Briefing Security Council on Libya, Mission Head Calls upon Parties to Establish Demilitarized Zone, Reach Political Settlement through Dialogue

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The warring parties in Libya should incrementally establish a demilitarized area, starting with Sirte, along with a comprehensive set of confidence-building measures, a senior United Nations official told the Security Council during a 2 September videoconference meeting*.

“Libya is indeed at a decisive turning point,” said Stephanie Williams, Acting Special Representative of the Secretary-General and Head of the United Nations Support Mission in Libya (UNSMIL). “Your support, not only in words, but most importantly in action, will help determine whether the country descends to new depths of fragmentation and chaos, or progresses towards a more prosperous future.”

Presenting the Secretary-General’s report on the Mission’s activities (document S/2020/832), Ms. Williams said that the proposal to establish such a zone would also comprise a small international-Libyan joint ceasefire monitoring mechanism. To that end, she called on the Council to encourage the parties to abandon unrealistic and maximalist positions and participate in good faith, for the sake of their country.

Around the strategic city of Sirte, she said that an uneasy stand-off is continuing between armed groups aligned with the internationally recognized and United Nations-backed Government of National Accord and the eastern-based Libyan Arab Armed Forces, also known as the Libyan National Army, led by General Khalifa Haftar, warning that the situation is imperilling the lives of 130,000 vulnerable people there, as well as the Maghreb country’s vital oil infrastructure.

Both parties continue to benefit from the regrettable assistance by foreign sponsors to stockpile advanced weaponry and equipment, she cautioned, emphasizing that such external interventions breach Libya’s sovereignty and blatantly violate the United Nations arms embargo and the commitments made by the participants at the Berlin conference on Libya in January.

Turning to a positive development, she recalled that, on 21 August, Head of the Presidential Council Fayez al-Sarraj and Speaker of the Libyan House of Representatives Aqila Saleh issued simultaneous, yet separate, statements calling for an immediate ceasefire, lifting of the oil blockade and a return to the political process, under United Nations auspices. These statements were met by overwhelming expressions of support from all political affiliations in the country and international partners alike. With optimism, she said that there is a chance to move forward with intra-Libyan political and security discussions.

On the impact of the coronavirus pandemic, she said the number of confirmed cases in the country has more than doubled over the last two weeks, with 15,156 cases and 250 recorded deaths as of 1 September.

“Nearing full collapse after more than nine years of conflict, the health‑care system is unable to respond to the additional weight placed by COVID‑19 patients along with maintaining normal health services, including child immunization programmes,” she pointed out, adding that the United Nations and its partners are at the forefront of supporting the national authorities, through the provision of health supplies and personal protection equipment, while also working to build the capacity of health workers.

Libya, 16 months ago, was on the cusp of a broadly gauged national conference that would have established the framework to replace the current divided political structures with one that would have more clearly reflected the legitimate aspirations of all Libyans, she continued. That effort was upended by those who falsely believed they could achieve their aims by using force. “The only path out is through dialogue and compromise leading to a comprehensive political settlement and culminating in national elections,” she said.

In the ensuing discussion, the representative of the United Kingdom welcomed the 21 August statements calling for a ceasefire, commending both sides for their commitment to the political process. Stressing the need for a reinvigorated UNSMIL that could take this forward, he expressed full support for the Mission’s efforts to de-escalate the situation around Sirte. He argued that a demilitarized solution in the city could serve as a foundation for a broader ceasefire. His delegation, however, is highly concerned by the ongoing conflict, fuelled by the arming and supplying of the parties by external backers and the activities of the Wagner Group and other foreign mercenaries.

The Russian Federation’s representative said his country has consistently advocated an end to the bloodshed that has been tearing Libya apart since the intervention in 2011 by the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO). The supply of weapons and foreign terrorist fighters to the country must be stopped. “Pumping” Libya with weapons, which started back in 2011, as well as the presence of Western military specialists with unknown missions, further fuels the crisis. “Not a single Russian serviceman is currently in the combat zone in Libya,” he said. “We are very much surprised that those who spread accusations about so‑called Russian involvement in Libya turn a blind eye of their own military presence both in the capacity as national armed forces and through private military companies both in the west and east of Libya,” he said, calling on these delegations to stop hypocritical accusations.

