The Egyptian response to the brutal murder of 21 Egyptians in Libya, believed to be Coptic Christian migrant laborers, was swift. Mere hours after the gruesome video of the assassinations was released, Egypt began an immediate retaliation campaign in Libya, with F-16 jets bombing ISIS positions in the country. Egyptian president Abdel Fattah el-Sisi called on the United Nations Security Council to pass a resolution allowing for an international intervention in Libya, saying that the intervention which led to the death of Muammar Gaddafi was “an unfinished mission,” adding that “what is happening in Libya is a threat to international peace and security.”
For their part, the United Nations Security Council and the Secretary-General added their voices to the growing chorus of world leaders condemning the murders and the perpetrators. In a statement, the Secretary-General said that “the ongoing dialogue in Libya is the best chance to help the country overcome its current crisis,” without hinting at any kind of military campaign in response to the recent events – whether UN mandated or driven by individual nations or international coalitions. The Security Council also strongly condemned the murders, noting that “ISIL must be defeated and that the intolerance, violence and hatred it espouses must be stamped out.” In their statement, the Security Council members also said that “such continued acts of barbarism perpetrated” by ISIL do not intimidate them but rather stiffen their resolve that there has to be a common effort amongst Governments and institutions, including those in the region most affected, “to counter ISIL, Ansar Al Sharia entities…and all other…entities associated with Al-Qaida.”
Acting under a Chapter VII mandate, the Security Council passed a resolution last week to further strengthen measures to isolate ISIS financially — but without any mention of military action. The unanimously-passed resolution specifically targets trading with ISIS in oil, infrastructure and energy, one of the many avenues through which the group finances their campaigns. In the resolution, the Security Council acknowledged that all financial sources to ISIS must be dried up, including kidnap ransoms, donations, and the extortion of private and public money by the group itself.
As ISIS continues to draw the ire of an increasing number of regional power players – last week, Jordan, and now Egypt – the global resolve to eradicate the group will only be strengthened. As countries continue to target ISIS through air campaigns, there is, however, an increased risk that innocent civilians will end up paying with their lives for having ISIS operatives in or around their communities. Indeed, Human Rights Watch says in a recent press release that residents in Derna, Libya, where the retaliatory strikes occurred, reported that there were at least six civilian fatalities as a result of the airstrikes. “Any military engagement with ISIS should take all possible steps to spare civilian lives,” said HRW’s Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East and North Africa director. As national and international actors continue to grapple with the threat of ISIS, the protection of civilian lives must also remain a priority concern – the UN Security-Council’s focus on non-military means of intervention is one way in which to decrease that risk.