Successful Elections in Libya Hinge on Legal Framework, Political Agreement among All Stakeholders, Special Representative Tells Security Council
A senior United Nations official today told the Security Council — intent on ensuring Libya’s progress towards elections later this year to unify the country’s divided Government — that success hinges on a legal framework and a political agreement involving all stakeholders.
“The political process in Libya has once again reached a critical stage,” said Abdoulaye Bathily, Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Libya and Head of the United Nations Support Mission in Libya (UNSMIL). He pledged to intensify negotiations towards agreement as prolonging the status quo is “detrimental and a disaster for Libya and its neighbours”. Stakeholders have had mixed reactions to the work of the 6+6 Committee of Libya’s House of Representatives and High Council of State — the body charged with drafting electoral laws to enable presidential and parliamentary elections by year’s end.
While indicating progress and enabling the participation of women in several Government positions, the electoral law needs more work, he said. Steps are crucial to agree on the eligibility criteria for presidential candidates and the formation of a new Government — both longstanding and highly contentious issues. Without compromise, he warned, polarization and destabilization will expand. He acknowledged the renewed commitment to advance human rights in Libya while observing an excessive increase of security actors restricting fundamental rights such as freedom of assembly and freedom of movement.
Echoing concerns about the country’s human rights situation, Abeir Imneina, Head of Washm Centre for Women’s Studies, said that current conditions in Libya are marked by a proliferation of weapons, weak institutions and multiple forms of extremism. There is a political deadlock due to repeated postponements of elections, especially parliamentary elections, and an unacceptable postponement of the referendum on the draft constitution to end the transitional stages.
She painted a grim picture of civil society’s reality in Libya, stressing that it suffers from the dominance of national institutions over its right to work under existing legislation. Outlining solutions, she called for a law regulating the establishment and work of civil society organizations and preventing dominance by any authority over its activities and rights.
Also briefing the Council today was Ishikane Kimihiro (Japan), in his capacity as Chair of the Council Committee established pursuant to resolution 1970 (2011) concerning Libya. He detailed the Committee’s work from 19 April to 19 June 2023. The update for the two-month period covered the arms embargo and measures to prevent the illicit exports of petroleum, including crude oil and refined petroleum products from Libya. He also discussed the travel ban, including six-month exemptions for certain individuals for humanitarian purposes, and requests for the delisting of two individuals from the sanctions list. In addition, the Committee is reviewing a letter from the Panel of Experts — which assists the Committee in carrying out its mandate — on the Panel’s planned travels to the country.
In the ensuing debate, Council members urged officials to advance the country’s political process and give the Libyan people the political and economic stability they deserve.
The United Kingdom’s delegate noted the 6+6 Committee’s hard work to draft electoral laws. Yet the mixed reception to their announcement shows the need for broader political agreement between Libyan power-holders. This can help the international community overcome the issues preventing elections and help the country achieve long-term stability, she said.
The Russian Federation’s representative urged Libyan leaders to put aside their differences and secure a lasting peace and stability. The north African region continues to suffer from the tragic consequences of 2011 and international support must focus on support for an electoral process that is transparent and includes representatives of the former Government. “Libyans are literally one step away from the breakthrough that is needed,” he emphasized.
The representative of Mozambique, also speaking for Gabon and Ghana, strongly condemned the presence of foreign forces on Libyan soil, which undermines the country’s territorial integrity and its ownership of the peace process. He was also concerned with the political crisis’ impact on the country’s macroeconomic indicators and citizens’ access to essential services. He reminded the Council that Libya’s frozen assets belong to Libyans and must be protected and preserved for the Libyan people.
Concluding the discussion, the speaker for Libya said the country’s long-term stability must be guaranteed and that requires resolving all outstanding issues before the 6+6 Committee. An enabling environment must be created to lay down a timeline for presidential and parliamentary elections later this year. These elections must be fair and transparent without marginalizing anyone. The experiences of the past must be avoided, he said, adding “the Libyan people are tired.”
He welcomed the United Nations intention to help ensure free and fair elections and called for an end to any foreign presence on Libyan territory. He noted that sanctions, especially the assets freeze, have become politicized over the last 12 years and the Panel of Experts’ decisions have been used to control the country’s financial institutions. While not asking the 1970 Sanctions Committee to lift the freeze, his delegation requests the freedom to manage Libya’s own assets.
The meeting began at 10:03 a.m. and ended at 12:06 p.m.
