Expected Council Action
In July, 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. Briefings are expected from Special Coordinator for Lebanon Joanna Wronecka and Under-Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations Jean-Pierre Lacroix. The Secretary-General’s report, which is due on 12 July, will cover the period from 21 February to 20 June.
The mandate of the UN Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) expires on 31 August.
Key Recent Developments
Lebanon has been without a president since Michel Aoun’s term ended on 31 October 2022. On 14 June, the parliament failed—for the 12th time—to elect a president. According to Lebanon’s power-sharing set-up, the president must be a Maronite Christian. In the first round of voting, a candidate needs 86 votes to be elected president (a two-thirds majority of the elected parliamentarians), while 65 votes (a simple majority) are needed in subsequent rounds. However, a quorum of 86 members of parliament is also needed for a valid ballot, meaning that the election can be thwarted if enough parliamentarians do not attend the session. At the 14 June session, neither of the two candidates—Jihad Azour and Suleiman Frangieh—received the required votes to be elected in the first round of voting, after which parliamentarians from Hezbollah and the Amal Movement reportedly withdrew, preventing a second round from taking place owing to a lack of quorum.
Against the backdrop of a prolonged socioeconomic crisis in Lebanon, key international interlocutors have expressed frustration at the continuing presidential vacuum. In a 14 June post on Twitter, Wronecka said that “[t]he prolonged vacuum undermines Lebanon’s democratic practices and further delays the long overdue reforms and solutions needed to steer the country back to a path of recovery”. In a 16 June statement, the International Support Group for Lebanon—which consists of the Arab League, the EU, the UN, China, France, Germany, Italy, Russia, the UK, and the US—regretted the failed election and urged “the political leadership and Members of Parliament to assume their responsibilities and prioritize the national interest by electing a new President without further delay”.
On 7 June, French President Emmanuel Macron appointed Jean-Yves Le Drian as his personal envoy to Lebanon to facilitate a “consensual and effective” solution to the country’s political impasse. From 21 to 24 June, Le Drian was in Lebanon for his first visit to the country in this capacity. At the time of writing, it remains unclear whether the Lebanese parties will be able to agree on a compromise candidate.
The presidential crisis is compounded by the fact that, over one year since the 15 May 2022 legislative elections, Lebanon’s government remains in caretaker status. Further, amid concerns that funding for the May 2023 municipal elections had not been secured, the parliament voted in April to extend the term of local government officials until 31 May 2024, paving the way for a postponement of the elections for up to a year. (Municipal elections were originally supposed to take place in May 2022 but were initially postponed to May 2023 to avoid their coinciding with the May 2022 legislative elections.) In a recent article, the International Crisis Group stressed the importance of holding municipal elections promptly, arguing that their further postponement could seriously undermine local councils and administrators who have played a key role in keeping the country running during the ongoing socioeconomic and political crises.
An 11 May letter signed by Lebanese and international civil society organisations, including Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, said that the Lebanese Armed Forces (LAF) “have recently and summarily deported hundreds of Syrians back to Syria, where they are at risk of persecution or torture” and that the deportations were carried out against the backdrop of “an alarming surge in anti-refugee rhetoric in Lebanon and other coercive measures intended to pressure refugees to return”. The letter called on Lebanon to halt summary deportations to Syria and on the international community to step up “its assistance, particularly its resettlement and alternative pathways programmes”.
On 14 and 15 June, the EU hosted the seventh Brussels Conference on “Supporting the future of Syria and the region”, which resulted in international pledges totalling 4.6 billion euros for 2023 and one billion euros for 2024 and beyond. Save the Children noted, however, that this amount is a “drastic drop from last year, in the face of [the] sky rocketing needs” of 6.8 million people displaced in Syria and the more than 5 million refugees in neighbouring countries such as Egypt, Lebanon, and Türkiye.
The situation in southern Lebanon has remained tense after the exchange of fire between Israel and armed groups in April, which saw the highest number of rockets fired from southern Lebanon towards Israel since 2006 in response to raids by the Israeli police on the Haram al-Sharif/Temple Mount site in Jerusalem. (For background, see the brief on Lebanon in our May Forecast). Recently, Lebanese and Israeli media have reported tensions across the Blue Line—a border demarcation between Lebanon and Israel—on several occasions. During the 8 June regular meeting of the tripartite mechanism, which consists of representatives of UNIFIL, the Israel Defense Forces and the LAF, UNIFIL Head of Mission and Force Commander Major General Aroldo Lázaro encouraged the two countries to continue to avail themselves of UNIFIL’s “liaison and coordination mechanisms while avoiding unilateral actions”. He also appealed to the parties to engage in talks on the demarcation of the Blue Line, stressing the need to get “beyond the immediate incidents and looking to how we resolve them”. There does not, however, appear to be any concrete movement in this direction from the parties.
On 1 June, a military court in Lebanon charged five men with the 14 December 2022 killing of an Irish peacekeeper following an attack on a UNIFIL convoy. Council members had condemned the attack in a 15 December 2022 press statement, calling on the Lebanese government to investigate the incident and bring the perpetrators to justice. The statement recalled “the necessity for all parties to ensure that UNIFIL personnel are safe and secure”.
On 12 June, a court in London ordered the UK-registered company Savaro Ltd., which is linked to the ammonium nitrate that exploded in the 4 August 2020 Beirut port blast, to pay compensation to some of the victims. The Lebanese inquiry into responsibility for the explosion remains stalled.
Human Rights-Related Developments
Data from the Lebanese authorities cited by Amnesty International shows that deaths in custody nearly doubled in 2022 compared to 2018, rising from 18 in 2018 to 34 in 2022. In a 7 June report, Amnesty International found that this sharp increase is linked to the economic crisis which began in 2019 and exacerbated longstanding structural problems in places of detention, such as overcrowding and poor sanitation. Nevertheless, the organisation also found “shortcomings from prison and health authorities in providing adequate and timely medical care to people in prison, including in emergency cases” and called on the Lebanese authorities promptly to investigate all deaths in custody, decrease prison overcrowding and, with the support of the international community, allocate additional resources to improving conditions and healthcare provision in places of detention.
Key Issues and Options
The peace and security situation in southern Lebanon remains in precarious balance. Key aspects of resolutions 1701 and 1559—which in 2004 called for the withdrawal of foreign forces from Lebanon, the disarmament of all militias, and the extension of government control over the whole Lebanese territory—remain unimplemented. 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, are ongoing issues. Against this backdrop, the risk that serious incidents across the Blue Line could trigger a chain reaction leading to a wider violent escalation cannot be discounted.
The swift election of a president, the formation of a government, and the implementation of reforms aimed at addressing the ongoing socioeconomic instability are further issues.
An option for Council members would be to consider issuing a presidential statement stressing the importance of the effective implementation of resolutions 1559 and 1701, 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 of respecting the principle of non-refoulement.
There is broad consensus among Council members in support of Lebanon’s sovereignty, territorial integrity, and security. Differences remain among Council members over Hezbollah. Some draw a distinction 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.
France is the penholder on Lebanon.
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.|
|10 March 2023S/2023/184||This was the most recent Secretary-General’s report on the implementation of resolution 1701.|