Expected Council Action
In June, the Security 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, bound to or from the country, that they have reasonable grounds to believe are violating the arms embargo. The current authorisation expires on 10 June.
The mandate of the UN Support Mission in Libya (UNSMIL) expires on 15 September. The authorisation given by resolution 2491 (to inspect vessels suspected of migrant smuggling or human trafficking) expires on 3 October. 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
The inspection authorisation, first put into effect in resolution 2292 in 2016, was last renewed for another 12 months, without changes, in resolution 2473 of 10 June 2019. The authorisation also allows for member states to seize and dispose of arms and ammunition found during the inspection of these vessels. The aim is to support the implementation of the Council’s arms embargo on Libya.
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, the capital, against the internationally recognised and UN-backed Libyan Government of National Accord (GNA) based there. In his 15 May report on the implementation of resolution 2473, the Secretary-General expressed his deep concern about the increase in breaches of the arms embargo since the assault started. In that regard, he referred to commitments made by the participants of the Berlin Conference on Libya in January, the conclusions of which the Council endorsed in resolution 2510 of 12 February. The conference participants committed themselves “to unequivocally and fully respect and implement the arms embargo” and called “on all international actors to do the same”. During her 19 May briefing to the Council, the Acting Special Representative and head of UNSMIL, Stephanie Williams, referred to continued “blatant violations of the arms embargo” and to the nature of the Libyan conflict as a “pure proxy war”. The Secretary-General, in his report, also noted that the illicit outflow of weapons has supported terrorist groups in their expansion of influence in the region. For the reasons given, he stressed that the implementation of the arms embargo and the inspection regime are critical.
The EU military operation in the Southern Central Mediterranean (EUNAVFOR MED Operation SOPHIA) functioned as the only regional arrangement under the Council’s authorisation until the end of its mandate on 31 March. Between the initial authorisation in 2016 and 5 March of this year, it reported 2,642 queries and hailings, six inspections of vessels leading to arms seizures on two occasions, seven flag enquiries, and 161 friendly approaches. No member state reported any vessel inspections under the authorisation. In his report, the Secretary-General called upon member states to complement the work that the EU military operation does in implementing the Council’s authorisation.
Some difficulties arose in 2019 regarding the re-authorisation of EUNAVFOR MED SOPHIA by the EU Council, whose decisions require unanimity. In March 2019, the EU extended the mandate of Operation Sophia but temporarily suspended the deployment of its naval assets. It seemed that an extension of the existing mandate was not agreeable to all EU members. Last year’s report by the Secretary-General noted with concern that the suspension “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 […] arms”. In this year’s report, he said that the suspension “precluded the possibility of conducting further friendly approaches, boardings and inspections at sea”. EUNAVFOR MED SOPHIA was still able to report aerial activities such as satellite surveillance with a broad geographical scope.
The EU launched the military operation in the Mediterranean (EUNAVFOR MED IRINI) on 1 April as the follow-on mission to EUNAVFOR MED SOPHIA. Operation IRINI will have naval, aerial and satellite assets to implement its mandate. EUNAVFOR MED IRINI’s primary task is the implementation of the arms embargo, a secondary task being to disrupt “the business model of human smuggling and trafficking networks”. Patrols by operation IRINI started on 4 May. So far, France has deployed a vessel and Luxemburg and Poland have contributed aircraft. The operation has faced difficulties regarding aspects of its activities, spending decisions and receiving assets from EU member states. It seems that at different Council meetings, Russia has raised the question of whether EUNAVFOR MED IRINI’s mandate is still within the scope of the Council’s authorisation. The EU and its member states argue that it is, and so does the Secretary-General in his report. The Council held a closed videoconference (VTC) on operation IRINI on 8 April at Russia’s request.
The Secretary-General welcomed EUNAVFOR MED IRINI in his report while at the same time emphasising “the importance of close consultation” with the GNA. In his statement to the Council on 19 May, Libyan Ambassador Taher M. El-Sonni repeated the GNA’s rejection of operation IRINI. He had previously sent letters to the president of the Council conveying the GNA’s opinion. He argued that the GNA had not been consulted as required by resolution 2292 and that the authorisation is insufficient to implement the arms embargo and should cover land routes as well. The authorisation given by the Council only covers the inspection of vessels.
Key Issues and Options
The immediate issue for the Council is the renewal of 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.
The ongoing military conflict in Libya and non-compliance with the arms embargo have been continuing issues for the Council. The Council also follows closely the implementation of the Berlin conference’s conclusions. Council members individually could use their influence to put pressure on the conflict parties and proxy powers to adhere to the arms embargo.
Council and Wider Dynamics
Last year’s authorisation renewal resolution was adopted unanimously. It seems that Russia is the only Council member showing fundamental scepticism around this year’s renewal. Libya has also expressed its rejection of the only operation implementing the authorisation, the EU’s EUNAVFOR MED IRINI.
Reports by the Panel of Experts assisting the 1970 Libya Sanctions Committee indicate that a number of countries, including Council members, are involved in breaches of UN sanctions, including the arms embargo.
The UK is the penholder on Libya, sharing the pen with Germany on the sanctions file; Germany will draft the June authorisation renewal. 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.|
|14 June 2016S/RES/2292||This was a resolution providing a one year authorisation for member states to inspect, in the high seas off the coast of Libya, vessels bound to or from Libya.|
|15 May 2020S/2020/393||This was the latest report on the implementation of resolution 2473.|