What's In Blue

Posted Tue 28 Sep 2021

Libya: Vote to Renew Measures to Combat Migrant Smuggling and Human Trafficking*

Tomorrow (29 September), the Security Council is expected to vote on a draft resolution renewing for one year 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 believe are being used for migrant smuggling or human trafficking.

The authorisation, which was initially established by resolution 2240 of 9 October 2015 and last renewed by resolution 2546 of 2 October 2020, also authorises member states to seize vessels if there is confirmation that they are being used for migrant smuggling or human trafficking from Libya. Estonia and France are the co-penholders on this year’s resolution.

The co-penholders circulated a first draft of the resolution on 16 September and convened one round of in-person negotiations on 17 September to discuss the text. It seems that they aimed to have a straightforward renewal of the authorisation, without making substantive changes to the provisions contained in resolution 2546. It appears that this was acceptable to Council members and that the negotiations went smoothly. Following the 17 September negotiations, the text was placed under silence on 21 September until 23 September. It appears that China requested an extension of the silence period until 24 September to allow more time for consideration. The silence period passed, and the draft was placed in blue on 24 September.

During the 17 September negotiations, the Council was briefed by a representative from the EU Delegation to the UN on the EU military operation in the Mediterranean (EUNAVFOR MED operation IRINI), which deploys air and naval assets across the Mediterranean Sea off the coast of Libya. Through operation IRINI, the EU is the only regional organisation implementing the authorisation given by the Council to inspect vessels suspected of migrant smuggling and human trafficking.

IRINI is the successor to EUNAVFOR MED operation SOPHIA, whose primary goal was to disrupt human smuggling and trafficking networks pursuant to resolution 2240. IRINI’s primary task is the implementation of the arms embargo on Libya in line with the authorisation established by resolution 2292 of 14 June 2016, a secondary task being to disrupt “the business model of human smuggling and trafficking networks through information gathering and patrolling by planes”. In addition, IRINI monitors Libya’s illicit oil exports through the authorisation established by resolution 2441 of 5 November 2018.

It has become the practice for EU representatives to brief Council members prior to the renewal of these authorisations. On some occasions, Council members convene these briefings in an informal interactive dialogue, a closed format which allows them to interact with the EU representative and ask questions about the EU mission’s latest activities.

Prior to the negotiations on the draft text in blue, Council members considered the Secretary-General’s annual report on the implementation of the 2240 authorisations, which was issued on 2 September. The report said that migrant smugglers have increased their activities within Libya during the past year, launching boats or vessels that are mostly unfit for the journey across the Mediterranean Sea, are filled beyond capacity, and often contain few or no supplies for their passengers. During the reporting period, which covers 2 September 2020 to 20 August, approximately 1,595 persons have perished or are suspected to have died in the attempt to make the journey.

*Post-script: On 29 September, the Security Council unanimously adopted resolution 2598, which renewed for another year the authorisation for member states to inspect vessels on the high seas off the coast of Libya that they have reasonable grounds to believe are being used for migrant smuggling or human trafficking.