Violence, Hatred, Piracy, Cross-Border Crime Pose Dire Threat to Mediterranean Stability, Secretary-General Tells Security Council

SC/13073
17 November 2017
8106th Meeting (PM)

Violence, Hatred, Piracy, Cross-Border Crime Pose Dire Threat to Mediterranean Stability, Secretary-General Tells Security Council

The Mediterranean was a global junction of mutually enriching cultures, societies and economies, but violence and hatred were threatening that dynamism, to the detriment of the entire world, the Secretary‑General of the United Nations told the Security Council today.

António Guterres, briefing the 15‑member body, stressed that the Mediterranean region faced serious challenges, among them illicit trade in narcotics, weapons and petroleum products, large movements of refugees, and maritime piracy.  In some parts of the region, fragility was being exacerbated by systematic violations of human rights and violence against women and girls.  Not only was the Mediterranean suffering from severe environmental degradation, but long‑festering regional wounds and sectarian divides had been made worse by atrocity crimes, terrorism, and attempts to annihilate minorities, the plundering of cultural heritage, forced displacement and the use of chemical weapons.

Emphasizing that Libya’s stability was vital for the region, he also highlighted that instability in the Sahel area had contributed to an increase in irregular migration towards Europe.  Egypt, as well, continued to face security challenges, including those from the cross‑border transit of weapons and fighters along its desert borders with Libya and Sudan and in the Sinai Peninsula bordering the Gaza Strip.  More so, Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL/Da’esh) would continue to thrive unless the deep political roots of the Syrian conflict were resolved through a credible and comprehensive political process.

He also reported that the movement of refugees and migrants across the Sahara and the Mediterranean continued to exact a devastating toll, with migrants reporting extrajudicial killings, arbitrary detention, sexual violence and exploitation, forced labour, extortion and torture by criminal networks and authorities during their journey.  The trafficking of human beings could not be isolated from the traffic in cultural property, drugs, weapons and oil that benefited militia, terrorists and armed groups, he stressed.

All too often, approaches to security challenges in the Mediterranean were undertaken largely or solely through traditional security arrangements or ad hoc solutions, he stated.  Those carried the risk of prolonging unacceptable status quos or worsening situations if not backed by efforts to address the underlying root causes.  Efforts to achieve the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development had an important role to play in that regard, he said.

Council President Angelino Alfano, Minister for Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation of Italy, spoke in his national capacity, noting that his country was bearing the brunt of the problems.  Intelligence had to be improved worldwide to stem the threat of terrorism.  At the same time, the plight of migrants who were vulnerable to exploitation by traffickers and others had to be addressed.  Concerning the situations in Libya, Syria and Lebanon, he said that the key to the region’s stability was support for national political processes led by the United Nations.  Cultural collaborations, he added, were an important part of regional stability and interaction.

Despite its problems, the Mediterranean was also a sea of many opportunities, with a huge proportion of the world’s economic activity and maritime traffic, he stressed.  The region could retain its historic significance as a meeting place of nations, trading freely and cross‑fertilizing cultures, or it could descend to a place where insecurity overshadowed all such activity.  Regional and international solidarity was critical to secure the best future.

Egypt’s representative said the crisis in the region had made it a destination for foreign and returning terrorist fighters.  Combatting that challenge would require a comprehensive approach that addressed root causes without discrimination.  He stressed that any serious approach to crisis prevention could not overlook water scarcity, which could be a reason for war in the future.

Other Council members urged that more information sharing between States was needed, as well as effective cross‑border cooperation and interception of terrorist financing in order to combat the spread of terrorism.  Chronic underdevelopment should be tackled, and security‑related climate change risks should be addressed, some speakers said.  In addition, migrants’ countries of origin must be assisted in social and economic development.

Japan's representative also underlined the role played by regional organizations around the Mediterranean, including the League of Arab States, the European Union and the African Union, and highlighted the importance of implementing the United Nations Integrated Strategy for the Sahel in order to address the multidimensional and interlinked challenges facing that region.

