Expected Council Action
In January, the Security Council will hold a briefing and consultations on the situation in Libya. The chair of the 1970 Libya Sanctions Committee, Ambassador T.S. Tirumurti (India), is scheduled to brief on the activities of the sanctions committee.
Council members are also expected to vote on a resolution renewing UNSMIL’s mandate, following two technical rollovers of the mandate in September that extended it for two weeks until 30 September 2021, and subsequently until 31 January.
The Secretary-General’s report on the situation in Libya is due by 11 January.
Key Recent Developments
Preparations for the upcoming presidential and parliamentary elections continued to dominate the political landscape. Days before the envisaged 24 December 2021 polls, the High National Elections Commission (HNEC) had not released the final candidate list for the presidential elections. The delay in publishing the list was caused by the ongoing review of the eligibility of several candidates to run for president. The HNEC made an initial determination in respect of the candidates, but several of its decisions were being challenged in court at the time of writing. In addition, a date for the parliamentary election—initially also foreseen to take place on 24 December 2021 but postponed to January—had yet to be announced.
Among the presidential candidates whose eligibility is being challenged are former Libyan Arab Armed Forces (LAAF, also known as the Libyan National Army, or LNA) General Khalifa Haftar; Saif al-Islam Gaddafi, who is sought by the ICC on two counts of alleged crimes against humanity and is the son of deposed former Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi; and Abdul Hamid Mohammed Dbeibah, who stepped down from his position as prime minister of the Government of National Unity (GNU) to run in the upcoming elections. A precondition to qualify for the presidential race is relinquishing political and military positions three months before the vote, according to a controversial electoral law passed by the eastern-based House of Representatives. However, Dbeibah stepped down in November—too late to meet the three-month requirement. Furthermore, upon accepting the nomination for prime minister in February 2021, he pledged not to seek elected office in the upcoming elections. His position was subsequently filled by Ramadan Abu Jnah, who, when speaking about a possible postponement of the elections during a 13 December press conference, stated that “nobody should deprive Libyans of this historic [24 December 2021] deadline and we will not let anybody do so”.
On 22 December, given the ongoing delay in the finalisation of the candidate list and controversy surrounding the electoral law, the HNEC released a statement announcing that it will not be able to hold the presidential election on 24 December 2021 and suggested that the House of Representatives postpone the date of this election until 24 January. It added that it had nearly completed the review of the over 5,300 applications for the parliamentary elections for audit and possible appeals. According to media reports, Hadi Al-Sagheer, the president of the parliamentary election committee (the body tasked with following up on the electoral process), released a statement confirming the postponement, noting that “after reviewing the technical, judicial and security reports, we would like to inform you that it will be impossible to hold the [presidential] elections on the date set by the elections law.”
On 23 November, UNSMIL’s Special Envoy Ján Kubiš resigned. In an 8 December statement marking his last day in office, Kubiš noted that “professional and personal reasons” necessitated his resignation. He had said earlier that the current political situation required the focus of UN mediation efforts to shift to Tripoli and that his resignation accelerated the shift. His statement echoes the findings of the 6 August 2021 independent strategic review report, which recommended the restructuring of UNSMIL and the relocation of its leadership from Geneva to Tripoli.
It appears that the Secretary-General intended to appoint Stephanie Williams, the former Deputy Special Representative in Libya, as interim head of UNSMIL, but Russia opposed the move. The Secretary-General instead named Williams his Special Advisor for Libya. Williams previously served as acting Special Representative in Libya between Ghassan Salamé’s departure as the head of mission in March 2020 and Kubiš’s appointment in January 2021. Williams arrived in Libya on 12 December 2021. According to an UNSMIL statement issued that day, she will “lead the good offices and mediation efforts and engagement with Libyan, regional, and international actors to pursue the implementation of the three intra-Libyan dialogue tracks and support the holding of presidential and parliamentary elections”.
As the electoral situation unfolded, Williams engaged political stakeholders to reach agreement on a new date for parliamentary and presidential elections, and to discuss the legitimacy of the current transitional political leadership, whose mandates expire on 24 December 2021. She also urged them to maintain a calm security environment amidst reports of military forces associated with different political actors mobilised in Tripoli. In a 21 September 2021 statement, UNSMIL called for any emerging political or military matters to be resolved through dialogue.
