The security situation in Libya began to deteriorate in late 2013 with a number of militias increasingly challenging the authority of the transitional government, the General National Congress (GNC). A 16 December 2013 Presidential Statement (S/PRST/2013/21) reiterated Security Council support for Libya’s elected political institutions and called on all parties to “engage in political dialogue and refrain from violence.” After a DPRK-flagged vessel exporting Libyan oil from a rebel-held port of Sidra in eastern Libya was intercepted off the coast of Cyprus on 8 March 2014 upon the request of the Libyan government, UNSCR 2146 (19 March 2014) imposed a ban on illicit crude oil exports, as well as related financial transactions, vessels port entry, and provision of bunkering services, in an effort to thwart the financing of non-state actors. To this end, it requested the establishment of a Government focal point to identify vessels for designation and authorized MS inspections of those vessels.
A complex unraveling of the situation began in May 2014 when General Haftar, operating with the backing of Zintana-based militias, launched Operation Dignity (Karama) challenging the authority of the GNC and targeting “terrorist” groups in the country. Islamist and Misrata-based militias reacted with the launch of Operation Libya Dawn (Fajr) in July. Initial clashes over control of Tripoli, which fell into the hands of the Libya Dawn coalition in August 2014, later spread to other parts of the country. Both coalitions faced challenges from more radical, Al-Qaida and ISIL affiliated Islamist groups operating around the country, which were increasingly becoming prominent actors on their own. The warring factions were fighting for control over the country’s oil infrastructure and financial institutions and by mid-2014, the country descended into a civil war. UN staff, including UNSMIL, was evacuated in mid-July and Ansar al-Sharia, Al-Qaida affiliate whose Derna and Benghazi branches were designated by the Al-Qaida Sanctions Committee on 19 November 2014, proclaimed the establishment of an emirate in Benghazi on 31 July 2014.
The situation was complicated further after the Operation Dignity and Libya Dawn coalitions took sides in the institutional crisis that erupted between the GNC and its elected successor, the House of Representatives (HoR), in August 2014. The GNC refused to hand over power to HoR after the body decided to convene in the eastern city of Tobruk instead of Benghazi. The two parliaments appointed rival governments and accused each other of procedural irregularities and illegality. The Tripoli-based GNC was supported by the Libya Dawn coalition, while the Tobruk-based HoR was backed by General Haftar’s forces which were subsequently integrated into the Libyan national army. In the fighting that erupted between the two rival governments, the GNC took over a number of administrative buildings, oil facilities, ports, and airports. Despite its limited control over much of Libya’s territory and borders, the newly elected HoR became internationally recognized as the legitimate government of Libya. Regionally, Egypt, United Arab Emirates, Chad, and Saudi Arabia supported the HoR, while Qatar, Turkey, Algeria, Sudan, and Niger leaned towards GNC.
On 27 August 2014, the Security Council reacted to the situation by re-imposing the requirement for Committee approval of arms imports to the Libyan government (UNSCR 2174). The resolution also broadened the sanctions designation criteria to include those “engaging in or providing support for other acts that threaten the peace, stability or security of Libya, or obstruct or undermine the successful completion of its political transition.” The Special Representative and head of UNSMIL, Bernardino León, subsequently launched mediation efforts to bring both parties to engage in a political dialogue and reach a consensus about the next steps in Libya’s political transition.
Although UNSCR 2174 allowed for designations of leaders of militias from both sides of the conflict and León repeatedly stressed their potential usefulness in containing spoilers to the political process, balanced designations were blocked by disagreements among the P5, most notably in June 2015. Although the HoR was implicitly recognized by the UNSC as the de facto legitimate Government of Libya, no government arms imports embargo exemptions were authorized by the Sanctions Committee (despite numerous calls by HoR, the Arab League, and Jordan). A two-way arms embargo notwithstanding, Libya remained not only the destination but also the main source of illicit arms in the region. The Panel of Experts stressed that post-2011 transfers of arms to Libya, as well as the widespread practice of hiring militias by the two rival governments, further exacerbated the internal security problem and urged suspension of all military materiel transfers rather than lifting of the restrictions. Disagreement between Libya and the ICC persisted over the case of Saif al-Islam Qadhafi whom Libya refused to hand over to the ICC, proceeding instead with its own in absentia trial in which he was sentenced to death in July 2015. Responding to the ICC’s demands, Libyan authorities stressed that Qadhafi’s sentence was not yet final and he could not be surrendered because he was not in the Government’s custody.
