Italy-Libya agreements, it’s time to measure their impact



by Nino Sergi, president emeritus of INTERSOS and policy advisor of LINK

The government will soon issue the 2021 decree for the financing of international military missions. One part will be dedicated to Libya . Will it be a copy and paste of the 2020 decree or  will it be the result of a  serious examination of the effectiveness and impact of the operations carried out ?

There is no doubt that there must be agreements with a country so close and important to Italy and that adequate funding must be foreseen to help support the stabilization of the country, counter the widespread illegality and decisively and definitively combat human trafficking and the irregular migration that fuels it. President Mario Draghi’s recent visit to Libya confirmed this.

But the question that we must all ask ourselves, starting with the government and the parliament, should be this: ” the Italy-Libya agreements, with the planned interventions and the related expenditure ,  are actually producing what is hoped for and fixed in the provisions of the law and in the same bilateral agreements ?”

Obviously not.  Civil society organizations, analysts and journalists have been expressing themselves for years with insights, analyses, complaints and proposals. The “Memorandum of understanding on cooperation in the field of development, the fight against illegal immigration, human trafficking, smuggling and on strengthening border security between the State of Libya and the Italian Republic” of 2017 has been extended in 2020 without any serious insight or any serious evaluation, perhaps out of fear of facing a shameful reality. Yet some suggestions had reached the government (see  VITA). It would be good now for government policy to listen a little more and, despite the complexity of the Libyan reality, initiate the adoption of a very different line of action, both bilaterally and together with European partners. President Draghi could push in this direction.

Obviously no  is also the answer that any correct and impartial observer would give. Indeed, the “no” is the answer to the illegal detention centres, to the abuses, to the physical and psychological torture which continue to affect thousands of people, to the repeated deaths left to occur at sea, to the cynical behavior of the Libyan coast guard, to the constant another part of governments that have constitutional charters based on the centrality and dignity of the human person, on inviolable rights, on the value of life, on justice, on solidarity.

I limit myself here to the agreements and financing by Italy relating to the  bilateral assistance and support mission in Libya and assistance to the Coast Guard , contained in the decree on international missions.  But the speech could easily refer to the agreements and funding of the European Union in relations with Libya which themselves include a further active participation of Italy.

What did the 2020 international missions decree provide for in the part concerning Libya?  Listing the main points also becomes an invitation to an in-depth  weighing up of the priorities and methods of the interventions and the appropriations that Italy intends to commit with the 2021 decree.  A weighting that is based on a transparent assessment of the impact and results of the decisions taken from 2017 to 2020. But let’s see in summary the contents of the 2020 decree:

1.  Participation of military personnel in the  Bilateral Assistance and Support Mission in Libya  (MIBIL), with the aim of assisting the Libyan government through tasks such as: health care (including field hospital at Misrata airport), training demining, training of security forces, assistance in the control of illegal immigration, restoration of the efficiency of land, sea and air assets including the related infrastructures, capacity building, reconnaissance in the area.

With a financial coverage of  47,856,596 euros, in 2020 Italy participated in the mission with 400 personnel, 142 land vehicles and 2 air vehicles, while the naval ones were taken from the units of the previous Mare Sicuro operation. Between 2017 and 2019, the funding had reached 150 million euros.

2. Participation in the bilateral assistance mission to the Coast Guard of the Libyan Navy, with the aim of “tackling the phenomenon of illegal immigration and trafficking in human beings”, through the training of the Libyan Coast Guard and the maintenance in exercise of the naval units sold.

With an expenditure forecast of 10,050,160 euros  for 2020, 39 personnel from the Guardia di Finanza and 8 units from the Carabinieri took part in the mission. “Tackling the phenomenon of illegal immigration and trafficking in human beings”. The objective set in the decree is clear but the whole operation continues to remain opaque and without any serious evaluation of the results, given that trafficking in human beings remains unchanged, as well as irregular immigration and the absence of protection for ‘large majority of people who, upon entering Libya, lose their freedom and dignity.

