Libya Could Relapse into Conflict, Secretary-General’s Special Representative Warns, Citing Volatile Security, Human Rights Situation
Political Accord Might Need ‘Limited’ Amendments, Says Permanent Representative, While Also Seeking Embargo Exemption for Army
Alarmed at the volatility and human rights situation in Libya, the Secretary-General’s Special Representative there cautioned today that the country risked a return to wide-spread conflict.
However, there could be no military solution, emphasized Martin Kobler, Special Representative of the Secretary-General and Head of the United Nations Support Mission in Libya (UNSMIL). Briefing the Council on the Secretary-General’s latest report (document S/2017/283), he urged all armed actors to exercise restraint, to uphold their duties under international humanitarian law and human rights law, and to protect civilians. He also called on parties to follow the guidance of the Libyan Political Agreement.
“There is no plan B; there is no need for one,” he said, emphasizing that Libyans, as well as the international community, supported the Agreement. The fragility of Libya’s situation required the international community to move beyond a containment approach and past the fight against terrorism and migration, he said, explaining that those issues, alongside border security, were symptoms rather than root causes of the conflict. “It is time for the United Nations to take the lead again,” he said. “The women and men of Libya, its wise elders and its vibrant youth deserve a better life and they deserve it now.”
Underlining that history did not tolerate a power vacuum, he warned that gains made in the struggle against terrorist groups would be lost if some actors continued to destabilize institutions and civil society. Competition over control of national resources would trigger renewed violence. It was time to return to politics, address the core issues and return to the Political Agreement signed at Skhirat, Morocco. Libya would not solve its problems alone, he said, adding that its efforts must enjoy robust international support, “using antibiotics, not aspirin”. The Political Agreement must remain the framework for a negotiated settlement, he said, noting that efforts to draft amendments were under way.
Olof Skoog (Sweden), Chair of the Security Council Committee established pursuant to resolution 1970 (2011) concerning Libya, provided an update of that panel’s work since December 2016. On its agenda were, among other things, requests for exemption from embargoes and asset-freeze measures, and investigation of a report concerning two vessels illicitly attempting to export petroleum products.
In the ensuing discussion, Council members raised a range of concerns, including illegal arms flows, human rights abuses and recent clashes in Libya’s Oil Crescent. Many agreed that gains made in restoring oil production could be undermined in the absence of immediate action.
Egypt’s representative expressed appreciation for the efforts of Algeria and Tunisia, while noting that other regional actors had been playing a subversive role, as seen in a recent attack by extremist elements in the Oil Crescent. The Council must assume its responsibility in the face of such clear and explicit subversive actions, he said, emphasizing that eliminating the threat posed by Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL/Da’esh) and others would require a genuine national effort, a role that the national army was best placed to fulfil.
In similar vein, Ethiopia’s representative said the presence of sleeper cells affiliated with ISIL demonstrated the urgent need to create governmental institutions that would advance Libya’s struggle against terrorist groups. Indeed, the current situation could derail progress and plunge the country into a full-scale conflict, she warned, voicing concern at the suffering of refugees and migrants.
On Libya’s human rights situation, Senegal’s representative said that some reported incidents of trafficking could constitute war crimes. Moving forward, however, the current sanctions should be a means to restore stability rather than an end in itself, he said.
Delegates agreed that only a Libyan-led political process could pave the path to peace, with the representative of the United States emphasizing that the Political Agreement remained the sole road map to a democratic State. The progress realized must be protected and efforts to stabilize pockets of violence redoubled, delegates said, with Italy’s representative emphasizing the need to bolster Libya’s stabilization drive and the importance of robust international support.
The Russian Federation’s representative struck a divergent note, pointing out that the situation in Libya was not changing for the better, despite international efforts. Greater efforts would be needed to generate a clear understanding of the parameters for national reconciliation. The task going forward was to ensure that Libya did not fall apart, but instead returned to stability as an important regional player.