UN-brokered talks between representatives of HoR and GNC, as well as a broad range of other domestic actors, continued throughout 2015. Although local conflicts with tribal, criminal, and terrorist groups continued and ISIL significantly expanded its control over Libyan territory, fighting between the two coalitions stopped in April 2015 and a preliminary political agreement providing for a ceasefire and the creation of a national unity government was signed by a number of participants in Skhirat, Morocco on 11 July 2015. Although elements within the Libya Dawn coalition publicly supported the dialogue, the GNC did not endorse the text. UNSMIL presented a final version of the document (which incorporated some of GNC’s objections) in October 2015. Hardliners on both sides, including General Haftar (aligned with HoR), rejected the document and both governments delayed its adoption. In defiance of the UN-mediated process, HoR unilaterally extended its mandate beyond 20 October 2015 and GNC launched an alternative negotiation in Tunis in November. The new SRSG Martin Kobler, named in November 2015, refused to change the October text and following a substantial degree of international pressure – including through a 13 December 2015 Rome Communiqué effectively denouncing parallel negotiation efforts by objecting GNC and HoR leaders – members of both governments signed the Libyan Political Agreement (LPA) on 17 December 2015. The LPA envisaged the creation of a Presidency Council and a Government of National Accord (GNA), and the co-existence of two legislative bodies – HoR and a consultative High Council of State, comprised mostly of GNC members. The UNSCR 2259 (23 December 2015) welcomed the signing of the LPA, endorsed the Rome Communiqué supporting GNA as the sole legitimate government of Libya, and called upon MS to “cease support to and official contact with parallel institutions that claim to be the legitimate authority but are outside of the Agreement.”
The Presidency Council headed by Prime Minister Fayez al-Serraj arrived in Tripoli on 30 March 2016 but HoR is yet to formally endorse the GNA nominated by the Presidency Council, maintaining reservations regarding the transfer of military power under Article 8 of the LPA, which would see General Haftar lose his position as commander of Libyan armed forces. The following day, on 31 March 2016, UNSCR 2278 renewed provisions regarding illicit crude oil exports and requested the appointment of two GNA focal points, one for oil exports and another for communication regarding its security forces. After HoR approved the exports of crude oil from Tobruk on 26 April 2016, the GNA demanded the first designation of a vessel illegally exporting Libyan crude oil which led to its listing, interception, and subsequent delisting upon compliance. In May 2016, Western-based pro-GNA armed groups and Eastern-based anti-GNA factions mobilized (separately) to retake Sirte from ISIL and 20 Foreign Ministers met in Vienna to reiterate their support for LPA and PM Serraj, encouraging him to continue setting up the GNA. UNSCR 2292 (14 June 2016) authorized inspection of vessels suspected of arms imports and exports embargo violations and UNSCR 2298 (22 July 2016) authorized MS assistance in eliminating Libya’s chemical weapons stockpile at Libya’s request.
The Presidency Council and the GNA continued to be opposed by both elements of HoR as well as former GNC. The HoR President called on HoR members to stop collaborating with GNA Presidency Council controlled ministries in September 2016, while forces loyal to the former GNC Prime Minister took over the buildings of the High Council of State in October. Armed clashes between pro- and anti-GNA militias and division of financial and economic institutions continued throughout 2016 despite the SRSG’s attempts to overcome the political deadlock as well as mediation efforts by a number of international actors, including the US. In October 2016, UNSMIL drafted a new roadmap to amend the LPA, endorsed by the Quartet (UN, EU, AU, and the Arab League) in March 2017. A regional initiative between Algeria, Tunisia, and Egypt was launched at the beginning of 2017 and an Egypt-led process to integrate Libya’s military forces followed.
