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Expected Council Action

In March, the Council is expected to receive a briefing from the Special Representative and head of the UN Support Mission in Libya (UNSMIL), Ghassan Salamé, followed by consultations. Ambassador Olof Skoog (Sweden), the chair of the Libya Sanctions Committee, is also expected to brief the Council.

UNSMIL’s mandate expires on 15 September, and the mandate of the Panel of Experts assisting the Sanctions Committee expires on 15 November.

Key Recent Developments

February marked the seven-year anniversary of the uprising that toppled Colonel Muammar Qaddhafi. Despite the signing of the Libyan Political Agreement (LPA) on 17 December 2015, little progress has been achieved in establishing unified and legitimate institutions with the capacity to deliver basic services.

At a Council briefing and consultations on 17 January, Salamé stated that the Council should remain alert about Libya, since the spectre of violence remains present and “military forces are flexing their muscles in many parts of the country”. He updated the Council on his efforts to implement the UN action plan that the Council endorsed in October 2017. This plan involves working in parallel to amend the LPA, organise a national conference, finalise a new constitution, and prepare parliamentary and presidential elections. He said that “the fabric of Libyan society is frayed and requires meaningful reconstitution if it is to be mended”, and discussed his initiative to work towards reconciliation from the bottom up by holding town hall meetings and local dialogues between communities formerly in conflict.

While holding elections is a key element of the action plan, Salamé warned that before credible elections can be conducted, much work remains to be done. In addition to the constitutional, legislative, security and logistical measures that need to be in place, there must be a commitment by the parties to accept the results.

A civil society representative, Hajer Sharief, the co-founder of Together We Build It, briefed the Council as well. In her remarks, she criticised the persistence of violence in Libya and reflected on the 2011 military intervention. While resolution 1970 had been a life-saver for many Libyans, hope turned to despair as Libyans realised that the international community and the Council had “no follow-up plan or strategy to empower the Libyan people beyond the military intervention”.

Efforts to implement the UN action plan continue, and the deadline for electoral registration was extended until 15 February. By 1 February, more than 2.25 million Libyans had registered according to the Electoral Commission. On 14 February, Libya’s Supreme Court dismissed a challenge to the draft constitution by an administrative court in the eastern city of Al-Bayda.

Violence in Libya continues, and clashes among armed groups in the east and the west have persisted. On 15 January, clashes near the Mitiga airport in Tripoli resulted in the death of some 20 people and the suspension of all flights to and from Tripoli for five days. A double bombing in Benghazi on 24 January resulted in the deaths of at least 30 civilians, including children. Secretary-General António Guterres condemned the attack and the summary execution of ten individuals reportedly carried out in retaliation by the Libyan National Army (LNA) in Benghazi. UNSMIL also condemned the reports of summary executions and demanded that the LNA commander reportedly involved in the executions, Mahmoud al-Werfalli, be handed over to the ICC. It argued that it had documented at least five similar cases in 2017 alone carried out or ordered by al-Werfalli. The situation in Libya was referred to the ICC in 2011 through resolution 1970, and the ICC issued an arrest warrant against al-Werfalli in August 2017. In early February, al-Werfalli reportedly handed himself in to the military police in eastern Libya.

Between November 2017 and 23 February 2018, UNHCR has evacuated 1,211 refugees from Libya to emergency transit locations from where their applications for refugee status are being processed (770 to Niger, 312 to Italy, and two to Romania). Despite a recent agreement to return internally displaced persons expelled from Tawergha seven years ago, some 40,000 remain stranded and prevented from returning to their hometown.

UNSMIL is poised to increase its presence in Libya, security conditions permitting, following the deployment of a Nepalese guard unit that became fully operational in late December 2017 and which is tasked to protect the UN compound in Tripoli and mission staff.   

Sanctions-Related Developments

On 17 January, the Deputy Permanent Representative of Sweden, Irina Schoulgin Nyoni, briefed the Council on behalf of the chair of the 1970 Libya Sanctions Committee. At the meeting, she updated the Council on the two vessels that are listed by the Committee for attempting to illicitly export petroleum from Libya. Syria had informed the Committee that a national company had unloaded diesel oil from one of these ships, the Capricorn, although it had instructed concerned authorities not to receive that vessel again. Since then, the Sanctions Committee has amended the entry of the Capricorn to reflect its change of name (Nadine), flag state (Palau) and location (off the coast of Oman, outside of its territorial waters).