Libya’s representative reiterated the importance of an inclusive political solution to end divisions over the Political Agreement, while acknowledging that the accord might need “limited” amendments. Outlining the many challenges facing the Government, he cited its efforts to deliver basic services while endeavouring to fight terrorism, illegal migration and oil smuggling. He said the Libyan National Army and presidential guard should be exempted from the arms embargo, and urged the international community to provide the equipment they needed to carry out their duties.
Noting that Libya’s human rights situation remained a concern, he said it would be difficult to address it without a return to stability and without eliminating armed groups. He also underlined the principle of national ownership, calling for UNSMIL’s cooperation with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in preparing reports on matters outside the Mission’s mandate, such as illegal migration. It should also reflect its positions in writing, rather than over Twitter, which could inflame public opinion, he said.
Also speaking today were representatives of the United Kingdom, France, Uruguay, Japan, China, Sweden, Ukraine, Bolivia and Kazakhstan.
The meeting began at 10:05 a.m. and ended at 12:05 p.m.
MARTIN KOBLER, Special Representative of the Secretary-General and Head of the United Nations Support Mission in Libya (UNSMIL) said both Libyans and the international community supported the Libyan Political Agreement, emphasizing “there is no plan B; there is no need for one”. However, despite positive signs — including the successful fight against terrorism in Sirte and Benghazi and the increase in oil production — the sharp horizon established by the Agreement had blurred and uncertainty prevailed, he said, citing violent clashes, social unrest and increased criminality. Public services were failing amid a declining economy and rampant corruption.
Stressing that history did not tolerate a power vacuum, he said the gains made in the fight against terrorist groups would be lost if some actors continued to destabilize institutions and civil society, warning that competition over control of national resources would trigger renewed violence. It was time to return to politics, address the core issues and return to the Political Agreement signed at Skhirat, Morocco. Libya would not solve its problems alone, he said, adding that its efforts must be supported robustly by the international community, “using antibiotics, not aspirin”. The Political Agreement must remain the framework for a negotiated settlement, he said, noting that efforts were being made to draft amendments.
Emphasizing the need to lower the “temperature” in order for political discussions to resume, he expressed his continuing concern about the volatile situation in the south of Libya. There could be no military solution, he said, calling for reinvigorated stabilization efforts, swift implementation of confidence-building measures and a boost for the economy. In addition, national reconciliation must be integrated decisively in public services at all levels, he said, emphasizing also that security and governance must start improving locally, with democratically elected mayors having the authority, funds and responsibility to serve their municipalities.
A more concerted effort was required to assess and prioritize needs and engage local authorities in developing effective local stabilization plans, he continued. “By doing so, we will create building blocks for a stronger national Government.” The international community must be prepared to support the Presidency Council’s deployment of expertise on the ground, he said, emphasizing also that it must move beyond a containment approach and the fight against terrorism and migration, which, alongside border security, were symptoms rather than root causes of the conflict in Libya. Expressing gratitude for recent efforts by neighbouring countries and regional organizations to bring stakeholders closer together, he said “it is time for the United Nations to take the lead again”, declaring: “The women and men of Libya, its wise elders and its vibrant youth deserve a better life and they deserve it now.”
OLOF SKOOG (Sweden), Chair of the Security Council Committee established pursuant to resolution 1970 (2011) concerning Libya, provided an update on that panel’s activities since December 2016. He said that the Committee, having approved a request for exemption from the arms embargo, had also responded to requests for guidance received from Greece, Tunisia and Turkey. Concerning the asset freeze, the Committee was considering an exemption request and seeking additional details pertaining to an asset owned by a listed individual.
Turning to the travel ban, he said the Committee had approved an update of its Implementation Assistance Notice No. 4 and a request from Libya to extend a waiver for a listed individual undergoing medical treatment in Egypt. Outlining communications with the Permanent Mission of Libya to the United Nations, he said the Committee had addressed issues relating to future requests for exemptions from embargoes, asset freezes and oversight of certain Libyan public and financial institutions. It was also considering two letters received from Malta concerning the activities of two vessels reported to be attempting the illicit export of petroleum products, he added.
