The U.S. Department of Justice should immediately drop all criminal charges against humanitarian volunteer Dr. Scott Warren, and stop criminalizing humanitarian aid, Amnesty International said today.
“The U.S. government is legally required to prevent the arbitrary deaths of migrants and asylum seekers in border areas. Yet instead, authorities have willfully destroyed humanitarian aid provisions in deadly desert terrain and are criminally prosecuting humanitarian volunteers in order to deter them from saving lives,” said Erika Guevara-Rosas, Americas director at Amnesty International.
The U.S. government is prosecuting Dr. Warren for allegedly “harbouring” two undocumented migrants by providing them with humanitarian aid in the form of food, water, and clean clothing, in the desert town of Ajo, Arizona, where he lives. If convicted on all three criminal charges against him, Dr. Warren could face up to 20 years in prison. His felony trial is scheduled to begin on 29 May.
Amnesty International has sent an open letter to U.S. authorities as part of an international campaign calling for the charges against Dr. Warren to be dropped.
“Providing humanitarian aid is never a crime. If Dr. Warren were convicted and imprisoned on these absurd charges, he would be a prisoner of conscience, detained for his volunteer activities motivated by humanitarian principles and his religious beliefs,” said Erika Guevara-Rosas.
“Amnesty International opposed similar criminal prosecutions of humanitarian volunteers in Arizona 15 years ago, and we will continue to do so as long as necessary, until the government stops abusing its power. The U.S. government should immediately adopt and implement exemptions from criminal prosecution under ‘smuggling’ and ‘harboring’ charges, for the provision of humanitarian aid.”
Earlier in 2019, Dr. Warren and eight other volunteers with the organization No More Deaths/No Más Muertes were also prosecuted for misdemeanor charges of littering and trespassing, specifically for leaving water and other humanitarian aid in desert areas where migrants have frequently died.
Arizona has the deadliest border area in the USA, accounting for 38.3 percent of the 7,242 border deaths recorded by U.S. border authorities over the last 20 years. The actual number of deaths is likely higher, as local media and organizations have sometimes counted more than official statistics, and border authorities have not always registered or collected the remains of bodies reported to them by volunteers.
Amnesty International acknowledges the volunteer activities of Dr. Warren and his associated organization No More Deaths/No Más Muertes, as vital humanitarian aid directed at upholding the right to life and preventing the deaths of migrants and asylum seekers in the Sonoran Desert.