Bolivia’s representative proposed the establishment of universal citizenship in order to improve the situation of refugees escaping conflict and trafficking.  Noting that the spread of arms from Libya was a great driver of insecurity in the region, he said that the Organization’s work to encourage dialogue to peacefully resolve conflict was critical.  However, foreign intervention was not advisable, as recent experience had abundantly shown.

The United States’ representative stated that ignoring demands for human rights had created conflict and opportunities for terrorists, pointing to what had happened in Syria and Libya.  The problems began because of Governments that oppressed their people.  That must be countered in the larger scheme.  All tools available, including sanctions, should be used against criminal networks.

Also speaking were representatives of Sweden, United Kingdom, Ukraine, Russian Federation, Senegal, Ethiopia, Kazakhstan, China, Uruguay and France.

The meeting started at 3:08 p.m. and ended at 5:05 p.m.

Briefing

ANTÓNIO GUTERRES, Secretary‑General of the United Nations, said that, while the Mediterranean Sea provided invaluable trade routes and immense economic resources, including hydrocarbons and fish stocks, its benefits depended on stability and cooperation.  The situation in the Mediterranean region illustrated that peace and security were inseparable from democratic, economic and social progress, and from the advancement of gender, youth, minorities and human rights.  Events over the past few years in the region had forcefully — and painfully — made that clear.

Today, the region faced serious challenges on multiple fronts, among them illicit trade in narcotics, weapons and petroleum products, large movements of refugees and maritime piracy, he said.  In some parts, fragility was being exacerbated by systematic violations of human rights and violence against women and girls.  Not only was the Mediterranean also suffering from severe environmental degradation, but long‑festering regional wounds and sectarian divides had been made worse by atrocity crimes, terrorism, attempts to annihilate minorities, the plundering of cultural heritage, forced displacement and the use of chemical weapons.

Libya’s stability was vital for the region, he said, adding that instability in the Sahel region had contributed to an increase in irregular migration towards Europe.  Egypt continued to face several security challenges, including from irregular migration and from the cross‑border transit of weapons and fighters along its desert borders with Libya and Sudan and in the Sinai Peninsula bordering the Gaza Strip.  Achieving peace between Israelis and Palestinians was also critical, and a comprehensive political settlement in Cyprus would mitigate political tensions in the region as well.

He stressed that Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL/Da’esh) would continue to thrive unless the deep political roots of the Syrian conflict were resolved through a credible and comprehensive political process.  In addition, he warned that the security gains against terrorist groups in Libya, Iraq and elsewhere might prove reversible if construction and economic recovery were not accelerated.

The movement of refugees and migrants across the Sahara and the Mediterranean continued to exact a devastating toll, he continued.  So far, in 2017, at least 2,800 refugees and migrants had perished in the Mediterranean Sea, while countless others had died crossing the desert.  Those who made it to Europe had reported serious human rights abuses by criminal networks and authorities during their journey, including extrajudicial killings, arbitrary detention, sexual violence and exploitation, forced labour, extortion and torture.  The trafficking of human beings could not be isolated from the trafficking of cultural property, drugs, weapons and oil that benefited militia, terrorists and armed groups.

All too often, responses to security challenges in the Mediterranean were undertaken largely or solely through traditional security arrangements or ad hoc solutions, he stated.  Such approaches carried the risk of prolonging unacceptable status quos or worsening situations, if not backed by efforts to address the underlying root causes.  Efforts to achieve the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development had an important role to play.

The Mediterranean was a global junction of mutually enriching cultures, societies and economies, he emphasized.  Yet violence and hatred were threatening that dynamism, to the detriment of the entire world.  “We should do our utmost to resolve the worst of the region so that it can continue to contribute its best,” he said.  “I count on countries in the Mediterranean and beyond to reaffirm their proud tradition of openness and solidarity.”

Statements

ANGELINO ALFANO, Minister for Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation of Italy and Council President for November, spoke in his national capacity, noting that although the Mediterranean was a small sea, it was the centre and dissemination point of a large portion of global insecurity.  His country was bearing the brunt of that problem.  Giving an overview of the services Italy had provided to many migrants, he stressed that the entire international community had to play its part.  Turning to the matter of security, he also described Italy’s engagement in the fight against terrorism, including the training of military units to counter ISIL.  Intelligence had to be improved worldwide to stem the threat of that organization, even though its safe havens had been retaken.  At the same time, the plight of migrants who were vulnerable to exploitation by traffickers and others had to be addressed.

