Skip to main content

United Nations Should Support Efforts in Libya ‘Where and When Needed’, but Avoid Heavy International Presence, Special Representative Tells Security Council

Security Council

6731st Meeting (PM)

United Nations Should Support Efforts in Libya ‘Where and When Needed’, But Avoid

Heavy International Presence, Special Representative Tells Security Council


Backs 12-Month Mandate for Flexible, Responsive, Expert Mission; Libyan Leader

Affirms Need for Continued Support, Given ‘Thirst of Libyan People for Democracy’

As post-revolution Libya began to undo its authoritarian past and piece together a democratic future, the top United Nations official in the North African country today urged the Security Council to support the creation of a compact, flexible United Nations mission that could respond effectively to the priorities set by the Libyan Government and help ensure a genuine role for women and youth in the transition process.

“The year ahead is one of the most important in Libyan’s history,” said Ian Martin, head of the six-month old United Nations Support Mission in Libya, as he briefed the Council on the details of the Secretary-General’s proposed changes to that operation, known as UNSMIL.  He said that Libya was unique, rich in resources and did not need “traditional” donor support, but 42 years of dictatorship and long periods of international isolation had left the country weak in the institutions of a modern democratic State.

Consequently, following the popular uprisings that had brought down Muammar al-Qadhafi’s regime, the Libyan people now looked forward to free elections, a democratic constitution, transparency and accountability and the rule of law, including security forces subject to civilian control and protecting the people rather than protecting a regime.  They were determined to maintain ownership of their future, but they were hungry to learn of international experience and best practice, he said.

“The role of the United Nations must be to support their efforts, where and when needed, in a flexible manner, which does not impose a heavy international presence,” he said, so in delivering on the mandate as set out by the Secretary-General, UNSMIL, who’s mandate is set to end on 16 March, would maintain a “light footprint”, aiming to provide flexible, responsive, high-quality expertise to support the democratic transition and help the Libyan authorities navigate the challenges associated with it.

“We recommend that this support be provided in the form of a structurally integrated mission, to maximize the impact of the entire United Nations system,” he said, adding that the mission’s proposed structure would be based on a relatively small, high-level core staff, who would have advisory and coordination roles and would be able to mobilize additional support when needed.  Adding that it was also important that UNSMIL have its own capacity to meet short-notice requests for deployment, he asked the Council to agree to the request of the Libyan Government and the recommendation of the Secretary-General that the mandate of UNSMIL be extended for 12 months, in line with the relevant proposals.

Providing specific details outlined in the report, he said the Secretary-General had proposed that in the coming 12 months, UNSMIL should focus on five areas:  democratic transition, including the electoral process; public security, including the demobilization, integration or reintegration of ex-combatants; human rights, transitional justice and rule of law; proliferation of arms and border security; and coordination of international support.  Those proposals were fully consistent with the request of the Libyan Transitional Government.

He said that the democratic transition in Libya would focus primarily on the organization of the June elections for a National Congress, and the subsequent constitutional process, which was expected to culminate in a referendum.  All that would require sustained support for UNSMIL’s integrated electoral section, with participation from the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and the United Nations Office for Project Services (UNOPS).  Such support had already begun, and must not only be continued but increased as the poll drew nearer.

Turning to public security, he said UNSMIL would support Libyan efforts to develop an effective and accountable security sector, which respected human rights, upheld the rule of law and had the confidence of the Libyan people.  To that end, the Mission’s role would include providing technical and strategic advice to national stakeholders on security sector-wide issues, including those pertaining to the integration, demobilization, or re-integration of former combatants and the control of weapons, civilian oversight and management.  “One of the critical tasks in the coming year will be to establish an accountable and professional police service throughout the country that performs a range of policing functions in accordance with human rights principles, and that enhances the confidence of the Libyan people in the State’s ability to provide security and justice,” he said.

Stability in Libya and the region hinged on the ability of the Libyan authorities to account for and control the large quantities of arms, including heavy weaponry, man-portable air defence systems (MANPADS) and related materiel, and to address the threat of arms trafficking and proliferation, through close collaboration with neighbouring countries, as well as the relevant regional and international institutions and mechanisms.  UNSMIL would continue to provide assistance in that regard, including through facilitating the engagement of international bodies, such as the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons.

As for human rights, he said that moving from 42 years of violations towards an environment that fully protected fundamental rights would be a major indicator of the success of the democratic transition.  Recent events and reports had demonstrated that that task required “strong support and constant vigilance”.  UNSMIL, therefore, planned to give a high priority to supporting Libyan authorities sand civil society in ensuring that the transition was anchored in solid rule of law systems, institutions and practices, and in the respect for human rights.  It would include building the capacity of Libyan institutions in judicial and corrections system, he added.

