Expected Council Action
In September, the Council is expected to renew the mandate of the UN Support Mission in Libya (UNSMIL), set to expire on 15 September. Briefings by the Special Representative and head of UNSMIL, Ghassan Salamé, and the chair of the 1970 Libya Sanctions Committee, Deputy Permanent Representative of Germany Ambassador Jürgen Schulz, are also anticipated.
The mandate of the Panel of Experts assisting the 1970 Libya Sanctions Committee expires on 15 February 2020.
Key Recent Developments
Libya’s capital, Tripoli, continues to be the scene of fighting that started on 4 April when General Khalifa Haftar, head of the eastern-based militia known as the Libyan National Army (LNA), launched an offensive towards Tripoli and against the internationally recognised and UN-backed Government of National Accord (GNA) based there. Libya does not have professional security forces, and the GNA currently relies on armed groups for its security.
Haftar’s offensive halted a UN-supported political process and caused indefinite postponement of the National Conference that had been scheduled for 14-16 April. The aim of the National Conference was for Libyans to agree on the holding of parliamentary and presidential elections and a constitutional referendum. After initial military gains by the LNA around Tripoli, the front lines have remained mostly static since mid-April (an approximate date), with increasing air strikes and indiscriminate artillery shelling of densely populated civilian areas, including in Murzuq, south-western Libya. At the beginning of July, the LNA lost control of the city of Gharyan, the first city it had taken over in April. The conflict is fuelled by support from abroad, including military support channelled to both the GNA and the LNA in violation of the UN arms embargo. Haftar continues to portray himself as fighting against terrorists and violent extremists, which has garnered military and political support from a number of UN member states, including some Council members.
The Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) has increased attacks in LNA-dominated areas in the south of the country as the LNA’s focus has shifted to Tripoli, according to the 24th report of the Analytical Support and Sanctions Monitoring Team to the 1267/1989/2253 Al-Qaida/ISIL Sanctions Committee. The report estimates that the number of ISIL fighters in Libya is “in the low hundreds”.
On 3 July, the Council held consultations following an air strike on a Tripoli suburb that was attributed to LNA forces, in which 53 people were killed and over 130 others were injured at the Tajoura migrant detention centre. On 5 July, Council members agreed on a press statement condemning the air strike. The statement further stressed “the need for all parties to urgently de-escalate the situation and to commit to a ceasefire” and rapidly return to UN-led political mediation. It called upon all UN member states to fully respect the arms embargo.
During his latest briefing to the Council, on 29 July, Salamé said that both parties to the fighting have violated international humanitarian law. Asking the Council for support, he said that the detention centres should “be shuttered” and that UNSMIL has “a plan for an organized and gradual closure of all detention centres”. On the issue of refugees and migrants, Salamé urged European countries “to respond to the Secretary-General’s repeated pleas, revisit policies and move migrants and refugees to safety”. As a factor fuelling the conflict, he noted “the hatred and invective on social media and satellite television stations”. On foreign support for the parties, he said that “Libyans are now fighting the wars of other countries that appear content to fight to the last Libyan and to see the country entirely destroyed in order to settle their own scores”.
Salamé proposed three steps for an end to the conflict: a humanitarian truce during Eid al-Adha, including confidence-building measures between the parties; a high-level conference of “concerned countries”; and a “Libyan meeting of leading and influential personalities from all over the country”. A 5 August press statement expressed Council members’ full support for a truce. The GNA agreed to the truce, as did the LNA which had initially rejected it and limited it to the suburbs of Tripoli and for only a few days. The GNA further announced the closure of three detention centres.
On 10 August, a UN convoy was attacked in Benghazi, killing three UNSMIL staff and wounding ten people. The Council held an emergency meeting on Libya that afternoon and on 11 August issued a press statement condemning the attack. At press time, the perpetrators of the attack remained unknown.
As for the humanitarian consequences of the attack on Tripoli launched by the LNA in early April, on 15 July the World Health Organisation put the number of deaths at 1,093, including 106 civilians, with 5,752 wounded, including 294 civilians. The number of displaced people stands at more than 105,000, according to 9 August estimates by UNHCR.
At press time, the UN’s 2019 humanitarian response plan for Libya of $201.6 million was funded at 30.7 percent, with $139.7 million outstanding.
