UNITED NATIONS – A proposed U.N. resolution would authorize the European Union and individual countries to take "enforcement action" on the high seas off Libya against vessels trying to smuggle migrants and refugees to Europe, including seizing and destroying the boats.
It would also authorize the EU and member states "to use all necessary measures" — U.N. language for military action — "in confronting migrant smugglers or human traffickers."
Britain's U.N. Ambassador Matthew Rycroft circulated the resolution Tuesday and presented it to the U.N. Security Council at a closed meeting on Wednesday.
EU naval vessels have been patrolling Mediterranean waters off the coast of Libya in hopes of preventing more mass drownings of migrants jammed onto flimsy smugglers' boats.
The proposed resolution, obtained by The Associated Press, deplores "the continuing maritime tragedies in the Mediterranean Sea that have resulted in hundreds of casualties" and emphasizes the need for an international response to tackle the root causes "and to prevent people from being exploited by migrant smugglers and human traffickers."
The draft resolution would authorize the EU naval operation or individual countries to inspect vessels suspected of being used for migrant smuggling or human trafficking on the high seas off the coast of Libya, provided "good faith efforts" were made to obtain the consent of the states that license the ships.
It would also authorize the EU and national ships to seize vessels that have been inspected and "are confirmed as being used for migrant smuggling or human trafficking from Libya." And it would allow further action, including "disposal" of the vessels, in accordance with international law "with due consideration of the interests of any third parties who have acted in good faith."
The resolution is drafted under Chapter 7 of the U.N. Charter, which can be enforced militarily, and would authorize the search, seizure and disposal of vessels for one year.
Council diplomats, speaking on condition of anonymity because discussions have been private, said that because of different laws in EU nations, Italy can already seize and destroy smuggler vessels — but Germany and Britain whose ships are part of the EU operation need Security Council approval.
Italy provides about half the vessels for the EU operation and Germany and Britain the other half, the diplomats said.
The migrants on vessels that are searched and seized would be taken to Italy, they said.
The EU initially wanted a naval operation to be able to search, seize and destroy smuggler vessels on the high seas, in Libyan territorial waters and along its coast.
But operating in Libya's waters or along its coast requires agreement from its government, and at the moment the oil-rich North African country is divided between an elected parliament and government based in the eastern port city of Tobruk and an Islamist militia-backed government in the capital Tripoli — with militants from the Islamic State group also exploiting the chaos.
Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon told a news conference Wednesday that his special envoy, Bernardino Leon, continues to press the parties to form a national unity government and is making progress.
China and Russia had raised questions about the EU mission infringing on Libya's sovereignty if it operated in the country's territorial and coastal areas, the diplomats said, but that issue does not arise on the high seas.
Britain is hoping for a vote next week on the draft resolution, the diplomats said.
If it is approved and a national unity government is formed, the diplomats said the EU will then seek a green light from the new government to extend the search-and-destroy operation to its territorial and coastal waters.
Associated Press writer Cara Anna contributed to this report from the United Nations.