Expected Council Action
In February, 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. The chair of the 1970 Libya Sanctions Committee, Ambassador Yamazaki Kazuyuki (Japan), will also brief on the committee’s activities.
Key Recent Developments
The political impasse in Libya continues between the UN-recognised Government of National Unity (GNU), based in Tripoli and led by Prime Minister Hamid Mohammed Dbeibah, and the eastern-based Government of National Stability (GNS), led by Prime Minister Osama Hamad and aligned with the House of Representatives (HoR) and the self-styled Libyan National Army (LNA) under the command of General Khalifa Haftar. The prolonged stalemate between the rival governments—which has persisted since the indefinite postponement of elections that had been scheduled for December 2021—is a key driver of Libya’s political, security, and economic instability.
In this context, 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 2023, the HoR and the GNU-aligned High State Council (HSC) established a “joint 6+6 committee”—composed of six representatives from each body—to draft electoral laws to enable elections. In June 2023, the committee announced that it had reached agreement on draft legislation, which the HoR and HSC subsequently approved.
The proposed legislation proved to be controversial, with various political factions contesting several of its provisions and both UNSMIL and Libya’s High National Elections Commission (HNEC) identifying technical shortcomings. In September 2023, the 6+6 committee submitted to the HoR an amended version of the draft legislation, which the HoR approved on 2 October and subsequently submitted to the HNEC for implementation, which the commission confirmed was technically feasible. On 4 October, however, the HSC rejected the revised legislation, instead endorsing the 6+6 committee’s previous version and withdrawing its members from the committee.
According to the Secretary-General’s most recent report on UNSMIL, dated 7 December 2023, the chairperson of the HNEC informed Bathily during a 10 October meeting that the commission would not begin to implement the electoral process until the outstanding political issues had been resolved. Similarly, in a 12 October statement, UNSMIL said that it had completed a “technical review” of the amended legislation, which it described as a “working basis” for holding elections while finding that it still contained “[c]ontentious issues that need to be addressed and resolved through a political settlement”. The most controversial provision concerns the establishment of a unified interim government to organise elections, which the HoR insists is necessary for the credibility of the ballot but which the HSC and GNU have rejected. Bathily supports the measure but has consistently stressed that the appointment of a new interim government requires political consensus and should not be done unilaterally.
In an attempt to break the impasse, UNSMIL announced in a 23 November 2023 statement that Bathily had invited key Libyan institutional stakeholders to a meeting to reach a settlement on the politically contested electoral issues. The statement said that Bathily had requested the HoR, HSC, LNA, and Presidential Council (established under the 2015 Libyan Political Agreement to serve as the country’s head of state) to designate representatives to attend a preparatory meeting to discuss the date, venue, and agenda of the meeting of their principals. Representatives of the GNS—which the UN does not officially recognise—were not invited to attend.
At the Council’s 18 December 2023 briefing on Libya, Bathily highlighted as a positive development that Libya now had in place a “constitutional and legal framework” for elections that is considered technically implementable by the HNEC. He lamented the entrenched political dynamics blocking its execution, however, and provided additional detail on his proposed meeting of institutional stakeholders and the complexities involved in securing full participation from the chosen actors, which he described as having “the capacity to either reach consensus and advance the political process or prolong the stalemate and prevent Libya from holding peaceful elections”. According to Bathily, the HoR has conditioned its participation on the meeting agenda, which it insists should focus only on the formation of an interim government to organise elections, and it has also rejected the participation of the GNU. For its part, the GNU has submitted the names of its representatives to take part in the meeting, but still rejects any discussion of a new government. Haftar will only agree to the GNU’s participation if the GNS also attends; alternatively, he would accept the exclusion of both governments. In his briefing, Bathily admonished Libyan political leaders for “continu[ing] to drag their feet” and reiterated his call for the formation of a new interim government “required by the electoral laws and welcomed by Libyan citizens on all sides”.
While the national political track remains gridlocked, there has been some recent progress in the AU’s initiative to support Libya’s reconciliation process. The AU’s High-Level Committee on Libya, which is chaired by Republic of Congo President Denis Sassou Nguesso, has been leading efforts to convene a national reconciliation conference in Libya, which was originally expected to be held in May 2023 but was postponed. In December, the Preparatory Committee for the Inclusive Conference on National Reconciliation—a joint planning entity comprising AU and Libyan representatives—convened its third meeting, during which the participants unanimously agreed to hold the conference on 28 April in the city of Sirte.
Women, Peace, and Security
Abeir Imneina—Head of the Washm Center for Women’s Studies in Libya—briefed the Security Council during the 19 June 2023 meeting on the situation in the country. She said that members of civil society have faced enforced disappearances, kidnappings, extrajudicial arrests, and accusations of immorality and espionage, with cases of arrests and torture “on the pretext of safeguarding established values”. Imneina described restrictions on women’s freedom of movement and privacy and the failure of Libyan authorities to enact laws combating violence against women. She called on the national institutions to accelerate the adoption of such laws, among other recommendations.
Key Issues and Options
Supporting political momentum towards national elections to unify Libya’s divided government remains the key issue for the Security Council. In this context, an important objective for the Council is to help foster common political ground between the country’s rival legislatures to agree on electoral laws—a goal that Bathily has repeatedly urged Council members to support by wielding their influence on national stakeholders.
At February’s meeting, members may reiterate their call on Libyan actors to engage in good faith negotiations to finally achieve consensus on outstanding political issues and, in this context, urge them to participate productively in Bathily’s proposed meeting of institutional stakeholders. Council members could consider adopting a presidential statement or issuing a press statement delivering these messages.
Council members remain united on the need for a Libyan-led, inclusive political process resulting in elections that will help to restore political, security, and economic stability to the country. They also remain broadly supportive of Bathily’s mediation efforts in this regard.
Broader geopolitical tensions still influence Council dynamics with respect to Libya, however. The US and other Western members remain concerned about the presence of the Wagner Group—the private Russian security company—in the eastern part of the country under Haftar’s control. For its part, Russia routinely blames Libya’s current instability on the NATO-led military intervention in 2011 and accuses Western countries of seeking to exploit Libya’s oil reserves for economic gain.
The UK is the penholder on Libya.
UN DOCUMENTS ON LIBYA
|Security Council Resolution
|30 OCTOBER 2023S/RES/2702
|This resolution extended UNSMIL’s mandate until 31 October 2024.
|7 DECEMBER 2023S/2023/967
|This was the 120-day report on UNSMIL.
|Security Council Meeting Record
|18 DECEMBER 2023S/PV.9510
|This meeting record is on Libya.