After many years of oppression, division, chaos, misery and conflict, Libyans are coming together to chart the way forward to preserve the country’s unity and reassert its sovereignty, the head of the United Nations special political mission there told the Security Council during a videoconference meeting on 19 November, painting a cautious but optimistic future for the war-torn State.
“Ten years of war cannot be solved in one week of political talks, but we hear more now the language of peace rather than the language of war,” said Stephanie Williams, Acting Special Representative of the Secretary-General and head of the United Nations Support Mission in Libya (UNSMIL), noting that 75 Libyans came together in Tunisia on 9 November in a good faith effort to start the process of healing their nation’s wounds.
This first in-person session of the Libyan Political Dialogue Forum took place on the basis of the conclusions of the Berlin Conference in January. “They sat, they talked, they extended their hands, if not their hearts, to each other,” she said.
Over the past several months, she added, she has witnessed the potential for a paradigm shift in how Libyan military, political and leaders view their role in charting the country’s path forward, from a power-sharing arrangement in which the riches are divided up amongst the privileged few, to one of responsibility sharing to save the country from further destruction.
On 15 November, the Forum adopted a political road map to presidential and parliamentary elections to be held on 24 December 2021, she said, noting that the agreed document sets general principles and objectives guiding the transition period under reconstituted and unified institutions, as well as the main timeframes for the endorsement of a new executive authority by the House of Representatives, and milestones for the constitutional arrangements and elections. A Government of national unity will be led by a Prime Minister and two deputies whose main mandate will be to lead the transitional period towards election, reunify State institutions and provide security and basic services to the population until elections are held. The road map also echoes the demand of female participants that women should account for no less than 30 per cent of leadership positions in the reformed executive authority. She said that the Forum will reconvene next week virtually to continue talks on the modalities for selection of executive positions.
Turning to the signing on 23 October of a country-wide, permanent ceasefire agreement between the internationally recognized Libyan Government of National Accord and the Libyan National Army led by General Khalifa Haftar, she explained that this historic accord provides for the withdrawal of all military units and armed groups from the frontlines and the departure of all mercenaries and foreign fighters from the entire Libyan territory within a period of 90 days.
The sharp decrease in civilian casualties compared to the second quarter of 2020 is another stark reminder that “when guns are silent, civilians are protected”, she said. However, the two sides have not yet begun to withdraw their forces and air cargo activity is still seen, she said, requesting the Council to enforce relevant resolutions pertaining to the arms embargo.
On the economic front, she said, oil production is now back to pre-blockade levels at 1.2 million barrels per day. Negotiation of a durable economic arrangement for the transparent distribution of oil revenues remains dependent on advances made in the political track. While the Libyan economic dialogue has developed policy options to improve wealth management, negotiating such an arrangement remains challenging given the polarization between the two executive polities, she said.
The humanitarian situation remains dire, she reported, noting that for the beginning of 2021, 1.3 million people in Libya are estimated to need aid, an increase of 40 per cent compared to 2020. The number of COVID-19 cases and deaths in Libya continues to increase month-on-month. As of 15 November, there are 74,324 confirmed cases and 1,025 deaths. The first two weeks of November saw a 22 per cent increase in COVID-19 cases, with Libya’s biggest cities — Tripoli, Misrata and Benghazi — witnessing the largest increases. Supplies of vaccines for common childhood diseases will run out by the end of 2020 unless immediate action is taken, meaning that many children have missed or may miss their scheduled vaccine doses.
In the ensuing discussion, Council members broadly welcomed the recent developments, including the ceasefire agreement and the convening of the Forum, with one delegate urging the warring parties to seize this “hard-to-come-by” window of opportunity. Several speakers called for complete withdrawal of foreign fighters and mercenaries while others expressed regret over continuing violations of the arms embargoes, including supplies of weapons.
The United Kingdom’s representative welcomed the agreement reached by the parties to the Libyan Political Dialogue Forum, including plans for elections in 2021. “Libyans now have, for the first time in years, a sense of political direction,” he said. However, much remains to be done, with the ceasefire agreement specifying that all mercenaries and foreign fighters must depart from Libyan territory within three months. Expressing hope that all Council members will endorse that position in their statements, he warned that where parties continue to flout international law “we must be ready to take prompt action, including sanctions”. The Council must be prepared to respond clearly and quickly to all spoilers, and the global community should unite behind efforts to ensure that Libya’s oil exports are distributed fairly. Voicing concern about the deteriorating humanitarian situation amid the COVID-19 crisis — as well as the continued deaths of migrants at sea — he went on to strongly condemn the recent killing of Libyan lawyer Hanan al-Barasi, calling for the murder and others like it to be quickly and thoroughly investigated.
Germany’s representative agreed that “we are indeed at a historical juncture” in Libya. Emphasizing the importance of ensuring that all foreign fighters truly leave Libya and that parties are not permitted to simply re-brand their fighters as alleged “training personnel”, he urged all parties to the conflict to support the political dialogue. Turning to the arms embargo, he called for full adherence to its provisions and warned that violations cannot be tolerated again. He thanked the Panel of Experts on Libya for its work, noting that the European Union will continue to implement the embargo under Operation IRINI, as mandated by the Council. Spoilers to Libya’s political process must be held accountable, he stressed, emphasizing that Germany stands behind all efforts to promote the rule of law. Speaking briefly in his capacity as Chair of the Security Council Committee established pursuant to resolution 1970 (2011) concerning Libya , he expressed regret that the presentation of its activities — which was planned as a second briefing on 19 November — had to be cancelled due to the obstruction of one Council member. “This is very unfortunate and disappointing, given the importance of the 1970 Committee’s work in support of a peaceful solution in Libya,” he stressed.