Pro-GNA forces, backed by US airstrikes, liberated Sirte from ISIL control in December 2016, and, in March 2017, GNC forces were drawn out of Tripoli. Despite the successes, internal divisions within the Presidency Council, as well as tensions with the South, increased in 2017. After one of its Southern members resigned in January 2017, declaring that the Council had “failed,” violence in the South flared up in April. In July 2017, Haftar’s Libyan National Army declared Benghazi “liberated” from terrorism and began focusing on Derna. Although ISIL ceased to hold territory in Libya in mid-2017, it continues being active in the country. After years of inaction, the ICC unsealed an arrest warrant against a former head of the Libyan Internal Security Agency in April 2017 and issued a new arrest warrant against a commander close to General Haftar in August 2017. On 9 June 2017, after an amnesty issued by HoR, Saif al-Islam Qadhafi was released by the Zintan militias holding him despite a pending ICC arrest warrant and a 2015 death sentence issued in absentia by a court in Tripoli. All three remain at large.
On 26 June 2017, the Security Council adopted UNSCR 2362, expanding the UNSCR 2146 illicit crude oil exports ban and the related vessels port entry, bunkering services, financial transactions ban, and inspection authorization to all illicit petroleum exports, including crude oil and refined petroleum products, subject to periodic renewal. It also welcomed the appointment of UNSCR 2146 GNA focal point, making it a common channel of communication regarding all illicit petroleum exports information. Two listings of vessels were subsequently made in July and August 2017 (they were delisted in April 2018).
Martin Kobler was replaced as SRSG on 22 June 2017 by Ghassan Salamé and a new round of mediation efforts by a range of actors tried to address the Libyan political deadlock. On 25 July 2017, Serraj and Haftar met in Paris, issuing a 10-point declaration including a ceasefire and a commitment on working towards elections and securing the Libyan territory against terrorism and trafficking. The Security Council welcomed the meeting and the joint declaration two days later (SC/12933) but it remained largely unimplemented. On 20 September 2017, SRSG Salamé unveiled a new UN Action Plan, endorsed by the Security Council in its 10 October 2017 Presidential Statement (S/PRST/2017/19). The Plan’s four-step sequence includes (1) adoption of amendments to LPA, (2) organization of a national conference, (3) agreement on a constitution, and (4) holding of parliamentary and presidential elections. Although HoR approved the UN Action Plan in November, the High Council of State as well as General Haftar rejected it, with the former claiming that the LPA ceases to be effective on 17 December 2017, two years following its signing. In response, the Security Council adopted a Presidential Statement on 14 December 2017 (S/PRST/2017/26) emphasizing “the continuity of the LPA throughout Libya’s transitional period” and declaring it the “only viable framework to end the Libyan political crisis.”
Although there has been little progress on amending the LPA, a February 2018 Libyan supreme court decision removed legal challenges against the 29 July 2017 constitution adopted by the Libyan Constitution Drafting Assembly (rejected by HoR) and the first phase of the inclusive national conference took place in April 2018. On 29 May 2018, leaders of the Presidential Council, HoR, High Council of State, and Libyan National Army attended an international conference hosted by French President Macron in Paris under UN auspices. Although they did not sign a common document, they declared their commitment to adopt election legislation by 16 September 2018, hold parliamentary and presidential elections by 10 December 2018, and unite the country’s financial and security institutions. The momentum generated by the conference, as well as the commitments of the parties of the Paris Declaration, were welcomed by the Security Council in a Presidential Statement on 6 June 2018 (S/PRST/2018/11). In March 2018, it was announced that the escaped Saif al-Islam Qadhafi intends to run in the planned Presidential elections.
On 7 June 2018, the Sanctions Committee designated 6 individuals for serious human rights abuses against migrants and refugees in Libya (4 Libyan and 2 Eritrean nationals). Four were leaders of transnational trafficking networks, one head of the Patrol Refinery Guard, and one commander of the Regional Coast Guard in the north-western part of the country. The listing presented the first additions to the Libyan sanctions list since 2011 and the first ever listing for human trafficking. They follow UNSCR 2240 from 9 October 2015, in which the Security Council condemned the acts of migrant smuggling and human trafficking into, via, and from the Libyan territory, but invoke more general human rights abuses listing criteria from UNSCR 1970, 2174, and 2213 rather than extend the criteria specifically to migrant smuggling and human trafficking. UNSCR 2240 also authorized the use of all commensurate measures, including inspection and seizure, against vessels on the high seas off the coast of Libya suspected of being used for migrant smuggling and human trafficking (originally for 1 year, renewed periodically thereafter).
