Expected Council Action
In June, the Security Council is expected to vote on a resolution renewing for one year 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 Libya, that they have reasonable grounds to believe are violating the arms embargo. The current authorisation expires on 3 June.
The Council will also hold its regular 60-day briefing on the situation in Libya. Special Representative for Libya and head of the UN Support Mission in Libya (UNSMIL) Abdoulaye Bathily is expected to brief.
Key Recent Developments
The Security Council first adopted the measures in support of the full implementation of the arms embargo on Libya in resolution 2292 of 14 June 2016. The interception of vessels bound to or from Libya was intended to curb the flow of arms to the country and to support the two-way arms embargo imposed on the country in resolution 1970 of 26 February 2011. The UK, the penholder in 2016 for resolution 2292, said in its explanation of vote that adopting those measures was a sign of support for the then-Government of National Accord (GNA)—which was replaced by the Government of National Unity (GNU) in February 2021 following the UN-facilitated Libyan Political Dialogue Forum (LPDF)—to facilitate its extension of state authority across the country. The UK also acknowledged that the arms embargo had not fully stopped the flow of weapons into the country, saying that resolution 2292 detailed concrete steps to curb the flow of arms.
The authorisation for maritime inspections was last renewed by resolution 2635 of 3 June 2022, which requested the Secretary-General to submit reports on the implementation of the measures within six months and 11 months of the resolution’s adoption. The first report, issued on 6 December 2022, attested to the arms embargo’s continued validity. Amid ongoing efforts by both national actors and the UN to foster agreement on a constitutional basis for holding the postponed elections, the report said that “[t]he role of the embargo in helping to maintain conditions conducive to political progress remained critical”. The report also referenced the final report of the 1970 Libya Sanctions Committee’s Panel of Experts, covering the period from 8 March 2021 to 25 April 2022, which identified a much lower number of sanctions violations than in 2019 and 2020 but also drew attention to new tactics that were being used to circumvent the arms embargo. The Secretary-General’s second report, issued on 2 May, largely echoed the first report’s findings and reaffirmed that the embargo “continues to play an essential role in helping to maintain conditions conducive to progress in the Libyan political process”.
The EU naval operation EUNAVFOR Med IRINI has remained the only regional organisation to inspect vessels under the authorisation. The operation reported that between 16 April 2022 and 14 April 2023, it conducted 2,692 hailings (making contact with other vessels), 203 friendly approaches (consensual visits to vessels that can be carried out without flag state approval and without the use of enforcement measures), and three vessel inspections. It attempted, but did not carry out, four additional inspections because of an explicit refusal of consent by the flag state of the respective vessels. (The authorisation requires good-faith efforts to first obtain the consent of the vessel’s flag state prior to any inspections and calls upon all flag states to cooperate with such inspections.) According to the Secretary-General’s reports, two of the three vessel inspections carried out by the operation involved the seizure of cargo (described as “specific types of vehicles”) that was determined by the operation to be prohibited under the arms embargo. According to the EU, a final decision on the disposal of those vehicles is pending. The 1970 sanctions committee has not expressed a position on those vehicles in relation to the arms embargo.
It has become a regular practice for Council members to have an informal interactive dialogue (IID) ahead of the authorisation’s renewal to discuss its implementation. This year’s IID took place on 17 May at the request of France and Malta, the current co-penholders for the renewal of the measures. Cosmin Dobran, the director of the Integrated Approach for Security and Peace Directorate of the European External Action Service, participated in the meeting and briefed Council members on the recent activities of Operation IRINI.
Regarding the broader political process in Libya, both the UN and national actors have concentrated recent efforts on facilitating agreement on a new roadmap for national elections to unify the country’s divided government. Following the indefinite postponement of elections scheduled for December 2021, the House of Representatives (HoR)—the Libyan legislature based in Tobruk—elected former Interior Minister Fathi Bashagha as prime minister in February 2022, contesting the leadership of Abdul Hamid Mohammed Dbeibah, prime minister of the GNU. On 16 May, the HoR voted to suspend Bashagha as prime minister and replace him with finance minister Osama Hamad. The protracted stalemate between the GNU and HoR, as well as the internal divisions within the two bodies, contribute to Libya’s political, economic, and security instability.
