One Year after Failing to Hold Elections, Libya’s Situation Deteriorating, Special Representative Warns Security Council, Calling for Action Towards Electoral Track
Stressing Solution Lies in Respecting Libyan Sovereignty, Country Representative Says Council Did Not Condemn Those Who Thwarted Elections
Almost one year after the failure to hold elections, the situation in Libya is deteriorating on all fronts, the senior United Nations official in that country warned the Security Council today, calling for stakeholders and leaders to take urgent action to revive the electoral track, put aside own interests and restore the path to stability.
Abdoulaye Bathily, Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Libya and Head of the United Nations Support Mission in Libya (UNSMIL), reported that he has continued to dialogue with Libyan stakeholders and international partners to revive the electoral track in accordance with Council resolution 2656 (2022). He also undertook a tour of the region to meet with regional partners Türkiye, Qatar, United Arab Emirates, Egypt and Tunisia, seeking continued support for UNSMIL. However, the first important step, he stressed, is to afford the 2.8 million Libyans registered to vote the opportunity to select their country’s future leaders for a new era for Libya, its neighbours and the region.
To that end, he has urged the leaders of the House of Representatives and the High Council of State to rise above personal and group interests, and work towards finalizing the constitutional basis for elections, he continued. The international community is already witnessing the signs of partition with two parallel governments, separate security apparatuses, a divided central bank, the decision by the House of Representatives to establish a constitutional court in Benghazi and growing discontent over unequal allocation of huge oil and gas revenues.
Still, despite the political impasse, the security and military track has demonstrated a stronger will to unify the country’s security institutions under the leadership of the 5+5 Joint Military Commission, he said, adding that the ceasefire continues to hold, despite the situation remaining tense and unpredictable. He also called for laws that would provide protection for women and girl victims of violence and spotlighted the decision by the Government of National Unity to provide children of Libyan women, married to non-Libyans, access to basic services such as education and health, along with waived visa requirements for their children. This, he noted, was a step in the right direction.
Ruchira Kamboj (India), Chair of the Security Council Committee established pursuant to resolution 1970 (2011) concerning Libya, also briefed the Council, presenting the Committee’s forty-seventh report covering the period from 31 August to 16 December. She gave detailed reports on vessel inspections, the asset freeze, sanctions list and travel ban measures, including a six-month exemption request granted for humanitarian purposes to three individuals on the Committee’s list: Safia Farkash Al‑Barassi, Ms. Al‑Qadhafi and Mohammed Al‑Qadhafi.
In the ensuing debate, Member States agreed that the situation is critical and urgently requires political, security and financial progress, while differing on the role of the international community in finding a way out of the enduring crisis.
Kenya’s delegate, also speaking for Gabon and Ghana, emphasized that for the peace process to be Libyan-led and -owned, the international community should desist from dictating solutions which are tantamount to foreign interference. International assistance is important but should not feed on the ongoing political impasse to further divide Libyans and advance a foreign agenda. As Libya is inextricably linked with her neighbours at every level, neighbouring States and regional and subregional organizations must coordinate with the United Nations-led process.
Echoing those sentiments, the Russian Federation’s delegate noted that leading political forces in Libya are seeking support from the outside and promising external players that their interests in the country will be guaranteed — hardly what ordinary Libyans deserve. The Mission must intensify its work as an impartial mediator and the parties must uphold their ceasefire commitments and refrain from postponing the unification of the armed forces. National oil revenues should be distributed fairly and transparently, he added. Otherwise, the Libyan people could again fall victim to the duplicitous policies of Western countries.
Albania’s delegate, citing the cancelled elections, stressed: “All this is wrong, disappointing, bad, counterproductive and just feeds in the never-ending frustrating impasse that Libyan leaders have made their refuge.” Only elections will provide legitimacy to the leaders and unify the country. Special interests should be set aside and common ground found to hold elections as soon as possible. The Libyan people have grown increasingly resentful of the corruption and benefits enjoyed by the few, whilst many live in poverty. The Council should call for all international partners to avoid interference and obstruction.
