Continued fighting in Libya threatens to worsen an already volatile situation, despite calls to end violence amid the COVID-19 pandemic, the Acting Special Representative of the Secretary‑General cautioned during a 19 May videoconference meeting* of the Security Council.
“Just when we think that the bottom has been reached in Libya, we somehow manage to achieve new depths of violence, heartlessness and impunity,” said Stephanie Williams, who also serves as Head of the United Nations Support Mission in Libya (UNSMIL). Providing highlights from the Secretary-General’s latest report on developments in the country (document S/2020/360), she said fighting has continued between the Government of National Accord forces and General Khalifa Haftar’s Libyan National Army, also known as the Libyan Arab Armed Forces. The chronic violence has led to a sharp rise in humanitarian needs among the civilian population, including 400,000 internally displaced Libyans, along with 654,000 migrants, refugees and asylum seekers.
“As we survey the carnage wrought by almost 15 months of unrelenting violence in Libya, I believe we have reached another turning point in the conflict,” she said. “From what we are witnessing in terms of the massive influx of weaponry, equipment and mercenaries to the two sides, the only conclusion that we can draw is that this war will intensify, broaden and deepen with devastating consequences for the Libyan people. As the foreign intervention increases, the Libyans themselves are getting lost in the mix, their voices crowded out. We must not let Libya slip away.”
Pointing to alarming reports of military build‑up, she gave many examples of targeted attacks on civilians and related infrastructure, more than 850 ceasefire violations and tides of civilian deaths and displacement. Noting cases of the weaponization of vital services, including water, she said an ongoing oil blockade, costing Libya $4 billion to date, and the coronavirus crisis have only made a bad situation worse.
“While people around the world are adjusting to the new normal of living with a global pandemic,” she said, “millions of Libyans — most notably the 2 million residents of Tripoli — are experiencing a most abnormal and terrifying existence, under almost constant bombardment, frequent water and electricity cuts are compounded by restricted movement as a result of preventive COVID-19 measures, rendering the whole situation unbearable for the majority to celebrate the holy month of Ramadan in peace.”
She urged Member States to respond to calls for COVID-dedicated funding, as well as to ramp up support to the 2020 Humanitarian Response Plan, which is seriously underfunded, with only 14 per cent of the total needed to address urgent concerns. The lack of funding is hampering the ability to combat the pandemic and ensure that existing vulnerabilities are not exacerbated.
Social media is another theatre of the Libyan conflict, she said, noting that UNSMIL has built on workshops it held in 2019 to stem incitement and the use of hateful rhetoric in the press. In April, UNSMIL organized a virtual forum with nearly 30 prominent Libyan traditional and social media figures from across the spectrum, resulting with participants agreeing to establish a hate speech observatory under the auspices of UNSMIL and produce a code of ethics.
Pointing out other pockets of positive strides made in May, she said the National Oil Corporation managed to restore the institutional integrity of the national fuel distribution company Brega. In addition, the Ministry of Justice delivered an encouraging ruling on the legality of an international audit. At the same time, the Prime Minister publicly welcomed all political initiatives that called for a peaceful solution to the Libyan crisis, urging all parties to resume talks either within the framework of the Libyan Political Agreement or via an agreement to hold elections under an agreed constitutional framework.
“In the wake of recent military developments, it appears there may be a window for the rejuvenation of some political activity,” she said, welcoming the constructive stance taken by the Prime Minister and the President of the House of Representatives. She also welcomed any political initiatives that are inclusive and aimed at ending the fighting and finding a peaceful solution to the conflict within the framework of the conclusions of the 19 January International Conference in Berlin and Security Council resolution 2510 (2020), which endorsed that gathering, among other things.
“Our mission remains to help Libyans rebuild a State strong enough to peacefully contain political differences,” she said. Indeed, the United Nations will not relent in its effort to get Libya’s political and military leaders to assume their responsibilities and commit to a ceasefire and a political settlement.
“We must enable responsible Libyans to write their own future,” she stressed, calling on the Council to apply consistent and credible pressure on the regional and international actors that are fueling the conflict. “We can collectively write a different ending to this so far sad tale, but only if we demonstrate a collective will to do so.”
Juergen Schulz (Germany), Chair of the Security Council Committee established pursuant to resolution 1970 (2011) concerning Libya, briefed the Council on activities from 30 January to 19 May, saying that its work was conducted via the silence procedure and virtual meetings with the aim of facilitating the implementation of the sanctions measures during the COVID-19 crisis. The Committee updated identifiers on its Sanctions List on 25 February, considered the Panel of Experts’ recommendation pertaining to the asset freeze and met via videoconference with the newly appointed Panel to get updates on its work.
