What's In Blue

Posted Thu 30 May 2024

Libya Sanctions: Vote on a Draft Resolution*

Tomorrow afternoon (31 May)*, 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. France and Malta co-penned 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 on resolution 2292, said in its explanation of vote that the arms embargo had not fully stopped the flow of weapons into the country and that resolution 2292 detailed concrete steps to improve its effectiveness. Among other measures, the resolution authorised countries, upon discovery of items prohibited under the arms embargo, to seize and dispose of such items by destroying, rendering inoperable, storing, or transferring them to a third state.

The authorisation for maritime inspections was last renewed by resolution 2684 of 2 June 2023, 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 30 November 2023, referred to Libya’s divided government and tense security situation and reaffirmed that the arms embargo, when properly implemented, could continue to play an important role in maintaining conditions conducive to advancing the political process, assisting Libyan authorities in ensuring security, and preventing the proliferation of arms in Libya and the region. The report said that it therefore “remains essential” that the embargo, combined with the inspection authorisation, be strictly implemented in a comprehensive manner to prevent illicit transfers by air, land, and sea.

The 30 November 2023 report also referenced the final report of the Panel of Experts assisting the 1970 Libya Sanctions Committee, covering the period from 25 April 2022 to 17 July 2023, which identified new violations of the arms embargo and provided a summary illustrating the variety and technical complexity of the arms that have been transferred into the country since the establishment of the arms embargo in 2011. The Secretary-General’s second report, issued on 30 April, largely echoed the first report’s findings and reaffirmed that “the effective implementation of the arms embargo can continue to play an important role” in stabilising Libya’s political and security environment.

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 30 April report, between 1 November 2023 and 14 April, the operation conducted 1,793 hailings (making contact with other vessels), 25 friendly approaches (consensual visits to vessels that can be carried out without flag state approval and without the use of enforcement measures), and one vessel inspection, which received the consent of the flag state. Regarding the seizure and disposal of prohibited items, the report referenced the 18 December 2023 briefing to the Council by the chair of the 1970 Libya Sanctions Committee, during which he noted that the committee had received the final report from Operation IRINI concerning a vessel inspection conducted in 2022 and the disposal of the corresponding seized cargo, described as “specific types of vehicles”. The chair indicated that one committee member had expressed a different view about possible follow-up on this matter, and that there was a “lack of consensus” among committee members in that regard. In October 2022, Operation IRINI reportedly seized approximately 100 armoured military vehicles from a ship off the coast of Libya that the EU subsequently donated to Ghana.

Up until 2022, the Council had unanimously renewed the maritime inspection authorisation every year. Since then, Russia has abstained on resolutions extending the authorisation, expressing doubts about its viability and effectiveness, as well as the manner in which Operation IRINI conducts inspections, which Russia considers selective and non-transparent.

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 13 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.

Draft Resolution

France and Malta initially sought a straightforward extension of the measures contained in resolution 2684, with only technical updates. They circulated a first draft to Council members on 13 May, opening the text for comments until 15 May. On 21 May, the co-penholders circulated a revised draft, inviting comments initially until 23 May and then until 24 May after a request for an extension. France and Malta subsequently circulated a second revised draft and placed it under silence procedure until Tuesday (28 May), which was broken by China, Russia, and members of the “A3 plus one” grouping (Algeria, Mozambique, Sierra Leone, and Guyana). Yesterday (29 May), the co-penholders circulated a third revised draft and put it under silence until this morning (30 May), after which China, Russia, and the “A3 plus one” members again broke silence. France and Malta subsequently put a fourth revised draft directly in blue.

It seems that most Council members were supportive of a straightforward extension of the authorisation. In comments on the initial draft text, however, Russia reiterated its previously stated concerns about the authorisation and its implementation by Operation IRINI. In particular, the country expressed reservations about the disposal of seized cargo, proposing language that would strengthen the Council’s oversight in this regard by requiring member states acting under the authorisation to obtain the 1970 Committee’s approval prior to disposing of seized materials. While several Council members opposed this proposal, it received support from China and “A3 plus one” members. In the first revised draft, it seems that the co-penholders sought a compromise by adding a provision requiring member states to notify the committee prior to disposal, while not obligating them to obtain approval.

Such a notification requirement was apparently not sufficient for the Council members seeking enhanced committee oversight, however. The second revised draft that was placed under silence therefore required member states acting under the authorisation to obtain the committee’s approval for disposal by means of third-country transfer. Following the silence break by China, Russia, and the “A3 plus one” members, the subsequent draft required approval for disposing of items through both third-country transfer and storage, while disposing of items by destroying them or rendering them inoperable remained exempt. After silence was also broken on this draft, the draft text that the co-penholders put in blue includes a new operative paragraph requiring member states that dispose of items by destroying them or rendering them inoperable to notify the committee of such disposal within 30 days and to provide details of all items disposed of and the exact manner in which this was done.


**Post-script (31 May, 11:30 am EST): After the story’s publication, the vote was moved from the morning to the afternoon session. The story was amended to reflect the change in the timing of the vote.

***Post-script (31 May, 5 pm EST): On 31 May, the Security Council adopted resolution 2733, 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 with a vote of nine in favour and six abstentions (Algeria, China, Guyana, Mozambique, Russia, and Sierra Leone).

In its statement before the vote, Malta (co-penholder with France on the draft resolution) emphasised Operation IRINI’s important role in implementing the Libya arms embargo. Malta described the draft resolution as a compromise seeking to reconcile diverging views among Council members, addressing concerns expressed by some delegations by providing an enhanced role for the 1970 Libya Sanctions Committee in approving the disposal of seized items, while also maintaining the inspection framework’s “operationality” and providing enforcement actors with the “necessary safeguards and conditions to conduct their work effectively”.

After the vote, China, Russia, and Sierra Leone—speaking on behalf of the “A3 plus one” members (Algeria, Mozambique, Sierra Leone, and Guyana)—all expressed regret that the draft resolution did not fully incorporate their proposals to reflect the “leading role” of the 1970 Libya Sanctions Committee in determining means of disposal of seized items. Russia also reiterated its broader concerns about the manner in which Operation IRINI conducts inspections, describing it as selective and non-transparent.

By contrast, the US commended Operation IRINI for its “successful” use of the inspection authority and expressed disappointment about the draft resolution’s new approval provisions, which it said will “unnecessarily politicise and significantly impede” the interdiction process.

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