Expected Council Action
In August, the Security Council is expected to renew the mandate of the UN Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) ahead of its 31 August expiry. Prior to that, Council members will hold closed consultations on UNIFIL. Under-Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations Jean-Pierre Lacroix is the expected briefer.
Key Recent Developments
Lebanon remains without a government, almost a year after Prime Minister Hassan Diab resigned following widespread anti-government protests in the aftermath of the 4 August 2020 Beirut blast. Disagreements between Lebanese President Michel Aoun and Saad Hariri—whom Aoun designated as the new prime minister on 22 October 2020—have reportedly been the main stumbling block in the formation of a new cabinet. On 15 July, Hariri announced his decision to step down as prime minister-designate, citing differences with Aoun.
On 26 July, Aoun named Najib Mikati—a wealthy Sunni businessman from Tripoli who had previously served as prime minister in 2005 and from 2011 to 2013—to become Lebanon’s next prime minister. Mikati received the support of 72 of the 118 members of parliament, including that of the Shi’a group Hezbollah. However, most Christian parliamentarians have not endorsed Mikati. This has led some analysts to express doubts regarding Mikati’s ability to overcome sectarian differences and form a government.
The political deadlock continued to hinder progress in addressing Lebanon’s multifaceted economic problems and to pursue accountability for the Beirut port explosion. Lebanese and international actors have criticised the decision by the caretaker government, which is led by Diab, not to lift the immunity of several high-ranking government and security officials to allow an investigation into their possible role in the tragedy. (In a 13 July demonstration, families of the victims of the blast called on the caretaker Interior Minister Mohamad Fahmy to lift the immunity of Major General Abbas Ibrahim, who heads the General Security Directorate.) Following Hariri’s resignation, the Lebanese currency fell to a record low of approximately 21,000 Lebanese pounds to the US dollar. This compounded the difficulties faced by the civilian population, which had already been struggling to obtain basic staples. On 16 July, the French foreign ministry announced that Paris will organise an international aid conference in cooperation with the UN on 4 August to “respond to the needs of the Lebanese whose situation is deteriorating every day”.
Meanwhile, international interlocutors continued to underscore the importance of conducting parliamentary and municipal elections in 2022 in line with the timeline established by the Lebanese electoral law. According to the Secretary-General’s 13 July report on the implementation of resolution 1701, which called in 2006 for a cessation of hostilities between Hezbollah and Israel, Fahmy announced on 3 June that parliamentary elections would be held on either 8 or 15 May 2022 on the basis of the current electoral law, unless a new law is passed, while the municipal elections would be deferred for up to three months. In his report, covering the period from 20 February to 18 June, the Secretary-General called on the Lebanese authorities to take all steps to facilitate the timely holding of elections in 2022 and highlighted the need for clarity on measures to increase the participation of women, youth and persons with disabilities in the political process.
The situation in UNIFIL’s area of operations remained volatile during the reporting period of the Secretary-General’s report. That was due in part to increased tensions as a result of the round of hostilities between Israel and Hamas between 10 and 21 May. UNIFIL recorded three instances of rocket fire from southern Lebanon towards Israel between 13 and 19 May. In addition, between 14 and 25 May, UNIFIL observed several occasions when demonstrators crossed into Israeli territory during protests near the Blue Line, a border demarcation between Israel and Lebanon. On 14 May, the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) responded to the crossings by firing ten single shots from assault rifles followed by rounds of automatic fire which prompted the demonstrators to return north of the Blue Line. On 20 July, two rockets were fired from Lebanon into Israeli territory and the IDF responded with artillery fire. The IDF reportedly suspects that Palestinian factions in southern Lebanon were responsible for the launches.
The Secretary-General’s report noted that although UNIFIL’s freedom of movement was generally maintained, the force encountered several restrictions during the reporting period. In one instance, a UNIFIL patrol following up on the report of a missile launch on 13 May was stopped by “six individuals in civilian clothes carrying automatic rifles”. The report also said that in accordance with the recommendations of the Secretary-General’s June 2020 report on the assessment of the continued relevance of UNIFIL resources, the mission has begun preparatory work to install cameras in several UNIFIL positions along the Blue Line. According to the report on the implementation of resolution 1701, on four occasions between 1 and 9 April, “individuals in civilian clothes protested the preparatory works at UNIFIL positions…and threatened to use force to prevent the installation of cameras”. Consequently, the Lebanese Armed Forces (LAF) requested more time to address local concerns before the preparatory work resumes.