South Africa’s representative called on parties to immediately cease hostilities and heed the calls for a permanent ceasefire. Insecurity has exacerbated humanitarian conditions, with alleged violations of international humanitarian law. Speaking on Libya’s ailing economy, “exacerbated by the continued blockage of oil exports”, he welcomed calls for oil production and exports to resume. Reiterating support for the Berlin Conference conclusions, as endorsed by resolution 2510 (2020), he encouraged the Council to support enhanced cooperation between the African Union and the United Nations. He also backed calls for sanctions against those who violate the arms embargo and urged those who recruit foreign fighters to immediately withdraw them, as the involvement of external actors in Libya threatens the country’s territorial integrity.

Tunisia’s representative called on all parties to fully commit to implementing the arms embargo imposed on Libya, stressing the necessity of ending all forms of external interference in Tripoli’s internal affairs, and preventing the country from becoming an arena for settling regional and international scores. He also expressed a deep concern over the continued influx of foreign fighters into the country, as specified in Libya’s Panel of Experts recent updates. Since the situation remains tense there, all parties must respect international humanitarian law and human rights law and ensure the safety of civilians and the protection of groups in vulnerable situations, such as migrants and refugees.

The representative of the United States welcomed the 21 August declaration calling for a ceasefire, demilitarization, resumption of oil sector operations and a return to United Nations-facilitated political talks. “These Libyan statements represent the hope of the Libyan people,” she said, emphasising that there is no place for foreign mercenaries or proxy forces in the country, including the Russian Ministry of Defence proxy Wagner Group, which is fighting alongside and in support of Libyan National Army forces. Reforming UNSMIL now gives the best chance to capitalize on battlefield changes to bring about a permanent political settlement and reinforce the Berlin process. The peace process will succeed only when the outside parties to the conflict stop fuelling the conflict and support the United Nations-led peace process, while the opposing leaders reconcile and come up with a peaceful, power-sharing agreement.

Viet Nam’s representative said that the momentum gained recently on the political front must be maintained, urging the parties to soon finalize the draft ceasefire agreement proposed by UNSMIL and proceed with its implementation. He also urged all relevant parties in Libya to fully respect international humanitarian law and stop targeting civilians and civilian objects. The parties must ensure the safety of health-care workers and allow unhindered humanitarian access to effectively fight the COVID-19 pandemic. His delegation supports the 12-month extension of UNSMIL’s mandate, he said.

Estonia’s representative described the 21 August calls for a ceasefire a “welcome step”, which must be followed by action. It is extremely important that the 5+5 Joint Military Commission talks continue and result in an effective ceasefire, he said, stressing that peace can only come through a Libyan‑led and ‑owned political process. “We need to create space for it,” he said. The only acceptable international framework to support this is the Berlin process, he added, expressing extreme concern over civilian suffering amid frequent and significant power and water cuts, and the growing number of alleged human rights violations.

France’s representative called for the appointment of a new mediator without further delay. With almost six months having passed since the resignation of Special Representative Ghassan Salamé, “the vacancy of the UN mediation can no longer last”, he said. He expressed support for the United Kingdom’s leading role in negotiating an ambitious 12-month renewal of UNSMIL’s mandate. His delegation is open to a close discussion with all partners within the Council on ways to enhance the effectiveness of the Mission, he said, proposing the strengthening of UNSMIL’s role in supporting a possible ceasefire in Libya and in enforcing the arms embargo.

Indonesia’s representative expressed hope that ceasefire calls will be respected by all armed forces, with the Berlin Process playing its role to support these calls. Both parties should resume dialogue immediately through the 5+5 Joint Military Commission. Efforts must focus on saving lives, as deaths are coming not only from “bullets or bombs”, but also COVID-19. All parties must fully respect international humanitarian law and take measures to protect all civilians. Underscoring the importance of regional roles for peace in Libya, he said neighbouring countries should never be left out, as they provide a unique perspective.

The representative of Niger, Council President for September, spoke in his national capacity, noting that, as a neighbour of Libya, his country welcomed the 21 August announcement calling for an immediate ceasefire. When Libyans can talk to each other, they can create a space for peace and reconciliation in their country. In the same vein, the prospect of organizing elections by March 2021 should be welcomed and encouraged. It is obvious that true legitimacy is obtained through the ballot box and not through arms. It is more than urgent that a Special Representative of the Secretary‑General be appointed, so that the search for a political solution to the Libyan crisis gains momentum. Acknowledging the positive role played by UNSMIL, his delegation supports extending the Mission’s mandate for 12 months.

Also briefing the Council was Günter Sautter (Germany), who spoke in his capacity as Chair of the Security Council Committee established pursuant to resolution 1970 (2011) concerning Libya. Also participating were the representatives of Belgium, China, Dominican Republic, Germany, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines and Libya.

* Based on information received from the Security Council Affairs Division.

For information media. Not an official record.