ABDOULAYE BATHILY, Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Libya and Head of the United Nations Support Mission in Libya (UNSMIL), updated the Council on progress of consultations with a wide range of actors and stakeholders aimed at carrying out secure and credible elections. Regarding the 6+6 Committee of the House of Representatives and High Council of State, which is dedicated to finalizing electoral laws, there has been “a flurry of mixed reactions” among stakeholders. While they acknowledge that the proposed law represents real progress, there is concern about shortcomings. Four issues have been identified: the eligibility of criteria for candidates for the presidential election; the provision for a mandatory second round for a presidential election even if a candidate secures more than 50 per cent of votes required to win; the provision stipulating that in the first round of the presidential elections phase the parliamentary elections will not take place; and the provision requiring the establishment of a new Government before elections occur.
As a result of intensive advocacy, the proposed law has made it possible for women to secure several Government positions, but more remains to be done, he said. The eligibility of criteria for candidate in the presidential elections and the issue of forming a new Government require a political agreement among all stakeholders. It is crucial that steps are taken to overcome these longstanding issues, he stressed, warning that without such compromises, further polarization and destabilization will arise. On the security front, Tripoli has remained relatively calm. He recalled, however, that conducting military operations in an urban-like setting presents many risks and reiterated calls on the Libyan military to protect Libya’s civilian population. He also expressed deep concern over the conflict south of Libya’s border in Sudan, underscoring that spillover effects risk further destabilizing Libya.
While there has also been renewed commitment to advance human rights in Libya, he said he also observed an excessive increase of security actors restricting fundamental rights such as freedom of assembly and freedom of movement. New restrictions for civil society and on women’s freedom of movement are particularly alarming in a country that is working to hold fair, credible elections. “The political process in Libya has once again reached a critical stage,” he said. Successful elections require not only a legal framework but also a political agreement that guarantees the inclusion of all stakeholders. He pledged to intensify negotiations to that end. Prolonging the status quo is “detrimental and a disaster for Libya and its neighbours”, he stressed.
ISHIKANE KIMIHIRO (Japan), in his capacity as Chair of the Security Council Committee established pursuant to resolution 1970 (2011) concerning Libya, presented the report covering the 19 April to 19 June 2023 period. Regarding the arms embargo, he said the Committee responded to a letter from the European Union regarding an exception in paragraph 9 of resolution 2095 (2013). The Committee is also considering a letter from Libya, submitted in response to a previous Committee letter, on certain aspects of implementing the arms embargo. On measures to prevent illicit exports of petroleum, including crude oil and refined petroleum products from Libya, he said the Committee sent a letter to Libya on the subject of the Libyan Government focal point, pursuant to resolution 2146 (2014). Regarding the assets freeze, no negative decision was taken by the Committee regarding a notification, invoking paragraph 19 (a) of resolution 1970 (2011), submitted by the United Kingdom. The Committee also clarified the scope of the assets freeze, as requested by Belgium.
Turning to the travel ban, he said the Committee received a travel notification from Aisha Qadhafi, a listed individual, for travel from Oman to Saudi Arabia, under a travel exemption granted previously for unlimited travel within a six-month period for humanitarian purposes. Subsequently, the Committee received a letter from Saudi Arabia, the country of destination, notifying on the matter, and a communication from the individual confirming her return to Oman. During the reporting period, the Committee extended, for a fifth time, the six-month exemption granted for humanitarian purposes to three individuals on the Committee’s list: Safia Farkash Al-Barassi, Ms. Qadhafi and Mohammed Qadhafi.
Regarding the sanctions list, he said the Committee received a ninth communication from the focal point for delisting, established pursuant to resolution 1730 (2006), on the delisting request submitted by a listed individual, conveying the position of the county of citizenship. He said that while the de-listing process through the focal point is ongoing, Libya also submitted a separate de-listing request for the same individual. During the reporting period, the Committee also received a request for de-listing from the travel ban, through the focal point, from a second listed individual, whose name is on the Committee’s sanctions list and subject to the assets freeze and travel ban measures.
During the reporting period, the Committee is considering a letter received from the Panel of Experts on Libya on its future planned travels to Libya.
