From “What’s In Blue”: On 20 May, “members of the Security Council will hold an informal meeting with members of the EU Political and Security Committee (PSC). Since this is an informal meeting, it will not be held in the Security Council chamber and is not on the official programme of work of the Council. The meeting was requested by the EU and will be hosted by Lithuania, the current president of the Council, at the premises of the EU Delegation to the UN. The mutually agreed agenda for the meeting includes EU-UN peacekeeping cooperation in Africa, Libya and Ukraine.”
Among the topics that will be discussed is the proposed EU military operation in Libya:
“Libya/Migrant Smuggling – On this … issue, Council members are also expected to discuss with the members of the EU PSC the details of the EU military operation (EU NAVFOR Med) the EU decided to establish on 18 May to break the business model of the smuggling of migrants. Briefing the Council on 11 May, Mogherini presented proposals for the EU strategy to tackle the flow of migrants towards Europe. As part of this strategy, Mogherini discussed the plans for an EU military operation that would be authorised under Chapter VII to inspect, seize and dispose of vessels when there are grounds to believe that they are participating in the smuggling of migrants. Negotiations are ongoing among EU members of the Council (France, Lithuania, Spain and the UK) and China, Russia and the US on a draft resolution to authorise the EU operation. Council members are likely to be interested in the details that the EU PSC ambassadors can provide on this proposed operation, and what they are seeking from the Council, including on the appropriateness of this response to tackle this phenomenon, the protections foreseen in accordance with international refugee law, the issues associated with consent from the Libyan authorities, the geographical scope of the resolution, and consent by the flag states regarding interdictions.”
The non-public Crisis Management Concept document outlining the EU plan for a CSDP operation to disrupt migrant smugglers in Libya has been made available via Statewatch. See p. 6, Section IV, for the military operation plans. (Also available here.)
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…”