Addressing the situations in Libya, Syria and Lebanon, he said that the key to the region’s stability was support for national political processes led by the United Nations.  Concerning Libya and Syria, he called on all Council members to redouble their efforts to get national actors to engage in dialogue, and reach and implement political agreements.  Cultural collaborations were also an important part of regional stability and interaction and preserving cultural heritage was a way to combat extremism, he stated, noting his country’s co‑sponsoring of a resolution on preserving cultural heritage.

He went on to highlight the importance of defending religious freedom and protecting religious minorities in the region as an integral part of the rule of law.  Recognizing that women’s participation was critical in all such efforts, his country was supporting the Women’s Mediator Network.  Despite its problems, he stressed, the Mediterranean was also a sea of many opportunities, with a huge proportion of the world’s economic activity and maritime traffic.  The region could retain its historic significance as a meeting place of nations, trading freely and cross‑fertilizing cultures, or it could descend to a place where insecurity overshadowed all such activity.  Regional and international solidarity was critical to secure that first, best future.

AMR ABDELLATIF ABOULATTA (Egypt), calling the Mediterranean a cradle of civilization for both the West and East, said the crisis in the region had made it a destination for foreign and returning terrorist fighters.  Combatting that challenge would require a comprehensive approach that addressed root causes without discrimination.  Any support given to terrorists must be stopped, and compliance with Council resolutions and sanctions must be ensured.  In addition, the international community had a responsibility to support the Group of Five for the Sahel (G‑5 Sahel), he stressed, adding that efforts must be redoubled to implement the United Nations Integrated Strategy for the Sahel.  Furthermore, any serious approach to crisis prevention could not overlook water scarcity, which could be a reason for war in the future.  Mediterranean countries must therefore cooperate more to ensure development and water security.  He went on to underscore the importance of a holistic approach to address the root causes of forced displacement with a focus on the development dimensions.  The Mediterranean must be seen as a bridge, not a barrier or a grave, for ambitious young people striving for a better life, he stressed.

OLOF SKOOG (Sweden) said it was essential to respond to the needs of the most vulnerable in the short- and medium‑term.  Building on the sustaining peace agenda, the Council and the United Nations as a whole must address conflict more effectively, with the Council drawing upon integrated analysis to deal with international security threats.  The ability to manage long‑term structural risks, such as security‑related climate change threats, must be expanded as well.  Any long‑term strategy for the Mediterranean must tackle chronic underdevelopment, poverty, human rights violations, weak governance and a lack of opportunities as a matter of priority, he said, emphasizing the role of the 2030 Agenda to mitigate those issues.  A truly comprehensive approach would require true partnerships between States, regional organizations and people.  In that regard, the European Union had a key role to play.

MATTHEW JOHN RYCROFT (United Kingdom) said that, in many cases, a Government’s lack of respect for human rights led to conflict, mass displacement and abuses.  Terrorists and armed criminal groups exploited breakdowns in national authorities, using profits from illegal activities to fuel more instability which, in turn, damaged economic opportunities.  He reviewed his country’s efforts to address root causes, including investment in fragile States and implementing early warning systems.  As the Council penholder in Libya, the United Kingdom was at the forefront of efforts to help that country.  Emphasizing the need to reduce the space in which terrorists and people traffickers operated, he said his country was stepping up efforts to combat criminal networks that profited from human slavery.  The ultimate goal was a well‑governed and stable region in which human rights would be respected.

VOLODYMYR YELCHENKO (Ukraine) expressed regret that the crisis in Libya showed no sign of abating, given the important role it could play in stabilizing the region.  The situation there had opened a wide range of opportunities to exploit the security and institutional vacuum.  Recent setbacks and territorial loss of terrorist organizations in the Middle East had prompted an inflow of returnees to Northern Africa that had fuelled sectarianism.  To combat the outbreak and spread of terrorism, the international community needed to create measures in addition to those contained in resolutions 2178 (2014) and 2322 (2016), including easy sharing of information between States, effective cross‑border cooperation and interception of terrorist financing.  The waves of refugees fleeing Syria were also contributing to the deteriorating situation in the Mediterranean, he noted, adding that any victory over ISIL in Syria would provide only temporary relief.  There should be a long‑term blueprint for Syria, he stated, calling for more investment in social and economic development in the countries in need.