He said that the past months had demonstrated the need for coordination of international assistance in Libya, in all those and other areas.  While he reiterated the uniqueness of the Libyan context, as in other transition settings, multiple offers — and especially multiple visits — could present significant transition costs for national authorities.  The Libyan Government was under acute pressure to meet urgent priorities.  In all of its mandate areas, UNSMIL would continue to support Libyan efforts to coordinate international engagement with a view to ensuring that offers of assistance were focused on needs defined by Libya, and implemented with minimum demands on Libya’s already stretched capacities.

Among the key issues that cut across all UNSMIL’s proposed future activities, he said it would be important that the involvement of women in the revolution translated into fuller participation in democratic institutions.  UNSMIL would have a dedicated capacity to support women’s empowerment, in all the areas of its mandate.  He went on to remind Council members that the Libyan revolution, like all the popular movements of the “Arab Spring”, had been an expression of the aspirations of change driven by that country’s youths.  As such, the young people of Libya now expected to be fully involved in the transition, and that would be one of UNSMIL’s constant concerns in the coming year.

Recalling that when he had first addressed the Council last June as the Secretary-General’s Special Adviser, he had said that it was clear that despite Libya’s human resources, post-conflict challenges would be substantial after decades in which it had been a matter of policy not to develop any institutions of a democratic, accountable State.  He had added that the legacy of human rights violations and the absence of the rule of law would be a heavy one.  Yet, today, the Council was about to be addressed by Prime Minister Abdurrahim El-keib, who had assumed responsibility for addressing those challenges.

Mr. El-keib thanked the Council for its “unwavering support” to the Libyan people, and declared that “without it, I would not be here today.”  He added that its continued support was critical to efforts to address the numerous challenges in building a modern democratic state.  He reiterated his Government’s commitments to comply with all its international obligations as well as to “the principles of the 17 February revolution, for which countless martyrs across the country gave their lives:  freedom, democracy, governance and the rule of law”.

He said that the holding of elections for the National Congress would mark a major milestone in that context, affirming that an electoral law adopted after vigorous debate among civil society, local leaders and National Transitional Council members enabled both individuals and political parties to compete and provided measures to ensure women’s representation.  The Government was committed to taking all measures necessary to ensure a safe and secure environment for the polling and ensuring that the Electoral Commission received the necessary support while maintaining its independence.  Voter registration and civic education and outreach were among the many major tasks ahead, but he was committed to timely and fair elections.  Expressing appreciation for UNSMIL’s electoral assistance, he confirmed that continued United Nations support was needed.  He said that “the thirst of the Libyan people for democracy” was shown by the local election initiatives described last week by Mr. Martin.

“No longer is the social contract between Government and the people based on fear and suppression — the Libyan people have found their voice, and the courage to stand up, protest and demonstrate”, he said, reporting on what he called the “exponential growth” of civil society organizations, including those focused on the empowerment of youth and the women, who, he pledged, would be encouraged to assume their rightful place in public life.  Noting the rich, ethnic diversity of his country, he said that there could be no marginalization of any groups and pledged to ensure that decision-making process was representative, transparent and as inclusive as possible in the short time remaining for his Government.

Turning to the situation of detainees, he said that as a result of 42 years of brutal dictatorship punctuated by destructive war, Libya was ill-prepared to grapple with the more than 6,000 people held from the former conflict.  While avowing that many fighters had worked to ensure the well-being of those in detention, he acknowledged that, in some cases, detainees had been tortured or otherwise ill treated.  “We do not view these violations of human rights lightly, as they harm the individual and undermine human dignity and the values for which we fought”. 

He said his Government was working to prevent such violations and ensure that those responsible were held to account.  Additional directives to that effect had been issued in the past weeks, and remaining brigade detention sites were being inspected to ensure protection of detainees until they could be transferred to State authorities, facilitated by an inter-Ministerial task force.  More than 2,000 were now in State-controlled facilities, and once all were transferred, screening would lead to release of those against whom there was no evidence, while ensuring human treatment and due process.  In that regard, he welcomed offers of assistance in training judicial police and other capacity-building in the justice system.  UNSMIL was already providing valuable technical advice and assistance in that area.

