Fragile Peace Prevails in Libya after Ceasefire Accord Ends Recent Outbreak of Violence, Special Representative Tells Security Council
Permanent Representative Warns Supporters of Armed Groups, ‘Subversive Actors’ Interfering in State Banking Sector
A fragile peace is in place in Libya following the recent outbreak of violence in Tripoli and the brokering of a ceasefire agreement, the senior United Nations official in that country said today while briefing the Security Council.
Ghassan Salamé, Special Representative of the Secretary‑General and Head of the United Nations Support Mission in Libya (UNSMIL), said the violence that consumed the capital beginning on 25 August shattered the facade of calm that had prevailed in Tripoli since May 2017. The Mission is now working to underpin the ceasefire it brokered on 4 September and will continue to hold broad consultations while helping to establish the Special Monitoring Mechanism for Libya, he said.
Libyans are fed up with living on the poverty line as their national resources are looted by gunmen‑turned‑millionaires, he continued, emphasizing: “We must not return to the status quo.” There is an urgent need to establish strong and unified civilian and military institutions that will work for the benefit of all citizens. Turning to economic issues, he stressed that ending plundering is vital to both economic reform and the political process. The Central Bank of Libya and the Government of National Accord must move forward on currency exchange rate and subsidy reform.
While it is clear that Libyans want a change in political leadership, the House of Representatives has failed to deliver the required election and referendum legislation, he said, cautioning that if that continues, it will be necessary to close the chapter on the present approach and embrace other ways to achieve peaceful political change.
Olof Skoog (Sweden), speaking in his capacity as Chair of the Committee established pursuant to resolution 1970 (2011) concerning Libya, provided an update on its work, recalling that on 23 August, it heard a presentation by the Panel of Experts on its final report under resolution 2367 (2017), and discussed the recommendations contained therein. The main issues included violations of the arms embargo; violations of human rights and international humanitarian law, including in the context of human trafficking and migrant smuggling; illicit exports of crude oil and refined petroleum products from Libya; and the implementation of the assets freeze.
Several members of the Council also spoke today, condemning the recent violence and applauding efforts by UNSMIL and the Special Representative in securing the peace agreement. Ethiopia’s representative noted that the use of violence by armed groups to control State institutions is a major impediment to resolving the crisis in Libya. She stressed the importance of implementing the United Nations Plan of Action.
The Russian Federation’s delegate cautioned that holding elections before Libyan society is ready to enter the electoral phase risks re‑opening old wounds. He went on to emphasize that Libya’s natural resources should not be used for the geopolitical machinations of external States, adding that the involvement of international financial organizations should be considered carefully.
Libya’s representative stressed the vital importance of free and fair elections, and of creating credible State institutions. However, the United Nations Plan of Action remains mostly unimplemented more than a year after its adoption. He also said subversive actors are interfering in the functioning of the State’s banking sector, resulting in low liquidity and a lack of basic services. “Supporters of armed groups in other countries must refrain from spreading their venom in my country,” he stressed, calling upon the Council to consider sanctions against those who stand in the way of peace.
Also speaking today were representatives of the United Kingdom, France, Equatorial Guinea, Peru, Kazakhstan, Poland, Kuwait, China, Côte d’Ivoire, Sweden (in his national capacity), Netherlands, Bolivia and the United States.
The meeting began at 3:02 p.m. and ended at 4:56 p.m.
GHASSAN SALAMÉ, Special Representative of the Secretary-General and Head of the United Nations Support Mission in Libya (UNSMIL), spoke by teleconference, providing Council members with an update on recent developments in the country. The violence that consumed the capital beginning on 25 August shattered the facade of calm prevailing in Tripoli since May 2017, he said, recalling that tanks and heavy artillery were deployed in residential neighbourhoods and families were forced to flee their homes, while the city stood on the brink of all-out war.