MATTHEW RYCROFT (United Kingdom), speaking as penholder on Libya, said there had seen a significant deterioration of the situation so far in 2017, notably in the south, where fighting was edging the country towards civil war. Acknowledging success in the fight against Da’esh, he cautioned, nevertheless, that those who undermined effective government represented a new threat. Concerning irregular migration, he said it could only be tackled properly with a strong and stable Government in place. Emphasizing the vulnerability of Libya’s economy, he said the Presidency Council and Central Bank must address the liquidity crisis and ensure that key public services were maintained during Ramadan. Oil resources, meanwhile, must benefit the whole country. Turning to the political process, he stressed the need — now more urgent than ever — for progress towards full reconciliation. The road ahead was long and difficult, he said, adding that continuing support from the Council and the wider international community would be vital in securing a better future for all Libyans.
AMR ABDELLATIF ABOULATTA (Egypt) recalled his country’s efforts to support and facilitate efforts towards a political settlement, re-establish stability and restore Libya’s standing in the Arab world, in Africa and in the international community. While expressing appreciation for efforts by Algeria and Tunisia, he said other regional actors had been playing a subversive role, as seen in a recent attack by extremist elements in Libya’s Oil Crescent area. The Council must assume its responsibility in the face of such clear and explicit subversive actions, he said. Emphasizing that the Libyan national army should be at the heart of any unified armed forces, under civilian supervision, he said that eliminating the threat posed by ISIL and others would require a genuine national effort, and the national army was best placed to fulfil such a role.
FRANÇOIS DELATTRE (France) said that fighting among Libyan armed groups confirmed the dangerous temptation to favour a military solution. That would lead to a political impasse and security chaos while creating fertile ground for the resurgence of terrorism, he warned. It was essential to keep economic and financial institutions under Government control, with oil revenues going towards rebuilding the State rather than funding a war economy and trafficking. He called upon the Libyan authorities to do everything possible to ensure that migrants were treated decently on Libyan territory. Emphasizing that the only possible solution in Libya was a political one, he said those preferring weapons to dialogue must be named, adding that the Council’s arms embargo, as well as measures against illicit oil exports, must continue. Oil resources must remain under the exclusive control of the Government of National Accord, for the benefit of all Libyans.
SEBASTIANO CARDI (Italy), emphasizing the need for cohesive international support, said the Presidency Council and the Government of National Accord remained the sole legitimate authority in Libya, in accordance with resolution 2259 (2015). Differences could only be resolved through inclusive political dialogue and national reconciliation, he said, welcoming efforts by neighbouring countries and regional organizations in that regard. Reiterating his concern about human trafficking and the smuggling of migrants, he said Italy was committed to rescuing people at sea and helping the thousands of migrants who reached its shores. However, stronger common efforts were needed to help the Libyan authorities combat the criminal networks involved in illegal migrant flows. He went on to emphasize the importance of Libyans knowing that the Security Council shared their desire for a united and prosperous county under State authority and the rule of law.
LUIS BERMÚDEZ (Uruguay) said the Government of National Accord must win broad public support to ensure stability. Unfortunately, armed groups held the true power on the ground and were attempting to control oil production and institutions. Broad initiatives to promote national reconciliation were needed because dialogue was more important now than ever before, he said, noting that more than 1 million people needed assistance. Additionally, the migration situation was increasingly desperate, with hundreds of thousands of people waiting to leave, many using smugglers. Any solutions must prioritize the human rights of refugees and establish effective controls, he said, emphasizing the need to exercise great care in redrawing UNMIL’s mandate to match the political and security situation on the ground.
KORO BESSHO (Japan), noting that little progress had been made since 2016, emphasized that a Libyan-led process was a prerequisite for peace. All efforts must be made to support the Political Agreement. Concerned about the deteriorating human rights situation, he stressed that the international community could not leave more than 1 million people to suffer. Japan would spend more than $4 million on stabilization efforts, including by providing necessary services to those in need, he said. Describing the escalation of violence as a consequence of the political stalemate, he underlined that the Political Agreement framework must guide the process forward.