In otherwise coming to terms with the past, he said that due process would be followed in bringing to justice senior figures of the Qadhafi regime and others who had committed serious violations during the conflict.  He welcomed the decision to transfer the first such cases from military to civilian courts.  The case against the former leader’s son, Saif Al-Islam, was being prepared, but other steps, including assuring cooperation with neighbouring countries, should be taken.  At the same time, the new laws for reconciliation, transitional justice and partial amnesty were an important step forward in aiding those who wanted to tell their stories, find out the truth of what happened in the past, seek reparations or find missing family members, which might take years.  He pledged that national reconciliation would be comprehensive and inclusive and would address tribal animosity that had been stoked by the former regime. 

He said that the contributions of migrant workers would also be needed in the building of the new Libya, but there was now a major flow of illegal migration with no proper framework existing in the country to deal with it.  He avowed his commitment to ensuring that all migrants and refugees were treated humanely, according to international standards.  He signalled a need for international assistance in that effort.

He also reported the approval last week of the Government’s 2012 budget of $55 billion, supporting reconstruction, integration, elections and the 10 transitional goals agreed by the Council of Ministers.  He would soon meet with the international community to present the Government’s strategic plan, pursue a dialogue with international partners on areas of support and finalize coordination mechanisms between the Government and the international community.  He called UNSMIL’s assistance role in that “indispensable”. 

Turning to security, he said that the Government was working hard to establish a coherent, effective infrastructure and asked for understanding that such undertakings took time, but that tangible, steady progress was being made.  As Mr. Martin had reported, the registration process for former combatants was nearing completion, and the State was working to exert greater control over and coordination with the brigades.  With assistance of UNSMIL and others, steps were being taken to address capacity-building for the police.  In regard to weapons control, the brigades were “still part of the solution, not the problem”, as they were still needed for important security functions.  He was optimistic that once greater stability had been achieved through elections, significant progress could be made on weapons transfers to legitimate State institutions.  In the meantime, continued international support was needed for following best practice in the area.

Regarding man-portable air defence systems and chemical, nuclear and other materiel, he affirmed that the Government had recognized its responsibilities and was cooperating with relevant agencies with the support of UNSMIL.  He was establishing a national security coordinating committee to implement the results of the inter-ministerial security retreat on which Mr. Martin had briefed last week.  As critical border security required coordinated bilateral and regional efforts, efforts had been made to initiate dialogue with neighbours through the visits of the Foreign Minister to Niger, Mali and Chad.  He had invited Libya’s eight adjacent neighbours plus Mali, Mauritania and Morocco to a high-level conference on border security in Tripoli on 11 and 12 March.  The support of regional and international partners was important in that area, he added.

The lifting of sanctions on Libya’s central and foreign banks, he said, had enabled the Government to address the tremendous challenges of the transitional period, including the high expectations of the people.  He reassured the Council of his Government’s commitment to transparency and accountability in financial matters and would put in place stringent mechanisms towards that goal.  In that context, he welcomed United Nations support for the Office of the Auditor General and said his Government intended to carry out a comprehensive review of contracts.  In conclusion, noting the important role of the United Nations in the entire history of Libya’s statehood, he looked forward to working with the Organization closely over the coming year.

The meeting began at 3:10 p.m. and adjourned at 4:04 p.m.


Following the briefing, the representative of the Russian Federation, VITALY CHURKIN, raised the issue of civilian casualties caused by the North Atlantic Treaty Organization’s (NATO) air strikes, none of which he said had been acknowledged by the organization, despite credible counter-claims.  He expected that the organization would acknowledge casualties and pay recompense as proof of its respect for human rights.  He asked that the Government work with United Nations and NATO in a comprehensive manner on that issue.  He also expressed deep concern over weapons proliferation from Libya and reports of armed fighters being sent to Syria to attack the legitimate Government there.  With Al-Qaida in Syria, was that not support for terrorism?  He finally warned that the situation in Benghazi could turn into a tragedy.

SUSAN RICE ( United States) said she regretted the Russian Federation’s decision to raise the “old canard” regarding NATO.  The International Commission of Inquiry had concluded that NATO had conducted a highly circumspect campaign in order to avoid civilian casualties.  Indeed, it had made every effort to avoid civilian casualties entirely.  The Commission’s report said that NATO had adhered to a standard exceeding what which was required under international humanitarian law, and as in line with the mandate given to it by the Council.  The Commission had found no violations on the part of NATO.  Moreover, NATO had worked with the Commission and had looked into every allegation that had been brought to it.  Such investigations had proved that great care had been taken to minimize risk of injury to civilians.  Indeed, hundreds of targets were passed up and countless missions were aborted to avoid putting civilians at risk.