The representative of the United Kingdom also expressed disappointment over the lack of progress towards a legal and constitutional basis for elections, adding that the continued inability of the House of Representatives and High State Council to deliver this undermines their credibility. The Council should collectively pressure Libya’s political leaders to agree on an achievable basis for free, fair and inclusive parliamentary and presidential elections without further delay. All Libyan parties to must ensure that civil society actors — including women activists and peacebuilders — can continue their roles safely and unhindered.
The representative of Libya noted that almost 3 million voters had been looking forward to a democratic celebration of a way out of the bottleneck of conflicts. Unfortunately, the Libyan people were deprived of their historic duty and the Council was unable to condemn those who thwarted those elections. The country has thus entered a tunnel of despair, he said, questioning if the Council is serious about getting out of that vicious circle. The international community must support national efforts towards a constitutional basis for conducting parliamentary and presidential elections as soon as possible.
He emphasized that elections should be a means, and not an end, to prevent the deterioration of institutions. He highlighted the recent initiative by the Presidential Council to sponsor dialogue with the House of Representatives and the High State Council to consult on the constitutional framework and a timetable establishing the electoral entitlement of all Libyans. Certain States are trying to be manipulative and attempting to embezzle frozen Libyan assets, he warned, further requesting the delisting of certain citizens who are on the sanctions list, stressing that the solution to the crisis lies in ending any foreign intervention and respecting Libyan sovereignty.
Also speaking were the representatives of China, Mexico, Brazil, France, Ireland, Norway, United Arab Emirates, United States and India.
The meeting began at 10:06 a.m. and ended at 11:43 a.m.
ABDOULAYE BATHILY, Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Libya and Head of the United Nations Support Mission in Libya (UNSMIL), noted that since his last Security Council briefing on 15 November, he has continued to dialogue with Libyan stakeholders and international partners to advance the political process and revive the electoral track in accordance with Security Council resolution 2656 (2022). He undertook a tour of the region to meet with regional partners Türkiye, Qatar, United Arab Emirates, Egypt and Tunisia, seeking continued support for UNSMIL efforts to help the Libyan leaders overcome their differences and resolve the legitimacy crisis of the interim institutions that have been in place for too long. He reiterated that the first important step on the path to legitimacy, security and sustained stability is to afford the 2.8 million Libyans registered to vote the opportunity to select their country’s future leaders for a new era for Libya, its neighbours and the region.
He went on to say that he has urged the leaders of the House of Representatives and the High Council of State to rise above personal and group interests and, instead, work constructively towards finalizing the constitutional basis for elections, within a well-defined time frame. Following repeated calls to the Speaker of the House of Representatives and the President of the High State Council to meet in Libya to demonstrate to all Libyans their willingness to initiate dialogue in earnest to find a way out of the crisis, Agila Saleh and Khalid al-Mishri agreed to meet under United Nations auspices on 4 December. Regrettably, the meeting had to be postponed due to logistical reasons and emerging political obstacles, he said, adding that he is working to identify a new date and location in Libya for this meeting to take place.
He urged the Council and all those who have convening power to support UNSMIL efforts to bring Libyan political leaders back to the negotiating table and to prevent a further deterioration of the situation. The protracted crisis in Libya significantly impacts people’s well-being, compromises their security and threatens their very existence. The international community is already witnessing the signs of the partition with two parallel governments, separate security apparatuses, a divided central bank, the decision by the House of Representatives to establish a constitutional court in Benghazi in the east of the country in the absence of an agreed Constitution and the growing discontent in all the regions over the unequal allocation of the huge oil and gas revenues. Political leaders of all sides are to be held responsible of these disturbing developments for the future of the country, he stressed.
In contrast to their political counterparts, he pointed out that, under the leadership of the 5+5 Joint Military Commission, the security and military track has demonstrated a stronger will to make progress towards the implementation of the ceasefire agreement and to unify the country’s security institutions. The ceasefire continues to hold and there have been no violations recorded since his last briefing, despite the reported build-up of forces on both sides, he reported. The situation, however, remains tense and unpredictable. Following up on its previous meeting held in Sirte on 27 October, he noted that the Security Working Group discussed and agreed to the establishment of a disarmament, demobilization and reintegration sub-committee of the Commission, in accordance with the fourth provision of the ceasefire agreement. Further, the proliferation of weapons under the control of various State and non-State actors and the presence of foreign fighters, foreign forces and mercenaries continue to pose a serious challenge to the safety and security of Libyans and undermines efforts to unify the country’s security institutions. This year, 39 people have been killed and maimed in explosive remnants of war incidents, including 11 children. About 76 per cent of those affected were civilians. In addition, the Mission continues to observe a systematic campaign by Libyan security actors attempting to undermine and silence civil society, humanitarian actors, human rights defenders and political activists, including women and youth.
