Expected Council Action
In August, the Security Council will hold its bimonthly briefing on the situation in Libya. Special Representative and head of the UN Support Mission in Libya (UNSMIL) Abdoulaye Bathily will brief the Council on recent political, security, and humanitarian developments in the country and the Secretary-General’s latest report on UNSMIL. The chair of the 1970 Libya Sanctions Committee, Ambassador Kimihiro Ishikane (Japan), will also brief on the committee’s activities.
Key Recent Developments
The political impasse between the rival Libyan governments continues. In February 2022—after the indefinite postponement of elections scheduled for December 2021 under the leadership of Abdul Hamid Mohammed Dbeibah, prime minister of the Tripoli-based Government of National Unity (GNU)—the House of Representatives (HoR) elected former Interior Minister Fathi Bashagha as prime minister of a competing faction that became known as the Government of National Stability (GNS). The GNS is based in Sirte and aligned with the self-styled Libyan National Army led by General Khalifa Haftar. In May, the HoR voted to suspend Bashagha as prime minister of the GNS and replace him with Finance Minister Osama Hamad—a move that some analysts believe was set in motion by Bashagha’s failed attempts to enter Tripoli last year. The protracted stalemate between the GNU and the GNS and the internal divisions within the two bodies contribute to Libya’s political, economic, and security instability.
Against this backdrop, both the UN and national actors have concentrated recent efforts on facilitating agreement on a new roadmap for national elections to unify the country’s divided government. In March, the HoR and the GNU-aligned High State Council (HSC) established a “joint 6+6 committee”—comprising six representatives from each body—to draft electoral laws that would allow elections to take place by the end of the year. On 7 June, after a two-week meeting in Bouznika, Morocco, the joint committee announced that it had reached agreement on draft legislation, which calls for simultaneous presidential and parliamentary elections and the formation of a unified interim government that will be responsible for conducting the elections, among other provisions.
The draft legislation has not yet been adopted, however. A planned signing ceremony in June with HoR speaker Aguila Saleh and HSC head Khalid al-Mishri was reportedly cancelled, prompting speculation that the two leaders objected to the draft that their joint committee had negotiated. In his 19 June briefing to the Council, Bathily acknowledged “the effort of the 6+6 committee as an important step forward” but said that the “flurry of mixed reactions” from Libyan stakeholders to the draft legislation indicates that “key issues remain strongly contested” .He highlighted four specific provisions in the draft legislation that have proven controversial:
- the eligibility criteria for candidates for the presidential election;
- the provision for a mandatory second round of the presidential election to take place between the two highest polling candidates, even if one of them had secured more than 50 percent of the votes in the first round;
- provisions stipulating that if the first round of the presidential election cannot be held for whatever reason, parliamentary elections will not take place either; and
- a provision requiring the establishment of a new interim government before elections can be held.
Bathily described these issues as “highly contentious” and said that a political agreement among major stakeholders will be necessary to make the draft electoral legislation implementable and avoid a new political crisis. In this context, he called on the Council to “increase its pressure on the relevant actors and use its collective and individual leverage” to ensure that Libyan actors honour their stated commitment to holding elections. He also informed the Council of his own intention “to intensify negotiations and convene major stakeholders…to reach a final settlement” on the draft legislation. In a 10 July statement, Bathily reaffirmed this intention and urged Libyan stakeholders to “refrain from any actions, including unilateral or non-inclusive decisions, that could precipitate a crisis and divert attention” from elections.
On 25 July, the full HoR approved the draft legislation, including the provision to form a new interim government to oversee elections. The following day, UNSMIL released a statement that “takes note” of the approval and reiterates warnings against “[u]nilateral actions”, which “like similar attempts seen in the past, could inflict serious negative consequences for Libya and trigger further instability and violence”. On 27 July, the French, German, Italian, UK, and US embassies to Libya released a joint statement endorsing the UN’s efforts to “address all contested elements of the electoral framework in order to make it implementable”.
On the security track, Bathily said in his June briefing to the Council that Tripoli remained relatively calm. However, he expressed concern about military operations that the GNU launched in May against alleged smuggling networks in the western city of Zawiya, noting that the operations had “prompted allegations of political motives and could therefore risk undermining the relative stability” in the region. He also noted the risk of destabilising cross-border effects from the ongoing conflict in Sudan.
