Consultations on Mediation Efforts Amidst Deteriorating Security Situation in Libya
Tomorrow afternoon (4 November), Bernardino León, the Special Representative of the Secretary-General and head of the UN Support Mission in Libya (UNSMIL), will brief Council members in consultations. During the briefing, which was requested by the UK, León is expected to give Council members an update on the two recent meetings he has facilitated among members of the House of Representatives in Ghadames and Tripoli on 29 September and 11 October, as well as on the deteriorating security situation on the ground. It seems a press statement will be negotiated following the meeting.
It is possible that León may give a bleaker assessment of the situation in Libya tomorrow than the one he presented in September. In a 28 October press conference in Tripoli, León stated that Libya was “running out of time” and “getting very close to the point of no return”. Even though on 15 September León said it was too early to impose sanctions under resolution 2174 (adopted on 27 August), Council members might ask whether the rapid deterioration of the security situation has changed this assessment.
Despite the calls for a ceasefire, the security situation remains critical. Fighting persists in areas in the west and south-west of Tripoli, as well as in Benghazi, where the operation led by rogue general, Khalifa Haftar, as well as the actions by terrorist group Ansar al-Sharia have violated international humanitarian law by indiscriminately targeting civilians. Today, the army asked residents in the central district of Benghazi to evacuate the area ahead of a major military operation. (It seems that Ansar al-Sharia is likely to be listed under the 1267/1989 Al-Qaida Sanctions Committee in the coming weeks.)
León is expected to brief on the two meetings he has facilitated with members of the House of Representatives. It seems some elected members of the House of Representatives had been feeling alienated by decisions taken by the House and had started boycotting its work. As León explained during the 15 September consultations, the rationale for these meetings is to create the conditions for the normal functioning of the legitimate House of Representatives, the formation of a representative government in Libya (ending the current standoff of two rival parliaments and governments) and, ultimately, providing for the withdrawal of militias from cities and airports throughout Libya. (The Tobruk-based House of Representatives, which is considered the only legitimate legislative body by the Security Council, is being challenged by the former parliament, the General National Congress, which sits in Tripoli.)
Council members might also be interested in knowing León’s strategy for brokering a ceasefire among Misrata-based and Islamist militias (Libya Dawn) and Zintan-based militias that supported Haftar’s 16 May failed coup. Even though León’s plan seems to be to tackle that issue only after bridging divisions within the House of Representatives and addressing the political standoff, Council members might question whether the status quo is sustainable. (A 30 October report by Amnesty International concluded that “militias and armed groups on all sides have committed serious human rights abuses and violations of international humanitarian law some of which amount to war crimes”.)
Council members might inquire as to whether Haftar’s actions in Benghazi are further polarising Libyan society after the 19 October endorsement of his actions by the House of Representatives, and how this might impact León’s mediation efforts to bring together alienated members of the House. A UK-drafted press statement highlighting the Council’s concern over Haftar’s actions in Benghazi was circulated to Council members on 22 October and put on hold a few days later following the opposition of Russia over naming and shaming Haftar on the basis that it might affect the political process. Any negotiations on a new press statement following the meeting are likely to face similar arguments if there is a renewed push to include language on Haftar’s actions.
Some Council members might want more information about the involvement of regional actors in the crisis in Libya. Recently both Algeria and Sudan offered to facilitate peace talks on Libya. Following an agreement on military cooperation between the House of Representatives and Egypt, airstrikes were reportedly conducted by Egypt in mid-October against militia-held positions in Benghazi, the third such strike in two months. The Turkish special envoy to Libya, Emrullah İşer, met with the self-declared prime minister, Omar al-Hassi, in the latter’s first public meeting with a foreign representative.
Finally, Council members are likely to ask León whether UNSMIL’s mandate needs to be reformulated given the changed conditions on the ground.