From ANSA: “Preparation of a draft UN Security Council resolution to authorize a European mission against migrant traffickers in the Mediterranean ‘has been suspended until the issue of the consent of the Libyan authorities has been resolved,’ a diplomat of the UN Security Council told ANSA on Wednesday. … However, the same source said that ‘regarding implementation, cooperation is necessary from all parties in the country’; and the Libyan government [in Tobruk] can not give authorization because it does not control the whole territory.”
From Reuters: “A senior U.N. diplomat said drafting of the resolution had been ‘paused’ until it was ‘clear there will be Libyan consent’. … [A] senior U.N. diplomat said that legally a letter from a representative of the internationally-recognised Libyan government was needed to authorise the EU mission, but that to ensure successful implementation of the operation ‘cooperation with a wide variety of authorities’ would also be required.”
From Libya Herald: “[Libyan Foreign Minister Mohamed Dairi (Tobruk)] went on the record today [in Brussels] saying that while Libya was interested ‘in cooperation with Europe in order to address the growing terrorism inside the country as well as in order to address the problem of illegal immigration’, it would not approve any military operation.”
AFP reports that Libyan UN Ambassador Ibrahim Dabbashi (representing the internationally recognised Tobruk government) will refuse to consent to a UNSC Resolution authorizing the EU to use military force against smugglers in Libya “as long as European governments were discussing the plan with Libyan militias that control coastal territory.” Dabbashi said that “[t]he position of Libya is clear: as long as the European Union and some other countries are not dealing with the legitimate government as the sole representative of the Libyan people, they will not get any consent on our part.” According to the AFP report, “Security Council diplomats privately said the European effort to present a resolution on the migrant crisis had hit a wall over Libya’s refusal to give its approval. European governments had instructed their diplomats mostly based in Tunis to reach out to various Libyan factions to try to get them onboard the plan before formally presenting the draft resolution at the Security Council.” According to the Security Council Report, “[f]or at least one permanent [Security Council] member the consent of the Tobruk/al-Bayda-based government seems to be indispensable for the adoption of the resolution.”
The Security Council Report reports that “[t]he negotiations on the EU draft aimed at tackling the smuggling of migrants on the Mediterranean were still ongoing at press time between some Council members and the Libyan authorities. (For at least one permanent member the consent of the Tobruk/al-Bayda-based government seems to be indispensable for the adoption of the resolution.) In the past, it has been difficult to get agreement on resolutions authorising the interception of vessels, whether in the context of the implementation of sanctions or counter-piracy measures. Some Council members feel strongly about not contravening the principle of freedom of navigation codified in the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea. As such, they have tended to focus their discussions in the past on such issues as the procedures to authorise interdiction, whether the consent of the flag state is required and the maritime zones where the interdiction is authorised to happen. In the informal interactive dialogue with Mogherini, some Council members inquired about the potential impact that requesting consent from Libya could have on the political process. The UK is the penholder on Libya.”
Reuters and Interfax reported that Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said any resolution would have to describe “in the most minute detail the mandate of [an EU military] mission under [UN Charter] Chapter 7.” “‘The mandate of such an operation will have to be spelled out to the last detail because we do not want the ambiguity, which became a source of flagrant violations of the known resolution on Libya adopted in 2011, to repeat itself.’ … Lavrov said discussions in the Security Council on the new resolution against human traffickers were on hold as the EU was in talks with the internationally-recognized Libyan authorities sitting in Tobruk to work out necessary details. ‘As we have been told, European Union representatives are holding consultations with the lawful Libyan authorities recognized by the UN, these are the authorities seated in Tobruk, where the Chamber of Deputies and the government are operating’.”
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.”