Tag Archives: Human Trafficking

EUNAVFOR MED-Six Month Report: No Indication of Refugee Protection Plan for EU Operations within Libyan Territorial Waters and No Reports of Human Trafficking

There is a lot of information in the EUNAVFOR MED Operation SOPHIA Six Month Report   (also here: EEAS-2016-126) that was released last week by WikiLeaks, but there are two subjects not discussed which jumped out at me.

No Discussion of Refugee Protection Plan

First, the Report does not contain information regarding what the EU military force intends to do with migrants who are intercepted or rescued by EU vessels if and when EUNAVFOR MED patrols begin to operate within Libyan territorial waters.

The Report’s ‘Next Steps and Key Challenges’ section [pp 19-21] discusses different EU contingency plans for Phase 2B of the operation and specifically discusses how suspected smugglers arrested by EU forces within Libyan territorial waters would be handled. The Report says suspected smugglers should not be turned over by EU forces to Libyan officials for criminal prosecution unless it can be ensured ‘that they [will be] treated in accordance with human rights standards that are acceptable to the EU and Member States.’ According to the Report, forty-six suspected smugglers have been arrested by EUNAVFOR MED in international waters (between 22 June and 31 December 2015) and all of these individuals have been turned over to Italian authorities for prosecution by Italy’s DNAA – Direzione Nazionale Antimafia ed Antiterrorismo. Italy is so far the only EU Member State prosecuting suspected smugglers.

But unlike the discussion regarding the treatment of suspected smugglers, there is no discussion in the Report about where migrants who are intercepted or rescued in Libyan territorial waters will be taken or how they will be processed. It is certainly possible that intercepted migrants would continue to be taken from Libyan territorial waters to Italy, as is currently the case with operations on the high seas, but I suspect this may not be the plan once EUNAVFOR MED operations are expanded to Libyan territorial waters.

The fact that there is no discussion in the Report of where intercepted migrants will be taken does not mean that EUNAVFOR MED does not have appropriate plans in place, but the omission is troubling because the Report makes clear that once Phase 2B (territorial waters) operations begin, EUNAVFOR MED forces will be interacting and cooperating with the Libyan Navy and Coastguard. (The Report also notes that if requested and if its mandate is amended, EUNAVFOR MED is ready to begin quickly providing capability and capacity building to the Libyan Navy and Coastguard.)

EUNAVFOR MED’s interaction with Libyan forces in territorial waters would, according to the Report, initially include Libyan ‘cooperation in tackling the irregular migration issue’, with the expectation that at a later point in time ‘Libyan authorities could take the lead in patrolling and securing their Territorial Waters, with support being provided by EUNAVFOR Med.’ The Report therefore describes a changing scenario where EU forces would first act alone in Libyan territorial waters, which would lead to some level of cooperation with Libyan authorities (joint patrols? shipriders?), which would finally lead to Libyan authorities taking the lead on enforcement activities, with the EU playing a supporting role of some sort.

The legality of the Phase 2B operations will depend on the details of how intercepted or rescued migrants are processed and where they are taken. EU Member States operating within EUNAVFOR MED would necessarily be exercising effective control over migrants when operating unilaterally or jointly with Libyan forces within Libyan territorial waters and EU Member States would therefore be bound by the non-refoulement obligations in the ECHR, the Refugee Convention, the CAT, and the ICCPR. Any such operations would be subject to the 2012 Hirsi Jamaa v Italy judgment of the ECtHR which rejected Italy’s past push-back practices and close cooperation with the pre-Arab Spring Libya, finding the push-back practices to violate the ECHR’s prohibition on non-refoulement and to constitute collective expulsion.

EUNAVFOR MED’s Phase 2B operation seeks to replicate what Frontex and Spain have done off the coasts of Mauritania, Senegal and Morocco since 2006 pursuant to Joint Operation HERA where Spain and Frontex initially deployed naval patrols in international waters, then negotiated bilateral agreements to move patrols to territorial waters, deployed joint patrols and shipriders within territorial waters, and then continued to provide various forms of support to Mauritania and other West African states to patrol their own territorial waters. Operation HERA succeeded in stopping most boat migration from West Africa, but did so in a manner which did not provide any process to screen intercepted migrants for claims for international protection and subjected intercepted migrants to refoulement.

