What's In Blue

Posted Mon 31 Jan 2022

Libya: Vote on a Draft Resolution Renewing UNSMIL’s Mandate*

This afternoon (31 January), the Security Council is expected to vote on a draft resolution renewing the mandate of the UN Support Mission in Libya (UNSMIL) until 30 April. The draft text in blue—which consists of only three brief operative paragraphs—is a straightforward technical rollover of UNSMIL’s core mandate and tasks, as set out in resolution 2542 of 15 September 2020 and paragraph 16 of resolution 2570 of 16 April 2021. It contains one new provision recalling that UNSMIL should be led by a Special Envoy and recognising the Secretary-General’s responsibility to appoint a Special Envoy.

If adopted, this will be the third consecutive technical renewal of UNSMIL’s mandate. In September 2021, the Council failed twice to adopt a text with substantive changes, instead extending UNSMIL’s existing mandate, first for two weeks (from 15 September 2021 until 30 September 2021) and then for four months, until 31 January. (For background on the negotiations on both technical renewals, see our 1 October 2021 What’s in Blue Story.)

It appears that this month’s negotiations on UNSMIL’s mandate renewal were difficult yet again. The UK, the penholder on Libya, circulated a first draft text on 17 January and convened one round of virtual negotiations on 19 January. After receiving comments from Council members, the UK placed a first revised draft under silence until 24 January. China, France and Russia broke silence. The US apparently submitted additional comments after the silence break. The same day, the UK placed a second revised version under silence. This silence period was subsequently broken that evening by Russia. After the silence break, France and the UAE also submitted additional comments.

On 25 January, as no consensus could be reached on any of the revised versions, which included substantive amendments to UNSMIL’s mandate, the UK put a concise draft text in blue renewing UNSMIL’s existing mandate without any changes until 30 September, to be voted on 27 January. However, it appears that Russia still expressed concern about the draft and subsequently presented its own draft and asked that it be placed in blue on 27 January. The Russian draft apparently stipulated a shorter extension of UNSMIL’s mandate, until 30 April, while requesting the Secretary-General to appoint, without delay, a Special Envoy to the mission. As a result, the UK postponed the vote and engaged in bilateral negotiations with Russia. It seems that the Council’s five permanent members met on 28 January to bridge their differences on the length of UNSMIL’s renewal. Discussions among the permanent members lasted for several days before a new draft was put in blue yesterday (30 January), to be voted on this afternoon (31 January).

During the September 2021 negotiations, Council members discussed a proposal to restructure the mission in accordance with the recommendations contained in a 6 August 2021 strategic review report of UNSMIL. The strategic review recommended replacing the current Geneva-based Special Envoy with a Tripoli-based Special Representative, supported by two Deputy Special Representatives. The draft circulated by the UK on 17 January was apparently based on its September 2021 draft, which mandated the restructuring of UNSMIL.

It seems that during this month’s negotiations, a substantive renewal of the UNSMIL mandate, including the restructuring of the mission, found broad Council support. The major disagreement, however, which apparently stalled the negotiations, was language on the appointment of a new Special Representative for the mission. On 23 November 2021, Special Representative and head of UNSMIL Ján Kubiš resigned from his position. It appears that the Secretary-General intended to appoint Stephanie Williams, the former Acting Special Representative and Head of UNSMIL, as interim head of UNSMIL, but Russia opposed the move. On 6 December 2021, the Secretary-General instead named Williams as his Special Advisor for Libya, a position which does not require Council approval. Williams is currently in Tripoli leading UN mediation efforts.

When discussing the draft resolution for the technical renewal, the timing of the appointment of a Special Envoy (until the Council can agree on restructuring the mission) was apparently a point of continued disagreement. The UK’s 25 January draft which was put blue would have extended UNSMIL’s mandate until 15 September. The draft proposed by Russia, however, apparently foresaw an extension until 30 April, while requesting the Secretary-General to appoint his envoy without further delay. The UK then attempted to strike a balance between both versions, by putting a draft in blue that renewed the mandate until 30 June, while recalling that UNSMIL should be led by a Special Envoy. This version was apparently unacceptable to Russia. The version that will be put to a vote this afternoon renews UNSMIL’s mandate until 30 April and recalls that the mission should be led by a Special Envoy. The draft resolution also recognises the Secretary-General’s responsibility to appoint his Envoy as set out in resolution 2542, apparently upon France’s request.

During the negotiations, Council members apparently diverged on the proposed timing of the restructuring. The initial draft text circulated by the UK appears to have stipulated that the restructuring take place once a new Special Representative is in place, without providing a timeline for the Special Representative’s appointment. It seems that several Council members preferred stronger language calling for a swift appointment of a Special Representative. Russia apparently argued that this should take place as soon as possible and requested language which would have called for an appointment within one month. However, this language was apparently unacceptable to the US, and the matter was left unresolved.

Language on the elections was another contentious issue which prompted Council members to break silence procedure. The initial draft circulated by the UK apparently contained language calling on all relevant Libyan authorities and institutions to take the necessary actions to facilitate parliamentary and presidential elections, “including by determining a date for the elections”. This addition reflects recent developments in Libya’s electoral process. On 22 December 2021, Libya’s High National Elections Commission announced that it will not be able to hold the presidential election on 24 December 2021 as scheduled and suggested that the House of Representatives identify a new date. This development generated uncertainty regarding Libya’s parliamentary elections, which were scheduled to take place several weeks after the 24 December 2021 presidential poll. The House of Representatives subsequently established an electoral committee to outline a new roadmap with a revised electoral timetable. At the time of the negotiations on UNSMIL’s mandate renewal, the deliberations of the electoral committee were still underway. It seems that China and Russia preferred not to submit comments on language in the draft text relating to the conduct of the elections at this time, because the electoral committee has yet to finish its deliberations. France apparently sought to include a call made by the Secretary-General for the swift holding of the vote.

Another area of discussion among Council members was language regarding the withdrawal of foreign forces from the country. Whereas the initial draft proposed by the UK called for the withdrawal of all foreign forces and mercenaries from Libya “without delay”, Russia and the UAE requested language specifying that such a withdrawal should take place in a synchronised, phased, gradual and balanced manner. To reach compromise, the UK apparently added in a revised draft of the text language from the Council’s 24 November 2021 presidential statement on Libya. That statement emphasised the importance of the implementation of the 23 October 2020 ceasefire agreement, including through the withdrawal of all foreign forces and mercenaries from Libya without delay. In that regard, the statement welcomed the action plan agreed by the 5+5 Joint Military Commission in Geneva on 8 October 2021 and called on all relevant actors to facilitate its “synchronised, phased, gradual and balanced” implementation. As the draft in blue to be voted on today is a technical renewal of UNSMIL’s mandate, it does not contain language regarding the withdrawal of foreign forces from the country.

*Post-script: On 31 January, the Council unanimously adopted resolution 2619. The resolution is a straightforward technical rollover, until 30 April, of UNSMIL’s mandate as set out in resolution 2542 of 15 September 2020 and paragraph 16 of resolution 2570 of 16 April 2021. It also recalls that the mission should be led by a Special Envoy, while recognising the Secretary-General’s responsibility to fill the Special Envoy position.

Sign up for What's In Blue emails

Subscribe to receive SCR publications