May 2021 Monthly Forecast

Posted 30 April 2021
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MIDDLE EAST

Lebanon

Expected Council Action

In May, the Council is expected to receive the semi-annual briefing on the Secretary-General’s report on the implementation of resolution 1559, issued on 22 April. 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.

Key Recent Developments

The situation in Lebanon remains difficult as Lebanese leaders continue to disagree on the formation of a government and civilians bear the brunt of a worsening economic situation. Lebanon does not have a government, more than eight months after Prime Minister Hassan Diab resigned following widespread protests in the aftermath of the 4 August 2020 Beirut blast. Diab serves in a caretaker position while Saad Hariri—whom Lebanese President Michel Aoun designated as the new prime minister on 22 October 2020—negotiates the formation of a new cabinet. According to media reports, disagreements between Hariri and Aoun remain a stumbling block in the formation of a new government.

This political impasse hinders progress in addressing Lebanon’s multifaceted economic problems, as there is no leadership in a position to carry out structural reforms or conduct talks with the International Monetary Fund aimed at unlocking approximately $10 billion in loans. On 16 March, the Lebanese currency reached a record low of 16,000 Lebanese pounds to the dollar. This compounded the difficulties faced by the civilian population, which had already been struggling to obtain basic staples for the past several months. The dire economic situation prompted demonstrations in March in Beirut, Mount Lebanon, the Bekaa and in south Lebanon.

Lebanon’s economic strife also continues to adversely affect the refugee population in the country, which totals approximately 870,000 people. According to the Secretary-General’s latest report on the implementation of resolution 1559, nine out of ten Syrian refugees in Lebanon live in extreme poverty, leading to an increased risk of evictions, gender-based violence and child labour. Palestinian refugees similarly face difficulties as a lack of funding for the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) led to a disruption in the provision of support and services. As a result, Palestinian refugees in several refugee camps across Lebanon, including in south Lebanon and Beirut, staged protests against UNRWA throughout February and March.

International interlocutors continue to call for the swift formation of a government. On 14 April, US Under Secretary of State David Hale said after a meeting with Lebanese leaders in Beirut that “America and the international community are ready to help, but we can do nothing meaningful without a Lebanese partner”. He underscored the need for the Lebanese elites to resolve their differences and address the economic situation. In addition, European companies, including French and German firms, presented plans to restore the Beirut port but emphasised their inability to move forward with the plans until the political deadlock in Lebanon is resolved.

In recent months, there have been increased demands within Lebanon to address impunity in the country. Members of the Lebanese public and international interlocutors have called for the identification and prosecution of those responsible for the assassination of Lokman Slim, a Lebanese activist and an outspoken critic of Hezbollah, who was found dead on 4 February in the village of Addoussieh in southern Lebanon. In a 22 March statement, three Special Rapporteurs of the Human Rights Council urged the government to implement measures to ensure the independence and impartiality of the investigation into Slim’s death. They further suggested that the Lebanese government consider asking for international technical assistance in the investigation.

There have also been delays in the investigation of the Beirut port blast. On 10 December 2020, Lebanese judge Fadi Sawan announced his intention to question as suspects several Lebanese officials, including caretaker Prime Minister Diab and former Minister of Finance Ali Hassan Khalil. On 18 February, the Lebanese Court of Cassation dismissed judge Sawan from the investigation, apparently at the request of political figures such as Khalil. This has prompted a public outcry, including protests by those affected by the Beirut explosion, including families of victims, against what they perceive as political interference in the investigation and a lack of accountability. In a 13 March statement, the International Support Group for Lebanon—which is comprised of the UN, China, France, Germany, Italy, Russia, the UK, and the US, as well as the EU and the Arab League—called for a swift, transparent and credible investigation of the Beirut port blast and Slim’s assassination.

Key Issues and Options

A 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 said that the “self-acknowledged maintenance of arms by Hizbullah [sic] and other groups and the alleged increase by Hizbullah of its arsenal pose a serious challenge to the State’s ability to exercise full sovereignty and authority over its territory”. He further noted that during the most recent reporting period, protests by the civilian population included calls for the disarmament of militias in the country.

Another issue of increasing concern relates to the ability of the security forces in Lebanon to maintain security in the country. The Secretary-General warned in his report that the dire economic situation faced by civilians and the budgetary pressures on the Lebanese Armed Forces and other security forces may adversely affect the latters’ ability to preserve stability.

Among the options that the Council could consider are:

  • calling for international partners to increase humanitarian support to Lebanon and to consider deepening cooperation with security agencies such as the Lebanese Armed Forces;
  • requesting a briefing from UNHCR to discuss possible means to address the difficult situation of the refugee population in Lebanon; and
  • issuing 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.

With regard to the last option, it should be noted that the Council has not issued a press statement on Lebanon since February 2019.

Council Dynamics

Council members are united 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 perspective on Hezbollah, the most heavily armed militia in the country.

The US is an advocate for stronger action by the UN to enforce the arms embargo on Lebanon to prevent the build-up of arms by Hezbollah. However, Russia believes that Hezbollah should be viewed as a legitimate partner for dialogue as it is part of the Lebanese government. According to media reports, a delegation of senior Hezbollah members met with Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov on 15 March in Moscow.

It appears that during the Council’s latest closed consultations on the implementation of resolution 1701, which took place on 18 March, some of the Council’s European members stressed the need to address impunity in Lebanon and facilitate accountability for the Beirut port explosion and the killing of Lokman Slim.

UN DOCUMENTS ON LEBANON

Security Council Resolutions
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.
Secretary-General’s Reports
22 April 2021S/2021/396 Was the latest Secretary-General’s report on the implementation of resolution 1559.