Expected Council Action
In October, the Security Council is expected to renew the authorisation for member states, acting nationally or through regional organisations, to inspect vessels on the high seas off the coast of Libya that they have reasonable grounds to suspect are being used for migrant smuggling or human trafficking, which is set to expire on 3 October.
The authorisation given by resolution 2526 (to inspect vessels believed to be in violation of the arms embargo) expires on 5 June 2021, measures related to the illicit export of petroleum from Libya expire on 30 April 2021, and the mandate of the Panel of Experts assisting the 1970 Libya Sanctions Committee expires on 15 May 2021. The mandate of the UN Support Mission in Libya (UNSMIL) expires on 15 September 2021.
Key Recent Developments
The Secretary-General’s latest report on the implementation of resolution 2491, which extended the smuggling and trafficking-related vessel inspection authorisation in October 2019, said, “the Mediterranean Sea remains a high-volume and deadly thoroughfare for the smuggling of, and trafficking in, refugees and migrants”. The overall number of people arriving in Europe on the Central, Eastern and Western Mediterranean routes decreased by around 30 percent in comparison to the same time period last year. Between 1 March and 31 July 2019, 28,000 migrants and refugees arrived in Europe by sea; between 1 March and 31 July of this year, the number stood at 20,000, according to UNHCR and the International Organisation for Migration (IOM). The number of people departing from Libya during that period saw an increase, however. In 2019, UNHCR reported 6,636 departures between 1 March and 31 July; in 2020 it reported 9,500 departures within the same timeframe.
The current security situation in Libya and the country’s lack of effective state institutions have created a growing space for organised crime, including the smuggling of migrants and trafficking in persons, according to the EU. A person will pay between 500 to 1,500 euros to get to Europe, depending on the type of boat and how many people are travelling in it. By way of example, the Secretary-General in his report calculated that a rubber boat which is able to carry 120 people can bring human traffickers and migrant smugglers a potential profit of 168,000 euros. UNHCR and IOM said that the boats are often overcrowded and unseaworthy, and smugglers frequently do not provide life jackets, water or food. The EU reported that smugglers continued to tactically avoid providing enough fuel for the boats to reach European shores via the Central Mediterranean but enough for the boats to leave Libya’s territorial sea. In order to avoid being captured themselves, the smugglers in some cases leave the migrants and refugees in the boats to complete the journey on their own.
The Secretary-General re-emphasised that under international law, Libya is a safe port neither of disembarkation nor of return. Policies of member states continue to result in the disembarkation of migrants and refugees in Libya, however. The number of people returned to Libya after the vessels transporting them were intercepted increased from about 3,700 between 1 March and 31 July 2019 to about 4,450 in the same time period this year. About half of the people disembarked originally came from Sudan, according to estimates by the UNHCR.
Libya has no asylum procedure nor asylum legislation, and authorities “do not fully recognize the mandate of UNHCR in providing and overseeing the application of international protection”, according to the Secretary-General’s report. Migrants and refugees continue to “suffer or witness unspeakable brutality and inhumanity” during their attempts to get to Europe. About half of the people disembarked in Libya were placed in overcrowded detention centres. For the approximately 2,780 people being held in official detention centres as at 31 July, the conditions remain “horrific” as detainees experience grave violations of their human rights by officials and armed groups. The ill-treatment reported included instances of torture, including sexual and gender-based violence (in some cases leading to the death of the victims); enforced disappearances; forced labour; forced recruitment by armed groups; insufficient health care and food; exposure to extreme heat; and lack of ventilation, light and electricity. The perpetrators continue to commit these crimes with impunity. Grave human rights violations are also reported in unofficial detention centres run by both state and non-state armed groups, housing “hundreds of migrants and refugees”.
The COVID-19 pandemic led some European countries to temporarily refuse to allow disembarkations or the rescue of persons in distress at sea and restrictions imposed by states on vessels operated by non-governmental organisations halted their rescue operations for weeks. One country reportedly ordered commercial vessels to push boats in distress back to the high seas.
The impact of measures taken by states aimed at preventing and combatting trafficking in persons and migrant smuggling, including through targeted sanctions imposed by the Council through the 1970 Libya sanctions regime, “remains difficult to ascertain”, according to the Secretary-General’s report.
The EU launched the military operation in the Mediterranean (EUNAVFOR MED IRINI) on 1 April as the follow-on mission to EUNAVFOR MED SOPHIA. Operation Irini’s primary task is the implementation of the arms embargo, a secondary task being to disrupt “the business model of human smuggling and trafficking networks”. The EU reported that the operation had conducted a total of 111 flights between its inception and 31 July, reporting vessels in (potential) distress to the relevant national authorities. Operation Irini’s mandate does not include a search and rescue component.
At the time of writing, the UN’s 2020 humanitarian response plan for Libya of $129.8 million was funded at 59.1 percent, with $53.1 million outstanding.
Human Rights-Related Developments
During its 45th session, the Human Rights Council (HRC) was scheduled to consider, as part of an interactive dialogue on 2 October, an oral update from a fact-finding mission to Libya that had been mandated to “establish the facts and circumstances of the situation of human rights…and to collect and review relevant information to document alleged violations and abuses of international human rights law and international humanitarian law by all parties”.
Key Issues and Options
The immediate issue for the Council in October is to adopt a resolution renewing the authorisation for member states, acting nationally or through regional organisations, to inspect vessels on the high seas off the coast of Libya that they have reasonable grounds to suspect are being used for migrant smuggling or human trafficking.
Members continue to be aware that international efforts to combat the smuggling of migrants and trafficking in persons, including via vessels off the coast of Libya, need to be strengthened. The last three years have seen few changes in the authorisation to support those efforts, which made the negotiations less divisive than the initial discussion in 2015. Issues around flag state consent and the authorisation to use force were sources of contention at the time. If the penholder aims for little change to the text, negotiations may again be uncontentious.
The UK is the penholder on Libya, sharing the pen with Germany on the sanctions file; Germany will draft the October authorisation renewal. Günter Sautter, Germany’s Deputy Permanent Representative, chairs the 1970 Libya Sanctions Committee.
UN DOCUMENTS ON LIBYA
|Security Council Resolutions|
|15 September 2020S/RES/2542||This extended UNSMIL’s mandate until 15 September 2021; it was adopted with 13 votes in favour and two abstentions (China and Russia).|
|5 June 2020S/RES/2526||This resolution renewed for 12 months the authorisation for member states, acting nationally or through regional organisations, to inspect vessels on the high seas off the coast of Libya bound to or from the country that they have reasonable grounds to believe are violating the arms embargo.|
|11 February 2020S/RES/2509||This renewed the mandate of the Panel of Experts assisting the 1970 Libya Sanctions Committee until 15 May 2021 as well as the measures related to the illicit export from Libya of petroleum until 30 April 2021.|
|3 October 2019S/RES/2491||This resolution renewed the authorisation for member states, acting nationally or through regional organisations, to inspect vessels on the high seas off the coast of Libya that they have reasonable grounds to suspect are being used for migrant smuggling or human trafficking.|
|2 September 2020S/2020/876||This was on the implementation of resolution 2491.|