The international community must build on August’s Eid al-Adha humanitarian truce in Libya with a strong and unequivocal message that emphasizes respect for the arms embargo, non-interference in Tripoli’s affairs and support for whatever political future Libyans might agree to, the top United Nations official in the country told the Security Council today.
An international meeting, supported by regional organizations, remains a sine qua non for getting key external stakeholders to commit to ending the conflict and getting a Libyan-led political process back on track, said the Special Representative of the Secretary-General and Head of the United Nations Support Mission in Libya (UNSMIL), as he presented the Secretary-General’s latest report on the Mission.
“Many Libyans feel abandoned by part of the international community and exploited by others,” he said, warning of two “highly unpalatable scenarios” if the Council and broader international community fail to support an immediate end to the conflict — either a persistent and low-intensity conflict with continued fratricide among Libyans, or a doubling down of military support to one side or the other by their external patrons, resulting in a sharp escalation and regional chaos.
“The idea that war should be given a chance and that a military solution is at all possible is quite simply a chimera,” he said, speaking via video‑teleconference from Tripoli, emphasizing that the Council is capable of doing more and that Libyans deserve better.
The Special Representative briefed the Council five months to the day that General Khalifa Haftar, commander of the Libyan National Army, launched an offensive to seize control of Tripoli from the Government of National Accord. To date, more than 100 civilians have been killed, more than 300 injured and 120,000 displaced, with the number of fighters killed thought to be in the low thousands. Recent casualties include three United Nations staff members killed and two seriously injured in a bomb attack in Banghazi on 10 August.
“Despite the bellicose rhetoric and strong polarization in the country, there is popular support for an end to the violence, including by the actual fighters,” he said, adding that he is pursuing an intensive campaign in Europe and the Middle East in an attempt to forge consensus on an international meeting of concerned parties aimed at ending the conflict and resuming the political process.
The Council also heard today from the Head of Advocacy and Outreach at Lawyers for Justice in Libya, a non-governmental organization registered in the United Kingdom. She said the abduction and disappearance of Siham Sergewa, a female member of the Libyan House of Representatives, from her home in Benghazi on 17 July, demonstrated how perpetrators are emboldened by impunity for attacks against civil society activists. Noting that migrant and refugee women in detention centres are strip‑searched and exposed to sexual violence, including rape, she said that the State’s inability to curb armed groups and militias has left women vulnerable. Given the gender dimension of the conflict, it is critical that women are meaningfully included in all political talks to bring sustainable peace to Libya, she emphasized.
Warning that Libya is likely to erupt into “a full civil war” unless action is taken immediately, she called on the Council to demand an immediate ceasefire, ensure protection of civilians from attacks and to halt the transfer of weapons that are being used to perpetuate the violence. The Council should also call on the International Criminal Court to investigate possible war crimes and crimes against humanity, and also that Libya’s authorities do more to protect women and girls, including migrants, refugees and asylum‑seekers. While warring parties fight for power, it is Libya’s people who are paying the ultimate price. “It is their voices that should guide your actions by bringing an end to this conflict and restoring peace in Libya,” she said.
Eight of the Council’s 15 members took the floor, with Kuwait’s representative pointing out that the arms embargo on Libya has proven ineffective since April. He also warned of an influx of foreign terrorist fighters — particularly members of Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL/Da’esh) — protracting the conflict. Turning to the humanitarian situation, he called for the release of the more than 5,000 migrants and refugees being held in Libya’s detention centres.
Echoing the Special Representative’s call for the detention centres to be shuttered, Equatorial Guinea’s delegate said the Council must express itself clearly and adopt more effective measures. Foreign interference in Libya is a key factor in the crisis that the Council and the United Nations should loudly condemn, he added. Failure to do so would amount to legitimizing such conduct and permissiveness is not an image that the Council should project, he said.
The representative of Germany — who also presented the Council with the latest report of its Libya sanctions committee, which he chairs — agreed that the arms embargo must be implemented fully and strictly. The illicit flow of weapons into Libya is undermining the Special Representative’s efforts and non-compliance will lead to grave consequences, he said, calling also for an immediate ceasefire and for those Member States with influence to do their part.
