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Friday, May 13, 2016

Larsen last briefing to Security Council on 1559: Hezbollah regional acts raise sectarian tension

Briefing on the twenty-third semi-annual report of the Secretary-General on the implementation of Security Council resolution 1559 (2004)
13 May 2016

Mr. President, everybody, Good Morning
1.                Thank you for this opportunity to address you once again in order to present the semi-annual report of the Secretary-General on the implementation of Security Council resolution 1559 (2004).  In my briefing, there are three main themes that I will focus on today: first, the Presidency and the overall political situation, including the municipal elections; second, the tensions between Lebanon and some States in the region and their possible impact on Lebanon. Third, I will address the security situation, including in Palestinian refugee camps.

2.                During his visit to Lebanon on 24-25 March, the Secretary-General emphasized these same themes: he reiterated the need for political parties to elect a President to ensure national unity. Further, he emphasized the importance of continued support to Lebanon as it faces the impact of the crisis in Syria. 

Mr. President,
3.                 As you are well aware, and as this Council emphasized again most recently on 16 March, there has been no forward movement on the Presidency. The free and fair election of a President of the Republic without external interference is an essential focus of resolution 1559 (2004). In 11 days, it will be two full years that Lebanon has been without a Head of State and Chief of the Armed Forces. The longer that vacuum persists, the greater the pressure on other functioning institutions, particularly the Parliament and the Cabinet.

4.                Despite the hope voiced by some politicians in Lebanon that a solution is in the making, it remains a matter of speculation whether this will materialize in the near future. In that regard, statements indicating that the vacuum will last for a sustained period of time are not helpful. Lebanese politicians must be aware of the risks involved in allowing the vacuum to perpetuate.

5.                The adverse effect of the continued boycott of parliamentary sessions is also well known. Recent efforts by Speaker Berri with the various political forces to hold a legislative session of Parliament are noteworthy.

6.                I again call on Lebanese leaders to set aside their partisan differences to make way for the election of a President. The election is an internal Lebanese affair. It will be important for Lebanese stakeholders to demonstrate their willingness to compromise. The ongoing efforts by the international community to support Lebanon in resolving the presidential vacuum must be built upon.

7.                Prime Minister Salam’s leadership in maintaining the unity of the Cabinet should be commended. Speaker Berri’s successful support to the dialogue between Hizbullah and the Future Movement is laudable. The dialogue could be used as a forum for political actors to generate consensus on presidential candidates, and pave the way to fill the vacuum.

Mr. President,

8.                The municipal elections started in Beirut on 8 May. These are the first ones in six years. It is an important signal that functional channels remain for citizens to exercise their democratic rights. It is positive that these started on time. It is very encouraging that they did take place in a peaceful manner. This is a tribute both to the work of the security forces, and to the responsible behaviour of citizens and political leaders. I hope that elections can continue as planned.

9.                In the now positive atmosphere, I call on Lebanese politicians to keep the momentum going and to turn their eyes to the presidential and the parliamentary elections without further delay.

Mr. President,

10.           Regarding the regional context, the report of the Secretary-General already noted that on 6 March Hizbullah secretary general Hassan Nasrallah publicly stated that his movement had sent personnel to Iraq. The involvement of Hizbullah in conflicts in the region is of serious concern, given the risk that regional sectarian tensions might impact and increase tensions in Lebanon. This comes in addition to Hizbullah’s long claimed engagement in the conflict in Syria and the known risks to Lebanon’s stability resulting from it. I reiterate the importance of the disassociation policy and the Baabda declaration of 2012, and call on all Lebanese stakeholders to abide by it and renew their commitment to its implementation.

11.           In its extraordinary session of 22 February, Prime Minister Salam on behalf of the Lebanese Cabinet renewed the country’s commitment to the disassociation policy, as formulated in the ministerial statement. This statement by the whole Cabinet demonstrates the willingness of Lebanon to preserve its security, sovereignty and territorial integrity as it faces the continued spill-over of the conflict from Syria. However, the statement should lead to implementation where there is a strict connection between words and deeds.

Mr. President,

12.           The tensions between Lebanon and key players in the region have continued since the decisions in March by the League of Arab States and the Gulf Cooperation Council to declare Hizbullah a terrorist organization. On 15 April, the Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC) condemned Hizbullah for “conducting terrorist activities in Syria, Bahrain, Kuwait and Yemen and for supporting terrorist movements and groups undermining the security and stability of OIC member states”. Lebanon expressed reservations to the condemnation. At the same time, Prime Minister Salam clarified and reaffirmed in the clearest possible terms the principles of the disassociation policy and the Baabda declaration.