The Committee considered and approved a response letter to the Libyan Investment Authority, a designated entity, he said, and also received seven written updates from the Panel of Experts, five of them focusing on aspects of the arms embargo implementation and two on events related to crude oil exports and the import of Jet A-1 aviation fuel. As for the travel ban, the Committee considered and approved a request to amend the travel dates of Safia Farkash al-Barassi, for travel approved during the previous reporting period.
Following the briefings, Council members voiced support for continued sanctions measures, given the current security situation. Members also roundly condemned the continued violence, with many raising concerns about the COVID-19 pandemic exacerbating the conflict-fraught landscape and worsening humanitarian conditions.
Tunisia’s representative, echoing commonly conveyed concerns, said that, given the COVID-19 outbreak, growing violence in Libya is putting its people at high risk. The warring parties must ensure unhindered access to humanitarian aid, he said, calling for an immediate humanitarian truce, a durable ceasefire and the resumption of the political process. For its part, the international community must use all its influence to encourage the Libyan parties to achieve a ceasefire. Expressing deep concern about arms embargo violations, he said the influx of weapons will undermine the political track, as well as regional peace and security. “We, therefore, firmly insist on the necessity to abide by the arms embargo and to refrain from any interference in the armed conflict or in the internal affairs of Libya.” Going forward, he said, efforts must focus on relaunching a Libyan-led and Libyan-owned political process that leads to intra‑Libyan reconciliation.
Niger’s delegate regretted to note the continued external interference and reminded all actors of their commitments at the Berlin Conference, urging Council members to spare no effort and to use all their influence to help achieve a ceasefire and create an environment conducive to political talks, in line with resolution 2510 (2020). Arms embargo violations and the introduction of foreign mercenaries into Libya to fight alongside the various factions will only increase violence, which is a source of major concern for Libya's immediate neighbours, such as Niger, and for the entire Sahel subregion in general.
The destabilization of Libya has undoubtedly been the main reason for the serious security situation facing the Sahel today, he said, adding that: “We fear that the thousands of jihadists transferred to Libya today will spread throughout the Sahel in the same way that the Libyan army's formidable arsenals have fuelled the destabilization that the region is facing.” Concerned about the economic difficulties the conflict is causing, he commended the European Union’s operation EUNAVFOR MED-IRINI, based on resolution 2292 (2016) provisions. Libya, once a model of stability and peace, has now become a country of chaos, war and distress, whose immense resources are being plundered in the most abject manner, he said, emphasizing that “it is high time that we overcome our divisions and assume our responsibilities by working towards the only goal that is worthwhile today for Libya and its people: reconciliation, peace, justice and prosperity.”
The representative of France called on the Libyan parties to cease hostilities, find a political solution to the conflict, and formally endorse the Libyan-owned draft ceasefire agreement concluded on 23 February within the “5+5” Libyan Joint Military Commission Framework. A new 5+5 meeting should be held to finalize the agreement and establish subcommittees on such issues as dismantling militias. The United Nations should establish and monitor a ceasefire agreement, he said, regretting to note that no element on the monitoring of a possible ceasefire by UNSMIL was included in the Secretary-General’s latest report. Calling on the parties to resume inclusive political talks under United Nations auspices, he said the Council and the United Nations must remain fully mobilized to find a solution in Libya, and the Secretary-General should swiftly appoint a new Special Representative, as it has been almost three months since Ghassan Salamé’s resignation. He welcomed the European Union’s deployment of operation EUNAVFOR MED-IRINI, which will implement the arms embargo, strictly within the framework of relevant Council resolutions. In this regard, the renewal by the Council of the mechanism created by resolution 2292 (2016) is vital.
The Russian Federation’s representative said proposals made by the House of Representatives’ President to create unified bodies of power based on proportional geographical representation, development of a new Constitution and the holding of elections could form a basis for political discussions within a settlement process. Calling for an end to hostilities and resumed dialogue under the auspices of the United Nations on all three tracks of the settlement — military, political and economic — he said success hinges on a Libyan-led, Libyan-owned process. He recalled that the Russian Federation had abstained during the Council’s adoption of resolution 2510 (2020) because its successful implementation hinged on involving the protagonists. Unfortunately, his delegation was correct in this belief.
Concerned about embargo violations, he said efforts must stop the supply of arms and mercenaries, a practice that has continued since the start of the conflict in 2011, when Libyan statehood was destroyed as a result of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization’s (NATO) illegal aggression. “We are pushing Libyan parties for dialogue and the search for compromises,” he said. The Russian Federation is closely following preparations to launch the European Union military operation off the Libyan coast, he said, emphasizing, once again, that the operation must be in accordance with resolution 2292 (2016), with the Council taking into consideration any modification.