He also called for the adoption of laws that would provide protection for women and girl victims of violence, as it is not an isolated phenomenon and its prevalent occurrence is enabled by Libya’s institutional fragmentation and inadequate legal frameworks. However, he spotlighted the decision by the Government of National Unity to provide children of Libyan women, married to non-Libyans, access to basic services such as education and health, along with waived visa requirements for their children. This is a step in the right direction that needs further consolidation through adopting relevant laws and strengthening institutions. He further called on Libyan authorities to facilitate the renewal of registration of international nongovernmental humanitarian organizations and expedite visa approvals for their staff operating in Libya. “Together we must resolve to help the Libyans to mark the year 2023 the year of the beginning of a new era through the rise of legitimate institutions”, he stressed.
RUCHIRA KAMBOJ (India), Chair of the Security Council Committee established pursuant to resolution 1970 (2011) concerning Libya, presented its forty-seventh report covering the period from 31 August to 16 December, during which time the Committee met once in informal consultations and conducted additional work by silence procedure. During the informal consultations held on 4 November, the Committee heard a briefing by the Panel of Experts on its work programme under resolution 2644 (2022), and then held an interactive discussion with the Panel. A press release was issued in this regard. (Please see Press Release SC/15112.)
In relation to the arms embargo, she said the Committee approved a request for exemption under paragraph 9(c) of resolution 1970 (2011) submitted by Malta. The Committee received a vessel inspection report from the European Union Naval Force Mediterranean Operation IRINI, which refers to the seizure of cargo and on which the Committee expects a second report to be submitted, she said, reporting that the Committee members expressed varying views on the seizure of the cargo. The Committee also received a report on an attempted vessel inspection. It further received two letters from the Panel of Experts concerning the seized cargo and correspondence submitted by a Member State concerning the application of the exception to the arms embargo under paragraph 13(a) of resolution 2009 (2011), as modified by paragraph 10 of resolution 2095 (2013), to the seized cargo.
With respect to the assets freeze, she said the Committee dispatched a letter to Bahrain in relation to a previously reported notification invoking paragraph 21 of resolution 1970 (2011). It received a note verbale from Türkiye on the scope of the claims provision set out in paragraph 27 of resolution 1973 (2011), to which it responded. The Committee also responded to a letter from Mauritius providing clarification on the Committee’s Implementation Assistance Notices related to the assets freeze, after considering technical inputs provided by the Panel of Experts on the matter. The Committee responded to Libya on the same topic as well. Additionally, members of the Committee met at a technical working level to further discuss two assets freeze-related recommendations contained in the final report of the Panel of Experts under the previous mandate (document S/2022/427). Thereafter the Committee agreed to dispatch a note verbale to all Member States on the Panel recommendation regarding negative interest rates in connection with frozen assets.
Regarding the travel ban measure, she referred to the previously reported travel notification from Aisha Al‑Qadhafi for travel to Italy, under the six-month extension to the exemption from the travel ban granted for humanitarian purposes. Owing to technical issues, the Chair’s previous report inadvertently omitted that Italy, as the country of destination, had already notified the Committee on the matter within the required notification time frame. Subsequently, a communication was also received from a representative of Aisha Al‑Qadhafi confirming her return to Oman. During the reporting period, the Committee extended for a fourth time the six-month exemption request granted for humanitarian purposes to three individuals on the Committee’s list: Safia Farkash Al‑Barassi, Ms. Al‑Qadhafi and Mohammed Al-Qadhafi.
With regard to the sanctions list, the Committee received an eighth communication from the focal point for delisting established pursuant to resolution 1730 (2006), in connection with the delisting request of a listed individual, she said, adding that the focal point process is still ongoing. The Committee dispatched a note verbale to all Member States in follow-up paragraph 8 of resolution 2644 (2022), in which the Security Council called upon them to report to the Committee on the steps they had taken to implement effectively the travel ban and asset freeze measures in relation to all individuals on the Libya sanctions list. In this regard, the Committee received three implementation reports from Bahrain, Malta and Moldova. Noting that it was likely she would be addressing the Council as Chair of the 1970 Sanctions Committee for the last time, she thanked Committee members for the support they provided during the last two years.