In December 2021, the 1970 Libya Sanctions Committee and subsequently the Council received the interim report of its Panel of Experts. It is not a public document, but excerpts leaked to media outlets indicate that the panel found that although violations of the arms embargo on Libya decreased compared to the previous year, the embargo remained ineffective and existing stockpiles of weapons and ammunition in the country are sufficient to fuel future conflict. The experts also concluded that the continued presence of foreign fighters remained a serious threat.
Human Rights-Related Developments
In a 10 December 2021 press statement, the Spokesperson for the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Rupert Colville, expressed deep concern over the continued forced expulsions of asylum-seekers and other migrants in Libya. He underscored that expulsions of asylum-seekers and other migrants without due process and procedural guarantees directly contravened the “prohibition of collective expulsions as well as the principle of non-refoulement under international human rights and refugee law.” Colville also mentioned an OHCHR report published on 25 November, Unsafe and Undignified: The forced expulsion of migrants from Libya, which highlighted that asylum-seekers and other migrants in Libya are consistently at risk of “arbitrary or collective expulsion”. The report further noted that those expelled have already experienced a range of other “serious human rights violations and abuses in Libya at the hands of both state and non-state actors, including arbitrary detention, enforced disappearance, trafficking, sexual violence, torture and ill treatment”. Colville called on Libya to act swiftly to meet its obligations under international human rights law and urged the international community to “ensure due diligence in the provision of operational, financial and capacity-building support to the Libyan government […] to ensure these efforts do not undermine human rights”.
Key Issues and Options
The key issue for the Council will be how to assist the country in organising peaceful and credible presidential and parliamentary elections and subsequently facilitate a peaceful transfer of power.
When renewing UNSMIL’s mandate, Council members will likely take into account the status of the electoral process. If the new polling date for presidential elections comes after the January renewal date for the UNSMIL mandate and if the date of the parliamentary elections continues to be unclear, the Council may consider another short rollover of the current mandate, at least until after the presidential election, and possibly until after both parliamentary and presidential elections. If the presidential election has been completed by the time the Council considers the UNSMIL mandate in January—and if there is greater clarity around the timing of the parliamentary elections—the Council will most likely consider how it can best support the transition of power at the head-of-state level and the preparations for the parliamentary elections.
Negotiations in September 2021 on the renewal of the UNSMIL mandate were difficult. The UK, the penholder on Libya, suggested the restructuring of the mission in accordance with the recommendations of the August independent strategic review report. Such restructuring would relocate UNSMIL’s Special Envoy from Geneva to Tripoli and convert this position to that of a Special Representative, supported by two Deputy Special Representatives. Russia said it did not support the UK’s draft resolution, expressing concern over the timing and implementation of the restructuring, the scope of UNSMIL’s mandate following the endorsement of the strategic review’s recommendations, and language on the withdrawal of foreign fighters and mercenaries.
Following intense negotiations and two postponements of the adoption, the UK tabled a draft text, rolling over the mandate until 31 January 2022, which was adopted unanimously as resolution 2599. This timeframe was supposed to allow for the elections to take place and provide additional time for Council discussion. With the date of the elections unresolved and continuing divergent views on language regarding mercenaries and foreign fighters, the scope of the mission’s tasks, and human rights, the upcoming mandate renewal negotiation may be difficult.
UN DOCUMENTS ON LIBYA
|Security Council Resolutions|
|30 September 2021S/RES/2599||This resolution extended the mandate of the UN Support Mission in Libya (UNSMIL) until 31 January 2022. The text, which was unanimously adopted, was a technical renewal of UNSMIL’s mandate as set out in resolution 2542 of 15 September 2020 and paragraph 16 of resolution 2570 of 16 April 2021.|
|15 September 2020S/RES/2542||This resolution renewed UNSMIL’s mandate until 15 September 2021; it was adopted with 13 votes in favour and two abstentions (China and Russia).|
|Security Council Presidential Statements|
|24 November 2021S/PRST/2021/24||This presidential statement welcomed the Paris International Conference and the Libya Stabilisation conference; expressed support for the parliamentary and presidential elections set to take place on 24 December; underlined the importance of an inclusive and consultative electoral process; and urged Libyan stakeholders to commit to accepting the election results.|
|15 July 2021S/PRST/2021/12||This presidential statement welcomed the second Berlin Conference on Libya, which was held on 23 June 2021.|
|Security Council Letters|
|6 August 2021S/2021/716||This was the letter from the Secretary-General transmitting the strategic review of UNSMIL.|