The United States delegate said that all actors involved in the conflict must immediately suspend military operations, halt the ongoing transfer of foreign military equipment and personnel to Libya, including the Wagner Group mercenaries, and allow local health authorities to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic. The Security Council must help Libya quickly find a political path to stability, facilitated by UNSMIL. Strongly rejecting any unilateral moves to change Libya’s governing structures, she said her delegation opposes the Libyan National Army’s now more than one-year-long military offensive against Tripoli. The only legitimate path for Libyan leaders is through the United Nations-facilitated three-track process, she said, urging the Government of National Accord and the Libyan National Army to resume talks.
The United Kingdom’s representative said that, at a time when the world is coming together to confront COVID-19, it is “unconscionable” that health‑care facilities in Libya are coming under fire. He expressed particular concern about reports that external parties are continuing to send war material, equipment and mercenaries into Libya. All Member States must abide by their international obligations, including Council resolutions. He also condemned the blockade of oil facilities, saying that it only harms the Libyan people. If the warring parties and their backers have the interests of the Libyan people at heart, they would cease fighting, attacks on civilians, and private or unilateral initiatives, and instead get behind the United Nations and the inclusive political solution. He went on to ask the Acting Special Representative how the novel coronavirus outbreak might be shifting public opinion about the conflict.
The Dominican Republic’s representative condemned ongoing flagrant attacks on civilians and civilian infrastructure, saying that it is unacceptable that more than seven health facilities have been directly targeted or impacted so far this year, after more than 62 such attacks last year. Ongoing violations of the arms embargo clearly undermine the Secretary‑General’s call for a global ceasefire and gravely hamper the Libyan authorities’ ability to tackle the COVID-19 outbreak. He reaffirmed his delegation’s call to provide unhindered access to humanitarian aid and personnel, and encouraged a return to negotiations leading to an immediate ceasefire. General Haftar’s declaration of himself as leader of Libya on 27 April “most certainly” undermines United Nations-led dialogue initiatives, he warned.
The representative of Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, calling on all warring parties to de-escalate tensions, commit to an end to hostilities and engage in an inter-Libyan dialogue to resolve the conflict peacefully, said a ceasefire is pivotal to ensuring unhindered humanitarian access to help combat the COVID-19 pandemic. Calling for strict adherence to international law, particularly respect for the arms embargo, she urged all external actors to assist in this regard. She also called on the authorities to ensure the protection and safety of vulnerable groups, carry out necessary investigations of violations and hold perpetrators accountable.
China’s delegate said that the current priority is to achieve a lasting ceasefire, alongside the strengthening of global synergies to promote the peace process. Expressing strong support for the United Nations role, he called for the appointment of new Special Representative of the Secretary-General as soon as possible. In addition, it is imperative to combat terrorism in all its forms across Libya, and at the same time, guard against the cross-border movement of foreign terrorist fighters, he said, adding that: “we must never allow Libya to become the breeding ground of terrorism”. Under the current circumstances, it is important to strictly enforce the arms embargo on Libya, and refrain from a military intervention or any action that could aggravate the conflict.
South Africa’s representative reiterated the African Union Contact Group’s concern about the political deadlock and continued fighting. All mediation efforts must aim for a Libyan-owned and Libyan-led process. Given the continued arms flows, South Africa remains concerned about foreign involvement in Libya and the blatant disregard of the Security Council’s authority in enforcing the arms embargo. As such, his delegation supports initiatives to strengthen monitoring of the embargo, so long as they fall within the provisions of relevant Council resolutions. Meanwhile, Libya remains a dangerous disembarkation point for migrants and refugees, he said, reminding Libyan political actors of their obligations under international human rights and humanitarian laws. Welcoming cooperation to find a lasting solution, he reiterated today’s message from the African Union’s Contact Group on Libya that stressed the need to include neighbouring nations. He also pledged South Africa’s support to make the African Union’s Inter-Libyan Reconciliation Conference, scheduled for July, a success.
The representative of Indonesia said that Libyans have, for a second year, been deprived of a peaceful Ramadan. They now risk celebrating Eid al-Fitr in terror. The Council must focus on saving Libyan lives, he said, calling on all parties to protect civilians and for humanitarian corridors to be expanded. Indonesia supports all international efforts to bring lasting peace in Libya, but they must be aligned with the sole purpose of saving lives and providing lasting peace, he added.