13.           Domestically, it is essential that the dialogue between Hizbullah and the Future Movement continue so that sectarian tensions along regional lines can be prevented. However, that forum cannot be a substitute for the resumption of the National Dialogue and the implementation of the decisions made there.

Mr. President,

14.           Sustained support to the Lebanese Armed Forces is necessary as it continues to protect Lebanon’s sovereignty and territorial integrity. The role of Lebanese Armed Forces as a multi-confessional and politically independent and effective institution confronting threats to the country’s stability is essential.

15.           I welcome the continued bilateral support to the Lebanese Armed Forces, including the Memorandum of Understanding between Canada, the United Kingdom, and Lebanon. It is a positive sign that in the twenty-sixth session of their dialogue, Hizbullah and the Future Movement agreed on adopting adequate measures to bolster internal stability. They highlighted the obligation to uphold the efforts of the military and security institutions in their work to protect the country and the citizens. That consensus is a testimony to the importance that Lebanese leaders attach to maintaining the country’s security and stability. A similar unity of purpose across sectarian interests would be instrumental in making progress on the Presidency.

16.           Despite the important security achievements yielded by the implementation of the security plans, Lebanon is not immune to terrorist attacks. The 12 November bombing of Burj el-Barajneh, claimed by ISIL, sadly reminded us of this fact. This attack was the deadliest since the end of the Lebanese civil war and demonstrated ISIL’s reach in Lebanon. The event targeted a mostly Shiite area and could have led to further bloodshed through sectarian violence. The responsible reaction of Lebanese politicians in the aftermath of the attack was commendable. It is therefore equally significant that there were no further terrorist attacks during the reporting period. This highlights the impact of existing efforts by security services.

Mr. President,

17.           It is of concern that, according to some Member States and actors on the ground, the logistical capabilities of ISIL and the Nusra front in Lebanon are said to be expanding, mostly in the Palestinian camps. On 12 April, a senior official of the Fatah Movement in the Mieh Mieh camp, Fathi Zaidan, was killed in a car bomb explosion. This triggered concerns that renewed armed clashes between Fatah and Islamist extremist factions such as Fatah el-Islam and Jund al-Sham could take place, in a bid to challenge the hegemony of mainstream Fatah over the camp. This incident, and reports on increasing capabilities of extremist armed elements in Palestinian refugee camps, demonstrate the continued importance of implementing the outstanding provisions of resolution 1559 (2004). This is particularly relevant for the full disarmament and disbanding of all militias. 

18.           On 21 March, UNRWA suspended the implementation of its revised healthcare policy. The Agency entered into a dialogue with Palestinian factions to address changes in its hospitalisation policy, education, the reconstruction of the Nahr el-Bared camp and support to Palestine refugees from Syria. The dialogue is under way.  Protests however have taken place repeatedly in front of the Agency’s offices. According to UNRWA, it is likely that unrest will continue and there is a potential for violence to increase. It is essential that the Government of Lebanon ensure the protection of the Agency and its staff and assets. I call on all concerned to pursue a meaningful and constructive dialogue with UNRWA with a view to resolving the current tensions and allowing a return to the Agency’s normal activities. This situation also demonstrates that the constraints weighing on UNRWA’s funding and its ability to provide its vital relief services to Palestinian refugees may result in security risks. Further to the recent call by the Secretary-General, I appeal to donors to do their utmost to sustain UNRWA and its work as a matter of priority for 2016.

Mr. President,

19.           As regards the situation across the Blue Line, the Secretary-General reported on unhelpful statements by Hizbullah secretary general Nasrallah on both 16 February and 20 March. On 21 April, according to media reports, a senior official from the Israel Defense Forces stated that Hizbullah had developed capabilities that presented unprecedented threats to Israel and that “any future crisis would be a full-scale war” that could generate “devastating damage to Lebanon”. I reiterate the call contained in the Secretary-General’s report on both parties to refrain from provocative rhetoric and to abide by their respective obligations. It is essential that the parties continue to collaborate with UNIFIL and UNSCOL in taking forward their obligations and in preventing an escalation.

20.           Lebanon has continued to be adversely impacted by the spill-over of the conflict in Syria. As stated in the report of the Secretary-General, there were repeated violations of Lebanese sovereignty and territorial integrity on the eastern border during the reporting period. On 28 April, two Islamic State militants, including a senior commander, were killed by the Lebanese Armed Forces in the vicinity of Arsal. This operation showed that threats to Lebanon stability persist and the continued importance of existing efforts to strengthen and reinforce the capacity of the LAF border regiment.

