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25th Sep 2022

Libya says EU boat-sinking operation 'not humane'

  • Children in Tripoli, the official capital, which is under the control of Libya Dawn (Photo: ec.europa.eu)

The Libyan government has said the EU’s boat-sinking operation is “not humane” and is unlikely to get permission to operate in its territory.

Hatem el-Ouraybi, a spokesman for the authorities in Tobruk, in eastern Libya, told the AFP news agency by phone on Monday (18 May) that: "Any military action must be done with the co-operation of the Libyan authorities … The military option to deal with the boats inside Libyan waters or outside is not considered humane”.

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He added: "The government will not accept any violation of Libyan sovereignty” and "will not accept the plan unless it’s co-ordinated" with his administration.

His comments came after EU foreign ministers in Brussels, earlier the same day, agreed to launch EUnavfor Med - a year-long military operation “to break the business model of smugglers and traffickers of people in the Mediterranean”.

They said in a communique that force generation, planning, and “surveillance and assessment of human smuggling and trafficking networks … will be conducted as soon as possible”.

But they noted that “work to search, seize, and disrupt the assets of smugglers” must be done in accordance with “international law and in partnership with Libyan authorities”.

An internal EU blueprint, seen by EUobserver, adds that “a presence ashore”, including by “special forces” from participating states, “might be envisaged” for the sake of “seizure and/or physical destruction of smuggling-enabling assets (e.g. boats, fuel dumps, embarkation facilities)”.

It also warns that there is “a high risk of collateral damage including the loss of life”.

The EU’s foreign relations chief, Federica Mogherini, noted that the UK, a UN Security Council member, is drafting a Chapter VII, or legally binding, resolution on use of force, which will be put to a vote in New York before the end of June.

She added the EU will seek permission from “the legitimate government [of Libya], which is represented in the UN and which is based in Tobruk”, but that it will also work with other “relevant authorities … be they in Tripoli, be they in Misrata, or be they in the municipalities”.

Divided Libya

Libya, following the death of Muammar Gaddafi in 2011, has broken up into at least four parts.

The so-called Operation Dignity government in Tobruk controls the east, while the Libya Dawn alliance, based in Tripoli, controls most of the west.

Tuareg tribe militias and Toubou tribe militias hold sway in two separate zones in the south-west, but other militias, including Islamist radicals, also hold power in major cities including Zuwara, Misrata, Sirte, Ajdabiya, Benghazi, and Derna.

The security situation is so bad that Libya’s oil output is less than a quarter of what it used to be and that the EU’s post-Gaddafi border control mission, Eubam Libya, had to flee to Malta last year.

It is also leaving the door open to incursion by the Iraq and Syria-based Islamic State.

Mogherini on Monday noted the EU is working with the UN’s special envoy, Spanish diplomat Bernadino Leon, on reunification.

She said the criminal gangs which profit from people smuggling are probably channeling income to “financing of terrorist activities”.

But she added there can be “no real solution to the problem” of radical Islamists in Libya “until there’s a national unity government” in place.

Meanwhile, the Libyan remark that the EU plan is “not humane” comes after similar criticism from Peter Sutherland, the UN’s special envoy on migration, and from leading NGOs.

Sutherland said in New York last week that EUnavfor Libya will put “innocent refugees, including many children, in the line of fire”.

Ken Roth, the director of the New York-based NGO Human Rights Watch, tweeted on Monday: “Military force is no excuse for EU to return asylum-seekers to the violence and abuse of Libya”.

'No decision expected' for EU decision on unanimous decisions

Swedish minister for European affairs Hans Dahlgren told EUobserver no decision can be expected on majority vote next year. Mikuláš Bek, the Czech minister for European affairs, said enlargement and changes to the decision-making are politically interlinked.

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