ABEIR IMNEINA, Head of Washm Centre for Women’s Studies, stressed the urgent priorities of civil society to “establish a real and sustainable stability in Libya” by creating a climate that guarantees freedom of work and expression and contributes to development and reconstruction and strengthening social peace. The current scene in Libya is marked by proliferation of weapons, weak institutions and multiple forms of extremism; a political deadlock due to repeated postponements of elections, especially parliamentary elections; unacceptable postponement of the referendum on the draft constitution to end the transitional stages; an imbalanced demographic composition in south Libya due to lack of control over southern borders and foreign interferences in Libya’s sovereignty; and overlapping political and governance corruption with security corruption opposing any electoral processes.
Against this backdrop, she painted a grim picture of civil society’s reality in Libya, stressing that it suffers from the dominance of national institutions over its right to work under existing legislations. This has not only shrunk the space for civil freedom as stipulated in the Interim Constitutional Declaration, but also affected the freedoms of expression and movement and the right to join any civil society organization. Civil society in Libya suffers from enforced disappearance, kidnapping, extrajudicial arrest, and accusations of espionage for foreign Powers. Its members are exposed to arrest and torture under the pretext of protecting Libyan and Islamic values. Women are suffering from systematic online violence, she said, spotlighting the reluctance of the legislative authority to adopt a law that combats violence against women.
Outlining solutions, she underscored the need to structure civil society through the enactment of a law regulating the establishment and work of civil society organizations and preventing dominance by any authority over its activities and rights. Further, it is crucial to involve civil society in any future United Nations processes aiming to discuss future political arrangements. She also highlighted the importance of respecting women's participation in all processes related to elected councils; accelerating the adoption of a law combating violence against women; eliminating all forms of discrimination related to women and their economic, political and social roles; disseminating confidence in the role of civil society organizations, instead of hate speech and intimidation; and publicly adopting laws against impunity.
BARBARA WOODWARD (United Kingdom) recalled her visit to Libya earlier this month, during which she was able to better understand the concerns of the Libyan people. The overarching message she received was that the political process needs to move forward and political leadership should deliver the stability the people of Libya deserve. Specifically, she visited a World Health Organization (WHO) health centre project, to which the United Kingdom has contributed over $2.5 million. As well as seeing WHO’s important work, she heard of the effects of the political impasse on the health-care system. She also took note of the 6+6 Committee’s hard work to agree draft electoral laws; however, the reception to their announcement demonstrates the need for broader political agreement between Libyan power-holders. Only this way can the international community overcome the issues preventing elections and make progress towards long-term stability, she asserted.
ISHIKANE KIMIHIRO (Japan) said that the Libyan people wish to see elections — the only way to restore the legitimacy of the country’s institutions. In light of the recent effort of the 6+6 Committee, it is imperative to swiftly introduce an electoral law that will pave the way for the prompt holding of elections. Turning to the security track, he welcomed the meeting of the Security Working Group of the Berlin Process International Follow-Up Committee, held for the first time on Libyan soil on 24 May. Libya’s stability is key to the peace, security and prosperity of the whole region, he said, commending the advancement of dialogue on the withdrawal of foreign fighters, foreign forces and mercenaries. He also cautioned that the deteriorating situation in Sudan could pose a security and humanitarian threat to Libya, especially in the south.
NATHALIE BROADHURST ESTIVAL (France) said all Libyan and international actors must work towards the staging of national elections. Progress on the electoral law by the 6+6 Committee is a significant step towards simultaneous presidential and parliamentary elections. Her delegation commends UNSMIL’s commitment to work with all relevant Libyan institutions and actors towards credible, inclusive and transparent elections. She reaffirmed full support for the Libyan High National Electoral Commission and said the full implementation of the October 2020 ceasefire agreement is paramount. She called on Libyan authorities to prevent any escalation of armed clashes and underscored the importance of unified security and military institutions throughout the country. Her delegation demands compliance with the arms embargo and the withdrawal of all foreign forces, foreign fighters and mercenaries from Libyan territory. Libyans expect a fair and transparent redistribution of oil revenues, she said. France is also concerned about human rights violations in the country.
FERIT HOXHA (Albania) said that, despite promising developments, multiple failed political transitions since 2012 have taken their toll on the Libyan people. “So many times, hope has surrendered to cynicism, eroding trust and blurring the perspective,” he said, adding that the increasingly complex internal divisions and external influences threaten to erase progress and throw the country into another spiral of violence. The electoral laws must meet political stakeholders’ expectations, guaranteeing fair and transparent elections. Obstructive manoeuvres delay the restoration of democracy. This is why “elections are a must”, he said. The alarming events in Sudan reinforce the need to quickly find a sustainable solution in Libya, he said, warning that weapon supplies from Libya to Sudan, Mali and other countries in the Sahel remain a serious concern. Accordingly, he asserted, the arms embargo must be fully implemented.
