What's In Blue

Posted Wed 2 Jun 2021

Libya Sanctions: Vote on a Resolution*

Tomorrow (3 June), the Security Council is expected to vote in person on a draft resolution renewing for one year the authorisation for member states, acting nationally or through regional organisations, to inspect vessels on the high seas off the coast of Libya, bound to or from Libya, that they have reasonable grounds to believe are violating the arms embargo.

The authorisation also allows member states to seize and dispose of any cargo detected which is subject to the arms embargo. The current authorisation, which was last renewed by resolution 2526 of 5 June 2020, expires on 5 June.


The authorisation was established by resolution 2292 of 14 June 2016. The Secretary-General reports once a year on the implementation of resolution 2292 and the subsequent resolutions which extended the authorisation. In his latest report, issued on 5 May, the Secretary-General noted that the full implementation of the arms embargo would help to support the ongoing political process in Libya, enhance the security environment, and curb the proliferation of arms within Libya and across the region.

The EU military operation in the Mediterranean (EUNAVFOR MED operation IRINI) was the only regional arrangement acting under the Council’s authorisations during the reporting period of the Secretary-General’s report. The EU launched operation IRINI on 31 March 2020, with the aim of supporting the arms embargo and the Libyan peace process. It succeeded EUNAVFOR MED SOPHIA. While operation SOPHIA’s primary goal was to disrupt human smuggling and trafficking networks pursuant to resolution 2240 of 9 October 2015, operation IRINI’s primary task is to inspect vessels that violate the arms embargo as mandated in resolution 2292. In his latest report, the Secretary-General called on other member states to complement the EU efforts.

As at 18 May, IRINI had conducted 3,244 hailings in the Central Mediterranean, including 122 friendly approaches and 13 vessel inspections. One such inspection led to the seizure on 10 September 2020 of jet A-1 fuel from the vessel Royal Diamond 7, which was traveling to Libya from the United Arab Emirates (UAE). Operation IRINI determined the fuel as “likely to be used for military purposes” and as such, maintained that it falls under the arms embargo. In the Security Council, Russia disagrees with this finding, while others, including the European Council members, maintain that the seizure was in line with relevant Security Council resolutions.

Due to this disagreement, the Council had been unable to reach consensus on the briefing by the chair of the 1970 Libya Sanctions Committee from September 2020 until earlier this month. (The practice is for the committee chair to brief the Council on the committee’s activities every two months, but members need to agree on the chair’s statement before it is delivered.) Ambassador T. S. Tirumurti of India provided a briefing in his capacity as chair of the 1970 Libya Sanctions Committee during the last Council meeting on Libya, which took place on 21 May. However, his briefing did not address the Royal Diamond 7 incident, as it covered the period since January 2021.

Negotiations on the Draft Resolution

The negotiations on the draft resolution appear to have been smooth. The draft text in blue seems to be a straightforward renewal of the measures contained in resolution 2526 of 2020. The draft contains new language in its preambular part reflecting recent developments, including a reference to resolution 2570 of 16 April, which authorised UN support to the Libyan-led ceasefire monitoring mechanism.

Estonia and France, the co-penholders of this year’s reauthorisation, convened an expert-level meeting to discuss the text on 27 May and circulated a draft of the resolution shortly thereafter. The comment period on the draft was extended several times at the request of one Council member, but then the draft passed silence, without changes to the version proposed by the penholders today (2 June).

While deliberations on the draft text were taking place, Council members convened for an Informal Interactive Dialogue (IID) on 28 May to hear a briefing by the EU on the implementation of the Council authorisations through operation IRINI. Russia had requested the meeting, as it has done several times in the past, including ahead of last year’s renewal. The operation’s information-gathering and search and rescue methods were a focus of the meeting. The seizure of jet fuel from the Royal Diamond 7 was also discussed. It appears that most Council members used the meeting to express their support for the EU operation, while Stefano Tomat, the EU Action Service Director for Common Security and Defence Policy, briefed on IRINI’s recent activities.

During the negotiations on resolution 2526 (last year’s reauthorisation resolution which was adopted unanimously), Russia was apparently the only member that expressed scepticism around whether IRINI’s mandate is within the scope of the Council’s authorisation. It seems that during this year’s negotiations, Russia was not as vocal in raising such concerns.

The implementation of the arms embargo on Libya remains a divisive issue in the Council, as reports by the Panel of Experts assisting the 1970 Libya Sanctions Committee indicate that a number of member states, including Council members, are involved in breaches of UN sanctions, including the arms embargo. The final report of the Panel of Experts assisting the 1970 Libya Sanctions Committee, covering the period from 25 October 2019 to 24 January, concluded that “violations are extensive, blatant and [are carried out] with complete disregard for the sanctions measures”. Against this backdrop, several members apparently hope for a unanimous adoption of the draft text in blue to signal the Council’s support for the full implementation of the arms embargo.


*Post-Script: On 3 June, the Council unanimously adopted resolution 2578, renewing for 12 months the authorisation for member states, acting nationally or through regional organisations, to inspect vessels on the high seas off the coast of Libya bound to or from the country that they have reasonable grounds to believe are violating the arms embargo.

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