Human Rights-Related Developments
On 3 July, the High Commissioner for Human Rights, Michelle Bachelet, released a statement following the death and injury of dozens of migrants and refugees in Tajoura Detention Centre, which was hit by an airstrike the previous night. “The fact that the coordinates of this detention facility and the knowledge that it housed civilians had been communicated to the parties to the conflict indicates that this attack may, depending on the precise circumstances, amount to a war crime”, the statement said. During its 42nd session, the Human Rights Council is scheduled to receive an oral update on Libya on 25 September from the High Commissioner, followed by an interactive dialogue with the participation of Salamé.
Key Issues and Options
An immediate issue for the Council is the renewal of UNSMIL’s mandate. Considering the situation on the ground, Council members may be interested in adapting the mandate accordingly. Bearing in mind the complexities of the situation in Libya, the Council could add a request for more frequent written reporting by the Secretary-General in order for all members to stay more closely informed of developments.
An ongoing issue is the military escalation, which threatens to deepen long-standing political and economic divisions between different parts of Libya. Individual Council members could use their influence to put pressure on the parties and countries to adhere to the arms embargo. In the longer term, a Council visiting mission to Libya or a full-fledged visit by the Libya Sanctions Committee could be considered.
Council and Wider Dnamics
Since the launch of the LNA assault on Tripoli, Council members have not been able to agree on a resolution calling for a ceasefire. After three months, Council members agreed on a press statement, followed by two more in August, endorsing a ceasefire, while overall divisions between members remain. Council resolutions and presidential statements routinely call upon UN member states to cease support for parallel institutions in Libya, but some countries, including permanent members of the Council, fail to respect these calls and also continue to support Haftar militarily. Militias affiliated with the GNA also receive military support from abroad. Reportedly, Turkey and Qatar support the GNA militarily while Egypt, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates provide military support to the LNA. Political support for Haftar comes from France, Russia, and the US.
The UK is the penholder on Libya, sharing the pen with Germany on the sanctions file. Schulz, Germany’s Deputy Permanent Representative, chairs the 1970 Libya Sanctions Committee.
UN Documents on Libya
|Security Council Resolutions|
|10 June 2019S/RES/2473||This resolution renewed the authorisation for member states, acting nationally or through regional organisations, to inspect vessels on the high seas off the coast of Libya bound to or from the country that they have reasonable grounds to believe are violating the arms embargo.|
|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 15 February 2020 adopted with 13 votes in favour and two abstentions (China and Russia).|
|3 October 2018S/RES/2437||This resolution renewed the authorisation for member states to inspect vessels on the high seas off the coast of Libya that they have reasonable grounds to suspect are being used for migrant smuggling or human trafficking.|
|13 September 2018S/RES/2434||This was the resolution extending UNSMIL’s mandate until 15 September 2019.|
|10 May 2019S/2019/380||This was the Secretary General’s report on the implementation of resolution 2420, authorising member states, acting nationally or through regional organisations, to inspect vessels on the high seas off the coast of Libya bound to or from the country that they have reasonable grounds to believe are violating the arms embargo.|
|7 January 2019S/2019/19||This was the Secretary-General’s report on UNSMIL.|
|31 August 2018S/2018/807||This was the Secretary-General’s report on migrants and trafficking in persons in the Mediterranean Sea off the coast of Libya and inspection and seizure of vessels off the coast of Libya.|
|Security Council Meeting Records|
|10 August 2019S/PV.8595||This was an emergency meeting on Libya.|
|29 July 2019S/PV.8588||The Council held its bimonthly meeting on UNSMIL and Libya sanctions.|
|10 June 2019S/PV.8540||This was the adoption of resolution 2473.|
|8 May 2019S/PV.8523||This was the semi-annual briefing by ICC Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda on recent developments concerning cases in Libya.|
|Security Council Press Statements|
|10 August 2019SC/13916||Council members condemned in the strongest terms an attack on a UN convoy on 10 August in Benghazi.|
|5 August 2019SC/13910||This was a briefing by the Special Representative and head of UNSMIL, Ghassan Salamé.|
|5 July 2019SC/13873||Council members issued a press statement condemning the 2 July air strike on the Tajoura migrant detention centre in a Tripoli suburb that killed 53 people and injured over 130 people and stressing “the need for all parties to urgently de-escalate the situation and to commit to a ceasefire”.|
|Sanctions Committee Documents|
|30 August 2019S/2019/570||This was the 24th report of the Analytical Support and Sanctions Monitoring Team submitted pursuant to resolutions 1267 (1999), 1989 (2011) and 2253 (2015) concerning ISIL (Da’esh), Al-Qaida, and associated individuals and entities.|