Statewatch has issued an Analysis, “The EU’s Planned War on Smugglers,” written by Steve Peers, Professor of EU Law, University of Essex:
“The EU’s Foreign Affairs Council is meeting today to discuss the possibility of a military operation in the Mediterranean to take actions against smuggling of migrants. Officially, at least, the purpose of the operation (as defined by EU leaders last month) is to destroy smugglers’ boats. The EU’s High Representative has stated that there will be ‘no boots on the ground’; and as she arrived at the Council meeting today, she referred to authorising an ‘EU operation at sea’. However, it is clear from the documents discussed in the EU’s Political and Security Committee last week that (unless plans have changed radically in the meantime) the High Representative is being “economical with the truth”. The EU action clearly contemplates action by ground forces. Moreover, it anticipates the possible loss of life not only of smugglers but also of Member States’ forces and refugees. In effect, the EU is planning to declare war on migrant smugglers – without thinking through the consequences. [***]”
From the European Council web site: “In a joint session, foreign and defence ministers will take stock of action to tackle migration issues. They will also discuss efforts to capture and destroy the vessels of human traffickers before they are used. In addition, ministers will debate the strategic review, an ongoing analysis of the EU’s security environment, and discuss security challenges in the EU’s neighbourhood. They will also prepare the security and defence part of the June European Council.”
Foreign Affairs Council background Brief here.
Politico EU article here.
Two German naval ships, the Hessen and the Berlin, have been participating in Mediterranean rescue operations since 5 May and have reportedly destroyed five migrant boats (four inflatable and one wooden) after rescue operations were completed and migrants removed from the boats. The boats are destroyed because they might pose a navigational hazard to other vessels and might also be mistaken for a boat in distress. (Wir müssen die Boote zerstören, weil sie auf dem offenen Meer ein Schifffahrtshindernis für andere Boote darstellen. Zum anderen könnte es sein, dass wir ein leeres Boot aus der Luft irrtümlich als ein in Seenot befindliches Boot wahrnehmen und hinfahren, um es zu retten. Das kann wertvolle Zeit kosten, die uns bei der Rettung von besetzten Booten dann verloren geht.)
As I have noted before, there are situations such as these where the destruction of a migrant boat may be perfectly legal and appropriate. Assuming reasonable measures can be taken to avoid or minimize environmental damage, the destruction in international waters of an unflagged and unseaworthy vessel would seem to be legal.
In a statement IOM generally welcomed the European Commission’s proposals on migration. “IOM … supports the renewed focus on disrupting criminal smuggling networks, but has serious concerns about proposals to ‘systematically identify, capture and destroy vessels used by smugglers,’ through EU Common Security and Defense (CSDP) operations. While recognizing the need for a powerful demonstration of the EU’s determination to act, IOM sees inherent risk that military actions, however laudable, could further endanger migrant lives.”
Peter Sutherland, Special Representative of the UN Secretary-General for International Migration and Development in a statement welcomed the European Commission’s “European Agenda on Migration” but “urge[d] [EU] Member States not to put any refugees or migrants in the line of fire, and to design any [anti-smuggling] operation in complete conformity with international law.” Sutherland urged the EU to take steps to ensure that Frontex Operations Triton and Poseidon “are at least equal in effect to Mare Nostrum” and “to make search-and-rescue the top priority…”
From today’s Guardian: “European plans for a military campaign to smash the migrant smuggling networks operating out of Libya include options for ground forces on Libyan territory. The 19-page strategy paper for the mission, obtained by the Guardian, focuses on an air and naval campaign in the Mediterranean and in Libyan territorial waters, subject to United Nations blessing. But it adds that ground operations in Libya may also be needed to destroy the smugglers’ vessels and assets, such as fuel dumps. … [The strategy paper] which is expected to be endorsed by European Union foreign ministers on Monday [states that] ‘[t]he operation would require a broad range of air, maritime and land capabilities. These could include: intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance; boarding teams; patrol units (air and maritime); amphibious assets; destruction air, land and sea, including special forces units.’ … [The strategy paper states that operations] could include ‘action along the coast, in harbour or at anchor of smugglers assets and vessels before their use’…. The planning document admits that the campaign could result in innocent people being killed: ‘Boarding operations against smugglers in the presence of migrants has a high risk of collateral damage including the loss of life’.”
See full article here.
Politico EU reports that “Russia’s Ambassador to the EU, Vladimir Chizhov, told POLITICO the ‘EU’s proposals of destroying vessels would definitely go too far for Russia,’ but did not oppose the other key element of [HRVP Federica] Mogherini’s proposal. ‘In our opinion, seizing and arresting vessels and assets of smugglers would be an adequate measure to undermine their illegal “business model” in Libya,’ he said. Chizhov confirmed that ‘Russia is ready to work with the EU and its member states with the aim of solving the migration crisis in the Mediterranean, including on a possible UNSC resolution.’”
Politico EU suggests that “Mogherini or other EU officials may carefully shift emphasis from the boat destruction plan to the interruption of the trafficker networks” and reports that “[a] vote on a UN resolution could happen anytime in coming weeks — even before next Monday would be possible…”
See full article here.
PS – Of interest to anyone following the EU, check out Politico EU’s Brussels Playbook – a daily early morning summary of EU news and events in Brussels.