EU’s Role in Enforcing UN Arms Embargo on Libya
EU’s Role in Enforcing UN Arms Embargo on Libya
By Maya Garner
European Union Foreign Ministers have thrown their weight behind a decision to deploy a new naval operation intended to enforce the UN arms embargo imposed on Libya. Operation EU Active Surveillance will include naval vessels plus aircraft in addition to satellites. The naval reinforcement entails ships patrolling some 100 kilometres off the Libyan coast in a coordinated effort to close down once and for all the main route for shipping weapons through the Mediterranean Sea to Libya. In deference to member countries vehemently opposed to illegal immigration into Europe, the 27 Foreign Ministers made clear that the new venture is not a “rescue” operation. In fact, the new EU agreement effectively ends Operation Sophia, which aimed to shut down people-smuggling from Libya to Europe.
On February 12th last, the United Nations passed a resolution calling for an immediate ceasefire in Libya plus enforcement of the arms embargo. The resolution was supported by the UK and was adopted by 14 votes, with Russia abstaining. The Security Council resolution calls on the EU, the African Union and the Arab League to help implement the ceasefire and to promote and support dialogue between the parties. Shortly before the EU Foreign Ministers endorsed the new venture, UN Special Envoy on Libya Stephanie Williams,addressing ceasefire talks in Munich, stated that the arms embargo had become “a joke,” given the un-ending armament shipments into Libya. “We all really need to step up here –.iIt’s complicated because there are violations by land, sea and air, but it needs to be monitored and there needs to be accountability,” she asserted.
From the time General Khalifa Haftar Libyan National Army (LNA) forces laid siege to the capital, Tripoli, almost a year ago, the fighting has steadily increased as a result of international meddling and weapon supplies. Backing for the LNA comes in the form of arms and funding from the United Arab Emirates, in addition to fighters from Russia and Morocco. Meanwhile, Turkey ends troops as part of its support to Prime Minister Fayez al-Serraj and his UN-backed government. Despite these violations of the arms embargo, there has yet to be a move among UN Member States even to try to impose sanctions on any of the countries concerned. In Europe, Haftar has received political backing from France while Serraj has had Italy’s support.
The new EU agreement, however, seems to show a European consensus about support for a ceasefire as called for in the UN resolution. The agreement is viewed as a response to the UN’s decreased ability to direct or influence the course of events in Libya. General Hafter had denied permission for UN staff to freely operate in Libya, causing major disruption to the organization’s ability to provide humanitarian relief to the population.
Last month, UN Secretary-General António Guterres, at the Libya summit in Berlin, cited the human toll exacted by the conflict: “More than 220 schools in Tripoli are closed, depriving 116,000 children of their basic human right to an education. Migrants and refugees, trapped in detention centres near the fighting, have also been affected and continue to suffer in horrendous conditions. This terrible situation cannot be allowed to continue.”
While International UN Watch welcomes the Secretary-General’s remarks but finds it difficult to reconcile his expression of concern with any evidence that the international community has the interests of the Libyan people at heart, insofar as political goals continue to take priority over pressing humanitarian considerations.
Initial resistance to the proposed embargo reinforcement mission by some European governments stemmed in part from their fear that such a deployment would make it easier for migrants attempting to reach Europe. Italy, Austria and Hungary were opposed because of this so-called “pull factor.” EU European Union Minister for Foreign Affairs Josep Borrell managed to assuage their concerns with an assurance that the mission would be withdrawn if this turned out to be the case.
Statewatch, an organisation that monitors state and civil liberties in Europe, released an internal EU memo elaborating on Borrell’s undertaking. It stated that “naval assets can be deployed in the areas most relevant to the implementation of the arms embargo, in the eastern part of the area of operation or at least 100km off the Libyan coast, where chances to conduct rescue operations are lower.” This carefully calibrated anti-”rescue” phrasing shows the extent to which some European nations are favouring policies hostile to refugees and immigrants, and the degree to which the EU now works to accommodate such views and policies.
Austrian Foreign Minister Alexander Schallenberg claimed there was “a basic consensus that we now want a military operation and not a humanitarian mission.” The new EU agreement is set to bring an end to Operation Sophia on March 31st. Sophia, established in 2015 to shut down the smuggling of migrants to Europe, was framed as preventing deaths at sea. Misgivings that Operation EU Active Surveillance would add to “rescue mission” and “pull factor” concerns were rooted in the time a German naval vessel assigned to Operation Sophia rescued 454 people at sea. The EU suspended the sea patrol component of Operation Sophia in March last year, cutting back to air patrols and satellite monitoring solely, because Italy, objecting to the German rescue, threatened to veto the overall operation. . Frederica Morgherini, High Representative at the time, insisted that the renaming of the mission (from “European Union Naval Force Mediterranean” to “Operation Sophia”) was to honour “the lives of the people we are saving.”
Austria, having demanded a military rather than a humanitarian mission, was criticized by the EU’s Borrell for its opposition to renewing Operation Sophie, given that it has neither a navy nor access to the sea. Instead, he sought to accommodate “the legitimate concerns” of some member states about the potential impact on migration flows such as the “so-called ‘pull effects.’” In the event that pull factors on migration were observed, he said, “maritime assets will be withdrawn from the relevant areas.”
In the circumstances, International UN Watch expresses its concern at the EU bending the nature of its operations to accommodate right-wing agendas, which serve larger anti-immigrant agendas in Europe and have no place in the conflict resolution of Libya. This is particularly important as the UN begins to rely more heavily on the support of the EU in Libya.