During the 2011 uprising Qadhafi's loyalist forces attacked civilian protesters, drawing widespread condemnation, including from neighbouring Arab and African states and defecting Libyan diplomats. The UN has taken various forms of action in response.
Condemnation in the Human Rights Council and subsequent suspension
On 25 February 2011, in an emergency session, the Human Rights Council adopted by consensus a resolution
which, inter alia:
- Condemned the violence and human rights abuses;
- Established an international commission of inquiry into human rights violations;
- Recommended that the UN General Assembly consider Libya’s suspension from the HRC.
Subsequently, on 1 March 2011, the UN General Assembly adopted by consensus a resolution
suspending Libya’s Human Rights Council membership privileges.
Security Council Action
Libya was first addressed by the Security Council on 22 February 2011 when it adopted a press statement
calling on the former Qadhafi regime to end the violence and use of force against civilians, deploring the repression against peaceful demonstrators, and expressed deep regret at the deaths of hundreds of civilians. It called for an immediate end to the violence and for steps to address the legitimate demands of the population, including through national dialogue.
When this call went unheeded, the Security Council immediately began work on a resolution. This resulted in the adoption of Resolution 1970
unanimously on Saturday 26 February 2011, just two days after the text was first introduced in the Security Council. This Chapter VII (i.e., mandatory) resolution:
- condemned the use of lethal force against civilians;
- imposed sanctions, including assets freezes and travel bans on Qadhafi and his inner circle, and an arms embargo;
- referred the situation in Libya to the International Criminal Court (the first time that the Security Council had unanimously done so).
The Security Council had acted with extraordinary speed. Large quantities of assets were frozen, and there were further defections from the regime. However, Qadhafi’s attacks on civilians continued. Faced with the prospect of a bloodbath in Benghazi, and in response to the 12 March 2011 Arab League request for a “No Fly Zone” and other measures to protect civilians, the Security Council took further measures through the adoption of Resolution 1973
on 17 March. This resolution:
- called for an immediate ceasefire;
- authorised all necessary measures to protect civilians, while excluding a foreign occupation force of any form, and to enforce the arms embargo:
- imposed a no fly zone;
- stepped up a range of sanctions on Qadhafi’s regime including measures to stem the flow of mercenaries, apply a broader asset freeze including on the Central Bank, National Oil Company and Libya’s sovereign wealth fund, and put in place further travel bans.
The resolution was adopted 10 votes to nil, with five abstentions. All Arab and African countries on the Security Council voted in favour.
Following the fall of Tripoli, the Security Council again acted with extraordinary speed to put in place the tools and mechanisms to support the Transitional National Council in the pursuit of its priorities. On 16 September 2011, the Security Council unanimously adopted Resolution 2009. The resolution:
- establishes a UN Support Mission (UNSMIL) for an initial period of three months to provide support to the National Transitional Council as they set about the task of, among other things, preparing for elections, building institutions, promoting and protecting human rights, and taking steps towards economic recovery;
- delists previously sanctioned oil companies to allow them to trade and generate revenue for Libya;
- creates a new exemption for unfreezing assets of remaining sanctioned entities in order to meet immediate needs, rebuild institutions, or facilitate the banking sector or international trade;
- states the Council’s intention to fully delist all sanctioned entities as soon as practical and in consultation with the NTC in order to ensure it is done in a responsible manner that minimises the risk of misappropriation of funds;
- lifts the ban on flights established by resolution 1973, while maintaining the No-Fly Zone, in order to facilitate the resumption of Libyan commercial air services; and
- adjusts the arms embargo in order to allow for training or advice for security sector reform, and for personnel protection of UN personnel.
The aim of the resolution is to ensure that the Libyan authorities have the support needed to ensure Libya can meet its potential – politically and economically. But the key point is that the Libyans are in the lead – the support provided by resolution 2009 is in response to their request, their needs, their priorities. This will be the guiding principle for international support to Libya as it moves forward.
At the adoption of the resolution, Libyan Deputy Permanent Representative Dabbashi, welcomed the resolution and praised the Security Council’s role in Libya.
Read the Foreign Secretary statement following UN Security Council's resolution vote on Libya.
On 12 March 2012, the Security Council unanimously adopted resolution 2040
extending the mandate of UNSMIL for a period of 12 months and adjusting the regime of sanctions imposed on the country.
FCO Country Profile - Libya
ICC Libya investigation page
1970 Sanctions Cttee page
London Conference on Libya page