Emphasizing the ongoing nature of the conflict, Libya’s representative warned the combined efforts of the United Nations, African Union and the European Union will come to naught if all stakeholders are not involved. He welcomed the Special Representative’s call for an international conference, but added that it must be preceded by a national dialogue that would enable the warring parties to reach a unified position. He called on the Council to adopt swift measures paving the way for resuming the political process, and to also dispatch a fact-finding mission that would determine the perpetrators of indiscriminate attacks on civilian targets, including hospitals and detention centres. He further called on the International Criminal Court to initiate proceedings for war crimes. Describing Libya as no safe refuge for migrants and refugees, he asked countries of origin and destinations to assume their responsibilities. While calling for a Libya-wide ceasefire, he said the aggressors must be defeated and must not be treated on an equal footing.
Also speaking today were representatives of South Africa, China, Côte d’Ivoire, Indonesia and Peru.
The meeting began at 10:04 a.m. and ended at 11:36 a.m.
GHASSAN SALAMÉ, Special Representative of the Secretary-General and Head of the United Nations Support Mission in Libya (UNSMIL), speaking via video‑teleconference from Tripoli, presented the Secretary-General’s latest report on the Mission (document S/2019/682). He paid tribute to the three United Nations staff members killed and two injured in a bomb attack in Benghazi on 10 August. UNSMIL is asking Libyan authorities to cooperate with the Organization’s internal inquiry into the incident and to swiftly bring the perpetrators to justice, he said, also calling upon Member States to provide any information they might have. Emphasizing that the United Nations will remain in Libya, he said the Benghazi hub remains open with a limited number of staff members and that a decision on its longer-term future would only come after a fuller assessment of the security situation.
Today marks five months to the day that General Khalifa Haftar, commander of the Libyan National Army, launched his offensive to seize control of Tripoli, halting an active and promising political process and returning the country to renewed conflict, he said. To date, more than 100 civilians have been killed, more than 300 injured and 120,000 displaced, he said, adding that, anecdotally, the number of fighters killed appears to be in the low thousands. He drew attention to the shelling of airports and requested the Council to condemn such indiscriminate attacks. He described the situation in the southern town of Murzuq as grave, with more than 100 people killed in a local conflict between the Tebu and Ahali communities that risks taking on national dimensions. Kidnappings and enforced disappearances continue across Libya, with no news regarding the fate of Siham Sergewa, a member of the House of Representatives, since she was abducted in Benghazi on 17 July. He called on the authorities to investigate her disappearance.
Emphasizing the need to close all detention centres holding migrants and refugees, he said the Minister for Interior announced on 1 August that three such places would be shut down. However, migrants are still being sent to the Tajoura detention centre, scene of a deadly air strike in July, while some of the hundreds of migrants and asylum-seekers intercepted by the Libyan coast guard in recent weeks are being transferred to detention centres. UNSMIL has continued to receive reports of indefinite arbitrary detention of migrants and refugees, extortion and beating, trafficking and inhuman conditions, including overcrowding and shortage of food and water. Urgent funding for the 2019 Humanitarian Response Plan is needed to support the most vulnerable in Libya, including migrants, he said.
He said his call for a truce during Eid al-Adha, made when he briefed the Council on 29 July, met with an explicit and positive response from the Government of National Accord, as well as a positive though conditioned response from General Haftar. Despite some violations, the truce held through the duration of the festivities, and despite the relapse of violence, it demonstrated that the two sides can commit to a prolonged cessation of hostilities. He said the Mission is working to build on the truce through confidence-building measures leading to a deeper and more prolonged ceasefire. In that regard, he encouraged the Council to consider adding a provision to UNSMIL’s mandate to enable scalable ceasefire support for whatever form of further truce or cessation of hostilities is agreed between the parties. Noting that the influx of weapons and ammunition into Libya is exacerbating the violence, he said the arms embargo has been ineffective since 4 April with no interdictions or searches at sea. The reported arrival of thousands of mercenaries risks a further escalation of the conflict, he warned.
