A Review of the New SG Report on the Support Mission in Libya: Urgent Security Challenges

8 Mar

On 1 March 2012, the Secretary-General issued a new report on the United Nations Support Mission in Libya (UNSMIL) detailing the major developments in the country since the release of the previous report from 22 November 2011 as well as the activities undertaken by the mission under its mandate from Security Council resolutions 2009, 2017, and 2022. The report outlines the major challenges facing Libya in its political transition as well as recommendations for the future for both UNSMIL and Libyan authorities.

The report offers a recount of the political developments in the country from the announcement of a new interim government by the National Transitional Council (TNC) on 22 November 2011 to the intermittent struggles with the revolutionary ‘brigades’ in Tripoli and beyond. It is clear that the security situation remains highly precarious. The issue of the call for semi-autonomy by local tribal leaders in the oil-rich eastern region has also recently come to the forefront for the TNC among other security sector challenges such as proliferation of weapons, trans-border challenges posed from porous movement across neighboring borders with Chad, Niger, and Mali among others, skirmishes between rival brigades, and attacks against internally-displaced persons (IDPs). Welcome references in the SG’s description of the increasingly active political discourses are youth and women who, according to the report, represent groups that “seek to transform their role from freedom fighters to nation-builders through engagement in making decisions on Libya’s political, economic and social future.”

Among a variety of mandated-activities, UNSMIL is focused primarily on providing support for the upcoming electoral process; protecting human rights, transitional justice and rule of law, in particular addressing the detention of conflict-related detainees and interrogations; securing public security including border security, landmines and explosive remnants of war, and small arms proliferation; and supporting socio-economic recovery in coordination with other international assistance. The Secretary-General has asked for the Security Council to extend the mandate of UNSMIL for another 12 months as an integrated political  mission to help ensure the best possible transition in the post-Qadaffi era. The SG has highlighted the importance of maintaining the Libya mission as a “relatively small special political mission, joining forces with the work of agencies, funds and programmes,” as such a model thereby limits the budgetary requirements.

Most especially in light of the upcoming Preparatory Committee for the Programme of Action on small arms in just two weeks, it is important to underscore the specific references to arms proliferation in the SG’s report. As has been referenced on this blog before, the issue of uncontrolled weapons across the whole of Libya has been a significant challenge in the post-revolution period as Libyans seek to secure their nation and embrace democracy in an extremely tenuous security environment. The report explains that visits to 123 weapons storage sites have been conducted jointly by Libyan officials and international counterparts such as the UN Mine Action Service and have revealed a total of 5,000 registered man-portable air defence systems (MANPADS) and their components, although the fear of missing MANPADS is still a viable concern. Most alarming is the lack of detailed records of weapons in pre-conflict stocks and weapons used and transferred during the conflict. As such, currently there is exploration of a registration system of weapons– including MANPADS– as well as ammunition and its storage and management. For this type of system to be successfully implemented, it is clear that all those that manage and possess weapons participate, including those tribal brigades that are still engaged in their own internal power struggles. The issue of landmines and other explosive remnants of war has also been addressed by the Joint Mine Action Coordination Team, although the operation has struggled due to a lack of funding. A total of 126,155 mines and explosive weapons have been cleared as of the end of January 2012. The Ministry of Defence has also established the Libyan Centre for Mine Action with this mandate.

The primary challenge of the arms situation in Libya is the lack of transparency and access to the stockpiles controlled by the rival brigades that are still very much a factor in the difficult political situation. Therefore, it seems the most urgent need related to the brigade fighters and their large number of unaccounted for weapons is the integration and unification of these revolutionary fighters into national security institutions. The first step must be adequate demobilization in solid coordination with halting small arms proliferation through a transparent registration system of weapons in circulation. Obviously this will be no easy task. One of the most difficult challenges of small arms is just that– they are small, mobile, and easily collected, traded, and hidden. The same cannot be said for other types of conventional weapons such as tanks, helicopters, or missile systems. Many of these revolutionary fighters are unwilling to forego their weapons due to the weak security sector, which, in turn, remains weak in part due to the wide circulation and hoarding of weapons. It is a dangerous and vicious cycle that must be broken. The Libyan authorities themselves have recognized that their foremost challenge is to address the wide circulation of weapons and the armed brigades fighting for control of territory across the country. Furthermore, these weapons are undoubtedly finding their way across borders fueling conflict and violence in neighboring states such as Sudan wrought with its own set of very difficult internal conflicts.

Libya has a difficult road ahead as it transitions to a new government and seeks to integrate a country fraught with regional and tribal divisions. To do so will require a stable security situation without which the transition will be impossible and such stability in the security sector requires control of arms proliferation.

–Katherine Prizeman

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