What's In Blue

Posted Fri 26 Jul 2019

Libya: Briefing and Consultations on UNSMIL and Libya Sanctions

On Monday (29 July), the Security Council is scheduled to hold its bimonthly meeting on the UN Support Mission in Libya (UNSMIL) and Libya sanctions. Special Representative and head of UNSMIL Ghassan Salamé is expected to brief via video teleconference from Tripoli. The Deputy Permanent Representative of Germany, Ambassador Jürgen Schulz, will brief the Council on Libya sanctions in his capacity as chair of the 1970 Libya Sanctions Committee. The briefings will be followed by consultations.

The meeting comes at a time of ongoing fighting around Libya’s capital, Tripoli, which started on 4 April, when General Khalifa Haftar, head of the eastern-based militia known as the Libyan National Army (LNA), launched an offensive towards Tripoli and against the internationally recognised and UN-backed Government of National Accord (GNA) based there. According to 9 July data from the World Health Organisation, the casualty rate resulting from the fighting then stood at 1048 dead, 106 of them civilians; and 5558 injured, including 289 civilians. Reports indicate that individuals listed for targeted sanctions by the Council have participated in the fighting. Haftar continues to portray himself as fighting against terrorists and violent extremists, which has garnered support from a number of UN member states, including some Council members. Haftar’s offensive halted a UN-supported political process and caused indefinite postponement of the National Conference scheduled for 14-16 April. The aim of the National Conference was for Libyans to agree on the holding of parliamentary and presidential elections as well as a constitutional referendum.

The head of the GNA, Libya’s prime minister Fayez al-Sarraj, has stated that he will not negotiate a political solution with Haftar. After initial military gains by the LNA around Tripoli, the front lines have remained mostly static, with increasing air strikes and indiscriminate artillery shelling of densely populated civilian areas. At the beginning of July, however, the LNA lost control over the city of Gharyan, which is located along a major supply route. The conflict is fuelled by support from abroad, including military support channelled to both the GNA and the LNA in violation of the arms embargo. Reportedly, Turkey and Qatar support the GNA militarily while Egypt, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates provide military support to the LNA. Political support for Haftar also comes from France, Russia, and the US.

On 3 July, the Council met in consultations after a 2 July air strike on a Tripoli suburb killed 53 people and injured over 130 others at the Tajoura migrant detention center, operated by the Department of Combating Illegal Migration under the Ministry of the Interior. The Council issued a press statement (SC/13873) two days later, condemning the attack and stressing “the need for all parties to urgently de-escalate the situation and to commit to a ceasefire.” It further called upon all UN member states to fully respect the arms embargo and rapidly return to UN-led political mediation. It was the first time since the launch of the LNA’s offensive towards Tripoli that the Council was able to agree on a statement.

Members may be interested in hearing from Salamé how the security and humanitarian situation in Libya is unfolding, and UNSMIL’s role in persuading the parties to commit to a ceasefire and a political process, including the preparation of elections. The current conflict threatens to further exacerbate long-standing political and economic divisions, mostly between Libya’s east and west.

Schulz, in his briefing, may refer to the case of Moncef Kartas, one of the arms experts of the panel of experts assisting the sanctions committee. Kartas, a German-Tunisian national, was arrested on 26 March, and detained on espionage charges by Tunisian authorities “in violation of the privileges and immunities that have been granted to Mr. Kartas”, according to the UN Spokesperson. On 21 May, a Tunisian appeals court decided to release Kartas, and he was able to return to Germany. However, the case against him is still open. Schulz may address how this case could affect the work of the panel of experts. He may further brief on requests received for exemptions to the travel ban for listed individuals. Regarding the fighting around Tripoli since 4 April, it seems that the panel of experts has sent regular updates on violations of the arms embargo to the committee, including on the 2 July air strike on the migrant detention centre in Tajoura.

On 16 July, a P3+3 statement – Council members France, the UK, the US as well as Egypt, Italy, and the United Arab Emirates – called for a halt to the fighting in Libya, a return by the parties to the “UN-mediated political process”, and a need for the process to be re-energised. The countries stated that there can be no military solution in Libya, and called upon UN member states to “prevent destabilizing arms shipments”.

Looking ahead, the mandate of UNSMIL will need to be renewed before its expiry on 15 September.

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