Expected Council Action
In October, the Council is expected to receive the semi-annual briefing on the Secretary-General’s report on the implementation of resolution 1559, due on 21 October. Adopted in 2004, resolution 1559 called for the disarmament of all militias and the extension of government control over all Lebanese territory. Under‑Secretary‑General for Political and Peacebuilding Affairs Rosemary DiCarlo is expected to brief the Council.
The mandate of the UN Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) expires on 31 August 2021.
Key Recent Developments
Lebanon finds itself in an increasingly difficult and volatile situation as the country contends with political turmoil and a humanitarian catastrophe in the aftermath of the 4 August explosion in the Beirut port. The blast killed more than 190 people, injured at least 6,000, and damaged or destroyed large swaths of the city, including medical facilities. The cause of the blast is still under investigation.
The Beirut blast compounded existing political, economic and humanitarian challenges in the country. UN agencies estimate that the explosion directly affected 300,000 individuals, with the need for shelter posing a major issue: many affected households were displaced, while others remain in partially destroyed dwellings. UNICEF warned that the displacement and overcrowding increase the risk of the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic and heightens the vulnerability of children and women to sexual and gender-based violence. As of 29 September, Lebanon reported 37,272 cases of the virus— more than a six-fold increase compared to the reported 5,000 cases before the explosion. Additionally, the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) warned that the financial crisis in Lebanon and the COVID-19 pandemic, along with the impacts of the Beirut blast, have led an increasing number of people to undertake perilous sea journeys to Cyprus. UNHCR noted that between July and 14 September, there had been 21 journeys undertaken to Cyprus, of mostly Syrians but also of Lebanese and migrant workers. On 14 September, the UNIFIL Maritime Task Force rescued a Cyprus-bound boat off the coast of Lebanon with 37 individuals on board, including 12 children. The boat was lost at sea for more than a week, resulting in the deaths of several passengers, including children and one woman.
Anti-government protests—which had been widespread before the explosion—intensified following the blast as citizens expressed frustration over endemic corruption and government mismanagement, which are viewed by many as a contributing factor in the disaster. On 10 August, the government of Prime Minister Hassan Diab stepped down. Diab came to power in January after Prime Minister Saad Hariri resigned following widespread protests.
International interlocutors have stressed to Lebanese ruling elites that a new government must be formed urgently, and reforms adopted swiftly to address the country’s economic and humanitarian situations in order to unlock international financial aid. French President Emmanuel Macron visited Lebanon twice since the blast, on 6 August and 1 September. Macron reportedly presented Lebanese officials with a programme outlining political and economic reforms, including timelines for their implementation. Paris also called for the formation of a new government by 15 September and parliamentary elections within six to 12 months, while threatening to withhold international aid if no progress was made.
On 31 August, Lebanese President Michel Aoun designated Mustafa Adib as the country’s new prime minister. The appointment of Adib—a Sunni Lebanese-French citizen who served as Lebanon’s ambassador to Germany—received broad support from most major political groups. Adib announced his resignation on 26 September, citing his inability to form a government. It appears that disagreements arose between the different governmental factions over the appointment of a new minister of finance, as Lebanon’s dominant Shi’ite Muslim factions—Hezbollah and the Amal Movement—reportedly insisted that the minister of finance be a Shi’a Muslim. Speaking at a news conference on 27 September, Macron urged Lebanese political elites to implement his reform programme within four to six weeks, while criticising them for refusing to engage in good faith to form a government.
On 18 August, the Special Tribunal for Lebanon—a UN-backed tribunal established in 2010 to hold trials for those accused of involvement in the February 2005 attack that killed former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri and 21 others—handed down its verdict after ten years of investigation and the trials in absentia of four defendants, who were described as “supporters of Hezbollah”. Salim Ayyash was convicted of participating in a conspiracy to carry out the attack. The three remaining defendants were acquitted due to lack of evidence. Many in Lebanon were disappointed with the verdict, as they felt it failed to address the issue of who ordered the killing of Hariri.
On 28 August the Security Council adopted resolution 2539, which renewed UNIFIL’s mandate for another year. While the resolution did not make substantial changes to the mission’s mandate, it reduced the force’s troop ceiling from 15,000—as set out by resolution 1701—to 13,000. As of 25 August, the force stood at 10,328 peacekeepers, and as such the resolution does not entail a reduction in troop presence. The resolution further requested the Secretary-General to elaborate an implementation plan for the recommendations contained in his 1 June assessment report on the continued relevance of UNIFIL’s resources within 60 days of the adoption of the resolution (that is, by 30 October).
Key Issues and Options
The growing concern for the Council is how to address the political and economic instability in Lebanon and prevent further deterioration of the already fragile security situation in the country.
One of the long-standing issues for the Council is the significant amount of weaponry held by Hezbollah and other non-state actors in contravention of resolutions 1559 and 1701. In his most recent report on the implementation of resolution 1559, the Secretary-General noted that “no specific steps have been taken” to address the disarming and disbanding of Lebanese militias since the adoption of resolution 1559 in 2004.
The deteriorating humanitarian situation in the aftermath of the Beirut blast, including the increasing spread of COVID-19, is also a matter of concern. Council members may consider asking OCHA for a briefing on how the international community can further assist vulnerable groups in Lebanon.
As the Council has not issued a statement on Lebanon since February 2019, it may consider a presidential or a press statement to call for the urgent formation of a new government in Lebanon and the swift implementation of reforms necessary to avert a humanitarian crisis.
There is a strong consensus among Council members in their support for Lebanon’s sovereignty, territorial integrity and security. While most Council members are concerned about the maintenance of arms outside the control of the Lebanese state, there is a difference in tone on the issue of Hezbollah, the most heavily armed militia in the country.
The US has advocated for stronger action by UNIFIL to enforce the arms embargo and to tackle the maintenance of arms by the militant group. This position was repeated most recently in the closed videoconference consultations on resolution 1559, held on 13 May. However, it appears that Russia takes the view that Council discussions should not focus on Hezbollah, since the group is a member of the Lebanese government.
The differences of view regarding UNIFIL’s role were also evident during the difficult negotiations on resolution 2539. Most Council members said UNIFIL should maintain its current mandate and troop strength, especially considering the destabilised situation created by the Beirut blast. The US, however, asked for language aimed at facilitating UNIFIL’s access in its area of operations, as well as for the reduction in its troop ceiling. The US has repeatedly maintained that steps should be taken to either empower UNIFIL or realign the mission’s configuration and resources to achievable tasks. The reduction of the troop ceiling to 13,000—an apparent concession to the US—is the first such reduction since the adoption of resolution 1701 in 2006.
France is the penholder on Lebanon.
UN DOCUMENTS ON LEBANON
|Security Council Resolutions|
|28 August 2020S/RES/2539||This resolution renewed the mandate of UNIFIL until 31 August 2021.|
|11 August 2006S/RES/1701||This resolution expanded UNIFIL by 15,000 troops and expanded its mandate.|
|2 September 2004S/RES/1559||This resolution urged withdrawal of all foreign forces from Lebanon, disarmament of all Lebanese and non-Lebanese militias, extension of the Lebanese government’s control over all Lebanese territory and free and fair presidential elections.|
|24 April 2020S/2020/329||This was the Secretary-General’s report on the implementation of resolution 1559, covering the period from 15 October 2019 to 7