On 4 September the Mission brokered a ceasefire between the major parties to the conflict and was now working to protect that fragile peace, cautioning that this outbreak of violence is but the latest in a series of crises. On 10 August, armed groups forcibly evicted displaced Tawerghan families from the Tariq-al-Matar IDP Camp, he recalled, while emphasizing that the displacement of people is unacceptable and doubly so for those already displaced.
He went on to report that on 23 August, Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL/Da’esh) claimed responsibility for an attack near Zliten, recalling that he alerted the Council at the time that Libya might become a shelter for terrorist groups of all persuasions. Furthermore, the Government of Chad and Chadian opposition forces have been fighting each other while operating from southern Libya in recent weeks, he said, stressing that the recent agreement signed by Chad, Sudan, Niger and Libya must be implemented to prevent Libya from becoming an alternative battleground for others.
The signatories had requested international support for the implementation of those agreements and Council members should consider that request positively, he continued. “We must not return to the status quo,” he said, emphasizing the urgent need to establish strong and unified civilian and military institutions that work for the benefit of all citizens. UNSMIL is now working to underpin the ceasefire by revising security arrangements in Tripoli in order to reduce the influence of groups that use arms to achieve parochial goals. In the coming days, the Mission would continue to hold broad consultations so as to strengthen the ceasefire and assist in the establishment of a monitoring mechanism.
He went on to state that the Mission’s public criticism of the predatory behaviour of armed groups in the capital was warmly welcomed by Libyans, “who are fed up with living on the poverty line whilst their national resources are looted by gunmen-turned-millionaires”. UNSMIL’s other priority is to address the economic issues underpinning the crisis and eroding the daily lives of citizens across the country. It is crucial to put an end to plundering, otherwise there is little chance for progress on economic reform or the political process. Urging action on economic reform, he called upon the Central Bank of Libya and the Government of National Accord to move forward immediately on the currency exchange rate and subsidy reforms.
Describing the request by Prime Minister Faiez Serraj for international support for a financial review as a valuable opportunity to bring transparency and accountability to how Libya’s wealth is managed, he said that, in response to the Council’s 19 July request that the Mission provide suggestions on the modalities of such a review, he engaged with Libyan and international partners, including by convening the Governor of the internationally-recognized Central Bank of Libya in Tripoli and the head of the parallel Central Bank in the East for a meeting at the UNSMIL office to agree on the broad parameters of a review.
Recalling that the Libyan public made a clear choice for peaceful and democratic change through elections, as widely reflected during the National Conference consultations, he declared: “It should come as no surprise that the Libyans want a change in their political leadership.” The United Nations is working hard to put the conditions for national elections in place, but the House of Representatives has failed to deliver the election and referendum legislation, he said, adding that many members of that House sought to subvert the political process to their own ends. Unless they produce legislation soon, it will be necessary to close the chapter on this approach because there are other ways to achieve peaceful political change, he cautioned, stressing: “We will embrace them with no hesitation.”
OLOF SKOOG (Sweden), briefing in his capacity as Chair of the Committee established pursuant to resolution 1970 (2011) concerning Libya, outlined its work during the period from 7 July to 5 September 2018. During informal consultations on 23 August, he said, the Committee heard a presentation by the Panel of Experts on its final report under resolution 2367 (2017) and discussed the recommendations contained therein. The main issues under discussion included violations of the arms embargo; violations of human rights and international humanitarian law, including in the context of human trafficking and the smuggling of migrants; illicit exports of crude oil and refined petroleum products from Libya; and implementation of the freeze on assets. Of the 14 recommendations contained in the report, seven are addressed to the Council and seven to the Committee, he said, adding that of the latter, members agreed to take follow-up action on two. The Committee also requested additional written information from the Panel of Experts regarding three recommendations. With respect to the arms embargo, the Committee received and is currently considering a request by Malta for exemption, he said.