21.           Violations of Lebanese airspace through aerial overflights from Israel continued, as did the occupation of the northern part of the village of Ghajar and an adjacent area north of the Blue Line, in violation of resolutions 1701 (2006) and 1559 (2004).

Mr. President,

22.           The number of refugees from Syria in Lebanon remained stable during the reporting period at over one million. In addition, there are 41,000 Palestinian refugees from Syria. The London conference has demonstrated the sustained support of foreign governments to Lebanon as it responds to the needs of refugees. The Statement of Intent by Lebanon details key priorities for support. This comes in addition to the ongoing emergency and stabilization needs outlined in the 2016 Lebanon Crisis Response Plan. Prime Minister Salam at the London conference emphasized the important humanitarian, economic, and social challenges Lebanon is facing and urged the prompt implementation of the pledges.

23.           Donor countries have already been generous in their support. I welcome the 10 May statement by the co-host donors of the London conference: the United Kingdom, Germany, Kuwait, and Norway. They pledged that they would provide over $550 million this year for Lebanon. This is an encouraging message. I call on other member states to heed this example to support Lebanon as it continues to host the largest per capita number of refugees in the world.

24.           The fruitful joint visit of the Secretary-General, the President of the World Bank and that of the Islamic Bank to Lebanon was an important signal of the commitment of international institutions to the country’s stability. The creative and innovative financing mechanisms feed into the broader efforts at conflict prevention and stabilization.

Mr. President,

25.           The absence of progress on the presidential election could be discouraging. Domestic actors have not yet made the courageous compromises necessary to put an end to the vacuum. High-level international engagement must continue and be sustained.  Lebanon remains under severe humanitarian, economic and social pressures. Preventive efforts have so far been the hallmark of the international community’s approach to Lebanon. This includes the work of the International Support Group for Lebanon, which has contributed significantly to preserving the fragile stability of the country.

Mr. President,

26.           Let me use this opportunity to take stock briefly of the state of play in the implementation of resolution 1559. Undoubtedly, since the resolution was passed in September 2004, a lot has been achieved. In April 2005, the Syrian Arab Republic withdrew its troops and military assets from Lebanon on the basis of the United Nations-mediated security arrangements within the framework of resolution 1559. This was followed by the establishment of full diplomatic relations between both countries in 2009. Presidential and parliamentary elections were conducted freely and fairly in 2008 and 2009, respectively. These landmark events demonstrate the positive and important impact that resolution 1559 has had on the political independence and sovereignty of Lebanon.

27.           At the same time, other provisions of the resolution are not only lagging behind, but the failure to implement them may also erode the progress achieved so far. I have already spoken at length about the presidential vacuum and its negative effect on the ability of Lebanon to make important decisions. The current paralysis undermines the institutions that have proven effective in running the country.

28.           The most outstanding provision of resolution 1559 is the disarmament and disbandment of Lebanese and non-Lebanese militias. Since 2004, not only have the militias’ presence and activities continued, but if anything they have expanded. Their growing capabilities are a source of concern. They represent a major and dangerous threat to Lebanon’s sovereignty, stability and political independence. Looking forward, it is essential that all efforts be made to move forward outstanding provisions of the resolution. This is also necessary to preserve the existing achievements.

Mr. President,

29.           This report is the twenty-third I brief the Council on. Having served as Special Envoy of the Secretary-General on the implementation of resolution 1559 for the last 12 years, I now wish to devote more time to the work of the International Peace Institute (IPI) – particularly in its partnership with the United Nations. I have asked the Secretary-General to relieve me of my duties as Special Envoy and Under-Secretary-General as of 31 May this year.

30.           I wish to inform you in my last briefing that I remain a strong believer in the independence of the Special Envoy on resolution 1559 from other resolutions. This is all the more necessary given the radically changed political landscape in and around Lebanon compared with the realities on the ground at the time of the inception of 1559. The provisions of the resolution remain ever more valid and important for the political independence, sovereignty, and territorial integrity of Lebanon today.

31.           It has been a privilege serving the Secretary-General, the Security Council, and the world Organization for all this time. I would like to thank this Council for its confidence and consistent support over the last 12 years. I also would like to use this opportunity to thank my staff for their skilful work and their dedication: Fabrice Aidan, Nicola Davies, Dawn Stephens, Aurelie Proust, and Anne-Laure Gilard. Without any exceptions, it has been not only an honour but a real pleasure to work hand in hand with you on the challenges pertaining to the implementation of resolution 1559. These weigh heavily on the future of peace and security for Lebanon and the Lebanese people. I would like to say to all of you that, in my capacity as President of the International Peace Institute, if I can be helpful in advancing the efforts to ensure international peace and security, I will be at your service.
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