Expected Council Action
In October, the Council is expected to renew the authorisation for member states, acting nationally or through regional organisations, 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, which is set to expire on 3 October.
The mandate of the UN Support Mission in Libya (UNSMIL) expires on 15 September 2020, and the mandate of the Panel of Experts assisting the 1970 Libya Sanctions Committee expires on 15 February 2020.
Key Recent Developments
On 12 September, the Council adopted resolution 2486, renewing the mandate of UNSMIL until 15 September 2020. The Council added a provision to UNSMIL’s mandate that the mission would support a possible ceasefire. In this regard, the Council requested “the Secretary-General to assess the steps required to reach a lasting ceasefire, the possible role of UNSMIL in providing scalable ceasefire support and the steps required to advance the political process from its current trajectory, and to include a report on progress towards these objectives in his regular reporting”.
Libya 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. 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.
In his latest report on the implementation of resolution 2437 that extended the vessels’ inspection authorisation in October 2018, the Secretary-General stated that thousands of persons trying to get to Europe across the Mediterranean Sea “have perished or gone missing en route or have been returned to situations of grave harm”. Citing data from UNHCR and the International Organisation for Migration, 82,236 refugees and migrants arrived by sea in Europe between 1 September 2018 and 31 July, marking a 26 percent decrease from the last reporting period. Despite the decreased numbers, the report said, “there is considerable evidence that conditions for those embarking on the journey have worsened”. The report emphasised that the death rate of persons trying to get to Europe from Libya via the central Mediterranean Sea has more than doubled in comparison with the previous year. In the first half of 2019, 2,130 people arrived in Europe via the central Mediterranean Sea and 333 people are recorded as having died.
In March, the EU extended the mandate of its military operation in the Southern Central Mediterranean (EUNAVFOR MED Operation Sophia) for six months until 30 September. It temporarily suspended the deployment of its surface naval assets, however. It seemed that an extension of the existing mandate was not agreeable to all members of the EU. The Secretary-General’s report noted with concern that the suspension of the deployment of the operation’s surface naval assets “de facto means that it has not been possible to inspect and seize vessels in international waters off the coast of Libya, on suspicion of smuggling either migrants or arms […] pursuant to resolutions 2437 (2018) and 2473 (2019), respectively”. EUNAVFOR MED Operation Sophia currently implements the authorisation granted by resolution 2437 using air assets. The operation also continues to train the Libyan coast guard and navy officers and has trained 417 persons since 2016. In February, the operation signed a procedural agreement for information-sharing with the Panel of Experts assisting the 1970 Libya Sanctions Committee.
The Secretary-General’s report further elaborated that NGOs are still conducting search and rescue operations with their vessels on the high seas off the western coast of Libya. However, legal and administrative restrictions by European states as well as constraints on disembarkation of migrants and refugees in Europe have resulted in a reduced number of such operations.
The report stressed that the security situation is still being exploited by organised transnational criminal networks to smuggle migrants and traffic humans, which in turn contributes to instability. According to UNSMIL, there continue to be reports that state and local officials are involved in smuggling and trafficking networks.
Libya is not a party to the 1951 Refugee Convention, and irregular migration is criminalised under Libyan law. According to the Secretary-General’s report, moreover, Libyan authorities “do not fully recognize the mandate of UNHCR in providing and overseeing the application of international protection”. The report concluded that “Libya does not meet the criteria for being designated as a place of safety or as a safe third country for the purpose of disembarkation”.
At press time, the UN’s 2019 humanitarian response plan for Libya of $201.6 million was funded at 36.8 percent, with $127.4 million outstanding.
Women, Peace and Security
In his report, the Secretary-General highlighted that “the risk of sexual and gender-based violence facing refugee and migrant women and girls, as well as men and boys, in detention centres in Libya is reported to be extremely high”. Perpetrators act with impunity, including armed groups and guards of the Directorate for Combating Illegal Migration. According to the Secretary-General, records show that sexual violence, including rape, is used “as a form of torture”–in some cases resulting in death–and is employed “as a routine method for controlling and humiliating migrants” in detention centres. In the observations in his report, the Secretary-General emphasised that this situation, faced especially by women and girls, is unacceptable.
Key Issues and Options
An immediate issue for the Council in October is to adopt a resolution renewing the authorisation for member states, acting nationally or through regional organisations, 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.
Council and Wider Dynamics
Members continue to be aware that international efforts to combat the smuggling of migrants and trafficking in persons, including via vessels off the coast of Libya, need to be strengthened. The last three years have seen few changes in the authorisation to support those efforts, which made the negotiations less divisive than the initial discussion in 2015. Discussions around flag state approval, Chapter VII and the authorisation to use force were sources of contention at the time. If the penholder aims for little change to the text, negotiations may again be uncontentious. Members of the EU will also have to renew the mandate of EUNAVFOR MED Operation Sophia and may consider redeploying its surface naval assets and re-enabling it to inspect and seize vessels again.
The UK is the penholder on Libya, sharing the pen with Germany on the sanctions file. Ambassador Jürgen Schulz, Germany’s Deputy Permanent Representative, chairs the 1970 Libya Sanctions Committee.
UN DOCUMENTS ON LIBYA
|Security Council Resolutions|
|12 September 2019S/RES/2486||This was a resolution extending UNSMIL’s mandate until 15 September 2020.|
|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.|
|5 September 2019S/2019/711||This was on the implementation of resolution 2437.|
|26 August 2019S/2019/682||This was on UNSMIL.|
|Security Council Meeting Records|
|12 September 2019S/PV.8615||This was the adoption of resolution 2486.|
|4 September 2019S/PV.8611||This was the latest briefing 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.|
|Sanctions Committee Documents|
|5 September 2019SC/13941||This was a press release on a meeting of the 1970 Libya Sanctions Committee with interested states, including a briefing by the Panel of Experts.|
|5 September 2018S/2018/812||This was the final report of the Panel of Experts.|