What's In Blue

Posted Mon 17 Apr 2023

Libya: Briefing and Consultations

Tomorrow morning (18 April), the Security Council will 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. Additionally, the chair of the 1970 Libya Sanctions Committee, Ambassador Kimihiro Ishikane (Japan), will present the periodic report on the committee’s activities.

Nearly a year and a half 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.

Against this backdrop, both the UN and national actors have concentrated recent efforts on facilitating agreement on a new roadmap for national elections. In his 27 February briefing to the Council, Bathily announced his intention to establish a UN-facilitated Libyan High-Level Panel for Elections (HLPE), which will “bring together all relevant Libyan stakeholders” to facilitate “the adoption of the legal framework and time-bound roadmap to the holding of elections in 2023”. In parallel to this initiative, the rival Libyan legislatures have engaged in a separate effort to establish a constitutional basis for elections. They recently adopted the 13th constitutional amendment to the 2011 Constitutional Declaration—defining the roles of the president, prime minister, and parliament—and subsequently established a “joint 6+6 committee” responsible for drafting electoral laws. On 6 April, the committee held its first meeting, after which a committee member confirmed the committee’s intention to agree on legislation by mid-June in order to hold elections by the end of the year. On 16 March, the Security Council adopted a presidential statement in which it welcomed “the gradual progress made on the constitutional framework for elections and the 13th amendment of the constitutional declaration” and said it was “encouraged” by the launch of the HLPE—although questions do remain regarding the exact division of labour between the two bodies. (For more information, see our 16 March What’s in Blue story.)

On the security track, the Secretary-General’s most recent report on Libya, dated 5 April, stated that the situation remains tense throughout the country—with sporadic clashes in the western, eastern, and southern regions—but that the 2020 ceasefire agreement generally continues to hold. The report also noted that UNSMIL has continued to support the work of the 5+5 Joint Military Commission (JMC)—which is entrusted with overseeing the security aspects of the Libyan peace process—on a range of issues, including the disarmament, demobilization, and reintegration of combatants; the withdrawal of mercenaries and foreign fighters from the country; and election security arrangements. These issues were discussed at three meetings that the JMC recently convened with eastern, western, and southern military commanders (on 15 March in Tunis, 27 March in Tripoli, and 7 April in Benghazi), during which the participants confirmed their commitment to supporting the holding of fair and transparent elections in Libya in 2023 and to creating a peaceful and conducive environment for these elections.

The alarming humanitarian and human rights situation is another expected focus of tomorrow’s meeting. The Secretary-General’s report says that “Libyan security actors and affiliated armed groups continued to employ increasingly aggressive methods to intimidate and arbitrarily detain civil society and humanitarian actors”. Among other developments, the report notes that “several women human rights defenders and female activists were subjected to intimidation and assaults, both online and offline, including following the activation of the 2022 anti-cybercrime law on 17 February”. International human rights organisations have criticised the law for restricting the freedom of speech and urged Libyan authorities to repeal it.

Additionally, the UN Independent Fact-Finding Mission (FFM) on Libya—established by the Human Rights Council (HRC) in 2020—published its final report on 27 March. The report concludes that “there are grounds to believe a wide array of war crimes and crimes against humanity have been committed by State security forces and armed militia groups”, with migrants, in particular, having been “systematically tortured” and subjected to “sexual slavery”. The report calls on Libyan authorities to hold perpetrators of these crimes accountable, while also urging the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) to “establish a distinct and autonomous mechanism with an ongoing mandate to monitor and report on gross human rights violations in Libya”. On 4 April, the HRC adopted a resolution requesting OHCHR to provide technical assistance and capacity-building to Libyan authorities “with a view to improving further the situation of human rights in Libya”. In a joint statement dated 13 April, a group of human rights organisations criticised the resolution for “ignor[ing] the findings of the FFM” and “failing” to establish a mechanism to follow up on its work.

At tomorrow’s meeting, Council members are likely to welcome the progress toward national elections represented by the establishment of the HLPE and the 6+6 commission, while reiterating their expectation that all stakeholders display the political will to meet their stated commitments through concrete action. Members may also seek clarification on the relationship between the mandates of the HLPE and the 6+6 commission, and—particularly in light of recent criticism voiced by HoR members against the HLPE—urge the bodies to work together cooperatively to avoid duplication of efforts. Additionally, given the lack of detail that persists concerning the HLPE’s modalities and membership, members may request more information about the panel’s organisation—especially how it will differ from the UN-facilitated Libyan Political Dialogue Forum, which led to the previous, unfulfilled agreement to hold elections in December 2021.

Several Council members are also expected to express continued concern at the human rights situation in the country, which remains particularly dire for civil society activists, migrants, women, and girls. In this context, some Council members may reference the alarming findings of the FFM and urge follow up on the recommendations contained in its final report.

Council dynamics on Libya have improved somewhat since last year’s difficult negotiations to extend UNSMIL’s mandate. Council members are united on the need for a Libyan-led inclusive process to hold elections that will restore political, security, and economic stability—a consensus recently evidenced by the presidential statement of 16 March.

However, differences of view remain about the best way forward. At the February briefing, several Council members—including France, the United Arab Emirates (UAE), the UK, the US, and the A3 (Gabon, Ghana, and Mozambique)—expressed strong support for the HLPE announced by Bathily. However, while voicing their general support for Bathily’s mediation efforts, China and Russia were more reserved in their comments on the panel, deferring instead to the prerogative of the Libyan legislatures. These divergent positions were evident during negotiations on the presidential statement and may be reflected at tomorrow’s briefing.

Regional efforts to address the situation in Libya are also developing. Tomorrow (18 April), the AU Peace and Security Council (AUPSC) will convene a ministerial-level meeting on Libya, which will focus on preparations for the national reconciliation conference that the AU is expected to host in May. The meeting may also produce a timetable for the field mission to Libya that the AUPSC will undertake in advance of the conference, outlined in the decision made at the PSC’s last meeting on Libya on 1 February. This regional initiative coincides with a thawing of relations between Egypt and Türkiye—rivals that have supported opposing sides in the Libyan conflict—who recently announced a bilateral rapprochement that includes an agreement to cooperate more closely on Libya and affirms both countries’ support for Libyan elections.

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