Foreign Affairs Ministers Call for Lifting Arms Embargo
“Horrific and brutal” acts of terrorism in Libya had “shaken our collective conscience” and must prompt swift action in support of the political process there, said the United Nations top official in that country as he briefed the Security Council this afternoon. Also taking part in the session, the Libyan and Egyptian foreign affairs ministers asked the 15-member body to lift arms sanctions to bolster forces to fight terrorists.
“No words can express my outrage and revulsion at the beheading of 21 men, including 20 Egyptian nationals, who were targeted for no other reason than their religious beliefs and nationality,” said Bernadino León, Special Representative of the Secretary-General and Head of the United Nations Support Mission in Libya (UNSMIL). The scale of that atrocity should not eclipse the other barbaric acts committed by extremist groups.
Those acts had highlighted the danger confronting Libya unless there was a swift agreement among the main parties on resolving the political crisis and ending the military conflict, he said. “These radical forces must be confronted at every turn,” he stressed. A coherent and comprehensive strategy to combat terrorism was needed, and such efforts could not be simply a series of isolated acts.
Echoing that urgency, speakers underscored the importance of immediate action. “We can no longer remain silent in the face of terrorism,” Libya’s Foreign Affairs Minister Mohamed Elhadi Dayri said. “The challenges facing the legitimate forces of Libya are enormous now that armed terrorist groups have taken whole cities.”
Providing a snapshot of the situation on the ground, he said fighting terrorism required strengthening the Libyan National Army. To do that, the international community must shoulder its legal and moral responsibility, and the Council must lift the arms embargo against his country. Without arms and training, extremists would gain the upper hand and continue to threaten Libya, the region and beyond.
Egypt’s Foreign Affairs Minister Sameh Shoukry also called on the Council to lift arms restrictions against Libya. Expressions of condolences and solidarity, as important as they were, were no longer sufficient to confront today’s dangers and existential threats. While a political solution was an absolute necessity, it was not an alternative to militarily confronting terrorism.
Despite warnings through diplomatic channels about the dangers of relying on extremist elements that had failed to represent the Libyan people, “our fears materialized”, he said.
Focusing on restoring stability, Abdelkader Messahel, Minister Delegate for Maghreb and African Affairs of Algeria, said a political solution must be found. More needed to be done to help Libya to commit to dialogue and reconciliation to build a national consensus based on common goals with the aid of the international community.
Agreeing, Tunisia’s representative pledged support for ongoing mediation efforts, saying “we must be united in our efforts”. Summing up the urgency of the situation, Italy’s representative said time was of the essence. A shift in the course of action was needed “before it is too late”.
The meeting began at 3:10 p.m. and ended at 4:23 p.m.
BERNADINO LEÓN, Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Libya and Head of the United Nations Support Mission in Libya (UNSMIL), speaking via videolink, told the Council that the “horrific and brutal” acts of terrorism in Libya in recent weeks had “shaken our collective conscience”, and must prompt action in support of the political process in that country. “No words can express my outrage and revulsion at the beheading of 21 men, including 20 Egyptian nationals, who were targeted for no other reason than their religious beliefs and nationality,” he said.
The scale of that atrocity should not eclipse the barbarity of other acts committed by extremist groups, including the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant/Sham (ISIL/ISIS) and Ansar al-Sharia, he said. Those acts highlighted the “imminent danger” confronting Libya unless there was a swift agreement among the main parties in the country on resolving the political crisis and bringing an end to the military and political conflict.
He said that extremist groups associated with Al-Qaida had been on the rise since the end of the conflict in 2011, with Ansar al-Sharia’s strongholds in Benghazi and Derna constituting a serious terrorist challenge. ISIL, which had shown its potential in the destruction of Iraq and Syria, had found fertile ground in the growing post-revolution political instability in Libya.
“These radical forces must be confronted at every turn,” he stressed, adding that the complexities of Libya’s crisis — from its weak and fragmented institutions to its current political polarization to media incitement and inflammatory rhetoric — must not be ignored. Since his last briefing to the Council, considerable headway had been made in bringing the parties to the negotiating table. A political dialogue had been established along five mutually reinforcing tracks, bringing together representatives from a broad spectrum of the Libyan political, military and social landscape.
In January, the United Nations had held two rounds of political talks in Geneva which he said injected a “new ray of hope” regarding the possibility of a peaceful resolution. A week ago, for the first time, all parties joined a United Nations-facilitated political dialogue in Ghadames. The differences among the parties were not insurmountable, and slow but steady progress was also being made in de-escalating the situation on the military front.
In light of the recent tragic acts, he said, “we must capitalize on this sense of urgency and — today more than ever — we must stand firmly behind the political process”. In that regard, he had called for the next meeting of the political dialogue initiated in Geneva. A comprehensive anti-terrorism strategy was needed, and such efforts could not be simply a series of isolated acts. “The window of opportunity is rapidly closing and no effort must be spared,” he said.
