Expected Council Action
In October, the Council is expected to renew the mandate of the UN Support Mission in Libya (UNSMIL), which expires on 31 October. The Council is also expected to renew the authorisation of measures in resolution 2146 of 19 March 2014 related to the illicit export of petroleum from Libya. The current authorisation expires on 30 October.
Additionally, the Council will hold its bimonthly briefing on the situation in Libya. Special Representative and head of UNSMIL Abdoulaye Bathily will brief the Council on recent political, security, and humanitarian developments in the country.
Key Recent Developments
The political impasse in Libya continues between the UN-recognised Government of National Unity (GNU), based in Tripoli and led by Prime Minister Abdul Hamid Mohammed Dbeibah, and the eastern-based Government of National Stability (GNS), led by Prime Minister Osama Hamad and aligned with the House of Representatives (HoR) and the self-styled Libyan National Army (LNA) under the command of General Khalifa Haftar. The prolonged stalemate between the rival governments—which has persisted since the indefinite postponement of elections scheduled for December 2021—is a root cause of Libya’s political, security, and economic instability.
On 10 September, Storm Daniel hit Libya’s eastern region, wreaking catastrophic damage that has highlighted the severity of the country’s governance deficit. The storm brought torrential rainfall and strong winds, causing two dams to burst in the coastal town of Derna, large parts of which were consequently flooded. According to the latest available numbers from UN agencies, nearly 4,000 people have died, 9,000 people are still missing, and 40,000 people remain displaced. The Libyan Red Crescent has put the death toll as high as 11,000. OCHA has launched an emergency flash appeal of $71.4 million to address humanitarian needs, while UN Emergency Relief Coordinator Martin Griffiths allocated $10 million from the UN Central Emergency Response Fund.
Analysts have cited the impacts of Libya’s political instability—including poorly maintained infrastructure and deficient emergency planning—as factors that exacerbated the damage caused by the storm. The country’s divided government has complicated the coordination of the international humanitarian response, including reports that Haftar is using his effective control over the region to leverage the aid operation for his own political benefit. The Libyan attorney-general has announced an investigation into the causes of the dam failure, but this has not quelled public protests that have called for an international investigation as the only credible path to accountability. In his 19 September opening address to the UN General Assembly, Secretary-General António Guterres said that Derna saw “many of the world’s challenges coalesce[e] in an awful hellscape” marked by climate change, violent conflict, and political instability. He called the disaster “a sad snapshot of the state of our world—the flood of inequity, of injustice, of inability to confront the challenges in our midst”.
The storm struck during a period of heightened political and security tensions in Libya. On 14 August, violent clashes broke out in Tripoli after Mahmoud Hamza, leader of the 444 Brigade—a militia affiliated with the GNU’s Ministry of Defense that controls most of southern Tripoli—was detained at Mitiga International Airport by the Special Deterrence Force (SDF), a rival group aligned with the Ministry of Interior that serves as a de facto police force and controls much of the city’s infrastructure, including the Mitiga airport. Hamza’s detention prompted heavy fighting between the two groups, reportedly resulting in at least 55 deaths, marking the deadliest violence in the Tripoli region in several years. On 16 August, the SDF released Hamza, after which the situation reportedly stabilised.
In late August, protests erupted in several Libyan cities after reports that GNU Foreign Minister Najla el-Mangoush had secretly met with her Israeli counterpart in Rome—the first known meeting between the two countries’ top diplomats—as Libya does not formally recognise Israel. Dbeibah, who claimed he had not been informed of the meeting in advance, subsequently fired Mangoush and rejected the possibility of normalising diplomatic ties with Israel. However, media reports have cited unnamed GNU officials claiming that Dbeibah had, in fact, sanctioned the meeting in an attempt to bolster US support for his government.
Regarding the broader political situation 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. In March, the HoR and the GNU-aligned High State Council (HSC) established a “joint 6+6 committee”—composed of six representatives from each body—to draft electoral laws to enable elections. On 7 June, the joint committee announced that it had reached agreement on draft legislation. On 25 July, the HoR approved the draft and referred it to the HSC for a vote.
The proposed legislation remains controversial, however, with various political factions contesting several of its provisions. According to the Secretary-General’s most recent report on UNSMIL, dated 8 August, the disputed elements include “proposals with regard to the eligibility of dual nationals to run in the presidential elections; the holding of presidential and parliamentary elections sequentially, one after the other; making the holding of parliamentary elections dependent on the success of the presidential elections; and establishing a new interim executive before holding elections”. In his 22 August briefing to the Council, Bathily updated the Council on his recent engagement with Libyan actors to improve and advance the electoral framework, including his efforts to convene a meeting of the main stakeholders to reach a political agreement on the four politically contested issues.