He underscored the Mission’s efforts to mobilize support for a further cessation of hostilities and renewed dialogue, stating that it is working to build confidence between the parties as combat fatigue becomes more prevalent on the ground. “Despite the bellicose rhetoric and strong polarization in the country, there is popular support for an end to the violence, including by the actual fighters,” he said, adding that confidence-building measures include the exchange of prisoners and mortal remains, family visits to prisons and telephone calls to establish proof of life. In parallel, he said he is continuing an intensive campaign with stakeholders in Europe and the Middle East to reach consensus on an international meeting of concerned parties aimed at ending the conflict and resuming the political process. It is clear that, without the commitment of key external actors, the conflict will continue, he said. The international community should use that meeting to send a strong message on the need to respect the arms embargo, commit to non-interference in Tripoli’s affairs, address the main causes of the conflict and emphasize support for whatever political formula the Libyans agree to. An international meeting, supported by regional organizations, remains a sine qua non to gain the commitment of the main external stakeholders to end the conflict and resume the political process, he stated.
“Many Libyans feel abandoned by part of the international community and exploited by others,” he said, warning of two “highly unpalatable scenarios” if there is no unequivocal support from the Council and the broader international community for an immediate end to the conflict. One scenario is a persistent and low-intensity conflict with continued fratricide among Libyans, further depredations for civilians, as well as migrants and refugees, more destruction of infrastructure and a growing threat of transnational terrorism. The other scenario would see a doubling down of military support to one side or the other by their external patrons, resulting in a sharp escalation that would plunge the region into chaos. “The idea that war should be a given a chance and that a military solution is at all possible is quite simply a chimera,” he said, emphasizing that the Council is capable of doing more and that Libyans deserve better.
JUERGEN SCHULZ (Germany), speaking in his capacity as Chair of the Security Council Committee established pursuant to resolution 1970 (2011) concerning Libya, reported on its work for the period from 30 July to 4 September, which included a formal meeting on 30 August in which 22 invited Member States discussed sanctions implementation. He said he intended to propose follow-up action to Committee members on some of the ideas and proposals raised during that meeting. Regarding the arms embargo, he said the Committee responded to a request for guidance from the Republic of Korea and received an update from the Panel of Experts on Libya containing a preliminary case study on air strikes in Murzuq on 5 August. Turning to the assets freeze, he said the Committee received an exemption notification from the United Kingdom in relation to the legal expenses of Aisha Qadhafi, a listed individual. No negative decision was taken. He added that the Committee is seeking further information from Libya in relation to an exemption request, submitted by Switzerland, that would allow a subsidiary of the Libyan Africa Investment Portfolio, a listed entity, to cover expenses stemming from a court ruling. On the travel ban, he said the Committee approved an exemption request for Ms. Qadhafi, but was subsequently informed by Oman, where she lives, that she would not be travelling.
He went on to report that the Committee, following up on a recommendation from the Panel of Experts, wrote to Libya regarding measures aimed at preventing illicit petroleum exports, requesting the contact details of the oil focal point so that it might communicate with him directly. He also recalled that the Committee is considering proposals by a Member State to designate three individuals involved in a criminal network that illicitly exploits crude oil and other natural resources in Libya. He went on to say that the Committee received an implementation report from the Netherlands during the reporting period. Turning to the case of Moncef Kartas, a member of the Panel of Experts, he said the Secretariat informed the Committee that Tunisia’s authorities have not yet terminated legal proceedings against him, as requested by the Secretariat, and that his telephone, laptop computer and documents have not been returned. The Committee continues to follow the case, he said, recalling that resolution 2441 (2018) urges Member States to cooperate fully with the Committee and the Panel of Experts, as well as the 1946 Convention on the Privileges and Immunities of the United Nations.
MARWA MOHAMED, Head of Advocacy and Outreach at Lawyers for Justice in Libya, said that her organization is registered in the United Kingdom and works on and in Libya to promote human rights, the rule of law and access to justice. Following the 2011 uprising that brought Libyans, for the first time, a profound sense of belonging and ownership over their collective future, civil society flourished and began to take many shapes and forms. However, this growing movement was disrupted by increased intimidation and violence, particularly by the assassination of women’s rights advocate Salwa Bugaighis in 2014. Civil society has since begun to withdraw from political leadership and activism. The recent abduction and disappearance of parliamentarian Seham Sergewa is a stark illustration of how complete impunity for attacks against activists has only emboldened perpetrators. Those who choose to fight for peace and justice continue to face repression.
