Category Archives: Security Council

The Scope and Means of Action of the United Nations Security Council as Seen by Italy during its “Shared Membership”

Italy has a long tradition of taking public stances on issues concerning the United Nations (UN) in general, and the Security Council (SC) in particular. The most important of such issues is perhaps the reform of the SC, a hotly debated question on which Italy has been taking a leading position for many years, promoting a series of proposals around which a group known as “Uniting for Consensus” has gathered.[1] This very same theme has been discussed by Italian representatives at the UN also in 2017 and 2018, when they reiterated and further clarified their country’s view.[2] Those years also correspond to the biennium that saw Italy and the Netherlands share a split non-permanent seat at the SC (the former being a member in 2017). Therefore, Italy has recently had many occasions to express its ideas on the action of the SC.

It is well known that the role of the SC has been progressively expanding since the end of the Cold War, so that nowadays its activities have a far wider scope than that envisioned in 1945 by the drafters of the UN Charter. Such legal developments can be said to be, by now, largely accepted by the international community, and even those States that occasionally veto or anyhow oppose certain SC resolutions, sometimes do that inconsistently and by putting forth political rather than legal justifications.[3] This notwithstanding, the issue of how far-reaching the powers of the SC are remains the subject of scholarly debate and is still of some practical importance for States. From this perspective, it may be useful to review Italy’s stances on the action of the SC.

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The Illegal Trafficking in Crude Oil and Petroleum Products from Libya and the Relationship Between Italy and Malta

Control over oil resources has been a key factor in the situation of civil war and political turmoil that has affected Libya in this decade.[1] Already in 2011, a turning point in the struggle against the Qhadafi Government took place when the insurgents of the Transitional National Council proved that, by controlling the eastern ports of Brega and Ras Lanuf, they were able to trade in oil with foreign corporations.[2] In the ensuing period, and especially between 2014 and 2018, the competition between rival governments was constantly mirrored by the struggle to gain control over oil resources and, most notably, over the National Oil Corporation (NOC).[3] In 2014, in a paradoxical twist of history, the stability of the revolutionary government that had ousted Qhadafi was seriously put into question when a group of “Petroleum Facilities Guards”, led by a Ibrahim Jadhran, came to control the same eastern ports that had been instrumental to the demise of the previous ruler.[4] A stateless tanker was able to leave port against the will of the Tripoli Government and was subsequently inspected, seized on the high seas, and brought back to port in Libya by an operation of the US Navy.[5] In 2015, the House of Representatives of Tobruk attempted to establish a new National Oil Corporation with headquarters in eastern Libya claiming that the NOC based in Tripoli had no legitimacy and that new contracts had to be negotiated with the eastern NOC.[6] The initiative had little success as the NOC and the UN-backed Government of National Accord (GNA) based in Tripoli remained the sole official interlocutors of the international corporations operating in Libya.[7] However, the situation of uncertainty with respect to control over the main oil fields of the country persisted.[8] In July 2018, when the Libyan National Army (LNA) of General Khalifa Haftar took control of the eastern oil fields, attempts to sell oil through the eastern-based oil corporation started again, allegedly with the assistance of the United Arab Emirates.[9] This prompted a reaction by the United States, France, the United Kingdom and Italy, which is commented upon here below.

Repeated attempts to illicitly export oil from Libya were condemned by the UN Security Council, which clearly supported the position of the GNA. With Resolution 2146 (2014) the Council requested that the GNA contact the Sanctions Committee previously established by Resolution 1970 (2011) “to inform the Committee of any vessels transporting crude oil illicitly exported from Libya”.[10] The Resolution then authorized Member States, after seeking consent by the vessel’s flag State, “to use all measures commensurate to the specific circumstances […] to […] direct the vessel to take appropriate actions to return the crude oil, with the consent of and in coordination with the Government of Libya, to Libya”.[11] Moreover, it was made clear that all Member States were under an obligation to “take the necessary measures to require their nationals and entities and individuals in their territory not to engage in any financial transactions with respect to such crude oil from Libya aboard vessels designated by the Committee”.[12] Subsequently, Resolution 2174 (2014) expanded the reasons for listing individuals and entities in the sanctions lists mentioning explicitly those “providing support for armed groups or criminal networks through the illicit exploitation of crude oil or any other natural resources in Libya”.[13] Resolution 2362 (2017) expanded the applicability of the measures adopted with Resolution 2146 (2014) to petroleum, including crude oil and refined petroleum products. In a number of resolutions, the Security Council reiterated that the resources of Libya must remain under the sole control and authority of the GNA and the NOC of Tripoli.[14]

Within this context, the position of the Italian Government has consistently supported the GNA by affirming clearly that the right to control and administer the oil resources of the country pertained exclusively to the NOC. During the course of 2018, Italy participated in the adoption of two joint statements (together with France, the United Kingdom and the United States) dealing directly with the issue of control over Libyan oil resources.

