What's In Blue

Posted Fri 24 Feb 2023

Libya: Briefing and Consultations

On Monday morning (27 February), the Security Council is scheduled to hold an open briefing, followed by closed consultations, on the situation in Libya. Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Libya and head of the UN Support Mission in Libya (UNSMIL) Abdoulaye Bathily will brief on the latest political, security, and humanitarian developments in the country.

Over one year has passed since the postponement of national elections planned for December 2021 and seven years since the signing of the Libyan Political Agreement (LPA). The leadership stand-off continues between incumbent Prime Minister Abdul Hamid Mohammed Dbeibah, elected in February 2021 to head the interim Government of National Unity (GNU), and former Interior Minister Fathi Bashagha, who was elected interim prime minister by the House of Representatives (HoR)—the Libyan legislature based in Tobruk—on 10 February 2022. The protracted stalemate contributes to the country’s political, economic, and security instability.

At Monday’s meeting, Bathily is expected to brief Council members on his efforts to facilitate agreement on a new roadmap for national elections. At a meeting of the African Union’s (AU) High-level Committee on Libya, which took place on 17 and 18 February, Secretary-General António Guterres said that his Special Representative has been engaging relevant parties “to agree on a constitutional basis for elections by the end of this month”. To this end, Bathily has in recent weeks conducted consultations with a range of national stakeholders, including high-level representatives of the GNU, the HoR, the Libyan National Army and the High State Council (a body established by the LPA to advise the GNU and HoR on various issues, including on the LPA’s implementation). He has also consulted with international partners, notably meeting with representatives of Egypt, France, Germany, Italy, Qatar, Türkiye, the United Arab Emirates, the UK, and the US in Washington DC yesterday (23 February). In his briefing to the Security Council, Bathily is likely to outline a proposed electoral framework resulting from these discussions.

At the conclusion of the 17-18 February AU meeting, Chairperson of the AU Commission Moussa Faki Mahamat announced that the regional organisation will host a national reconciliation conference for Libya. The conference—the date of which has yet to be confirmed—will be chaired by President of the Republic of Congo Denis Sassou Nguesso, who heads the AU High-level Committee on Libya. On Monday, Bathily may describe the technical assistance that the UN expects to provide to the AU for the organisation of the conference.

Regarding the security situation, the Secretary-General’s most recent report on Libya, dated 9 December 2022, stated that the 2020 ceasefire agreement continues to hold, although the security situation remains tense throughout the country. The report also noted that UNSMIL has continued to support the establishment of an effective Libyan ceasefire monitoring mechanism able to coordinate, monitor, and assess progress on the withdrawal of foreign forces, foreign fighters, and mercenaries. On 8 February, after a two-day meeting in Cairo that was chaired by Bathily, the 5+5 Joint Military Commission (JMC)—which is entrusted with overseeing the security aspects of the Libyan peace process—and liaison committees from Libya, Sudan, and Niger reached agreement on an integrated coordination and data exchange mechanism to facilitate the full withdrawal of mercenaries and foreign fighters from the country. In his closing address at that meeting, Bathily described the agreement as “an important step toward creating a favourable climate for the political process, including the organization of elections in 2023”. On Monday, he may update Council members on this development.

The alarming humanitarian and human rights situation is another expected focus of Monday’s meeting. According to the Secretary-General’s report, violations against migrants and refugees continue with impunity, including arbitrary detention “in inhumane and degrading conditions in both official and unofficial centres managed by state and non-state actors”. Similar findings were presented by the UN Independent Fact-Finding Mission (FFM) on Libya, which undertook its final visit to the country in late January. (The FFM was established by the Human Rights Council in June 2020 to investigate violations and abuses of human rights throughout Libya committed by all parties since 2016.) During the visit, the FFM met with victims who provided testimony on “extrajudicial killings, torture, arbitrary detention, enforced disappearances, human trafficking, internal displacement, the existence of mass graves and morgues containing corpses that families do not have access to”. Following the visit, the FFM urged Libyan authorities to “take decisive steps to provide justice and redress to the vast number of victims suffering from longstanding violations of human rights and international humanitarian law”.

In a recent example illustrating the continued dire situation of refugees, at least 73 migrants were reported missing and presumed dead following a 14 February shipwreck off the Libyan coast, according to the International Organisation for Migration (IOM). The boat, which carried approximately 80 people, reportedly departed from the Libyan village of Qasr Al Kayar and was heading to Europe.

During Monday’s meeting, Council members are likely to welcome Bathily’s efforts to foster consensus on a constitutional basis for elections. They may also commend the agreement of the 5+5 JMC on a coordination mechanism to facilitate the withdrawal of foreign fighters. However, considering the failure of previous diplomatic initiatives to facilitate a breakthrough in Libya, members’ interventions may also underscore that progress depends on the political will of Libyan elites and their international supporters to honour their commitments.

Moreover, while there is general agreement among Council members on the need to solve the protracted political impasse, there are different views on the best way forward. According to analysts, most Western countries—including non-Council members such as Germany—argue for the urgency of national elections, to be held in accordance with a consensually agreed roadmap, while others contend that the appointment of a new interim government should take priority, ahead of elections. Regarding the initiative for an election roadmap, there could also be divisions among Council members as to whether a prospective agreement should be brokered between the rival parliaments or with a broader range of actors. Bathily’s plan is apparently expected to prioritise elections that will be endorsed by a variety of stakeholders, but Council members may still express diverging positions on these respective issues at Monday’s meeting.

Several members may also voice concern at the dire human rights situation. In addition to the plight of migrants and refugees, the Secretary-General’s report describes a grave situation for Libyan women and girls, characterised by “hate speech and online harassment” directed at women’s rights activists, a “lack of legislation to protect women from violence,” and “very limited” services for survivors of such violence. In this context, some Council members may urge Libyan authorities to redouble efforts to create a safe environment for women and girls and to ensure the full, equal, and meaningful participation of women in Libya’s political process.

Bathily is likely to seek the Council’s support for his election roadmap. As such, following Monday’s meeting, Council members may consider issuing a product endorsing the proposed plan. However, while consensus on Libya recently proved possible with the issuance of a press statement after the Special Representative’s previous briefing to the Council (which took place on 16 December 2022), the feasibility of another Council product will depend on the details of the plan presented.

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