SACHA SERGIO LLORENTTY SOLÍZ (Bolivia) pointed out that terrorists and international criminal networks were connected in profiting from the suffering of the large number of migrants who, fleeing the region’s conflicts, had died or had been subjected to abuse in their Mediterranean transit.  He welcomed the United Nations efforts to address their plight, and the multilateral efforts to fight trafficking and other crimes.  To improve the situation of refugees escaping conflict and trafficking, his country had proposed the establishment of universal citizenship.  Noting that the spread of arms from Libya was a great driver of insecurity in the region while empowering non‑State armed groups and terrorists, he stressed that dialogue to peacefully resolve conflict was necessary.   The Organization’s work to encourage such dialogue was critical.  However, foreign intervention was not advisable, as recent experience had abundantly shown.

KORO BESSHO (Japan) underlined the importance of implementing the United Nations Integrated Strategy for the Sahel in order to address the multidimensional and interlinked challenges facing that region.  His country, a strong supporter of flagship projects, had provided support to border control and countermeasures against youth radicalization.  Commending the ongoing political process in Libya being led by its people, he expressed continued support for the role of the Secretary‑General’s Special Representative in that process.  Moreover, he highlighted the role played by regional organizations around the Mediterranean, including the League of Arab States, the European Union and the African Union.  A strengthened partnership between those organizations and the United Nations, as well as better coordination between them, was essential to comprehensively addressing regional challenges.  The human security approach was another useful tool, seeking to protect and empower each individual and address multiple challenges at once.

MICHELE J. SISON (United States) said that security in the Mediterranean was a question of human dignity.  Ignoring demands for human rights, as had happened in Syria and Libya, had created conflict and opportunities for terrorists.  The answer must not be to recreate the failed political structures of the past.  Political agreements that empowered people were needed.  It was also critical to fight Al‑Qaida and ISIL, and all States must work towards preventing the spread of ISIL fighters as they fled their havens in Syria.  The Assad regime’s barbaric acts continued to create refugees and extremism, she said, also adding her strong condemnation of the recent mass killings of civilians in Libya.  Those perpetrators must be held accountable and all sides must prevent further escalation.  Calling reports of abuse by traffickers of migrants sickening, she welcomed action to end such criminal activity and praised the European Union military operation in the Southern Central Mediterranean (EUNAVFOR MED operation SOPHIA) in particular.  All tools available, including sanctions, should be used against criminal networks.  However, the problems began because of Governments that oppressed their people; that was what must be countered in the larger scheme.

VASSILY A. NEBENZIA (Russian Federation), also noting the problems in the Mediterranean had been spawned by conflicts in the region, said that the negative effects were being felt around the world because of the current global interdependency.  To stem such threats, he called for an honest international partnership to resolve conflicts and fight terrorism.  He recalled his country’s call for substantive analysis of all developments since the beginning of the so‑called Arab Spring.  As for Libya, he argued that the roots of the current crisis had been the intervention by the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) for regime change, which resulted in a spread of arms to factions in the country and around the region.  It was important not to be deluded that terrorists could be used for regime change and then be normalized.  Human rights could only be strengthened by ending conflict, not by beginning it, he pointed out, adding that States involved in such intervention must realize their responsibility to the resulting refugees and other migrants.  Political solutions, peace, stability and confidence in the future were needed in Syria, Libya and other conflict zones.  Smuggling of persons must be fought, and countries of origin must be assisted in social and economic development.  Russian policy in the region conformed to those priorities, he said, emphasizing that there was no hidden agendas.