In order to ensure that non-refoulement obligations are respected and that rights of migrants are otherwise protected, as the EU and EUNAVFOR MED move towards implementation of Phase 2B operations within Libyan territorial waters, more information and transparency is needed to determine and monitor the legality of all aspects of the operations.

No Reports of Human Trafficking

The second perhaps less significant piece of information that jumped out at me as I read the Report was the lack of any suggestion that EUNAVFOR MED patrols have discovered evidence of human trafficking. The Report makes multiple references to trafficking, but always in conjunction with human smuggling, eg, ‘smuggler and traffickers’ business model’, ‘smuggler and trafficker vessels’. The use of the trafficking term seems to be a continuation of the use of imprecise terminology (and possible ongoing confusion over the differences between human trafficking and smuggling as well?). But the Report’s ‘Smugglers’ Business Model’ section [pp 6-8] is clearly only discussing acts of smuggling.

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WikiLeaks Releases Restricted Document: EUNAVFOR MED Operation SOPHIA Six Monthly Report

WikiLeaks yesterday released the ‘EUNAVFOR MED Op SOPHIA – Six Monthly Report’. (Also available here: EEAS-2016-126.) The 22 page document is classified as EU RESTRICTED and provides a detailed description of EUNAVFOR MED’s operations during the period 22 June-31 December 2015 and discusses the next steps for the operation, including the move to Phase 2B which would entail operations within Libyan territorial waters. The operation currently operates outside of Libyan territorial waters consistent with UN Security Council Resolution 2259 (2015). The report is signed by Rear Admiral Enrico CREDENDINO, EUNAVFOR MED Op SOPHIA Operation Commander.

Here are some selected excerpts from the report:

Smugglers’ Business Model –

…Wooden boats are mainly used for migrant smuggling to the west of Tripoli, and rubber boats are more common to the east of Tripoli. Wooden boats are more valuable than rubber dinghies because they can carry more people, hence more profit for smugglers and are more resilient to bad weather and can be re-used if recovered by smugglers. However, following operation SOPHIA entering into Phase 2A (High Seas), smugglers can no longer recover smuggling vessels on the High seas, effectively rendering them a less economic option for the smuggling business and thereby hampering it.

Inflatable boats are used in two thirds of the cases and wooden boats in one third of the cases. According to intelligence sources, the wooden boats used are purchased from Libyan fishermen or imported from Tunisia and Egypt. EUNAVFOR MED are monitoring, within capabilities, the supply routes for these, but no detection has been obtained to confirm beyond any reasonable doubt this supply method.

Reports of rubber boast being imported from China and transhipped in Malta and Turkey are supported by a recent interception by Maltese customs of 20 packaged rubber boats in a container destined for Misratah, Libya. As there are no legal grounds for holding such shipments, it was released for delivery to the destination….

Legal Basis for Phase 2A – High Seas –

…The legal basis applicable to phase 2A (High Seas) relies on the international law applicable to the Operation (UN Convention on the Law of the Sea, Palermo protocol against the smuggling of migrants by land and sea) and on individual Member States’ application of the EU mandate through domestic legislation to board, seize and divert vessels and to detain suspected smugglers and traffickers. The adoption of UNSCR 2240 (2015) by the UN Security Council on 9 October, reinforces the legal framework applicable to EUNAVFOR MED activities in international waters. The resolution now provides the legal basis for all Member States to undertake these activities against suspected smugglers and traffickers coming from Libya….

Cooperation with International Organisations –

…In particular we have embedded the training initially provided by UNHCR on migrant handling and international law and this is now a core part of the inchop [command zone] package for new units joining the operation. We are further building on this training with input from UNICEF….

Campaign Assessment –

…Entry into Libyan Territorial Waters will undoubtedly allow us to achieve further success as we get towards the heart of [smuggler and trafficker] networks….

…From a military perspective, EUNAVFOR MED is ready to proceed to Phase 2B (Territorial Waters), though the political and legal challenges ahead remain a significant challenge….

…Transition from phase 2A to 2B [Libyan Territorial Waters] will require for a number of significant challenges to be resolved before I can actually recommend the transition.

