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UK arms exports to Libya (2012-2022)

UK arms exports to Libya

Libya: Country overview: 

Located in North Africa, Libya went through significant political and social changes in the last decade, including the overthrow of its long-time ruler, Muammar Gaddafi and the subsequent struggle for stability and governance.

In 2011, a popular rebellion deposed and murdered Colonel Muammar Gaddafi. The intervention of NATO toppled the despot. Since 2011, the Administration of National Accord, located in Tripoli and supported by the United Nations, and the eastern Libyan interim administration have fought for legitimacy and territory. Tribes and militias govern the majority of the country. In the absence of authority, IS affiliates have gained ground. In 2011, Libyan weapons were outlawed. Late in 2011, the arms embargo on nonlethal military equipment and Libyan interim government security was substantially loosened. 

On July 9, 2013, Libya signed the 78th Arms Trade Treaty.

How many licenses for the sale of arms to Libya did the UK government issue between 2012 and 2021?

Despite the embargo imposed on Libya by the Security Council in 2011, overall over 76 single use and 231 dual use export licenses were granted to Libya, ranging between 0-7 licenses per year. UN experts called arms embargo violations ‘extensive, flagrant and with full disdain for penalties’. After Libyan violence erupted in August 2014, Security Council Resolution 2174 demanded Sanctions Committee approval for weaponry and related supplies to Libya. Libya received no UK weapons permits in 2015 and 2016. Since 2017, sales have dropped and license approvals have hovered between 3 and 16. L

What is the total value of those exports in GBP?

Overall, over £9 million worth of UK arms were exported to Libya, despite the arms embargo. 2013 saw the highest number of arms licenses in the decade, reaching £7.8 million of military arms licenses alone. After that year, licenses declined to 142k and remained reasonably constant, hitting 198k in 2018. No numbers are available for the years 2015, 2016 and 2022.

Source: Campaign Against Arms Trade, 2022

What are the top 10 types of arms export licenses Britain is selling to Libya?

Top 10 military items exported from the UK to Libya between 2012-2022Total number of licenses
military helmets23
body armour20
components for body armour20
all-wheel drive vehicles with ballistic protection11
bomb suits9
components for all-wheel drive vehicles with ballistic protection7
munitions/ordnance detection/disposal equipment6
military equipment for initiating explosives4
components for military equipment for initiating explosives4
small arms ammunition3
Top 3 military export items from the UK to Libya between 2012-2022 by valueValue in GBP
ML15 ‒ Imaging equipment£2.3m
ML13 ‒ Armoured plate, body armour, helmets£1.8m
ML11 ‒ Other electronic equipment£1.4m

Source: Campaign Against Arms Trade, 2023

The data above is for single-use military exports, but when dual-use exports are included (dual-licenses are permits to control all material, software, and technology that can be used for civil purposes like humanitarian aid and military goals), the top ten export items requiring licenses include £45m for Electronics, £28.6m for Telecommunications and information security

£19m and £15m for Navigation and avionics.

Most cryptographic and information security licenses were issued in the recent decade. In 2014, research found that Libya employed several pieces of weaponry, from 7.62 mm small guns to rockets and artillery.

Why should British citizens be concerned about arms sales?

Libyan human rights are worrying in several respects. As the UN noted, a decade of political upheaval and violent conflicts devastated Libya’s development and population, particularly the most vulnerable. Recent achievements have reduced armed conflict and humanitarian needs, but many threats might jeopardize progress. Since 2011, citizens have been victims of armed violence and torture. In the absence of a central authority, dozens of opposing militia groups and military units with different goals and allegiances violated international law with impunity. They shelled citizens, kidnapped, tortured, jailed, killed, and destroyed civilian property. Tribal groups and militias, frequently linked to the two contending administrations, ignored human rights. Security guards to torture and sexually assault hundreds of thousands of migrants and refugees. Libyan human rights abuses persist despite advances.UNSMIL recorded around 800 civilian casualties from 2016 to 2020, including 170 in 2020. primarily caused by mortars, rockets or artillery shelling, airstrikes, improvised explosive devices, small arms fire, and explosive remnants of war.  A third of disabilities are estimated to be linked to conflict-related injuries resulting from small arms and light weapons and landmines and unexploded ordnances. The majority of UK arms exports to Libya are surveillance, cryptography, and software, despite these claims. This shows how “dual-use” exports can threaten human rights as much as regular military weapons. When licensing these exports, the UK government ignores this threat, which is problematic.

What has the British government said about these concerns?

Being on the FCO’s list of ‘human rights priority countries, the UK has explicitly addressed what they call a ‘worsening human rights situation in Libya. Among the human rights violations that take place, the FCO highlights the “intimidation, detentions, and assassinations of journalists and human rights defenders”. The FCO stresses that it supports a human rights process in Libya and that they have “re-focused our support to Libya on political participation programs (…) and supporting civil society organizations involved in transitional justice issues in Libya, including the mapping of human rights abuses”.  The UK exported armaments to Libya for years before 2011. After revoking many arms licenses in 2011, the UKTI DSO sponsored an arms fair in Tripoli in 2013. UK licensed £16.8bn of armaments to Freedom House-criticized nations between 2011 and 2020. Libya received £9.3m in assault rifles, military vehicle parts, and ammunition.

