Security Council to decide on Libya sanctions soon

A draft resolution allowing member states to inspect ships on high seas off coast of Libya that are headed to or from Libya and that they have many reason to believe are breaking the arms embargo is up for a vote in the Security Council. The resolution would be renewed for another year. Additionally, the authorization enables member nations to seize and destroy any shipment that violates the arms embargo.

Members of the European Council have historically been in charge of renewing the measures. France and Malta co-authored this year’s resolution.

Resolution 2292 on June 14 2016, by the Security Council, was the first to enact the measures in support of the full enforcement of the arms embargo on Libya. To support the two-way arms embargo imposed on Libya by resolution 1970 of February 26, 2011, and to stop the flow of armaments into the nation, vessels headed to or from Libya were intercepted.

The UK, which held the resolution’s pen in 2016, stated in its explanation of the vote that adopting those measures was a sign of support for Government of National Accord (GNA), which was later replaced by the Government of National Unity (GNU) in February 2021 as a result of the UN-facilitated Libyan Political Dialogue Forum (LPDF). The UK admitted that the ban on the import of weapons had not completely stopped the flow of weapons into the nation but argued that resolution 2292 outlined specific measures to limit the flow of armaments.

Resolution 2635 of June 3 2022, which asked the Secretary-General to give reports on the execution of the measures within six months and 11 months of the resolution’s passage, was the last to renew the authorization for marine inspections. The first report, which was released on December 6, 2022, confirmed the sustained significance of the arms embargo.

According to the report, “[t]he role of the embargo in helping to maintain conditions conducive to political progress remained critical” amid ongoing efforts by national actors and the UN to foster consensus on a constitutional foundation for conducting the postponed elections. The report also referred to the Panel of Experts Final Report of the 1970 Libya Sanctions Committee, which covered the period from March 8 2021 to April 25 2022.

This report noted that while there were significantly fewer sanctions violations than in 2019 and 2020, it also called attention to new strategies to get around the arms embargo. The results of the second report from the Secretary-General, released on May 2, essentially confirmed those of the first report and underlined that the blockade “continues to play an essential role in helping to maintain conditions conducive to progress in the Libyan political process.”

The only regional organization authorized to inspect vessels is the EU Naval Force in the Mediterranean (Operation EUNAVFOR Med IRINI). The operation carried out 2,692 hailings (making contact with other dishes) between April 16 and April 14, 2022, 203 friendly approaches (consensual visits to vessels that can be carried out without flag state approval and the use of enforcement measures), and three-vessel inspections, according to the Secretary-General’s May 2 report. It tried four more inspections but could not complete them due to the flag state of the concerned boats’ express denial of permission. (The authorization calls on all flag states to comply with such inspections and requires good faith attempts to first secure the vessel’s flag state’s approval before any examination.)

The operation conducted three vessel inspections, two of which resulted in the seizure of cargo (identified as “specific types of vehicles”) that was found to violate the arms embargo. According to the Secretary-General’s report, neither the EU nor the 1970 Libya Sanctions Committee has taken a final stance on how to dispose of the vehicles in light of the arms embargo.

The Council annually extended the authorization for maritime inspections until 2022 with no opposition. During last year’s negotiations, Russia expressed doubts about the validity of the approval, pointing out that Operation IRINI had yet to reveal significant arms supply routes and that several vessels had rebuffed its requests for inspection. Therefore, rather than the customary 12-month authorization, Russia asked for a six-month assignment.

As a compromise, France (the country that sponsored resolution 2635) included language asking the Secretary-General to provide an additional interim report after six months on implementing the measures in addition to the regular information after one year but kept the 12-month authorization. Resolution 2635 was not unanimously accepted for the first time due to Russia’s abstention. Russia said in its justification for its vote that the charges for the interception of ships heading to or from Libya did not result in a decline in the illicit trade in arms.

It has been customary for Council members to discuss the renewal of the authorization’s execution during an informal interactive dialogue (IID). The IID for this year was held on May 17 at Malta and France’s request. Cosmin Dobran, the director of the European External Action Service’s Integrated Approach for Security and Peace Directorate, attended the meeting and gave the Council members a report on Operation IRINI’s most recent efforts.

Discussions over the Resolution’s Draft

France and Malta demanded a simple, technical update-only extension of the provisions outlined in resolution 2635. On May 18, they distributed a preliminary draft to Council members. After a request for an extension, the comment period was extended to May 23.

The US as well as UK may have been among the Council members who suggested lowering the frequency of the Secretary-General’s reports and switching back to an annual reporting cycle. Without requesting text changes, Russia appears to have reiterated its concerns about the viability of the authorizations, arguing that Operation IRINI has conducted inspections in a selective and opaque manner and has not effectively helped to stabilize the situation in Libya. Russia reportedly said that it was unclear how lessening the Secretary-General’s reporting frequency would increase the authority’s efficacy.

A revised draft was distributed by France and Malta on May 24 for additional feedback until the following day. The updated draft requested the Secretary-General to submit only an 11-month report after the co-penholders observed that they had received more responses in favour of shortening the reporting period than in opposition. Russia expressed its concerns once more and asked that the 12-month authorization period be shortened to six months.

The co-penholders distributed a second updated draft on May 26 and put it under silence until May 30. In an apparent compromise, this draft kept the 12-month authorization period—as was initially suggested in the initial draft text—but revived the requests for both a six-month and an eleven-month report. The co-penholders then inked the draft resolution in blue after the silent period was over.

Russia may decide to abstain from voting tomorrow, as it did last year, given its concerns over the duration of the authorization required under the text in blue.

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