The legal basis legitimizing the mission is the “Treaty of friendship, partnership and cooperation  between the Italian Republic and the Libyan Great Jamahiriya” signed in Benghazi on 30 August 2008 which explicitly refers to the  two protocols of “cooperation in the fight against immigration trafficking and trafficking in human beings”  signed in Tripoli on 29 December 2007. The second, technical-operational, provides for the performance of training activities for Libyan Coast Guard personnel and patrolling on board the units transferred by the Italian government to the Libyan one. The commitment was taken up again in the ” Memorandum of Understanding on cooperation in the field of development to combat illegal immigration and human trafficking”  of 2 February 2017, as well as in the Legislative Decree 84/2018  which defined the free transfer of 12 naval units with restoration of efficiency maintenance,  training and training activities  in order to increase the operational capacity of the Coast Guard of the Ministry of Defense and the coastal security bodies of the Libyan Ministry of the Interior in control and security activities to combat illegal immigration and trafficking in human beings.

However, the legal basis should guide the two governments and the two parliaments also in matters of respect for international law, human rights and fundamental freedoms, legitimizing consequent actions of primary importance, also to contribute to the very solution of the Libyan chaos .

Article 1 of the Treaty of Friendship, Partnership and Cooperation entitled ” Respect for international legality ” states: “The Parties, in emphasizing the common vision of the centrality of the United Nations in the system of international relations, undertake to comply in good faith to the obligations they subscribe to, both those deriving from the universally recognized principles and  norms of International Law  , and those inherent to respect for the International Order ”.

And Article 6 ” Respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms ” establishes that “The Parties, by common accord, shall act in accordance with their respective laws, objectives and principles of the Charter of the United Nations and the  Universal Declaration of Human Rights ”.

If the solemn declarations on respect for international law and the fundamental rights of the human person that we hear from our rulers are true – and I believe they usually are – why hasn’t the  Italian government pressed with maximum force  on these two articles of the bilateral treaty? Why did he limit himself to taking into consideration only those of lesser value but useful in the political imagination for the achievement of immediate objectives (actually only presumed) in the matter of limiting immigration?

These questions demand an answer. The short visions and the continuous indecisions of politics weigh heavily  – we have seen it and continue to see it in many situations – on the evolution of the subsequent phases, which regularly worsen, and on the next generations who will find themselves facing shocking difficulties, both at the internal and external relations, gangrenous due to the weakness, incapacity, unwillingness, blindness, sometimes dishonesty of those who had the duty to face them at the right time and with decision.

Yet, in relations with Libya,  there were many pretexts that Italy, the EU, the international community could make use of, adopting solid legal bases to ask and demand from Libya the closure of migrant detention centers and respect of human rights . The list of ratifications and accessions by Libya to international conventions and treaties that are still valid and binding is surprising These are international commitments that have been almost forgotten by both the Libyans and the international community. I highlighted some of them on  VITA  in October 2019 and it would be worth making them one of the tracks on which to direct the political choices of the Italian government and the EU.

Some examples of commitments undertaken by Libya?

  • African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights, ratified in 1986
  • AU Convention Regulating the Specific Aspects of Refugee Problems in Africa, ratified 1981
  • African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child, ratified in 2000
  • Protocol to the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights on Women’s Rights in Africa, ratified 2004
  • Convention on the Prohibition and Action to Eliminate the Worst Forms of Child Labor, ratified 2000
  • Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, ratified in 2018
  • United Nations Convention against Transnational Organized Crime, ratified in 2004
  • Additional Protocol to the United Nations Convention against Transnational Organized Crime to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons, Especially Women and Children, ratified in 2004
  • Additional Protocol to the United Nations Convention against Transnational Organized Crime to combat the smuggling of migrants by land, sea and air, ratified in 2004
  • Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, accession in 1989
  • Supplementary Convention on the Abolition of Slavery, the Slave Trade and Institutions and Practices Similar to Slavery: Accession in 1989
  • Convention on the Suppression of the Traffic in Persons and the Exploitation of the Prostitution of Others, accessed in 1956.

The list goes on. It must not be forgotten and must be included in the strengthening of relations with Libya and in bilateral and multilateral agreements.

*Nino Sergi , INTERSOS president emeritus and LINK 2007 policy advisor