What's In Blue

Posted Mon 15 Apr 2024

Libya: Briefing and Consultations

Tomorrow morning (16 April), 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. The chair of the 1970 Libya Sanctions Committee, Ambassador Kazuyuki Yamazaki (Japan), will brief on the committee’s activities.

Bathily is expected to update Council members on the political impasse in Libya, which continues between the UN-recognised Government of National Unity (GNU), based in Tripoli and led by Prime Minister Abdul Hamid Mohammed Dbeibah, and the eastern-based Government of National Stability (GNS), led by Prime Minister Osama Hamad and aligned with the House of Representatives (HoR) and the self-styled Libyan National Army (LNA) under the command of General Khalifa Haftar. The stalemate between the rival governments has persisted since the indefinite postponement of the Libyan national elections that were planned for December 2021.

In this context, both the UN and national actors have concentrated efforts on facilitating agreement on a new roadmap for national elections to unify the country’s divided government. The “joint 6+6 committee”—which was established by the HoR and the GNU-aligned High State Council (HSC) to draft electoral laws to enable elections, comprising six representatives from each body—presented its initial draft legislation in June 2023. Due to persistent disagreement about certain provisions in that draft, however, the committee subsequently amended the draft legislation in September 2023. The HoR approved this version, but the HSC rejected it, instead endorsing the previous draft and withdrawing its members from the 6+6 committee. (For more background and information, see the brief on Libya in our April 2024 Monthly Forecast.)

In an attempt to break the deadlock, UNSMIL announced in November 2023 that Bathily had invited key Libyan institutional stakeholders to a meeting to reach a settlement on the contested electoral issues. The statement said that Bathily had requested the HoR, the HSC, the LNA, and the Presidential Council (established under the 2015 Libyan Political Agreement to serve as the country’s head of state) to designate representatives to attend a preparatory meeting to discuss the date, venue, and agenda of the meeting of their principals. Representatives of the GNS—which the UN does not officially recognise—were not invited to attend.

The Secretary-General’s latest report on UNSMIL (S/2024/301), which was published on 9 April and covers developments since 7 December 2023, describes continued efforts by Bathily to convene Libyan stakeholders under his proposed format. The report notes that limited progress was made, however, as some actors have not yet nominated their representatives or have set preconditions for their participation. According to the report, Haftar and HoR Speaker Aguila Saleh have insisted on including the GNS in the meetings or excluding both the GNS and GNU. In addition, Saleh has requested that the meeting focus on the formation of a new unified government, while Dbeibah has continued to affirm that the GNU will only step down following the successful completion of the electoral process. The HSC has maintained its opposition to the revised electoral laws and sought to focus discussions on reverting to the initial version.

While Bathily’s initiative remains stalled, the heads of the HoR, the HSC, and the Presidential Council met on 10 March in Cairo under the auspices of the League of Arab States (LAS). In a joint statement following the meeting, the leaders said that they had agreed on the need to establish a unified government to organise elections and had decided to set up a technical committee “within a specified period of time” to build consensus on the 6+6 committee’s legislation, consider amendments, and resolve contested issues. Notably, neither Dbeibah nor Haftar participated in the meeting.

In an 11 March post on X (formerly Twitter), Bathily said that Presidential Council President Mohamed Menfi had informed him of the outcome of the 10 March meeting and that they had agreed to “follow up” on its conclusions. The Secretary-General’s report makes little mention of that agreement, however, instead urging Libyan leaders to engage with UN mediation efforts and to nominate “without delay” their representatives to the preparatory meetings to be convened under UNSMIL’s auspices.

At tomorrow’s briefing, Bathily is also expected to update the Council on Libya’s security situation. While no violations of the 2020 ceasefire agreement were recorded during the reporting period, the Secretary-General’s report expresses concern that sporadic clashes have continued in the country’s western region between rival militias affiliated with different factions of the GNU. Most recently, after armed groups clashed in Tripoli on 11 April, UNSMIL issued a statement calling on all parties to exercise restraint and condemning “the repeated use of violence to settle disputes”. In the country’s eastern region, the Secretary-General’s report notes that LNA forces mobilised in early February for a large-scale military exercise near the city of Sirte under the supervision of LNA Major General Saddam Haftar, Khalifa Haftar’s son. The report says that UNSMIL closely monitored the exercise in order to prevent ceasefire violations that might lead to an escalation of tensions.

The country’s humanitarian and human rights situations are another expected focus of tomorrow’s meeting. According to the Secretary-General’s report, tensions between western and eastern institutions have persisted in the aftermath of Storm Daniel—which hit eastern Libya in September 2023—in part due to disagreement over the management of competing reconstruction funds established by the GNU and GNS. In an 11 March statement commemorating the six-month anniversary of the storm, Bathily and Deputy Special Representative and UN Resident and Humanitarian Coordinator for Libya Georgette Gagnon reiterated their call for a “coordinated national platform” for reconstruction, under transparent management and with effective oversight and accountability mechanisms. A World Bank report published in January estimated that damages and losses from the floods total $1.7 billion, approximately 3.6 percent of Libya’s gross domestic product in 2022.

Regarding the human rights situation, the Secretary-General’s report notes that enforced disappearances and arbitrary arrests have continued throughout Libya, resulting in a “climate of fear” that undermines freedom of expression, assembly, and association. Civil society organisations are also subjected to pressure and have continued to face a restrictive registration process that allows state authorities to deny them recognition or to dissolve them on broad grounds. In the eastern region, the HoR passed a law on 9 January criminalising “witchcraft, sorcery and fortune-telling”, making certain acts punishable by the death penalty. According to the Secretary-General’s report, judicial officials, academics, and human rights defenders have raised concerns about the potential use of the law to target religious minorities, political activists, and civil society.

The report also expresses concern about migrants and refugees in Libya, who continue to face “serious protection risks” by human traffickers and other criminal networks, as well as detention and forced expulsion by Libyan authorities under “inhumane conditions”. On 8 and 9 December 2023, UNSMIL held a workshop in Tripoli to support authorities in establishing a national action plan for implementing the recommendations of the UN Independent Fact-Finding Mission on Libya, which found evidence that migrants in Libya have been systematically tortured and subjected to sexual slavery. Illustrating the dire situation that this group faces, up to 60 people reportedly drowned on 13 March when a rubber dinghy that departed from north-western Libya deflated in the central Mediterranean. On 22 March, the International Organization for Migration (IOM) announced the discovery of a mass grave in south-western Libya containing the bodies of at least 65 migrants who are believed to have died in a failed smuggling operation through the desert.

At tomorrow’s briefing, Bathily may also describe progress on the national reconciliation track, which is supported by the African Union (AU). On 5 February, the AU High-Level Committee on Libya, which is chaired by Republic of Congo President Denis Sassou Nguesso, held a summit in Brazzaville, resulting in an outcome declaration that welcomed the recent decision of the Preparatory Committee for the Inclusive Conference on National Reconciliation—a joint planning entity comprising AU and Libyan representatives that is led by Libya’s Presidential Council—to hold the conference on 28 April in the city of Sirte.  The Secretary-General’s report welcomes this progress and underscores the value of a victim-centered reconciliation process based on international principles of transitional justice, while also emphasising that its success depends on unified and representative governing institutions.

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