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In the absence of EUFOR, European countries will provide bilateral aid to Libya... (Maj)

The British Navy's Cougar force halted in Gibraltar before entering the Mediterranean (credit: UK Royal Navy)

(BRUSSELS2) If the EUFOR Libya operation does not launch, one or more States could decide, in a concerted manner, to initiate a solo, more intensive humanitarian support operation, for example to accelerate the evacuation of injured nationals from Misrata. from third countries, women and children (sea bridge and medical aid) or, at a minimum, accompanying IOM civilian ships which currently shuttle between Misrata and Benghazi or other ports.

This possibility had been considered for a while (1). But it could come back into focus, quite simply for financial reasons. If the bombings on Misrata continue – the area is known to be dangerous – insurance rates will rise. And we could thus find ourselves in a situation similar to that of Mogadishu, with compulsory accompaniment of supply or evacuation ships by military ships, both for reasons of security but also quite simply for insurance.

Concretely, it will be enough to detach one or two ships from the NATO maritime embargo mission to ensure this mission, carrying it out under the national flag. Several States have maritime assets in the area and/or have already carried out such an operation during the first events in Libya. France, Italy, Greece, the United Kingdom in particular.

A legal framework already exists and allows this action

The Geneva Conventions provide for the protection of military means of relief to the wounded. Here, the hospital ship Juan de la Cosa (credit: Spanish Navy)

From a legal point of view, it is not necessary to go through OCHA. The body of existing international law (Security Council resolutions and/or Geneva Conventions) seems to be sufficient.

The UN Security Council has, in fact, already not only authorized these actions but has even recommended them, asking “Member States, acting together and in cooperation with the Secretary-General, to facilitate and support the return of humanitarian agencies and to make humanitarian and related assistance accessible to the Libyan Arab Jamahiriya” (§ 26 1970 resolution). He authorized the use of force “to protect populations and civilian areas threatened with attack in the Libyan Arab Jamahiriya, including Benghazi, while excluding the deployment of a foreign occupation force in any form whatsoever and on any part of Libyan territory” (§ 4 1973 resolution). The ban on the deployment of an occupying force does not seem to target the deployment of a few intended soldiers. For the sake of form, it will suffice to notify the Secretary General of the UN informing him of the means used.

The guidelines (MCDA) – which limit the use of military means “as a last resort” – to which OCHA, certain specialists and certain NGOs refer do not seem to me to be applicable in this case. Is they concern the use of military or civil protection means in the event of disasters (for example the earthquake in Haiti or the famine in Somalia). Is they apply to complex situations which fairly strictly define the last resort (no civilian means available and humanitarian needs). The whole question is whether in Misrata these two conditions are met. According to several diplomats and local political leaders, they are full. According to OCHA and NGOs like Oxfam (which are not on site), no. History will judge… In any case, this debate remains philosophical. Because, in no case do the MCDAs supplant other existing international instruments. They only have an indicative value where others have binding force (Security Council resolutions or international conventions). In this case, it is therefore the Geneva conventions – which Libya has ratified, including the two 1997 protocols – to which it is best to refer. (*) The real question is to have a clear assessment of the needs on the ground and to know how the use of military means will neither harm the action of force under the aegis of the UN, nor humanitarian operations carried out by international organizations and NGOs.

The Geneva conventions prescribe the protection of wounded or civilians in conflict according to well-defined procedures (impartiality of treatment, obligation of passage, possibility of creating neutralized zones for civilians, marking of rescue teams, etc.). If they do not allow the escort of humanitarian ships by the belligerents, they in no way prohibit the parties to the conflict from intervening in a neutral manner to provide care or assist the civilian population. On the contrary, they even encourage it and provide for it, notably prohibiting fire coming from land on a hospital ship, duly reported by the Red Cross or the Red Crescent, and obliging each of the belligerents — on the one hand, the government of Tripoli; on the other hand, the Benghazi CNT and NATO forces — to work for the protection of civilians and the wounded.

NB: non-belligerents (the European Union) have thus imposed prohibitions on themselves which do not exist anywhere in international law and put them in a position to act less than belligerents. It’s paradoxical, it’s European… 🙂

Read also: Italy and France will ensure the security of humanitarian operations to Libya

(*) Update. Clarification on MCDAs and the mandatory value of these rules. For the list of texts signed by Libya, see here

Nicolas Gros Verheyde

Chief editor of the B2 site. Graduated in European law from the University of Paris I Pantheon Sorbonne and listener to the 65th session of the IHEDN (Institut des Hautes Etudes de la Défense Nationale. Journalist since 1989, founded B2 - Bruxelles2 in 2008. EU/NATO correspondent in Brussels for Sud-Ouest (previously West-France and France-Soir).