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The Airstrikes Against Syria in Response to the Alleged Use of Chemical Weapons

On 17 April 2018, Mr Paolo Gentiloni Silveri, President of the Council of Ministers, reported before the Senate of the Republic on the developments of the situation in Syria (5th Meeting, XVII Legislature). In doing so, he also summarized the Government’s position on the airstrikes against Syria conducted by the United States, France, and the United Kingdom on 14 April 2018, presented as a response to the chemical weapons allegedly used in Douma by the Syrian army a few days before. Mr Gentiloni firstly commented upon the credibility of these allegations:

Eventually, the Joint Investigative Mechanism (which is a partnership between the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons and the United Nations) determined that in the last years, at least three times, the Syrian army resorted to using chlorine gas.

Moreover, it confirmed the use of nerve gas in the attack in KhanShaykhun that occurred exactly one year ago. You will recall that on that occasion there was a response by the United States. But the same body – the Joint Investigative Mechanism – determined that Daesh as well, on a couple of occasions, resorted to using chemical weapons in the Syrian context.

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Italy’s stance on the US recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel

On 6 December 2017, the United States (US) President, Mr. Donald Trump, put into effect his presidential campaign promise to effectively recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, thereby indicating a future move there for the US embassy from Tel Aviv. Such a decision has been interpreted by many as marking a turning point in the US approach towards the Israeli-Palestinian issue. Indeed, even though the 1995 Jerusalem Embassy Act adopted by the US Senate and House of Representatives committed the Federal Government to moving the US Embassy to Jerusalem, since its enactment every US President has regularly availed himself of the possibility to invoke a six-month waiver of the application of the law. President Trump himself signed such a waiver twice, before (June 2017) as well as after (December 2017) his own declaration. Nonetheless, his announcement sparked controversy and many countries voiced their dissent. Italy is among those States and its stance will be discussed below. However, in order better to understand the dissent it expressed along with a number of other countries, it is useful to provide a factual and legal context, starting with Mr. Trump’s actual words. 

In his speech, Mr. Trump motivated his decision as follows: 

Israel is a sovereign nation with the right, like every other sovereign nation, to determine its own capital. […] But today we finally acknowledge the obvious. That Jerusalem is Israel’s capital. This is nothing more or less than a recognition of reality. It is also the right thing to do. It’s something that has to be done. 

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Italy’s Reaction to the Use of Chemical Weapons at Khan Shaykhun and to the US Attack on a Syrian Airfield

On 4 April 2017, it was reported that the Syrian town of Khan Shaykhun – controlled at the time by the Tahrir Al-Sham Alliance – had been the object of an airstrike by the air force of the Government of President Bashar Al Assad.[1] As a result of the airstrike, chemical agents poisoned large numbers of civilians. 

In a report released on 30 June 2017, the Fact-Finding Mission of the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) estimated the number of deaths “as approximately 100 people” and determined that “Sarin or a Sarin-like substance” had been used as a weapon in Khan Shaykhun.[2] It took until 27 October 2017 for the OPCW-United Nations Joint Investigative Mechanism to take position on the responsibility for the attack and affirm that the Leading Panel of the mechanism itself was “confident that the Syrian Arab Republic is responsible for the release of Sarin at Khan Shaykhun on 4 April 2017”.[3]

In the aftermath of the attack, however, several countries condemned the action and the United States (US), the United Kingdom and France openly called into question the responsibility of the Syrian Government.[4] The US President, Mr. Donald Trump, condemned the attack as “intolerable” and openly blamed the inaction of his predecessor Barack Obama, who, after establishing “a ‘red line’ against the use of chemical weapons did nothing”.[5] On its part, the Syrian government denied any involvement in the use of chemical weapons.[6] The Government of the Russian Federation offered alternative explanations of the events, mentioning the fact that the Syrian Air Force could have “bombed an underground factory producing chemical warfare agents” or alluding to a possible “provocation by the terrorists”.[7] Within the United Nations (UN) Security Council, a draft resolution condemning the attack – tabled by France, the United Kingdom and the US – was vetoed by the Russian Federation, with the abstention of China, Ethiopia and Kazakhstan.[8] 

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Italy’s Involvement in Post-Conflict Lybia through the Lybian Coast Guard Training Mission

Post-conflict Libya has been riven by internal conflict, institutional, political and social instability as well as a grave humanitarian crisis. The achievement of stability in Libya has been of concern to the international community, in particular in light of the serious consequences of internal conflict and fragmentation on, inter alia, the fight against terrorism and the Islamic State, as well as against human trafficking and migrant smuggling across the Mediterranean Sea[1].