BARBARA WOODWARD (United Kingdom) welcomed the Special Representative’s clear message to Libya’s political elite that they are blocking progress and must urgently agree on a path forward. She also noted with disappointment the lack of progress towards agreement on a legal and constitutional basis for elections. The continued inability of the House of Representatives and High State Council to deliver this undermines their credibility, she said. Collective pressure should be put by the Council on Libya’s political leaders to agree on an achievable basis for free, fair and inclusive parliamentary and presidential elections without further delay. She also said that she remained deeply concerned by reports of increased restrictions and decreased operating space for civil society organizations. In that regard, she called on all Libyan parties to ensure that civil society actors, including women activists and peacebuilders, can continue their roles safely and unhindered.
MARTIN KIMANI (Kenya), also speaking for Gabon and Ghana, emphasized that for the peace process to truly be Libyan-led and owned, the international community should desist from dictating solutions which are tantamount to foreign interference. He also called for the departure of foreign forces, foreign fighters and mercenaries from Libya. Intra-Libyan dialogue is critical and should include all Libyan stakeholders. International assistance is important but should be channelled in a manner that does not feed on the ongoing political impasse to further divide Libyans and advance foreign agenda on Libyan soil.
As Libya is inextricably linked with her neighbours historically, culturally, economically and politically, the role of neighbouring States and regional and subregional organizations is critical, he continued. To that end, he underlined the necessity of their active coordination and collaboration with the United Nations-led process. He also spotlighted the inhumane treatment of migrants, refugees and asylum seekers which continues unabated despite repeated calls for further action to tackle it. Given the magnitude of this issue, support for border and migration management programmes on the northern frontier of the African continent needs to have international transparency and corresponding systems of accountability. He demanded that refugees, migrants and asylum seekers be treated with dignity as a basic requirement of international law.
GENG SHUANG (China), noting that elections have been postponed for nearly a year, expressed hope that all parties will put the interests of the country and the Libyan people first, avoid actions that might complicate the situation, and restart dialogue and negotiations as soon as possible. The top priority should be an agreement on the constitutional basis for elections. Citing the Special Representative’s work to re-establish political progress, he called on the international community to support a Libyan-led and Libyan-owned process, respect the country’s sovereignty and territorial integrity and avoid imposing external solutions. While the ceasefire is holding, the security situation remains tense and fragile, he said, calling for maximum restraint by all parties to maintain the hard-won peace. All foreign mercenaries and combatants should be withdrawn as soon as possible in an orderly manner, he added.
JOSÉ DE JESÚS CISNEROS CHÁVEZ (Mexico) said parliamentary and presidential elections are the only way to move forward towards unifying Libya’s institutions. Economic and security reforms are important, but current institutions face structural problems. Only the popular vote will make it possible to renew the State’s authority and extend it across the country, he said, urging the Special Representative and Libyan parties to continue dialogue and for political actors to overcome differences over the electoral framework. He insisted on the need for stronger regional cooperation to implement the arms embargo and stop weapons trafficking towards the Sahel and North Africa. He went on to condemn abuses faced by migrants and refugees, deplored violence against female activists and the reduction of civic space, and called on the Libyan authorities to cooperate with the International Criminal Court and the Independent Fact-Finding Mission on Libya.
THIAGO BRAZ JARDIM OLIVEIRA (Brazil) emphasized the need for Council unity beyond calling for elections and for coordinated international efforts under the auspices of appropriate United Nations agencies, alongside UNSMIL’s mediating role. He stressed the importance of enforcing the arms embargo in a transparent and non-discriminatory manner, adding that the fact that only one regional organization is inspected vessels raises the need for neutrality and impartiality. On the withdrawal of foreign forces and mercenaries, he said the relevant parties must act in line with Council resolutions 2647 (2022) and 2656 (2022). He went on to reiterate concern about the active management of Libyan assets frozen abroad and their possible loss of value, saying that some national policies, used in commercial banking, may contradict the aim of preserving those assets for the benefit of the Libyan people.
