posted on Mon 20 May 2019 6:41 PM
Libya: Briefing and Consultations on UNSMIL and Libya Sanctions

Tomorrow (21 May), the Security Council will hold a briefing and consultations on the situation in Libya. Ghassan Salamé, the Special Representative and head of the UN Support Mission in Libya (UNSMIL), and Deputy Permanent Representative of Germany, Ambassador Jürgen Schulz, who chairs the 1970 Libya Sanctions Committee, are expected to brief in person.  It is anticipated that AU Commissioner for Peace and Security Smaïl Chergui will brief via video-teleconference. This meeting, originally scheduled for 10 May, was postponed until tomorrow, at the request of Salamé. He has been travelling to different capitals to garner political support for an end to the current military conflict, including a three-day visit to Washington, DC.

Members most recently met to discuss Libya on 10 May, in consultations requested by the UK, the penholder on Libya. It seems that the UK saw the need for the Council to stay updated on developments following the launch of a military offensive towards Tripoli on 4 April by General Khalifa Haftar, head of the eastern-based militia known as the “Libyan National Army” (LNA). Haftar opposes the internationally-recognised Government of National Accord (GNA), based in Tripoli in western Libya. The GNA, which lacks professional security forces, relies on militias. During the consultations, Assistant Secretary-General for Africa Bintou Keita briefed the Council on behalf of the Department of Political and Peacebuilding Affairs (DPPA). Reena Ghelani, Operations Director of the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), spoke to the Council on the humanitarian situation.

After the consultations, Ambassador Dian Triansyah Djani (Indonesia), in his capacity as president of the Council, read out press elements agreed by Council members. He stated that Council members were deeply concerned about the instability in Tripoli and the worsening humanitarian situation, and called on the parties to commit to a ceasefire. Members further emphasised that there needs to be a political solution to the crisis, expressed support for Salamé and UNSMIL, and called upon the parties to return to UN mediation.

In tomorrow’s meeting, Salamé can be expected to describe the security, humanitarian and political situation in the country. The current military escalation is largely driven by long-standing institutional divisions between competing governments in the east and west of the country. Council resolutions and presidential statements routinely call upon UN member states to cease support for and official contact with parallel institutions in Libya, but some countries, including some Council members, fail to respect these calls, and also continue to support Haftar militarily, in contravention of the Council-authorised arms embargo on Libya. Militias affiliated with the GNA stated on 18 May that they receive military support from abroad as well.

After initial military gains by the LNA around Tripoli, the frontlines have remained mostly static. Some media reports have indicated that individuals listed for targeted sanctions by the Council have participated in the fighting. The Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant seems to be taking advantage of the LNA’s focus on Tripoli to conduct attacks in LNA-dominated areas of the country, including on infrastructure.

As for the humanitarian consequences of the recent fighting, the number of displaced people now stands at close to 70,000, while over 450 people have died and over 2,100 have been wounded, according to the International Organisation for Migration and the World Health Organisation. In a 5 May press release, UNSMIL called for an extendable week-long “humanitarian truce”, starting on 6 May, the first day of Ramadan, requesting a halt to military operations by all parties to the conflict in order to allow access for humanitarian aid as well as freedom of movement for civilians. Reports from the ground do not indicate that any party sought to cease military operations. On 9 May, Deputy Special Representative and Deputy Head of UNSMIL, Maria do Valle Ribeiro, who serves as the Humanitarian Coordinator in the country, issued a statement strongly condemning an attack on an ambulance in Tripoli, reportedly by LNA forces.

Haftar continues to present himself as fighting against terrorists and violent extremists, which has brought him support from a number of UN member states inside and outside the Council. A readout of a phone conversation between US President Trump and Haftar on 19 April stated that Trump supported Haftar’s “role in counterterrorism”. French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian, in a May interview with the French newspaper Le Figaro, voiced similar acknowledgment of Haftar’s role in that regard. Russia, too, has traditionally close ties with Haftar. In contrast, a 13 May statement by the EU Foreign Affairs Council stated that “The LNA military attack on Tripoli and the subsequent escalation in and around the capital constitutes a threat to international peace and security” and “enhances the risk of increased terrorist threat across the country”.

Haftar’s offensive halted a UN-supported political process, notably causing the postponement of the National Conference, originally scheduled for 14-16 April, and intended for Libyans to agree on the holding of parliamentary and presidential elections as well as a constitutional referendum.

In addition to receiving updates on latest developments on the ground, members may seek information about Salamé’s meetings with stakeholders in Libya, the region, and with NATO and EU member states. Members may also want to hear from both Salamé and Chergui about how the UN can work together with the AU in a UN-led peace process, and how the Council could support their work. In this regard, following the Third AU-UN Annual Conference in New York, these organisations issued a joint communiqué stating that: “On Libya, the Conference emphasized the need to urgently mobilise the international community to deliver united and strong messages, including by the UN Security Council and AU Peace and Security Council, calling for an immediate ceasefire, an end to external interference, protection of civilians, including migrants and refugees, and vital infrastructure, as well as a return to the peace process”.

Also on sanctions, the Panel of Experts of the 1970 Libya Sanctions Committee continues to allege violations of the arms embargo by the UAE and military support to the LNA by Egypt.

One issue that may be raised in the meeting is the authorisation for member states, acting nationally or through regional organisations, to inspect, on the high seas off the coast of Libya, vessels bound to or from Libya when reasonable grounds exist to believe that they are violating the arms embargo. This authorisation, originally mandated by resolution 2292 in 2016, is due to be renewed in June.

One of the arms experts on the Panel of Experts supporting the 1970 Libya Sanctions Committee has been detained by the Tunisian authorities since 26 March. The 1970 Committee met on this issue in April. Moncef Kartas, a German-Tunisian dual national, is being accused of espionage. The UN Spokesperson, on 15 May, stated that the UN had “formally notified the Government of Tunisia that it reaffirmed the immunities enjoyed by Mr. Moncef Kartas in relation to the legal proceedings against him in Tunisia and requested Mr. Kartas’ immediate release and for the charges against him to be dropped.” The statement further emphasises that the arrest is “in violation of the privileges and immunities that have been granted to Mr. Kartas in the interests of the United Nations.” The Tunisian government has not requested the Secretary-General to revoke Mr. Kartas’ immunity.

It seems that there is a continued sense of frustration among the majority of Council members that the Council has been unable to agree on a product on Libya. Efforts to adopt a resolution in mid-April demanding that the parties commit to a ceasefire were unsuccessful, most likely because of the support that the LNA enjoys from some permanent members. Members may use the opportunity of an open briefing to reaffirm their national positions and those of the regional organisations to which they belong.