Concerning measures aimed at preventing illicit exports of petroleum, including crude oil and refined petroleum products, the Committee received a vessel-designation request and referred the matter back to the State, seeking further clarification. It also sent a letter to Libya seeking any information it might possess on that matter. With respect to the assets freeze, he said, the Committee received notification from the United Kingdom regarding the legal expenses of a listed entity, the Libyan Investment Authority. Meanwhile, in connection with the travel ban, the Committee approved an extension to the exemption request on behalf of Sayyid Mohammed Qadhaf-al-Dam — authorized to travel from Libya to Egypt on the grounds of humanitarian need — and approved an extension request from Safia Farkash al-Barassi, authorized to travel from Libya to Oman on the same grounds. Among other matters considered during the review period, the Committee received communications from the focal points for delisting established pursuant to resolution 1730 (2006), related to requests for delisting, only from the travel ban, of Ms. Al-Barassi as well as Aisha Qadhafi, he said, adding that those requests are currently under consideration.
KAREN PIERCE (United Kingdom) strongly condemned the recent clashes in and around Tripoli, saying much more remains to be done to stem the violence and address their roots causes. Urging all Libyan parties to immediately abide by the agreed ceasefire, she said more progress is also needed to ensuring implementation of the United Nations action plan. Elections will be critical to ensuring a robust legal framework as well as sufficient political consensus to avoid further exacerbating divisions, she said, emphasizing that all those responsible for human rights violations must be held to account. Calling on the Libyan parties to refrain from any actions that undermine the ceasefire, or set political progress back, she also called upon the country’s leaders to address the suffering of its people and to push for economic reforms that will ensure more equitable distribution of wealth.
FRANÇOIS DELATTRE (France) said the fight against those seeking to imperil Libya’s fragile situation and ransack its resources remains critical. Such actions could jeopardize the country’s delicate political balance, he said, emphasizing that strong national institutions will help to bolster the fight against organized crime. Warning that “the situation as it stands will buckle under further delay”, he emphasized that Libya’s enemy is the current status quo — the country’s “economy of predation”. He stressed the critical need to uphold such crucial commitments as the holding of elections in December for the sake of progress. Against that backdrop, France supports the extension of UNSMIL’s mandate for one year, he added.
JOB OBIANG ESONO MBENGONO (Equatorial Guinea) said full implementation of the Libyan Political Agreement will be difficult to achieve if the country remains fragmented and the armed groups continue to operate with full impunity. Noting also the uncontrolled flow of illegal weapons into Libya, he said the parties to the conflict must refrain from any actions that could complicate the scenario further. He stressed the importance of achieving reconciliation through direct, frank and inclusive dialogue.
FRANCISCO TENYA (Peru) emphasized that the Libyan Political Agreement is the only viable solution to the current political stalemate, stressing the importance of direct participation by citizens. Expressing concern about the lack of progress towards implementing the proposed amendments to the Political Agreement, he encouraged the parties to continue to work towards the elections scheduled for December, underlining the urgent need to produce the requisite legislation and to provide the security and financial guarantees needed for the polls. Noting that hydrocarbon resources are a chief source of national revenue, he said the smooth functioning of Libya’s financial institutions is crucial for its long-term progress, and called upon the authorities to enact the economic reforms agreed within the economic dialogue.
KAIRAT UMAROV (Kazakhstan) declared: “The latest escalation of the situation once again proves the necessity to immediately focus on the largely unaddressed structural political issues and the multiplicity of armed actors on the ground with conflicting agendas.” Calling for efforts to build and strengthen State structures, the armed forces and the security sector, he also stressed the urgent need to improve Libya’s stability and socioeconomic conditions. While elections are critical, it is equally important to ensure that the proper conditions are in place to hold them, he emphasized, calling in that regard upon all Libyan stakeholders to maintain a strong commitment to the common goal of a political settlement to the crisis. All international efforts to advance that aim should be consolidated under the United Nations-led process, he emphasized.
