What's In Blue

Posted Wed 18 Oct 2023

Libya: Vote to Renew Sanctions Measures*

Tomorrow morning (19 October), the Security Council is expected to vote on a draft resolution renewing the mandate of the Panel of Experts (PoE) of the 1970 Libya Sanctions Committee and the authorisation of measures contained in resolution 2146 of 19 March 2014 related to the illicit export of petroleum from Libya. The draft resolution in blue also contains several new provisions concerning the arms embargo and assets freeze measures imposed by resolution 1970 of 26 February 2011 and modified by subsequent resolutions.

The UK, the penholder on Libya, authored the draft text.


Through resolution 2146, the Council authorised member states to inspect on the high seas vessels designated by the 1970 Sanctions Committee for facilitating the illicit export of petroleum from Libya. Most recently, resolution 2644 of 13 July 2022 renewed the authorisation related to the illicit export of petroleum until 30 October and extended the PoE’s mandate until 15 November.

The PoE’s final report, covering the period from 25 April 2022 to 17 July and transmitted to the 1970 Libya Sanctions Committee on 7 August, said that the panel had identified 24 tankers taking on refined petroleum products in Benghazi for illicit export. The panel also found that overland fuel smuggling had increased during the reporting period. Notably, the position of a national focal point responsible for communication with the 1970 Sanctions Committee—which resolution 2146 requested Libyan authorities to establish—had been vacant between January and June, with the report noting that “there was no designated focal point who could have identified illicit exports of petroleum, at a time when such exports were rampant”.

Regarding the arms embargo, the report said that “[a]ny deterrent effect of the sanctions regime remains negligible and some Member States even ignore the relevant Council resolutions with impunity”. A related issue highlighted by the report is the entry of foreign naval vessels into Libya. The PoE identified four such vessels entering the country during the reporting period, and although some of them delivered non-embargoed items, the report reiterated the panel’s view that it considers “such mode of transportation into Libyan territory without prior approval from the [1970 Sanctions Committee] to be a violation of the arms embargo” since the vessels carry embargoed items on board. This issue has since received renewed attention in connection with the delivery of international humanitarian aid to Libya after the country was struck by Storm Daniel in September.

The PoE’s report also described the implementation of the assets freeze on designated entities. It noted that the Libyan Investment Authority (LIA)—the country’s sovereign wealth fund, whose foreign assets remain frozen—has demonstrated increasing cooperation and capacity to provide information requested by the PoE, but that it is still “not in a position to offer an accurate consolidated financial statement according to international standards”. During the Council’s 16 October briefing on Libya, the Permanent Representative of Libya to the UN, Taher El-Sonni, said that the LIA’s portfolio continued to depreciate under the assets freeze, and reiterated the Libyan authorities’ request to allow the LIA to reinvest its frozen liquid assets in order to preserve their value. On 4 August, the 1970 Libya Sanctions Committee met with a delegation from the LIA to discuss this issue.

Draft Resolution

The negotiations on the draft resolution were apparently difficult. The penholder circulated an initial draft of the text to Council members on 3 October, convening the first round of negotiations on 5 October and then another round on 9 October to discuss the first revised draft. On 10 October, the UK postponed the vote on the resolution—which was initially scheduled for 12 October—to allow more time for discussion, and circulated a second revised draft, inviting comments until 11 October. Later that day, the penholder placed a third revised draft under silence procedure until 12 October, which was broken by Russia. A fourth revised draft was placed under silence procedure until 13 October, which was broken by France. On Monday (16 October), the penholder circulated a fifth revised draft and placed it under silence procedure until Tuesday (17 October). The US broke silence on that draft. Subsequently, the UK placed a sixth revised draft directly in blue without an additional silence procedure.

The draft resolution in blue extends the authorisations and measures related to the illicit export of petroleum until 1 February 2025 and the mandate of the Panel of Experts until 15 February 2025. These provisions were apparently uncontroversial and were not subject to substantive discussion during the negotiations. It seems, however, that new provisions concerning the arms embargo and assets freeze elicited extensive deliberations.

The draft text in blue contains new language regarding the assets freeze. This includes a new operative paragraph noting the LIA’s recent request to reinvest its frozen liquid assets and requesting the PoE to provide recommendations in their next report on possible actions to enable this step. During the negotiations, there was apparently some disagreement among certain Council members—including China, Russia, the United Arab Emirates (UAE), and the A3 (Gabon, Ghana, and Mozambique)—that wanted the Council to accommodate the LIA’s request, and other—primarily Western—members that were more reticent in light of the LIA’s continued management challenges and Libya’s unstable political environment. The request for recommendations from the PoE appears to be a compromise between these two positions.

New language on the arms embargo is also included in the draft resolution in blue. It contains a new operative paragraph, which was apparently proposed by the UAE, enumerating all existing exemptions to the embargo, which were previously listed in separate resolutions. It seems that the UAE also proposed a new operative paragraph limiting the authorisation of the EU naval force in the Mediterranean (EUNAVFOR MED IRINI)—most recently renewed through resolution 2684 of 2 June—to inspect vessels on the high seas off the coast of Libya that they have grounds to believe are violating the arms embargo. It appears that this proposal was not incorporated in any of the drafts, however.

Council members also discussed proposed new language responding to the PoE’s assertion that the entry of foreign naval vessels carrying embargoed items into Libya constitutes a violation of the arms embargo, even if such items remain on board the vessel and are not transferred to Libyan actors. It seems that numerous drafts of the resolution contained a new operative paragraph deciding that naval vessels used by countries solely to deliver exempted items remain outside the scope of the embargo, provided that any embargoed items that may be on board such vessels “are for defensive purposes and remain at all times aboard the vessel or aircraft whilst temporarily in Libya”. While Council members apparently agreed on the substance of this proposal, they held conflicting views about the context in which it applied. Some members—including Russia—argued that the provision was simply clarifying existing rules, while others—including the US—maintained that the decision would mark a departure from current practice. It appears that members were unable to bridge these different interpretations, and the penholder consequently removed the paragraph from the draft in blue.

Another debated issue concerned language on the reunification of the Libyan military. The draft resolution in blue contains a new operative paragraph expressing the Council’s readiness to consider, as an initial step in the overall reunification of Libya’s military and security institutions, the transfer of military equipment and the provision of technical assistance to reunified military units once such units have been formed. The paragraph specifies that such activity is to occur under the auspices of the 5+5 Joint Military Commission (JMC) and the two Chiefs of Staff. (The JMC was established to monitor Libya’s 2020 ceasefire agreement and is comprised of five members chosen by the country’s UN-recognised government in Tripoli and five members chosen by General Khalifa Haftar, who heads the self-styled Libyan National Army controlling the country’s eastern region. The Chiefs of Staff are the top-ranking military officials of each faction).

In this context, there appears to have been disagreement among some Council members about whether and how to refer to the Chiefs of Staff, based on members’ divergent positions on the recognition of rival Libyan authorities. At the US’ request, the penholder deleted the reference to the Chiefs of Staff from the fourth revised draft, which caused France to break silence. The fifth revised draft reinserted the language, referencing the “Joint Chiefs of Staff”, apparently prompting an objection from the US regarding potential implications of the word “joint” for equating or recognising the respective authorities. In an apparent compromise, the draft resolution in blue again refers simply to the “Chiefs of Staff”.


*Post-script: On 19 October, the Security Council unanimously adopted resolution 2701, renewing the mandate of the Panel of Experts of the 1970 Libya Sanctions Committee and the authorisation of measures contained in resolution 2146 of 19 March 2014 related to the illicit export of petroleum from Libya.

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