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21 May 2021

Continued Violations of Arms Embargo, Delays in Withdrawing Foreign Mercenaries Threatening Hard-Won Gains in Libya, Special Envoy Warns Security Council

Delegates Stress Need to Fully Implement Ceasefire, Hold Scheduled Elections

While the ceasefire in Libya is holding, continued violations of the United Nations arms embargo and delays in withdrawing foreign mercenaries are threatening to disrupt hard-won gains in the country’s transitional process ahead of upcoming elections, the United Nations top official for Libya told the Security Council today during a videoconference meeting.

Ján Kubiš, Special Envoy of the Secretary-General and Head of the United Nations Support Mission in Libya (UNSMIL), presented the Secretary-General’s latest progress report (document S/2021/451), pointing to “renewed hope” for Libya’s reunification and sustainable peace for the country and wider region thanks to positive developments over recent months.

A critical task remains, however, for Libyan authorities and institutions — namely, the holding of free, fair and secure parliamentary and presidential elections on 24 December, he said.  The House of Representatives must clarify the constitutional basis for these elections and adopt necessary electoral legislation no later than 1 July to allow Libya’s High National Elections Commission adequate time to prepare.

“The significant progress and achievements in the past many months must be consolidated, the processes must regain momentum,” he said, stressing that “the authorities and institutions of Libya must live up to their responsibilities”, and the international community must provide meaningful support to help advance national reconciliation and unification.

For its part, UNSMIL assisted the Legal Committee of the Libyan Political Dialogue Forum in developing a proposal for this constitutional basis, which will be discussed by the Forum at its plenary meeting scheduled for 26 and 27 May, he said.  The national elections commission has already revised the voters list for an upcoming voter registration update and begun producing 2.3 million voter cards for those voters who registered in previous electoral processes.

At the local level, the Central Committee for Municipal Council Elections aims to conclude 70 outstanding council elections this year, including in Libya’s eastern region.  He pointed out, however, that these efforts will be futile if the legislature does not adopt necessary electoral legislation in time to implement credible national elections.

Turning to the security situation, he said:  “The ceasefire continues to hold,” and confidence-building between the two sides continues.  Nevertheless, progress on key issues — such as the reopening of the coastal road between Sirte and Misrata and the withdrawal of foreign mercenaries — has stalled, entrenching the country’s division.  Further, a recent United Nations report “painted a bleak picture” of non-compliance with the arms embargo, in contravention of Council resolutions 2570 (2021) and 2571 (2021).

“The continued use, presence and activities of thousands of mercenaries, foreign fighters and armed groups is a significant threat not just to Libya’s security, but to the region as a whole,” he said, pointing out that recent, disturbing events in Chad serve as a reminder of the link between the security situation in Libya and stability in the region.

The timely withdrawal of foreign fighters must be accompanied by increased efforts in Libya and the wider region to address the root causes of instability through inclusive reconciliation, peacebuilding and development, he said.  To this end, the presidency announced on 5 April creation of a High National Reconciliation Commission, supported by the United Nations and the African Union, to promote rights-based reconciliation, transitional justice and meaningful participation by women, youth and all Libya’s cultural components.

“The common thread running through all the human rights challenges in Libya is impunity,” he observed, emphasizing that any efforts towards sustainable peace will fail unless Libya addresses the violence perpetrated by all sides in the cycles of conflict — horrors embodied by the recent discovery of over 100 mass graves in Tarhuna.

Highlighting the grave situation of 575,000 migrants and refugees from over 41 countries currently in Libya, he said that more than 500 have died and 9,135 have been returned to Libya so far this year.  Most are arbitrarily detained in extremely poor conditions, to which humanitarian agencies have little to no access.  Thousands are missing or unaccounted for in the official detention system, he said, calling on the Government of National Unity to prevent arbitrary detention by establishing a judicial review system in line with recent commitments.

T. S. Tirumurti (India), also briefing the Council in his capacity as Chair of the Security Council Committee established pursuant to resolution 1970 (2011) concerning Libya, outlined the Committee’s activities since the start of his Chairmanship, on 1 January, as described in a report covering the broader period since his predecessor’s last briefing to the Council.  Recalling that the Council extended the authorization of time-bound measures against the illicit export of crude oil and other petroleum products from Libya — as well as the mandate of the Panel of Experts helping to oversee them — on 16 April, he said the imposed arms embargo, travel ban and assets freeze were not timebound and continue to apply.