NATHALIE BROADHURST (France) said the promise made to the Libyan people of a return to democracy remains a “dead letter”, stressing that the first prerequisite is the creation of a unified Libyan Government that is able to organize credible presidential and legislative elections across the territory and able to govern for all, everywhere. An agreement on a legal and constitutional basis must lead to a new, credible road map for elections to take place, she said, emphasizing that the absence of corruption and the acceptance of the results by all are key in this process. The Libyan authorities must be up to these challenges and support the 5+5 Joint Military Commission. A continued commitment is essential to respecting the arms embargo and the withdrawal of all foreign fighters and mercenaries from Libyan territory. There must be equitable and transparent redistribution of wealth, to the benefit of the population as a whole. Restrictions on the freedom of expression and of civil society are deplored. Such organizations must be able to conduct their humanitarian and development activities. She underscored her support for the mediation efforts of the Special Representative and called for all actors to support a unified and democratic Libya.
FERGAL MYTHEN (Ireland) expressed regret that, since the postponement of Libya’s planned presidential and parliamentary elections last December, “we have not seen the progress required to bring us back to the ballot box”. The prolonged divide over executive power is troubling, and political and institutional divisions may become even more entrenched. All Libyan leaders must come together and agree on a constitutional basis for the holding of free, fair and inclusive elections as soon as possible. Echoing the Special Representative, he said that Libyan women have a critical role to play in Libya’s journey to stability and the full, equal, meaningful and safe participation of women and youth in Libya’s political, economic and security sectors must be secured. He also expressed concern that, while the ceasefire continues to hold, the protracted political stalemate and the prominence of politically-aligned militias will lead to deeper instability and conflict. Welcoming the continued work of the 5+5 Joint Military Commission — a key enabler of the ceasefire agreement — he underscored that unifying the military and security architecture is a critical aspect of any sustainable solution.
DMITRY A. POLYANSKIY (Russian Federation) said that leading political forces in Libya are seeking support from the outside and promising external players that their interests in Libya will be guaranteed once competitors are overcome. This is hardly what ordinary Libyans deserve, he said, stressing the need to agree on a draft for a future Constitution and to conduct inclusive elections. However, as it seems that Libyan politicians are not interested in compromise, the United Nations’ role is now more relevant than ever. He called on UNSMIL to intensify its work as an impartial mediator, and for the parties to uphold their ceasefire commitments and refrain from postponing the unification of the armed forces. Further, all non-Libyan armed groups and military units must withdraw from the country. National oil revenues should be distributed fairly and transparently, he added. Otherwise, the Libyan people could again fall victim to the duplicitous policies of Western countries, who are ready to disregard a comprehensive, long-term settlement if doing so serves their geopolitical and commercial interests.
MONA JUUL (Norway) stressed that it was important that all sides agree on a consensual way forward to preserve the country’s unity and stability. She also noted the positive step of the 5+5 Joint Military Commission agreeing to resume their work and move forward with the implementation of the ceasefire agreement, notably with the establishment of a technical sub-committee on disarmament, demobilization, and reintegration. However, she said she remained concerned by reports of arbitrary arrests, detentions, and the sentencing of civil society members for exercising their right to freedom of expression and underlined the importance of an independent judicial system. She called on the Libyan authorities to fulfil their obligations to protect human rights and encouraged all parties to show restraint, avoid any escalatory actions or rhetoric and adopt a sense of urgency in resolving this conflict through peaceful solutions.
FERIT HOXHA (Albania), noting that almost one year has passed since 24 Dec 2021, when elections were called off, stressed: “All this is wrong, disappointing, bad, counterproductive and just feeds in the never-ending frustrating impasse that Libyan leaders have made their refuge.” Only elections will provide legitimacy to the leaders and open the path to unify the country. Special interests should be set aside and common ground found to hold elections as soon as possible. The constitutional basis must be finalized towards having a neutral Government that can hold free and fair elections. The Libyan people have grown increasingly resentful of the corruption and benefits enjoyed by the few, whilst many live in poverty. Time is of the essence. That the 2020 ceasefire is still holding is positive. The re-energized efforts for the withdrawal of foreign combatants and mercenaries are also a positive and necessary step. The Security Council should call for all international partners to avoid interference and obstruction. The Libyan people do not deserve to wait endlessly. They deserve a free country. This process starts with elections.
