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Council Adopts Resolution on the Berlin Conference on Libya

Yesterday afternoon (12 February), the Security Council adopted a resolution endorsing the conclusions of the Berlin Conference on Libya (S/RES/2510). The resolution was adopted with 14 votes in favour and one abstention (Russia).


Libya’s capital, Tripoli, has been the scene of fighting for over ten months, starting on 4 April 2019 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. Libya does not have professional security forces, and the GNA currently relies on armed groups for its security. The proxy dimension of the Libyan conflict continues to intensify, in breach of UN sanctions. Reportedly Turkey and Qatar support the GNA militarily while Egypt, Jordan, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates provide military support to the LNA; different Chadian and Sudanese armed groups support both sides, and accusations have been made that mercenaries of the private but reportedly Kremlin-affiliated Russian military company Wagner Group are also involved on the ground in support of the LNA.

At the Berlin Conference on Libya, high-level representatives from Algeria, China, Egypt, France, Germany, Italy, Russia, Turkey, the Republic of the Congo, the United Arab Emirates, the UK, and the US, and senior officials from the UN, the African Union, the European Union, and the League of Arab States, adopted conclusions on 19 January on six areas (“baskets”) related to the conflict in Libya. The six baskets are political, economic and financial, security, arms embargo, international humanitarian law, and international human rights law matters. The head of the GNA, Fayez Al-Serraj, and Haftar were both in Berlin but not formally a part of the conference. During his 30 January briefing to the Council, the Special Representative and head of the United Nations Support Mission in Libya (UNSMIL), Ghassan Salamé, expressed his anger that “the warring parties have continued to receive a sizeable amount of advanced equipment, in addition to fighters and advisers from foreign sponsors—in brazen violation of the arms embargo and the pledges made by representatives of those countries in Berlin”.

UNSMIL began to work on the six baskets before the conference. Serraj and Haftar have each nominated five representatives for the 5+5 Joint Military Commission (part of the “security” basket). Its first meeting took place on 3 February in Geneva, with Salamé conducting shuttle diplomacy between the two parties.

In July 2019, Salamé proposed three steps to end the conflict: a truce, a high-level conference of “concerned countries”, and a “Libyan meeting of leading and influential personalities from all over the country”. In his 30 January briefing to the Council, Salamé said that “since 12 January, the Mission has recorded more than 110 reported violations of the truce”. The Berlin Conference on Libya represented the second step proposed by Salamé.

Resolution 2510

Before negotiations began, Council members contemplated several options for endorsement of the Berlin conference conclusions. One option would have been to have a very short text endorsing the conclusions and including them as an annex to the resolution. The UK, the penholder, opted for a more detailed approach, including language on issues related to all the “baskets” of the conclusions and the situation on the ground, including terrorist activity, the humanitarian situation and Libya’s oil resources.

During his 30 January briefing to the Council, Salamé emphasised that “specific endorsement of the Berlin conclusions by the Council through the adoption of a resolution would send a decisive signal not only to the Libyans but also to the spoilers—local and international alike—about the seriousness with which the international community regards this process”. In his statement during the meeting, Ambassador Taher M. El-Sonni (Libya) called upon the Council “to quickly adopt a resolution that can support the outcomes of the Berlin conference”.

It seems that the UK shared a first draft of the resolution with the whole membership of the Council during a meeting at expert level on 24 January. A first round of negotiations took place on Monday (27 January). A second draft was shared with Council members the following Friday (31 January) and a second round of negotiations took place on Monday (3 February). A third draft was put under silence on 4 February. Silence was broken by Russia and South Africa; China also had comments on the text. On Wednesday (5 February), Council members discussed the resolution in consultations under “any other business”, called for by Russia. It appears that Russia maintained that a resolution had little merit if both parties are not explicitly committed to the Berlin conference conclusions. Following the meeting on 5 February, the penholder engaged in several bilateral negotiations before putting the text into blue on Tuesday (10 February). It appears that an important reason for the delay in putting the text to a vote was to accommodate a desire by South Africa to wait for the AU Summit in Addis Ababa on 9 February.