During the reporting period, he said, the Committee heard several briefings by the Panel of Experts, including on reported incidents of violations of those measures.  In closed sessions, members voiced concern about those developments, as well as reported human-rights violations and the continued presence of foreign fighters and mercenaries in Libya.  The recent publication of the Panel Of Experts’ final report was preceded by leaks to media outlets of some of its contents and misinformation was spread, developments on which members voiced their deep concern.  He also outlined a range of letters, updates and reports received from various countries related to requested exemptions from the sanctions measures and other matters, as well as the Committee’s responses to them.

In the ensuing debate, Council members stressed the importance of maintaining the current pace towards holding elections on 24 December, echoing the Special Envoy’s 1 July deadline for the adoption of administrative and legislative measures necessary to facilitate the same.

Expressing concern over the wider regional consequences flowing from the continued failure to implement all provisions of the ceasefire agreement and arms embargo — particularly the stalled return of foreign mercenaries — many called for the swift implementation of the agreement in its entirety and the prompt deployment of the new Libyan-owned ceasefire monitoring mechanism established by the Council in mid-April through resolution 2570 (2021).  Others underscored the need for an inclusive reconciliation process — especially in light of the discovery of mass graves in Tarhuna — and increased humanitarian access to the country’s beleaguered migrant and refugee population.

The representative of Libya said that his and other countries in the region tire of the same sessions, briefings and statements and instead desire practical steps towards implementing Council resolutions to break the decade-long cycle of conflict.  For its part, the Government of National Unity works to take advantage of positive developments in Libya, which have only been possible due to national and local efforts and international support for a peaceful, political settlement.  He called on the international community to take advantage of this momentum to help Libya end its crisis and to help Libyans build a democratic State centred on institutions and law.  He further urged all countries to commit to the results of the 2020 Berlin Conference on Libya and fully implement resolutions 2510 (2020), 2570 (2021) and 2571 (2021) regarding ceasefire and the withdrawal of foreign fighters from Libya.

Turning to the United Nations role, he called on the Organization to send an assessment team to Libya to determine what is needed to support the upcoming elections, what challenges may arise and how best to address them.  Stressing the importance of peace as a priority for Libya, he said that successful national reconciliation is key to achieving such peace and noted the Presidential Council’s recent announcement of the establishment of the High National Reconciliation Commission to facilitate this process.  Further, the Ministry of Justice has announced practical steps to release detainees — 78 such releases have occurred recently — and efforts are being made to release citizens detained without charges and those that have been acquitted.  He called on the African Union, in coordination with the United Nations, to support Libya’s national reconciliation project.  He added that the international community must not “turn a blind eye” to those trying to ensure the failure of the political process in Libya for fear of losing influence over the people in a free, fair democratic process.

The representative of Niger agreed with the Special Envoy that Libya currently stands at a crucial juncture.  Against that backdrop, he voiced deep concern over the resistance by some parties to implement some parts of the ceasefire agreement, as well as the degree of slowness seen in advancing others.  Welcoming the progress achieved and the commitment demonstrated by the Libyan parties, he nevertheless voiced concern over the conflict’s continued impact on the broader region.  “We fear that the arms being silenced in Libya may resound again in the Sahel,” he stressed, citing several recent deadly incidents in Chad and noting that the region’s borders remain highly porous.  The Sahel countries have been working to prevent the spread of such violent incidents since 2017, and they require more support from the international community to do so successfully.  Respecting the clauses in the ceasefire, and curbing violations of the arms embargo, also remain crucial.  Calling for efforts to maintain the momentum generated by the Libyan Political Dialogue Forum and the adoption of resolution 2570 (2021), he also welcomed efforts being undertaken by the facilitators on the working group tasked with following up on the 2020 Berlin Conference.

