Expected Council Action
In September, the Council is due to renew the mandate of the UN Support Mission in Libya (UNSMIL). Depending on developments in the political dialogue, Bernardino León, the Special Representative and head of UNSMIL, might brief on his efforts to bring on board the parties that have yet to initial the political agreement.
The mandate of UNSMIL expires on 15 September 2015.
Key Recent Developments
On 11 July, some parties to the conflict in Libya initialled a peace agreement in the Moroccan city of Skhirat. Representatives from the Tobruk-based House of Representatives and officials from municipalities such as Tripoli and Misrata, among others, initialled the agreement, but the Tripoli-based General National Congress (GNC) refused to initial it. The agreement provides for a one-year government of national accord and grants the executive authority to a council of ministers headed by a presidency council comprising the prime minister, two deputies and two ministers. The House will remain the legislative body, and a State Council including members from the GNC will be created to act as a consultative body with the capacity to express both binding and advisory opinions. Briefing the Council on 15 July, León emphasised that the door remains open for the GNC to join the agreement “with the clear understanding that it will not be further amended, without prejudice to the negotiations on its annexes”.
Since then, another round of the political dialogue took place on 11-12 August in Geneva. Agreement on the annexes (including the formation of a government of national accord and the mandate of the newly-formed State Council) remains elusive, and the military actors have yet to express whether and, if so, how they will support the security arrangements laid out in the agreement. Briefing the Council on 26 August, León stated the need to expedite the dialogue process and reach an agreement signed by all parties before the end of the mandate of the House in October. At press time, the parties were expected to meet in Skhirat on 27 August.
Despite UNSMIL’s mediation efforts, fighting continues between elements of the two main coalitions—Misrata-based and Islamist militias (collectively known as Libya Dawn) and Zintan-based militias and elements of the army commanded by General Khalifa Haftar (Operation Dignity). A 13 August Secretary-General’s report highlights how various local ceasefire initiatives led to a marked reduction of military tensions in western Libya and the greater Tripoli area. The situation in the east continues to be critical, including in Benghazi, where UNSMIL has repeatedly condemned the indiscriminate shelling of residential areas by all parties and the report pointed out that “the ongoing conflict [has] shifted into an urban war of attrition in which neither side has been able to make additional significant territorial gains”. In the south, despite several attempts to broker local ceasefires, intermittent clashes between Tabu and Tuareg militias have continued.
Groups pledging allegiance to the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS) continue to clash with both warring coalitions, notably in Sirte and in the vicinity of Derna. In Sirte, under ISIS control since June, ISIS killed more than 70 people in mid-August in response to an attempted rebellion. A 13 August letter sent by the permanent representative of Libya, Ambassador Ibrahim Dabbashi, to the Council president drew the attention of the Council to the situation in Sirte while blaming the Council for not authorising exemptions to the arms embargo in order to fight ISIS. A 16 August statement by the governments of France, Germany, Italy, Spain, the UK and the US condemned the barbaric acts and underscored the “urgent need for parties in Libya to reach agreement on forming a government of national accord that, in partnership with the international community, can provide security against violent extremist groups seeking to destabilise the country”. After an 18 August meeting, the Arab League vowed military support to fight terrorism in Libya and urged the 1970 Sanctions Committee to respond to the exemptions to the arms embargo requested by the internationally recognised government. (In March, proposals to lift the arms embargo and grant exemptions for shipments of military materiel for fighting terrorism were put on hold by several Council members due to fears regarding the impact such decisions could have on the dynamics on the ground in the absence of a political solution.)
Contingency planning for fighting terrorism in Libya once a government of national accord is sworn in is ongoing. Early August press reports suggest that the western countries mentioned above, in discussion with the UN and the EU, might be planning to deploy a security assistance mission to train Libyan forces in countering terrorism.
According to the Secretary-General’s 13 August report, the humanitarian situation continues to deteriorate, affecting an estimated two million people, including approximately 435,000 internally displaced persons. According to the International Organization for Migration, the number of migrants, refugees and asylum seekers who have arrived in Europe by sea in 2015 is now approaching 250,000, with rescues at sea occurring at a rate of more than 1,000 migrants a day this summer off the coasts of Italy and Greece. After two separate wrecks off the coast of Libya on 5 and 11 August, at least 2,300 have drowned this year. Negotiations on a draft resolution authorising operation EU NAVFOR Med to tackle the smuggling of migrants off the coast of Libya have been on hold since May because of difficulties in obtaining consent from the Libyan authorities. Those negotiations might resume once a government of national accord is sworn in.
On 28 July, Saif Al-Islam Qaddafi, son of deposed leader Muammar Qaddafi, was sentenced to death by a court in Tripoli that had tried him along with 36 other Qaddafi-era officials accused of serious crimes during the 2011 revolution. Qaddafi has been tried in absentia since he is held in a militia-controlled jail in the town of Zintan. The trial was criticised by both UNSMIL and the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights as not meeting international standards of a fair trial. On 10 December 2014, the ICC’s Pre-Trial Chamber issued a decision on the non-compliance of Libya with the Court on the case against Qaddafi, by which the matter was referred back to the Council. Although the ICC decision was noted in resolution 2213, so far the Council has failed to follow up on this issue and has not met to discuss it. On 30 July ICC Prosecutor Fatou Benosuda requested that the Pre-Trial Chamber I order Libya to refrain from carrying out Qaddafi’s sentence, surrender him to the Court and inform the Council of the death sentence.
