Tag Archives: Deaths at sea

WikiLeaks Releases Classified Documents Describing EU Plans For Military Strikes Against Libyan Migrant Smugglers

WikiLeaks has released two documents which describe the EU plans for possible military attacks on boats used by migrant smugglers in Libya:

Document 1: “Military Advice on the “Draft Crisis Management Concept for a possible CSDP operation to disrupt human smuggling networks in the Southern Central Mediterranean””(also here)

Document 2: “PMG Recommendations on the draft Crisis Management Concept for a possible CSDP operation to disrupt human smuggling networks in the Southern Central Mediterranean” (also here)

WikiLeaks Press Statement:

“EU plan for military intervention against ‘refugee boats’ in Libya and the Mediterranean

Today, WikiLeaks is releasing two classified EU documents, outlining the planned military intervention against boats travelling from Libya to Italy. The more significant of the two documents was written by the combined military defence chiefs of the EU member states. The plan was formally approved by representatives from all 28 countries on 18 May 2015.

Importantly, one of the documents acknowledges that ‘the political End State [of the military intervention] is not clearly defined’ and recommends that the European Commission issue further guidance.

The documents lay out a military operation against cross-Mediterranean refugee transport networks and infrastructure. It details plans to conduct military operations to destroy boats used for transporting migrants and refugees in Libyan territory, thereby preventing them from reaching Europe. The EU member states’ military chiefs advice is that there is a need to:

‘[draw] on the full range of surveillance, intelligence and information capabilities available to MS [member states] and Partners, and supported by Brussels (inter alia EEAS [European External Action Service] Single Intelligence Analysis Capacity – SIAC)’.

The plan also acknowledges the possibility of EU military use of force against groups such as ISIL ‘within the Libyan sovereign area’:

‘the threat to the force should be acknowledged, especially during activities such as boarding and when operating on land or in proximity to an unsecured coastline, or during interaction with non-seaworthy vessels. The potential presence of hostile forces, extremists or terrorists such as Da’esh [ISIL] should also be taken into consideration’.

The documents mark a departure from previous EU military strategy in its overt targeting of civilian infrastructure in Libya. Numerous EU countries, including Belgium, Bulgaria, Denmark, France, Greece, Italy, the Netherlands, Romania, Spain, Sweden and the United Kingdom participated in NATO-led air strikes on Libya in 2011.

Human rights organisations have called on the EU not to put the lives of refugees and migrants at risk. The plan acknowledges that the EU risks negative publicity ‘should loss of life be attributed, correctly or incorrectly, to action or inaction by the EU force’. To manage this reputational risk, the documents recommend ‘an EU information strategy from the outset’ in order to ‘facilitate expectation management’. They also acknowledge the ‘need to calibrate military activity’ particularly within Libyan waters or ashore ‘in order to avoid destabilising the political process by causing collateral damage, disrupting legitimate economic activity or creating a perception of having chosen sides’.

Boats transporting people from Libya are the main means for refugees fleeing conflict in Syria, Eritrea, Afghanistan and the Horn of Africa to reach safety in Europe. Since the destruction of the Libyan government in 2011 there has been a sharp increase in the numbers of refugees travelling to Europe from Libya. In 2014 more than 170,000 people are estimated to have crossed the Mediterranean from Libya. In 2014, this made up 60 per cent of the entire irregular migration into the EU.”

WikiLeaks description of Document 1 -“Military Advice on the “Draft Crisis Management Concept for a possible CSDP operation to disrupt human smuggling networks in the Southern Central Mediterranean”” (also here):

“Classified EU plan, approved by EU member states defence chiefs, for a year long (at least) military operation against Mediterranean refugee transport networks and infrastructure, including the destruction of docked boats and operations within Libya’s territorial boundaries. The document is significant. It sets out the intent of EU defence chiefs: the EU will deploy military force against civilian infrastructure in Libya to stop refugee flows. Given the previous attacks on Libya by several EU NATO members and Libya’s proven oil reserves, the plan may lead to other military involvement in Libya. Formally, the document is approved Military Advice from the European Union Military Committee (EUMC) to the Political and Security Committee (PSC) on a “Draft Crisis Management Concept for a possible CSDP operation to disrupt human smuggling networks in the Southern Central Mediterranean”.

