What's In Blue

Council to Renew UNSMIL Mandate

Tomorrow morning (12 September), the Security Council is scheduled to adopt a resolution renewing the mandate of the United Nations Support Mission in Libya (UNSMIL), which is set to expire on 15 September.

The situation in Libya

Libya’s capital, Tripoli, continues to be the scene of fighting that 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. As a result of this fighting, the number of displaced people in the capital stands at 119,925, according to a 1 September estimate by UNHCR. After initial military gains by the LNA around Tripoli, the front lines have remained mostly static since mid-April, with increasing air strikes, use of heavy weaponry, and indiscriminate artillery shelling of densely populated civilian areas. The geographical scope of the fighting has broadened, however, including an attack by the GNA in the central Jufrah region and air strikes by the LNA in Misrata. The conflict is fuelled by support from abroad, including military support channelled to both the GNA and the LNA in violation of the UN 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 comes from France, Russia, and the US.

Recent Council Meetings and UNSMIL Mandate Renewal

On 4 September, the Council heard its bi-monthly briefings by the Special Representative and head of UNSMIL, Ghassan Salamé, and the chair of the 1970 Libya Sanctions Committee, Deputy Permanent Representative of Germany Ambassador Jürgen Schulz. During his briefing, Salamé referred to violations of the UN arms embargo as “routine and often blatant on the part of both of the main parties to the conflict and their respective sponsor member states”, concluding that “the arms embargo has been ineffective since 4 April”. In his latest report on UNSMIL, the Secretary-General expresses his “serious concern” over the possibility of the conflict escalating “into full civil war.”

Reacting to the announcement by the GNA of the closure of three detention centres, including one in Tajoura that had been hit by an air strike attributed to LNA forces in early July, in which 53 people were killed and over 130 others were injured, Salamé remarked that migrants were still being sent to the Tajoura detention centre.

Updating the Council on his three-step-plan for ending the conflict—a humanitarian truce during Eid al-Adha, including confidence-building measures between the parties; a high-level conference of “concerned countries”; and a “Libyan meeting of leading and influential personalities from all over the country”—Salamé reported that there had been “a substantial reduction in violence along the main fronts” during Eid al-Adha.

It seems that the UK, the penholder on Libya, circulated the first draft of the mandate renewal on 30 August. One round of sit-down negotiations took place on 3 September, with further negotiations taking place via e-mail. A second draft was circulated on 5 September, and a third on 9 September, which passed silence on 10 September and is now in blue. The draft would renew UNMSIL’s mandate for a further twelve months until 15 September 2020, which is in line with the Secretary-General’s recommendation in his latest report on UNSMIL. It appears that the negotiations were held in a constructive atmosphere and a unanimous adoption is expected.

In considering the situation on the ground, Council members seem to have been unified behind the UK’s approach to adapt the mandate slightly. In his 4 September briefing to the Council, Salamé encouraged the Council “to consider adding a provision to the Mission’s mandate to enable scalable ceasefire support for whatever form of further truce or cessation of hostilities is agreed between the parties.” The draft in blue, in its operative part, adds such a provision, deciding that UNMSIL shall support a possible ceasefire, and expanding the Secretary-General’s reporting obligations accordingly. In this regard, the Council “requests the Secretary-General to assess the steps required to reach a lasting ceasefire, the possible role of UNSMIL in providing scalable ceasefire support and the steps required to advance the political process from its current trajectory, and to include a report on progress towards these objectives in his regular reporting.”

Since the launch of the LNA assault on Tripoli, initial efforts by the UK to draft a resolution calling for a ceasefire had failed to gain support from some permanent members. After three months, Council members agreed on a press statement on 5 July, followed by two more in August, endorsing a ceasefire. Language from the press statement can now be found in the preambular part of the resolution in blue, “reiterating calls for all parties to commit to a lasting ceasefire.”

Strengthened language on the arms embargo in this year’s renewal can be found both in the preambular part, “calling for full compliance with the arms embargo by all Member States”, and the operative part, where the Council “recalls its decision that all Member States shall comply with the arms embargo” and “welcomes efforts by the Libya Sanctions Committee’s Panel of Experts to investigate violations of the arms embargo, and notes its intention to hold those who violate the arms embargo accountable through its Sanctions Committee”.

New language on non-intervention, based on the 5 July press statement, also appears in the preambular and operative part, “calling on all Member States not to intervene in the conflict or take measures that exacerbate the conflict.”

Overall, the UK appears to have tried to streamline and shorten the text and delete outdated references. Language on the UN Action Plan on Libya was also cut. In relation to the hostilities following the 4 April assault by the LNA on Tripoli, the Council “expresses grave concern over ongoing hostilities in and around Tripoli, and the targeting of civilian infrastructure, further expressing concern over the exploitation of the conflict by terrorist and violent extremist groups”, in the preambular part.

It seems that a few members, including Belgium and Germany, would have liked to see language explicitly requesting UNMSIL to monitor the situation in respect of women, peace and security and children and armed conflict in Libya. It appears that during closed consultations following the open session on 4 September, Salamé stressed that UNMSIL’s capacity is stretched as is, so the penholder did not include such provisions.

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