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Libya: Vote on a Draft Resolution Renewing UNSMIL’s Mandate

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This morning (29 April), the Security Council is expected to vote on a draft resolution renewing the mandate of the UN Support Mission in Libya (UNSMIL) for a period of three months, until 31 July. The draft text in blue maintains UNSMIL’s core mandated tasks, as set out in resolution 2542 of 15 September 2020 and paragraph 16 of resolution 2570 of 16 April 2021.

The draft resolution contains a new provision authorising the restructuring of the mission in accordance with the recommendations contained in a 6 August 2021 independent strategic review report of UNSMIL, which recommended replacing the current Geneva-based Special Envoy with a Tripoli-based Special Representative, supported by two Deputy Special Representatives. It further calls on the Secretary-General to appoint a special representative promptly. (The Secretary-General has yet to identify a successor to former Special Envoy Jan Kubiš, who resigned in November 2021, or for the position of Special Representative that is expected to replace the Special Envoy under UNSMIL’s proposed restructuring. Special Advisor Stephanie Turco Williams continues to lead mediation efforts on the ground.)

Council dynamics on Libya are difficult, leading to challenging negotiations on the UNSMIL mandate renewal resolutions in recent months. Since September 2021, the Council has renewed UNSMIL’s mandate three times through short-term technical rollovers because of disagreements among Council members concerning the length of the mandate, the restructuring of the mission, and language regarding the appointment of UNSMIL’s leadership. (For background, see our 1 October 2021 and 31 January What’s in Blue stories.) In addition to authorising the mission’s restructuring, the draft to be voted on this morning contains other elements not included in the previous three renewals, such as shortening the Secretary-General’s reporting cycle on UNSMIL’s activities to every 30 days (instead of the current 60-day cycle) and language calling for adherence to the 23 October 2020 ceasefire agreement.

It appears that this month’s negotiations on the UNSMIL mandate were again difficult. The UK, the penholder on Libya, convened one round of negotiations on 19 April and circulated a first revised version for comment until 22 April. A second revised version was subsequently placed under silence on Monday (25 April) until noon the following day. Russia apparently requested two extensions of the silence period and subsequently broke silence on Tuesday (26 April) afternoon. The UK then circulated a third revised version on Wednesday (27 April). Russia again broke silence, leading the UK to postpone the vote on the draft resolution, which was originally scheduled for yesterday (28 April), to today (29 April). Shortly before noon on 28 April, the UK put a fourth revised draft in blue.

It seems that issues that were divisive during previous negotiations, such as the timing and scope of the implementation of the strategic review’s recommendations and language regarding the recruitment for UNSMIL’s leadership position, were not contentious this month. Instead, disagreements apparently centred on the length of the mission’s mandate and the duration of the Secretary-General’s reporting cycle on UNSMIL’s activities.

It seems that the UK initially circulated a short draft text which renewed the mission’s mandate for one year, authorised UNSMIL’s restructuring and maintained the regular 60-day reporting period for briefings from the Secretary-General to the Council on the situation in the country. The draft text also apparently urged relevant Libyan institutions and authorities to hold the presidential and parliamentary elections—which were foreseen for 24 December 2021 and several weeks thereafter, respectively, but indefinitely postponed—as soon as possible.

Council members submitted proposals for additional language. It seems that the A3 (Gabon, Ghana and Kenya) suggested language emphasising the importance of national dialogue and reconciliation and the role of neighbouring countries and regional organisations. Norway apparently requested additional language regarding accountability for violations of international humanitarian law and international human rights, as well as on the importance of child protection and the full, equal and meaningful participation of women in elections. It seems that France, throughout the negotiations, stressed the importance of including language regarding the holding of elections. The United Arab Emirates (UAE) apparently requested the addition of the term “foreign fighters” to a paragraph requesting the immediate withdrawal of foreign forces and mercenaries, in an effort to streamline language regarding foreign elements in the country with language from the 5+5 Joint Military Commission’s (JMC) “Action Plan for the withdrawal of mercenaries, foreign fighters and foreign forces”. (The JMC consists of five representatives each from the former Government of National Accord and from the Libyan Arab Armed Forces, also known as the Libyan National Army, and is entrusted with overseeing the implementation of the 23 October 2020 ceasefire agreement.)

It seems that Russia expressed a preference for a shorter text and requested a three-month instead of a one-year mandate renewal. It also advocated for shortening the reporting cycle from 60 days to one month, to receive more frequent updates on developments on the ground and Williams’ activities. During a 16 March Council meeting on the situation in Libya, Russia said that “[Council] members receive from the Secretary-General very limited information as to the activity of his Special Adviser, Ms. Stephanie Williams”.

The UK included the requests for additional language in a first revised draft, which also maintained the one-year mandate length and the 60-day reporting cycle. Russia subsequently requested the deletion of most paragraphs, except the paragraphs requesting the implementation of the strategic review, calling for the prompt appointment of a Special Representative to lead the mission, and referencing mandate length, as well as the reporting cycle of the Secretary-General to the Council.

The UK subsequently circulated a second revised draft, shortening the mandate duration to six months, with the option of reviewing the mandate length after three months following the resolution’s adoption. It also shortened the reporting cycle to one month, subject to review based on developments on the ground. It appears, however, that these suggestions were unacceptable to Russia, which stressed the need for a three-month renewal and a shorter text.

It appears that the UK then engaged Russia in bilateral negotiations to reach agreement on the way forward and eventually placed a compromise version in blue, which renews the mission’s mandate for three months and shortens the reporting cycle for the duration of the mandate (that is, until 31 July). Additional operative paragraphs which were retained in the draft text in blue include a paragraph calling on all parties to refrain from actions that could undermine the implementation of the 23 October 2020 ceasefire or the political process. It recalls that the Council can sanction those who obstruct the political transition, including by undermining the elections, and emphasises the need for full compliance with the Libya arms embargo.

Today’s vote is taking place against the backdrop of ongoing political turmoil in Libya. On 10 February, the House of Representatives appointed former Interior Minister Fathi Bashagha as interim prime minister, citing the failure of incumbent Prime Minister Abdul Hamid Mohammed Dbeibah to hold the elections. Dbeibah—who was elected in February 2021 by the Libyan Political Dialogue Forum to head the interim Government of National Unity (GNU)—has challenged the legitimacy of Bashagha’s appointment and reiterated his intention to only hand over affairs to a democratically-elected government. Bashagha has since sworn in a new cabinet, which held its first meeting on 21 April, as the stand-off to determine Libya’s leadership continues.

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