JOANNA WRONECKA (Poland) condemned the recent escalation of violence in and around Tripoli, in particular the indiscriminate shelling by armed groups that led to the death and injury of civilians, including children. She called upon all parties to fully respect international humanitarian law, including by taking all feasible precautions to protect civilians and to ensure that the wounded and sick are cared for. Reiterating the Council’s zero-tolerance policy for torture, summary executions, and unlawful killings in custody, she called upon all Libyan parties to cease hostilities immediately and to abide by the ceasefire agreement brokered by the United Nations and the Reconciliation Committees. Regarding the political process, she welcomed the strong engagement by Libyan women in political, peacebuilding, recovery and reconciliation processes.
VLADIMIR K. SAFRONKOV (Russian Federation) said inter-Libyan differences were too deep to expect rapid progress. Expressing dismay at the events of the last few weeks, he noted that it took courageous efforts by the Secretary-General’s Special Representative to stop the escalation of violence. It is clear that the authorities have very limited capabilities and continue to rely on armed groups, while the so-called Presidential Guard remains an exercise on paper, he said. Isolated political actions without a clear strategy could hardly succeed, he said, cautioning that elections should only be held when Libyan society is ready to enter the electoral phase, otherwise the exercise would only reopen old wounds. He stressed that natural resources should not be used for the geopolitical machinations of external States, adding that the participation of international financial organizations should be considered carefully. While also voicing concern about the situation of migrants and refugees, he said sanctions are not a long-term solution.
BADER ABDULLAH N. M. ALMUNAYEKH (Kuwait) called on all Libyan parties to cease fighting immediately and to engage constructively in dialogue, so that United Nations efforts to reach a comprehensive political agreement can succeed. Given the state of instability, the Council must make further efforts to end the spread of armed groups and regain control over terrorist hotspots. He stressed the importance of unifying different Government institutions and emphasized that the House of Representative must conduct discussions in a manner that will address the aspirations of the Libyan people. Turning to economic development, he pointed out that oil production has declined from 1 million barrels a day to 350,000 barrels a day due to armed conflict, adversely affecting the State budget. He said it is crucial to restore economic stability through fair economic reforms that will ensure accountability and long-term progress.
ZHANG DIANBIN (China), describing the security situation in Libya as fragile, said there has nevertheless been some progress, including the recently agreed ceasefire. The parties must commit to seeking an inclusive and peaceful resolution to the conflict, with the support of the international community, while the latter must fully respect Libya’s sovereignty, he emphasized. A unified national security agency should be created as soon as possible in order to ensure implementation of the United Nations action plan. However, China has always held the view that sanctions are not an end in themselves and should be applied carefully so as not to harm the population at large, he stressed.
Mr. IPO (Côte d’Ivoire) hailed the progress made in ensuring transparent oversight of Libya’s hydrocarbon reserves, including the reopening of two oil refineries and the audit of such industries by the Central Bank of Libya. However, the recent fighting in Tripoli reveals that much more remains to be done to preserve the gains made, he said. Condemning the continued illicit trafficking of migrants, the holding of migrants in detention centres, and the foot-dragging in resolving those and other challenges, he asked the authorities to turn over to international courts anyone known to have perpetrated such crimes. Meanwhile, the electoral laws that must precede the vote in December have still not been adopted, he noted, while hailing recent diplomatic efforts by France to help parties build an atmosphere conducive to the holding of free, fair, peaceful and transparent elections.
Mr. SKOOG (Sweden), speaking in his national capacity, said the ceasefire brokered by the United Nations must now be actively supported, and urged all parties to respect and implement the Libyan Political Agreement, including by ending all hostilities, protecting civilians and re-opening Mitiga airport. Countries with influence over the parties must ensure that they deliver on their commitments, he added, warning: “We remind those who threaten peace and stability in Libya that they will be held accountable.” The continued flow of illegal arms risks fuelling the escalation of violence and increases the suffering of the civilian population, he said, noting that recent developments demonstrated the lack of commitment to progress in the political process and to reversing the security vacuum. Actors benefiting from instability and the status quo continue to hinder the political process, he added. Sweden emphasized the critical importance of free and fair elections, and the full and equal participation of women in political life, he stressed.