WU HAITAO (China) said there had been little progress under the Political Agreement. Libya faced a range of challenges, including a fragile security situation in which the operations of terrorist forces persisted and weapons continued to spread. A political solution was the only way forward, he said, adding that dialogue was a tool for finding common ground. A ceasefire must be implemented to foster progress and the international community must provide constructive assistance, with the United Nations at the centre. UNSMIL must continue to implement its mandate, he said, while underlining the need for the international community to respect Libya’s territorial integrity and support efforts to stabilize the current situation.
Mr. SKOOG (Sweden), reverting to his national capacity, emphasized the importance of preventing the current negative developments from triggering a return to full-scale conflict. The people were suffering, with the breakdown of the rule of law leading to wide-spread human rights abuses and violations, he said. The perpetrators must be held accountable, he added, stressing that the International Criminal Court was now more relevant than ever before. The only way forward was through Libyan-led, United Nations-supported negotiations based on the Political Agreement. The Council and the wider international community must come together in support of the Presidency Council and the Government of National Accord as Libya’s sole legitimate authority, in accordance with resolution 2259 (2015) and related texts, he said, adding that calls by some actors for amendments to the Political Agreement must be addressed so as to ensure inclusivity. Encouraged by signs of increased willingness to engage in dialogue, he voiced hope that the process would move forward, emphasizing that the United Nations must now swiftly pursue a reinvigorated long-term approach to Libya.
VOLODYMYR YELCHENKO (Ukraine) described the lack of substantive progress in Libya as disappointing, cautioning that the situation could degrade further on all fronts. However, there were ways to prevent such an outcome, he said, emphasizing that the political deadlock must be resolved through compromise and a consensual solution, with the Libyan Political Dialogue providing a good platform for genuine discussion. In that regard, the United Nations should ensure that it talked to all parties, and that they talked to each other. External actors, meanwhile, could encourage the parties to negotiate, he said. There could be no military solution, he stressed, calling for the parties to cease hostilities and join the negotiating process. Any delay would lead to greater suffering for the Libyan people, he warned.
MAHLET HAILU GUADEY (Ethiopia), warning of a serious risk that Libya would slide back into wide-spread conflict, emphasized that the Political Agreement was the only framework that could ensure a lasting political solution. While there was no alternative to Libyan ownership of the political process, coordinated regional and international efforts were vital, she said, acknowledging the key role played by neighbouring countries. She went on to express concern over the overall humanitarian situation, as well as the plight and suffering of refugees and migrants, warning that the continuing presence of Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL/Da’esh) sleeper cells remained a serious threat.
PETR ILIICHEV (Russian Federation) said the situation in Libya was not changing for the better, despite international efforts. It was good that Libyans were ready for dialogue, but greater efforts were needed to come up with a clear understanding of the parameters for national reconciliation, he said, adding that the gamut of interlinked issues underscored the acute need for the international community to accompany the political process. There was no alternative to continuing the painstaking work of the United Nations with representatives of the main political forces, regions and tribes. However, those efforts must be more active, with more ideas introduced. Concerning the Libyan National Army, he said it could form the basis for unified armed forces and become a reliable beneficiary of international military assistance. Going forward, the international community’s task was to ensure that Libya did not fall apart, but instead became a stable country and an important player in the Middle East, he said.
SACHA SERGIO LLORENTTY SOLÍZ (Bolivia) urged all parties to turn away from violence. Concerned about the situation of internally displaced persons and refugees, he noted that respect for human rights was deteriorating, adding that reports about the detention of migrants described horrible conditions and abuses. Calling on all parties and armed actors to cease attacks on civilians, he encouraged the people and Government of Libya to continue fighting against Da’esh. Implementing the Political Agreement was a priority, he said, underlining that Libyan institutions must be strengthened and the country’s natural resources must be Libyan-owned.