WikiLeaks description of Document 2 – “PMG Recommendations on the draft Crisis Management Concept for a possible CSDP operation to disrupt human smuggling networks in the Southern Central Mediterranean” (also here):

“This is the document of recommendations from the Politico-Military Group (PMG) and Committee for Civilian Aspects of Crisis Management (CIVCOM), who work with the support of the General Secretariat of the Council in the Council of the European Union, to the Political and Security Committee (PSC) on the “Draft Crisis Management Concept for a possible CSDP operation to disrupt human smuggling networks in the Southern Central Mediterranean”. On 5th May 2015 the PSC discussed a possible EU military CSPD operation to disrupt human trafficking networks in the Southern Central Mediterranean region, including seizure or destruction of shipping vessels, based on a Crisis Management Concept (CMC).”

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20 May – Informal Meeting between Members of UN Security Council and EU Political and Security Committee

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.”

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Via Statewatch: Non-public Crisis Management Concept document – EU plan for CSDP operation to disrupt migrant smugglers in Libya

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.)

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Statewatch Analysis: The EU’s Planned War on Smugglers

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. [***]”

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EU Foreign Affairs Council Meets 18 May – Will Discuss Destruction of Smuggler Boats

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.

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German Naval Ships Participating in Mediterranean Rescue Operation Destroy Empty Migrant Boats

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.

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IOM see inherent risk that EU military action in Libya will endanger migrant lives.

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.”

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UN’s Sutherland calls on EU “not to put any refugees or migrants in the line of fire.”

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…”

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NATO Ready to Assist EU With Anti-Smuggler Operations in Libya if Requested

ANSA reports that NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said that NATO will consider any EU request for assistance in regard to EU military operations against smugglers in Libya: “’Let’s let the EU take its own decisions,’ Stoltenberg said amid mooted plans to destroy people-smuggler boats. …’If the EU makes requests of us we will consider them seriously, but so far it hasn’t,’ Stoltenberg said. According to Reuters, “U.S. Ambassador to NATO Douglas Lute “said information-sharing between NATO and the EU could be possible. Accurate intelligence pinpointing smugglers’ vessels would be key to the success of the operation.”

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Guardian: “EU plan to strike Libya networks could include ground forces”

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.

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Russia May Agree to Security Council Resolution Authorising “Seizing and Arresting” Smuggler Boats and Assets – Security Council Vote Could Happen at Any Time

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.

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HR/VP Federica Mogherini’s remarks at the UN Security Council, 11 May 2015

HR/VP Mogherini’s remarks earlier today to the Security Council contained very few details on the EU proposal to engage in “systematic efforts to identify, capture and destroy vessels before they are used by traffickers in accordance with international law.” Here is one excerpt from her remarks: Mogherini at UNSC

“[M]y presence here at the Security Council today is so important for us. We have in these weeks prepared for a possible naval operation in the framework of the European Union Common Security and Defence Policy. The mandate of this operation is currently being elaborated with the EU Member States in Brussels, and will be discussed by the meeting of the EU Foreign Affairs Council, in a week from now, in exactly a week from now on 18 May, with a possibility of taking decisions, the first decisions already. We want to work with the United Nations, in particular with the UNSC. …”

Full text here.

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UN Security Council, 11 May, Briefing and Informal Interactive Dialogue on the Smuggling of Migrants in the Mediterranean

Full text from “What’s in Blue” (published by Security Council Report):

“On Monday (11 May) the [Security] Council will receive a briefing by Federica Mogherini, the EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, on the EU response to the smuggling of migrants in the Mediterranean Sea. After the briefing, Council members are expected to hold an informal interactive dialogue with her. At the request of Chad, the permanent observer of the AU to the UN, Ambassador Tete António, will also participate in these meetings.