DMITRY A. POLYANSKIY (Russian Federation) called on Libyan leaders to put aside differences and meet the objective of lasting peace and stability. The north African region continues to suffer from the tragic consequences of 2011. Organizing a fair and credible electoral process as soon as possible is crucial. “Libyans are literally one step away from the breakthrough that is needed,” he emphasized. International efforts must focus on providing support for an electoral process that is transparent and includes representatives of the former Government. That will ensure that the Libyan people accept the election’s results. Moreover, the eventual elimination of a foreign military presence in Libya is crucial, he said, noting that the “double agenda of our Western colleagues” is clear. The country’s resources belong to the Libyan people. Further, he added that the Russian Federation remains deeply concerned over the illegal migration and proliferation of weapons which continue to destabilize the region.
ADRIAN DOMINIK HAURI (Switzerland), expressing condolences to the victims and their families of the tragic shipwreck, said thousands of migrants die and disappear every year in the Mediterranean. Taking note of the work carried out by the 6+6 Committee in Buznika to reach agreement on draft electoral laws, he emphasized that electoral laws alone will not pave the way for elections. Instead, an inclusive pre-electoral agreement is needed, with Libyan stakeholders presenting firm commitments to guarantee the security of the electoral process which can only be carried out under the auspices of UNSMIL. Further, he voiced regret that bureaucratic restrictions continue to criminalize the work of Libyan and international civil society organizations, stressing that any legislation on these organizations must comply with Libya's national and international obligations. Regarding the security situation, he highlighted reports of the use of force — including in populated areas — in Zawiyah, calling on all actors to take the necessary measures to guarantee the protection of civilians.
PEDRO COMISSÁRIO AFONSO (Mozambique), also speaking for Gabon and Ghana, called on all parties to continue restraint by fully complying with the ceasefire agreement. He strongly condemned the presence of foreign forces on Libyan soil, which undermines the country’s territorial integrity and its ownership of the peace process. Their immediate departure is essential. Concerned also about foreign fighters’ consequences on the Sahel’s security situation, he repeated his call for a coordinated action by the region’s countries, regional organizations and the international community to counter this threat. He also is concerned with the impact the protracted conflict and ongoing political crisis in having on Libya’s macroeconomic indicators and the negative affect on access to essential services, including health and education, particularly for the most vulnerable.
Oil production disruptions are particularly constraining economic growth and prevent Libyans from fully harnessing their vast natural resources to finance development programmes and expedite progress towards the Sustainable Development Goals, he said. He reminded the Council that Libya’s frozen assets belong to Libyans and must be protected and preserved for the Libyan people. Deeply disheartened by the sinking of a migrant boat off the coast of Greece, he strongly condemned violations of human rights of refugees and migrants, including human trafficking, torture, sexual and gender-based violence and extortion. He demanded the humane treatment of refugees, migrants and asylum seekers as a basic requirement of international law and associated conventions. He echoed the Secretary-General’s call for alternatives to detentions to manage migration, in line with international law. He reiterated the call to fully respect Libya’s territorial integrity, sovereignty and national unity, in line with Council resolution 2656 (2022).
VANESSA FRAZIER (Malta) expressed support for political consensus and the legal framework needed to advance a Libyan-led and Libyan-owned political process. All Libyan political actors must engage with each other in a constructive and transparent manner, including on the finalization of relevant electoral legislation that leads to free, fair, and secure elections. She further emphasized the importance of gender equality and ensuring the equal and meaningful participation of women, in all political processes and electoral reforms. “Women have a crucial role to play in the reconstruction of peace, stability, and prosperity,” she said. Malta also strongly believes in the full and rigorous implementation of sanctions pursuant to resolution 1970 (2011) and in the full compliance by all Member States with the arms embargo. Security continues to be threatened by the continued presence of foreign fighters, foreign forces and mercenaries, she observed.
