The U.N. human rights office on Friday called for charges against the humanitarian workers on trial in Greece to be dropped and said the case had had a chilling effect on humanitarian organisations in the region.
“Trials like this are deeply concerning because they criminalise lifesaving work and set a dangerous precedent,” Elizabeth Throssell, a spokesperson for the U.N.’s Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights told reporters at a briefing in Geneva.
“Indeed, there has already been a chilling effect, with human rights defenders and humanitarian organizations forced to hold their human rights work in Greece and other EU countries. We reiterate our call for charges against the 24 to be dismissed.”
The aid workers, some of them foreigners and including a Syrian refugee, were affiliated with the Emergency Response Center International, a nonprofit search-and-rescue group operating on Lesbos from 2016 to 2018. The island was then on the frontline of Europe’s refugee crisis, with scores of asylum-seekers arriving daily on its shores.
“Saving lives and providing humanitarian assistance should never be criminalised or prosecuted,” Throssell said. “Such actions are, quite simply, a humanitarian and human rights imperative.”
The trial began on the Greek island of Lesbos in November 2021. It was immediately adjourned as the case was referred to a different court. Proceedings resumed this week.