The United Nations Support Mission in Libya (UNSMIL), whose mandate was most recently renewed on 13 September 2018, is primarily tasked by the Security Council with supporting an inclusive Libyan political process and securityand economic dialogue through mediation and good offices.
Political, security-related and economic developments
Following a relative reduction in fighting in the immediate aftermath of the truce of 12 January called for by the Presidents of the Russian Federation and Turkey and accepted by the Government of National Accord and the Libyan National Army, fighting gradually resumed. Both parties redeployed forces along the front lines in the Tripoli area. As at 21 April, more than 850 reported breaches of the ceasefire had been recorded by UNSMIL, including an unprecedented increase in indirect fire observed in urban areas, resulting in civilian casualties, damage to civilian infrastructure and disruption of commercial air operations. At other flashpoints in western Libya, tensions also remained high. On 26 January, the Libyan National Army launched an offensive against the forces of the Government of National Accord in the Abu Qurayn area, south of Misratah, prompting heavy clashes and casualties on both sides. At the end of March, heavy artillery fire and rocket attacks were continued by both sides in parts of southern Tripoli and in the central and western regions. Locations along the western coastal road towards the border with Tunisia were seized by the forces of the Government of National Accord in mid-April. On 18 April, those forces launched a coordinated attack against the city of Tarhunah.
Reports continued of foreign mercenaries providing the Government of National Accord and the Libyan National Army with enhanced combat capabilities, amid persistent reports of military equipment and arms being supplied to both sides in violation of the United Nations-imposed arms embargo. Those developments undermined United Nations-led dialogue initiatives and added to more human suffering. From 1 January to 31 March, there were at least 131 civilian casualties in Libya, including at least 64 persons who were killed. Since April 2019, more than 200,000 persons have been forced to leave their homes in and around Tripoli owing to armed conflict.
To prevent the spread of coronavirus disease (COVID-19), the national authorities and the unrecognized “interim government” based in eastern Libya introduced preventive measures, including the closure of all air, land and sea borders; restrictions on movement between municipalities and regions; curfews; lockdowns; the suspension of Friday prayers and gatherings; the closure of schools and non-essential shops; and restrictions on public transportation. On 14 March, the Prime Minister, Faiez Mustafa Serraj, announced a state of emergency in Libya and allocated 575 million Libyan dinars (about $406 million) to COVID-19 preparedness and response. Separate committees were established in the east and the west to address the impact of the disease. Although prevention and preparedness measures taken with regard to the COVID-19 pandemic were introduced by authorities with the support of the United Nations, Libya remained at an extremely high risk. The situation was compounded by increasing levels of fighting and insecurity, political fragmentation and a weak and overstretched health system. The pandemic led to a loss of income for segments of society, food shortages and an increase in the price of basic commodities. In addition, measures to restrict the spread of COVID-19 hampered access to humanitarian aid and the movement of medical and humanitarian personnel.
The ongoing conflict and the current pandemic further weakened the already tenuous economic situation in Libya. The declaration of force majeure by the National Oil Corporation on 18 January as a result of a closure of oil ports in areas under the control of the Libyan National Army reduced oil production to less than a tenth of its prior output. The Libyan National Army-supported blockage of oil exports prompted the Government of National Accord to take austerity measures to reduce spending, including payroll reductions. The austerity measures will further exhaust coping mechanisms at a time when the population is facing tremendous additional economic pressures owing to COVID-19.
On 18 and 21 March, respectively, the Government of National Accord and the Libyan National Army responded positively to international calls for an immediate humanitarian truce and a halt to the continuing transfer of all military equipment and personnel to Libya in order to allow local authorities to respond to the pandemic. On 21 March, I welcomed the positive responses received from both sides. On 23 March, I called for an immediate global ceasefire in all corners of the world in order for all efforts to be focused on addressing the pandemic and saving lives. Respect for the humanitarian truce was short-lived. Armed confrontation intensified in southern Tripoli and spread to areas around the airbase in Watiyah, in the country’s north-west section. On 23 March, the Government of National Accord launched Operation Peace Storm, which it said was a response to the increased attacks by the Libyan National Army on civilian neighbourhoods in Tripoli. The military escalation complicated efforts by civilian authorities and the population towards putting preventive measures in place to address the pandemic.
