What's In Blue

Posted Thu 20 May 2021

Libya: VTC Briefing and Consultations

Tomorrow morning (21 May), Security Council members are scheduled to hold an open videoconference (VTC) briefing, followed by closed VTC consultations, on the UN Assistance Mission in Libya (UNSMIL). Special Envoy to Libya and head of UNSMIL Ján Kubiš will brief. Ambassador T.S. Tirumurti (India) is expected to brief the Council in his capacity as the chair of the 1970 Libya Sanctions Committee.

Kubiš is expected to update Council members on the latest political developments in Libya. The “political roadmap” adopted in November 2020 by the Libyan Political Dialogue Forum (LPDF)—which consists of 75 participants representing the main Libyan geographical, social and political constituencies—stipulates that parliamentary and presidential elections will be held on 24 December 2021. The new Government of National Unity (GNU) was sworn in on 15 March and will serve as an interim governing authority in the lead-up to the elections. The LPDF elected Abdul Hamid Mohammed Dbeibah as the new Prime Minister-designate and Mohammad Younes Menfi as President-designate of the Presidency Council.

Council members may be interested to hear more from Kubiš on the preparations for the elections. The Constitutional Committee—which was established by the House of Representatives (HoR) and the High State Council (HSC) to determine a constitutional basis for national elections—drafted a proposal that calls for a referendum to be held on the 2017 draft constitution before the presidential and legislative elections take place. The proposal also stipulates that the Head of State and the members of the HoR will be elected through universal and direct suffrage, according to laws articulated by the HoR in agreement with the HSC. While the HSC approved the Constitutional Committee’s proposal on 16 February, the HoR has yet to consider it. In resolution 2570 of 16 April, which approved UN support for the Libyan Ceasefire Monitoring Mechanism (LCMM), Council members noted the need for the constitutional and legislative basis for the electoral process to be put in place by 1 July to permit adequate preparations for the 24 December parliamentary and presidential elections.

Council members are also likely to be interested in hearing updates on the implementation of the ceasefire agreement, which was signed by the Libyan Arab Armed Forces (LAAF, also known as the Libyan National Army – LNA) and the Government of National Accord (GNA) on 23 October 2020. The agreement calls for the departure of foreign fighters and mercenaries from Libya and for all armed forces to withdraw from the lines of battle. In his latest UNSMIL report (S/2021/451), dated 11 May, the Secretary-General said that the ceasefire agreement continued to hold during the reporting period, but noted that UNSMIL had received reports of “fortifications and defensive positions being set up along the Sirte-Jufra axis in central Libya”. In addition, the Secretary-General referred to reports that there has been no reduction in the presence of foreign fighters in Libya.

At tomorrow’s meeting, several Council members are likely to reiterate their calls for the full withdrawal of all foreign fighters from Libya. On 29 April, Council members held an informal interactive dialogue on Libya with a focus on the issue of foreign fighters and mercenaries in the country at the initiative of the “A3 plus one” (Kenya, Niger, Tunisia and Saint Vincent and the Grenadines). Some Council members, including the African members of the Council, might warn against the potentially destabilising effects of foreign forces in Libya on neighbouring countries. One recent example is Chad, where fighting between government forces and rebels who invaded from Libya resulted in the death of Chadian President Idriss Déby on 19 April. These Council members may also emphasise the need for coordinated disarmament, demobilisation and reintegration efforts to contribute to the timely withdrawal of foreign fighters and mercenaries.

Council members are likely to call on the Libyan parties to implement the provisions of the ceasefire agreement and carry out additional confidence-building measures. In this regard, some may note as a positive step the 31 March release of combatants and political detainees, which was facilitated by the GNU in coordination with the leadership of the LNA. In addition, the LNA command released dozens of additional detainees on 7 May and pledged to release more detainees after Eid-al-Fitr.

Members may also seek further information on the progress towards the operationalisation of the LCMM. They may want to hear the status of the conditions that need to be met for the deployment of international monitors to support the LCMM, as authorised by resolution 2570. The UN and the Libyan monitors are initially expected to focus on the coastal road connecting Sirte with Abu Grein, and members may want to hear more about the security situation in that area. According to the Secretary-General’s report, the road has not reopened, reportedly because of political obstacles and tensions between Western-affiliated armed groups and pro-LNA mercenaries. Some Council members may call on the parties to work towards the reopening of the coastal road to further build confidence between the sides and facilitate the deployment of ceasefire monitors.

Several Council members, including European members of the Council, may refer to reported violations of human rights in the country. In this regard, UNSMIL has received numerous reports of enforced disappearances, arbitrary arrests and detentions and conflict-related sexual violence, including instances in official places of detention. Members may also highlight the vulnerability of female migrants and refugees, who face heightened risks of rape, sexual harassment and trafficking by transnational smugglers and armed groups, according to the Secretary-General’s report.

At tomorrow’s meeting, Ambassador T.S. Tirumurti of India is expected to provide his first briefing as the chair of the 1970 Libya Sanctions Committee. The practice is for the committee chair to brief the Council on the committee’s activities every two months, but the Council has not received this briefing since September 2020. Sanctions committee decisions and statements require consensus, which the Council was unable to reach 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 it of 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 the 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 arms embargo and therefore objected to the chair’s statement, including a reference to the case of the Royal Diamond 7.

At the time of writing, it appears that a consensus was reached, allowing the chair to brief at tomorrow’s meeting. It seems that the statement may not mention the Royal Diamond 7 incident.