Recent progress towards peace and democracy in Libya has demonstrated that once seemingly insurmountable divisions can be overcome with determined political will, the United Nations top official for that country told the Security Council today, citing the successful launch of the Government of National Unity.
Key messages during the new Government’s swearing-in ceremony on 15 March called for reconciliation, reuniting the country, protection of human rights, meeting the basic needs of the people, and freeing Libya from foreign forces and foreign interference, said Ján Kubiš, Special Envoy to Libya and head of the United Nations Support Mission in Libya (UNSMIL), during a videoconference briefing.
“This manifestation of the emerging political will for unification after years of internal strife and conflict is first and foremost a result of Libyan dialogue and Libyan decisions, grounded in the wishes of the people to finally end the divisions and confrontations of the transition period, to reclaim back their country, to reinstate its unity and sovereignty,” he said, calling for the continued, timely and aligned support of the Security Council and the international community.
Mr. Kubiš also noted that the new Cabinet consists of 35 members representing the different Libyan regions and constituencies. While women’s representation is only at 15 per cent, Prime Minister Abdul Hamid Mohammed Dabaiba pledged to appoint more females to other senior executive positions, to reach the commitment of 30 per cent set out in the Libyan Political Dialogue Forum Roadmap.
UNSMIL stands ready to support national priorities, including reunifying the country and its sovereign institutions and advancing the full implementation of the ceasefire agreement, security sector reform and disarmament, demobilization and reintegration. The Mission will also assist the new Government in delivering basic services to Libyans based on a decentralized system, addressing the COVID-19 pandemic, fostering human rights-based inclusive national reconciliation and transitional justice, advancing women’s political and economic empowerment, and convening the national elections on 24 December 2021.
For the polls to take place, he said, it is critical to have confirmed a clear legal and constitutional framework for the presidential and parliamentary elections. To this end, the Constitutional Committee established by the House of Representatives and the High Council of State reached an agreement, on 12 February, on a proposed constitutional basis for the elections.
The Government of National Unity has a distinct role in building a conducive political and security environment for elections and in facilitating the work of the High National Elections Commission through the various related ministries and governmental institutions, he noted, adding that it must also ensure the timely disbursement of a sufficient budget for the Commission and be mindful of the pitfalls on the road ahead, in particular those aiming to delay or obstruct the path towards the December elections.
On the security situation, he said that foreign fighters and mercenaries remain in the country and indeed within the vicinity of the city of Sirte. “Their withdrawal from Libya will go a long way in reconstituting the unity and sovereignty of the country and healing the deep wounds caused by many years of internal strife, active conflict and foreign interference,” he said.
On 3 March, the United Nations Secretariat deployed an advance team to Libya to assess the Organization’s possible support to the Libyan-led ceasefire monitoring mechanism. Preliminary findings were shared with this Council in the progress report issued on 22 March. While the advance team’s work is yet to be finalized, several prerequisites are coming to the fore. These include national leadership and ownership of the implementation of the ceasefire agreement of 23 October 2020, continued momentum on the security track working in mutually-reinforcing harmony with political, economic and humanitarian tracks, and the timely provision of additional financial and human resources, necessary to establish security, logistical and operational support to United Nations ceasefire monitors that will enable their deployment. The ceasefire implementation must consider the impact on civilians, restoration of essential services, access to markets and freedom of safe movement. The team of monitors must be balanced and include women and youth.
Noting that elements of Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant and other international terrorist groups continue to operate in the country, he said that it is important to continue to support the authorities to address this ongoing threat.
He welcomed the announcement by the National Oil Corporation that oil revenue held in abeyance is now being transferred to the Central Bank. As its primary source of revenue and the largest employer, the oil sector also requires continued support and investment. Libya carries over 160 billion dinars of debt and has billions more in outstanding contractual liabilities.
Noting an estimated 38,000 displaced persons returned to their homes since the end of January, he said returns remain limited due to a lack of basic services and the presence of explosive hazards, especially in southern parts of Tripoli. The impact of COVID-19 continues to make life extremely challenging for many of the country’s most vulnerable people. However, only 5 per cent of the 2021 Humanitarian Response Plan is funded, he said, urging donor countries to assist some 450,000 vulnerable people in need.
Since the new UNSMIL leadership took up functions, the United Nations presence in Libya has doubled. Yet, to implement mandated objectives and tasks, UNSMIL will require adequate resources and the ability to recruit for numerous vacant positions, including in security, he said.
In the ensuing discussion, delegates welcomed political progress in the country and stressed the need to consolidate gains towards national elections in December. They also called for the withdrawal of mercenaries and foreign forces from Libya and compliance with the arms embargo, the need for the unification of institutions in Libya and the improvement of basic services for the country’s people.