MOHAMED ISSA ABUSHAHAB (United Arab Emirates) encouraged the Libyan parties to overcome the remaining differences and suggested that engagement with the Special Representative be intensified. He stressed the importance of ensuring full, equal and meaningful participation of Libyan women in the political process, underscored the need for national reconciliation and called once again for a gradual and parallel withdrawal of foreign forces and mercenaries. For their part, military leaders and the 5+5 Joint Military Commission should unify all security institutions to prevent the illegal proliferation of weapons. Libya is rich in natural resources, but it faces ongoing challenges which include a lack of access to education and health care as well as delays in salary payments. He reiterated the United Arab Emirates’ support for the Sustainable Development Cooperation Framework and the United Nations’ efforts to provide vaccines to all parts of Libya, and especially for children.
ROBERT A. WOOD (United States) supported the Special Representative’s efforts to help Libyan leaders solve Libyan problems in Libya. However, the country’s oil resources continue to be manipulated, as revenue is diverted to fund militias in the country’s east and west instead of being used to benefit the Libyan people through the building of infrastructure, the promotion of a diversified economy or the provision of healthcare and education. Further, technocrats are being sidelined in favour of a rotating cast of cronies, and phony legal justifications are being used in an attempt to close State institutions to subvert their authority. Questioning where all this leaves Libya, he said that Libyan stakeholders must engage in good-faith discussions — facilitated by the Special Representative and UNSMIL — to establish a Constitutional framework and timeline for presidential and parliamentary elections. “It is time to set aside the ambition that has frozen Libya for years,” he said, adding that finalizing a revenue-management mechanism should help reduce opportunities for personal enrichment and access to funds for personal security arrangements.
RUCHIRA KAMBOJ (India), Council President for December, speaking in her national capacity, said all actors must resume their cooperation in order to overcome the political deadlock. Holding elections at the earliest in a free, fair, inclusive, and credible manner is an urgent imperative. She voiced concern about the continued presence of foreign forces and mercenaries in Libya, in violation of the Council’s multiple pronouncements. Their frequent mobilizations and clashes bring to focus the dangers they pose to Libya’s security and stability. Also voicing concern about the resurgence of terrorist activities in the country, she stressed that terrorist groups and affiliated entities must not be allowed to operate unchallenged. As terrorism emanating from Libya is bound to have cascading effects in the Sahel region, the international community must address it at its current stage to avoid its collateral consequences on the wider African continent. The political process in Libya should be fully Libyan-led and Libyan-owned with no imposition or external interference, she added.
TAHER M. T. ELSONNI (Libya) noted that next week marks the anniversary of elections that were not held. Almost 3 million voters had been looking forward to a democratic celebration of a way out of the bottleneck of conflicts. Unfortunately, the Libyan people were deprived of their historic duty and the Council was unable to condemn those who thwarted those elections. The country has thus entered a tunnel of despair, facing an intense impasse, he said, questioning if the Council is serious about getting out of that vicious circle. The mistakes of the past must not be repeated while expecting different results. Statements made today are just a narrative of events — a diagnosis with no medication or healing, while the illness persists. The international community must support national Libyan efforts towards a constitutional basis for conducting parliamentary and presidential elections as soon as possible and spare no efforts or resources to end the transitional periods.
Elections should be a means, and not an end, to prevent the deterioration of institutions, as Libyans are tired of that situation, he emphasized, calling for support to bring all Libyan stakeholders around one table. In that regard, he highlighted the recent initiative by the Presidential Council to sponsor dialogue with the House of Representatives and the High State Council to consult on the constitutional framework and a timetable establishing the electoral entitlement of all Libyans. He also urged support for the 5+5 Joint Military Commission, which met last week in Tunis with the Security Action Group to discuss security reform and towards an end of the presence of all foreign military troops. These steps aim to stabilize the situation as there is no military solution to the crisis in Libya. More so, certain States are trying to be manipulative and attempting to embezzle frozen Libyan assets, he warned, stressing that every single person who attempts such transgressions will be held accountable. He further requested the delisting of certain citizens who are on the sanctions list, stressing that the solution to the crisis lies in ending any foreign intervention and respecting Libyan sovereignty.