What's In Blue

Posted Wed 27 Jan 2021

Libya: VTC Briefing and Consultations

Tomorrow morning (28 January), Security Council members are scheduled to hold an open videoconference (VTC) briefing, followed by closed VTC consultations, on the United Nations Assistance Mission in Libya (UNSMIL). The Acting Special Representative and head of UNSMIL, Stephanie Williams, will brief. The Permanent Representative of India, Ambassador T. S. Tirumurti, might brief the Council on Libya sanctions in his capacity as the new chair of the 1970 Libya Sanctions Committee.


A 14-month-long assault by the Libyan Arab Armed Forces (LAAF, also known as the Libyan National Army) under General Khalifa Haftar against Libya’s capital, Tripoli, and the internationally recognised Libyan Government of National Accord (GNA) based there, was halted by armed groups supporting the GNA in June 2020 around the town of Sirte. Both the LAAF and the GNA receive foreign military backing in violation of UN sanctions. All foreign sponsors except Turkey deny their role in Libya.

As a result of the Berlin Conference on Libya in January 2020, negotiations between the Libyan parties along three tracks (economic, political and security) are underway. On 23 October 2020 the 5+5 Joint Military Commission (5+5 JMC)—consisting of five representatives each from the LAAF and the GNA—signed a permanent ceasefire agreement including a request for the Council to adopt a resolution supporting compliance of all national and international stakeholders with the ceasefire agreement. On 27 October 2020, Council members issued a press statement (SC/14339) welcoming the agreement. A 29 December 2020 report by the Secretary-General (S/2020/1309) proposes ceasefire monitoring arrangements, as requested by the Council (see below).

The Secretary-General’s UNSMIL Report

The security situation is expected to feature prominently in Williams’ briefing. The de facto truce around Sirte continues to hold, according to the Secretary-General’s report (S/2021/62). The ceasefire agreement stipulates that within three months from the day it was signed, “all military units and armed groups shall clear all confrontation lines and return to their camps”. Both LAAF and GNA forces maintain positions in different parts of Libya; in the case of the LAAF, it has fortified its presence in southern Libya, as stated in the Secretary-General’s report. The agreement also includes the departure of foreign fighters and mercenaries from all sovereign Libyan spaces (land, sea and air) within the three months. That deadline passed on 23 January. On 22 January, CNN reported that mercenaries of the Russian private military company Wagner Group were digging a trench between Sirte and the Jufra district. The Kremlin denies ties to the Wagner Group despite accusations to the contrary by various sources. Williams is expected to reiterate the Secretary-General’s call to respect the ceasefire agreement including “the departure of all foreign fighters and mercenaries from Libya, and the full and unconditional respect of the Security Council arms embargo”. Council members routinely call for an end to foreign interference in Libya and adherence to UN sanctions.

On the political track, the “Libyan Political Dialogue Forum” (LPDF) decided on a “political roadmap” on 15 November 2020, stating that parliamentary and presidential elections will be held on 24 December 2021. The LPDF consists of 75 participants representing the main Libyan geographical, social and political constituencies; 26 of its representatives were elected by the House of Representatives and the High Council of State and 49 (including 16 women) were selected by UNSMIL. The members of the LPDF agreed on a “reformed executive authority”, which will lead a “government of national unity” until the elections are held. The reformed executive authority will consist of a three-member Presidency Council, and a Prime Minister and two Deputy Prime Ministers. The LPDF, in the political roadmap, requested the leadership positions of the reformed executive authority to be composed of 30 per cent women. Candidacies for the positions are currently being submitted during a period of one week ending tomorrow, 28 January. Voting by the LPDF on the candidates will take place in Geneva, from 1 to 5 February. Council members are expected to commend the Libyan parties on progress made and express their continued support for a Libyan-led political process.

The financial consequences of the blockages of Libya’s major oil facilities for most of 2020 may be discussed. Militias and mercenaries allied with Haftar blockaded the oil installations, resulting in a complete loss of revenue from oil products, according to the Libyan National Oil Corporation. The Secretary-General estimates in his latest UNSMIL report that this has led to a shortfall of more than $10 billion for the country. Oil production returned to normal levels in December.

