Expected Council Action
In May, Council members are expected to receive a briefing from the Special Representative and head of the UN Support Mission in Libya (UNSMIL), Ghassan Salamé, and the Deputy Permanent Representative of Germany, Ambassador Jürgen Schulz, who chairs the 1970 Libya Sanctions Committee. ICC Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda will also provide her semi-annual briefing to the Council.
The mandate of UNSMIL expires on 15 September, and the mandate of the Panel of Experts assisting the 1970 Libya Sanctions Committee expires on 20 February 2020.
Key Recent Developments
April was marked by a dramatic escalation of the situation in Libya. On 4 April, General Khalifa Haftar, head of a militia known as the “Libyan National Army” (LNA), undertook a military offensive towards Tripoli. This action followed months of military clashes over control of key strategic locations in southern Libya, including oil fields, between LNA forces and militias affiliated with the UN-recognised Government of National Accord (GNA).
Salamé briefed Council members in consultations on 5 April via video teleconference, hours after he had accompanied Secretary-General António Guterres, who was on a visit to Libya, to a meeting with Haftar. At the Council meeting, members agreed to press elements calling on LNA forces to “halt all military movements” and expressing their intention to hold accountable those responsible for further conflict. However, Russia opposed a subsequent effort to single out the LNA in a Council press statement circulated after that meeting.
Council members met again on Libya, this time with Guterres, on 10 April. At the meeting, Guterres reiterated his calls for the parties to de-escalate the situation, agree on a ceasefire and a cessation of hostilities, and re-commit to the UN-facilitated political dialogue. Given the ongoing hostilities, the UN cancelled a national conference, originally scheduled for 14-16 April, which was intended to provide an opportunity for Libyans to decide how the nation should proceed in the transition towards a democratically governed state. One of the desired outcomes of the conference was an agreement on the holding of parliamentary and presidential elections as well as a constitutional referendum.
After initial successes in towns near Tripoli, the LNA offensive encountered the joint opposition of armed groups, some affiliated with the GNA. Following the LNA’s heavy rocket shelling of the high-density residential neighbourhood of Abu Selim in Tripoli on the night of 17 April, Salamé reiterated that “the use of indiscriminate, explosive weapons in civilian areas constitutes a war crime” and stressed that “liability for such actions lies not only with the individuals who committed the indiscriminate attacks, but also potentially with those who ordered them”. Indiscriminate bombing has continued, including by what media reports have identified as unmanned aircraft from the United Arab Emirates. Efforts to have a Council unified position have been unsuccessful to date given the support that the LNA enjoys from some permanent members. The readout of a 15 April phone call between US President Donald Trump and Haftar indicated that Trump recognised Haftar’s “significant role in fighting terrorism and securing Libya’s oil resources” and that the two “discussed a shared vision for Libya’s transition to a stable, democratic political system”.
By 22 April, 254 people had been killed and 1,228 wounded in conflict in and around Tripoli since early April, according to the World Health Organization. UNHCR has called attention to the impact of hostilities on the thousands of migrants and refugees detained in Libya. For UNHCR, the situation continues to underscore that Libya is a dangerous place for refugees and migrants and that those rescued and intercepted at sea should not be returned there. According to the International Organization for Migration, as of 22 April, some 7000 families had been displaced from their homes since early April as a result of the hostilities.
At press time, Council members were unable to agree on a draft resolution that they had been negotiating during much of April. The draft, which was circulated by the UK, demanded that all parties in Libya immediately de-escalate the situation, commit to a ceasefire, and engage with the UN to ensure a full and comprehensive cessation of hostilities throughout Libya.
