March 2023 Monthly Forecast

Posted 28 February 2023
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Expected Council Action

In March, Council members expect to receive a briefing in consultations on the Secretary-General’s report on the implementation of resolution 1701. Adopted in 2006, resolution 1701 called for a cessation of hostilities between the Shi’a group Hezbollah and Israel. The report is due by 9 March. Special Coordinator for Lebanon Joanna Wronecka and Under-Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations Jean-Pierre Lacroix are the expected briefers.

Key Recent Developments

Since Lebanese President Michel Aoun’s term expired on 31 October 2022, the Lebanese Parliament has held over ten sessions to elect a successor, to no avail. According to Lebanon’s power-sharing arrangement, the president must be a Maronite Christian, while the prime minister is a Sunni Muslim and the parliamentary speaker a Shi’a Muslim. None of the major Lebanese parties and blocs have the numbers independently to impose a candidate. At the time of writing, it remains unclear whether the parties will be able to agree on a compromise candidate and when the next voting session will be scheduled.

Over nine months since the 15 May legislative elections, Lebanon’s government remains in caretaker status. Divisions continue among political actors regarding the caretaker government’s powers during this presidential vacuum, as well as over the capacity of the Parliament to act as a legislative assembly or merely as an electoral body during this period.

Progress towards achieving the conditions required by the International Monetary Fund (IMF) to unlock a deal worth around $3 billion has been markedly slow and—in light of the current political crisis—is unlikely to pick up significant speed in the near future. On 1 February, Lebanon devalued the Lebanese pound from an official exchange rate of just over 1,500 to the US dollar to 15,000 per US dollar. The parallel market rate, commonly used to buy and sell most goods in Lebanon, in mid-February touched a new low of 80,000 Lebanese pounds to the dollar.

In the absence of relevant reforms, the Lebanese population and the large number of refugees hosted by Lebanon continue to face the consequences of a prolonged socioeconomic crisis. Against a backdrop of compromised access to health care and clean drinking water, a cholera outbreak spread from Syria to Lebanon in late October 2022. According to an 11 February WHO update, cases in Lebanon “are currently declining” while the outbreak continues in parts of Syria.

On 31 December 2022, a boat carrying over 230 people started sinking off the coast of Lebanon. The Lebanese Armed Forces (LAF) navy and vessels operated by the Maritime Task Force of the UN Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) rescued 232 people. However, a Syrian woman and a child died. The UN and human rights organisations continue to emphasise the importance of non-refoulement of Syrian refugees in Lebanon, where anti-refugee rhetoric remains a source of concern. According to an article by the Associated Press, shortly after the 31 December 2022 rescue operation, “the Lebanese army loaded nearly 200 rescued Syrians into trucks and dropped them” on the Syrian side of the Lebanese-Syrian border, where they “were intercepted by men wearing Syrian army uniforms”, who held them captive “until family members paid to have them released and brought back to Lebanon by smugglers”.

There continues to be no substantial progress in the inquiry into responsibility for the 4 August 2020 Beirut port explosion. Recently, Tarek Bitar, the judge who has led the investigation since February 2021, unsuccessfully attempted to resume his inquiry after a suspension of over a year. The inquiry has been repeatedly delayed by legal complaints against Bitar filed by some of the officials he intended to question, causing the investigation to be suspended pending a ruling on the complaints. On 23 January, Bitar attempted to restart the inquiry and issued charges against current and former senior officials, including the public prosecutor at the Court of Cassation, Ghassan Oueidat. On 25 January, Oueidat imposed a travel ban on Bitar and charged him with “rebelling against the judiciary and usurping power”. In early February, Bitar reportedly postponed the hearings he had scheduled for that month until the dispute with Oueidat could be resolved. In response to these developments, Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch repeated their previous calls for the Human Rights Council (HRC) to pass a resolution to establish an impartial international fact-finding mission into the port explosion.

