What's In Blue

Posted Fri 1 Oct 2021

Libya: Yesterday’s Vote on a Resolution Renewing UNSMIL’s Mandate

Yesterday (30 September), the Security Council voted on a draft resolution extending the mandate of the UN Support Mission in Libya (UNSMIL) until 31 January 2022. The text, which was unanimously adopted as resolution 2599, is a technical renewal of UNSMIL’s mandate as set out in resolution 2542 of 15 September 2020 and paragraph 16 of resolution 2570 of 16 April.

Yesterday’s vote followed several weeks of difficult negotiations, in which Russia repeatedly expressed concerns regarding the draft texts proposed by the UK, the penholder on Libya. It appears that disagreements persisted over language relating to the withdrawal of foreign fighters and mercenaries and provisions on the implementation of the recommendations of the independent strategic review of UNSMIL, which the Council requested in resolution 2542. (The Secretary-General shared a report of the review with Council members in a 6 August letter.) Because of these disagreements, the Council failed twice this month to adopt a new text with substantive changes, instead extending UNSMIL’s existing mandate, first for two weeks and then for four months.

Earlier this month, a draft text proposed by the UK which sought to renew the mission’s mandate ahead of its 15 September expiry (in accordance with resolution 2542) was put in blue on 10 September but was not tabled for a vote which was scheduled on 14 September because Russia apparently found it unacceptable. On 15 September, the Council instead adopted resolution 2595, a technical rollover of the mission’s mandate until 30 September, to allow Council members time for further deliberations.

(For background on the negotiations on the draft resolution that was not tabled for a vote earlier this month, please see our 13 September What’s in Blue story.) 

In the two weeks that followed the adoption of resolution 2595, it seems that the UK and Russia held intensive bilateral negotiations. The penholder sought to build on its draft resolution of 10 September, which had not been put to a vote, making several modifications to the original text to find common ground. However, it appears that disagreements with Russia persisted over language relating to the withdrawal of foreign fighters and mercenaries and on the implementation of the recommendations of the independent strategic review of UNSMIL.

The UK placed at least three different iterations of its draft in blue over the course of Tuesday (28 September) and Wednesday (29 September). The vote was postponed several times to allow for further deliberations on the text. The third iteration of the UK-proposed draft apparently accommodated one of Russia’s formulations regarding the withdrawal of foreign fighters and mercenaries but was unacceptable to the US. Russia placed its own draft resolution in blue on Wednesday (29 September) evening. Yesterday (30 September) morning, the Council’s permanent members apparently convened to consult on the way forward and the vote was moved from 10 am to 2 pm. However, no compromise was reached, and shortly before the vote, the UK put a new draft in blue for another technical renewal of UNSMIL’s mandate until 31 January 2022.

It appears that several versions of the resolution proposed by the penholder in the past several days retained some elements of its original 10 September draft resolution. These drafts welcomed the strategic review and requested UNSMIL to fully implement its recommendations. They further called for changes to be made to the mission’s structure, in accordance with the strategic review’s recommendation that UNSMIL’s Special Envoy be relocated from Geneva to Tripoli and for this position to be converted into a Special Representative, supported by two Deputy Special Representatives, one for political affairs and the other serving as the Resident and Humanitarian Coordinator. (Resolution 2542 replaced the position of the Libya-based Special Representative with a Geneva-based Special Envoy and introduced a Libya-based UNSMIL Coordinator in charge of managing the mission’s day-to-day operations.)

The draft texts proposed by the UK after the adoption of resolution 2595 contained modifications to its 10 September draft, which were apparently aimed at addressing Russia’s concerns. It seems that one of these centred on the timing of the implementation of the strategic review’s recommendations. At Russia’s request, the draft texts asked the Secretary-General to retain his Special Envoy to Libya for a further three months (a later UK-proposed text called for a six-month extension). Yesterday (30 September), in its explanation of vote on resolution 2599, Russia said that recommendations of the strategic review would be “best implemented” after the conclusion of the elections in Libya, which are set to take place on 24 December. In their explanations of vote, the P3 (France, the UK and the US) lamented the Council’s failure to agree on the implementation of the strategic review’s recommendations and emphasised the need to replace the Geneva-based Special Envoy with a Libya-based Special Representative. The US argued that the strategic review’s recommendations on UNSMIL’s reconfiguration reflected Libyan stakeholders’ belief that the location of the Special Envoy in Geneva was a hindrance to the Special Envoy’s ability to engage with Libyan actors on the ground.

It seems that references to the withdrawal of foreign fighters and mercenaries was another difficult area of discussion. The draft texts initially proposed by the UK urged member states to support the implementation of the October 2020 ceasefire agreement, including through the withdrawal, without delay, of all foreign forces and mercenaries from Libya. In an apparent compromise with Russia, a later iteration of the draft resolution proposed by the UK added a qualifier to that language, calling for the “coordinated, comprehensive and balanced” withdrawal of foreign troops from Libya. It appears that the US objected to this formulation, and a UK revision instead called for a “synchronised” withdrawal of foreign troops from Libya in a draft it placed in blue on Wednesday (29 September) evening.

At that point, Russia placed its own version of a draft mandate renewal resolution in blue. That draft text apparently revised the adjectives describing the withdrawal of foreign fighters and mercenaries, stating that such a withdrawal should be “synchronised, parallel, balanced and phased”. This draft also differed substantially from drafts in blue circulated by the UK regarding its take on the recommendations provided in the strategic review. It requested the Secretary-General to retain his Special Envoy for six months, with the possibility of an extension at the discretion of the Council. Regarding the recommendations of the strategic review, whereas the previous drafts circulated by the UK welcomed the review and requested UNSMIL to fully implement its recommendations, the version put in blue by Russia took note of the strategic review and recognised “the importance [of] implement[ing] fully its recommendations as appropriate”. However, this draft and the other substantive mandate renewal texts proposed by the UK were not put to a vote yesterday (30 September), and the Council instead adopted a technical renewal of the mission’s mandate for a period of four months.

Seven Council members took the floor to deliver explanations of vote following the adoption of resolution 2599. Most acknowledged that Libya stood at a crucial precipice, and several deplored that the Council could not show unity during this important time. Others also mentioned the need for credible and inclusive elections and the full implementation of the ceasefire agreement. The UK expressed its intention to continue to work on a substantive mandate renewal ahead of the 31 January 2022 expiry of UNSMIL’s mandate. Kenya emphasised the need to take the African voice into account when addressing the situation in Libya, especially in deciding on UNSMIL’s leadership positions. China expressed support for the balanced and coordinated withdrawal of foreign fighters and mercenaries.