In his 18 April briefing to the Council, Bathily said that he had “launched [the] implementation” of the UN-facilitated Libyan High-Level Panel for Elections (HLPE), which is intended to gather a wide range of national stakeholders to agree on a political, security, and legal framework for holding elections in 2023. Parallel to this initiative, the rival Libyan legislatures have engaged in a separate effort to establish a constitutional basis for elections. The two bodies recently adopted the 13th constitutional amendment to the 2011 Constitutional Declaration—specifying the roles of the president, prime minister, and parliament—and subsequently established a “joint 6+6 committee” responsible for drafting electoral laws, comprised of six representatives from each legislature.
On 24 May, during a week-long meeting in Bouznika, Morocco, the 6+6 committee announced that it had reached agreement on holding simultaneous presidential and parliamentary elections, and that progress had been made on a number of outstanding issues related to the distribution of parliamentary seats, the inclusion of political parties, the representation of women, procedures for appealing electoral results, and the use of media for campaign purposes. The committee also called for the formation of a unified provisional government to “pave the way” for elections by the end of the year—an initiative that has reportedly been the topic of ongoing back-channel communications between representatives of Dbeibah and General Khalifa Haftar, who leads the self-styled Libyan National Army aligned with the HoR. The UN and some Council members have previously expressed skepticism at the establishment of another interim government, however, concerned that it may distract from what they view as the primary task of holding elections.
Key Issues and Options
A key issue for the Council in June is to renew authorisation for maritime inspections off the coast of Libya. Since the adoption of resolution 2292 in 2016, the Council has annually renewed the authorisation through straightforward rollovers. The Council is expected to adopt a similar extension this year.
Another issue for the Council is to support political momentum towards holding national elections in 2023. The progress recently reported by the 6+6 committee is a potentially positive development in this regard, although its significance depends on implementation, and independent analysts have argued that some Libyan political actors have incentives to maintain the status quo. At the June briefing, Council members are likely to reiterate their expectation that all parties display the political will to meet their stated commitments through concrete action, noting that both the UN and the legislatures have set June as the deadline to finalise electoral legislation to hold elections by the end of the year.
Until 2022, the Council had unanimously renewed the maritime inspection authorisation every year. During last year’s negotiations, Russia expressed reservations regarding the viability of the authorisation, noting that Operation IRINI—which is currently the only multilateral instrument to implement the authorisation—had failed to uncover significant arms supply channels and that several vessels had refused its requests for inspection. Russia therefore requested a six-month authorisation instead of the usual 12-month period. As a compromise, the penholder included language requesting the Secretary-General to submit an interim six-month report on implementation of the measures—in addition to the regular 11-month report—but retained the 12-month authorisation. Russia cast an abstention on the subsequent vote on the resolution, marking the first time the authorisation was not adopted unanimously. It is possible similar dynamics will affect this year’s negotiations.
More broadly, Council members remain united on the need for a Libyan-led inclusive process to lead to elections that will restore political, security, and economic stability. However, there are differences of view about the best way forward. Most Western members argue for the urgency of national elections, while some others contend that the appointment of a new interim government should take priority. Moreover, Council members have different preferences for advancing elections. Several members—including France, the UK, the US, and the A3 countries (Gabon, Ghana, and Mozambique)—have expressed strong support for the HLPE to facilitate agreement on electoral legislation, while China and Russia have been more reserved in their judgment about the panel, instead deferring to the Libyan legislatures to find agreement.
UN DOCUMENTS ON LIBYA
|Security Council Resolutions|
|28 OCTOBER 2022S/RES/2656||This resolution extended UNSMIL’s mandate until 31 October 2023.|
|3 JUNE 2022S/RES/2635||This renewed for one year the authorisation for member states to inspect vessels on the high seas off the coast of Libya, by a vote of 14 in favour with Russia abstaining.|
|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.|
|Security Council Presidential Statements|
|16 MARCH 2023S/PRST/2023/2||This presidential statement expressed encouragement about the launch of the “High-Level Panel for Elections” in Libya.|
|Security Council Meeting Records|
|18 APRIL 2023S/PV.9306||This was a briefing on UNSMIL.|
|5 APRIL 2023S/2023/248||This was the 120-day report on UNSMIL.|
|2 MAY 2023S/2023/308||This was the 11-month report on the authorisations in relation to the inspection of vessels on the high seas off the coast of Libya, requested by resolution 2635 (2022) in support of the implementation of the arms embargo established in resolution 1970 (2011).|
|6 DECEMBER 2022S/2022/910||This was the 6-month report on the authorisations in relation to the inspection of vessels on the high seas off the coast of Libya, requested by resolution 2635 (2022) in support of the implementation of the arms embargo established in resolution 1970 (2011).|