FODÉ SECK (Senegal) conveyed his Government’s indignation over the sale on Libyan territory of migrants from sub‑Saharan Africa.  Senegal called on the Libyan authorities, the African Union and the United Nations to conduct an inquiry into that practice.  Emphasizing that the Sahel region had borne the full brunt of the consequences of insecurity in Libya, he said Senegal favoured a holistic approach that included security, humanitarian, development and environmental aspects.  Restoring peace and stability in Libya was the key to regional peace and stability.  With ISIL in retreat, a political solution to the Syrian crisis must be found, he said, adding that efforts to resolve the Israeli‑Palestinian conflict must be redoubled.  He noted a lack of coordination and shared vision between the various regions affected by the security situation in the Mediterranean, which complicated the search for solutions.  In that regard, he called for frank and exhaustive cooperation.

MAHLET HAILU GUADEY (Ethiopia) said that challenges surrounding the Mediterranean region and beyond required a comprehensive and coordinated approach, based on intensified efforts to address the root causes of conflict.  In that regard, the Council’s role was critical, she said, emphasizing that it must work towards finding a political solution with all available tools, including enhanced cooperation with the African Union and subregional organizations.  Greater efforts must also be made to support Sahel countries emerging from conflict, she said.  Furthermore, she underscored the importance of regular, safe, accessible and orderly mobility as well as greater support for countries of first asylum.

KAIRAT UMAROV (Kazakhstan), expressing concern about the growing migration flow through the Mediterranean to Europe, primarily through Libya, which had become “the largest illegal channel for the transit of migrants and refugees”, welcomed the adoption of Council resolution 2380 (2017) which extended the mandate of the European Union’s Operation Sophia.  Tackling the migration challenge was not only a humanitarian issue, but also a political and security problem.  It could be solved only through a close partnership between the United Nations and the Union, NATO and the African Union, the League of Arab States and the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC), as well as the countries of origin and transit.  Understanding the root causes of displacement was vital for long‑term development, he stressed.

WU HAITAO (China), surveying the challenges of the Mediterranean region, said that the fate of the countries there was interwoven and the spillover of problems could not be underestimated.  It was urgent therefore to promote peace talks in Libya and Syria.  Hotspot issues in the Sahel must also be addressed, as should the long‑standing Palestinian issue.  Coordination between international and regional efforts must be increased for peaceful settlement of conflict, while the United Nations should lead in facilitation.  In addition, he stated that the international community must unite in fighting terrorism, using the full range of tools available.  The plight of migrants, as well as the root causes of their movement, should be addressed.  As all crises could find their roots in poverty, assistance to development was key.  In building regional security, partnership must overrule competition, and the United Nations Charter must be respected.  Describing his country’s contributions to security and sustainable development in the Mediterranean region, he pledged that those activities would continue.

ELBIO OSCAR ROSSELLI FRIERI (Uruguay) said that the challenges of the region should be examined from a holistic, multisectoral point of view, with the root causes of regional tensions addressed.  The movement of people, he emphasized however, was not in itself a threat to international security, and respect for human rights must be paramount in facing the challenges.  Conflicts must be resolved peacefully.  He welcomed the Action Plan for Libya for that country’s political progress, along with all efforts to encourage dialogue and address the root causes of insecurity.

FRANÇOIS DELATTRE (France) said the Mediterranean was facing an unprecedented multiplication of crises.  The Council had a responsibility to take collective action to tackle those threats, including greater effort to respond to terrorist financing and Internet use, he said, pointing to an international conference that would be held in Paris in April 2018.  Millions had been left destitute by the migratory crisis, but securitizing that issue was not an effective strategy, he said, calling for increased cooperation that would encompass the entire migratory route.  He conveyed France’s concern over the inhumane treatment inflicted on migrants transiting through Libya, and appealed to the authorities in that country to ensure that those people were treated with dignity and respect for human rights.  Climate change was aggravating development challenges in the Mediterranean region, with its effects being potential sources of instability and conflict.  France would promote a cross‑cutting approach to long‑term issues with cooperation between Africa, the Middle East and Europe, he said, emphasizing also his country’s support for the G‑5 Sahel initiative.  Concluding, he said that, given the scale of the challenges, the Council and the international community must step up its efforts.

For information media. Not an official record.