The UN Security Council Invokes “International Solidarity” and “Shared Responsibility” to Combat the Smuggling of Migrants

The United Nations Security Council adopted on 9 October 2015 a Chapter VII-based Resolution that authorizes member states, for a period of one year, to intercept Vessels off Libyan coast suspected of migrant smuggling.

In carrying out this mission of inspection and interception, Resolution 2240 also authorizes states to “to use all measures commensurate to the specific circumstances in confronting migrant smugglers or human traffickers.” The use of these measures must be “in full compliance with international human rights law, as applicable,” and while “provid[ing] for the safety of persons on board as an utmost priority[.]”

The resolution does not invoke the usual determination of an existing “threat to international peace and security” from which the Council can derive its authority under Chapter VII (Article 39 of the Charter). Instead, it “affirm[s] the necessity to put an end to the recent proliferation of, and endangerment of lives by, the smuggling of migrants and trafficking of persons in the Mediterranean Sea off the coast of Libya.”

The New York Times reports that the original draft would have authorized the destruction of seized vessels. But the final text requires that “further action with regard to such vessels …, including disposal, will be taken in accordance with applicable international law with due consideration of the interests of any third parties who have acted in good faith.”

This resolution is a precedent in expanding the Security Council’s authority to act under Chapter VII in response to global crises beyond those directly related to threats to the peace.

More generally, the Security Council, in Paragraph 3,

Urges Member States and regional organisations, in the spirit of international solidarity and shared responsibility, to cooperate with the Libyan Government, and with each other, including by sharing information about acts of migrant smuggling and human trafficking in Libya’s territorial sea and on the high seas off the coast of Libya, and rendering assistance to migrants and victims of human trafficking recovered at sea, in accordance with international law.

And while this call focus rather narrowly on cooperation with respect to interception of vessels and recovery of victims, a preambular paragraph,

Emphasiz[es] the need to step up coordination of efforts in order to strengthen an effective multidimensional response to these common challenges in the spirit of international solidarity and shared responsibility, to tackle their root causes and to prevent people from being exploited by migrant smugglers and human traffickers.

Resolution 2240 (2015) was adopted with 14 votes in favor and one abstention (by Venezuela) (press release here). The representative of France said that the purpose of the resolution was to provide the European Union the necessary legal guarantees to conduct operations under the second phase of the European Union’s “Operation Sophia” which commenced on 7 October.

Venezuela abstained because it was of the opinion that the use of Chapter VII was a “serious mistake” setting a dangerous precedent.

Speaking after the vote, the representative of Chad said, inter alia, that “root causes such as poverty and conflict of the crisis should be addressed. It was crucial that the European Union work with all its partners, including countries of origin and transit and with regional organizations.”