MOHAMED ELHADI DAYRI, Minister for Foreign Affairs of Libya, said no one in the regions stretching from the Middle East through North Africa was free from the growing terrorist threat. ISIL had taken over ports, oil fields and cities, working tirelessly to kill people and destroy economies and threatening Libya and neighbouring States. “We can no longer remain silent in the face of terrorism,” he said. “As of now, the challenges facing the legitimate forces of Libya are enormous now that armed terrorist groups have taken whole cities and proclaimed Al-Qaida doctrine.”
Despite positive indicators ahead of a national Libyan dialogue, the complex situation unfolding within and beyond its borders required urgent action to strengthen the Libyan National Army by enabling it to combat terrorism, he said. Furthermore, border control and institution-building needed to be bolstered to tackle terrorist acts and halt arms trafficking.
The international community must shoulder its legal and moral responsibility to lend support by arming and assisting Libya’s army to fight terrorists, he implored, asking Council members to lift the current arms embargo. Legal institutions must also be strengthened. Without arms and training, extremists would gain the upper hand and continue to threaten his country and the region. In the absence of international support, Libya had called on Egypt for help and was grateful for its assistance.
SAMEH SHOUKRY, Minister for Foreign Affairs of Egypt, said that expressions of condolences and solidarity, as important as they were, were no longer sufficient to confront the dangers and existential threats civilized human beings faced today. “What is in fact required is to adopt strong and genuine positions, as well as concrete measures, to face the dangers posed by Daesh and its ilk, who are familiar only with the language of criminal violence,” he said.
Since the Libyan revolution in 2011, despite warnings through diplomatic channels about the dangers of relying on extremist elements that failed to represent the Libyan people, “our fears materialized”, he said. Today, even though Libya was “the only Arab State where violent political Islam failed to achieve a majority”, extremists had taken control of constitutional and governmental institutions, kidnapped leaders, attacked embassies and triggered a spiral of violence.
He said that the international community had failed to act sufficiently to preserve the security of Libya, neighbouring States and the Mediterranean area. Furthermore, it did not effectively counter threats posed to international peace and security, including when extremists overtook Tripoli. Given the grave situation, “we simply no longer have the luxury to repeat past mistakes”, he said. Rectifying past complacency required a number of actions, including lifting restrictions on Libya’s legitimate Government to procure defence needs and preventing arms from reaching non-State militias. In addition, States wishing to provide assistance must do so in coordination with the legitimate Libyan Government.
For its part, Egypt had provided such assistance, with the full support of the Arab League, he said. He called on the Security Council’s full support of the Arab League’s resolution 7852 (2015) and for lifting restrictions on arming the Libyan National Army. While the political solution was an absolute necessity, it was not an alternative to militarily confronting terrorism, he said, calling on the Council to do its utmost to support Libya’s legitimate Government.
ABDELKADER MESSAHEL, Minister Delegate for Maghreb and African Affairs of Algeria, said the deteriorating situation in Libya had spilled into his country, with the hostage-taking incident at an oil refinery. The situation posed a threat to regional and international peace. To restore stability, a political solution to the Libyan crisis had to be found. More needed to be done to help Libya to commit to dialogue and reconciliation to build a national consensus based on common goals with the aid of the international community. In that regard, he pledged his country’s support for that process. Coordination and cooperation should guide stakeholders towards the common goal of peace and security in Libya.
SEBASTIANO CARDI (Italy) said that his country condemned in the firmest possible terms the recent killing of Egyptian Coptic Christians. There had been a grave deterioration in the security situation in Libya. “We are witnessing a growing awareness of the crisis” and of the need for a solution, as evidenced by the present Security Council meeting. However, “we must double our efforts” in support of United Nations-led dialogue and support a strong and capable unity Government in Libya. “We need a clear-cut, renewed commitment from all of those who believe in dialogue as the only way forward,” he said. In Libya, time was of the essence, and the next few weeks would be crucial for the future of the country. Italy was ready to do its part in the framework of the decisions that the Council may take. However, a shift in the course of action was needed “before it is too late”. The seriousness of the situation on the ground demanded a “change of pace” on the part of the international community.
MOHAMED KHALED KHIARI (Tunisia) said that today’s meeting showed the determination of the United Nations to tackle the dangerous upsurge in terrorism in Libya and beyond. The recent painful incidents only reaffirmed that there was a growing threat of terrorism that operated across borders; such terrorism had even affected his country. Just yesterday, four Tunisian national guard troops had been killed close to the Algerian border. Tunisia strongly condemned all acts of terrorism and resolved to participate in all international efforts to combat it. Tunisia maintained close relations with Libya and was concerned about its fight against terrorism which affected the entire region. Given the situation, he said, “we must be united in our efforts” to ensure a political solution. That responsibility was shared by all States now more than ever. He expressed the support of his country for the mediation efforts under way, which were aimed at paving the way for peace, and stressed the need to avoid divisive politics.