Human rights watchdog criticizes decision to file Farmakonisi case

Europe's top human rights official has criticized a decision by a Greek prosecutor earlier this week to shelve the investigation into the deaths of 11 immigrants who drowned during a controversial coast guard operation near the eastern Aegean islet of Farmakonisi in January.

“Impunity risks covering these serious human rights violations. This would be a grave mistake,” said Nils Muiznieks, the Human Rights Commissioner for the 47-nation Council of Europe.

“Greek authorities have to take more resolute efforts to ensure accountability for this tragedy,” he said.

In a letter to Greek authorities in February, Muiznieks noted his expectation for the prompt identification and effective sanctioning of every person responsible for the incident.

The small fishing boat crammed with 28 passengers entered Greek waters illegally from Turkey on January 20. The coast guard said it was towing the boat to Farmakonisi when it capsized and sank, causing 11 passengers – eight women and three children, all from Afghanistan – to drown.

Survivors have claimed the boat was being towed at high speed back into Turkish waters. They said coast guard crew ignored their pleas to take the women and children on their boat before the accident, and then allegedly stood by as passengers struggled in rough seas.

Merchant Marine Minister Miltiadis Varvitsiotis and coast guard officials have rejected these accounts.

On Thursday, activists and relatives of the victims demanded a fresh probe into the case and vowed, if necessary, to seek justice at the European Court of Human Rights.