UN Support Mission in Libya (UNSMIL) - Security Council Open VTC - Part 1

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08-Jul-2020 00:56:48
As foreign interference in Libya reaches unprecedented levels, Secretary-General warns Security Council ‘time is not on our side’, urges end to stalemate.

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With foreign interference surging, front lines between combatants shifting, tens of thousands fleeing their homes and the threat of COVID-19 looming large, a negotiated solution to the crisis in Libya — now in its tenth year — is more urgent than ever, Secretary-General António Guterres told the Security Council in a 8 July video conference meeting dedicated to the situation in the North African country.

More than 30 speakers participated in the meeting, convened by Germany, Council President for July, six months after the Berlin Conference on Libya where foreign leaders pledged not to interfere in Tripoli’s affairs, recommitted to the arms embargo that the Council established through resolution 1970 (2011) and reaffirmed their support for a Libyan-owned and Libyan-led peace process.

“Time is not on our side in Libya,” the Secretary-General said, explaining that the conflict has entered a new phase, with foreign interference reaching unprecedented levels, including in the delivery of sophisticated equipment and the presence of mercenaries engaged in the fighting.

Since 19 May, when the Secretary-General’s Acting Special Representative and Head of United Nations Support Mission in Libya (UNSMIL), Stephanie Turco Williams, briefed the Council, units of the United Nations-recognized Government of National Accord, “with significant external support”, continued their advance eastwards against the opposition Libyan National Army led by Khalifa Haftar. Those units now are 25 kilometres west of the Mediterranean coastal city of Sirte and the situation on the front lines has been mostly quiet since 10 June.

“However, we are very concerned about the alarming military build-up around the city and the high level of direct foreign interference in the conflict in violation of the United Nations arms embargo, Security Council resolutions and the commitments made by Member States in Berlin,” he said. Given the gloomy context, all opportunities to unblock the political stalemate must be seized, he said, adding that UNSMIL is undertaking de-escalation efforts — including the creation of a possible demilitarized zone — to reach a negotiated settlement and save lives.

In eastern Libya, the political situation has registered some movements that indicate renewed support for a political solution, as seen by a 23 May initiative by the Speaker of the House of Representatives and the 6 June Cairo Declaration, drafted by Egypt President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi and leaders of the Libyan National Army, which called for a ceasefire. For its part, the Government of National Accord has called for national elections. The Secretary-General warned, however, that such openings are fragile, given the impact of military developments and support from external backers.

Meanwhile, he continued, developments on the ground have prompted an agreement to reconvene the UNSMIL-facilitated 5+5 Libyan Joint Military Commission, which held a third round of talks in June focusing on several areas of convergence, including the departure of foreign mercenaries, counter-terrorism cooperation, disarmament and demobilization of armed groups, and modalities for a ceasefire mechanism. “The United Nations will continue working with the parties to reach a ceasefire and resume a political process,” he said, adding that, in recent days, he has spoken by telephone with Prime Minister Faiez Mustafa Serraj and Field Marshal Khalifa Haftar, urging them to engage fully to ensure a ceasefire and advance the political process. At the same time, the United Nations, African Union and the League of Arab States, with others, will continue to work closely together, he said, urging the Council to lend its collective support, as well.

With respect to the process that emerged from the Berlin Conference on Libya on 19 January, the Secretary-General said a fourth meeting of the Plenary of the International Follow-up Committee is scheduled for July, with working groups already contributing to UNSMIL’s efforts to facilitate a Libyan-led and Libyan‑owned dialogue.

Turning to the humanitarian impact of the conflict, the Secretary-General said that almost 30,000 people fled their homes as a result of fighting in Tripoli’s southern suburbs and in Tarhouna, bringing the total number of internally displaced to more than 400,000. Many civilians were killed or injured by improvised explosive devices reportedly planted by the Libyan National Army and associated mercenaries as they withdrew. Between 1 April and 30 June, UNSMIL document at least 102 civilian deaths and 254 civilian injuries, an increase of 172 per cent from the first three months of 2020. The World Health Organization (WHO) has meanwhile documented at least 21 attacks on medical facilities, ambulances and personnel. Expressing shock at the discovery of mass graves after the Government of National Accord retook Tarhouna, he welcomed the Human Rights Council’s decision to set up a fact-finding mission into human rights violations and noted the International Criminal Court’s readiness to investigate possible war crimes and crimes against humanity. The United Nations stands ready to advise on the conduct of investigations and the securing of mass graves, he said.

He went on to say that, one year after an air strike on the Tajoura Detention Centre killed at least 52 migrants and injured 87 others, migrants and asylum seekers in Libya still face arbitrary detention, torture, sexual violence, abduction for ransom, forced labour and unlawful killings. “I am also deeply concerned about the risks faced by migrants, refugees and asylum seekers who continue to attempt to cross the Mediterranean,” he said, urging the authorities to find alternatives to detention, as well as more sustainable solutions for migrants and refugees. COVID-19 is also a growing concern, he added, with a seven-fold increase in cases in June alone. The true scale of the pandemic is likely much higher than the reported 1,046 confirmed cases and 32 deaths, he said, adding that Libya’s capacity to test, trace, isolate and treat people must be strengthened.

Turning to economic aspects, he said that the blockage of Libyan oil port facilities that began in January has so far cost more than $6 billion in lost revenues and created conditions for a budget deficit exceeding 50 per cent of the country’s gross domestic product (GDP). Noting that the National Oil Corporation is calling for all armed groups to exit Libyan oil facilities, he expressed confidence that the Council will support efforts to lift the blockade. He also called on the Council to ensure that an international audit of two branches of the Central Bank of Libya — obstructed by several key officials — begins soon. He concluded by saying that he is counting on the Council to expedite the designation of a new Special Representative, which would greatly facilities UNSMIL’s work.

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