Another issue that might be raised by some Council members are developments around mass graves discovered in June 2020 in and around the city of Tarhouna. At least 120 bodies have been found since then. On 21 January, ten more bodies were discovered. The Secretary-General warns in his report of the continued operation of armed groups in the city, committing human rights abuses and violations with impunity.

The COVID-19 pandemic situation in Libya is expected to feature in the meeting. According to the Secretary-General, the number of confirmed cases has multiplied by five since September 2020; he warns that because of limited testing, the actual case number is likely to be much higher. At time of writing, Libya had 115,299 confirmed cases of COVID-19.

The Secretary-General’s report on ceasefire monitoring arrangements

International and domestic enforcement options for cases of non-compliance with the ceasefire are among the conditions needed for a ceasefire monitoring mechanism to be deployed, according to the Secretary-General’s report (S/2020/1309) on proposed ceasefire monitoring arrangements in Libya. He further emphasises that the requirements for such a mechanism “cannot currently be provided from existing UNSMIL resources”.

Williams is expected to elaborate on the proposal for a Libyan ceasefire monitoring mechanism (LCMM). The LCMM would report to the 5+5 JMC. Working together with the joint LAAF and GNA monitoring teams, the international monitors would also report to UNSMIL and be impartial, non-uniformed and unarmed. They will “be deployed under the auspices of the UN”. The 5+5 JMC has made clear that any support by regional organisations such as the African Union, the EU or the Arab League will have to be channelled through the UN or via in-kind contributions of equipment. The Libyan parties do not want any foreign forces, including uniformed UN personnel, on the ground. Initially, the UN and the Libyan monitors’ work would focus on the coastal road connecting Sirte with Abu Grein (a stretch of about 135 kilometres). Conditions permitting, they would start working in a triangle around Sirte, and potentially beyond at a later point and after the mechanism is scaled up. The Secretary-General emphasises that the 5+5 JMC is still discussing details on how to implement the ceasefire agreement, making it necessary for the UN to be flexible in its planning. Therefore, Williams might repeat the calls made by the Secretary-General for a “clear but flexible mandate” for UNSMIL so the international monitors can be deployed under its umbrella. In his report, the Secretary-General proposes that an advance team be deployed to Tripoli. Council members are currently considering a letter to the Secretary-General, requesting him to deploy the advance team and to report back to the Council with more information on the practicalities of the establishment of the LCMM.

Briefing by the chair of the 1970 Libya Sanctions Committee

Ambassador T. S. Tirumurti of India, the new chair of the 1970 Libya Sanctions Committee, might brief the Council on the committee’s activities over the past four months, assuming agreement can be reached by the committee on the chair’s statement. (Sanctions committee decisions and statements require consensus.) The practice is for the committee chair to brief the Council every two months, but during the bimonthly meeting on UNSMIL on 19 November 2020, German Deputy Permanent Representative Günter Sautter, then chair of the committee, was unable to brief the Council because of an objection raised by Russia. Its objection derived from an incident on 10 September 2020, when the EU military operation in the Mediterranean (EUNAVFOR MED IRINI) intercepted the merchant vessel Royal Diamond 7 in international waters off the coast of Libya, suspecting that it was violating the UN’s arms embargo. According to Operation Irini, which acts under the Council’s authorisation, the ship carried jet fuel “likely to be used for military purposes” and was on its way from Sharjah in the UAE to Benghazi in Libya. (The UAE is reportedly among the military supporters of Haftar’s LAAF.) Operation Irini further stated that it had acted based “on information provided by [the] UN Panel of Experts on Libya”. It appears that Russia had argued that jet fuel does not fall under the UN’s arms embargo and therefore objected to the chair’s statement including a reference to the case of the Royal Diamond 7. It seems that the committee is facing the same dynamics now. At time of writing, it was not yet clear whether consensus on the chair’s statement would be found.

New UNSMIL Leadership

Following a difficult selection process, Council members are also expected to welcome the appointment of Ján Kubiš as Special Envoy to Libya and head of UNSMIL on 18 January. On 2 March 2020, then-UNSMIL head Ghassan Salamé announced his resignation, citing stress-related health reasons. Members are also likely to thank Williams for her work; she has been acting as head of UNSMIL since Salamé resigned. Kubiš is expected to take up his position in early February.

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