Expected Council Action
In September, the Security Council is expected to renew the mandate of the UN Support Mission in Libya (UNSMIL), set to expire on 15 September. Briefings by the Acting Special Representative and head of UNSMIL, Stephanie Williams, and the chair of the 1970 Libya Sanctions Committee, Günter Sautter, the Deputy Permanent Representative of Germany, are also scheduled. If the measures implemented in response to the COVID-19 pandemic are still in place, the meetings are likely to be held as videoconferences (VTCs).
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, the 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. 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 for Turkey in the Mediterranean. After a failed attempt to induce Haftar to sign a ceasefire agreement brokered by Turkey and Russia in January, Turkey increased its military support to Libya, eventually turning the conflict in favour of the GNA.
According to the International Organisation for Migration, 229,295 people have become internally displaced persons (IDPs) since the beginning of the offensive in April 2019, bringing the total number of IDPs in Libya to 401,836 as at 31 July.
On 20 June, Egyptian President Abdel Fattah 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. Sirte has strategic significance because of its proximity to Libya’s oil crescent (where most of Libya’s oil export terminals are located), which is part of the two-thirds of Libyan territory that remains under Haftar’s control. Since the beginning of the year, militias and mercenaries allied with Haftar have blockaded Libya’s major oil facilities, resulting in a complete loss of revenue from oil products, according to the Libyan National Oil Cooperation (NOC). After the NOC was temporarily able to start oil exports again on 10 July, militias and mercenaries allied with the LNA again took over the facilities and blocked such efforts. The NOC, in a 12 July statement, claimed that the order to renew the blockade had come from the United Arab Emirates (a military supporter of Haftar). On 13 July, the House of Representatives (HoR, the Libyan parliament aligned with Haftar and based in the eastern city of Tobruk) passed a motion asking Egypt to intervene in Libya’s conflict. On 20 July, the Egyptian parliament approved the deployment of Egyptian forces outside its territory. At the time of writing, the military situation around Sirte remained unchanged. Several high-level bilateral phone calls between France, Russia, Turkey and the US have taken place in the past weeks, without publicly-declared outcomes so far. On 21 August, Libyan Prime Minister Fayez al-Serraj, head of the GNA, announced a unilateral ceasefire. Aguila Saleh, the head of the HoR, called for a ceasefire by both the GNA and the LNA. El-Sisi also supported al-Serraj’s announcement. UNSMIL welcomed the ceasefire statements, as did the Secretary-General. The Gulf Cooperation Council (of which the United Arab Emirates are a member) also welcomed the step. On 23 August, the LNA dismissed the announcement by al-Serraj, arguing it was made in bad faith.
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 varying levels of progress. The participants at the Berlin Conference further agreed to establish an International Follow-Up Committee to coordinate efforts to implement the Berlin Conference conclusions. The Council endorsed the conclusions of the Berlin Conference in resolution 2510 of 12 February, on which Russia abstained.
In its latest “Civilian Casualties Report” covering 1 April to 30 June, UNSMIL described an increase in civilian casualties of 173 percent compared to its previous report covering 1 January to 31 March. Of the 358 confirmed civilian casualties (106 dead and 252 injured), UNSMIL attributed 80 percent to forces allied with the LNA, 11 percent to forces allied with the GNA, and the remaining nine percent as undetermined.
On 8 July, the Council held an open VTC on Libya chaired by the German foreign minister, Heiko Maas. Representatives from the AU, Algeria, Chad, Congo, Egypt, the EU, Greece, Italy, the League of Arab States, Libya, Morocco, the Netherlands, Qatar, Sudan, Switzerland, Turkey, and the United Arab Emirates also participated. Secretary-General António Guterres briefed. He warned that “the conflict has entered a new phase with foreign interference reaching unprecedented levels, including in the delivery of sophisticated equipment and the number of mercenaries involved in the fighting”. He further said that UNSMIL was working on solutions, including “a possible demilitarized zone”. That idea, for Sirte and Al-Jufra, has since been echoed by a number of Council members. As part of his 21 August ceasefire announcement, al-Serraj called for the demilitarisation of Sirte.
On 28 July, the 1970 Libya Sanctions Committee held a closed “informal informal” VTC meeting with Libya, regional member states, and regional organisations to discuss the implementation of UN sanctions, as requested by Libya.
The Secretary-General has yet to appoint a successor to Ghassan Salamé, who announced he was resigning as 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 also seems that the US is pushing to divide the role into two positions: a head of UNSMIL and a Special Envoy for Libya. Briefing the Council on 8 July, Guterres emphasised that designating a successor “will greatly facilitate” UNSMIL’s efforts and that he counted on the Council to expedite the process.
COVID-19 case numbers in Libya continue to rise sharply. As of 31 August, Libya had 13,423 confirmed cases of COVID-19. According to calculations by the ICRC, the number of cases as they stood on 20 August (9,463 cases, as reported by the WHO) represented an increase by 1,500 percent in less than two months. The UN’s 2020 humanitarian response plan for Libya of $129.8 million has been funded at 85.4 percent, with $18.9 million outstanding.
Key Issues and Options
An immediate issue for the Council is the renewal of UNSMIL’s mandate. 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 could use their influence individually 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 despite accusations to the contrary by various sources.
Mercenaries from several 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. Günter Sautter, 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.|