By Libya Herald reporters
London/Tunis, 8 October 2015:
Britain says Libya has agreed a proposed United Nations resolution authorising naval units to target . . .[restrict]migrant smugglers on the high seas, with a vote at the Security Council expected in the coming days.
On Wednesday, the European Union began anti-smuggler operations with naval and air units off the Libyan coast but it known to be keen to get UN legal backing for the mission.
In New York, the UK, one of the five permanent members of the Security Council, is pushing a resolution that would provide similar powers to those assumed by the EU.
The proposed resolution states that the UN:
“Calls upon Member States acting nationally or through regional organisations that are engaged in the fight against migrant smuggling and human trafficking to inspect, as permitted under international law, on the high seas off the coast of Libya, any unflagged vessels that they have reasonable grounds to believe have been, are being, or imminently will be used by organised criminal enterprises for migrant smuggling”.
Until recently, both Libya’s parliaments have said no to the idea. However, the internationally-recognised House of Representatives (HoR) in Tobruk has apparently had a change of heart.
This may be influenced by the fact that the people-smuggling trade is run out of ports in the west controlled by the HoR’s rival, the General National Congress. It claims it has too few security assets to stop the trade, however there have been persistent allegations that those involved in it have close ties to the Tripoli regime.
The planned UN resolution includes promises that confidential information and tracking data on migrant craft will be shared by foreign navies with the recognised government in Beida.
British UN ambassador Matthew Rycroft was quoted by the Associated Press saying that Libya’s recognised government had agreed to the resolution, which allows interceptions and arrests, but only outside Libya’s territorial waters.
Tens of thousands of migrants have made the dangerous crossing to Italy and Malta this year, each paying a minimum of $1,000 for the trip, and smuggling gangs and some militias have grown extremely rich on the proceeds.
But more than 2,000 people have perished, the sight of their bodies washing ashore triggering protests in Zuwara, hub of the migrant trade.
Russia and China, also permanent members of the UNSC, had said no to the UN resolution the last time it was considered, and Russia’s deputy ambassador Petr Ilichev said his country “still have concerns” about the scope of the resolution.
Britain hopes the fact of Libya supporting the resolution will tip the balance, allowing a more robust operation.
Critics of the plan complain that the smugglers have already adjusted to the new reality, and now deposit boats crowded with migrants at the edge of Libya’s internationally-accepted 12-mile territorial limit, leaving EU navies to ferry the migrants to Europe.
Possibly more effective will be investigations in Italy, aided by confessions of alleged smugglers facing trial and phone intercepts, to name and indict leading Libyan smuggler leaders.
The UN resolution will be debated amid a changing international dynamic, in which the UK and US have distanced themselves from the elected parliament, while Russia has expressed support for it. [/restrict]