State Responsibility Beyond Borders: What Legal Basis for Italy’s Push-backs to Libya?

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This article takes Italy’s widely-debated 2009 push-backs to Libya campaign as a point of reference to address whether bilateral agreements for technical and police cooperation provide the legal foundation for the forced return of intercepted refugees to countries of embarkation. Through a detailed analysis of both the facts and the texts of the published and unpublished bilateral accords, it concludes that, although push-backs do not have a clear legal basis, the agreements between Italy and Libya constitute a fundamental component of the multifaceted legal and political framework underpinning Italy’s practice of interdiction and return. Moreover, by entrusting a non-EU third country with the authority and legal competence for the maritime operations, bilateral agreements for migration control may distance the responsibility (for international wrongful acts) of the outsourcing state. Migrants and refugees are autonomously intercepted by the third country in international waters, or in its coastal waters, before their arrival at the EU’s gateways. By venturing into the labyrinth of state responsibility in general international law, this article considers Italy’s possible liability for ‘aiding and assisting’ Libya, in a variety of ways, in the unlawful containment of irregular migration by sea and the resulting refoulement of intercepted refugees
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)692-734
JournalInternational Journal of Refugee Law
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - Dec 2012

Research Centres

  • International Justice and Human Rights Research Centre


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