‘Legitimacy Crisis’ in Libya Must Be Overcome ahead of Elections, Special Representative Says, Briefing Security Council
Russian Federation, United States Speakers Exchange Barbs on Libyan Oil Revenues
The international community must encourage Libya’s leaders to work towards the holding of elections as soon as possible, the senior United Nations official in the country told the Security Council today, stressing the need to restore the legitimacy of Libya’s institutions amid efforts by some institutional actors to obstruct the polls.
Abdoulaye Bathily, Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Libya and Head of the United Nations Support Mission in Libya (UNSMIL), said that Libyan stakeholders — including the Presidential Council, the High Council of State and other key actors — have a moral and political responsibility to restore peace and stability, with the United Nations and the Mission providing their support, he underscored.
“There appears to be broad agreement that Libya’s institutions are facing a serious legitimacy crisis, and that restoring that legitimacy across the board is of paramount importance,” he said. Noting progress on the security track, he reported that the 5+5 Libyan Joint Military Commission on 27 October agreed to establish a subcommittee for the disarmament, demobilization and reintegration of armed groups. Meanwhile, the ceasefire continues to hold, despite escalatory rhetoric and a build-up of forces.
However, he voiced concern at a lack of progress in implementing the Commission’s action plan for the withdrawal of mercenaries, foreign fighters and foreign forces, calling for a renewed focus on that effort. On the economic front, the lack of accountability and transparent equity in the allocation of resources remains a key cause of tensions. The human rights situation, meanwhile, remains alarming, he said, calling on Libyan authorities and neighbouring countries to uphold international standards related to safe search and rescue practices for migrants and refugees.
The Special Representative, who took up his post in Tripoli on 14 October, last briefed the Council on 24 October. (See Press Release SC/15075.)
In the ensuing debate, Council members reiterated their support for the Special Representative’s efforts and emphasized that the political process must be Libyan-led and Libyan-owned. Many urged full implementation of the 2020 ceasefire agreement, the withdrawal of foreign mercenaries and agreement on the constitutional framework for elections.
The Russian Federation’s representative, whose delegation requested today’s meeting, said the United States is viewing Libya’s political process through the lens of its own economic interests to ensure that the situation does not undermine energy supplies to Europe. Noting the possible existence of behind-the-scenes agreements with third countries on Libyan oil exports, he said that for Washington, D.C., the most important thing is to squeeze the Russian Federation out of the global oil market. Libyan oil revenues must be used to benefit the Libyan people, not to line the pockets of a few foreign businesspeople, he added.
The United States representative, who rejected those allegations, expressed dismay that a Council member that has violated the United Nations Charter by invading and occupying a neighbouring State is trying to shift the Council’s focus with unfounded conspiracy theories. Libyan leaders must embrace a transparency mechanism that details State oil revenues and their allocation to ensure that they benefit the Libyan people, he added.
Albania’s representative, on that point, urged Libyan leaders to set aside their political differences, engage in serious dialogue and organize free, fair and credible elections. Those who are obstructing the political process simply to cling to power must be held to account, he said.
Ghana’s representative, speaking also on behalf of Kenya and Gabon, voiced concern about the growing number of African migrants facing atrocities in their attempts to cross the Mediterranean to Europe via Libya. Refugees, migrants and asylum seekers must be treated with dignity, as they are in other conflict situations worldwide. Echoing other delegations, he demanded the immediate withdrawal of foreign forces as well as mercenaries in Libya, highlighting the threat they pose to neighbouring States and the Sahel region.
India’s representative, pointing to a resurgence of terrorist activity, said terrorist groups and affiliated entities must not be allowed to operate unchallenged in Libya. Terrorism emanating from Libya is bound to have cascading effects in the Sahel region and it must be addressed to avoid collateral consequences on the wider African continent, he said.
Libya’s representative, taking the floor at the end of the meeting and emphasizing the need to act quickly to emerge from the political impasse, said several simultaneous actions are needed, starting with an end to all forms of foreign interference. While elections are not a solution in and of themselves, they are an important path towards ending the current crisis of legitimacy and finding solutions to challenges such as separation of powers, distribution of wealth and establishment of stability throughout Libya. There is no military solution, and the international community must promptly support the national will and voice of the Libyan people, he said.
Also speaking were representatives of the United Kingdom, Norway, Ireland, Brazil, France, United Arab Emirates, China and Mexico.
The meeting began at 10:02 a.m. and ended at 11:05 a.m.