The Committee has since considered the interim report of the Panel of Experts, which highlighted how “military dynamics in Libya and conflicting regional agendas show a lack of commitment to a peaceful solution”. The report raised concerns regarding the role of armed groups, often nominally affiliated with official security institutions, in human smuggling and trafficking. The recommendations addressed to the Council, such as the proposal to ban listed vessels from circulating through maritime canals, are expected to be discussed by the Council when it renews the sanctions regime later this year.

Human Rights-Related Developments

On 1 February, UNSMIL released a human rights report on civilian casualties for January, which documented 102 civilian casualties—39 deaths and 63 injuries—during the conduct of hostilities across Libya, a sharp rise from previous months. The majority of civilian casualties were caused by vehicle-borne improvised explosive devices, followed by explosive remnants of war, gunfire and shelling, the report said. The special rapporteur on the human rights of internally displaced persons (IDPs), Cecilia Jimenez-Damary, conducted her first official visit to Libya from 25 to 31 January. In a statement on 2 February, the special rapporteur said “the displacement crisis in Libya is one of huge complexities, exacerbated by the fact that the capacity of the government to meet the needs of the IDPs is limited, and UN agencies are constrained by a lack of access due to security concerns and a general lack of funding to deal with the internal displacement situation”. She will present a report to the Human Rights Council (HRC) in June. The HRC will hold an interactive dialogue on the report of the High Commissioner for Human Rights on human rights in Libya (A/HRC/37/46) during its 37th session in March.

Key Issues and Options

Supporting the UN-led mediation efforts is a key issue for the Council. At the appropriate time and in support of Salamé’s work, they might consider a visiting mission to Libya and neighbouring countries to engage with key stakeholders to ensure progress in the implementation of the UN action plan.

Furthermore, the Council could issue a presidential statement condemning any unilateral actions that undermine the political process and question the LPA as the only framework for the political transition. It could also recall that these actions constitute designation criteria in the 1970 sanctions regime.

A long-standing issue for which the Council is responsible, but which continues to be unresolved, is the impact that the freezing of assets resulting from resolution 1970 is having on Libya’s wealth. In his November 2017 briefing, Salamé criticised the mismanagement of frozen assets (by not being reinvested) and urged the Council to revisit this issue. Since 2015, the Panel of Experts has recommended the Sanctions Committee to issue guidance allowing for the reinvestment of frozen assets to prevent economic losses for the Libyan people. The Council has also received several letters from Libya in this regard. An option in this context would be for the 1970 Libya Sanctions Committee to address this issue.

Council and Wider Dynamics

Overall, Council members are united in their support to Salamé’s mediation efforts. However, despite recent unanimous Council outcomes, which included the Council’s endorsement of the UN action plan and a presidential statement ahead of the 17 December 2017 anniversary of the LPA, Council members have often had different sensitivities regarding the way forward to achieve a solution.

The UK is the penholder on Libya, and Sweden chairs the 1970 Libya Sanctions Committee.


Security Council Resolutions
5 October 2017 S/RES/2380 This renewed the authorisation for member states to inspect vessels on the high seas off the coast of Libya that they have reasonable grounds to suspect are being used for migrant smuggling or human trafficking.
14 September 2017 S/RES/2376 This extended UNSMIL’s mandate until 15 September 2018.
29 June 2017 S/RES/2362 This was a resolution renewing the mandate of the Panel of Experts assisting the 1970 Libya Sanctions Committee and the measures regarding attempts to illicitly export oil from Libya.
26 February 2011 S/RES/1970 This resolution referred the situation in Libya to the ICC, imposed an arms embargo and targeted sanctions (assets freeze and travel ban) and established a sanctions committee.
Security Council Meeting Records
17 January 2018 S/PV.8159 This was a briefing by the Special Representative and head of UNSMIL, Ghassan Salamé, and the co-founder of the CSO Together We Build It, Hajer Sharief. The DPR of Sweden, Irina Schoulgin Nyoni, also briefed the Council on the work of the 1970 Libya Sanctions Committee.