The representative of the United Kingdom welcomed the endorsement of a new interim Government of National Unity and Presidency Council by the House of Representatives, as well as the appointment of five female ministers, as significant steps forward. She listed crucial priorities laid out in the Libyan Political Dialogue Roadmap, including organizing free and fair presidential and parliamentary elections in December 2021; addressing the Libyan people’s basic needs; launching a national reconciliation process; and fully implementing the ceasefire agreement. “A long path still lies ahead,” she said, pledging the United Kingdom’s support. Welcoming steps towards the reopening of the coastal road, she said the temporary withdrawal of foreign fighters and mercenaries from Sirte was welcome, but described their return as a “retrograde step”. The removal must be complete and irreversible, she stressed, drawing attention to contractors working for such organizations as the Russian Wagner Group and Syrian mercenaries fighting on both sides. Noting that the report of the Panel of Experts provides stark evidence of the scale of arms embargo violations, including by a permanent Council member, she called on all States to fulfil their obligations.
The representative of Viet Nam called on the Government of National Unity to put in its best efforts in facilitating the transitional period and make all necessary preparations for the holding of national elections based on the agreed road map. Hanoi was encouraged by that 5 out of 35 ministers of the new Government are females, he said, expressing hope for increasingly active and meaningful participation of women and youth in the country’s political life. Voicing support for UNSMIL’s role in assisting the Libyan-led and Libyan-owned ceasefire monitoring mechanism, he highlighted the need to address the humanitarian and economic challenges in that country and called on all international partners to continue to provide technical and financial support for Libya and other countries in the region.
The representative of Ireland said the new Government must accord the highest priority to preparations for those free and fair national presidential and parliamentary elections and improve basic service delivery to the Libyan people. Stressing that women must be empowered to fully, equally and meaningfully participate in the political process, she urged the Government to restructure and activate the Women’s Empowerment Unit and ensure that it is adequately staffed and resourced. The Council should ensure that the proposed ceasefire monitoring arrangements fully integrate a gender perspective, she added. Calling for an end to all breaches of the arms embargo, she said the European Union’s Operation IRINI has conducted its work impartially and in accordance with Council resolutions. She also called for more progress on the human rights track — urging the Council to highlight the need for accountability, including on the massacres at Tarhuna — and voiced concern about the continued detention of migrants in unofficial centres, calling for further action by the Libyan authorities on that front.
The representative of France said there is now a chance to establish real and lasting peace in Libya after a decade of violence, stressing: “We no longer have the right to fail.” Emphasizing that plans to hold elections in December must go forward as planned, he said the ceasefire agreement must continue to hold and the Council must facilitate UNSMIL’s deployment of a credible and effective monitoring mechanism. Foreign forces and mercenaries in Libya must withdraw without further delay, he said, noting that the deadline of 90 days for their exit has already come and passed. Describing the report of the Panel of Experts on Libya, which found significant violations of the arms embargo, as disturbing, he outlined the European Union’s support for those restrictions, which is being supported by Operation IRINI. Going forward, an agreement must be found on key posts in Libya’s institutions; impunity for serious crimes must be countered; economic resources in the country must be fairly distributed; and more efforts should be taken to combat human trafficking. Recalling that France, along with several partners, proposed new sanctions on individuals thought to be responsible for that crime, he also announced plans to reopen his country’s embassy in Tripoli next week.
The representative of Estonia welcomed the formation of a new interim authority in Libya, which he described as a step towards stability, and described it as encouraging that the 5+5 Joint Military Commission continues to meet. Stressing the need to fully implement the ceasefire agreement — which includes ending all foreign interference, removing foreign fighters and opening the coastal road — he declared: “The Libyan parties have clearly expressed their vision for achieving peace, [and] the international community must respect that.” All those involved must put an immediate end to blatant violations of the Libyan sanctions regime, withdraw foreign fighters and mercenaries and stop any actions that violate the Libyan arms embargo. Welcoming efforts by Operation IRINI to support the implementation of that embargo, he stressed that the latter acts strictly under Council authorizations, is impartial in its activities and offers an important contribution to the sanctions regime. Estonia supports establishing a credible, realistic and effective ceasefire monitoring mechanism acting under United Nations auspices, he said, adding that the political process under the umbrella of the Organization and the Berlin framework remains the only acceptable path to support Libyans in achieving a lasting peace.
