What's In Blue

Posted Mon 21 Aug 2023

Libya: Briefing and Consultations*

Tomorrow morning (22 August), 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 on the latest political, security, and humanitarian developments in the country. A woman civil society representative 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 the year. On 7 June, after a two-week meeting in Bouznika, Morocco, the joint committee announced that it had reached agreement on draft legislation. On 25 July, the HoR approved the draft legislation and referred it to the HSC for a vote.

The legislation remains controversial, however, with various political factions contesting several of its provisions. According to the Secretary-General’s most recent report on UNSMIL, which was issued on 8 August and covers developments since 5 April, the disputed elements include “proposals with regard to the eligibility of dual nationals to run in the presidential elections; the holding of presidential and parliamentary elections sequentially, one after the other; making the holding of parliamentary elections dependent on the success of the presidential elections; and establishing a new interim executive before holding elections”. The report says that Bathily has “intensified” his good offices to facilitate agreement among stakeholders on the most contentious aspects of the draft legislation.

The provision relating to establishing a new interim government has proven most controversial in recent weeks. On 26 July, a day after the HoR approved the draft legislation, UNSMIL released a statement that took note of the approval and, referring implicitly to the proposal to establish a new interim government, reiterated warnings against “[u]nilateral actions”, which “like similar attempts seen in the past, could inflict serious negative consequences for Libya and trigger further instability and violence”. On 27 July, the French, German, Italian, UK, and US embassies to Libya issued a joint statement endorsing the UN’s efforts to address “all contested elements of the electoral framework in order to make it implementable”.

On 6 August, the HSC held a vote that replaced Khalid al-Mishri, the body’s incumbent leader, with Mohammed Takala, a politician from the city of Khoms. While al-Mishri appeared to support the establishment of a new interim government—and was considered a political rival of the GNU’s Dbeibah, whom such a government would replace—Takala may favour an alternative course of action, as he is reported to be more aligned with Dbeibah. At the time of writing, it remained unclear whether this leadership change will impact the HSC’s pending vote on the draft legislation.

Bathily is also expected to provide an update on the security situation at tomorrow’s briefing. Sporadic clashes between major armed groups occurred in Tripoli during the period covered by the Secretary-General’s report. The clashes escalated on 14 August, when Mahmoud Hamza, leader of the 444 Brigade—a militia affiliated with the GNU’s Ministry of Defense that controls most of southern Tripoli—was detained at Mitiga International Airport by the Special Deterrence Force (SDF)—a rival group aligned with the Ministry of Interior that serves as a de facto police force and controls much of the city’s infrastructure, including the Mitiga airport. Hamza’s detention prompted heavy fighting between the two groups, reportedly resulting in the killing of at least 55 people, marking the deadliest violence in the Tripoli region since the GNS’ failed assault last year. On 15 August, UNSMIL issued a statement expressing concern about the violence and its “possible impact…on the ongoing efforts to cultivate a security environment that is conducive to advancing the political process, including preparations for national elections”. The statement further called for immediate de-escalation and an end to the ongoing armed clashes. On 16 August, the SDF released Hamza, after which the situation has reportedly stabilised.

The country’s human rights situation is another expected focus of Bathily’s briefing. The Secretary-General’s report says that “[r]estrictions on civic space and excessive control by authorities and security actors over civil society actors increased during the reporting period”. In this context, the report references the GNU’s recently adopted decisions to require unaccompanied women travelling abroad to complete a form explaining their reason for travelling without a male companion—a move that was denounced by UN human rights experts in a 19 July statement—and to regulate civil society organisations based on a restrictive law from the era of former Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi. Additionally, the report notes that the “humanitarian situation, human rights and protection of migrants and refugees remained of serious concern”, particularly “the prolonged detention of migrant children with no judicial process, in violation of the country’s obligations under international human rights law”.

The expected civil society briefer is a Libyan journalist and human rights activist. She may describe the effects of Libya’s shrinking civil space on the freedom of expression and media freedom in the country. The briefer may also emphasise the importance of ensuring the full, equal, and meaningful participation of women in Libya’s political process, including the holding of elections.

At tomorrow’s briefing, Council members are likely to take note of the HoR’s approval of the draft electoral legislation, while underscoring the need to reach a political settlement on its contentious elements and welcoming Bathily’s mediation efforts in this regard. Members may also express concern about the recent violent clashes in Tripoli—which illustrate the continued fragility of the country’s security situation—and reiterate the need for parallel progress on the political and security tracks. Additionally, they may recall that the Security Council may impose sanctions under resolution 1970 of 26 February 2011 on individuals determined to be threatening the peace, stability, or security of Libya or obstructing the successful completion of its political transition, including by obstructing or undermining elections. Council members may consider issuing a press statement conveying such messages.

The Council remains united on the need for a Libyan-led inclusive process leading 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 pending electoral legislation, while most Western Council members—as well as the UN—are concerned that such a move would diminish Libyan stakeholders’ incentive to follow through on their electoral commitments, instead reinforcing the status quo. These positions may be reflected in Council members’ statements at tomorrow’s briefing.


Post-script: On 23 August, Security Council members issued a press statement reaffirming their strong commitment to an inclusive, Libyan-led and Libyan-owned political process, in line with relevant Security Council resolutions and building on progress in the “6+6” negotiations aimed at producing viable electoral laws. Members reiterated their support for the mediation and good offices role of Special Representative and head of the UN Support Mission in Libya (UNSMIL) Abdoulaye Bathily in this regard and urged Libyan stakeholders to engage fully, transparently and in good faith with the special representative in a Libyan-led and UNSMIL-facilitated negotiation in order to reach agreement on politically contested issues pertaining to elections.

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