Expected Council Action
In May, the Security Council is expected to receive briefings by the Acting Special Representative and head of the UN Support Mission in Libya (UNSMIL), Stephanie Williams, and the chair of the 1970 Libya Sanctions Committee, Jürgen Schulz, the Deputy Permanent Representative of Germany. A Secretary-General’s report on UNSMIL is also due in May. Additionally, ICC Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda will deliver her semi-annual briefing on recent developments concerning cases in Libya.
UNSMIL’s mandate expires on 15 September 2020. The authorisations given by resolutions 2473 (to inspect vessels believed to violate the arms embargo) and 2491 (to inspect vessels suspected of migrant smuggling or human trafficking) expire on 10 June 2020 and 3 October 2020, respectively. Measures related to the illicit export of petroleum from Libya expire on 30 April 2021, and the mandate of the Panel of Experts assisting the 1970 Libya Sanctions Committee expires on 15 May 2021.
Key Recent Developments
Over a year ago, General Khalifa Haftar, head of the eastern-based militia known as the Libyan National Army (LNA), launched an offensive towards Tripoli against the internationally recognised and UN-backed Libyan 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. Both the LNA and the GNA receive foreign military support in breach of UN sanctions. International efforts to facilitate a permanent ceasefire between the parties have been unsuccessful so far. In recent weeks, fighters aligned with the GNA have made significant gains against the LNA. On 27 April, Haftar dismissed the 2015 UN-brokered “Libyan Political Agreement” and announced his intention to rule the country.
As a result of the Berlin Conference on Libya in January, negotiations between Libyan parties along three tracks (economic, political and security) are underway but with different levels of progress. Participants in the economic track have met twice; because of the COVID-19 pandemic the third meeting was postponed. Members of the different working groups under this track are still able to meet remotely. The political track has come to a halt after its inaugural meeting on 26 February. Following the second round of talks on the security track that concluded on 23 February, the conflict parties agreed on a draft ceasefire agreement and were expected to present it to their leadership. The participants of the Berlin Conference further agreed to establish an International Follow-Up Committee (IFC) to coordinate efforts to implement the Berlin Conference conclusions. The latest meeting of the IFC took place virtually on 2 April. The Council endorsed the conclusions of the Berlin Conference in resolution 2510 of 12 February (adopted with Russia abstaining). In a 4 April press release, UNSMIL said that “despite commitments made by all of the participants at the Berlin Conference, some of these countries have nevertheless continued to brazenly resupply one or the other side of the conflict, in a flagrant disregard of the arms embargo”.
The Special Representative and head of UNSMIL, Ghassan Salamé, announced that he was resigning from his post on 2 March, citing stress-related health reasons. Secretary-General António Guterres appointed Deputy Special Representative Stephanie Williams as Acting Special Representative and head of UNSMIL on 11 March. The Secretary-General has yet to appoint a successor.
UNSMIL released a call for a humanitarian ceasefire addressed to the conflict parties and an end to military interference in Libya to allow for a rapid response to COVID-19, on 17 March. The GNA responded positively to the call on 18 March, as did the LNA on 21 March, which was welcomed in a statement by the Secretary-General’s spokesman on that day.
The Secretary-General called for “an immediate global ceasefire” on 23 March. On the same day, fighting had resumed in Libya, according to media reports, and Libya’s health minister confirmed the country’s first case of COVID-19. The institutional fragmentation of Libya resulted in parallel authorities in the west and the east announcing measures to contain the spread of COVID-19. In a 24 March UNSMIL press release, Williams strongly condemned “grave violations of the humanitarian pause”. On 25 March, media reports quoted residents of Tripoli as saying they had experienced the worst fighting in weeks.
The Secretary-General launched the UN’s $2.01 billion “Global Humanitarian Response Plan for COVID-19” (GHRP) on 25 March, with Libya as a priority country. The plan outlines Libya’s vulnerabilities to the outbreak as “insecurity, political fragmentation, a weak health system and high numbers of vulnerable people, including migrants, refugees” and internally displaced persons. As of 30 April, Libya had 61 confirmed cases of COVID-19. At the time of writing, the GHRP has been funded at 43.8 percent, with $1.13 billion outstanding.
At the time of writing, the UN’s 2020 humanitarian response plan for Libya of $114.9 million has been funded at 11.4 percent, with $101.8 million outstanding. According to UNSMIL, about 149,000 people are internally displaced as a result of Haftar’s offensive on Tripoli, 356 people have died, and 329 people were injured as of 31 March. UNSMIL said that “the humanitarian situation has deteriorated to levels never previously witnessed” in the country.
The Secretary-General published an update on his call for a global ceasefire on 2 April, acknowledging that “respect for the humanitarian pause was short-lived” in Libya, “with clashes between GNA and LNA forces escalating drastically on all frontlines in the next days”. The escalation includes attacks on health care providers. The Secretary-General’s spokesman strongly condemned “the heavy shelling, for the second consecutive day, of Al Khadra General Hospital in Tripoli” in a statement on 8 April. The statement furthermore condemned “the continued attacks on medical personnel, hospitals and medical facilities”, assets that are particularly critical in times of COVID-19. The Royal Hospital in Tripoli was also hit in fighting on 17 April.
