European Scrutiny Committee Contents

10 EU humanitarian assistance to Libya


Council Decision on a European Union military operation to support humanitarian assistance and protection of civilians in response to the crisis situation in Libya (EUFOR Libya)

Legal baseArticle 28 and 43(2) TEU; unanimity
DepartmentForeign and Commonwealth Office
Basis of considerationEM of 29 March 2011
Previous Committee ReportNone; but see (32606) — and (32610) —: HC 428-xxi (2010-11), chapter 9 (23 March 2011) and (32546) — and (32549) —: HC 428-xviii (2010-11), chapter 12 (2 March 2011)
To be discussed in Council30 March 2011
Committee's assessmentPolitically important
Committee's decisionCleared


10.1 On 23 February 2011 the European Union expressed its grave concern over the situation unfolding in Libya; strongly condemned the violence and use of force against civilians; deplored the repression against peaceful demonstrators; and reiterated its call for an immediate end to the use of force and for steps to address the legitimate demands of the population.[41]

10.2 On 26 February 2011, the UN Security Council adopted UNSCR 1970 (2011). Deploring what it called "the gross and systematic violation of human rights" in strife-torn Libya, the Security Council demanded an end to the violence and decided to refer the situation to the International Criminal Court while imposing an arms embargo on the country and a travel ban and assets freeze on the family of Muammar Al-Qadhafi and certain Government officials. It authorized all Member States to seize and dispose of military-related materiel banned by the text. It called on all Member States to facilitate and support the return of humanitarian agencies and make available humanitarian and related assistance in Libya and expressed its readiness to consider taking additional appropriate measures as necessary to achieve that.[42]

10.3 We subsequently considered the relevant Council Decision and implementing Council Regulation at our meeting on 3 March 2011. The Council Decision and Regulation raised no questions per se, but we reported them to the House nonetheless because of the widespread interest in the situation in Libya.[43]

10.4 On 17 March 2011, demanding an immediate ceasefire in Libya, including an end to the current attacks against civilians, which it said might constitute "crimes against humanity", the UN Security Council imposed a ban on all flights in the country's airspace — a no-fly zone — and tightened sanctions on the Qadhafi regime and its supporters. In adopting Resolution 1973 (2011) by a vote of ten in favour to none against, with five abstentions (Brazil, China, Germany, India, Russian Federation), the Council authorized Member States, acting nationally or through regional organizations or arrangements, to take all necessary measures to protect civilians under threat of attack in the country, including Benghazi, while excluding a foreign occupation force of any form on any part of Libyan territory.

10.5 On 21 March 2011, the Foreign Affairs Council adopted conclusions on Libya that, inter alia:

—  expressed its concern at the present situation and condemned the gross and systematic violation of human rights, violence and brutal repression perpetrated by the regime against the Libyan people;

—  expressed its satisfaction after the adoption of UNSCR 1973 and underlined its determination to contribute to its implementation;

—  noted that, in addition to adopting additional further restrictive measures against the Libyan leadership in the form of additional autonomous designations of person and entities with a view to preventing further funding of the regime, was, on the basis of the UNSC Resolution, working on the further strengthening of the measures with a view to their adoption ahead of the European Council on 24/25 March 2011;

—   said that it and the EU Member States would support actions provided for by UNSCR 1973 necessary to protect civilians and civilian populated areas under threat of attack; and

—  noted that the EU will continue to provide humanitarian assistance to all those affected.[44]

10.6 On 23 March we cleared a Council Decision and Council Regulation that authorised Member States to:

—   take the necessary measures to prevent the flights of aircrafts under their jurisdiction in the airspace of Libya, save those whose sole purpose is humanitarian;

—  inspect vessels and aircraft bound to or from Libya, if they have reasonable grounds to believe that such vessels are carrying prohibited cargo;

—  deny permission to any Libyan aircraft to take off from, land in or overfly their territory;

—  deny permission to any aircraft to take off from, land in or overfly their territory, if they have reasonable grounds to believe that the aircraft contains prohibited items, including the provision of armed mercenary personnel.

10.7 The measures also extended the travel ban and asset freeze to encompass not just the Qadhafi family and a range of other individuals but also, now, state enterprises under the control of Muammar Qadhafi and his family, and thus a potential source of funding for his regime, viz:

  • Central Bank of Libya;
  • Libyan Investment Authority;
  • Libyan Arab Foreign Investment Company (LAFICO);
  • Libyan Foreign Bank;
  • Libyan National Oil Corporation.

10.8 On 21 March the House adopted the following Resolution:

"That this House welcomes United Nations Security Council (UNSC) Resolution 1973; deplores the ongoing use of violence by the Libyan regime; acknowledges the demonstrable need, regional support and clear legal basis for urgent action to protect the people of Libya; accordingly supports Her Majesty's Government, working with others, in the taking of all necessary measures to protect civilians and civilian populated areas under threat of attack in Libya and to enforce the No Fly Zone, including the use of UK armed forces and military assets in accordance with UNSC Resolution 1973; and offers its wholehearted support to the men and women of Her Majesty's armed forces."[45]

10.9 The Council Decision and Regulation raised no questions in and of themselves. We nonetheless reported these measures because of their political importance. In so doing, we noted that the Minister was "doing a lot of preparatory work in order to be able to take further measures very soon", and asked him to do all that he could to continue to keep the Committee informed about what was plainly a very fast-moving situation.[46]

The draft Council Decision

10.10 In this present context, the FAC Conclusions also expressed the EU's readiness "to provide CSDP support to humanitarian assistance in response to a request from OCHA[47] and under the coordinating role of the UN",[48] such actions to fully respect the UN guidelines on the use of military and civil defence assets (MCDA).[49]

10.11 In his Explanatory Memorandum of 29 March 2010, the Minister for Europe (Mr David Lidington) explains that:

—  the Council subsequently agreed on 24 March a Crisis Management Concept outlining the potential response;

—  this would support the implementation of UNSCRs 1970 and 1973 through the protection of civilians by providing EU military capabilities to assist the UN in the evacuation of refuges from the borders with Tunisia and/or Egypt or by providing specialised capabilities to support humanitarian assistance;

—  the European Council of Friday 25 March 2011 agreed that EU planning should continue;

—  this Council Decision enables planning for a potential CSDP military operation to proceed to the next phase.