Human Rights-Related Developments
During its 47th session, the Human Rights Council (HRC) adopted the Universal Periodic Review outcome on Lebanon on 8 July without a vote (A/HRC/47/5). The president of the HRC said that out of 297 recommendations received, 179 had been supported by Lebanon.
Women, Peace and Security
The Informal Experts Group on Women, Peace and Security (IEG) discussed the situation in Lebanon on 25 May. IEG members were briefed by Najat Rochdi, Deputy Special Coordinator for Lebanon and Resident and Humanitarian Coordinator, and Jack Christofides, Deputy Head of Mission for UNIFIL, who were accompanied by other members of the UN Country Team. This was the first time the IEG discussed the situation in Lebanon. At the meeting, IEG members heard an overview of recommendations on Lebanon provided by UN Women, including ways to increase women’s participation in political processes and suggestions for language on women, peace and security that could be included in UNIFIL’s upcoming mandate renewal.
During the meeting, it was noted that Lebanese women were prominent in leading protests calling for better living conditions in 2019, and that a group of women politicians are currently leading cross-party meetings and exchanges of ideas in an attempt to address the political impasse in the country. However, Lebanon has one of the lowest rates of women’s participation in formal politics, as women constitute only 4.6 percent of the parliament and under five percent of all security institutions. UN Women recommended that Council members advocate for strengthening women’s participation in conflict prevention, mediation and resolution in Lebanon, thus building on the role played locally by women in the protests and in mediation.
Key Issues and Options
The main issue for Council members in August will be the renewal of UNIFIL’s mandate. Protecting the integrity of UNIFIL’s mandate and providing the mission with the necessary tools to carry out its operations remain priorities for the Council. In this regard, some members may stress during the negotiations on UNIFIL’s mandate renewal the need to uphold the mission’s freedom of movement and its ability to investigate sites of potential violations.
An issue of increasing concern is the adverse effects of the country’s dire economic situation on the ability of security forces in Lebanon, including the LAF, to maintain stability in the country. On 17 June, France convened a virtual donors’ conference to mobilise aid (including food, medicine and medical equipment) for the LAF. A follow-up conference is expected in September. Council members could consider calling on international partners to fulfil their pledges from the June donors’ conference and to prioritise support for the LAF in the upcoming international conferences in August and September.
Another important issue for some Council members is how best to support the participation of women in political processes in Lebanon, including in the context of the upcoming elections, and in conflict prevention, mediation and resolution. In line with the recommendations presented by UN Women in the 25 May IEG meeting, members could incorporate in the upcoming UNIFIL renewal resolution language requesting the mission to support and engage with a wide range of diverse women’s civil society organisations in all areas of its work. Members could also invite women from Lebanese civil society to brief in Council meetings. As noted during the IEG meeting, although the Council has asked women civil society representatives to brief the Council on various country situations since December 2016, a woman from Lebanon has yet to be invited to brief in such meetings.
Council members are united in their support for Lebanon’s sovereignty, territorial integrity and security. As the upcoming negotiations on UNIFIL’s mandate renewal will be the first during the administration of US President Joe Biden and since the advent of the five elected members in 2021, any possible new Council dynamics on Lebanon or UNIFIL are likely to become more pronounced.
The negotiations on resolution 2539 of 28 August 2020, which most recently renewed UNIFIL’s mandate, were contentious. The previous US administration strongly called for UNIFIL to play a more active role in confronting the threats posed by Iran, Hezbollah and the proliferation of weapons in southern Lebanon. As a result of the determination of the US to reduce UNIFIL’s troop ceiling, resolution 2539 cut the ceiling to 13,000 troops from the 15,000 established by resolution 1701.
While the current US administration is critical of Hezbollah’s role in the region, it apparently has not referred to Iran in Council meetings on Lebanon. It remains to be seen whether the US will strongly advocate for changes in UNIFIL’s mandate during the upcoming negotiations. Other members—including France and Russia—oppose changing the mandate because of the potential negative impact on the fragile calm that has been maintained in southern Lebanon.
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.|
|13 July 2021S/2021/650||This was the most recent Secretary-General’s report on the implementation of resolution 1701.|
|1 June 2020S/2020/473||This was an assessment of the continued relevance of UNIFIL’s resources, taking into consideration the troop ceiling and the civilian component of the force, issued in accordance with resolution 2485.|
|Security Council Letters|
|2 July 2021S/2021/625||This was the summary of the IEG’s 25 May meeting on Lebanon.|