Expected Council Action
In September, the Council is expected to renew the authorisation for member states, acting nationally or through regional organisations, to inspect and seize vessels on the high seas off the coast of Libya that they have reasonable grounds to suspect are being used for migrant smuggling or human trafficking from Libya. The current authorisation expires on 29 September.
Key Recent Developments
At the time of writing, Council members were expecting to receive the Secretary-General’s annual report on migrant smuggling and human trafficking on the Mediterranean Sea off the coast of Libya, which was due by 29 August. The previous report, covering developments from 2 September 2021 to 29 August 2022, said the Mediterranean Sea was “among the deadliest routes for refugees and migrants trying to reach Europe”. During that reporting period, an estimated 1,751 migrants died or went missing on the route. More than 111,795 migrants arrived in Europe, over 36,253 of whom had departed from Libya. The EU estimated that approximately 52,537 people were rescued or intercepted in 1,125 operations by various vessels in the area of operations of the EU Naval Force military operation in the Mediterranean (EUNAVFOR MED IRINI). Through Operation IRINI, the EU is the only regional organisation implementing the authorisation given by the Council to inspect vessels suspected of migrant smuggling and human trafficking off the coast of Libya.
The Secretary-General’s latest report on Libya, dated 8 August, details more recent developments relevant to the upcoming reauthorisation. Citing the International Organisation for Migration (IOM), the report said that between January 2022 and February 2023, the number of migrants in Libya increased from 635,051 to 706,062. The number of migrants attempting to cross the Mediterranean Sea from the country also increased: as at 1 July, 8,496 individuals had been intercepted and returned to Libya since the start of 2023. An additional 780 people were reported dead and 944 missing during the same period. The Secretary-General’s report said that migrants and refugees who disembarked at Libyan ports to which UN humanitarian agencies have access received basic emergency relief items as well as health-care services and protection. Most of them were subsequently transferred to detention centres, to which the UN has limited access.
According to the report, “[t]he humanitarian, human rights and protection situation of migrants and refugees remains of serious concern”. On 1 May, Libya’s Directorate for Combatting Illegal Migration announced a country-wide campaign to arrest migrants. The report said that the campaign included raids on migrants at their homes and workplaces and on the streets, with thousands arrested and arbitrarily detained. Hundreds were forcibly deported across the borders into neighbouring countries without legal review.
The report described the situation of migrant children in Libya as especially concerning. It said that the UN has continued to observe children’s “prolonged detention…with no judicial process, in violation of the country’s obligations under international human rights law”. The detained children were reportedly released only if they had guaranteed durable solutions, namely voluntary humanitarian return facilitated by IOM or resettlement or evacuation to a third country facilitated by UNHCR. The UN Support Mission in Libya (UNSMIL) verified 24 cases of children who had been abducted from Sudan, where they had been registered as asylum-seekers and subsequently trafficked to Libya. Monitoring by UNSMIL indicated that these children were subjected to further human rights violations in Libya, including forced labour in military camps.
The Secretary-General’s report also referenced recent deadly incidents involving migrants transiting through Libya. On 14 June, a fishing boat that was carrying several hundred migrants from Tobruk in Eastern Libya to Italy capsized off the coast of Greece in what is considered one of the deadliest shipwrecks in Europe in recent years. Additionally, in July, following clashes between residents and migrants in Sfax, Tunisia, hundreds of primarily sub-Saharan migrants were forcibly transported to a deserted area on the border between Tunisia and Libya and abandoned without food or water. On 10 August, Libya and Tunisia announced an agreement to provide shelter to the stranded migrants.
Other entities have also expressed concern about the situation facing migrants in Libya. In March, the UN Independent Fact-Finding Mission (FFM) on Libya—established by the Human Rights Council (HRC) in 2020—published its final report, which concluded that “there are grounds to believe a wide array of war crimes and crimes against humanity have been committed by State security forces and armed militia groups”, with migrants, in particular, having been “systematically tortured” and subjected to “sexual slavery”. In a joint letter dated 6 March, several international human rights organisations called on the HRC to follow up on the FFM’s findings by establishing an “accountability mechanism to continue documenting and reporting on the human rights and impunity crisis in Libya and monitoring the implementation of the FFM’s recommendations”. Human rights organisations have also criticised the EU for providing support to the Libyan Coast Guard, which has been accused of human rights violations against the migrants it intercepts on the Mediterranean Sea.
