What's In Blue

Libya: Briefing and Consultations

Tomorrow morning (19 June), the Security Council will hold an open briefing, followed by closed consultations, on the situation in Libya. Special Representative and head of the UN Support Mission in Libya (UNSMIL) Abdoulaye Bathily will brief the Council on the latest political, security, and humanitarian developments in the country. Dr. Abeir Imneina, Director of the Washm Center for Women’s Studies in Libya, is also expected to brief. Additionally, the chair of the 1970 Libya Sanctions Committee, Ambassador Kimihiro Ishikane (Japan), will present the periodic report on the committee’s activities.

The political impasse between the rival Libyan governments continues. In February 2022–after the indefinite postponement of elections scheduled for December 2021 under the leadership of Abdul Hamid Mohammed Dbeibah, prime minister of the Tripoli-based Government of National Unity (GNU)– the House of Representatives (HoR) elected former interior minister Fathi Bashagha as prime minister of a competing faction that became known as the Government of National Stability (GNS).  The GNS is based in Sirte and aligned with the self-styled Libyan National Army led by General Khalifa Haftar. On 16 May, the HoR voted to suspend Bashagha as prime minister of the GNS and replace him with finance minister Osama Hamad, a move that some analysts believe was set in motion by Bashagha’s failed attempts to enter Tripoli last year. The protracted stalemate between the GNU and the GNS, as well as the internal divisions within the two bodies, contribute to Libya’s political, economic, and security instability.

At tomorrow’s briefing, Bathily is expected to update the Council on recent efforts to facilitate agreement on a new roadmap for national elections to unify the country’s divided government. In March, the HoR and the GNU-aligned High State Council (HSC) established a “joint 6+6 committee”—comprised of six representatives from each body—tasked with drafting electoral laws to enable elections by the end of year. On 7 June, after a two-week meeting in Bouznika, Morocco, the joint committee announced that it had reached agreement on draft legislation, which reportedly calls for simultaneous presidential and parliamentary elections and resolves a number of outstanding issues related to candidate eligibility, the distribution of parliamentary seats, the inclusion of political parties, the representation of women, and procedures for appealing electoral results. The legislation also calls for the formation of a unified provisional government that will be responsible for conducting the elections—a call that Haftar subsequently echoed.

The draft legislation has not yet been adopted, however. A planned signing ceremony with HoR speaker Aguila Saleh and HSC head Khalid al-Mishri was reportedly cancelled, prompting speculation that the two leaders objected to the draft that their joint committee had negotiated. It seems one particularly contentious issue remains that of eligibility for presidential candidates, as both sides seek legislation that would prohibit the other’s preferred candidate—Dbeibah and Haftar, respectively—from running. At the time of writing, the legislatures had not yet officially ratified the legislation and its final status remained unclear.

On 7 June, UNSMIL released a statement welcoming the joint committee’s progress, while noting the importance of broad buy-in from Libyan society and stating that the mission “will continue to work with all relevant Libyan institutions…to facilitate a process amongst all actors to address the contested elements of the electoral framework, secure the necessary political agreement on the path to elections, and enable a level playing field for all candidates”. On 8 June, the French, German, Italian, UK, and US embassies to Libya issued a joint statement welcoming UNSMIL’s engagement and “urg[ing] all players to engage constructively with SRSG Bathily towards securing the necessary political, security, and legal environment for elections”. On 16 June, UNSMIL released another statement saying Bathily had “initiated a series of meetings with political leaders in Libya, regional and international partners, and other stakeholders to hear their analysis and discuss potential ways forward”, noting “concerns raised by various stakeholders about provisions that could hinder elections from a practical and political standpoint”.

In addition to the political situation, Bathily may also update the Council on recent security developments. According to the Secretary-General’s most recent report on Libya, dated 5 April, the 2020 ceasefire agreement generally continues to hold despite sporadic clashes across the country. In May, tensions flared after the GNU launched several drone strikes against alleged smuggling networks in the western city of Zawiya—an operation some analysts believe was politically motivated, as it targeted armed groups tied to Ali Bouzriba, a member of parliament seeking Dbeibah’s ouster.

The humanitarian situation is another expected focus of Bathily’s briefing. In early June, eastern Libyan authorities conducted raids on thousands of predominantly Egyptian migrants and deported them in a purported attempt to stem human trafficking, prompting a statement from UNSMIL on 12 June expressing concern at “the mass arbitrary arrest of migrants and asylum-seekers”. On 14 June, a ship headed from Libya to Italy carrying hundreds of migrants sank off the coast of Greece in what is presumed to be one the deadliest shipwrecks in Europe in recent years. These incidents occurred after the UN Independent Fact-Finding Mission on Libya—established by the Human Rights Council in 2020—concluded in its final report of 27 March that there are grounds to believe that migrants in Libya have been “systematically tortured” and subjected to “sexual slavery”.

Imneina is expected to underscore the importance of ensuring the full, equal, and meaningful participation of women in Libya’s political process, including the upcoming elections—an issue that was also the topic of a UN-facilitated joint meeting of female members of the HoR and HSC on 30 April. Imneina may also call attention to the risks that women human rights defenders and civil society activists face in Libya: the Secretary-General’s report said that “Libyan security actors and affiliated armed groups continued to employ increasingly aggressive methods to intimidate and arbitrarily detain civil society and humanitarian actors” and that “several women human rights defenders and female activists were subjected to intimidation and assaults”. In addition, Imneina may call for the adoption of a draft law on combatting violence against women that a group of Libyan legal experts submitted to the HoR on 6 February, according to the Secretary-General’s report.

At tomorrow’s briefing, Council members are likely to welcome the provisional agreement on electoral legislation announced by the joint 6+6 committee, while also urging leaders to quickly ratify the agreement and noting that both the UN and the legislatures have set June as the deadline to finalise legislation to hold elections by the end of the year. Several members may also express concern at the situation facing vulnerable groups such as refugees, women, and girls, and call on Libyan authorities to uphold their commitments under international humanitarian, refugee, and human rights law.

The Council remains united on the need for a Libyan-led inclusive process to lead to elections that will restore political, security, and economic stability. However, there are differences of view about the best way forward. Some members support the establishment of a new interim government prior to holding elections, as foreseen by the 6+6 committee, while most Western members—as well as the UN—are concerned that such a move would diminish stakeholders’ incentive to follow through on their electoral commitments, instead reinforcing the status quo. These positions may also be reflected in Council members’ statements at tomorrow’s briefing.

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