Arms Embargo Impacting Government Efforts to Protect Civilians while Militias Easily Get Weapons, Says Libyan Foreign Minister
Growing foreign involvement in Libya must be stopped as the toll of civilian casualties rises and diplomats “race against time” to convene an international conference as a bridge to intra-Libyan talks, reach a peaceful solution and spare many lives, the Secretary-General’s Special Representative told the Security Council today.
“Once invited in, foreign intervention is the guest that settles and seizes control of the house,” warned Ghassan Salamé, who is also Head of the United Nations Support Mission in Libya (UNSMIL). Speaking via video-conference from Tripoli, he reported that the violence in populated areas has further intensified with a growing involvement of fighters from foreign military companies.
Yet the arms embargo continues to be violated, he observed. Drone technology has resulted in over 800 strikes in support of the Libyan National Army and 240 in support of the Government of National Accord, in addition to increased use of unguided bombs by the National Army in populated areas. More than 200 civilians have been killed and more than 128,000 displaced since the latest round of the conflict began in April. As well, targeted attacks on health centres might amount to war crimes.
Meanwhile, UNSMIL has been working tirelessly with Libyans to move forward on initiatives he had announced on 29 July, including preparations for an international summit hosted by Germany in Berlin. A communique outlining activities necessary to end the conflict is well advanced, which includes among other things, a call for the return to the Libyan-led political process and accompanying economic reform.
The political way forward is already known and eminently possible, he stressed. “All that is needed now is for you, the international community, to come together to provide the necessary umbrella for the Libyan parties themselves to join hands to end the conflict and resume dialogue,” he said, reaffirming the commitment of the United Nations in Libya toward that end.
Rida al Tubuly, Co-Founder and Director of the civil society organization Together We Build It, spoke via video teleconference from Tunis, spotlighting the need to empower women leaders and Libyans on the ground who desire peace. The international community — especially the United Nations — is a main facilitator of the political process. Yet, she observed: “we are often told by international decision makers that the reason women are excluded from formal peace and political negotiations is because ‘Libyan actors’ are against women’s political participation.”
Noting that Libyan women and youth play a major role in the “power of the people”, she said that the international community has given power and legitimacy to a violent minority and some partners continue to turn a blind eye and allow a flood of weapons and ammunition to reach armed groups. “Will you, as members of the international community, stand strongly together against any actor who supports violence in Libya?” she asked the Council, urging it to fully implement Council resolutions 1325 (2000) and 2250 (2015), as well as all subsequent resolutions.
Following those briefings, several Council members took the floor to express concern over civilian suffering in Libya and call for international unity supporting resumption of a Libyan-led political process to end the conflict. In that regard, most speakers called for an end to foreign interference and strict adherence to the arms embargo.
The representative of Equatorial Guinea, speaking also for Côte d’Ivoire and South Africa, said any violations of the arms embargo represent flagrant disregard for the will of the Security Council. Highlighting the African Union’s attention to foreign involvement in Libya, he reiterated the call for the appointment of a joint special envoy for the Union and the United Nations.
Kuwait’s representative also urged all Member States to honour their commitments in line with the arms embargo, as any violations of that regime run counter to international efforts to end the conflict. The parties should undertake sincere efforts to resume dialogue and work to rebuild State institutions, he said, welcoming the preparatory meetings leading to the international conference in Berlin.
Germany’s representative, underscoring that the present is a critical time for Libya, highlighted the progress taking place in preparation for the Berlin conference, which is providing support for Mr. Salame’s efforts to implement the arms embargo and encourage a Libyan-led political process.
Mohamed Taha Siala, Minister for Foreign Affairs of Libya, condemned the rising toll of civilian casualties caused by continued attacks against Tripoli by militias under General Khalifa Belqasim Haftar. He called on the Security Council to end its silence in that regard. Foreign interference has been one of the main drivers of Libya’s conflict, he said, recalling the Council’s repeated appeals to Member States not to deal with any parallel institutions that run counter to the Government of National Accord.
While foreign mercenaries remain active across Libya, many States have breached the longstanding arms embargo, he said, adding that advanced weapons, including drones, are now present in his country. Underlining the sovereign right of all States to defend their people, he said the Government continues to suffer from the embargo while militias easily obtain such weapons. Adding his support for the upcoming Berlin conference, he expressed hope that it will help end the international polarization which continues to drive Libya’s conflict.
Also speaking today were the representatives of the Dominican Republic, Peru, Poland, China, Indonesia and Belgium.
The meeting began at 10:03 a.m. and ended at 11:38 a.m.