Next Steps and Key Challenges-

From a military perspective, and to be more effective against the smugglers’ business model, I need to move to phase 2B (Territorial Waters) as soon as possible. However there are a number of key issues that need to be addressed. These are:

The Legal Finish.

As we will be operating in Libyan Territorial Waters, the current legal finish, of prosecuting suspected smugglers in Italy will not apply. We will therefore need a new legal basis; either an agreement with the Libyan authorities that they will waive their right to prosecute suspected smugglers in Libya and allow them to be prosecuted by another Member State, or to have a transfer agreement in place for apprehended smugglers to be transferred to the Libyan authorities for prosecution. Both options have specific challenges end rely on the consent of the Libyan authorities. If we were to transfer suspected persons to the Libyan authorities, we would need to ensure that they are treated in accordance with human rights standards that are acceptable to the EU and Member States….

…Regardless of the challenges with both options, we are working very closely with the EEAS to come to a workable solution. It is however clear that regardless of the solution taken, the Libyan authorities are fundamental in making this happen, either by providing the agreement to prosecute in another country, or to agree to prosecute in Libya through a judicial system which meets those standards required by the EU. I want to underline the fact that this issue must be solved before we can move to phase 2 Bravo. Without the required legal finish we will be compelled to release suspected smugglers apprehended in Libyan Territorial Waters, with a subsequent loss of credibility for the operation in the media and EU public opinion.

Legal mandate – UNSCR and Libyan Invitation.

In order to move to phase 2 in Libyan territorial waters, we need firstly an invitation from the GNA, as the sole legitimate Government of Libya under UNSCR 2259(2015), and secondly a UN Security Council Resolution to provide the necessary legal mandate to operate. Whilst the transition to phase 2 in Libyan TTW with only a UNSCR without an invitation from the Libyan authorities is theoretically possible, it is unlikely that the UNSCR would be adopted as Russia and China have previously stated that a Libyan invitation would be required by them so as not to block the resolution….

Capacity and Capability Building –

As we move into Territorial Waters, our interaction with the Libyan Navy and Coastguard will increase and we will need to gain confidence in their activities. The capability and capacity of the Libyan Coastguard to protect their borders needs to be developed and therefore preventing illegal migration from Libyan shores, so that we can reach the end state of the mission where illegal migration is at a manageable level without the need for EUNAVFOR Med. This will have to be shaped with Libyan authorities to match their expectations and could benefit from cooperation with other EU missions….

Full document is here or click on this link EEAS-2016-126.

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UN Security Council Resolution 2240: Authorizing Member States to Intercept Vessels off Libyan Coast Suspected of Migrant Smuggling

Official text here.

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Updated / Conflicting Reports Re: Alleged Leader of Major Libyan People Smuggling Operation Killed in Tripoli: Libyan GNC Government Official (Tripoli) Accuses Italy of Responsibility for Killing

Updated:  there are conflicting reports regarding the incident; see report from Migrant Report that Maskhout is alive.

The Guardian and other media report that Salah al-Maskhout, the alleged leader of a major human smuggling operation, and eight other men, were shot dead in a shootout that occurred on Friday in Zuwara.  According to the Guardian, “[t]he skill with which the hit was carried out – with the killers reportedly firing handguns against the Libyans’ Kalashnikovs – has raised speculation that Maskhout may have been targeted by foreign agents…. The president of Libya’s [GNC] congress [based in Tripoli], Nuri Abu Sahmain, issued a statement following Maskhout’s death in which he blamed Italian special forces for the attack.” The Libya Herald reported that “[t]here have been suggestions that the attackers, who have not been identified, had initially aimed to seize Maskhout. However, the gunmen, none of whom were killed in the shootout, seem to have been professionals.” According to the Guardian, Italian and NATO officials have denied any involvement. Additional details here via RAI News.

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NY Times: Russia Resisting EU Request for Tough U.N. Anti-Smuggling Step

New York Times: “A European bid to obtain Security Council approval for a military operation against boats suspected of human smuggling on the Mediterranean Sea is running into opposition from Russia, which wants to ensure that it cannot be used to justify a broader military intervention, diplomats here said. … [Russian UN ambassador Vitaly Churkin said that any resolution needs to be focused.] Mr. Churkin said that he wanted to ensure such a resolution did not set a precedent, and that he would not consent to the entire resolution’s being under Chapter VII, which authorizes potential military action….”
Full article here.