ABDOULAYE BATHILY, Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Libya and Head of the United Nations Support Mission in Libya (UNSMIL), said that since his last briefing to the Council on 24 October, he has consulted with Libyan stakeholders from all regions of the country, including t1he Presidential Council, the High Council of State and other key actors. They have a moral and political responsibility to restore peace and stability, with the United Nations and the Mission providing their support, he said, adding that UNSMIL continues to provide technical assistance to the High National Elections Commission to maintain its readiness for elections once all political, legal and security conditions are met. He added that he is also engaging with representatives of the international community, including high-level officials from concerned countries on the margins of the Summit of the League of Arab States in Algiers, whose outcome document called for an end to the Libyan crisis through a Libyan-led solution that includes elections as soon as possible. “There appears to be broad agreement that Libya’s institutions are facing a serious legitimacy crisis, and that restoring that legitimacy across the board is of paramount importance,” he said, calling for the Council’s support in that regard.
There is growing recognition that some institutional players are hindering progress towards elections, he said, adding that their political will must be tested as 24 December — the first anniversary of the postponement of elections and the seventh anniversary of the Libyan Political Agreement — draws near. Further prolonging the interim period will make Libya even more vulnerable and even put it at risk of partition. The international community must encourage Libyan leaders to work towards the holding of elections as soon as possible, he said, urging the Council to send an unequivocal message to obstructionists that their actions will not go without consequences. Noting some progress on the security track, he said that a meeting in Sirte on 27 October of the 5+5 Libyan Joint Military Commission, the first in many months, agreed to establish a subcommittee for the disarmament, demobilization and reintegration of armed groups. Meanwhile, the ceasefire continues to hold, despite escalatory rhetoric and a build-up of forces, he said, urging the Council to impress upon all actors that recourse to violence and intimidation will not be accepted.
He voiced concern at a lack of progress in implementing the Joint Military Commission’s action plan for the withdrawal of mercenaries, foreign fighters and foreign forces, adding that a renewed focus on that effort is required. On the economic front, the lack of accountability and transparent equity in the allocation of resources remains a key cause of tensions, he said, welcoming the Council’s emphasis, in resolution 2656 (2022), on the importance of a Libyan-led mechanism to set spending priorities and ensure that oil and gas revenues are managed transparently and equitably.
The human rights situation in Libya remains alarming, he stressed, with the Mission continuing to document enforced disappearances, arbitrary detentions and ill treatment in detention facilities. Human rights violations against migrants and asylum seekers continue with impunity, he added, reiterating the urgent need to find rights-based alternatives to their detention. Migrants and refugees attempting to cross the Mediterranean from Libya are still being intercepted by Libyan authorities to be sent to detention centres where they suffer serious human rights abuses, he added, calling on Libyan authorities and neighbouring countries to uphold international standards related to safe search and rescue practices and ensure that intercepted persons are disembarked in a place of safety.
On the humanitarian front, he reported a 57 per cent decrease in the number of internally displaced persons since 2020, with the total now standing at 134,787. The Libyan authorities must speed up efforts to find durable solutions for those who remain internally displaced, he added. Going forward, UNSMIL aims to facilitate a conversation between key institutional players in Libya as a step towards overcoming differences and moving towards free and fair elections. “Their voices will be paramount on the way out of the crisis,” he said. “The accompanying support, and pressure, from the Council in particular and the international community at large, speaking with a united voice under the coordination of the United Nations, is likely to reap positive results.”
DMITRY A. POLYANSKIY (Russian Federation) said that despite relative calm on the ground, the situation in Libya is quite unstable. It requires sustained Council attention and that is why the Russian Federation insisted on calling today’s meeting. Noting increased attention in Western capitals in Libyan hydrocarbons, including the low cost of production, the high quality of Libyan oil and its proximity to European markets, he said that goal of turning Libya into a gas station to further Western interests is not new. Rather, it goes back to 2011 and the destruction of Libyan statehood by the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO). The United States views Libya’s political process through a prism of its economic interests to ensure that the situation does not undermine energy supplies to Europe, he added. Noting the possible existence of behind-the-scenes agreements with third countries on Libyan oil exports, he said that for Washington, D.C., the most important thing is to squeeze the Russian Federation out of the global oil market. Libyan oil revenues must be used to benefit the Libyan people, not to line the pockets of a few foreign businesspeople, but that does not fit with Western priorities, he said.
BARBARA WOODWARD (United Kingdom), reaffirming support for the Special Representative and his efforts to reinvigorate Libya’s stalled political process, reiterated that stability can only be achieved through a Libyan-owned and Libyan-led process, facilitated by the United Nations, which leads to parliamentary and presidential elections as soon as feasible. All Libyan parties must work with the Special Representative to achieve this and to deliver elections for the Libyan people. Expressing concern about reports that armed groups prevented a meeting of the High State Council in Tripoli on 14 November, she said that any attempt to obstruct civilian institutions from carrying out their responsibilities is unacceptable. She went on to reaffirm the United Kingdom’s commitment to working with Libya to secure peace, stability and prosperity, and welcomed the unanimous renewal of UNSMIL’s mandate as a sign of the Council’s support for the Mission.