Viet Nam’s delegate urged the relevant parties to end hostilities, uphold their commitment to the truce, fully respect international humanitarian law, stop targeting civilians and civilian objects, and allow unhindered humanitarian access to effectively address the COVID-19 pandemic. Urging parties to return to peace talks under the three tracks — political, security and economic — as soon as possible and calling on relevant Member States to use their influence to make this happen, he said “we must not let the momentum of the Berlin Conference on Libya be squandered”. The United Nations, UNSMIL, regional organizations, including the African Union, and neighbouring countries will continue to be crucial in promoting peace in the country, he said, reiterating the importance of upholding Council resolutions, especially those related to the arms embargo.
Belgium’s representative, noting that parties are formulating or rejecting ceasefire proposals depending on their perception of the evolution of the military situation, called on the Government and General Haftar to engage immediately in a dialogue. In addition, nations supporting them must change their path, use their influence to encourage talks, and follow up with concrete actions demonstrating a commitment to a political solution, starting with the arms embargo. Military equipment and reinforcements of foreign mercenaries were provided to both parties, even after the Berlin conference and the adoption of resolution 2510 (2020). New fronts have opened, and military operations are moving into new areas of Libya, with heavy artillery now used regularly, particularly against civilian infrastructure and in the immediate vicinity of densely populated areas. Raising concerns about the continuous blockage of oil production, which has disastrous consequences for the economy and the population as a whole, she declared: “It is time to put the interest of the Libyan population first and give peace a chance.”
Germany’s delegate, echoing other speakers’ concerns about deteriorating conditions, called on all countries involved in Libya to observe the principles of international law and relevant Security Council resolutions and to refrain from any form of support that could lead to further escalations. Implementing the arms embargo is a prerequisite to silencing the weapons, with resolution 2510 (2020) remaining the key to a sustainable political solution. Recalling that the implementation of the findings of the Berlin Process is an ongoing process, he said the follow-up committee met earlier in May to oversee the operationalization of the pledges made in Berlin. He called for the swift appointment of a successor to the Special Representative of the Secretary-General to step up efforts for parties to re-engage in dialogue. As the arms embargo remains crucial going forward, he said all nations are invited to complement the newly formed Operation EUNAVFOR MED-IRINI. Last week’s virtual meeting of the Sanctions Committee and its Panel of Experts was a positive step. Regarding the Panel’s new mandate, he welcomed future comprehensive reporting in line with resolution 2509 (2020), including new reporting requirements on illicit oil imports.
The representative of Estonia, Council President for May, spoke in his national capacity, saying that the responsibility to stop the ongoing escalation of violence lies not only with the parties to the conflict, but also with the international community and the Council. “Unless the flagrant violations of the United Nations sanctions regime and the outside actors’ involvement stop, Libya does not stand a chance for peace.” It is positive that the Berlin process can proceed despite pandemic-related restrictions, he said, calling on all participants to uphold their commitments. He expressed regret that the draft ceasefire agreement negotiated by the 5+5 Joint Military Commission in February remains unsigned and urged the parties to take concrete steps to bring a political solution forward.
The Russian Federation’s representative, speaking a second time, addressed speculation about “so-called Russian mercenaries”, calling it an interesting way to shift responsibility. The United Kingdom’s representative went as far as to say that it is them who are responsible for all the troubles and mishaps in Libya, he said, recalling that the major reason for all of Libya’s troubles today was NATO’s aggression that destroyed Libyan statehood. Turning to the report of the Panel of Experts, he expressed dismay that it was leaked to the press and demanded that the United Nations Secretariat launch an investigation. For the most part, the report is based on unverified or clearly fabricated data and is aimed at discrediting Russian policy in Libya, he said, citing examples, including that a concept of a private military company is nowhere to be found in the Russian legislation.
Moreover, he said, the experts writing the report interpret extracts from Russian laws incorrectly, include Internet links that do not work, falsify facts on weapons, refer to confidential discussions that cannot be verified and use data that is simply unfounded. For instance, people allegedly fighting in Libya did not actually leave the Russian Federation, he said, noting that the lists the experts selected “were copied from the notorious Ukrainian database Peacemaker, or Mirotvorets”. There are no Russian servicemen in Libya, he continued, offering to disclose the names of countries whose military personnel are currently in that country.
Another fabrication are photos from Syria presented in the report as Libyan landscapes, he said, adding that a separate story reports that Syrian militants were transported to the west of Libya to support the Government of National Accord. Deliberately or not, these facts are turned inside out, he said, noting that the mercenaries associated with terrorist organizations in real life were portrayed in the report as fighters of the Libyan National Army. “These are just visible mistakes in the report,” he said. “To us, it is clear; it was intended to mislead the international community about Russia’s policy in Libya. We will provide a more detailed assessment of the findings of the Panel of Experts when the right time arrives.”
Also participating was the representative of Libya.
* Based on information received from the Security Council Affairs Division.