Historically a prominent international actor in the country, Italy has strongly supported the Government of National Accord, formed under the terms of the Libyan Political Agreement signed in Skhirat, Morocco, on 17 December 2015[2], and endorsed by the United Nations (UN) Security Council as the sole legitimate executive authority in Libya[3]. On 8 May 2017, during a briefing at the UN Security Council on the situation in Libya (7934th Meeting)[4], the Permanent Representative of Italy to the United Nations, Ambassador Sebastiano Cardi, declared:

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The Government’s views on the imposition of an embargo on countries allegedly involved in arms trafficking with ISIL/Daesh and on common actions to counter terrorism

In the last quarter of 2015 the Government reported twice before the Chamber of Deputies on its arms sales policy to certain Middle East countries allegedly involved in illicit arms trafficking with ISIL/Daesh. The Government also explained which measures and actions Italy has undertaken in the fight against ISIL and foreign terrorist fighters. The most salient points from the two speeches follow:

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A Speech by the Minister of Foreign Affairs, Federica Mogherini, on the Recent Developments of the Situation in the Gaza Strip

CHAMBER OF DEPUTIES, XVII LEGISLATURE, 274th MEETING, 29 JULY 2014.

On 29 July 2014, the Minister of Foreign Affairs, Federica Mogherini, delivered a speech before the plenary session of the Chamber of Deputies of the Italian Parliament on the conflict between Hamas and Israel. After expressing sorrow, on behalf of the Italian Government and people, for the casualties suffered on both sides, she highlighted the complexity of the conflict. Thus, to avoid any oversimplification, she briefly illustrated the political context of the whole region, showing how much the situations of Syria, Iraq, Libya, Lebanon and Jordan are interrelated. Then, referring to the end of the “Skyes-Picot order”, she called all the Middle-Eastern actors to assume direct and shared responsibility in the regional politics, together with Italy and Europe. Pointing out that the conflict cannot be examined through biased eyes, and that the aspirations of both Israelis and Palestinians – respectively, to live in peace and security and to have a sovereign State – are legitimate, she added:

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The Position of the Italian Government on a Motion in Favour of the Sahrawi People

SENATE OF THE REPUBLIC, XVII LEGISLATURE, 223rd AND 224th MEETINGS, 3 APRIL 2014.

In the framework of a discussion about some motions that promoted initiatives in favour of the Sahrawi people, the Deputy Minister for Foreign Affairs, Mr. Pistelli, intervened to clarify the Italian position. The Undersecretary renewed the country’s support to the United Nations Mission for the Referendum in Western Sahara (UN MINURSO) and called for a continued bilateral and reinforced multilateral – and EU led – cooperation to solve the conflict.

He stated:

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A Statement by the Minister of Foreign Affairs, Emma Bonino, on the international operation for Syria’s chemical disarmament

CHAMBER OF DEPUTIES AND SENATE OF THE REPUBLIC, 3rd AND 4th JOINT COMMISSIONS, MEETING OF 16 JANUARY 2014

On 16 January 2014, the Minister of Foreign Affairs, Emma Bonino, accompanied by the Italian Minister of Infrastructures and Transport, Maurizio Lupi, and the Director-General of OPAC, Ambassador Ahmet Üzümcü, reported before the III and IV Commissions of the Chamber of Deputies and the Third and Fourth Commissions of the Senate of the Republic on the steps undertaken by Italy in the context of the international operation for the disarmament of Syria and the destruction of its chemical arsenal. The Minister then expressed Italy’s will to create a weapons of mass destruction-free zone in the Middle East.

After Mr Lupi recalled OPAC decision of 27 September 2013 on destruction of Syrian chemical weapons and UN Security Council Resolution 2118 (2013) and explained the reasons which led the Italian Government to choose the Gioia Tauro harbour for the transshipment of chemical material from Syria, Ms Bonino stated:

Both the Security Council resolutions and the decision of the OPAC Executive Council have already been recalled. I believe that the offer of an Italian harbour for a mere operation of transshipment integrates into the policy followed by the Italian government since the beginning, namely that of a political settlement of the Syrian conflict, and not into other initiatives also envisaged.

I also believe, on the basis of ongoing consultations, that this opens a wider perspective into the common agreement reached by all States parties to the Non-proliferation Treaty to create a weapons of mass destruction-free zone in the Middle East.

As you know, this possibility, which dates back a long way, is now materialising with greater awareness. Syrian accession to the Convention on the prohibition of chemical weapons represents a significant step also in this direction.

Let me add that in this context and for the purpose of this initiative, namely the one of establishing a weapons of mass destruction-free zone in the Middle East, the Finnish facilitator, Mr Laajava, will be in Italy on Monday for consultations, in order for us to get started on the preparation of a conference in this respect.

She concluded:

Italy thus takes part in this international effort and in this endeavour to destroy chemical weapons, that we consider the starting point to get to a zone free of weapons of mass destruction in the Middle East.

The Italian version of the statement can be downloaded here or found at: http://documenti.camera.it/leg17/resoconti/commissioni/stenografici/pdf/0304c0304/indag/c0304_disarmo/2014/01/16/leg.17.stencomm.data20140116.U1.com0304c0304.indag.c0304_disarmo.0001.pdf.