What's In Blue

Posted Thu 2 Jun 2022

Libya Sanctions: Vote on a Draft Resolution*

Tomorrow (3 June), the Security Council is expected to vote 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 2578 of 3 June 2021, expires on 3 June.


The Security Council first adopted the measures in support of the full implementation of the arms embargo on Libya in resolution 2292 of 14 June 2016. The interception of vessels bound to or from Libya was intended to curb the flow of arms to the country and support the two-way arms embargo imposed on the country in resolution 1970 of 26 February 2011.

The Secretary-General’s most recent report on the implementation of the inspection authorisation, which was issued on 28 April and covers developments since his report of 5 May 2021, attests to its continued validity (S/2022/360). Amid ongoing efforts by the UN to foster agreement among Libya’s state institutions on a constitutional basis for holding the postponed elections, the report says that “the arms embargo can continue to help facilitate a conducive environment for advancing the political process”. The Secretary-General notes that while reports, including by the 1970 Libya Sanctions Committee’s Panel of Experts, identified fewer violations of the arms embargo during the reporting period, armed groups active across Libya had acquired new types of military equipment.

The EU naval force in the Mediterranean (Operation EUNAVFOR MED IRINI) has remained the only regional organisation acting under the authorisation to inspect vessels. Operation IRINI reported that between 16 April 2021 and 15 April, it conducted 3,642 hailings (calling on other vessels), 141 friendly approaches (consensual visits to vessels that can be carried out without flag state approval and without the use of enforcement measures), and 11 vessel inspections. It attempted, but did not carry out, three additional inspections because of an explicit refusal of consent by the flag state of the respective vessels. (The authorisation requires good faith efforts to first obtain the consent of the vessel’s flag state prior to any inspections and calls upon all flag states to cooperate with such inspections.) None of the inspections resulted in the identification of prohibited cargo.

In his 28 April report, the Secretary-General expressed appreciation for the efforts of the EU, through Operation IRINI, to contribute to the full implementation of the arms embargo. He also highlighted the information the mission shares with the 1970 Libya Sanctions Committee’s Panel of Experts as an important contribution to the implementation of the arms embargo.

The Council’s authorisations to inspect vessels suspected of violating the arms embargo have always been unanimous. However, Russia has voiced concerns over the implementation of these resolutions, including cautioning that the measures may be used to broaden the activities of the EUNAVFOR operations. For example, Russia has disagreed with the finding that jet A-1 fuel, seized by Operation IRINI in December 2020 from the vessel Royal Diamond 7 travelling to Libya from the United Arab Emirates, was “likely to be used for military purposes” and fell under the arms embargo. Others, including European Council members, have maintained that the seizure was in line with relevant Security Council resolutions.

It has become regular practice for Council members to hold an informal interactive dialogue (IID) ahead of the renewal of the authorisations to discuss their implementation. This year’s IID took place on 24 May. Stefano Tomat, the Director of the Integrated Approach for Security and Peace Directorate of the European External Action Service, participated in the meeting and briefed Council members on Operation IRINI’s recent activities.

Negotiations on the Draft Resolution

European member states have traditionally held the pen for the renewal of the authorisations. This year’s penholder, France, sought to have a straightforward renewal of the measures contained in resolution 2578, with only technical updates. France circulated a first draft to Council members on 20 May, opening the text for comments until 25 May. Russia, without requesting changes to the text, expressed its reservations regarding the viability of the authorisations. It apparently said that Operation IRINI, which is currently the only multilateral instrument to implement the authorisations, has failed to uncover significant arms supply channels and that several vessels had refused its requests for inspection. The penholder subsequently placed the draft under silence without making any amendments. Russia broke silence, requesting a six-month renewal instead of the usual 12-month period.

On Tuesday (31 May), France circulated a revised draft, which maintained the 12-month duration of the authorisations and added a request for the Secretary-General to submit a report on the implementation of the measures within six months, in addition to the regular annual report requested by resolution 2578, which is due 11 months after the renewal of the authorisations. Russia broke silence for the second time yesterday afternoon (1 June), maintaining that its position was not reflected in the revised text and requesting the penholder to reduce the extension from 12 to six months. Later yesterday, France requested that the same draft be placed in blue (that is, retaining the 12-month extension and requesting two Secretary-General’s reports within six and 11 months after the resolution’s adoption). While previous authorisations have been adopted unanimously, at the time of writing it seemed likely that Russia will abstain on tomorrow’s vote.

Looking ahead, the Security Council is expected to receive the final report of the Panel of Experts, which is due by 15 June. (The 1970 Libya Sanctions Committee met with the panel on 20 May to discuss the report and its recommendations.) On 27 June, there will be a briefing and consultations on the UN Support Mission in Libya (UNSMIL).


*Post-script: On 3 June, the Security Council adopted resolution 2635 by a vote of 14 in favour with one abstention (Russia). In its explanation of vote, Russia said that the authorisations for the interception of vessels bound to or from Libya have not contributed to a decrease in the illicit trade of weapons, with vessel inspection having been taken over by the EU (S/PV.9053).

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