This briefing comes after the 19 April incident in which more than 700 migrants drowned when the overcrowded boat on which they were traveling sank near Libya. According to the [International] Organization for Migration, more than 1,700 migrants have drowned since the beginning of January in the Mediterranean Sea. In a 21 April press statement, Council members expressed grave concern at the smuggling of migrants off the coast of Libya, highlighting the implications for regional stability. On 22 April, at the request of the UK, Council members exchanged views on this issue under ‘any other business”’

Mogherini is expected to brief Council members on the integrated strategy by the EU to address the smuggling of migrants in the Mediterranean Sea. The strategy includes the provision of bilateral development assistance to countries on the southern and eastern Mediterranean basin—as well as to countries of origin and transit—while tripling the financial resources available to operations Triton and Poseidon, currently existing in the territorial waters of EU member states. In a 20 April joint meeting of EU foreign and interior Ministers, chaired by Mogherini, the Home Affairs and Citizenship Commissioner Dimitris Avramopoulos of Greece presented a plan to respond to migrant smuggling in the Mediterranean, which would entail a systematic effort to capture and destroy vessels used by the smugglers, inspired by the EU Atalanta Operation deployed to fight against piracy off the coast of Somalia. The plan was endorsed in a 23 April meeting of the EU Council, and negotiations are ongoing at the EU to agree on the Crisis Management Concept, which is the basis for operational planning and conduct of any EU mission.

Since that meeting, discussions among EU members of the Council (France, Lithuania, Spain, and the UK) and Italy on a draft resolution apparently authorising such an operation have been ongoing. It seems some permanent members have been able to provide inputs. It appears the idea is for a Chapter VII resolution that will authorise an EU operation to use all necessary measures to inspect, seize and dispose of vessels when there are grounds to believe that they are participating in the smuggling of migrants. The draft may be circulated to the wider membership of the Council in the coming days.

Although most Council members have not seen the draft text, they are aware of some of its elements and are expected to seek information that might feed into any negotiations of the draft. Council members are likely to want to know more about the expected geographical scope of the resolution (whether this includes the high seas, the territorial waters of Libya or even its shore) and whether the EU is seeking Libya’s consent. In this context, Council members might inquire about Mogherini’s recent conversations in Tunisia with Libyan political actors, and the potential impact of such an operation on the political process. Some Council members might be worried that asking for the consent of the Tobruk-based government could negatively impact the talks, which are aimed at the formation of a government of national unity.

Some Council members may echo concerns regarding the protection of human rights and international refugee law that have been raised by the Secretary-General as well as the UN High Commissioners for Human Rights and Refugees. In particular, they might ask about the fate of the migrants taken into custody, and note the importance of respecting the guarantees of international law, notably the 1951 Refugee Convention and the principle of non-refoulement. When the programme of work was adopted, a briefing by the High Commissioner for Refugees, along with the head of the UN Office on Drugs and Crime, was being considered for some point in May. Some Council members may have expected these briefings to happen before engaging in discussions about the regional responses to the smuggling of migrants; however, at press time, it was unclear if and when they will be held.

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 freedom of navigation principle codified in the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea. As such, they have tended to focus their discussions in the past on issues such as the procedures to authorise the interdiction, whether the consent of the flag state is required, and where the interdiction is authorised to happen.”

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German Shipowners’ Association (VDR) Criticises Growing Reliance on Merchant Vessels to Conduct Mediterranean Sea Rescue – Calls for Expansion of SAR Boundaries

Ralf Nagel, the Chief Executive Officer of the German Shipowners’ Association (VDR), last week called on Germany to deploy Navy vessels outside of the Frontex Triton operation zone and closer to the coast of Libya where private merchant ships are often the first to encounter migrant boats in distress. At least two German Navy ships were in Crete last week waiting for deployment instructions. “Deploying the [German] Navy in that part of the Mediterranean would not only send a strong political signal to Brussels, it would also be an important message for the shipping industry, which is doing all it can. And above all else: it would save the lives of innumerable refugees. Rescuing people at sea ought to be the responsibility of navy and coast guard vessels as a rule. … [W]e therefore demand that the boundaries within which maritime rescues are conducted by government forces be expanded beyond the Triton zone.”

According to the Frontex Annual Risk Analysis 2015, private merchant ships have been conducting an ever increasing number of search and rescue operations in the Mediterranean. In December 2014, merchant vessels accounted for just under 40% of the SAR operations. (See graph below map.)