GHASSAN SALAMÉ, Special Representative of the Secretary-General and Head of the United Nations Support Mission in Libya (UNSMIL), speaking via video-conference from Tripoli, said: “Seven and a half months into the conflict in Libya, given the recent dangerous escalation in the hostilities in and around Tripoli, we find ourselves ever more in a race against time to reach a peaceful solution that would spare many lives.” Reporting another mass civilian casualty incident today, he said that the frontlines in southern Tripoli are highly fluid with a growing involvement of mercenaries and fighters from foreign military companies, further intensifying the violence. As the civilian death and injury toll rises, many families are leaving populated areas impacted by shelling. Drone technology, possibly operated by external parties, has resulted in over 800 strikes in support of the Libyan National Army and 240 in support of the Government of National Accord, in addition to increased use of unguided bombs by the National Army in populated areas. Continued shipments of war materials, in breach of the arms embargo, are being brought into the country in support of different groups.
Describing his work to reopen Tripoli’s Mitiga International Airport, as well as to establish a dedicated United Nations terminal, he said that UNSMIL is determined to see the end of the devastating conflict. He and his colleagues have been working tirelessly with Libyans to move forward the initiative he announced on 29 July. To prepare for the planned international summit in Berlin, meetings have taken place with the support of Germany, with participants drafting a communique outlining activities necessary to end the conflict. They include the need to return to the Libyan-led political process, accompanying economic reform, a ceasefire, implementation of the arms embargo and security reform, as well as upholding international human rights and humanitarian law. UNSMIL is working to realize an operational annex to the communique to concretely bridge the Berlin Summit to intra-political dialogue to be launched under United Nations auspices immediately following. The establishment of a follow-up committee to work with UNSMIL would help implement agreements, he added.
Regarding international support for peace, he said that putting implementation of the arms embargo at the heart of international commitment is essential in practical terms and as a message to the Libyan people. Describing his regular engagement with Member States, he emphasized that international unity on the Libyan situation is needed. UNSMIL has engaged in extensive outreach to Libyan constituencies, including in the diaspora, and has involved units engaged in fighting as well as civilian representatives from across the country. A series of three events was recently held to support local mediators. The Government of Egypt and other partners have also continued to encourage political progress in the legislature and other forums. Activity continues as well to overcome the legal blocks to municipal elections.
Calling attention, once again, to the case of Seham Serghewa, the member of the House of Representatives abducted in July, he said that her fate is part of a larger pattern of violence against women across the country that also includes accusations of witchcraft and abuse of migrants. In addition, more than 200 civilians have been killed and more than 128,000 displaced since the latest round of the conflict began in April. Health care and education has been devastated, with over 60 attacks against health-care facilities this year. There is a clear pattern of precision airstrikes on facilities that serve Government of National Accord forces, which may constitute war crimes. Migrants and refugees continue to be at risk of a range of ill-treatment, with serious concerns continuing over the transfer of migrants intercepted at sea to official and unofficial detention centres. The United Nations and humanitarian partners have reached over 310,000 people this year, but the needs exceed the means available. To date, less than half of the appeal for $202 million under the 2019 humanitarian response plan has been funded. He encouraged donors to help shrink the funding gap. The United Nations country team also continues to support the displaced Ahali population. Unfortunately, there are no new developments in his appeal for more information regarding the 10 August attack that killed three United Nations staff members.
Libya is going through a critical time as external investment in the conflict risks surpassing national involvement, he said, warning that “once invited in, foreign intervention is the guest that settles and seizes control of the house”. He said he looked for all Libyans to reject such involvement and support the call for external actors to adhere to the arms embargo and commit tangibly to ending the conflict on the ground. The political way forward is already known and eminently possible. “All that is needed now is for you, the international community, to come together to provide the necessary umbrella for the Libyan parties themselves to join hands to end the conflict and resume dialogue,” he said, reaffirming the commitment of the United Nations in Libya toward that end.
RIDA AL TUBULY, Co-Founder and Director of the civil society organization Together We Build It, speaking via video teleconference from Tunis, describe how her father encouraged her to pursue an education, despite facing criticism from his peers. Because of that, she earned both a doctorate in pharmacology and a degree in human rights law, ultimately becoming a university professor. Today, Libya continues to struggle for women’s empowerment and gender equality. The international community — especially the United Nations — is a main facilitator of the political process, she said, noting she founded a civil society organization to contribute to those efforts. “We are often told by international decision makers that the reason women are excluded from formal peace and political negotiations is because ‘Libyan actors’ are against women’s political participation,” she remarked. However, the real question is how ordinary Libyans can take part in the political process at all.