LISE GREGOIRE VAN HAAREN (Netherlands) urged all sides to cooperate with the United Nations and adhere fully to the ceasefire. Technical, legislative, political and security conditions must be in place for the upcoming elections to be credible, peaceful and inclusive, she said. The economic crisis, including the depreciation of the national currency, rising prices and the liquidity crisis, has had devastating effects on the livelihoods of Libyan citizens, she said, adding that the country’s financial management needs repair urgently. Expressing concern about the serious human rights violations across Libya, she urged respect for international humanitarian law and called for strengthening donor coordination in the fields of humanitarian aid, security and human rights.
MAHLET HAILU GUADEY (Ethiopia) condemned the recent violence, especially indiscriminate shelling by armed groups in neighbourhood areas. The people of Libya have been calling for an end to the protracted transition through political means, she said, noting also that the violence jeopardizes the safety of vulnerable groups. Emphasizing that political objectives should be pursued through dialogue, she said the use of violence by armed groups to control State institutions and the widespread violations of human rights are among the major impediments to resolving the multifaceted crisis in Libya. Full and timely implementation of the United Nations Plan of Action remains the only way to finding a long‑term solution, she said. While it is critical to hold the elections in accordance with the Plan of Action, it is equally important to have the proper conditions in place, she added.
VERÓNICA CORDOVA SORIA (Bolivia) said the indiscriminate use of explosive devices by armed groups significantly damages schools, hospitals and mosques, noting that such deliberate attacks can constitute war crimes. Calling on all parties to uphold all de‑escalation and ceasefire efforts, she stressed that the situation of detained migrants and refugees is a matter of special concern. The authorities must investigate it and ensure accountability, she stressed. Reiterating the importance of implementing the Libyan Political Agreement in full, she stressed the need to draft the legislation required to move the process forward. There can be no military solution to the problem, she emphasized, pointing out that interventionist actions and regime‑change policies have caused a wave of chaos in the Sahel region.
JONATHAN R. COHEN (United States), Council President for September, spoke in his national capacity, saying the key conclusion from today’s meeting is that the Council stands united behind the work of the Secretary‑General’s Special Representative. Calling upon all parties to refrain from any actions that can set the peace process back, he said the Libyan people want an end to the fighting, a return to basic services and the national oil wealth invested back in its people. “The sad truth is that a small number of political spoilers undermine this vision,” he said, emphasizing that such challenges — which play into the hands of terrorists and people smugglers — must end. International partners, especially Libya’s neighbours, must declare “enough is enough” and compel the parties to reach a credible political process and free, fair elections. However, he warned against setting artificial deadlines. Libya’s people are ready to build a brighter future, and “it is our responsibly to help them get there”, he said.
ELMAHDI S. ELMAJERBI (Libya) said there is no doubt that local and international actors “harbour ill intentions” towards his country, attempting to maintain the status quo while undermining efforts to achieve peace. For example, civilians are regrettably still suffering from the use of heavy weapons in populous areas, contrary to the terms set out in various Council resolutions. The United Nations, and especially the Security Council, must work to disarm armed groups, he emphasized. The constitutional process — which will pave the way for free, general and fair elections, and ultimately the creation of credible State institutions — is critical, he said, expressing hope that the parties will uphold the ceasefire agreement reached on 4 September. However, some subversive actors are interfering in the functioning of the State banking sector, resulting in low liquidity and the lack of basic services, he noted.
Meanwhile, the Libyan people and foreigners continue to be subjected to unacceptable human rights violations, he said. “Supporters of armed groups in other countries must refrain from spreading their venom in my country,” he stressed, recalling that more than a year has passed since the adoption of the United Nations Plan of Action. However, it remains mostly unimplemented, and in that regard, the international community must stand united to compel the parties to implement all agreements in order to pave the way for democratic elections. Statements by Council members are not enough, he emphasized, calling upon them to take a clear position against those who stand in the way of peace, including by considering sanctions against them.