Expected Council Action
In July, 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. If the measures implemented in response to the COVID-19 pandemic are still in place, the briefings and the subsequent consultations are likely to be held as open and closed videoconferences, respectively.
UNSMIL’s mandate expires on 15 September. The authorisation given by resolution 2491 (to inspect vessels suspected of being used for migrant smuggling or human trafficking) expires on 3 October, and that of resolution 2526 (to inspect vessels believed to be in violation of the arms embargo) expires on 5 June 2021. 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
After 13 months of fighting, armed groups aligned with the internationally recognised and UN-backed Libyan Government of National Accord (GNA) halted General Khalifa Haftar’s offensive against the capital, Tripoli. All positions in greater Tripoli held by forces allied with Haftar, head of the eastern-based militia known as the Libyan National Army (LNA), had been retaken by the GNA by 4 June. Both the GNA and the LNA receive foreign military support in violation of UN sanctions. During an 18 June address to the Human Rights Council (HRC), Williams spoke of an “alarming military build-up” due to “the uninterrupted dispatch by the foreign backers of increasingly sophisticated and lethal weapons” and increasing recruitment of mercenaries for both sides. International efforts to facilitate a permanent ceasefire between the parties have been unsuccessful so far. In her statement to the HRC, Williams also spoke of 400,000 internally displaced persons and 654,000 asylum seekers, migrants and refugees in the country
Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, one of the LNA’s foreign backers, proposed a ceasefire on 6 June. Turkey, the main military sponsor of the GNA, rejected the proposal, arguing that it was made in bad faith. Last November, the GNA and Turkey signed two agreements, one on cooperation on military and security matters and the other on maritime boundary delimitation, including drilling rights. After a failed attempt to have Haftar sign a ceasefire agreement brokered by Turkey and Russia in January 2020, Turkey increased its military support to Libya, eventually turning the conflict in favour of the GNA.
On 20 June, el-Sisi said that Egypt might intervene to protect its borders if the GNA advanced towards the city of Sirte (which is about 800 kilometres from the Egyptian border). A day later, Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry said the government preferred a political solution and el-Sisi’s statement had been misinterpreted. Sirte has strategic significance because of its proximity to Libya’s oil crescent, which remains under Haftar’s control, part of the two-thirds of Libyan territory the LNA controls. Haftar receives political support by parallel governmental authorities located in the eastern city of Tobruk, including the House of Representatives. Its president, Aguila Saleh, supported an Egyptian intervention in a statement on 24 June. The GNA has declared its intention to govern the entirety of Libyan territory.
The consequences of the armed conflict also became more visible in June. When the GNA regained control of the city of Tarhouna, 16,125 people were displaced from the area within 24 hours due to intense fighting, according to the International Organization for Migration. Additionally, LNA-allied forces reportedly laid antipersonnel landmines while retreating from Tripoli’s southern suburbs. In and around Tarhouna, shortly thereafter, 11 mass graves were discovered. The Secretary-General received this information “with horror” and expressed his deep shock in a 12 June press statement. He offered support to the GNA to investigate alleged crimes, which the authorities accepted. ICC Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda said in a 21 June statement that the mass graves “may constitute evidence of war crimes or crimes against humanity”. First investigations by the GNA reportedly showed that children were among the dead and that dozens had been buried alive.
Airwars, a non-profit organisation that tracks civilian harm resulting from military actions in Iraq, Libya, Somalia and Syria, reported that more civilians had died in Libya after COVID-19 was declared in mid-March than in any month since August 2019, with the number of deaths in April in Libya higher than those in Syria.
On the political situation, as a result of the Berlin Conference on Libya in January, negotiations between Libyan parties along three tracks (economic, political and security) are underway, with different levels of progress. The Council endorsed the conclusions of the Berlin Conference in resolution 2510 of 12 February, on which Russia abstained. 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 third meeting of the IFC at the level of senior officials took place virtually on 22 June.
Following the second round of talks on the security track, which concluded on 23 February, the conflict parties agreed on a draft ceasefire agreement and were expected to present it to their leadership. During her briefing to the HRC, Williams emphasised that the UN’s mission in Libya remained ready “to help Libyans rebuild a state strong enough to peacefully contain political differences”. She welcomed the start of the third round of negotiations on the security track, consisting of a 3 June meeting of UNSMIL with an LNA delegation and a 9 June meeting between UNSMIL and a GNA delegation.
On 5 June, the Council unanimously adopted resolution 2526, renewing 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 Secretary-General has yet to appoint a successor to Ghassan Salamé, who announced his resignation from the post of Special Representative and head of UNSMIL on 2 March. Candidates put forward by the Secretary-General so far have not been able to garner unanimous support from Council members. It further seems that the US is pushing to divide the role into two positions: a head of UNSMIL and a Special Envoy for Libya.
As of 30 June, Libya had 802 confirmed cases of COVID-19. The UN’s 2020 humanitarian response plan for Libya of $129.8 million has been funded at 32.8 percent, with $87.2 million outstanding.
Human Rights-Related Developments
During its resumed 43rd regular session (the session was suspended on 13 March because of the COVID-19 pandemic and resumed on 15 June), the HRC held an interactive dialogue on 18 June on the situation of human rights in Libya. The Deputy High Commissioner for Human Rights, Nada Al-Ashif, gave an oral update concerning the LNA’s offensive of 4 April 2019. Acting Special Representative Williams also addressed the meeting. Al-Ashif said that the “subsequent fighting has resulted in a serious deterioration in the human rights and humanitarian situation in Libya”. The High Commissioner called on the HRC in her report (A/HRC/43/75) to “establish an international investigative body into human rights violations and abuses and violations of international humanitarian law”. At the 18 June meeting, Libya, speaking as the concerned country, also called for the creation of an independent investigation mechanism. In its 22 June resolution (A/HRC/43/L.40) on “technical assistance and capacity-building to improve human rights in Libya”, which was adopted without a vote, the HRC requested the High Commissioner to dispatch a fact-finding mission to Libya to “establish the facts and circumstances of the situation of human rights…and to collect and review relevant information to document alleged violations and abuses of international human rights law and international humanitarian law by all parties”.
Key Issues and Options
The ongoing military conflict in Libya and related non-compliance with the arms embargo by multiple international actors have been ongoing issues for the Council, together with 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 and engage in a political solution in good faith.
Council and Wider Dynamics
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. Haftar’s wide territorial control and past claims to be uniting the country and fighting terrorism have resulted in political and military support from a number of countries inside and outside the Council. France has shown political support for Haftar, while his largest military backer is the United Arab Emirates.
A confidential report by the Panel of Experts assisting the 1970 Libya Sanctions Committee that was leaked to the press in early May said that the Russian private military company Wagner Group has deployed around 1,200 mercenaries to fight for Haftar, according to the media. The Kremlin denies ties to the Wagner Group against accusations to the contrary by various sources.
Mercenaries from different countries are reportedly fighting on both sides. All foreign sponsors but Turkey deny their role in Libya.
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|
|5 June 2020S/RES/2526||This resolution renewed for 12 months 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.|
|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.|
|Security Council Letters|
|5 June 2020S/2020/504||This was a letter from the president of the Security Council containing the results of the vote on resolution 2526.|