Noting that Libyan women and youth play a major role in the “power of the people”, she recalled that, since 2014, all ordinary citizens have been completely excluded from the country’s political process. “Such exclusion is not only the fault of Libyan actors, but it is also part of the responsibility of the United Nations supporting mission to Libya,” she stressed, referring to the work of UNSMIL. When elections are not possible, the Mission and the international community must be creative in facilitating and leading a political process that is gender-inclusive. To date, the international community has given power and legitimacy to a violent minority instead of empowering a peaceful majority. Some partners continue to turn a blind eye and allow a flood of weapons and ammunition to reach a handful of those armed groups. Meanwhile, the numbers of people killed and injured continue to rise every day — not only on battlefields, but also on the frontlines of peaceful political activism.
“The main losers in this conflict are all the people who are excluded from peaceful political negotiations, who have no say in what their dream country should be like,” she continued. To restore power to ordinary Libyans, the peace table must be redesigned, power must be redefined and women must have a seat at the negotiating table as well as in dynamics on the ground. That requires fully implementing Council resolutions 1325 (2000) and 2250 (2015), as well as all subsequent resolutions. The Council should also take all steps to stop the war, support the peace process and build stability in Libya. “Will you, as members of the international community, stand strongly together against any actor who supports violence in Libya?” she asked, spotlighting the plight of thousands who have been injured, killed or have fled their homes. Libyans on the ground continue to anxiously await a real chance to support and build a peaceful country, she said.
MANSOUR AYYAD SH. A. ALOTAIBI (Kuwait) expressed support for the three-step proposal, the first of which has been implemented in the form of a humanitarian truce. He also welcomed the preparatory meetings leading to a support conference in Berlin for Libya and called on the parties to end their targeting of civilian infrastructure, refrain from hate speech and pave the way for inclusive peace and stability. All Member States must honour their commitments in line with the arms embargo, as any violations of that regime run counter to international efforts to end the conflict. Meanwhile, he said, the parties should undertake sincere efforts to resume dialogue and work to rebuild State institutions. “The Libyan people face daily suffering due to armed confrontations that have reached the most vulnerable groups, including migrants in detention centres,” he said. All those held in such centres must be released and their cases processed, he stressed, calling on all parties to exercise restraint and respect human rights law, including by refraining from targeting civilians.
JOSÉ SINGER WEISINGER (Dominican Republic) hailed the admirable work being done by civil society groups such as Together We Build It. Condemning the rights violations being faced by civilians, including human rights defenders, he said those activists must be allowed to carry out their work safely and to take part in political processes. To that end, UNSMIL should conduct systematic consultations with women, indigenous people and other minority groups. He also observed that the number of internally displaced persons has increased in recent months, which has also led to a rise in human trafficking and migrant deaths. The main push factors for migration in Libya remain economic challenges, conflict, hunger, environmental degradation and climate-related shocks. “These factors not only have a pernicious impact on people, but also result in regional impacts,” he said. Meanwhile, the involvement of foreign actors in Libya — along with a trend of using increasingly lethal military equipment — is exacerbating challenges on the ground. Parties should resume negotiations without preconditions, he stressed, adding “the key will always be dialogue”.
ANATOLIO NDONG MBA (Equatorial Guinea), also speaking for Côte d’Ivoire and South Africa, reiterated his call for a ceasefire and for the reunification and empowerment of the Libyan people. He also spotlighted the high number of migrant fatalities off the Libyan coast, as well as renewed efforts to close migrant detention centres in the country. Strongly condemning attacks against such facilities — as well as health centres and other civilian infrastructure — he said such actions, as well as any violations of the arms embargo, represent flagrant disregard for the will of the Security Council. In addition, he echoed concerns about persistent foreign interference in Libya, pointing out that the trend has also been recognized by the African Union. Against that backdrop, he called for the appointment of a joint special envoy for the two organizations and added his support for efforts to hold a conference of influential partners in Berlin. Meanwhile, partners should adopt a more objective and constructive perspective which bears in Libya’s cultural context, he said.
JUERGEN SCHULZ (Germany) echoing the Special Representative, said that the present is a critical time for Libya. Noting that another meeting is about to take place in preparation for the Berlin conference, he said that process is providing support for Mr. Salame’s efforts to implement the arms embargo and encourage a Libyan-led political process. He called on all Member States to prevent any arms deliveries to the country. He also reiterated that Tunisia must abide by its obligations to cooperate with the United Nations. Decrying the violence to which women and children are being exposed in the country, he paid tribute to women society leaders such as Ms. Tubuly. In that regard, he expressed hope that the abducted woman legislator will be released safely.