FODÉ SECK (Senegal) described human trafficking as one of the most serious violations of human rights, characterized by incidents that could be considered war crimes. They were perpetrated by armed groups, even in detention centres for migrants, he said, adding that all parties must protect civilians and respect international humanitarian and human rights law. Libya’s economic growth must be relaunched to ensure the provision of much-needed services to the population. Expressing regret over recent clashes in the Oil Crescent area, he warned that he progress made in restoring production could be undermined unless action was taken immediately. The presence of ISIL demonstrated the urgent need to create governmental institutions that would further enhance the fight against terrorist groups. Recalling that the fragile situation inside Libya had triggered national and regional consequences, he stressed that all issues must be tackled with a view to finding a political solution to the crisis there. Sanctions should be a means to restore stability, rather than an end in itself, he said.
BARLYBAY SADYKOV (Kazakhstan) expressed deep concern over the renewed military escalation and fragile security situation in Libya, and called for an immediate focus on structural political issues amid the multiplicity of actors on the ground. Every effort should be made to strengthen State structures, he said, adding that economic vulnerability could only be overcome by investing in sustainable development. The worsening humanitarian situation must be given urgent attention alongside the fight against transnational organized crime. The Security Council should play a more urgent and proactive role in resolving the conflict in Libya, he said, adding that a clear message must be sent to all parties to cease military operations and engage in political dialogue. At the same time, all countries must implement Security Council sanctions on Libya in full.
NIKKI HALEY (United States), Council President for April, spoke in her national capacity, noting that the stakes in Libya were high. If national leaders worked together, with the support of the United Nations and the wider international community, Libya could start to rebuild, he said, pointing out that the status quo was not sustainable and did nothing to re-establish the stability that Libya’s people craved. All parties should commit to a Libyan-led dialogue, with the Libyan Political Agreement remaining the agreed framework that would lead to a democratic State. Every faction must come together in a national dialogue and agree on the terms of the Political Agreement, she said, adding that destabilizing attacks must end immediately. When factions fought instead of talking to each other, terrorist groups were the biggest winners, she pointed out. The Government of National Accord must control the resources that funded its budget, she said, adding that the United Nations and other actors must help it manage national oil resources. Groups smuggling oil out of Libya were smuggling their country’s future away. Underlining the need for Libyan leaders to come together in support of a single Government and military, she said they must compromise — the message that the Council should be sending.
ELMAHDI ELMAJERBI (Libya) said political divisions and a deteriorating security situation had cast a shadow over Libya. Reiterating the importance of an inclusive political solution within the framework of the Libyan Political Agreement, he said threats of violence and use of force by any party would only have negative repercussions. He welcomed all efforts being made by the United Nations, League of Arab States, African Union and neighbouring countries, and expressed hope they would continue.
He acknowledged that the Agreement might need limited amendments, raising the possibility of such through constructive dialogue. Underscoring the many challenges faced by the Government of National Accord, he recalled that it had also adopted a budget for 2017 that would deliver basic services alongside efforts to counter terrorism, illegal migration and oil smuggling. Turning to the military, he called for the Libyan national army and presidential guard to be exempt from the arms embargo, and for the international community to provide the equipment they needed to carry out their duties.
He said the human rights situation in Libya remained a concern, adding however, that it would be difficult to address such problems without a return to stability and an end to rampant armed groups. Emphasizing the principle of national ownership, he called on UNSMIL to cooperate with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in preparing reports on topics not included in the Mission’s mandate, such as illegal migration. It should also reflect its positions in writing, rather than via Twitter, which risked inflaming public opinion.
Mr. KOBLER, taking the floor a second time, said the Council’s solidarity and cohesion had sent an important signal to Libya. The humanitarian situation in the south was very difficult and the Mission had tried its best to stop the fighting so that aid could reach those in need. He expressed concern about overcrowded detention centres and prisons, saying repatriation efforts by the International Organization for Migration (IOM) represented only a drop in the ocean. On the illegal arms flow, he called the presence of 20 million weapons in a country of 6 million people “a real problem”, noting that, in 2050, sub-Saharan Africa would have 2.4 billion inhabitants, while Libya’s population would stand at 9 million. As a large and rich country, Libya would find itself facing large immigration waves, he said, emphasizing that such long-term population growth was an important trend to consider.