MONA JUUL (Norway), welcoming the Special Representative’s consultations with a broad range of actors across Libya, said all parties must agree on a constitutional framework for free and fair elections as soon as possible. “Fulfilling the will of the Libyan people is more important than securing personal positions and privileges,” she said. Full implementation of the 2020 ceasefire agreement, including the withdrawal of mercenaries and foreign forces, is also critical for Libya’s stability. Expressing concern over the deteriorating human rights situation, she said that civil society representatives and human rights defenders must be protected. Greater efforts are also needed to stop conflict-related sexual violence, arbitrary arrests and detention, abductions and torture. She went on to call on all actors to engage constructively with the Special Representative in the political process.
FERGAL MYTHEN (Ireland), expressing appreciation for the Special Representative’s efforts, called on Libya’s leaders to come together and agree on a constitutional basis towards free, fair and inclusive elections as soon as possible. The goal should be the establishment of a unified Government, he said, urging meaningful engagement with civil society, especially women and youth. Welcoming last month’s meeting of the 5+5 Joint Military Commission in Sirte and the agreement to establish a subcommittee on armed groups, he echoed calls for full and expeditious implementation of the October 2020 ceasefire agreement. The unanimous 12-month renewal of UNSMIL’s mandate is a critical step towards enabling the Special Representative to fulfill his work with predictability and stability, he added.
RICHARD M. MILLS, Jr. (United States) called on Libyan leaders to meaningfully participate in free and fair elections as soon as possible, as there is no other viable path to unified governance. Progress must also be made towards fully implementing the 2020 ceasefire agreement, including the withdrawal of all foreign forces, fighters and mercenaries. Everyone must commit to reducing tensions, he said, adding that Libyan leaders must embrace a transparency mechanism that details State oil revenues and their allocation to ensure that they benefit the Libyan people. Rejecting the allegations made by the Russian Federation’s delegate, he expressed dismay that a Council member which has violated the United Nations Charter by invading and occupying a neighbouring State is trying to shift the Council’s focus with unfounded conspiracy theories. Libya’s leaders must shoulder their responsibility to achieve sustainable peace, good governance and prosperity and the United States will support them, he said.
JOÃO GENÉSIO DE ALMEIDA FILHO (Brazil) noted the important role that the Peacebuilding Commission can play to mobilize and coordinate international efforts. He also emphasized the importance of regional coordination, including between UNSMIL, other United Nations missions operating in the Sahel and the Political Dialogue Forum. Recalling the ongoing political standstill, he said that a political transition in Libya must be Libyan-led and Libyan-owned, including an agreement on a legal basis and timing for elections. He acknowledged the role of the African Union to pursue intra-Libyan dialogue, including on national reconciliation, free from interference motivated by foreign interests. He went on to echo concerns about the effectiveness of the arms embargo and the freezing of Libyan assets abroad, the active management of which in foreign countries contravenes relevant Security Council resolutions.
NICOLAS DE RIVIÈRE (France) said that Libya’s people have a right to security and sovereignty. Calling for the comprehensive implementation of the ceasefire agreement, he also stressed the importance of the arms embargo and the withdrawal of foreign forces, including foreign combatants and mercenaries from Libyan territory. He also highlighted the need for a new credible political road map towards presidential and parliamentary elections, saying it should include sound political and financial guarantees. Transparent and equitable redistribution of revenues for the benefit of the people as a whole is essential, he said, condemning the human rights violations perpetrated in Libya and welcoming the one-year renewal of UNSMIL’s mandate.
FERIT HOXHA (Albania), calling on all parties to show calm and restraint and to commit to United Nations-led mediation, said that it is high time to restore democratic legitimacy in Libya. Libyan leaders must set aside their political differences, engage in serious dialogue and organize free, fair and credible elections. Those who are obstructing the political process “simply to cling to power” must be held to account, he said, adding that international efforts to support the Libyan-led and -owned stabilization process must remain anchored under the Special Representative’s lead. He also called for a halt to harassment against civil society representatives and for the release of detainees.
RAVINDRA RAGUTTAHALLI (India) underscored the immediate priority of resolving all outstanding issues to arrive at a constitutional basis for free, fair, inclusive and credible presidential and parliamentary elections. Frequent mobilizations of armed groups and clashes between them bring into focus the dangers posed by foreign forces and mercenaries in violation of the 2020 ceasefire agreement. Recalling the military agreement signed by Turkey on 25 October, he requested the Council to examine whether it violated the arms embargo. He also expressed concern over the resurgence of terrorist activity, reiterating that terrorist groups and affiliated entities must not be allowed to operate unchallenged in Libya. Terrorism emanating from Libya is bound to have cascading effects in the Sahel region and it must be addressed to avoid collateral consequences on the wider African continent, he said.
