What's In Blue

Posted Tue 15 Mar 2022

Libya: Briefing and Consultations

Tomorrow (16 March), the Security Council will convene for an open briefing, followed by closed consultations, on the situation in Libya. Under-Secretary-General for Political and Peacebuilding Affairs Rosemary DiCarlo will brief. The chair of the 1970 Libya Sanctions Committee, Ambassador T.S. Tirumurti (India), will present the periodic report on the committee’s activities. A woman civil society representative is also expected to brief.

A key focus of tomorrow’s meeting is likely to be the political turmoil engulfing the country following the failure to hold presidential elections that were scheduled to take place on 24 December 2021. The presidential elections, which were supposed to be followed by parliamentary elections after several weeks, were postponed because of the delay in finalising the candidate list and due to controversy surrounding the electoral law. On 10 February, the House of Representatives appointed former Interior Minister Fathi Bashagha as interim prime minister, citing the failure of incumbent Prime Minister Abdul Hamid Mohammed Dbeibah to hold the elections. Dbeibah—who was elected in February 2021 by the Libyan Political Dialogue Forum to head the interim Government of National Unity (GNU)—has challenged the legitimacy of Bashagha’s appointment and reiterated his intention to remain in office while emphasising his mandate to organise the delayed presidential and parliamentary elections. The establishment of a rival government to the GNU was further solidified by the House of Representatives’ 1 March vote of confidence which approved Bashagha’s choice of cabinet members. In a 2 March statement, Secretary-General António Guterres expressed concern over reports that the vote of confidence in the cabinet fell short of the “expected standards of transparency and procedures and included acts of intimidation prior to the session”.

Competing electoral roadmaps have been proposed. On 7 February, shortly before appointing Bashagha, the House of Representatives announced a new electoral roadmap envisaging the holding of elections within 14 months, the creation of a new electoral commission, and the establishment of a 24-member committee consisting of representatives from Libya’s three regions to draft a new constitution. On 21 February, Dbeibah announced an electoral roadmap outlining a plan to organise parliamentary elections by 24 June and hold a constitutional referendum on the same day. According to Dbeibah’s plan, the parliament, once inaugurated, will endorse a final constitutional text, after which presidential elections will take place.

At tomorrow’s meeting, DiCarlo may describe several diplomatic initiatives aimed at resolving the political deadlock. Since Bashagha’s appointment and the announcement of two competing electoral roadmaps, Special Advisor to the Secretary-General on Libya Stephanie Turco Williams has engaged with several Libyan stakeholders. Williams has tweeted that she met with the Speaker of the House of Representatives, Agila Saleh, on 7 March and the President of the GNU’s Presidency Council, Mohamed Younis al-Menfi, on 9 March to discuss her proposal to form a joint committee with representatives from the House of Representatives and the High Council of State to solidify the constitutional basis for elections. (The High Council of State is an executive institution and a constitutional authority established by the 2015 Libyan Political Agreement (LPA), which is mandated to propose policies and recommendations on various issues, including on the LPA’s implementation.) In these and other tweets, Williams reiterated the need for elections to take place “in a timely manner with a sound constitutional basis” to respect the aspirations of the 2.8 million Libyans who have registered to vote.

Several member states have also conducted dialogues with Dbeibah and Bashagha. On 12 March, the US Embassy in Libya announced that Dbeibah and Bashagha have agreed to engage in UN-facilitated negotiations. Shortly thereafter, US Ambassador to Libya Richard Norland visited Cairo to discuss how Egypt and the US can cooperate to bring about a negotiated solution to the political impasse and how best to support the holding of presidential and parliamentary elections. (In February, Egypt had voiced support for Bashagha and his prospective government.) In addition, Turkey is engaged with both sides, pursuing negotiation efforts.

Council members are likely to be interested in hearing from DiCarlo about progress in organising the UN-facilitated talks to resolve the political stalemate. In a 13 March interview with Newsweek, Williams stated that recognition of or support for one government over the other is “a sovereign matter decided by member states, and, in some cases, by the UN Security Council”. She added that in the absence of elections, both the authorities in Tripoli (associated with Dbeibah) and in Tobruk (associated with Bashagha) “lack popular legitimacy”.

Russia is the only Council member to have openly supported Bashagha’s appointment. Other Council members have either not commented on the development or called for a Libyan-owned solution based on dialogue. In a 4 March statement, France, the UK and the US, together with non-Council members Germany and Italy, stressed that “any disagreement on the future of the political process must be resolved without resorting to violence” and reiterated their support for “UN mediation efforts through the Secretary-General’s Special Adviser and the UN Support Mission in Libya (UNSMIL) to sustain the country’s peaceful transition”. During tomorrow’s meeting, these members are likely to reiterate these messages.

Council members may also voice concerns over the tense security situation in the country, as a build-up of armed forces, apparently loyal to Bashagha, was reported in recent weeks in Tripoli. They might echo the 10 March call from UNSMIL to maintain calm and stability across the country. In a similar vein, several members are likely to reiterate their previous calls for the withdrawal of foreign fighters and mercenaries in accordance with the 23 October 2020 ceasefire agreement.

Tomorrow’s meeting will also serve as an opportunity for Council members to take stock of UNSMIL’s work ahead of the negotiations to renew the mission’s mandate before its 30 April expiry. Recent negotiations on the mission’s mandate have been difficult, as disagreements over the timing of UNSMIL’s restructuring and language regarding its leadership appointment resulted in several short-term technical rollovers. (For background, see our 31 January What’s in Blue Story.)

Council members are likely to have different approaches to UNSMIL’s mandate and future. Some may express public support for a substantive renewal in order to better equip UNSMIL to mediate between the rival political factions and call for the mission’s constructive engagement in the negotiations, while emphasising the need for the international community to show unity on the Libya file. Other members may feel that an open Council meeting is not the appropriate forum in which to discuss UNSMIL’s mandate and might prefer to do so during the closed consultations—or not at all, at this stage.

Council members are also likely to express diverging views on UNSMIL’s future leadership. Since former Special Representative and head of UNSMIL Ján Kubiš resigned on 23 November 2021, Guterres has not identified a successor to lead the mission as Special Representative or as Special Envoy—a position to be established upon the Council’s approval of UNSMIL’s restructuring. Several Council members may therefore call on the Secretary-General to expedite his search for a suitable candidate, while others are likely to place more emphasis on supporting Williams’ ongoing mediation efforts.

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