Violence escalated unabated, even after the Security Council issued elements for the press on 26 March, in which concern was expressed about the significant escalation of hostilities on the ground and the possible impact of the pandemic in Libya. The parties were called upon to de-escalate the fighting, cease hostilities and ensure unhindered access to humanitarian aid throughout the country. The Council also reaffirmed the central role of the United Nations in facilitating a Libyan -led and Libyan-owned inclusive political process.
Implementation of the three-step initiative and the political process
International efforts to de-escalate the conflict and pave the way for a political solution to the Libyan crisis continued. The United Nations and the Government of Germany organized the Berlin Conference on Libya on 19 January. Other participants included Algeria, China, the Congo, Egypt, France, Italy, the Russian Federation, Turkey, the United Arab Emirates, the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland and the United States of America, as well as senior officials from the African Union, the European Union and the League of Arab States. All participants signed the press release, in which they committed themselves to assisting in ending the fighting, refraining from interfering in the conflict and implementing the arms embargo established in Security Council resolution 1970 (2011). Participants called for the cessation of all hostilities and the start of ceasefire negotiations and urged the Libyan parties to resume the political process. In the press release, all parties were urged to respect international humanitarian law and human rights law fully, and support for security and economic reform was highlighted.
An international follow-up committee to the Berlin Conference, consisting of all countries and international organizations that had participated in the Berlin Conference, was established and tasked with assisting in the operationalization of the conclusions of the conference, under the auspices of the United Nations. On the margins of the conference, Mr. Serraj and General Haftar appointed their respective representatives to the UNSMIL-facilitated 5+5 Joint Military Commission. On 13 February, the Security Council adopted resolution 2510 (2020), endorsing the conclusions of the Berlin Conference on Libya and expressing unequivocal support for the intra-Libyan dialogue.
On 6 January, UNSMIL facilitated the first meeting of the economic track of the intra-Libyan dialogue in Tunis, with 19 participants. At the second meeting, held in Cairo on 9 and 10 February and involving 28 representatives of Libyan economic institutions and economic experts, participants agreed to a draft terms of reference for a Libyan expert economic commission and the creation of three working groups to refine specific policy recommendations. All of the working groups have since met to develop policy recommendations on issues of immediate priority, including revenue distribution, the banking and private sectors and development and reconstruction. The third meeting of the economic track of the dialogue, scheduled for 15 March, was postponed owing to COVID-19. The working groups continued to meet in Libya, with remote participation from other locations, to develop the policy recommendations.
International follow-up committee to the Berlin Conference
Under the co-chairmanship of the Government of Germany and UNSMIL, the international follow-up committee to the Berlin Conference held its inaugural meeting in Munich, Germany, on 16 February. Representatives of South Africa and Tunisia joined the committee as participants. As the executive secretariat of the Berlin Process, the committee is an essential tool for progressively turning the principles of
the conclusions of the Berlin Conference into tangible action. Its next meeting, scheduled to be held in Rome on 19 March under the joint chairmanship of the Government of Italy and UNSMIL, was postponed owing to the pandemic.
On 2 April, UNSMIL chaired the second meeting of the follow-up committee, held on closed-circuit television. Participants reiterated their call upon both parties to cease military operations and commit themselves to a humanitarian pause to focus national efforts on addressing COVID-19. Participants stressed the need to maximize international efforts to achieve a permanent ceasefire between the parties to the conflict and encourage the Libyan parties to continue their engagement on the three UNSMIL-facilitated tracks of the dialogue. Participants agreed on the co-chairs of three committee working groups (political, security and economic). The co-chairmanship of the international humanitarian law and human rights working group was opened to Member States outside the Berlin format after the Netherlands and Switzerland formally expressed interest in co-chairing that group. Following the agreement on the co-chairmanship of the three working groups, the political and economic group each met once, while the security group met four times by videoconference.
International and regional engagement
In addition to cooperating in the Berlin Process, the United Nations sustained its engagement with international and regional stakeholders to enlist support for a political solution to the Libyan conflict. My former Special Representative attended the eighth Summit of the Ad Hoc High-level Committee on Libya of the African Union, hosted by the President of the Congo in Brazzaville on 30 January. During a trilateral meeting with the Chair of the African Union Commission and the HighLevel Committee, held in Addis Ababa on 8 February, I tabled a number of proposals to enhance cooperation and synergies between the United Nations and the African Union on Libya. On 9 February, I participated in the African Union summit, held in Addis Ababa, during which the Assembly of the African Union adopted a decision to support the convening by the African Union of an inter-Libyan reconciliation conference, in line with the conclusions of the Berlin Conference. On 11 and 12 March, my Chef de Cabinet represented me, heading a delegation, which included my Special Representative to the African Union and the Acting Special Representative for Libya, to the inaugural meeting of the Cont act Group of the Ad Hoc High-level Committee on Libya of the African Union, held in Oyo, the Congo. The Contact Group decided that the reconciliation conference would be organized in Addis Ababa and expressed the determination of the African Union to cooperate closely with the United Nations to advance the implementation of the conclusions of the Berlin Conference.