The Government's view

10.12 The Minister comments on the proposal as follows:


"We agreed an EU Crisis Management Concept (CMC) on 24 March 2011 which sets out the conceptual framework of how a CSDP operation might operate. This is an EU Restricted document, but in summary it sets the framework for potential CSDP action in accordance with the mandates of UNSCR 1970 and 1973 through the protection of civilians by providing EU military capabilities to assist the UN in the evacuation of refugees or by providing specialised capabilities to support humanitarian assistance. It also emphasised the need for further planning and preparation, including ensuring close coordination and complementarity with relevant humanitarian actors, in particular with OCHA, the European Commission Humanitarian Aid and Civil Protection (known as ECHO) and other international actors including NATO.


"The purpose of the Council Decision is to allow for further and more detailed contingency planning. It would do this by designating an operational commander and headquarters (probably in Italy). This planning is required so that the EU can respond swiftly in case its support is requested by UN OCHA.

"It approves the readiness of the EU to provide CSDP support to humanitarian agencies with two important locks ahead of any mission launch. The first is that the launch of any mission can only be considered if OCHA requests assistance, as per the FAC Conclusions — this would demonstrate need. The wording of the draft Decision will be tightened in this respect. Secondly, the decision to launch a mission will need to be approved by the Council when considering the operational plan which will result from this next phase of planning.


"The humanitarian situation in Libya and at its borders is cause for concern and could be aggravated by migration movements resulting from events. The EU and Member States have already mobilised humanitarian aid working with the UN in evacuating refugees and third country nationals from Tunisia. If there is a deterioration in the humanitarian situation, and a request for assistance is received from OCHA, the EU has committed itself politically to be able to respond rapidly. This Council Decision allows for prudent planning to take place that will help the EU to react swiftly, but with appropriate locks, and we are therefore supportive.


"Once the Council Decision is taken, detailed formal planning will commence. Should a request not be forthcoming from OCHA, and the situation on the ground does not require a CSDP operation within the parameters set out in the Decision, then the Council can take a decision to repeal the Decision closing the operational headquarters.

"If a request is made from OCHA for CSDP support, then planning documents (an operational plan) can be considered and agreed by the Political and Security Committee (PSC). Agreement to launch a mission will be subject to a further Council Decision, on which the Scrutiny Committees would be consulted."

10.13 Turning to the Financial Implications, the Minister says that:

—  in the absence of a Concept of Operations and OPLAN, the likely cost of a possible operation does not exist;

—  Member States could be asked to contribute to the cost of establishing an Operation Headquarters during planning, but no indication of likely costs has been received;

—  if a military CSDP operation is launched, the costs would depend on the type of operation agreed in the Operation Plan;

—  the UK would be liable for the common costs associated with any mission at 13.8% share, plus the costs for any personnel/assets, if any, that it choose to deploy on the mission.

10.14 With regard to the Timetable, the Minister says that the Council Decision may be approved as early as Wednesday 30 March 2011 under expedited procedure, but is more likely to be agreed later in the week. He expresses the hope that the Committee will have the opportunity to consider this proposal in advance of this potential decision, but will understand that "the operational requirement to be ready to respond quickly in the case of any urgent humanitarian need may need me to agree to an override in these current circumstances."


10.15 We note that any decision to launch this mission would be dependent on a request from the UN and a further Council Decision. Since, no matter how circumscribed, this would amount to an EU military mission, and in very challenging circumstances, we trust that the Minister will do everything possible to ensure that the Committee is able to consider it in a timely fashion.

10.16 In the meantime, we clear this Council Decision from scrutiny.

41   See for the full text. Back

42   Full details of UN Security Council resolution 1970 (2011) are available at  Back

43   See headnote: (32546) - and (32549) -: HC 428-xviii (2010-11), chapter 12 (2 March 2011). Back

44   The full conclusions are reproduced at the Annex to this chapter or our Report, and available at Back

45   See HC Deb, 21 March 2011, cols 700-806: Back

46   See headnote: (32606) - and (32610) -: HC 428-xxi (2010-11), chapter 9 (23 March 2011). Back

47   OCHA is the part of the United Nations Secretariat responsible for bringing together humanitarian actors to ensure a coherent response to emergencies and ensures there is a framework within which each actor can contribute to the overall response effort. For full information about OCHA, see  Back

48   See para 5 of the Annex to this chapter. Back

49   MCDA Guidelines (the Guidelines on the Use of Military and Civil Defence Assets to Support United Nations Humanitarian Activities in Complex Emergencies) provide guidelines for the use of international military and civil defence personnel, equipment, supplies and services in support of the United Nations (UN) in pursuit of humanitarian objectives in complex emergencies. For further details, see


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Prepared 7 April 2011