In addition, Libya’s oil resources have recently been the subject of renewed tensions. In early July, General Haftar called for a more equitable distribution of oil revenue—which is under the control of the Tripoli-based Central Bank of Libya—and suggested he might take military action if an agreement is not reached by August. Subsequently, the GNU announced the establishment of a joint financial oversight committee, comprising representatives of rival government entities and relevant technical bodies, to enhance transparency and equitability in public spending—a move that UNSMIL welcomed in an 8 July statement. Additionally, on 12 July, former Finance Minister Faraj Boumtari was arrested by the Internal Security Agency (ISA) and detained at an unknown location, allegedly because of his bid to replace the current—and GNU-aligned—governor of the Central Bank of Libya. In protest, the southern al-Zawi tribe, from which Boumtari hails, shut down three oil fields under its control. On 15 July, the ISA released Boumtari, and production resumed at two of the three oil fields. At the time of writing, the third oil field (known as the “108” field) was still closed.
The country’s human rights and humanitarian situations remain alarming. In his June briefing, Bathily expressed concern about an “increase of excessive controls by security agencies that…restrict fundamental rights, including freedom of assembly and freedom of movement”. Specifically, Bathily criticised recently adopted decisions by the GNU to require unaccompanied women traveling abroad to complete a form explaining their reason for travelling without a male companion—a move that was also denounced by UN human rights experts in a 19 July statement—and to regulate civil society organisations based on a restrictive law from the era of former Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi. Additionally, another group of UN human rights experts, in a 21 July statement, expressed serious concern about reports that human traffickers in Libya have detained, tortured, and held migrants and refugees for ransom, subjecting them to human rights violations that may constitute enforced disappearance.
On 2 June, the Council adopted resolution 2684, renewing for one year the authorisation for member states, acting nationally or through regional organisations, to inspect vessels on the high seas off the coast of Libya that they have reasonable grounds to believe are violating the arms embargo imposed on the country in resolution 1970 of 26 February 2011.
Key Issues and Options
The key issue for the Security Council remains supporting the political momentum towards holding national elections later this year. The provisional agreement of the 6+6 committee on draft electoral legislation is a potentially positive development in this regard, but the outstanding issues that the legislation leaves unresolved and the delay in its implementation remain a concern. At the August briefing, Council members are likely to reiterate their expectation that all parties display the political will to meet their stated commitments through concrete action, noting that both the UN and the legislatures had set June as the deadline to finalise electoral legislation to hold elections by the end of the year. In this regard, members may also reiterate support for Bathily’s intensified efforts to facilitate agreement on a final settlement.
Council members remain united on the need for a Libyan-led inclusive process to lead to elections foreseen as restoring political, security, and economic stability. At the June briefing, most members acknowledged the 6+6 committee’s draft electoral legislation as a positive step and welcomed Bathily’s mediation efforts to resolve the law’s outstanding issues.
Broader geopolitical tensions still influence Council dynamics in respect of Libya, however. In his June statement, the Russian representative criticised the alleged “double agenda” of Western members, whom he accused of seeking to “provide resources for their own economic needs at the expense of Libya’s hydrocarbon resources” rather than supporting a long-term solution to the country’s problems. Russia also abstained from the vote adopting resolution 2684, claiming that the authorisation for maritime inspections—carried out by the EU—has not led to “practical results in terms of stabilisation on the ground”.
UN DOCUMENTS ON LIBYA
|Security Council Resolutions|
|28 OCTOBER 2022S/RES/2656||This resolution extended UNSMIL’s mandate until 31 October 2023.|
|2 JUNE 2023S/RES/2684||This resolution renewed for one year the authorisation for member states, acting nationally or through regional organisations, to inspect vessels on the high seas off the coast of Libya that they have reasonable grounds to believe are violating the arms embargo.|
|26 FEBRUARY 2011S/RES/1970||This resolution referred the situation in Libya to the ICC, imposed an arms embargo and targeted sanctions (assets freeze and travel ban) and established a sanctions committee.|
|Security Council Presidential Statement|
|16 MARCH 2023S/PRST/2023/2||This presidential statement reaffirmed the Security Council’s commitment to an inclusive, Libyan-led and Libyan-owned political process leading to elections, facilitated by the UN and supported by the international community.|
|Security Council Meeting Record|
|19 JUNE 2023S/PV.9351||The meeting record is on Libya.|
|5 APRIL 2023S/2023/248||This was the 120-day report on UNSMIL.|