What's In Blue

Posted Thu 3 Oct 2019

Libya: Council to Vote on Renewing the Provisions of Resolution 2240

Today (3 October), the Security Council is scheduled 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 today. While the negotiations on this mandate have been relatively straightforward in the past few years, it appears that there were some differences of view regarding language on the EU’s military operation in the Southern Central Mediterranean (EUNAVFOR MED Operation Sophia) that required compromises by the UK, the penholder on this issue.


In his latest report on the implementation of resolution 2437 that extended the vessels’ inspection authorisation in October 2018, the Secretary-General, citing data from UNHCR and the International Organization for Migration, writes that 82,236 refugees and migrants arrived by sea in Europe between 1 September 2018 and 31 July, marking a 26 percent decrease from the last reporting period. Despite the decreased numbers, the report said, “there is considerable evidence that conditions for those embarking on the journey have worsened”. The report emphasised that the death rate of persons trying to get to Europe from Libya via the central Mediterranean Sea has more than doubled in comparison with the previous year. In the first half of 2019, 2,130 people arrived in Europe via the central Mediterranean Sea, and 333 people are recorded as having died.

In March, the EU extended the mandate of its EUNAVFOR MED Operation Sophia, operating under the Council’s authorisation, for six months until 30 September. It temporarily suspended the deployment of its surface naval assets, however, thus compelling the operation to rely solely on aerial assets. This compromise was reportedly needed as an extension of the existing mandate was not agreeable to the then-Italian government. In order to reach the consensus required within the EU and to continue the operation in principle, EU members agreed to suspend the use of naval assets. The Secretary-General’s report noted with concern that this development “de facto means that it has not been possible to inspect and seize vessels in international waters off the coast of Libya, on suspicion of smuggling either migrants or arms […] pursuant to resolutions 2437 (2018) and 2473 (2019), respectively”. On 26 September, the Council of the EU extended the operation until 31 March 2020, but the deployment of naval assets remains suspended. The EU reportedly may adjust the mandate sooner than 31 March 2020, in light of the recent change in Italy’s government. According to an EU press release on the extension of the mandate, EU member states “stand ready to revert to this matter whenever necessary to provide the Operation Commander with possible new guidance regarding the deployment of the Operation’s naval assets.” EUNAVFOR MED Operation Sophia currently implements the authorisation granted by resolution 2437 using air assets.

The Secretary-General’s report further elaborated that NGOs are still conducting search and rescue operations with their vessels on the high seas off the western coast of Libya. However, legal and administrative restrictions by European states, as well as constraints on disembarkation of migrants and refugees in Europe, have reduced the number of such operations.


It seems that the UK circulated a short draft resolution on 20 September, without changes to the authorisation. It appears that China and Russia then proposed language expressing concern over the suspension of the EUNAVFOR MED Operation Sophia’s deployment of naval assets, welcoming ongoing discussions and encouraging the EU to redeploy the operation’s naval assets. They further suggested an extension for only six months, instead of the usual twelve. Council experts met on Monday, 30 September, when a representative of the EU delegation in New York briefed and took questions on the operation. The additions put forward by China and Russia appear not to have been agreeable to the penholder and other Council members, especially EU countries. The UK then seems to have put the originally-circulated text under silence procedure, which was broken by China and Russia.

Following ongoing negotiations yesterday between the penholder and China and Russia, slight changes were made to the text in an effort to reach consensus. In its preambular part, the draft put in blue now includes language welcoming “the measures that have been taken to implement resolution 2240 (2015) and encouraging their continuation”. In addition, in its operative part, the draft expands its request for the Secretary-General to report to the Council, now at six and eleven months after the adoption of the resolution, rather than just at eleven months after the adoption as had previously been the case.

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