For more than two years fighting between rival groups has been concentrated predominantly in urban areas. The current level of violence and destruction has far surpassed that experienced during the nine-month revolution against the Gaddafi regime in 2011. The ongoing conflict has resulted in significant explosive remnant of war (ERW) contamination in numerous cities across the whole of Libya and has impacted public infrastructure such as schools, universities and hospitals. There has been a significant increase in improvised explosive device (IED) incidents in 2016, particularly in areas/cities occupied by ISIS and this trend looks set to continue.
The number of Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) in Libya is estimated to be over 348,000 by UNHCR and IOM. Currently there is no prospect of safe return for these IDPs before technical and non-technical surveying, spot-tasking and/or battle area clearance are carried out. Despite this, thousands have begun to return – devastatingly, the casualty rate from IEDs and ERW is high.
UNMAS and international partners rapidly deployed to Libya in March 2011 to respond to the ERW emergency throughout the initial conflict. In July 2012, UNMAS integrated into the United Nations Support Mission in Libya (UNSMIL) as the Arms and Ammunition Advisory Section. In July 2014, Libya resumed hostilities, fueled by the political struggle between the House of Representatives and the General National Council. This political division is the focus of UNSMIL peace dialogues. The United Nations evacuated due to the extreme volatility of the political and security situation in July 2014. UNMAS was able to maintain a limited presence in Libya until November 2014, and currently operates remotely from Tunisia.
Since its engagement in Libya, UNMAS has supported the Libyan Mine Action Centre (LibMAC) to address the threat of landmines and other ERW through risk education, clearance, capacity enhancement, technical advice and international advocacy. UNMAS is also assisting in the flash appeals and emergency planning for cities, such as Sirte, experiencing humanitarian crises due to ISIS and/or highly-concentrated fighting.
Since 2011, UNMAS has worked with international and national partners, contributing to Humanitarian Mine Action through:
In a separate programme, UNMAS oversees Arms and Ammunition Management: Coordinating the international efforts to manage the insecure arms, ammunition stockpiles.
The recent clashes demonstrate a level of violence and destruction beyond that experienced in the 2011 Libyan revolution. The use of heavy weaponry in densely populated areas, particularly in Tripoli, Benghazi and Sirte, has resulted in scores of civilians killed and mass displacement. It has also left unquantified levels of deadly contamination. To prioritise and address clearance and risk education needs, extensive surveying of the most affected areas is required. In addition, the training of national institutions in explosive ordnance disposal (EOD) and IED defeat, and provision of equipment requires funding urgently.
An additional challenge is the evacuation of the majority of the international community from Libya. To overcome this, all actors in Libya are focusing on nation capacity development to facilitate implementation, with UNMAS and its partners engaging at municipal and regional authority levels.
UNMAS is seeking funding for emergency and prioritised humanitarian assistance. With this funding, UNMAS aims to continue initiatives such as risk education, in particular focusing on IDPs returning to severely affected areas; EOD/IEDD training, to develop and enhance the local capacity to conduct spot-task clearance and mitigate the threat IEDs; provide equipment to enable adequate and efficient EOD/IEDD activities. In addition, UNMAS plans to resume general and technical assessments/survey to assist prioritisation and clearance efforts, and conduct immediate clearance of ERW of urban areas.
Based on recent needs assessments, it is estimated that a further US$ 5 million is required for humanitarian mine action projects to assist affected communities, particularly areas of return for IDPs.
Vast amounts of unsecured weapons and ammunition contaminate Libya. There are 19 undamaged and 17 damaged or destroyed unsecured Ammunition Storage Areas (ASAs), the majority of which have between 20 and 117 bunkers capable of holding thousands of tonnes of ammunition and weapons each, much of it damaged, unserviceable and unsecured.
During the nine-month revolution against the Gaddafi regime in 2011, both NATO and Pro-Gaddafi Forces targeted ASAs. The resulting ASA destruction and bombings caused widespread contamination and left stockpiles exposed. These unsecured ASAs, along with those controlled by local militia groups and political factions, have been the subject of widespread and systematic looting. There is evidence that Libyan arms and ammunition stocks have spread throughout the region, including Mali, Syria, Egypt and the greater Sahel region, and pose a very real threat to regional stability.
Since the deterioration of the political and security situation in mid-2014, the need to implement effective arms and ammunition management is imperative, particularly against the backdrop of the fact that the unsecured stockpiles in Libya are directly feeding the increased use of improvised explosive devices, which are increasing in complexity.
The United Nations Mine Action Service (UNMAS) is part of the United Nations Support Mission to Libya (UNSMIL). Known as the Arms and Ammunition Advisory Section (AAAS), UNMAS is the UN lead on safe and secure management of weapons and ammunition in Libya. Due to the volatile political and security situation in Libya, the United Nations evacuated in July 2014. UNMAS was able to maintain a limited presence in Libya until November 2014, and currently operates remotely from Tunisia.
UNMAS aims to support the Libyan authorities on early institution-building in the areas of ammunition management, arms control and humanitarian mine action, through technical advice and project implementation at both the local and national levels.
UNSMIL is mandated by UN Security Council resolution 2323 (2016) to undertake: (i) support for securing uncontrolled arms and related material and countering proliferation, and (ii) co-ordination of international assistance, and provision of advice and assistance to GNA-led efforts to stabilize post-conflict zones, including those liberated from Daesh.
Prior to the escalation of political tensions, UNMAS helped strengthen the Libyan security structure and ensure Libya’s compliance with international standards, providing technical and operational support to Libyan national institutions. In this role, UNMAS implemented catalytic projects to construct temporary storage facilities for unsecured ammunition, working with the local Military Councils. UNMAS also developed the capacity of the Libyan Air Defence, providing technical and chemical safety training on the removal of dangerous chemicals from damaged missile systems. Despite significant progress, the removal of materials was incomplete due to the evacuation of the UN from Libya, thus leaving a risk to the public due to potential exposure to toxic chemicals.
UNMAS has developed a Technical Framework Document for Arms and Ammunition Management in Libya to assist a future Libyan Government to address management of arms and ammunition stockpiles. This document has been translated into Arabic, and UNMAS stands ready to engage relevant Ministries on its contents and incorporation into national planning objective. In addition, UNMAS has implemented a successful pilot project to empower Libyan women as agents for change to deliver risk education on small arms and light weapons to strengthen community resilience in Libya. For this novel project, UNMAS collaborated with women’s civil society organizations and UNSMIL’s Women’s Empowerment Section. Moreover, UNMAS trained 50 National Safety Authority personnel in advanced and alternative Explosive Ordnance Disposal in Jordan to enhance the capacity of this local actor to respond to the presence of ERW contamination. This goes hand in hand with UNMAS coordinating efforts to counteract the increased threat from IEDs in the country.
The fluid political and security situation poses a major challenge to the programme. UNMAS is unable to engage with counterparts at a ministerial level due to the current political situation, however by engaging at a local and municipality level, UNMAS, Libyan and implementing partners have been able to make progress. Despite funding shortfalls, UNMAS has continued trainings and projects aimed at engaging at this level of society.
UNMAS faces a significant funding shortfall for all arms and ammunition projects. UNMAS aims to implement and continue progress on the technical frameworks, assessments and training packages that have been developed during 2016, alongside the gender-based SALW awareness initiative. Furthermore, UNMAS seeks to re-initiate training and implementation of the ASA survey, which was delayed due to security conditions.
Updated: January 2017