UN “game changing” arms crackdown in Libya

UN “game changing” arms crackdown in Libya

The latest UN arms resolution has been heralded a ‘game changer.’It follows growing concerns over the lawlessness in the country marked by surging human and weapons trafficking. Earlier embargos have proved unsuccessful in curbing the inflow of illicit weapons which have allowed rival militant groups to escalate violence.

‘Game Changer?’

A year after UN efforts to curb human trafficking off the Libyan coast, the Security Council has unanimously authorised a crackdown on arms smuggling. Noting that there are some 20 million weapons in the country of 6 million, the UN Special Representative to Libya, Martin Kobler, stressed that “these weapons do not fall from the sky, but come increasingly through illegal shipments by sea and by land.” The resolution drafted by Britain and France extends the existing mandate labelled Operation Sophia which aims to limit migrant smuggling. It will now also look towards intercepting the inflow of weapons. These new measures target the smuggled arms that end up in the hands of terrorists linked to ISIS which holds its largest base in the country outside of Iraq and Syria.

Previous embargos led in cooperation with the UN-backed Libyan government have been ineffective in checking arms entering into the oil-rich country. Human rights organisations have raised red flags over the abuses suffered under the oversight of the EU. Amnesty International claims that extending Operation Sophia threatens to fuel “the rampant ill-treatment and indefinite detention” of refugees and migrants. Despite concerns over human rights violations, the European Commission has backed plans to further cooperative arrangements with Libya. A European naval effort has been authorised to act using “all measures” in Libyan waters which green lights a more aggressive response to check the Islamic State presence.


Source: Middle East Eye

The UN will attempt to transfer selected arms to the Government of National Accord (GNA) by partially lifting the ban. This sparks the risk of exacerbating tensions with rival Libyan factions located in the east of the country. A provision for ships to first seek the consent of a vessel’s flag state stems from ongoing concerns from Russia which questions the intentions of the resolution’s sponsors. Moscow has emphasised that it would monitor the proper consent process and scrutinise any arms exemption requests from the GNA. Enforcing the embargo is now critical for the UN which seeks to bolster the internationally recognised and locally disputed unity government.

Peace or further disunity?

Since 2014, Libya has been divided between two contending parliaments and governments which are further backed by separate militia groups. The controversial General Khalifa Haftar leading the Libyan National Army refuses to recognise the unity government viewing its factions as “militias outside the law.” The Libyan government’s ability to gain political acceptance is undermined by Haftar’s unwillingness to join the GNA until affiliated militias are disbanded. In its effort to integrate militant groups into a national security force, the unity government has so far failed to sway the eastern parliament.

Earlier this month, forces linked to the GNA captured the Sirte port along the Libyan ‘oil-crescent’ from ISIS militants. Whilst outbreaks of violence persist, the takeover of Sirte means that ISIS has lost substantial grounds for building its own extremist state operating out of Libya. Diplomats previously hoping that these advances would draw rival factions together have been disappointed. Pro-government forces involved in breaking the ISIS stronghold now face the complicated task of addressing offensives from the parallel government in eastern Libya.

Stalled political process

Coming under increasing pressure from the United States and its allies, the UN backed unity government oversees a divisive political mood. In a telling sign of continued confrontations, the unrecognised eastern government began issuing its own currency which is printed in Russia earlier this month. With the arms embargo tightening a key ISIS lifeline, the danger of Libyan factions turning against each other persists.

About Author

Elif Rahemtulla

Elif Rahemtulla works in public policy. She specialises in Middle Eastern Studies, holding a BA from the School of Oriental and African Studies and an MA from King's College London.