On 19 April 2015, after a series of deadly shipwrecks, over 800 migrants perished when their smuggling boats, boarded in the Libyan port Zuwara, capsized in the Mediterranean Sea. The response from the EU was immediate. On 20 April, at a joint meeting of EU Foreign and Interior Ministers, the EU Migration Commissioner presented a 10-point action plan, the second point of which foresaw “[a] systematic effort to capture and destroy vessels used by the smugglers. The positive results obtained with the Atalanta operation should inspire us to similar operations against smugglers in the Mediterranean”. At the special meeting of the European Council on 23 April 2015, this was streamlined into the commitment to undertake “systematic efforts to identify, capture and destroy vessels before they are used by traffickers”. These events precipitated the adoption on 18 May of a decision of the EU Foreign Affairs Council, establishing an EU military operation called EUNAVFOR MED with the mission “[to disrupt] the business model of human smuggling and trafficking networks in the Southern Central Mediterranean, achieved by undertaking systematic efforts to identify, capture and dispose of vessels and assets used or suspected of being used by smugglers or traffickers” (Art. 1).
According to Article 2 of the decision, EUNAVFOR MED shall be implemented in three sequential phases. The first phase will be the “lightest”, aiming at the detection and monitoring of migration networks through information gathering and patrolling on the high seas. It is only in the second and third phases that the operation should achieve the aforementioned aspirations. Thus, in the second phase, it is foreseen to board, search, seize and divert suspected vessels, both on the high seas and in the territorial or internal waters of the state concerned whereas for the third phase, the decision speaks of taking all necessary measures against a suspected smuggling or trafficking vessel and related assets, “including through disposing of them or rendering them inoperable in the territory of that State” (Art. 2(b).
The decision makes the implementation of those second- and third-phase measures which need to be conducted in the territorial sea, the internal waters or the land territory of Libya conditional upon “any applicable UN Security Council Resolution or consent by the coastal State concerned” (Art. 2). This is quite logical. As the planned enforcement measures involve a threat or actual use of coercive power, the fundamental international law principles of sovereign equality, territorial sovereignty and non-interference prohibit the EU Member States from exercising enforcement jurisdiction in the territory of Libya (including territorial and internal waters) without: 1) Libya’s permission and/or 2) the authorization of the UNSC under Chapter VII of the UN Charter (on international law implications cf. Gallagher and David, The International Law of Migrant Smuggling, CUP, 2014. p. 222).
Because there are competing authorities claiming to be the government of Libya, and inspired by the previous experience with the UNSC-accepted EU anti-piracy military operation ATALANTA (launched in 2008 in the framework of European Common Security and Defence Policy to combat the piracy off the coast of Somalia), the EU opted from the very beginning for seemingly the easiest and fastest solution, which is to obtain the green light from the UNSC. In the following, I will elaborate on the feasibility of this option. Read the rest of this entry…