Germany faces difficulties as chair of the Libya Sanctions Committee

Published: 19 February 2021 Author: Stefan Talmon

One of the important and demanding tasks of the elected members of the UN Security Council is to chair the Council’s sanctions committees. During its tenure on the Council in 2019-2020, Germany chaired, inter alia, the Libya Sanctions Committee, sometimes also referred to as the “1970 Committee” because it was established on 26 February 2011 pursuant to resolution 1970 (2011). The Committee is tasked with overseeing the implementation of the panoply of restrictive measures imposed by the Security Council on Libya. In particular, the Committee was to monitor compliance with the two-way Libyan arms embargo. It was to report to the Security Council on its work. The Committee comprises all 15 members of the Security Council and makes its decision by consensus. If consensus cannot be reached, the matter may be referred to the Security Council. The Committee is supported by a Panel of Experts which assists the Committee in carrying out its mandate. Its members are appointed by the UN Secretary-General in consultation with the Committee. The Panel of Experts gathers, examines, and analyses information regarding the implementation of the sanctions measures and provides to the Security Council interim reports and final reports with its findings and recommendations.

In the second half of 2020, the work of the Libya Sanctions Committee ran into difficulties when the members of the Committee could not agree on the publication of the interim report of the Panel of Experts dated 20 August 2020. The report ostensibly stated that the arms embargo on Libya had been violated, inter alia, by Qatar and Turkey (supporting the UN-recognised government in Tripoli) and the Russia Federation and the United Arab Emirates (supporting the rebels under General Haftar). The report also said that 11 companies violated the arms embargo, including the Wagner Group, a private Russian security company which provided between 800 and 1,200 mercenaries to General Haftar. During the UN Security Council VTC meeting on Libya on 2 September 2020, the German representative indirectly accused Russia of violating the Council’s own arms embargo on Libya, stating:

“The delivery of guns and bombs, of unmanned aerial vehicles, of missiles and launch systems, of armoured vehicles, of ground and air defence systems, this entire build-up of arms and military material, is obvious, as is the harmful presence of foreign fighters and mercenaries.

These blatant violations of the arms embargo must end in the Council. We frequently have exchanges about double standards and hypocrisy. We believe that this is a very good example of this, and we are extremely concerned by the fact that members of the Security Council and participants of the Berlin Conference are involved in this.”

In its function as chair of the Libya Sanctions Committee, Germany brought the question of the publication of the interim report to the attention of the Council during a closed-door session on 25 September 2020. Prior to the meeting, Germany’s Deputy Permanent Representative to the UN, Ambassador Günter Sautter, stated:

“Many delegations have asked for the publication of the panel of experts’ interim report. This would create much needed transparency. It would contribute to naming and shaming those who continue to blatantly violate the arms embargo in spite of commitments that have been made. This would also strengthen the political process that we as Germany are supporting via the Berlin process and it would be in accordance with the practice that we have on other sanctions committees. […] I hope that the two delegations who have problems with this will give green light – you may have read which delegations I am talking about; I read in the press that Russia and China have made statements on this.”

Asked what he could do if Russia and China maintained their stance and refused to have the report released, Ambassador Sautter replied:

“As chair of the Sanctions Committee I am using every tool that is at hand in order to make sure that we have transparency on this issue. We need to name and blame and shame those who blatantly violate the arms embargo. […] the rules of procedure of the Sanctions Committee foresee unanimity on these issues. As a chair, I can escalate that to the Security Council, which I am doing now. As a chair, I can consult with delegations, which I have done. Let’s see how the discussion on the Council goes today and let me assure you that I will continue to use every tool at hand in order to make sure that we have the necessary transparency.”

However, agreement on publication of the interim report could not be reached in the Security Council either. Russia justified its objection to the publication of the interim report, arguing that it would set a precedent as previous interim reports – unlike the final reports – had not been published. Russia also challenged the conclusions of the Panel of Experts, claiming that they were derived from the open press and were to a large extent allegations.

The question of violations of the arms embargo also impeded the presentation of the report of the Sanctions Committee itself. During the UN Security Council meeting on Libya on 19 November 2020, the German representative intimated that the Russian Federation was blocking the work of the Libya Sanctions Committee, stating:

“As Chair of the Committee established pursuant to resolution 1970 (2011) concerning Libya, I regret to inform the Council that the presentation of the Committee’s activities that was planned as part of today’s meeting had to be cancelled. Owing to the blockade of one member of the Committee, we were not able to agree on a mere factual account of what has happened since September. That is very unfortunate and disappointing given the importance of the 1970 Committee’s work in support of a peaceful solution for Libya. It is another lamentable development following the failure to agree on the publication of the interim report of the Panel of Experts in September. Those who are blocking even such small steps in the Sanctions Committee must bear the responsibility for this.”

Germany was unable to present another Sanctions Committee report to the Security Council before the end of its chairmanship of the Committee on 31 December 2020, and no progress was made on the question of the publication of the interim report of the Panel of Experts. This led the Deputy Permanent Representative of Germany to summarise some of the findings of the Panel of Experts when he addressed the Security Council on 16 December 2020. Ambassador Sautter stated:

“[B]latant violations of the arms embargo continue to this day. The Panel of Exports’[sic] reporting on the presence of the Wagner group and Syrian mercenaries as well as arms from Turkey or the United Arab Emirates illustrates this. My key message today therefore continues to be: Everybody must implement the arms embargo. All foreign fighters and mercenaries must leave Libya. […].

My second remark is on transparency. Sanctions always have a political dimension. Naming and shaming is an essential part of any set of sanctions. It is therefore vital to create transparency. This must include transparency on the violation of sanctions established by the Security Council. Unlike in other sanctions regimes, the rules of procedure of the Libya Sanctions Committee do not foresee that all reports of the Sanctions Panel be published. All members of the committee should muster the courage to correct this.”

As the Sanctions Committee was unable to agree either on the facts concerning violations of the arms embargo or on the publication of the Panel of Expert’s interim report, Germany identified decision-making by consensus as one of the weaknesses the Security Council’s sanctions system and suggested that majority decisions be applied at least on procedural questions. The requirement of decision-making by consensus in fact gives every member of the Security Council a right of veto in the sanctions committees and allows it to block the publication of reports which would name and shame it or its allies for violations a sanctions regime. In practice, the adoption or publication of reports is often made subject to the deletion of information on sanctions violations by certain countries, companies, or individuals. In light of the above experience, it seems highly unlikely that Russia or any other permanent member of the Security Council would accede to the German reform proposal. This has led chairs and members of sanctions committees to use what Ambassador Sautter called “every tool at hand” in order to ensure transparency and name and shame sanctions violators. The preferred “tools” in this regard seem to be the leaking of the confidential reports of the Panels of Experts to the media, and the public exposure of Security Council members blocking Panel of Experts or Sanctions Committee reports. However, naming and shaming through the media or the use of other tactics to circumvent agreed sanctions committee procedures may undermine trust, heighten discord, and sharpen disagreements between Council members.

Category: United Nations

DOI: 10.17176/20220627-173016-0

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  • Stefan Talmon

    Stefan Talmon is Professor of Public Law, Public International Law and European Union Law, and Director at the Institute of Public International Law at the University of Bonn. He is also a Supernumerary Fellow of St. Anne’s College, Oxford, and practices as a Barrister from Twenty Essex, London. He is the editor of GPIL.

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