On 31 March, the European Union officially launched a new Common Security and Defence Policy military operation in the Mediterranean, operation EUNAVFOR MED IRINI, effective 1 April, for an initial period of one year, replacing the European Union military operation in the Southern Central Mediterranean, EUNAVFOR MED operation Sophia, whose mandate ended on 31 March. The new operation’s core mandate is to contribute to the implementation of the United Nations arms embargo through the use of aerial, satellite and maritime assets. Inspections will be carried out of vessels on the high seas off the coast of Libya that are suspected to be carrying arms or related materiel to and from Libya, in strict accordance with Security Council resolution 2292 (2016) and other relevant resolutions. The operation will also monitor illicit oil exports, build the capacity of and train the Coast Guard and Navy of Libya and support the detection and monitoring of human smuggling and trafficking networks through information gathering and patrolling by aerial assets.
On 8 April, at the request of the Security Council, the Under-Secretary-General for Political and Peacebuilding Affairs and the Deputy Secretary-General of the European External Action Service briefed the Council EUNAVFOR MED operation IRINI.
The sustainability of the economic situation in Libya is becoming increasingly tenuous, and the situation will be further exacerbated by COVID-19. Since the blockage of oil exports imposed by the Libyan National Army on 17 January, the primary export of Libya was reduced from 1.2 million to 72,000 barrels per day, resulting in accumulated losses amounting to more than $4 billion. To offset the diminished revenues, the Central Bank of Libya and the Government of National Accord attempted to impose long-overdue austerity measures, including cuts to the public service payroll and a reduction in fuel subsidies. The blockage of oil exports also resulted in the shutdown of the country’s domestic oil refinery capacity, thereby requiring the National Oil Corporation to purchase refined petroleum products.
Although the Corporation had been providing sufficient refined fuel for commercial purposes, on 13 March, authorities in eastern Libya imported fuel from the United Arab Emirates to Benghazi, thus undermining the authority of the Corporation and marking the first time that fuel was imported outside normal Corporation channels.
The blockage of oil exports and the lack of agreement on a national budget caused delays in salary payments and a reduction in access to foreign exchange, leading to shortages and higher prices for goods. The branch of the Central Bank of Libya in Bayda’ stated on 9 March that it was unable to finance the parallel government beyond salaries, evidence of the growing reluctance of Libyan commercial banks to continue to finance questionable government bonds issued by the parallel Ministry of Finance in eastern Libya. If left unaddressed, the prices of staple goods are likely to increase further, and tensions within the banking sector could lead to its collapse.
UNSMIL, in coordination with international financial institutions, continued its efforts to address economic issues, including the worsening banking crisis. The UNSMIL-facilitated economic dialogue between the two branches of the Central Bank of Libya alleviated some stress on the banking sector, but workarounds are becoming increasingly difficult to maintain. A lack of cooperation on the part of the
Libyan authorities in facilitating the international audit review of the structure of the Central Bank also narrowed opportunities for the unification of that bank. Working groups, established during a second meeting of the economic track in Cairo in February, are working to find solutions, including by addressing deficiencies in development spending and revenue allocation.
Notwithstanding COVID-19, UNSMIL continues to address urgent economic issues, including with regard to resuming foreign exchange for basic commodities, facilitating public salary payments, ensuring adequate fuel supply, urging the disbursement of social benefits in exchange for a reduction in fuel subsidies and taking measures to support small and medium-sized businesses.
Other activities of the United Nations Support Mission in Libya
UNSMIL, and the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) continued to support the High National Elections Commission and the Central Committee for Municipal Council Elections by upgrading voter registration systems. The new Commission compound was completed and is fully operational. The operations of the Commission and the Committee continued to be hampered by budget shortages and the prevailing security situation in Tripoli.
Following a dispute resolution process that lasted eight months, on 14 January, the Central Committee for Municipal Council Elections announced the final results of the Municipal Council elections in Sabha, which had been held on 27 April 2019.