Source: Verband Deutscher Reeder (VDR) / German Shipowners' Association (VDR)

Source: Verband Deutscher Reeder (VDR) / German Shipowners’ Association (VDR)

 

Figure 5

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Amnesty International Report: ‘Libya is Full of Cruelty’ – Stories of Abduction, Sexual Violence and Abuse from Migrants and Refugees

Amnesty International has released a new report entitled: “’Libya is Full of Cruelty’ – Stories of Abduction, Sexual Violence and Abuse from Migrants and Refugees.” (also available here.)  2015-05-11_Amnesty Intl_Report_Libya_Libya_is_full_of_cruelty COVER

Key points include (see formal AI recommendations below):

  • “Widespread abuses by armed groups, smugglers, traffickers and organized criminal groups in Libya as well as systematic exploitation, lawlessness and armed conflicts are pushing hundreds of thousands of migrants, asylum-seekers and refugees to risk their lives by attempting to cross the Mediterranean Sea”;
  • “In many cases, migrants and refugees attempting to cross the Mediterranean Sea have been subjected to prolonged beatings in [detention] facilities following their interception and arrest by the Libyan coastguard or militias acting on their own initiative in the absence of strong state institutions”;
  • “While Amnesty International welcomes the EU’s commitment to increase resources for search and rescue operations, it is also concerned that some of the proposed measures, in particular plans to ‘systematically identify, capture and destroy vessels before they are used by traffickers’ would effectively contribute to migrants and refugees being trapped in Libya and expose them to a risk of serious human rights abuses”;
  • “As more people are drowning in the Mediterranean Sea, the priority for the international community must be to dramatically expand search and rescue operations and take effective steps to urgently address human rights abuses and serious violations of international humanitarian law in Libya. EU governments must also increase the number of resettlement places, humanitarian admissions and visas for people in need of international protection”.

Amnesty International makes the following recommendations:

To European governments

  • Urgently ensure the deployment of naval and aerial resources at a scale commensurate with foreseeable departure trends and which should patrol the high seas along the main migration routes. Whether such deployment occurs within the framework of Frontex Joint Operation Triton or through other agreements, it is crucial that ships and aircraft are delivered promptly and deployed in the area where most of calls for assistance come from and a great number of shipwrecks occurs;
  • To reduce the numbers of those risking their lives at sea, increase the number of resettlement places, humanitarian admissions and visas for people in need of international protection and ensure that refugees have effective access to asylum at land borders;
  • Ensure that any action against smugglers and traffickers is addressed through law enforcement measures, governed by human rights law and standards, and that it does not contribute to migrants and refugees being trapped in Libya without any means of escaping the violence;
  • Ensure that human rights abuses and violations of international humanitarian law, including against migrants, asylum-seekers and refugees in Libya, are addressed as part of the political dialogue aimed at ending the ongoing conflicts, and that a mechanism is put in place to monitor the human rights situation on the ground following any subsequent settlement. EU governments must also insist that Libyan authorities, armed groups and militias end the systematic indefinite detention of migrants and refugees based on their immigration status; all refugees and asylum-seekers and migrants detained for immigration purposes must be released.;
  • Investigate and bring to justice in fair trials those involved in trafficking of persons.

To the governments of Tunisia, Egypt and Algeria:

  • Keep the borders open to all individuals in need of international protection regardless of whether they have valid travel documents or meet visa requirements.

To governments along the smuggling route:

  • Ensure that any regional co-operation aimed at addressing irregular migration and dismantle smuggling networks fully complies with international law and standards, and does not infringe upon the rights and safety of asylum-seekers and refugees, with particular regard to the right to freedom of movement, the right to asylum, and the absolute prohibition on refoulement.

To militias, armed groups and Libyan authorities:

  • Release anyone detained solely on the basis of their immigration status, nationality, race, religion or ethnicity;
  • Make clear to all those under your command that torture or other ill-treatment, rape and sexual assault will not be tolerated under any circumstances. Remove from the ranks anyone suspected of such abuses;
  • Facilitate visits by independent organizations to immigration detention centres and other places of detention;
  • Ensure that all those deprived of their liberty can communicate regularly with their families and have access to adequate medical care.”

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