The provision for establishing a new interim government has proven most controversial. The UN has previously opposed such a move, concerned that it would diminish stakeholders’ incentives to follow through on their electoral commitments and instead reinforce the status quo. In an apparent shift, however, Bathily said during his August briefing to the Council that “a unified government, agreed upon by the major players, is an imperative for leading the country to elections”. Similarly, the US, which had also expressed scepticism about establishing a new interim government, said during the briefing that it was “open to supporting the formation of a technocratic caretaker government, the sole task of which would be to bring the country to free and fair elections”.
In a 23 August press statement, Council members reaffirmed their strong commitment to an inclusive, Libyan-led and Libyan-owned political process, in line with relevant Council resolutions and building on progress in the 6+6 negotiations aimed at producing viable electoral laws. Members reiterated their support for Bathily’s mediation and good offices role and urged Libyan stakeholders to engage fully, transparently, and in good faith with the Special Representative in a Libyan-led and UNSMIL-facilitated negotiation to reach agreement on politically contested issues pertaining to elections.
On 29 September, the Council adopted resolution 2698, renewing for one year 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 resolution received 14 votes in favour and one abstention (Russia).
Human Rights-Related Developments
On 13 September, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Volker Türk issued a statement expressing concern about the floods in Libya, which he described as “another lethal reminder of the catastrophic impact that a changing climate can have on our world”. Türk called on all Libyan political actors to overcome political deadlocks and divisions and to act collectively to ensure access to relief. He emphasised that human rights must be “at the centre of response to this heartbreaking situation”.
On 18 August, the 1970 Libya Sanctions Committee held informal consultations to consider the final report of the committee’s Panel of Experts, submitted in accordance with paragraph 13 of resolution 2644 of 13 July 2022. The report covered a range of issues, including acts that threaten the peace, stability or security of Libya, particularly the acts of Libyan armed groups; violations of international humanitarian law and human rights, including in the context of human trafficking and migrant smuggling; violations of the arms embargo; illicit exports of refined petroleum products; and implementation of the assets freeze. The committee discussed the recommendations contained in the final report and is considering follow-up action.
On 4 August, the committee met with a delegation from the Libyan Investment Authority (LIA), the country’s sovereign wealth fund, which remains subject to assets-freeze measures under the Libya sanctions regime. Representatives of Ernst & Young—an audit company retained by the LIA—and the Libya Panel of Experts also attended the meeting.
Key Issues and Options
A key issue for the Council in October is renewing UNSMIL’s mandate. As was the case for the current mandate in resolution 2656 of 28 October 2022, the Council is likely to retain the mission’s core mandated tasks as set out in resolution 2542 of 15 September 2020 and paragraph 16 of resolution 2570 of 16 April 2021. The Council might consider adding language welcoming the 6+6 committee’s draft electoral legislation, urging national stakeholders to reach consensus on politically contentious issues and calling on Bathily to step up his mediation and good offices role in this regard. The Council might also consider strengthening UNSMIL’s role in supporting and coordinating the international humanitarian response to Storm Daniel.
Another issue for the Council is reauthorising the measures set out in resolution 2146 of 19 March 2014 related to the illicit export of petroleum from Libya. That resolution authorised member states to inspect on the high seas vessels designated by the 1970 Sanctions Committee for facilitating such export. The authorisation was most recently renewed by resolution 2644, which also extended the mandate of the Panel of Experts until 15 November.
Council members remain united on the need for a Libyan-led inclusive process to result in elections foreseen as restoring political, security, and economic stability. They are also broadly supportive of Bathily’s mediation efforts in this regard. While positions have previously diverged on whether to establish a new interim government prior to holding elections, views now appear to be converging in favour after both the UN and the US expressed support for this course of action during the Council’s August meeting on Libya, after having previously opposed it.
Between September 2021 and July 2022, the Council renewed UNSMIL’s mandate five times through short-term extensions because of disagreements among Council members on several issues, including the length of the mandate, the restructuring of the mission, and the appointment of UNSMIL’s leadership. (For more, see our What’s in Blue stories of 13 September 2021, 1 October 2021, 31 January 2022, 29 April 2022 and 28 July 2022.) Following the appointment of Bathily in September 2022, however, the Council unanimously adopted resolution 2656 on 28 October 2022, which renewed UNSMIL’s mandate for one year. In October, the Council is likely to adopt another one-year extension.
The UK is the penholder on Libya.
|Security Council Resolutions|
|28 October 2022S/RES/2656||This resolution extended UNSMIL’s mandate until 31 October 2023.|
|13 July 2022S/RES/2644||This was a resolution renewing the measures related to the illicit export of petroleum from Libya until 30 October 2023 and the mandate of the Panel of Experts assisting the 1970 Libya Sanctions Committee until 15 November 2023.|
|19 March 2014S/RES/2146||This resolution imposed measures on vessels transporting crude oil that had been illicitly exported from Libya.|
|Security Council Presidential Statements|
|29 March 2023S/PRST/2023/3||This was a presidential statement adopted by the Security Council following its visiting mission to the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), which took place between 9 and 12 March 2023.|
|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.|