Regarding the broader political situation in Libya, the country remains divided between the UN-recognised Government of National Unity (GNU) in Tripoli, led by Prime Minister Abdul Hamid Mohammed Dbeibah, and the Government of National Stability (GNS) in Sirte, led by Prime Minister Osama Hamad and supported by the House of Representatives (HoR) in Tobruk. Against this backdrop, 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. Draft electoral legislation that would pave the way for elections is currently pending in the country’s rival legislatures, but several of its elements remain contested, particularly a provision to establish a new interim unity government that would be responsible for organising the elections. (For more, see our What’s in Blue story of 21 August.)
On 2 June, the Council adopted resolution 2684, 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 that they have reasonable grounds to believe are violating the arms embargo imposed on the country in resolution 1970 of 26 February 2011.
Key Issues and Options
The key issue regarding Libya in September is the expiration of the authorisation to combat migrant smuggling and human trafficking off the coast of Libya, which was most recently extended by resolution 2652 of 29 September 2022. Prior to this year’s reauthorisation, the Council may invite a briefer from the EU to update members on recent activities of Operation IRINI. In the past, such briefings have taken place in an informal setting during Council negotiations or in an informal interactive dialogue, which is a closed format that, unlike consultations, allows for the participation of non-UN Secretariat officials and briefers.
The Council initially established the anti-migrant smuggling and human trafficking authorisation with resolution 2240 of 9 October 2015 and has since renewed it annually through straightforward extensions. Each renewal has been unanimous, except in 2016, when then-member Venezuela abstained. It is likely that this year’s co-penholders will aim for another straightforward extension by unanimous adoption.
Concerning the situation in Libya more broadly, Council members remain united on the need for a Libyan-led inclusive process to lead to elections foreseen as restoring political, security, and economic stability. However, there are differences of view about the best way forward. Some members support the establishment of a new interim government prior to holding elections—as stipulated by the pending electoral legislation—while most Western members and the UN have expressed concern that such a move would diminish stakeholders’ incentive to follow through on their electoral commitments, instead reinforcing the status quo. During the Council’s 22 August meeting on Libya, however, both the US and Special Representative and head of UNSMIL Abdoulaye Bathily indicated potential willingness to support the establishment of a new interim government, which, according to some analysts, suggests that the dynamics on this issue may be shifting.
Geopolitical tensions still influence Council dynamics in respect to Libya. In his statement at the 22 August meeting on Libya, the Russian representative said his country was “concerned by attempts of some Western countries to use the situation in Libya to address some geopolitical and economic issues, including on the hydrocarbon market”, implying that these countries prioritise securing Libya’s oil supply over supporting a long-term solution to the country’s challenges. Russia also abstained from the vote adopting resolution 2684, claiming that the authorisation for maritime inspections—carried out by the EU—has not led to “practical results in terms of stabilisation on the ground”.
France and Malta are co-penholders for the authorisation on Libya under consideration in September.
|Security Council Resolutions|
|2 June 2023S/RES/2684||This resolution renewed 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 that they have reasonable grounds to believe are violating the arms embargo.|
|29 September 2022S/RES/2652||This resolution renewed the authorisation for member states, acting nationally or through regional organisations, to inspect and seize vessels on the high seas off the coast of Libya that they have reasonable grounds to suspect are being used for migrant smuggling or human trafficking from Libya|
|28 October 2022S/RES/2656||This resolution extended UNSMIL’s mandate until 31 October 2023.|
|Security Council Presidential Statements|
|16 March 2023S/PRST/2023/2||This presidential statement reaffirmed the Security Council’s commitment to an inclusive, Libyan-led and Libyan-owned political process leading to elections, facilitated by the UN and supported by the international community.|
|8 August 2023S/2023/589||This was the 120-day report on UNSMIL.|
|Security Council Meeting Records|
|22 August 2023S/PV.9402||This meeting record is on Libya.|