GUSTAVO SÉNÉCHAL DE GOFFREDO JUNIOR (Brazil) supported the Special Representative’s engagement with all Libyan stakeholders to build nation-wide consensus for presidential and parliamentary elections. The League of Arab States and the African Union can play an important role in building trust and fostering national reconciliation among the stakeholders. Regarding foreign assistance for Libyan authorities outside the framework of United Nations institutions, he stressed respect for relevant Council resolutions. The provision of military training may constitute a breach of the United Nations arms embargo, pursuant to resolution 1970 (2011), regardless of the benefit provided to Libyan stakeholders. He also echoed the Panel of Experts’ concern regarding the freezing of Libyan assets under the United Nations sanctions regime. As suggested by the Panel, he encouraged Member States to consider exempting these assets, where applicable, from banking policies of negative interest rates, which contribute to their depletion.
HERNÁN PÉREZ LOOSE (Ecuador), noting that the tragic shipwreck in the Mediterranean could have been avoided, expressed hope that the Libyan actors will reach the necessary political agreement for the holding of fair, transparent and inclusive elections. He underscored that the civic space must be protected and all Libyans must be able to express themselves freely and associate peacefully. Turning to security, he highlighted the work of the 5+5 Joint Military Commission on the implementation of the ceasefire agreement. Moreover, he emphasized that the withdrawal of foreign fighters must be carried out in a coordinated and gradual manner, encouraging the Libyan authorities to adopt effective measures to address the serious situation of migrants and refugees. Information about possible arbitrary detention of migrants and asylum seekers — including pregnant women and children — is of great concern. He also stressed the need to dismantle criminal and human trafficking networks operating in the region.
JEFFREY DELAURENTIS (United States) noted the developments in reaching an agreement on Libya’s electoral laws and welcomed the United Nations commitment to ensuring that progress leads to a timely election. “It is beyond time for those who occupy Libya’s leadership positions to demonstrate leadership and fulfil, without further delay, the Libyan people’s demand for elections that re-legitimize their political institutions,” he stressed. The work of the 5+5 Joint Military Commission is a welcomed development, particularly regarding the removal of foreign forces, fighters and mercenaries and the identification and categorization of armed groups for possible disarmament, demobilization, and reintegration processes. He expressed deep concern about the transfer of arms and weapons from Libya to the conflict in Sudan and touched on several agreements that prohibit arms transfers into Darfur. Violations of the arms and oil embargo as well as the continued presence of foreign fighters are an indication that foreign actors profit from and support the status quo, he added.
MOHAMED ABU SHAHAB (United Arab Emirates) stressed the need to ensure women’s full participation in Libya’s peace efforts. “This is essential to reach a permanent political settlement led and owned by Libyans, and to enable Libya to put the past behind it and end its internal divisions,” he said. He supported the efforts of the Presidential Council, the African Union, and the League of Arab States to ensure the success of national reconciliation efforts. Welcoming the meeting of the Security Working Group with the UNSMIL Mission in Tripoli last May, he further underscored the importance of the release of prisoners and reunification of families. “We hope these steps will contribute to boosting the national morale among the Libyans,” he said, also calling for the withdrawal of foreign forces. To maintain gains achieved by Libya, measures adopted by the Council must not impede the Libyan forces’ efforts to address security threats.
TAHER M. T. ELSONNI (Libya) said it is important to settle all outstanding issues before the 6+6 Committee and to consult with the Committee, other national and political leaders and relevant institutions to guarantee the country’s long-term stability. An enabling environment must be created as well as a timeline for presidential and parliamentary elections later this year. There should be fair, transparent elections that do not marginalize anyone. The Libyan people must have a dignified life and a democratic process must prevail. The experiences of the past must be avoided, he said, adding “the Libyan people are tired.” He heard concerns about the 6+6 Committee despite their efforts. He called on all parties to settle the outstanding issues and on the United Nations for its help in resolving such issues. The Libyans are in a state of anger and frustration and dream of holding elections, he said, urging the international community to not give up on the Libyan people.
He welcomed the United Nations intention to help ensure free and fair elections and called for an end to any foreign presence on Libyan territory. Sanctions, especially the assets freeze, have become politicized over the last 12 years. The Panel of Experts’ decisions have been used to control the country’s financial institutions. While not asking the 1970 Sanctions Committee to lift the freeze, his delegation requests the freedom to manage Libya’s own assets. Libya had requested some listed individuals be removed from sanctions for humanitarian reasons. Yet the response was not logical. Keeping these individuals — which includes some women — on the list is threatening the country’s humanitarian situation, he said, and questioned the value of doing so. The Libyan people are calling on the Council to help end divisions and help the country achieve stability through Libyan ownership and leadership. He stressed the power of and welcomed the participation of youth in helping the country overcome the crisis.