What's In Blue

Posted Thu 1 Jun 2023

Libya Sanctions: Vote on a Draft Resolution*

Tomorrow morning (2 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.

European Council members have traditionally held the pen for the renewal of the measures. France and Malta co-authored this year’s resolution.


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 to support the two-way arms embargo imposed on the country in resolution 1970 of 26 February 2011. The UK, the penholder in 2016 for resolution 2292, said in its explanation of vote that adopting those measures was a sign of support for the then-Government of National Accord (GNA)—which was replaced by the Government of National Unity (GNU) in February 2021 following the UN-facilitated Libyan Political Dialogue Forum (LPDF)—to facilitate its extension of state authority across the country. The UK also acknowledged that the arms embargo had not fully stopped the flow of weapons into the country, saying that resolution 2292 detailed concrete steps to curb the flow of arms.

The authorisation for maritime inspections was last renewed by resolution 2635 of 3 June 2022, which requested the Secretary-General to submit reports on the implementation of the measures within six months and 11 months of the resolution’s adoption. The first report, issued on 6 December 2022, attested to the arms embargo’s continued importance. Amid ongoing efforts by both national actors and the UN to foster agreement on a constitutional basis for holding the postponed elections, the report said that “[t]he role of the embargo in helping to maintain conditions conducive to political progress remained critical”. The report also referenced the final report of the 1970 Libya Sanctions Committee’s Panel of Experts, covering the period from 8 March 2021 to 25 April 2022, which identified a much lower number of sanctions violations than in 2019 and 2020 but also drew attention to new tactics that were being used to circumvent the arms embargo. The Secretary-General’s second report, issued on 2 May, largely echoed the first report’s findings and reaffirmed that the embargo “continues to play an essential role in helping to maintain conditions conducive to progress in the Libyan political process”.

The EU naval force in the Mediterranean (Operation EUNAVFOR Med IRINI) has remained the only regional organisation to inspect vessels under the authorisation. According to the Secretary-General’s 2 May report, between 16 April 2022 and 14 April, the operation conducted 2,692 hailings (making contact with other vessels), 203 friendly approaches (consensual visits to vessels that can be carried out without flag state approval and without the use of enforcement measures), and three vessel inspections. It attempted four additional inspections, which it could not carry out because of an explicit refusal of consent by the flag state of the respective vessels. (The authorisation requires good-faith efforts first to obtain the consent of the vessel’s flag state prior to any inspection and calls on all flag states to cooperate with such inspections.) Two of the three vessel inspections carried out by the operation involved the seizure of cargo (described as “specific types of vehicles”) that was determined by the operation to be prohibited under the arms embargo. The Secretary-General’s report says that the EU has not yet made a final decision on the disposal of those vehicles and that the 1970 Libya Sanctions Committee has yet to express a position on the vehicles in relation to the arms embargo.

Until 2022, the Council unanimously renewed the maritime inspection authorisation every year. During last year’s negotiations, Russia expressed reservations regarding the viability of the authorisation, noting that Operation IRINI had failed to uncover significant arms supply channels and that several vessels had refused its requests for inspection. Russia therefore requested a six-month authorisation instead of the usual 12-month period. As a compromise, France (the penholder for resolution 2635) included language requesting the Secretary-General to submit an interim six-month report on implementation of the measures—in addition to the regular 11-month report—but retained the 12-month authorisation. Russia abstained on resolution 2635, marking the first time that the authorisation was not adopted unanimously. 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.

It has become a regular practice for Council members to hold an informal interactive dialogue (IID) ahead of the authorisation’s renewal to discuss its implementation. This year’s IID took place on 17 May at the request of France and Malta. Cosmin Dobran, 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 the recent activities of Operation IRINI.

Negotiations on the Draft Resolution

France and Malta sought a straightforward extension of the measures contained in resolution 2635, with only technical updates. They circulated a first draft to Council members on 18 May, opening the text for comments initially until 22 May and subsequently until 23 May after a request for an extension. It seems that several Council members—including the US and the UK—proposed reducing the frequency of the Secretary-General’s reports and reverting to an annual reporting cycle. Russia, without requesting changes to the text, apparently reiterated its reservations regarding the viability of the authorisations, contending that Operation IRINI has not effectively contributed to stabilising the situation in Libya and has carried out inspections in a selective and non-transparent manner. Russia apparently also said that it was unclear how reducing the frequency of the Secretary-General’s reporting would contribute to the authorisation’s effectiveness.

On 24 May, France and Malta circulated a revised draft for additional comments until the following day. The co-penholders noted that they had received more comments in favour of reducing the reporting cycle than opposed, and the revised draft consequently requested the Secretary-General to submit only an 11-month report. Russia reiterated its concerns and requested that the authorisation period be reduced from 12 to six months.

On 26 May, the co-penholders circulated a second revised draft and placed it under silence procedure until 30 May. In an apparent compromise, this draft reinstated the request for both a six-month and an 11-month report but maintained the 12-month authorisation period—as originally proposed in the initial draft text. The silence procedure passed, after which the co-penholders placed the draft resolution in blue.

Given Russia’s reservations about the length of the authorisation mandated by the draft in blue, it may decide to abstain on tomorrow’s vote, as it did last year.


*Post-script: On 2 June, the Security Council adopted resolution 2684, 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 that they have reasonable grounds to believe are violating the arms embargo. The resolution was adopted by a vote of 14 in favour and one abstention (Russia). In its explanation of vote, Russia reiterated its concerns about the inspections being carried out solely by the EU through its operation EUNAVFOR Med IRINI, and claimed that IRINI’s activities have not led to “practical results in terms of stabilisation on the ground” (S/PV.9335).

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