León has repeatedly emphasised the usefulness of sanctions to target hardliners and advance the political process, but a proposal by France, Spain, the UK and the US to impose sanctions (travel ban and asset freeze) on two individuals affiliated with each of the warring coalitions was put on hold by Russia and China in early June. Following the initialling of the agreement, it seems some Council members questioned the appropriateness of targeting hardliners from both sides and promoted targeting only the GNC side (even though Haftar has also rejected the agreement). In his 15 July briefing to the Council, León warned that “spoilers should be held accountable because they bear the responsibility of hindering the political agreement”.
Human Rights-Related Developments
On 18 August, the spokesperson for the High Commissioner for Human Rights, Rupert Colville, issued a statement that expressed concern over recent events in Sirte involving militants claiming allegiance to ISIS. The statement said that residents told the human rights division of UNSMIL that most civilians had fled the area where fighting was taking place by the morning of 13 August. The district was reportedly indiscriminately shelled by ISIS forces during the fighting. The total number of fatalities was not known at the time of the statement, but unconfirmed estimates received by UNSMIL range between four and 38. The statement also called for individuals, groups and organisations to submit information relevant to the mandate of the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights’ investigation on Libya, which was established through Human Rights Council (HRC) resolution 28/30 adopted on 27 March. The resolution asked the High Commissioner to dispatch a mission to “investigate violations and abuses of international human rights law that have been committed in Libya since the beginning of 2014, and to establish the facts and circumstances of such abuses and violations, with a view to avoiding impunity and ensuring full accountability”.
An overarching issue is isolating spoilers on both sides and maintaining the engagement of the parties that have not initialled the agreement in the negotiation of the annexes.
A key issue is ensuring that military actors are brought into the political process to address the implementation of the ceasefire and other security arrangements provided for in the agreement. Stopping continual violations of international humanitarian law by the parties is a related issue.
The growing threat in Libya of terrorist groups with regional reach is an urgent issue.
Another urgent issue is ensuring support of all regional and international actors to the political dialogue in Libya.
It is unlikely that there will be an agreement providing for a government of national accord signed by all parties by the time UNSMIL’s renewal is due. In that case, an option for the Council could be to adopt a rollover resolution until an agreement is reached with language:
- calling on all parties to sign the agreement and to negotiate the annexes in good faith and in the spirit of compromise; and
- expressing concern about attacks on civilians in Libya, including in Sirte, that can amount to international crimes.
If an agreement is signed by all parties, the Council could adopt a resolution modifying UNSMIL’s mandate to ensure the implementation of the agreement in matters such as ceasefire monitoring, security arrangements and support to the government of national accord.
An additional option for the Council is to impose measures under resolution 2213 (travel ban and assets freeze) against spoilers. Council members could also hold an informal meeting to discuss how to proceed regarding Libya’s failure to cooperate with the ICC in the light of Qaddafi’s death sentence.
Council and Wider Dynamics
Council members generally support the mediation efforts by León and have repeatedly stated that that there can be no military solution to the crisis in Libya. There is also a feeling of urgency among Council members given the growing threat of ISIS in Libya and the October expiration of the mandate of the House that can further exacerbate divisions. Disagreements over how to support mediation efforts, including the use of UN sanctions, have hindered the Council’s engagement on Libya. Discussions about sanctions on spoilers at the EU level and counter-terrorism initiatives by regional organisations (such as the EU and the Arab League) might well be a result of the Council’s lack of leadership on this issue. After the initialling of the agreement, it took the Council four days to agree on a press statement welcoming this development because it was deadlocked in discussions about whether to refer to the agreement as “the Skhirat Agreement” (after the Moroccan town where it was initialled) and how to portray the role of governments of the region in support of the political process.
The UK is the penholder on Libya.
|Security Council Resolutions|
|27 March 2015 S/RES/2214||This was a resolution that focused on counter-terrorism efforts.|
|27 March 2015 S/RES/2213||This resolution renewed UNSMIL and the 1970 Libya Panel of Experts.|
|13 August 2015 S/2015/624||This was the latest report on Libya.|
|Security Council Press Statements|
|19 August 2015 SC/12027||This press statement condemned the terrorist attacks in Sirte, by a group that has pledged allegiance to ISIS.|
|16 July 2015 SC/11973||This was a press statement that welcomed initialing of the Libyan Political Agreement.|
|1 July 2015 SC/11957||This was a press statement that welcomed the meeting of the participants in the Libyan political dialogue in Morocco.|
|17 June 2015 SC/11931||This was a press statement emphasising the urgency for the Libyan parties to agree on a Government of National Accord.|
|Security Council Letters|
|13 August 2015 S/2015/630||This was from Libya regarding the situation in Sirte.|
|Security Council Meeting Records|
|26 August 2015 S/PV.7512||Was a briefing by Special Representative Leon on Libya.|