LUIS UGARELLI (Peru) expressed alarm over the situation in Libya and its toll on civilians and civilian infrastructure. Such indiscriminate attacks could constitute war crimes. He called all those with influence to use it to end all such activities. The perpetrators must be brought to account. He underscored the need for parties to return to the negotiating table, supported by the United Nations and the African Union. For that purpose, he expressed support for the international conference on Libya in Berlin. All efforts toward peace must be people-centred and not merely in the economic or political interest of parties, he stressed.
JOANNA WRONECKA (Poland,), noting that prolonged clashes in and around Tripoli demonstrate that the Libya conflict cannot be resolved militarily, called on all parties to refrain from using force and return to political dialogue under United Nations auspices. The influx of weapons and presence of foreign fighters and mercenaries in Libya is deplorable, she added, stressing the importance of full implementation of the arms embargo in protecting civilians as well as restoring stability in Libya and the entire region. Expressing further concern about the humanitarian situation in Libya, especially the destruction of vital infrastructure and inability to deliver basic services, she also called on all parties to immediately cease indiscriminate attacks and comply with international law.
WU HAITAO (China) called on the Libyan parties to prioritize the interests of the people and return to a course of dialogue and political negotiations. The international community should respect the sovereignty, territorial integrity and independence of the Libyan people and support a Libyan-owned and led peace process. Increased coordination is needed to create synergies, he said, voicing support for the three-step plan. Meanwhile, countries with influence over the parties should compel them to implement the latter and regional organizations should play a lead mediation role. “Sanctions are not an end in themselves, but just a means that should always serve the interests of a political solution,” he stressed. He underlined the importance of ensuring that sanctions are never allowed to harm civilians and called on the Council’s sanctions committee to undertake efforts to better respond to the legitimate concerns of the Libyan people.
MUHSIN SYIHAB (Indonesia) reiterated his call for all parties to immediately cease hostilities and military actions in Libya, de-escalate tension on the ground and return to political negotiation. Foreign actors should stop exacerbating the conflict further. He reiterated full support for the three-step proposal, UNSMIL and cited the need to protect civilians. Since the outbreak of fighting in April, 100,000 people have fled their homes, half of them children, resulting in 395 civilian casualties and over 800,000 people requiring humanitarian assistance. There have also been 58 attacks on healthcare facilities in 2019, resulting in the death of 13 health‑care workers. Shelling of residential areas and vital civilian infrastructure continues, including Mitiga International Airport in Tripoli. “This must stop,” he stated.
MARC PECSTEEN DE BUYTSWERVE (Belgium) said that the situation on the ground in Libya remained of great concern. In that regard, it was regrettable that the sanctions regime is being flouted even by Council members. He also stressed that sanctions experts are international servants and cannot be subject to legal restraint. In addition, all imports of weapons must stop and external actors must withdraw. Supporting the Berlin process, he applauded UNSMIL’s work with Libyan stakeholders to encourage resumption of the political process. He also called on all stakeholders to work with goodwill for the advancement of peace in Libya, adding that the country’s resources must benefit the people. More so, impunity for serious crimes must be avoided, he emphasized, paying tribute to the work of UNSMIL and the work of the United Nations country team in Libya.
MOHAMED TAHA SIALA, Minister for Foreign Affairs of Libya, said the aggressions launched against Tripoli by militias under General Khalifa Belqasim Haftar continue unabated, striking schools, hospitals and other civilian facilities. Most recently, they struck a food factory and killed its workers, constituting a war crime. Emphasizing that such acts demonstrate the criminality of the militia’s leaders, he called on the Security Council to end its silence. Foreign interference is one of the main drivers of Libya’s conflict, he said, rejecting the policy of “might makes right” as well as subsequent violations of international law. Noting that belligerent parties in Libya continue to garner support from foreign States, he recalled the Council’s repeated calls on Member States not to deal with any parallel institutions that run counter to the Government of National Accord. Foreign mercenaries remain active across Libya, stoking tensions and violence.
Turning to the longstanding arms embargo, he said many States have breached that regime; advanced weapons, including drones, are now present in Libya. The Government of National Accord will not stand idly by as militant forces reach Tripoli, he stressed, underlining the sovereign right of all States to defend their people and pointing out that the Government continues to suffer from the embargo while militias easily get their hands on weapons. Adding his support for the upcoming Berlin conference, he expressed hope that it will help end the international polarization which continues to drive Libya’s conflict. On the matter of migrant detention facilities, he said the Government of National Accord worked with the International Organization for Migration (IOM) to move those centres to safer areas. The Government also intends to identify and hold responsible those accountable for attacks against such facilities. Regarding the assets freeze imposed against Libya, he warned that without access to reinvestment, the country is rapidly losing funds critical for reconstruction and development.