The Council held a closed video teleconference on the new EU military operation in the Mediterranean (EUNAVFOR MED IRINI) on 8 April. EUNAVFOR MED IRINI operates under the Council’s authorisation in resolution 2473 to implement the Council’s arms embargo.
According to a statement by the Humanitarian Coordinator for Libya, Yacoub El Hillo, on 10 April, Tripoli’s water supply was cut off by an armed group, an “abhorrent” measure that originated “in the Shwerif area as a pressure tactic to secure the release of family members” a few days earlier. Later that day, mediation efforts led to an apparent agreement, and access to water began to be re-established on 13 April.
Indiscriminate shelling of civilian neighbourhoods continues to be part of the ongoing military conflict in Libya. In a 15 April press statement, UNSMIL condemned the LNA’s “indiscriminate bombardment of Tripoli with rockets, many of which have landed on civilian neighbourhoods”.
Saif al-Islam Gaddafi, the son of Muammar Gaddafi, whose extradition has been sought by the ICC for the alleged commission of crimes against humanity, has been at large since he was set free by the Abu-Bakr al-Siddiq Brigade, a Zintan-based militia, in June 2017. Gaddafi submitted a motion on 6 June 2018 to the ICC that his case was inadmissible.On 4 April 2019, Pre-Trial Chamber I rejected Gaddafi’s inadmissibility challenge by majority; he appealed the ruling on 11 April 2019. On 9 March, the Appeals Chamber confirmed the admissibility of his case unanimously.
Human Rights-Related Developments
On 17 April, the spokesperson for the High Commissioner for Human Rights expressed grave concern over continued fighting in Libya, including its impact on civilians, hospitals, and other medical facilities in dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic. “Despite numerous calls for a global ceasefire during these difficult times, including from the UN Secretary-General, we have received reports that attacks have in fact escalated in Libya”, the spokesperson said. He also noted that from the start of the year until the end of March, UNSMIL documented at least 131 civilian casualties (64 deaths and 67 injuries), an overall increase in civilian casualties of 45 percent compared to the previous three months.
Women, Peace and Security
The latest Secretary-General’s report on the implementation of resolution 2491 authorising vessel inspections on the high seas off the coast of Libya, described the risk of drowning while crossing the Mediterranean as higher for children and women and said women constituted 11 percent of those embarking from Libya. Detention of migrants and refugees in the country continues to carry “a high risk of sexual and gender-based violence”. Those crimes are perpetrated with impunity. Guards of the Directorate for Combating Illegal Migration and armed groups employ sexual violence “as a form of torture”, control and humiliation.The report also described conditions for women and girls in detention facilities, including a lack of female guards, strip-searches in front of or by male guards, a lack of privacy in sanitation facilities, and no access to sexual and reproductive health services, including menstrual hygiene products and necessities for nursing and pregnant women. Outside detention centres, migrants and refugees also risk sexual and gender-based violence. In the observations of his report, the Secretary-General said these crimes were “unacceptable” and called for them to be addressed “as a matter of urgency”.
Key Issues and Options
Libya faces the COVID-19 pandemic in the midst of the ongoing military conflict, which is characterised by an increase in military activity overall, including indiscriminate attacks on civilian infrastructure. The recent increase in the targeting of health care providers has exacerbated an already dire humanitarian situation. Council members could issue a statement condemning these attacks and reiterating the calls for a humanitarian ceasefire. Progress made on the implementation of the conclusions of the Berlin Conference on Libya, specifically the three tracks, will be closely followed by Council members.
The Council continues to be divided over Libya. Council outcomes routinely call upon UN member states to cease support for parallel institutions in Libya, but some countries, including members of the Council, fail to respect these calls.
The semi-annual briefings by Bensouda on cases in Libya have had limited impact, given divisions among Council members on whether to take action to support the implementation of ICC decisions.
The UK is the penholder on Libya, sharing the pen with Germany on the sanctions file. Jürgen Schulz, Germany’s Deputy Permanent Representative, chairs the 1970 Libya Sanctions Committee.
UN DOCUMENTS ON LIBYA
|Security Council Resolutions|
|12 February 2020S/RES/2510||This endorsed the conclusions of the Berlin Conference on Libya.|
|11 February 2020S/RES/2509||This renewed the mandate of the Panel of Experts assisting the 1970 Libya Sanctions Committee until 15 May 2021 as well as the measures related to the illicit export from Libya of petroleum until 30 April 2021.|
|3 October 2019S/RES/2491||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 that they have reasonable grounds to suspect are being used for migrant smuggling or human trafficking.|
|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.|
|6 April 2020S/2020/275||This was the latest report on the implementation of resolution 2491.|
|Security Council Letters|
|10 March 2020S/2020/203||This was a letter from the Secretary-General, containing the list of members of the Panel of Experts supporting the 1970 Libya Sanctions Committee, appointed according to resolution 2509.|