Expected Council Action
In June, the Security Council is expected to renew the authorisation of member states, acting nationally or through regional organisations, to inspect vessels on the high seas off the coast of Libya, bound to or from Libya, that they have reasonable grounds to believe are violating the arms embargo. The current authorisation expires on 5 June.
The authorisation given by resolution 2546 (to inspect vessels suspected of migrant smuggling or human trafficking) expires on 2 October. Measures related to the illicit export of petroleum from Libya adopted in resolution 2571 expire on 30 July 2022, and the mandate of the Panel of Experts assisting the 1970 Libya Sanctions Committee, also adopted in resolution 2571, expires on 15 July 2022. The mandate of the UN Support Mission in Libya (UNSMIL) expires on 15 September.
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 2526 of 5 June 2020. 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, which was established in resolution 1970 in 2011.
On 23 October 2020, the Libyan Arab Armed Forces (also known as the Libyan National Army) and the Government of National Accord signed a ceasefire agreement. Following the adoption of a “political roadmap” in November 2020 by the Libyan Political Dialogue Forum—which calls for parliamentary and presidential elections to be held on 24 December 2021. A new Government of National Unity (GNU) was sworn in on 15 March to serve as an interim governing authority in the lead-up to the elections. In his 5 May report on the implementation of resolution 2526, the Secretary-General noted that six months after the signing of the ceasefire agreement, violations of the arms embargo persisted.
The EU military operation in the Mediterranean (EUNAVFOR MED operation IRINI) was the only regional arrangement acting under the above-mentioned authorisations during the period covered by the Secretary-General’s report. Operation IRINI was launched on 31 March 2020 to implement the arms embargo through the use of aerial, satellite and maritime assets, as mandated in resolution 1970.
IRINI is the successor of EUNAVFOR MED operation SOPHIA, whose primary goal was to disrupt human smuggling and trafficking networks pursuant to resolution 2240 of 9 October 2015. IRINI’s primary role is inspecting vessels that violate the arms embargo as mandated in resolution 2292. Furthermore, it monitors Libya’s illicit oil exports as outlined in resolution 2441, and, like SOPHIA, IRINI is tasked with disrupting networks of human smuggling in the central Mediterranean region in line with resolution 2240. IRINI also provides capacity-building and training for the Libyan coast guard and navy.
As at 18 May, IRINI had conducted 3,244 hailings in the Central Mediterranean, including 122 friendly approaches and 13 vessel inspections that resulted in one cargo seizure. Three inspections were denied by flag states.
In his 21 May briefing to the Council, Special Envoy to Libya and head of UNSMIL Ján Kubiš stressed the need to respect and support the ceasefire and called for full compliance with the arms embargo. He further acknowledged the important role of IRINI in that regard.
On 22 November 2020, IRINI inspected a Turkish-flagged container ship Merchant Vessel (MV) ROSELINE A, which was bound to Misrata in Libya. According to IRINI’s official account, it had attempted to seek the consent of the flag state, but having received no answer from Turkey, its inspectors boarded the vessel. IRINI noted in a 23 November statement that “when the flag state made it clear that it denied the permission to inspect the vessel, Operation IRINI suspended the activities during which no evidence of illicit material was found on board”. In a 1 December 2020 letter to the Security Council, Turkey submitted a complaint over IRINI’s inspection of MV ROSELINE A. In the letter, Turkey referred to the inspection as “arbitrary”, demanded that IRINI change its method of communication, and rejected IRINI’s “self-proclaimed” deadlines. The EU delegation to the UN responded in an 7 December 2020 letter to the Security Council that IRINI undertakes “good-faith efforts” when obtaining the consent of the vessel’s flag state by contacting its diplomats prior to any inspections. The EU delegation further requested Turkey to designate new or additional contact points if they wish.
On 26 March, IRINI was renewed by the European Council until 31 March 2023. The renewal enhanced the practical arrangements for the disposal of items seized by IRINI. The head of IRINI commended the instrumental role that IRINI played in creating the latest positive momentum in Libya. The Secretary-General underscored in his report that the renewal of resolution 2526 can help facilitate a conducive environment to further augment political progress, mitigate violence against civilians in Libya and prevent the proliferation of arms in Libya as well as in the region.
Key Issues and Options
The immediate issue for the Council is the reauthorisation for member states to inspect vessels on the high seas off the coast of Libya that they have reasonable grounds to believe are violating the arms embargo.
The persistent non-compliance with the arms embargo—which was noted by the final report of the Panel of Experts assisting the 1970 Libya Sanctions Committee, covering the period from 25 October 2019 to 24 January—is an ongoing issue for the Council. The Council is also addressing the security threats in the Sahel region and the arms flow from Libya to its neighbouring countries.
Council members individually could use their influence on parties to uphold the ceasefire agreement, foster confidence-building measures and respect the arms embargo.
Council and Wider Dynamics
Last year’s reauthorisation, resolution 2526, was adopted unanimously. It seems that during the negotiations, Russia was the only member that expressed scepticism around whether IRINI’s mandate is within the scope of the Council’s authorisation. During the 24 March Libya briefing, Russia stressed that there were “discrepancies” in the legitimacy of IRINI’s actions.
On several occasions in 2020, Libya’s permanent representative to the UN expressed his delegation’s opposition to operation IRINI. This year a shift may be seen in Libya’s position on IRINI in light of the positive developments related to the formation of the GNU. Libya’s Ambassador to Rome conveyed the GNU’s interest in strengthening cooperation with the EU during his latest visit to IRINI’s headquarters in Rome. IRINI is also expected to resume its capacity-building training for the Libyan coast guard.
Reports by the Panel of Experts assisting the 1970 Libya Sanctions Committee indicate that a number of member states, including Council members, are involved in breaches of UN sanctions, including the arms embargo.
The UK is the penholder on Libya, and France and Estonia will draft this year’s authorisation renewal. Ambassador T.S. Tirumurti (India) 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.|
|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.|
|26 February 2011S/RES/1970||This resolution referred the situation in Libya to the ICC, imposed an arms embargo and targeted sanctions (assets freeze and travel ban) and established a sanctions committee.|
|5 May 2021S/2021/434||This was the Secretary-General’s report on the implementation of resolution 2526.|
|Security Council Letters|
|26 March 2021S/2021/292||This contained a record of the statements made during the 24 March meeting on Libya.|
|30 March 2021S/2021/229||This is the final report of the Panel of Experts on Libya established pursuant to Security Council resolution 1973.|
|7 December 2020S/2020/1178||This was a letter from Germany, transmitting a response from the EU delegation over IRINI’s inspection dispute with Turkey.|
|1 December 2020S/2020/1156||This was a letter from Turkey objecting to an inspection conducted by IRINI.|