Mohamed Issa Abushahab (United Arab Emirates) said the Council must build on the consensus and unity reflected in its renewal of UNSMIL’s mandate and to seriously consider reactivating initiatives, particularly the Berlin conference, that would include all concerned parties, most importantly the Libyan people. The Special Representative needs to be given sufficient time and space to work with all stakeholders to reach a comprehensive settlement, he added. “This means that the Council should discuss this file at the same pace outlined in Council resolution 2656 (2022) to give the Special Representative the opportunity to exercise his good offices.” He underscored the need to agree a constitutional basis for elections and welcomed the Special Representative’s efforts to bring together the members of the 5+5 Joint Military Commission. Concrete steps must be taken towards unifying military institutions, he said, renewing his call for the withdrawal of foreign forces, foreign fighters and mercenaries.
XING JISHENG (China) said all parties must remain calm and restrained, focus on a political solution and avoid actions that could increase tensions. Hopefully, the political will of the Libyan parties will be translated into practical actions, with agreement soon on outstanding issues related to the constitutional basis for elections. External interference is the major reason for the prolonged crisis in Libya, he said, urging the international community to put the leadership of the Libyan issue in the hands of the Libyan people and to avoid imposing external solutions. All foreign mercenaries should be withdrawn as soon as possible in a balanced and orderly manner. Moreover, all parties concerned should take the concerns of neighbouring countries into consideration, strengthen communications and consultations, and carry out coordinated regional actions to avoid increasing regional security risks, he said.
JUAN RAMÓN DE LA FUENTE RAMÍREZ (Mexico), noting the lack of progress in the pending issues, said the Council must reflect on the conditions necessary to bring peace back to Libya. The Council has adopted several measures, including sanctions, the arms embargo and the creation of UNSMIL in 2011, yet every month there are still migrants who find themselves shipwrecked on the Mediterranean. “To emerge from the current political impasse, we depend on the will of actors who gain the most from the current status quo.” He expressed concern at the undue interference of some countries which use opportunistic partnerships to advance their geopolitical interests, saying that such maneuvers are deepening the conflict. Highlighting the need to scrupulously respect the arms embargo, he also stressed the need to organize elections as soon as possible and ensure that the electoral process involves all elements of civil society.
HAROLD ADLAI AGYEMAN (Ghana), speaking also on behalf of Kenya and Gabon, recalled the Council meeting on 24 October, during which members welcomed the stability and space that a substantive year-long renewal would provide the Special Representative. It would be more meaningful to allow sufficient space for the Special Representative to engage in-depth in the peace process, he said, adding that a briefing on that topic would lead to a more impactful discussion. Acknowledging the magnitude of work that lies ahead, he said that national dialogue and inclusive national reconciliation must be mainstreamed throughout the peace process. Expressing concern about recurrent outbreaks of violence among rival armed groups in and around Tripoli, he called on all armed groups to cease their violence, especially within areas of civilian residences and activities. Moreover, all Libyan leaders, particularly those who control armed groups, must exercise maximum restraint.
TAHER M. T. ELSONNI (Libya), noting that only three weeks have passed since the Council was last briefed on the situation in Libya, said that there are not many new developments to report. While several briefings and political analyses have been presented, there have been no concrete results and hopefully this dynamic will change as soon as possible. The Special Representative’s briefing and Council members’ statements all confirm the importance of acting quickly to emerge from the political impasse in Libya, he said, reiterating the need for the Council and the international community to respect the Libyan people’s desire and will for stability. To this end, several simultaneous actions are needed. The first is ending all forms of foreign interference, which has exacerbated problems in Libya. He underscored the importance of national ownership, noting that some States are imposing solutions made to measure to their own desires.
He went on to stress the need to end all foreign presence on Libyan territory, regardless of name or form. Further, the international community must sustain national efforts to emerge from the conflict cycle through real, comprehensive national reconciliation, without repeating the mistakes of the past. International efforts must start with support for consensus to hold elections as soon as possible, based on constitutional and electoral guarantees that no party will be discriminated against or marginalized. While elections are not a solution in and of themselves, they are an important path towards ending the current crisis of legitimacy and finding solutions to challenges such as separation of powers, distribution of wealth and establishment of stability throughout Libya. He added that there is no military solution and that the international community must promptly support the national will and voice of the Libyan people.