In his 20 February briefing at the Security Council monthly meeting on “The situation in the Middle East, including the Palestinian question”, Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process Tor Wennesland said that the situation along the Blue Line, a border demarcation between Israel and Lebanon, remains “mostly calm”.

According to the latest Secretary-General’s report on resolution 1701, covering the period from 21 June to 2 November 2022, violations of the resolution continued. For instance, the report said that the Israel Defense Forces continued to enter Lebanese airspace. The report also said that UNIFIL observed unauthorised weapons in its area of operations and “a progressive upgrade of facilities and the installation of permanent structures” at two firing ranges in the mission’s area of operations. (The Secretary-General first reported observing these and other firing ranges in his 14 July 2022 report on resolution 1701.) The report further said that the mission had yet to gain access to several locations of interest and that, while UNIFIL’s “freedom of movement was respected in most cases, the mission encountered several impediments in that regard”.

Independent investigations by Lebanese and Irish officials are ongoing following the 14 December 2022 attack against a UNIFIL convoy, in which an Irish peacekeeper was killed and three were injured. On 27 February, Spokesperson for the Secretary-General Stéphane Dujarric said that the UN internal investigation into the incident had been completed and that a copy of the relevant report had been provided to both the governments of Ireland and Lebanon. Following the incident, Council members condemned the attack in a press statement and called on the Lebanese government to investigate the incident and bring the perpetrators to justice. The statement also recalled “the necessity for all parties to ensure that UNIFIL personnel are safe and secure”.

In line with resolution 2650, which extended UNIFIL’s mandate until 31 August 2023, the mission has been providing non-lethal material (fuel, food, and medicine) and logistical support to the LAF in the framework of LAF-UNIFIL joint activities. The upcoming report on the implementation of resolution 1701 may include an update on the provision of this support which, according to resolution 2650, was to be provided for a period of six months and “no longer than 28 February”. (For more, see our What’s in Blue story of 30 August 2022.)

Human Rights-Related Developments

On 4 February 2021, Lokman Slim, a Lebanese activist and an outspoken critic of Hezbollah, was found dead in the village of Addoussieh in southern Lebanon. On 2 February, four Special Rapporteurs of the HRC issued a statement reiterating previous calls for an effective investigation into Slim’s killing and expressing “deep concern at the lack of progress by the authorities to ensure accountability two years after his assassination”.

Key Issues and Options

The lack of implementation of resolution 1701, including through a permanent ceasefire between Israel and Lebanon, remains a key issue for the Council. The substantial amount of weaponry held by Hezbollah and other non-state actors in Lebanon as well as Israel’s violations of Lebanon’s territorial integrity and sovereignty remain ongoing issues for the Council.

A prolonged presidential vacuum is likely to compound Lebanon’s long-standing socioeconomic crisis. If the process of appointing a president continues to be stalled, Council members may consider issuing a presidential statement urging the Lebanese Parliament to elect a president and calling for the formation of a new government. The statement could also underscore the importance of reforms to promote socioeconomic stability and stress the importance of respecting the principle of non-refoulement.

Council Dynamics

While the Council has not met on Lebanon since Ecuador, Japan, Malta, Mozambique, and Switzerland joined in January, the arrival of these five members seems unlikely to change the Council’s broad support for Lebanon’s sovereignty, territorial integrity, political independence, and security. Differences over Hezbollah remain among Council members. Some members distinguish between Hezbollah’s political and military wings and have designated only its military wing as a terrorist organisation. Other members, including the UK and the US, have listed the Shi’a group in its entirety as a terrorist organisation. In contrast, Russia sees Hezbollah as a legitimate sociopolitical force.

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Security Council Resolution
11 August 2006S/RES/1701 This resolution called for a cessation of hostilities between Israel and Hezbollah.
Secretary-General’s Report
15 November 2022S/2022/858 This was the most recent Secretary-General’s report on the implementation of resolution 1701.