and calling for the baseless charges against the youths (now aged 21, 18 and 16) to be dropped.