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Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov: Russia ready to support Security Council Resolution approving coercive measures by EU only if measures strictly regulated and leave no space for equivocal interpretation

During an interview on Russia’s Channel One “Sunday Time” programme, on 13 September, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said “that Russia stands ready to approve coercive measures only if they are strictly regulated and set out in every detail in the resolution, leaving no space for any equivocal interpretation.” Lavrov was critical of how Western countries had in the past interpreted UN Security Council resolutions and said that the US and European states had in the past engaged in “illegitimate actions in violation of the UN Security Council mandate [which] turned Libya into a ‘blackhole’ now used by terrorists of all kinds.” Lavrov also called for more information regarding what the EU planned to do with refugees found on board intercepted vessels and what would happen to suspected criminals encountered at sea.

Excerpt from the Channel One programme (English translation from the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs):

“[***]EU countries have already asked the UN Security Council to help them draft a resolution enabling the navy of EU states to intercept illegal vessels in the Mediterranean carrying migrants who are transferred to Europe illegally. As for coercive measures, many in Europe are talking about not just arresting vessels in the open [high] sea, but also want to operate in territorial waters and onshore (in Libya, for instance), using force if it turns out that a vessel is seized illegally and is not registered. Some even want a Security Council mandate to ‘get rid’ of these vessels, as they say. Do they want to sink these vessels? This issue raises a lot of questions. As we have said time and again, knowing how our Western partners sometimes interpret UN Security Council resolutions, that Russia stands ready to approve coercive measures only if they are strictly regulated and set out in every detail in the resolution, leaving no space for any equivocal interpretation. First, the resolution could concern arresting suspicious vessels in the open [high] sea. When a vessel is flying the flag of a country, its arrest should be coordinated with the country in question. If a vessel bears no identification marks, coordination is not required and it should be stopped and inspected to establish who owns it and what is on board. Second, on top of strictly regulating these actions, it has to be understood what will happen with refugees if they are on board the vessel. The EU has yet to answer these questions. [The EU] also does not have an idea of what to do with the criminals behind this business who are captured on board a vessel. This does not just concern those executing these activities, but also those who engineer the process in some other country. A comprehensive approach is needed, and hasty solutions should be avoided. Of course, in all of those debates, we want to make our partners learn the lesson of their earlier deeds. Everyone should understand from where these migrant waves are coming and why.

… It is not uncommon that attempts to settle political crises are fuelled by momentary political gain without thinking about the implications of an action or initiative on the situation in general. Libya, where the decision was taken to topple a dictator, provides a good example. This has overshadowed all other thoughts and assessments. I spoke with our US and European colleagues who took part in this effort, showing that their thoughtless and illegitimate actions in violation of the UN Security Council mandate turned Libya into a ‘blackhole’ now used by terrorists of all kinds. The country has two parliaments and two governments with their own military. Apart from these structures, there are 35 armed groups that obey neither Tobruk, nor Tripoli. Illegal arms are flowing from Libya to many other countries. According to the UN, these weapons have travelled a long way and are used in a dozen African countries. Libya also serves as the primary transit hub in terms of human trafficking.

The response by my colleagues was telling. They acknowledge the facts and that they committed mistakes. They had the same arguments when Iraq was on the brink of dissolution. It was a mistake for the United States, but they proposed not to delve too much into the past. I strongly believe that unless we learn the lessons of history and do our homework, we will constantly face new crises, resulting in destructive, utterly negative and dangerous consequences, such as the current refugee flows. These issues will be subject to a detailed, substantive discussion in the UN Security Council. [***]”