Coerce all parties to agree to a ceasefire and continuation of an inclusive transitional process.
Constrain all parties from undermining the transitional process and prevent the financing of non-state actors though illicit exports of crude oil.
Signal support for an inclusive transitional process and the legitimacy of the transitional government (initially the GNC, then HoR, and subsequently the Libyan Political Agreement and the Government of National Accord (GNA) as the sole legitimate government of Libya).
Ongoing arms imports (all parties, conditional Government exemptions for security, disarmament, and counter-terrorism) and arms exports embargo, travel ban, individual / entity and political entity (government) asset freeze, and financial sector restrictions (sovereign wealth funds asset freeze).
Newly imposed ban on illicit crude oil exports and related vessels port entry, provision of bunkering services, and financial transactions (in June 2017 expanded to all illicit petroleum exports).
New sanctions (illicit crude oil exports ban and related financial transactions, vessels port entry, and provision of bunkering services, from June 2017 on all illicit petroleum products) imposed for a limited time period (1 year) and renewed periodically. Ongoing sanctions in place indefinitely. Sanctions Committee and Panel of Experts in place. Designation criteria were specified and targets designated. Current and maximum number of designees during the episode – 26 individual travel ban and 21 individual asset freeze designees (including members of former regime and individuals engaged in migrant smuggling and human trafficking) and 2 entity asset freeze designees (Libyan Africa Investment Portfolio and Libyan Investment Authority). 3 vessels were designated during the episode for varying periods of time (none remains listed). Enforcement authorities specified.
Direct clashes between Operation Dignity and Operation Libya Dawn largely ceased in April 2015 and the rival governments participated in UN-led peace negotiations and signed the Libyan Political Agreement in December 2015. However, HoR has not formally endorsed the new government and the agreement itself has become increasingly less central to the transition since 2017 due to impending elections. While the parties publicly agreed to a number of commitments, including a ceasefire, elections, and the unity of financial and security institutions, and continue to participate in UN-led peace negotiations, they remain “unwilling to make the necessary concessions” on the amendments to the LPA according to the SRSG (S/PV.8263).
The threat of sanctions imposition seems to have contributed to the decision to participate in the UN peace talk initiatives but SRSG and third party-led mediation efforts were more important. Designations of political process spoilers, potentially useful both during the negotiations as well as post-agreement, were blocked by disagreements among Security Council members early in the episode and have not been made since.
Fighting between the two main parties to the conflict ceased in April 2015 but armed challenges to the Libyan state continue as independent militias operate in the country (often with the support of political actors) and arms continue to be both routinely imported and exported and freely available. ISIL attacked several oil fields early in the episode, but did not generate direct revenue from oil according to the Panel of Experts and lost territorial control in Libya in mid-2017.
Sanctions have supported mediation by seeking to cut the revenue sources from actors other than the legitimate government of Libya, suspend exemptions during mediation, and create focal points within the internationally recognized government of Libya (HoR, then GNA), but mediation and military force have been more important. Foreign government forces present in Libya were focused primarily on fighting ISIL and Al-Qaida affiliated groups.
Support for the transition process has been clearly articulated and the UN was taking a consistent position regarding the legitimate authorities in Libya. However, the clarity of the signal was undercut by competing regional support for the two rival governments and the stigmatization of actors outside of the LPA has been weakened by member states’ bilateral contacts with opposing individuals (like General Haftar) as well as the gradual abandonment of LPA as a framework for Libyan political transition.
Diplomatic pressure and political mediation were the principal instruments articulating support for the transition process and the stigmatization of targets but sanctions supported ongoing mediation efforts and signaled support for the legitimate authorities in Libya. The proliferation of mediating parties (other than the SRSG) with their own objectives towards the end of the episode weakened the UN’s importance in facilitating and supporting the transition process.
Increase in corruption and/or criminality, increase in human rights violations, harmful effects on neighboring states, strengthening of political factions, significant burden on implementing states, humanitarian consequences.