Saif al-Islam Gaddafi, whose extradition has been sought by the ICC, has been at large since he was set free by the Abu-Bakr al-Siddiq Brigade, a Zintan-based militia, in June 2017. According to the final report of the Panel of Experts, his lawyer stated that he resides in Zintan. Following his conviction and eventual early release by the Tripoli Criminal Court, Gaddafi submitted a motion to the ICC that his case was inadmissible. However, on 5 April, Pre-Trial Chamber I rejected this challenge by a majority, arguing that the decision of the Libyan court was still subject to appeal and was rendered in absentia. The majority also argued that Gaddafi was excluded from the amnesty/pardon provided in the law that eventually led to his release (Law No. 6 of 2015) and that granting amnesties and pardons for crimes against humanity is incompatible with internationally recognised human rights.
Former internal security chief Mohamed Khaled al-Tuhamy, allegedly responsible for war crimes and crimes against humanity committed in 2011 in Libya, also remains at large.
On 4 July 2018, Pre-Trial Chamber I of the ICC issued a second arrest warrant for Mahmoud Mustafa Busayf al-Werfalli, an LNA commander participating in General Khalifa Haftar’s Operation Dignity in Benghazi. According to the arrest warrants, al-Werfalli appears to be directly responsible for the deaths of more than 40 persons during eight different incidents in Benghazi or surrounding areas between June 2016 and January 2018, either by killing them himself or ordering their executions.
On 15 April, Bensouda expressed her deep concern at the escalation of violence in Libya “arising from the advance of the LNA towards Tripoli, and related fighting with forces aligned with the GNA”. She also reminded all commanders, military or civilian, who have effective control, authority and command over their forces that they themselves may be held criminally responsible for crimes committed by their subordinates.
Human Rights-Related Developments
On 22 March, the Human Rights Council during its 40th session adopted without a vote resolution 40/27 on technical assistance and capacity-building to improve human rights in Libya. Among other things, the resolution strongly condemns all violations and abuses of human rights and violations of international humanitarian law, notes with concern the humanitarian situation, strongly encourages the Government of National Accord to increase its efforts to protect and promote human rights, and requests OHCHR to monitor and report on human rights violations and abuses across Libya while continuing its engagement with UNSMIL.
Key Issues and Options
Council members could adopt a resolution demanding a ceasefire and a cessation of hostilities in Libya. Council members could also hold an informal discussion to address their differences over the situation in Libya and to chart the path forward for achieving the Council’s stated objectives of supporting a political transition.
At the appropriate time and in support of Salamé’s work, Council members might consider a visiting mission to Libya and neighbouring countries to convey a unified message to key stakeholders about the need to resume engagement in the political process in good faith, and threaten sanctions against those hindering it.
Council and Wider Dynamics
In general, Council members have expressed broad support for the role of UNSMIL in the stabilisation of Libya, but they have divergent views on how best to achieve this goal. Although the Council has repeatedly called upon member states to cease support for and official contact with parallel institutions in Libya, several countries, including some Council members, have ignored this call. This has been reflected in the current negotiations on the draft resolution, during which there have been differences over how to refer to the LNA’s role in the military escalation and how to characterise the threat of terrorism in Libya.
The semi-annual briefings by Bensouda on Libya have had limited impact, given divisions among Council members on whether to take action to support the implementation of ICC decisions. Council members have often reverted to general exhortations rather than addressing non-compliance in a more forceful and effective way.
The UK is the penholder on Libya, and Schulz chairs the 1970 Libya Sanctions Committee.
UN DOCUMENTS ON LIBYA
|Security Council Resolutions|
|5 November 2018S/RES/2441||This was a resolution extending the mandate of the Panel of Experts and renewing measures related to the illicit export of crude oil from Libya until 20 February 2020 adopted with 13 votes in favour and two abstentions (China and Russia).|
|13 September 2018S/RES/2434||This was the resolution extending UNSMIL’s mandate until 15 September 2019.|
|Security Council Meeting Record|
|20 March 2019S/PV.8488||This was a briefing by the Special Representative and head of UNSMIL, Ghassan Salamé, and the Deputy Permanent Representative of Germany, Ambassador Jürgen Schulz, chair of the 1970 Libya Sanctions Committee.|