Noting that migrant and refugee women in detention centres are strip‑searched and exposed to sexual violence, including rape, she said that the State’s inability to control the activities of armed groups and militias has left women vulnerable, with no accountability for attacks against them. In the absence of a central State authority, women have had to take their safety into their own hands. This has limited their freedom of movement and their ability to engage fully in public life, she added. Given the gender impact of the conflict on women, it is critical that women are meaningfully included in all political talks to bring sustainable peace to Libya. Since 2011, enforced disappearances have become a widespread pattern across the country. The official numbers from the Ministry of Interior state that 257 people disappeared in March and April 2017 in Tripoli alone. Ms. Seham’s case is one among many. Without accountability, this cycle will continue.
Expressing concerns over indiscriminate targeting of civilians and civilian objects, she said Libya is likely to erupt into “a full civil war” unless action is taken immediately. “It is a test of this Council’s credibility to act now,” she said, calling on the 15-member organ to demand an immediate ceasefire to end the current conflict, ensure that all civilians are protected from attacks and stop the transfer of weapons that are being used to perpetuate the violence. The Council should also demand accountability from all parties to the conflict, and call on the International Criminal Court to initiate investigations into possible war crimes and crimes against humanity. It should also ensure greater preventive and responsive measures by Libya’s authorities to protect women and girls, including migrants, refugees and asylum‑seekers. While warring parties fight for power, it is Libya’s people, the civilians on the ground who are paying the ultimate price. “It is their voices that should guide your actions by bringing an end to this conflict and restoring peace in Libya,” she said.
MANSOUR AYYAD SH. A. ALOTAIBI (Kuwait), expressing his delegation’s support for the Special Representative, welcomed the commitment of warring parties to Mr. Salamé’s plan for a humanitarian truce. Highlighting the three points set out by the Special Representative, including national and international meetings, his delegation wished that these measures will lead to an open political process. Arms embargos have been ineffective since April, he said, warning of grave consequences if they are not fully complied. He also warned of an influx of foreign terrorist fighters who are protracting the conflict, in particular the members of Da’esh. Turning to the humanitarian situation, he stressed the need to release migrants from detention centres and provide them with access to assistance. It is critical to enable United Nations agencies to reach those in need.
JERRY MATTEWS MATJILA (South Africa) welcomed the three-step approach proposed by the Special Representative, saying that there can be no military solution to the conflict in Libya. His delegation supports the convening of a Libyan national peace and reconciliation forum, preceded by a national dialogue conference to unify the country’s people. The resolution of the crisis lies in the close consultation and cooperation among the United Nations, African Union, European Union and the League of Arab States. There should be full implementation of the arms embargo. As long as there is conflict over Libya’s resources, a resolution will be difficult to reach, he said, calling for a comprehensive dialogue that include agreement on resource‑sharing by all political stakeholders.
WU HAITAO (China), deploring that Libya has been in turmoil for the past eight years, underscored the need for the resumption of political dialogue. It is important to adhere to the principle of Libyan-owned, Libyan-led political process. The parties to the conflict must build on the truce and generate mutual trust. The international community must play a constructive role, while respecting Libya’s sovereignty, territorial integrity and independence. Countries with influence must do their part. Support must be given to the Special Representative. The African Union and the League of Arab States have comparative advantages in mediation efforts. The question of sanctions must be addressed. While arms embargos must be strictly and impartially implemented, negative impacts on people’s everyday life must be avoided.
KACOU HOUADJA LÉON ADOM (Côte d’Ivoire) called on the protagonists in Libya to recognize that there is no alternative to a viable and credible political process. Failure to do so means deaths and displacements will continue, he said, drawing attention also to human rights violations in detention centres. Côte d’Ivoire hopes that migrants rescued at sea will be treated with humanity and dignity, with their repatriation carried out in line with international standards. Emphasizing that violations of the arms embargo is a source of concern for his country, he said resolution 2473 (2019) must be implemented, including through inspections at sea. Respect for the arms embargo is a prerequisite for a lasting truce. He went on to underscore the need for a prompt political settlement and to end safe‑haven status in Libya for certain members of Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL/Da’esh). He encouraged the Special Representative to continue his “remarkable mediation efforts” despite myriad obstacles and voiced his country’s support for an inter-Libyan conference.