The representative of Mexico welcomed recent positive developments in Libya as the “fruit of the responsible behaviour of Libyan actors”, as well as joint efforts to structure the country’s dialogue process.  Calling for action to centre the voices of women, youth, internally displaced persons and other marginalized groups in those efforts, she echoed other speakers in expressing concern over the country’s humanitarian situation.  In particular, she deplored the tragic sinking of boats filled with migrants in recent weeks, calling on the countries of origin and transit to take more responsibility for their citizens’ well‑being.  The organized departure of foreign fighters also remains crucial, she said, spotlighting the high risk that weapons and fighters may be mobilized towards other countries of the region.  In that context, the international community must support Libya and its neighbours in monitoring and securing the country’s southern border.  Among other things, she expressed support for the rapid deployment of women and child advisers under the auspices of UNSMIL, adding that the Mission’s upcoming renewal can serve as an opportunity to consider more seriously how to incorporate a gender perspective in its work.

The representative of Tunisia welcomed the enthusiasm demonstrated by his Libyan neighbours in working to secure freedom, democracy and the rule of law for all.  Welcoming the achievement of tangible progress at the Libyan Political Dialogue Forum’s recent session, held in April in Tunis, he underscored the need to adopt an electoral law by 1 July in order to allow the Electoral Commission to organize voting by December under the best possible circumstances.  He also called for continued efforts to push forward the full implementation of the ceasefire agreement — including the urgent departure of foreign fighters and mercenaries — while looking forward to the deployment of the ceasefire monitoring mechanism in line with resolution 2570 (2021).  That instrument must be fully Libyan-owned and Libyan-led, he stressed, calling on all parties to respect Libya’s sovereignty and territorial integrity.  Concluding, he highlighted the need for an inclusive reconciliation process in Libya, welcoming the establishment of national mechanisms to facilitate that process and their support by the African Union.

The representative of Ireland, while welcoming recent political progress in Libya, said that much remains to be delivered to ensure the Libyan people have a unified, peaceful future.  The elections scheduled for 24 December mark a pivotal moment for the country and must proceed as planned; to this end, the legislature must clarify and enact the constitutional basis, in addition to the legal and budgetary framework, for the elections no later than 1 July.  Further, the Government of National Unity must ensure the safety of everyone involved, and women must participate fully.  Turning to security, she urged UNSMIL to play a more forward role on the ceasefire monitoring mechanism in close coordination with the 5+5 Libyan Joint Military Commission.  She also welcomed progress made in clearing explosive remnants of war from Libya’s coastal road, but expressed concern over its continued closure.  “Accountability must be an important step in Libya’s peace process,” she said, and must be ensured for human rights violations — including the Tarhuna massacres.

The representative of Norway urged the interim Government to prioritize measures important to the daily lives of the Libyan people, including the restoration of basic services such as water, electricity and health care.  Noting the positive signal given by the holding ceasefire, she stressed that a safe environment for voting in December is essential to break the military deadlock.  The implementation of ceasefire provisions must be prioritized — including the re‑opening of the strategic coastal road connecting Misrata with eastern Libya — and a comprehensive disarmament, demobilization and reintegration process is needed for returning foreign fighters.  She also called on all countries to respect the weapons embargo instituted by the Council and expressed support for Operation IRINI’s implementation of the United Nations arms embargo on Libya.  Turning to the issue of migration, she expressed concern over the arbitrary detention of migrants and refugees in formal detention centres and over reports of torture, sexual violence and abuse within such centres.  She added that, given the upcoming season of increased migration across the Mediterranean, the international community should focus on preventing drowning tragedies.

The representative of Saint Vincent and the Grenadines said that the Government of National Unity must prioritize reunification, undertake economic reform, deliver basic services, finalize preparations for upcoming national elections and begin the national reconciliation process in order for Libya’s democratic transition to succeed.  Peace will not be achieved until all parties comply with their international obligations, including the arms embargo, withdrawal of foreign fighters and all relevant Council resolutions on Libya.  Non-compliance has grave ramifications for Libya, neighbouring countries, the Sahel region and the wider continent, she said, adding that enhanced cooperation among the Government of National Unity, regional organizations and neighbouring countries on security issues is critical.  Turning to the humanitarian situation, she underscored the importance of safe humanitarian access to refugees and migrants and supported investigation of mass graves found in Tarhuna, stressing that “Libya is an unsafe port for disembarkation of refugees and migrants”.

