What's In Blue

Posted Thu 26 May 2022

Libya: Briefing and Consultations

This afternoon (26 May), 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.

An expected focus of today’s meeting is Libya’s ongoing political turmoil stemming from the establishment of two rival government structures. A tense stand-off has continued between former interior minister Fathi Bashagha and the incumbent prime minister, Abdul Hamid Mohammed Dbeibah.  Bashagha was appointed interim prime minister by the House of Representatives on 10 February, while Dbeibah was elected in February 2021 to head the interim Government of National Unity (GNU) by the Libyan Political Dialogue Forum—an assembly consisting of 75 participants representing the main Libyan geographical, social and political constituencies, which was responsible for charting the way towards elections. Bashagha has not been able to establish his government in the capital, Tripoli, despite several attempts to move there, as Dbeibah—who governs from Tripoli—continues to proclaim the validity of his mandate and his intention to hand over power only to a government elected by the Libyan people.

According to media reports, Bashagha had previously stated that he will not attempt to move his cabinet to the capital if the move could trigger violence. However, on the night between 16 and 17 May, Bashagha attempted to enter Tripoli with several of his cabinet members, prompting clashes between armed groups loyal to him and those supporting Dbeibah. The situation stabilised once Bashagha left Tripoli late on 17 May. Bashagha and his “Government of National Stability” remain based in the city of Sirte, where he held an inaugural cabinet meeting on 21 April.

Council members may express concern about the recent violent outbreak and the political fracture, which threaten to hamper efforts to advance the unification of Libya’s state institutions. In this regard, they may wish to hear more from DiCarlo about the efforts of Special Advisor to the Secretary-General on Libya Stephanie Turco Williams to mediate between both factions to chart a consensus-based path towards elections. Between 15 and 20 May, Williams re-convened a joint committee composed of participants from the House of Representatives and the High Council of State (the executive institution and constitutional authority established by the 2015 Libyan Political Agreement that is mandated to propose policies and recommendations on various political issues) for talks in Cairo. The aim of this initiative is to find an agreement between the parties on a constitutional basis for the elections. The first round of talks between the committee’s members was convened by Williams between 13 and 18 April, also in Cairo.

In her closing remarks on 20 May, Williams commended the initial consensus reached on 137 articles of a 2017 draft constitution which pertain to the legislature and the judiciary. She also noted that “this all is a work in progress”, while reminding participants that the Libyan people have high hopes for the holding of national, comprehensive, and inclusive elections as soon as possible. (Libya’s presidential elections, initially foreseen for 24 December 2021, with parliamentary elections intended to follow several weeks after, were postponed without a new date due to a delay in finalising the candidates’ list and because of controversy surrounding the electoral law.) Williams announced that the committee will meet again on 11 June.

DiCarlo may describe the efforts of Libyan actors and the UN to promote implementation of the 23 October 2020 ceasefire agreement and the 8 October 2021 5+5 Joint Military Commission’s (JMC) action plan for the withdrawal of mercenaries and foreign fighters. The latest Secretary-General report on the situation in Libya, which covers developments between 17 January and 20 May, notes that the ceasefire continues to hold. It further says that the UN Support Mission in Libya (UNSMIL) ceasefire monitoring component has continued to work closely with the Libyan ceasefire monitoring mechanism to advance the implementation of the JMC action plan.

It appears that Council members had considered holding today’s meeting only in closed consultations, without an open briefing, to focus on frank discussion. However, it seems that members felt that following the events of 16 and 17 May, there is a need for the Council to address the Libyan situation in an open forum. Council members are likely to call on Libyan actors not to jeopardise further the gains made and to continue to preserve as well as advance the mutual confidence-building measures already achieved or underway, such as keeping open the coastal road connecting the eastern and western parts of the country. Several Council members are also likely to echo the messages conveyed in the Secretary-General’s report on the need to chart a “consensual path to elections” and join his call on all Libyan actors to refrain from unilateral actions that could deepen existing divisions, trigger conflict and threaten the hard-won progress of the past two years towards stability and unity.

Regarding the competing political factions, the Council still appears publicly united on the position that Libyans themselves must decide their political fate. Russia is the only Council member to have announced its support for Bashagha since his appointment, but it has also indicated that it will respect any leadership decision that Libyans may take.

Several Council members may emphasise the importance of fully implementing the arms embargo on Libya. European Council members might reference the role of the EU naval mission EUNAVFOR MED IRINI in supporting the implementation of the arms embargo. The mission is currently the only regional arrangement acting under authorisations given by the Council in resolution 2292 of 14 June, which was last renewed in resolution 2578 of 3 June 2021, for member states to inspect vessels bound to and from Libya, which they have reasonable grounds to believe are carrying arms or related material. Council members are currently negotiating the renewal of these authorisations, which expire on 3 June. Members last discussed the authorisations and IRINI’s activities on 24 May in an informal interactive dialogue. Stefano Tomat, the Director of the Integrated Approach for Security and Peace Directorate of the European External Action Service, participated in the meeting.

Another pressing concern for the Council is the pending nomination of a Special Representative to lead UNSMIL. Several members may call for the swift appointment of a successor to former Special Envoy Ján Kubiš, who resigned on 23 November 2021. In resolution 2629 of 29 April, which most recently renewed UNSMIL’s mandate, the Council converted the Special Envoy position to a Special Representative post. However, the Secretary-General has yet to identify a candidate to fill this post. Williams’ appointment as Special Advisor to the Secretary-General for Libya was controversial, and seems to have prompted Russia to request a provision in resolution 2629 convening Council meetings on Libya every 30 days, instead of every 60 days, to remain abreast of the special advisor’s activities on the ground. Since Williams is apparently expected to leave her post in the summer, finding a candidate to lead mediation efforts has become even more urgent.

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