The resolution reaffirms strong support for UNSMIL’s efforts and underscores the central role of the UN “in facilitating a Libyan-led and Libyan-owned inclusive political process”. It further recognises “the important role of neighbouring countries and regional organisations, notably the African Union, League of Arab States and European Union”. It also “notes the planned African Union intra-Libyan reconciliation meeting in support of UN efforts”.

Welcoming the Berlin conference, the resolution recalls that the participants committed to refrain from “interference in the armed conflict or in the internal affairs of Libya”. The Council further “affirms the need for a lasting ceasefire in Libya at the earliest opportunity, without preconditions”.

The Council endorses the conclusions of the Berlin conference in the text and requests that the Secretary-General “take forward” the tasks described in an operationalisation paper (S/2020/63), as well as “make recommendations to the Council on the options reflected in the paper”. In relation to the 5+5 Joint Military Commission, the Council calls for the Commission’s meetings to continue with the goal of agreeing to a permanent ceasefire. That would include “the terms of reference for a ceasefire monitoring and verification mechanism, the separation of forces, confidence building measures and the establishment of associated working groups supported by the UN”. In that regard, the Council requests the Secretary-General to submit an interim report to the Council “on the necessary conditions for, and proposals on effective ceasefire monitoring under the auspices of the UN, including reporting and dispute resolution mechanisms with a view to making detailed recommendations to the Security Council as soon as possible, when a ceasefire mechanism is agreed by the Libyan parties”.

The participants in Berlin further agreed to establish an International Follow-Up Committee (IFC) to coordinate efforts to implement the conclusions. The resolution requests the Secretary-General to report on its progress.

Shortly before the Berlin conference, forces allied with the LNA effectively shut down nearly all of Libya’s oil fields and terminals, leading to massive revenue loss for the Libyan state. The resolution “condemns the recent blockade of oil facilities and stresses that operations should continue unimpeded for the benefit of all Libyans”.

With regard to violations of the arms embargo and a potential ceasefire, the Council stresses that the 1970 Libya Sanctions Committee “shall consider the designation of individuals or entities” breaching the arms embargo “or the ceasefire, once agreed”. The Council further “demands full compliance including by all Member States with the arms embargo…including by ceasing all support for and withdrawing all armed mercenary personnel”. Russia reportedly objected to the reference to mercenary personnel in the negotiations, but its views on this issue were not reflected in the final text. Council members had previously expressed concern about the “growing involvement of mercenaries” in a 2 December 2019 press statement (SC/14037).

The penholder accommodated a number of proposals in the revised text that was ultimately put into blue. A paragraph welcoming the discussions on Libya at the AU Summit in Addis Ababa was apparently added, reportedly in keeping with South Africa’s desire for reference to the summit. Language added reaffirming the need to combat terrorist acts that threaten international peace and security, in accordance with international law, including the Charter of the United Nations, seems to have reflected China’s input. At the request of Russia, it also appears that text was added to the final draft that reaffirms the Council’s intention to unfreeze assets at a later date so that they are available to and benefit the Libyan people.

It seems that several Council members were in favour of a swift adoption of a resolution endorsing the Berlin conference conclusions, although Russia expressed its concern about pursuing the product while, as Ambassador Vassily Nebenzia (Russia) said in his explanation of vote yesterday, there is not a clear view on whether all sides are ready to implement the resolution. In this regard, it seems that a number of Council members have concerns about the commitment of the LNA, in particular, to the Berlin conclusions. Russia further expressed the view that violations in the implementation of the 2011 resolution on Libya (that is, resolution 1973) resulted in the difficult situation facing the country today. In her explanation of vote, Ambassador Karen Pierce (UK) maintained (S/PV.8722) that the Council does not act only when the parties on the ground want it to act and that the resolution gives concrete expression to the decisions adopted at Berlin.

During his statement, Ambassador El Sonni (Libya) welcomed the resolution and said that his government “reiterate[s] our support of the outcomes of the Berlin Conference”.

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