MARTIN BRIENS (France) said that the Commission of Inquiry had provided its “serious and comprehensive report”.  That survey had highlighted human rights violations committed by the former Libyan regime.  It had also highlighted that, when faced with an adversary that was deliberately attacking its own civilians, even as they sought refuge in schools and hospitals, NATO had been very discriminate in its use of force.  NATO had also cooperated fully with the Commission of Inquiry.

Germany’s representative, PETER WITTIG, also responded to the Russian Federation’s statement, as a representative of a NATO country that did not participate in the Libya operation and that took the allegations of civilian casualties very seriously.  He said that the investigations were thorough and found that NATO had carried out its mandate to protect civilians with precision and had taken all measures possible to avoid civilian casualties.

China’s representative, WANG MIN, said that the massive returns of migrants and proliferation of weapons caused by the Libyan conflict would have long-term effects, and lessons should be learned from that.  He welcomed the proposed regional conference on weapons proliferation.  Pointing to findings that some facilities bombed by NATO were not military installations, he said that had bearings on the carrying out of the mandate given by the Security Council and therefore the Council should remained seized of the situation and conduct further investigations.

Taking the floor again Mr. EL-KEIB of Libya thanked the representatives of the Russian Federation and China for their statements, but stressed that the issue of civilian casualties was “a matter of the blood of Libyans” and should not be reduced to a political contest between other nations.  The Libyan Government had undertaken its own investigation and had worked with NATO on several specific matters regarding civilian casualties.  Moreover, he hoped that issue would not prevent the international community from intervening in situations where citizens were being massacred by their own Governments.


For its consideration of the Libyan situation, the Council had before it the Secretary-General’s latest report on the United Nations Support Mission in that country (UNSMIL) (document S/2012/129), which describes the operation’s activities and assesses the challenges facing Libya as it continues its historic transition.  The Secretary-General also provides recommendations on the future role of UNSMIL, the mandate of which expires on 16 March.

Despite facing early tests following a series of security incidents in December, January and early February involving revolutionary “brigades” in Tripoli and elsewhere, demonstrations in Benghazi and Derna, as well as intermittent clashes among “tribal brigades”, the report states that, four months after the end of the uprising, Libya’s National Transitional Council and interim Government are addressing numerous challenges, amid high popular expectations to deliver on the demands for greater accountability and transparency. 

They are doing so, says the report, in the context of the deep-rooted legacy of the former regime, which includes weak and dysfunctional State institutions, the denial of political life and civil society, systematic human rights abuses, and social engineering and deliberate marginalization of communities.  The task of carrying forward a political process that has the broad participation of all major stakeholders, including civil society, is thus one of great difficulty, but “I encourage Libya’s leaders to persist in the spirit of inclusivity and reconciliation, which will ensure a successful transition,” the Secretary-General says.

He also says that the difficulties facing Libya’s interim authorities require determined political management by its leaders, who must be given the space to address their internal priorities.  UNSMIL, in partnership with the United Nations country team, remains focused on supporting them in these key challenges.  The commitment with which youth and women contributed to Libya’s revolution must be reflected in their continuing involvement in shaping the country’s future.  It would be particularly important for Libyan authorities to ensure women’s full representation in political decision-making and across government institutions.

The first free and democratic elections in more than four decades are a crucial opportunity for the Libyan people to exercise their right to confer legitimacy on governing institutions and on the constitution-making process.  The participation of civil society in the consultations over the electoral law, the role now opened up for political entities and the acceptance of special measures to promote women’s representation usher in a new phase in their active engagement in the political process.  The Secretary-General says it is of the utmost importance that all necessary measures are put in place, including security measures, to promote an environment conducive to credible, free and fair elections. 

In order for the United Nations to support Libya as it faces the challenges ahead, the Secretary-General recommends that the Council renew UNSMIL’s mandate for another 12 months as an “Integrated Special Political Mission” in the areas provided for by resolutions 2009 (2011) and 2022 (2011), with a particular focus on the need for intensified support in the following areas:  (a) democratic transition, including the electoral process; (b) public security, including the demobilization, integration or reintegration of ex-combatants; (c) human rights, transitional justice and rule of law; (d) proliferation of arms and border security; and (e) coordination of international support.

“The ultimate criterion for my recommendations is their appropriateness to the current Libyan context,” he said, adding that he believed that not only the United Nations, but the international community as a whole, will best support Libya, not by being driven by the supply side of post-conflict assistance, but by being responsive to Libya’s own emerging sense of its needs for international support.  A 12-month extension of UNSMIL’s mandate, as proposed, will enable the United Nations, on the basis of its positive relationship with Libya, to deliver the support the country has requested in areas crucial to its successful transition.

* *** *

For information media. Not an official record.