“[***] Страны Евросоюза уже обратились в Совет Безопасности ООН с просьбой помочь им разработать резолюцию, которая будет санкционировать действия военно-морских сил ЕС в Средиземном море по перехвату нелегальных конвоев с мигрантами, которых контрабандным путем пытаются переправить в Европу. Что касается каких-то принудительных действий, многие в Европе говорят не только об аресте судов в нейтральных водах, но и о действиях в территориальных водах и на сухопутной территории (той же самой Ливии) с применением силы, если будет выявлено, что судно незаконно захвачено или никем не зарегистрировано. Некоторые даже выступают за то, чтобы получить от Совета Безопасности право, как они формулируют,  от этих судов «избавляться». Топить что ли хотят? В этой связи возникает множество вопросов. Мы уже не раз говорили, что отныне и впредь, наученные тем, как наши западные партнеры, порой, умеют интерпретировать резолюции СБ ООН, мы будем готовы санкционировать принудительные меры только если они будут максимально конкретно и очень строго регламентированы в самой резолюции, не допуская какого-либо двойного толкования.  Во-первых, речь могла бы идти об аресте подозрительных судов в открытом море. Если судно идет под флагом какого-то государства, то остановка судна должна быть с ним согласована. Если судно никак не идентифицировано, тогда такого согласия не требуется, и его нужно остановить и проверить, кому оно принадлежит и что везет. Во-вторых, помимо строгой регламентации этих действий, нужно понять, что будет с беженцами, если они будут обнаружены на этом судне. Пока европейская сторона не может дать нам ответы на эти вопросы. Она также не может ответить, что будет с организовавшими этот бизнес преступниками, которые будут захвачены на этих кораблях. Речь идет не только об исполнителях, но и о тех, кто «кукловодит» этим процессом из какой-то другой страны. Здесь нужен комплексный подход и не нужна спешка. Безусловно, во всей этой дискуссии мы хотим, чтобы наши партнеры извлекали уроки из своей прошлой деятельности. Все должны понимать, откуда  и почему берутся все эти волны беженцев.

Мы сегодня говорили о террористической угрозе и неурегулированных конфликтах. Очень часто предпринимаются попытки урегулировать тот или иной кризис ради достижения какой-то сиюминутной политической цели, абсолютно не уделяя внимание, какое влияние та или иная акция будет оказывать на общую ситуацию. Хорошим примером этого служит Ливия, где  решили свергнуть диктатора. Это затмило все остальные мысли и оценки. Я разговаривал с нашими американскими и европейскими коллегами из тех, кто принимал непосредственное участие в этой акции, и показывал, что именно после их абсолютно бездумных и противоправных действий, совершенных в нарушение мандата Совета Безопасности ООН,  Ливия превратилась в «черную дыру», которую сейчас используют террористы всех мастей. Там есть два парламента и два правительства, у каждого из этих политических органов есть свои вооруженные формирования. Но, кроме этих структур есть еще 35 вооруженных отрядов, которые не подчиняются ни Тобруку, ни Триполи. Из Ливии идет огромный поток нелегального оружия в самые разные страны. По оценкам ООН, это оружие давным-давно появилось и применяется более чем в десяти странах Африки. Через Ливию проходит основной поток контрабандной торговли людьми.

Очень показательна реакция моих коллег, которые признают, что это было, и они тогда ошиблись. То же самое нам говорили после того, как Ирак оказался на грани раскола ­ – американцы ошиблись, но предложили не копаться в истории. А я считаю, что если мы не будем извлекать уроки и делать работу над ошибками, то будем постоянно натыкаться на новые кризисы, которые и дальше будут приносить разрушительные, очень негативные и опасные последствия, такие как нынешние потоки беженцев. Мы планируем предметно и подробно обсуждать эти вопросы в СБ ООН. [***]”

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UN Security Council is Again Discussing Resolution to Authorise EU Use of Force Against Migrant Vessels

What’s in Blue and the New York Times report that “it appears that EU [Security] Council members are currently discussing with non-EU P5 members a draft resolution authorising EU NAVFOR Med to intercept boats used by human trafficking networks on the high seas of the Mediterranean.”

NY Times: The resolution “would authorize military action on a specific route on the high seas from the coast of Libya north to Italy. The proposal is a significant step down from what the European leaders originally wanted: the Council’s blessing to conduct military operations along the Libyan coast, on land and water, to seize and disrupt the smugglers. …  According to one Security Council diplomat, the resolution would allow for boats to be seized and for the people on board to be taken to Italy, where the authorities would determine who among them might be eligible for asylum because they were fleeing war or persecution….”

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