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At the UN Libya Continues to be a Pressing Issue

Security Council briefed on the state of Libya and its new government


Martin Kobler, Special Representative of the Secretary-General and Head of the UN Support Mission in Libya (UNSMIL), briefs the Security Council. (UN Photo/Manuel Elias)

Head of the UN Support Mission in Libya (UNSMIL) Martin Kobler and High Representative of the EU for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Federica Mogherini recently briefed the UN Security Council on the increasingly volatile situation in Libya

Special Representative and Head of the United Nations Support Mission in Libya (UNSMIL) Martin Kobler on Monday, June 6 briefed the UN Security Council on the increasingly volatile situation in Libya. Kobler updated the Council on Libya’s governmental instability as well as the chaotic and devastating humanitarian crisis six months following the Libyan Political Agreement.

The agreement, signed on December 17, 2015, was brokered by a wide range of Libyan representatives and essentially set up the nation’s current interim government, the Government of National Accord. Since the ousting of Libya’s previous dictator, Muammar Gaddafi, the country has been in a state of chaos. The new government lead by Premier Fayez al-Sarraj has attained international legitimacy and support, but possesses very little control of the nation. Numerous militias have assumed control of vast amounts of the country, destabilizing the North African region and breeding Islamist extremism and safe havens for terrorists and other war criminals. Ansar al-Sharia and the Islamic State are two of the most notorious terrorist groups functioning in Libya.

Kobler explained to the Council that “the implementation of the Libyan Political Agreement has stalled, and it has stalled because some parties to the Agreement have failed to uphold their commitments.” Kobler additionally touched on the challenging military situation: “The decision of the Presidency Council to establish a joint operations room is a crucial one since Da’esh [The Islamic State] can only be fought effectively through a unified military structure at the national level that also serves as the cornerstone for the development of a unified Libyan army.” A unified effort against the Islamic State is increasingly difficult and complicated because of the armed conflict existing between the many Libyan militias throughout the country.

Kobler addressed the tragic humanitarian crisis plaguing the nation, highlighting the difficulty of saving civilians who are taking refuge in public buildings, schools, and universities under Da’esh. This chaotic state has plunged the nation into a massive refugee crisis, with the displaced persons count reaching 435,000, Kobler says. 40,500 Libyan refugees have made the dangerous voyage across the Mediterranean to Italy this year, and in the week of May 22 alone more than 10,000 Libyan refugees have been rescued by international agencies.

Kobler noted that in May 2016, 1,100 migrants (500 in just one day and 40 of them children) died while attempting to cross the Mediterranean. “The capacity of local communities and of aid agencies to host and provide assistance has been stretched to breaking point,” he reported.

The same day as Kobler’s briefing, High Representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Federica Mogherini briefed the Security Council on the EU’s common efforts with the UN.  She addressed the Libyan refugee situation, thanking the Council for its resolution that endorsed the EU’s Operation Sophia, a naval initiative to battle trafficking networks in the Mediterranean Sea. Libyan militants take advantage of migrants escaping from the country through the Mediterranean route. Militant groups detain and exploit migrants as a financial source, subjecting them to violence, sexual assault and ill-treatment. Mogherini called on the Council to further their efforts and to adopt a resolution that would enforce the UN arms embargo on the high seas off the coast of Libya.

Roberta Pinotti, the defense minister of Italy, a nation expecting at least 150,000 more refugees this year, stated that her soldiers are prepared to lead a UN force into Libya. Pinotti changed her initial position and provided that Italy must receive parliamentary, UN and Libyan government support in order to invade Libya with at least 5,000 troops. As a nation located directly across the Mediterranean from Libya and with a colonial history in the country, Italy is a major target for the rapidly developing Islamic State in Libya. Additionally, Da’esh threatens Italy’s state-controlled oil company, ENI, which receives 20% of its production from Libya, and in recent years Libyan gas accounts for about 12% of Italian imports.

Although public opinion generally opposes military action (a recent poll shows that only a third of the population supports it), the Italian government fears Libya may fall under other European commercial influences if they do not lead the military intervention.

Kobler put forth a six-point proposal to the Council to help the current state of Libya. First, uphold the Libyan Political Agreement as the framework for Libya’s government transitional period. Second, Libya’s House of Representatives shall remain the institution to swear in and endorse the interim government. Third, all nine members of the Presidency Council are needed for it to function. Fourth, the Presidency Council will work as quickly as possible to help the nation’s people. Fifth, all international security assistance will go to the Presidency Council, which is the Supreme Commander of the united Libyan army. Sixth, an inclusive interim security architecture is needed in order to fight the Islamic State.

During the press conference following Kobler’s briefing, François Delattre, Permanent Representative of France to the UN and President of the Security Council, was asked whether or not, given opposing views between Security Council members, the Council will be able to execute its plans in Libya. He responded, “I can only confirm what Martin [Kobler] just told you, this is really ‘unity for unity’: unity in the Security Council for the unity of Libya, that’s what we are building day after day with some results.”

To conclude his briefing, Kobler also called on the Council to re-establish UNSMIL’s participation in Libya: “The establishment of regular UNSMIL flights to Tripoli has facilitated some direct contact with key partners.” He stressed that UNSMIL is crucial in the national and international mission to stabilize the nation.

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