That process was followed by the election of the new Mayor and the swearing-in ceremony of the new Council by the Minister of Local Governance in Tripoli on 23 January.
Human rights, transitional justice and the rule of law
In response to the appeal by UNSMIL and other United Nations entities torelease persons arbitrarily detained and to consider releasing pretrial prisoners in the context of COVID-19, between March and April, the authorities reportedly released an estimated 1,900 prisoners and detainees. UNSMIL is providing technical guidance to the Ministry of Justice, the Ministry of the Interior and the Supreme Judicial Council with regard to alternatives to detention to support the release of 4,200 detainees who have been awaiting trial for years.
On 27 January, UNSMIL and the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights issued a joint report on the air strike on the Tajura’detention centre on 2 July 2019, which resulted in the death of at least 53 migrantsand refugees. In the report,accountability for violations of interna tional law, as well as urgent action to prevent a repeat of a such an incident, were called for. On 13 March, the Group of African States, with the support of Libya, tabled a resolution at the Human Rights Council to establish a fact-finding mission on the human rights situation in Libya to document alleged violations and abuses of international human rights and humanitarian law by all parties in Libya since 2016. Owing to the pandemic, however, the session was suspended and voting on the resolution was postponed to a later session.
Support for Libyan plans for interim security arrangements and the unification of security forces
UNSMIL and UNDP continued to build the capacity of staff of both the Ministry of the Interior and the Ministry of Justice through the Policing and Security Joint Programme, with special attention given to promoting a gender-sensitive approach in
the security sector. The Joint Programme organized a workshop, held from 27 to 30 January, on the model police station, at which job descriptions and structure, as well as human rights and gender-sensitive approaches, were discussed. About one third of the participants were female police officers.
Arms and ammunition management
UNSMIL continued to assist Libyan authorities and communities in addressing the increasing threat of explosive hazards and the proliferation of weapons and ammunition through the technical assistance of the Mine Action Service. In Benghazi, teams from the Service conducted clearance activities in residential areas and at 11 sites. An estimated 9,455 residents benefited from the removal of more than 500 items of unexploded ordnance and small arms ammunition. Non-technical surveys conducted in Sabri and Laythi benefited some 23,900 persons through the mapping of explosive hazards to inform future activities. In Tripoli, two new teams from the Service removed unexploded ordnance from the Janzur, Abu Salim and Tariq al-Matar areas. The Service also provided training in capacity development to young people and women to help to address the proliferation of small arms and light weapons.
Empowerment of women and young people
UNSMIL sought to mainstream gender into and ensure the meaningful participation of women and young people throughout the three-track dialogues. After only 1 woman had been selected to attend the Libyan Political Forum, 10 additional seats were made available for women therein. In partnership with UN-Women, they were provided with technical support that was focused on the gender perspective in
In Sabha, the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), UN-Women and the World Food Programme (WFP) launched a joint pilot project on 26 January, in which 57 women were provided with skills to strengthen leadership and livelihood. From 16 January to 16 March, UNFPA undertook a number of initiatives, including the provision of psychosocial support and the raising of the awareness of vulnerable women and girls in Tripoli and Sabha of gender-based violence, as well as holding consultations with young female entrepreneurs in Sirte.
Coordination of international assistance
The humanitarian response in Libya continued to be coordinated at the field level by the area coordination groups covering the eastern, southern and western regions of the country, as well as through sectors and the Inter-Sector Coordination Group, under the leadership of the humanitarian country team and the Humanitarian Coordinator and supported by the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian
Affairs. Through the 2020 Libya Humanitarian Response Plan, sector coordination will be strengthened through an emphasis on the participation of non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and supporting the co-leadership of sectors by international NGOs as well as the increased participation of local actors.
Humanitarian, stabilization and development assistance
As at 27 April, there were 61 confirmed cases of COVID-19, including two deaths, in Libya. The United Nations system, chiefly the World Health Organization (WHO), engaged closely with health authorities in Tripoli and in western and eastern Libya. Technical support was extended to the Ministry of Health, the National Centre for Disease Control and others, focusing on prevention, preparedness and response measures, including through increasing the COVID-19 testing capacity and providing adequate training to health workers. United Nations country team members, together with national and international NGO partners, provided technical support to enhance national surveillance, early warning systems and alert and response networks; upgrade laboratory capacity; improve public information; and establish isolation
wards in several hospitals.