Libya needs serious arms control

Last Friday, the UN Security Council decided to leave the arms embargo against Libya unchanged, and urged the government in Tripoli to improve the monitoring of its weapons. Libya and neighbouring Egypt had asked to lift restrictions on Libyan government arms imports ‘so it could better fight extremists groups.’
Earlier this month the UN Panel of Expert on Libya stated in its annual report on 2014 that the country has “an open-ended conflict with no clear dominant military party.” In the aftermath of the NATO-backed war, militias flourished and weapons became freely available from within Libya or by procurement from outside. The chairman of the Dutch Parliamentary Comity for Defence, Han ten Broeke (VVD, Liberals) said to Stop Wapenhandel that unfortunately, after Khadaffi was killed, Libya started to proliferate weapons through the whole region, but “sometime you meet the Law of the Untended Consequences.” As if some consequences could not have been foreseen. In 2014 almost three thousand individuals were killed in the Libyan fightings and four hundred thousand were displaced, out of a population of six million. Unintended or not, the havoc in all surrounding countries – Mali as a point in a case, but also Syria -, is also enormous. This is in shrill contrast to the programs to halt arms transfers and trafficking by e.g. the United Nations Support Mission in Libya and among others the German Agency for International Cooperation.

The UN-report on Libya over 2014 is the fourth publication by the Panel of Experts: “Since the outbreak of the armed conflict in 2014, the demand for weapons and above all for ammunition, has soared and all parties to the conflict have been highly active in procuring military materiel. This has significantly increased the number of investigations conducted by the Panel” it states. Those investigations are not easy, because “while the panel is aware of pending transfers of material from several Member States, no such information was provided to the Committee [to the Special Representative of the Secretary-General, Bernardino León], making monitoring of deliveries of materiel very challenging.” The current Libyan acquisition budget is LYD 150 million (€ 104 million). For the next period 1 billion is expected (€ 696 million). Next year will be even more demanding.

The Panel is a body established by the UN and questions the Member States directly for information. But phrases like ‘refusal to supply information’ and ‘no response has yet been received from the United States’ etc. are many in the report. This is the case e.g. in connection to a cancelled, but partial delivered, order of Caracal F Pistols to the Libyan Ministry of Interior. An Hungarian bank, a US registered broker and a UAE arms producer were involved.
The scarce information which is coming forward makes the report however very valuable. In the Caracal pistol case the end-user certificate is annexed to the report to show the deal was real. In another case the use of confidential sources based at the port of Tobruk were mentioned. Those sources confirmed the offloading of military material including small arms and light weapons (SALW) from an Egyptian vessel.

It is remarkable that despite the ongoing conflict there is still space to export weapons. The Panel reports on weapons catched at the borders with Egypt, Algeria, Tunisia, Niger, Chad and Sudan. Chad is worried the weapons will end in the hands of Boko Haram. Arms traffickers in Chad sell Libyan anti-tank mines at 150 US$ a piece and SA-7 manpads (shoulder fired air missiles) for 10-12.000 US$.

Some cases are described in more detail in the report. One of them is a Italian arms transport just after the start of the Libyan revolution of 2011. Smuggled Warsaw Pact weapons were confiscated by Italy back in 1994, during the war in former Yugoslavia. The weapons were stored at the island Santo Stefano and not destroyed, despite a court ruling to that effect. In May 2011, four army trucks transported cargo from the army base at the island, but a juridical investigation into the final destination of these transports was blocked after army commanders invoked ‘state security.’ Rumours on arms deliveries to Libyan rebels during 2011 are still corroborated by the Panel.

Another case is the loss of 23 Oberland OA-15 assault rifles (made in Germany), 70 9mm Glock handguns (made in Austria) and more than 42,000 rounds of ammunition. The weapons were meant to protect the European Border Assistance Mission (EUBAM). In February 2014 Malta asked permission for the export and an end-user certificate had been signed by the EU-delegation to Libya. The 10th of March GardaWorld shipped the weapons to Tripoli International Airport. Upon arrival the Libyan customs said clearance documents were missing. EUBAM was informed about the arrival of the guns. But when GardaWorld personnel returned a week after with the requested documents, the weapons were gone. Libyan authorities did not bother for follow-up investigation.

Shipments of Milan anti-tank missiles from Libya to Syria were reported in previous reports. The missiles were produced by Airbus, but the company denied that it sold them to Libya. During the revolution of 2011 the Khadaffi regime accused Qatar of exporting the missiles to the rebels. In 2012 they were en route to Syria and found at the Letfallah II which was seized by the Lebanese authorities. “France did not disclose to which country the missiles had been originally exported” says the UN report. During the Airbus shareholder meeting Tom Enders, CEO of Airbus, was asked about it, but he responded it was the French government which had to answer. The Dutch government was never asked, because Airbus headquarters are in the Netherlands for tax evasion only, not for difficult questions on international relations.
Last year Qatar added a new chapter to its devastating policies in Libya. The emirate was accused of backing groups with weapons and funding while the heavy fighting of Operation Fajr was ongoing. When the UN Panel inquired about those strong allegations Qatar did not bother to respond. Nevertheless, Qatar still is a prominent client for Western arms.

What can be done to stop the Libyan arms market? The UN Panel has two recommendations to Member States. The first is to regulate brokering. The second is to inspect cargo to and from Libya. Life can be so easy. Another recommendation might be to cooperate when asked for information by the Panel. And to sanction those who don’t, e.g. by refusing arms sales to those countries; a win-win opportunity. Another suggestion for recommendation: Pressure Member States of the EU to cooperate. One unnamed Member State called in the  for clear identification of the origins of arms flows and regretted the lack of cooperation from Member States in that regard. The Panel states itself in the report: “To date, despite the violations reported in the Panel’s three previous reports, no action has been taken against most of the violators. What is more, some have been involved in further violations.” There are many possibilities still to improve the situation. Lifting the embargo is not the way. Luckily that was not done.

Martin Broek 31/03/15