What evidence is there of human rights abuses that the Libyan government has committed since 2012? 

On 26 February 2011 the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) established unanimously in Security Council Resolution 1970 sanctions against Libya including an open-ended embargo on the supply of arms and military equipment to and from Libya. The sanctions were imposed in reaction to the gross and systematic violation of human rights, including the repression of peaceful demonstrators by the Libyan government in the weeks preceding the sanctions.

The following year, thousands of detainees remained in government and militia-controlled detention centers without access to justice, and ill-treatment and fatalities in custody persisted. Libya’s oil ports, the country’s major source of revenue, and Tripoli and Benghazi’s security deteriorated during the interim government. In November, Misrata militants killed 51 and injured nearly 500 nonviolent protestors in Tripoli. The government passed laws 27/2013 and 53/2013, ordering “illegitimate” armed groups to disband.

The UN Support Mission in Libya (UNSMIL) and the UN human rights office (OHCHR) produced a joint report on 4 September 2014 detailing abuses, including indiscriminate bombardment and attacks on civilian objects, hospitals, civilian abductions, torture, and illegal deaths. Small arms, GRAD rockets, mortars, anti-aircraft guns, tanks, and air assaults have been used by all sides in Tripoli and Benghazi’s populous districts. Since May 2014, “Operation Dignity” has been bombing Benghazi’s civilians, while Operation Dawn armed groups have been targeted in Tripoli by two air attacks.

UNSMIL’s assessment on Libya’s human rights situation included transgressions from January to October 2015. Libya was plagued by fatal violence and various armed wars, and all parties committed indiscriminate and disproportionate attacks, summary executions and other unlawful killings, arbitrary deprivations of liberty, torture, and other cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment (ill-treatment). During the reporting period, Libyan unrest caused hundreds of deaths and mass displacement, creating a humanitarian crisis in several locations.

In 2016, all governments and militias clashed, worsening a humanitarian crisis with nearly half a million internally displaced persons. Healthcare, fuel, and power were scarce for civilians. In the first half of 2016, ISIS terrorists held Sirte, a central seaside town, and enforced public floggings, amputations, and lynchings, often leaving the corpses on display. The International Criminal Court (ICC), despite having jurisdiction over Libya granted by the UN Security Council, did not start any fresh investigations into continuing crimes. The local criminal justice system was ineffective, preventing accountability. To aid Libyan forces combating Islamists in Sirte and Benghazi, the US, UK, France, and UAE increased military activity. In December 2016, ISIS lost control of their Libya “capital” Sirte.

Since April 2019, the UN-recognized and Tripoli-based Government of National Accord (GNA), supported by armed groups in western Libya nominally under its control, has been fighting the rival Interim Government in eastern Libya, which is affiliated with General Khalifa Hiftar’s Libyan Arab Armed Forces (LAAF).

In August 2020, GNA-affiliated armed groups in Tripoli used heavy weapons to suppress public protests against corruption and poverty. In September, LAAF-affiliated armed groups and Interim Government forces suppressed rallies against living conditions with deadly fire. The October 2020 ceasefire reduced civilian casualties, while armed groups and State-affiliated military units continued to violate human rights and international humanitarian law. ISIL and Al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb have established themselves throughout Libya, particularly in ungoverned areas of the south and several coastal cities, due to instability from poor security and finance institution unity, weak government capacity, and a surplus of weapons.

At the invitation of German Foreign Minister Maas and UN Secretary-General Guterres, High Representatives of the Governments said Libya’s situation had improved since the Berlin Conference on Libya on 19 January 2020 because hostilities had stopped, a ceasefire was in place, and the oil shutdown was lifted. An interim executive authority was established, and the House of Representatives approved the interim Government of National Unity (GNU). 

On 31 January, the Council unanimously adopted resolution 2619, renewing UNSMIL’s mandate until 30 April. The resolution was the third consecutive technical rollover of the mission’s mandate.

The latest Human Rights Watch Report on Libya, lamented the ongoing human rights violations in the country, including the dysfunctional justice system and serious due process concerns and civilians being trailed in front of military courts. Moreover, judges, prosecutors and lawyers remain at risk of harassment and attacks by armed groups. The report further emphasizes the precarious conditions for asylum seekers and refugees, who face arbitrary detention, and many experienced ill-treatment, sexual assault, forced labour, and extortion by groups linked with the Government of National Unity’s Interior Ministry and members of armed groups.

Despite this catalogue of harm, the UK still deems it acceptable to sell weapons and arms to the Government of Libya.  Human rights abuses continue.