What's In Blue

Posted Thu 16 Mar 2023

Libya: Adoption of Presidential Statement

This afternoon (16 March), the Security Council is scheduled to adopt a presidential statement on Libya. In the statement, the Council says that it is encouraged by the initiative of Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Libya and head of the UN Support Mission in Libya (UNSMIL) Abdoulaye Bathily to launch a Libyan High-Level Panel for Elections (HLPE). Bathily announced this initiative in his 27 February briefing to the Council, during which he noted that the panel will aim to facilitate the adoption of a legal framework and time-bound road map for the holding of elections in 2023.


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—in February 2022. The protracted stalemate contributes to the country’s political, economic and security instability.

Against this backdrop, Bathily has concentrated efforts on facilitating agreement on a new roadmap for national elections. In recent months he has conducted consultations with a range of national stakeholders, including high-level representatives of the GNU and the HoR, as well as the High State Council (HSC)—which was established by the LPA to serve as an advisory body and now performs legislative functions. He has also consulted with international partners, meeting with representatives of Egypt, France, Germany, Italy, Qatar, Türkiye, the United Arab Emirates (UAE), the UK, and the US, among others.

In his 27 February briefing to the Council, Bathily presented the results of this engagement. He announced his intention to establish a HLPE, which will “bring together all relevant Libyan stakeholders, including representatives of political institutions, major political figures, tribal leaders, civil society organisations, security actors, women, and youth representatives”. According to Bathily, the panel will seek to facilitate “the adoption of the legal framework and time-bound roadmap to the holding of elections in 2023”, as well as “provide a platform to advance consensus around related matters, such as election security and the adoption of a Code of Conduct for all candidates”.

In parallel to Bathily’s efforts, the rival Libyan legislatures have been engaging on a separate effort to establish a constitutional basis for elections. On 8 February, the HoR adopted the 13th Constitutional Amendment to the 2011 Constitutional Declaration, defining the roles of the president, prime minister, and parliament, as well as outlining its own election roadmap. On 2 March, after several failed attempts, the HSC endorsed the amendment, on the basis of which the two legislatures subsequently announced the establishment of a “joint 6+6 committee” to draft electoral laws.

In his Council briefing, which took place prior to the HSC’s endorsement of the amendment, Bathily described the legislation as “controversial within the Libyan political class and general citizenry” and criticised it for a perceived lack of clarity that fails to “address key contentious issues such as the eligibility criteria for presidential candidates”. The timing of the HSC’s endorsement, which had stalled for weeks and occurred only after Bathily’s announcement of a broader UN-facilitated initiative, led some analysts to suggest that the amendment is primarily an attempt by the rival governments to reassert exclusive control over the election process.

At a March 11 press briefing, however, Bathily appeared to indicate that the 6+6 committee will have the primary responsibility for drafting electoral laws. He urged the body to “address all the gaps and shortcomings of the 13th Amendment within a reasonable timeframe, thus producing a credible and implementable constitutional and legal basis for the elections”, while stating that the UN “stand[s] ready to support the 6+6 in any way”. Bathily then described the role of the HLPE as pertaining to four seemingly auxiliary functions: 1) improving the security environment; 2) drafting a code of conduct for electoral candidates; 3) providing a forum to tackle “all other political and practical issues” that may arise during the electoral process; and 4) ensuring broad national ownership of the process “beyond a small group of legislative players”.

Presidential Statement

The UK, the penholder on Libya, proposed a presidential statement following the 27 February Council briefing, during which Bathily asked the Council to express its support for his initiative. The penholder circulated an initial draft of the presidential statement to Council members on 2 March. After receiving members’ written comments, the UK circulated a revised draft for additional comments on 8 March. Subsequently, on 10 March, a second revised draft was placed under silence, which was broken by the A3 (Gabon, Ghana, and Mozambique). Yesterday (March 15), after further consultations between the UK and the A3 members, a third revised draft passed silence and is set to be adopted today.

It seems that a key issue that members discussed during the negotiations was the degree to which the Council should express support for the HLPE. While it appears that the initial draft text “endorsed” the panel, some Council members felt that such language was premature given the current lack of detail on the panel’s modalities and operation. Consequently, the revised draft that was placed under silence on 10 March only took note “positively” of the initiative. However, it seems that the A3 argued that this weaker phrasing defeated the purpose of the statement, prompting these members to break silence. A compromise was apparently reached in the final draft by stating that the Security Council “is encouraged” by the initiative.

The statement that is set to be adopted today is expected to state that the Council is encouraged by the launch of the panel, noting its intention to complement progress made by other processes and bring together stakeholders to identify a consensus-based pathway towards national presidential and parliamentary elections in 2023. The text remarks on the panel’s composition, emphasising the importance of ensuring that it is participatory and representative and includes representatives of political institutions and political figures, tribal leaders, civil society organisations, security actors, youth, and the full, equal, and meaningful participation of women, and is therefore able to assist in reaching consensus on the necessary steps to conclude the electoral process. In addition, the statement urges national stakeholders to engage constructively with the panel and to uphold guarantees concerning the independence and integrity of the electoral process and results, recalling previous commitments given in this regard.

Another point of discussion during the negotiations appears to have been the 13th constitutional amendment adopted by the Libyan legislatures. Whereas the initial draft text did not mention this development explicitly, one Council member proposed language welcoming the progress made on it and recognising the continued role of the HoR and the HSC in this regard. Another member also proposed language commending the role played by Egypt to facilitate talks in Cairo between the two bodies. While it seems that both these proposals were incorporated into the final draft, the progress related to the constitutional amendment was caveated as “gradual” at the behest of the A3 members.

Consequently, the agreed statement recognises the continued role of the HoR and the HSC in the political process and welcomes the gradual progress made by the bodies with the adoption of the 13th constitutional amendment. In addition, the statement reiterates that the political process should be accompanied by constructive engagement in the economic and security tracks, as well as by full respect for human rights law and international humanitarian law, and calls on all parties to uphold and implement the 23 October 2020 ceasefire agreement.

It seems that Switzerland proposed the language referencing human rights law and international humanitarian law, as well as calling on Libyan authorities to respect and protect the human rights of migrants. They also suggested language noting the importance of accountability to national reconciliation and the work of the International Criminal Court (ICC) in this regard. While the language on human rights, including those of migrants, received support from several other elected members and was retained in the final draft, it seems the reference to the ICC was ultimately struck due to opposition from other members.

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