The representative of Viet Nam said the significant progress in Libya in recent months offers a window of opportunity to pursue long-term peace and stability.  The Council’s unanimous adoption of resolution 2570 (2021) demonstrated its unified stance in support of the Libyan-led and -owned peace process and the road map towards elections by the end of 2021.  Against that backdrop, he called on the Government of National Unity to facilitate the transitional period and make all necessary preparations for the holding of elections, in line with the agreed road map.  The parties must continue to respect and implement the ceasefire agreement and uphold the arms embargo, and the international community should continue to foster dialogue and support confidence‑building measures.  Reiterating Viet Nam’s support for the withdrawal of all foreign forces and mercenaries from Libya, he also called for accelerated demining initiatives and more efforts to tackle the country’s humanitarian and economic challenges.

The representative of the United Kingdom said there now exists a pathway to Libyan elections in December, and to realize the prospect of longer-term stability.  By adopting resolution 2570 (2021), the Council required the Libyan authorities, including the House of Representatives, to clarify the constitutional basis and any necessary legislation related to elections by 1 July.  Urging them to do so promptly, she called on the interim Government of National Unity and all actors to take steps to create an environment conducive for the holding of elections.  “This includes measures to ensure the full, equal and meaningful participation of female candidates and voters,” she stressed, as well as progress on the unification of institutions, effective service delivery and the transparency of public finances.  The international community must also play its part, she said, calling for an end to the undermining of Libya’s sovereignty.  Breaches of the arms embargo must stop, and all foreign forces and mercenaries must be withdrawn from Libya without delay.  She went on to describe the news of further mass graves discovered in Tarhuna as shocking, recalling that the United Kingdom has imposed sanctions on Al-Kaniyat militia and its leaders for their role in these heinous acts.

The representative of the United States said that, in resolutions 2570 (2021) and 2571 (2021), the Council made clear that free and fair elections must be held in Libya by 24 December, and that any spoilers may be subject to sanctions.  In the meantime, it is crucial that human rights be protected and the ceasefire agreement be upheld.  Against that backdrop, she called for the urgent approval of necessary legislation for the holding of elections and urged all external actors involved in the conflict to immediately cease their military interference.  “There is no room for interpretation here, ‘all’ means ‘all’,” she stressed, also calling for an end to the training and financing of mercenaries and armed groups.  Expressing full support for the continuation of the European Union’s Operation IRINI, she said a sovereign Libyan Government empowered by national elections must chart its own path forward.  She also welcomed the Joint Military Commission’s continued development of plans for a ceasefire monitoring, in close coordination with UNSMIL, and the engagement of the International Criminal Court in Libya.  Those responsible for serious crimes, including former members of the regime of Muammar Gaddafi, must face consequences, she said.

The representative of the Russian Federation expressed concern over the destabilizing effect that the illicit spread of weapons in Libya has had on both the country and the wider region.  He also underscored the importance of preserving Libyan foreign assets and stated that all matters pertaining to the control of Libya’s oil infrastructure and export operations should be resolved domestically.  Turning to the political track, he welcomed the significant progress made in the peace process and expressed hope that the Presidential Council and the Government of National Unity will rapidly establish a governing structure, financial institutions and armed forces and hold general elections on 24 December.  He cautioned, however, that achieving these aims will not be easy, as the many political and socioeconomic problems remaining could lead to a drawn‑out transitional period.  The biggest challenge will be to heal the “wounds of broken trust” from the decade-long conflict, and success will hinge on the inclusivity of the process, which must include figures from the former regime and the east of the country in the post-conflict State-building process.  Libya should not be an arena for international competition, he said, adding that the opinions of neighbouring countries must be taken into account, as they are impacted by the current crisis and can play a useful role in fostering a peaceful settlement.