The representative of China stressed the need to maintain the current momentum, urging the Libyan parties to consolidate gains and overcome political fragmentation. He also encouraged UNSMIL to strengthen its coordination with regional partners and provide targeted support for the election process. Maintaining a ceasefire is a prerequisite for political progress. Calling for the early establishment of a monitoring mechanism, he implored the Council to seriously consider UNSMIL’s role in ceasefire monitoring. However, a ceasefire depends on the parties, not the mechanism. Libya must also restore economic development. “Without development, peace cannot be sustained and consolidated,” he said. Arms embargos must be strictly enforced, but the negative impacts of sanctions on civilians must be avoided, he said, urging the sanction committee to respond to the legitimate concerns of the Libyan people. On the leak of a Panel of Experts report, he said such an incident must not occur again.
The representative of Mexico welcomed the formation of a new Government in Libya as a decisive step forward, adding that its inclusion of leaders from various parts of the country will help to move beyond some of the deep divisions of the past. He also welcomed the appointment of some women to important positions, though not enough, while sounding alarm over misogynist discourse circulating about them. Warning against allowing any isolated dispute over ceasefire violations to derail broader progress, he spotlighted the need for a strong monitoring mechanism and stressed that both the ceasefire agreement and the arms embargo must be strictly adhered to. He also emphasized the need to withdraw foreign fighters and mercenaries, many of whom hail from neighbouring countries, and appealed to the Libyan Government to guarantee unrestricted access to populations in need of humanitarian support. It should also close all illegal detention centres and sanction abuses committed against migrants, he said.
The representative of Kenya congratulated Libya for establishing a national unity Government, which has a significant representation of women in high profile portfolios, including for foreign affairs. The newly established Government bears the responsibility to pursue the aspirations of Libya’s people, including the holding of national elections on 24 December and restoration of services in all parts of the country. It must also ensure the departure of foreign fighters and mercenaries, revival of the economy and national reconciliation. Among the risks associated with the foreign fighters is the proliferation of arms falling in wrong hands, not just in Libya but into neighbouring States. He insisted on the need for a disarmament, demobilization and reintegration programme. Kenya also supports the expansion of the UNSMIL mandate to include a ceasefire monitoring component, including the 5+5 Joint Military Commission’s request for unarmed, non-uniformed individual international monitors to be deployed under the auspices of the United Nations. With the establishment of the Cabinet, the sitting of the House of Representatives and the continued dialogues, the conditions for national reconciliation are ripe.
The representative of Niger said the situation in Libya has entered a new era, inspired by international conferences and borne out in the will of the parties and the Libyan people themselves. Underlining the holding of free and fair elections as a crucial next goal, he declared: “Libyans today know where they are going.” The Council and the international community, especially neighbouring countries and the African Union, should help the Libyan ship remain on course. That could be accomplished through a Council resolution that, among other things, provides UNSMIL with the resources needed to effectively monitor the ceasefire agreement. Hailing the deployment of an advance team in that regard, he nevertheless expressed concern about the continued presence of foreign fighters and mercenaries, as well as their possible spread across the region’s porous borders. On the humanitarian front, he expressed concern about the discovery of a new strain of COVID-19 in the city of Misrata and about the living conditions of the many refugees and migrants in Libya.
The representative of Tunisia echoed expressions of satisfaction with the recent political progress achieved in Libya, recalling that President Kais Saied visited that country on 17 March. The parties should now commit to moving beyond the transitional phase, while regional and international actors should provide the support necessary for Libya to hold free and fair elections on schedule. There is also an urgent need to withdraw all foreign fighters and mercenaries, to fully implement the arms embargo and for all actors to commit to the principle of non-interference in Libya’s affairs. He added his voice to calls for the deployment of a ceasefire monitoring mechanism under the auspices of UNSMIL, calling upon all actors to support that process. Respect for international humanitarian and human rights law in Libya is also crucial, as are efforts to strengthen accountability for serious crimes committed there, he said.
The representative of the Russian Federation said that 10 years ago, grossly distorting Council resolution 1973 (2011), the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) launched bombing on Libya, which resulted in the collapse of Statehood, plunged the country into a fratricidal war and contributed to the growth of extremism and the emergence of terrorists. NATO strikes also destabilized Mali and the Sahara-Sahel region as a whole and resulted in uncontrolled migration to the Mediterranean region. Council resolution 1970 (2011) was also violated from the very beginning, when supplies of weapons began to support NATO operations in Libya. The Libyan people have experienced a lot of suffering over the past decade to the restoration of peace. He called on Western members of the Council not to forget this terrible lesson and refrain from interference in the internal affairs of independent States, including Libya. The year 2021 also marks the twenty-second anniversary of NATO strikes against Yugoslavia. Expressing concern over an increase in applications for using part of the “frozen” Libyan assets for their service, he said Western companies are entrusted with saving their assets, not enriching themselves. Responding to a delegation, he said there is no Russian military in Libya. He also expressed a concern about inaccuracy in the report of the Panel of Experts and questioned the legitimacy of Operation IRINI in supporting the implementation of the Security Council arms embargo.