JUAN DE DIOS EDJO MEMBA (Equatorial Guinea) underscored his country’s solidarity with Libya’s people, expressing grave concern at the worsening humanitarian situation, including the arbitrary detention of more than 5,000 migrants and refugees, as well as deaths on the Mediterranean. Equatorial Guinea supports the Special Representative’s call for detention centres to be shuttered as soon as possible. Emphasizing that the upsurge in violence is aggravated by the presence of foreign fighters, active terrorists and violations of the arms embargo, he said the Council must clearly express itself and adopt more effective measures to end the crisis. Foreign interference in Libya is a key factor which the Council and the United Nations should loudly condemn, he added. Failure to do so would amount to legitimizing such conduct, he said, emphasizing that permissiveness is not an image that the Council should project.
MUHSIN SYIHAB (Indonesia) urged all parties in Libya to halt military action, reduce tensions on the ground and return to political negotiations. Underscoring his country’s support for the convening of a Libyan dialogue, he said the Eid al-Adha truce not only marked the start of the Special Representative’s three-step plan, but also demonstrated that peace is possible. The next step is for all partners and regional organizations, with international support, to engage with sincerity in the search for peace. He expressed full support for the Special Representative and UNSMIL and looked forward to Council unity in extending the Mission’s mandate. He went on to reiterate Indonesia’s call for the protection of civilians and a humanitarian pause that would prevent further loss of life. The humanitarian situation is dreadful and getting worse by the day and it must stop, he said.
GUSTAVO MEZA-CUADRA (Peru) reiterated the need for the parties to the conflict to return to the negotiation table for a political settlement, which requires an immediate ceasefire, followed by confidence-building measures. He also expressed his delegation’s support for the three-step approach proposed by the Special Representative. Accountability is imperative. Air strikes on civilians and civilian structures must be investigated. Stressing the need for the international community’s support, he said the arms embargo must be strictly implemented. Peru will support the extension of the mandate of UNSMIL.
Mr. SCHULZ (Germany), speaking in his national capacity, underscored the need for the full and strict implementation of the arms embargo as the illicit flow of weapons undermines mediation efforts by the Special Representative. Non‑compliance will bring about grave consequences. There is no military solution, he said, stressing the need for an immediate ceasefire, while calling on countries with influence to play a role. Expressing support for the three-step approach by Mr. Salamé towards reviving the United Nations-facilitated political process, he said a lasting ceasefire is necessary. He welcomed the decision by the Government to close three migrant detention centres. Civil society plays an important role, he said, condemning violence against migrants and refugees, including women, while calling for a swift return of a parliamentarian who was abducted.
ELMAHDI S. ELMAJERBI (Libya) condemned an offensive in April by the forces of the Libyan National Army to seize control of Tripoli as an “aggression”. This resulted in 106 deaths, destruction of infrastructure in the capital, including a major airport, and the displacement of a significant number of people. The “war” is continuing, he said, welcoming efforts of the United Nations, African Union and the European Union. However, these will not be successful without the involvement of all stakeholders and their unified efforts. Welcoming the Special Representative’s call for convening an international conference on Libya, he said that a national dialogue must be held beforehand for warring parties to reach a unified position. Interference of some countries must be avoided in this process. Stressing the need to hold parliamentary and presidential elections in a specific timeframe, he also called for accountability for aggressors.
He said he has witnessed procrastination of Council members on the situation in Libya, calling on the 15-member organ to adopt swift measures to pave the way for the resumption of the political process. He also asked the Council to dispatch a fact-finding mission to determine the perpetrators of indiscriminate attacks against civilians and civilian structures, including hospitals and detention centres. He also called on the International Criminal Court to initiate proceedings for war crimes. Noting that Libya is not a safe refuge for migrants and refugees, he also asked countries of origin and destinations to assume their responsibilities. While calling for a ceasefire, he said the aggressors must be defeated and must not be treated on an equal footing. He wished that Ms. Mohamed had given her briefing in Arabic so that women in Libya could hear her view.