The representative of Kenya, noting that “Libya stands at the cusp of a major breakthrough”, warned the international community not to lose momentum at this crucial moment.  “The actions of this Council should be to help the Libyan people press stronger towards the intended mark — a peaceful, secure and stable Libya, devoid of unnecessary foreign interference,” he said.  Echoing the need to consolidate the political gains made towards holding elections in December, he stressed that all parties and Member States must fully respect the ceasefire, including by withdrawing foreign fighters and mercenaries and complying with the arms embargo.  The United Nations should complete its detailing of requirements for the deployment of the ceasefire monitoring support envisioned under resolution 2570 (2021).  Warning of the risk of further fuelling conflict in the region — should the disarmament, demobilization and reintegration programme in Libya not be accompanied by corresponding similar programmes in neighbouring States — he went on to note with concern the continued interception at sea, unfair treatment and return of migrants to Libyan ports in violation of their basic human rights.  “Libya is not a safe port of return,” he stressed, calling on those involved to stop that dehumanizing trend.

The representative of France welcomed recent progress on the political front, but cautioned that the peace process remains fragile.  A theoretical framework and budget for the upcoming elections on 24 December must be adopted, and women must enjoy full participation.  Further, she called for the complete withdrawal of foreign forces and mercenaries from Libya; in this, France is prepared to work with Libyans to facilitate such withdrawal and verification thereof to ensure that this process does not destabilize Libya’s neighbours, from which many such fighters hail.  All confidence-building measures contemplated by the ceasefire agreement must be implemented, she said, stressing that Libya cannot achieve sovereignty and unity without dismantling militia groups and guaranteeing a fair distribution of resources to its population.  UNSMIL must ensure the protection of children in the country throughout the transition process.

The representative of India said that the sovereignty, independence, unity and territorial integrity of Libya must be protected, and that the peace process must be fully led and owned by Libyans with no external imposition or interference.  It is also critical that the 24 December elections are held in a free, fair manner; to this end, the Government of National Unity must provide the necessary administrative support and the legislature must clarify the constitutional and legal basis for such elections no later than 1 July.  Sustainable peace requires an inclusive, comprehensive national reconciliation process, he said, calling for the sincere engagement of all concerned parties in this process along with the support of the international community.  Expressing concern over continued violations of the ceasefire agreement — particularly those relating to the withdrawal of foreign fighters and mercenaries — he said that such violations pose a serious threat to Libya, its neighbours and the wider region.  He further stressed the importance of planning for the disarmament, demobilization and reintegration of armed groups and non-State armed actors, welcoming the assistance UNSMIL can offer in this regard.

The representative of Estonia agreed that it remains crucial to keep the current pace towards December elections in line with the Libyan Political Dialogue Forum road map and the Council’s recently adopted resolution 2570 (2021).  Underscoring the need for genuine and constructive engagement by all parties, as well as the involvement of women and youth at all levels, he stressed:  “Creating safe space for women and youth to express their views without the fear of retaliation is the only viable way to a lasting peace.”  He welcomed the continued commitment by the 5+5 Joint Military Commission to the 23 October 202 ceasefire agreement, commending the recent prisoner exchanges as important confidence‑building measures.  The opening of the coastal road — a major element of the ceasefire agreement — would further build trust between the parties and serve the purpose of unifying Libya.  He echoed other speakers in emphasizing that the removal of all foreign fighters and mercenaries is another crucial element of the ceasefire, adding that Libyans “have expressed their wishes very clearly” on that matter.  It is now the global community’s duty to respect those wishes by ending all foreign interference, he stressed.

The representative of China, Council President for May, spoke in his national capacity, welcoming the continued holding of Libya’s ceasefire, as well as progress made in the country’s political process.  Urging the parties to seize the present window of opportunity, he called on the international community to create conditions conducive to peace — including by deploying the ceasefire monitoring mechanism as soon as possible.  He also called for the well-organized and orderly withdrawal of all mercenaries and foreign fighters, which is necessary to avoid additional conflict for the broader region.  The next priority should be to ensure the smooth holding of general elections as scheduled in December.  Calling for efforts to advance Libya’s post-conflict reconstruction, he said the international community should intensify its support and boost investments in the country’s infrastructure, trade and other sectors.  Reiterating China’s position that sanctions “are only a means, not an end”, he called for the arms embargo to be implemented in earnest and for the Sanctions Committee to respond to legitimate concerns raised about revenue lost to the Libyan authorities as a result of the imposed sanctions.

For information media. Not an official record.