The representative of Norway urged the interim Government to prioritize measures important to the daily lives of Libya’s people, including restoring such basic services as water, electricity and health care. Efforts should now be geared towards the December elections, she said, calling on the parties to work together in good faith. The fact that the ceasefire is still holding is a good sign; however, the entrenched military situation is not sustainable in the long-term and a comprehensive, inclusive political solution is needed to break the military deadlock. She echoed calls to reopen the coastal road as an important first step in that process, as well as for foreign fighters and mercenaries to leave the country. A comprehensive disarmament, demobilization and reintegration process is also needed for returning foreign fighters to avoid spreading instability in the region, she said, reiterating the obligation of all countries to respect the Council’s arms embargo. In addition, she voiced concern about the lack of accountability for serious human rights violations and abuses, spotlighting the discovery of mass graves in Tarhouna and urging the National Unity Government to investigate and prosecute those responsible without delay. Warrants of arrest issued by the International Criminal Court must be executed and the international fact-finding mission must be given access to carry out its investigation, she said.
The representative of India welcomed the fact that the ceasefire agreement has held, even though the Council’s calls to withdraw foreign fighters and mercenaries have not been heeded. Voicing cautious optimism for the path ahead, he said the implementation of the Libyan Political Dialogue Forum must continue unhindered. Emphasizing the need to safeguard Libya’s sovereignty, independence unity and territorial integrity without external interference, he warned against allowing spoilers — “foreign countries that interfere, as well as mercenaries and foreign fighters” — to hinder progress towards peace and stability. Noting the report of the Chair of the Panel of Experts makes clear that sanctions provisions are being blatantly violated, he voiced strong concerns over news articles and speculations in the media reflecting some of the contents of the final report of the Panel of Experts on Libya. Such unauthorized disclosures undermine the credibility of the sanctions regime, he said, adding that the Council should also examine options to address the issue of management of frozen funds. He called upon the international community to speak with one voice against terrorism, underlining India’s longstanding ties with and support for the Libyan people.
The representative of Saint Vincent and the Grenadines reaffirmed her delegation’s full support for the United Nations multitrack process in Libya and expressed her appreciation for the responsible initiatives of neighbouring countries. The road ahead is difficult and the mandate of the new Government to unite the country, bring order and stability, ensure national reconciliation, and prepare for elections is even more arduous, especially in a country that has never had national elections. As Libya prepares for inclusive, free, fair and transparent elections, she encouraged all stakeholders to consolidate the existing momentum and finalize all arrangements. The international community, including the Security Council, the African Union and the League of Arab States, remains committed to providing the requisite support.
The representative of the United States, Council President for March, spoke in her national capacity, underscoring the marked advancement of political process over the past six months, particularly in the six weeks since Mr. Kubis took office. Positive developments, such as a vote of confidence by Parliament in the Government of National Unity and its swearing-in ceremony, could mark a turning point for Libya. But “we cannot be complacent”, she warned, stressing the need to press ahead with hard work. The country needs a unified budget to provide services to its people. Highlighting the need to root out corruption, she said democratic government is built on trust. The new Government must create a mechanism to identify and punish such practices. On national elections, she said organizing free and fair polls on 24 December is critical, urging external actors to cease military interventions and withdraw their forces immediately. Violations of arms embargoes must end, she said, calling on Council members to abide by the Berlin process. Welcoming the Secretary-General’s proposals on tasks for a ceasefire monitoring mechanism, she said that it is time to turn promising progress into a lasting peace.
The representative of Libya, noting that he is addressing the Council today on behalf of a unified country, said the tone of today’s meeting has shifted because his nation has reached a crucial new phase. The people have decided that a peaceful transfer of political power is the only viable solution. Noting that much work lies ahead — including accelerating the delivery of basic services, combating terrorism, launching a national reconciliation programme and preparing for presidential elections in December — he called on the international community to help Libya reverse mistakes of the past, as evidenced in instances of foreign interference. All those seeking to spoil the country’s current progress, and all potential future spoilers, must face sanctions. Emphasizing that the success of the Libyan Political Dialogue Forum is contingent on that of the Joint Military Commission, he urged countries to support those processes by withdrawing all foreign forces and mercenaries. Pointing out that Libya was often not present at previous international meetings due to a lack of official representation, he stressed that that is no longer the case, and called on all the country’s partners and stakeholders to recognize Libyan delegates at all upcoming conferences.