Indonesia’s representative, speaking also for Viet Nam, welcomed UNSMIL’s facilitation of the 5+5 Joint Military Commission and its efforts to establish a ceasefire monitoring mechanism. In that context, he stressed that adherence to the ceasefire agreement and its implementation must include the commitment to uphold the arms embargo in Libya. He went on to welcome the launch of the Forum in Tunisia and the agreement by Libyan parties to move forward with presidential and parliamentary elections in 2021. Turning to COVID-19, the humanitarian situation must be prioritized with further measures taken to protect vulnerable groups, particularly women, children, migrants and refugees, from the negative impact of both the conflict and the pandemic, he said.
Belgium’s representative welcomed the 23 October signing of the ceasefire agreement and called upon all actors to play a constructive role in its implementation. To that end, all foreign fighters must leave the country and the embargo on weapons should be fully respected, he stressed. Recent military negotiations in Sirte and the resumption of oil production are positive steps forward, he said, also welcoming the dialogue forum in Tunis that put the country on the path to elections in 2021. The security and human rights of Libya’s people must be ensured to achieve peace and stability there. As for the killing of Ms. Al-Barasi in Benghazi, he called for an immediate investigation to hold those responsible accountable. Indeed, the International Criminal Court and the independent fact-finding mission will play an important role in combating impunity in Libya moving forward.
Tunisia’s representative joined other speakers in welcoming the “positive evolution” in Libya and the constructive atmosphere that prevailed at the recent Forum. Calling on the parties to continue to build on that momentum, he underlined the need to fully respect Libya’s sovereignty and territorial integrity, while praising UNSMIL’s work. Describing the ceasefire agreement reached in October as another critical step, he urged all relevant stakeholders to fully implement all its components, including the withdrawal of all mercenaries and foreign fighters from Libya within the specified timetable. Underlining the Council’s responsibility in that arena, he called on the parties to abide by the terms of the arms embargo, while also calling for more accountability and attention to the situation of migrants and refugees in Libya. He also echoed other speakers in calling for the prompt appointment of a new Special Envoy for Libya.
China’s representative, agreeing that the parties in Libya should seize the current “hard-to-come-by window of opportunity” for peace, praised their ceasefire agreement as “good news for the region and the world”. Calling for the early establishment of a ceasefire monitoring mechanism, he said the international community should support a Libyan-led and Libyan-owned political dialogue and fully respect the country’s sovereignty and territorial integrity. Economic development should be organically integrated into the peace process to lay the foundation for Libya’s future prosperity. Meanwhile, the parties should commit to working together to resolutely combat terrorism in all its forms, and the prevention of cross-border foreign terrorist fighter flows should be integrated into the political process to protect other countries of the region. Emphasizing that sanctions should always be treated as a means to an end, he called for full adherence to the arms embargo, which can help prevent foreign military intervention. Special efforts should be made to prevent sanctions from impeding Libya’s efforts to curb the spread and impact of COVID-19, he said.
France’s representative echoed the calls upon the foreign forces and mercenaries present in Libya to withdraw within the 90-day timeline laid out in the new ceasefire agreement. Recalling that the parties have requested the Council to adopt a resolution supporting the ceasefire, he said it is now incumbent upon the organ to deploy an effective and credible ceasefire monitoring mechanism. The Secretariat must propose realistic and credible options as soon as possible. “It is up to Libyans, and Libyans only, to decide on their country’s political future,” he stressed, praising the adoption of a political road map and the decision to hold elections in 2021. Participants at the Political Dialogue Forum should now decide on an official to oversee the election process, he said, warning that spoilers must not be permitted. Underscoring the importance of ensuring accountability for the perpetrators of crimes committed against migrants and refugees, he recalled that France and Germany have requested the Security Council Committee established pursuant to resolution 1970 (2011) to add migrant traffickers to its list of sanctioned individuals.
South Africa’s representative welcomed the 23 October ceasefire agreement and the continued in-person engagement of parties to implement it. The harmonious conduct during negotiations has built trust and confidence between those parties. United national institutions in Libya will form the basis for justice and accountability there, he emphasized. Positive steps, such as the Dialogue Forum in Tunisia on the 2021 elections, the opening of airports and the creation of a joint force to protect oil facilities and critical infrastructure, can be taken concurrently. Highlighting the ongoing efforts of the African Union and its special envoy to engage with the main stakeholders in Libya, he called on all parties to work in unison. The Security Council Committee established pursuant to resolution 1970 (2011) must ensure that all Libyans benefit from the resumption of oil production and export and that the arms embargo is respected, he stressed. In closing, he called on the Secretary-General to appoint a Special Envoy for Libya without delay.
The Russian Federation’s representative welcomed that Libya is moving into a period of negotiations after years of armed confrontation that destroyed statehood, stressing that Moscow’s principled position is that any Libyan settlement must be decided by the Libyans themselves, without foreign interference. On oil production, he said that it is critical to form unified security forces and reach an agreement on the stable functioning of the oil sector while understanding that the country’s natural resources belong to its citizens. Expressing concern about reports of violations of the arms embargo, he said that the supply of weapons and the dispatch of mercenaries are fuelling the conflict. It is necessary to put an end to this. Deliveries of weapons to Libya created the preconditions for the spread of the terrorist threat throughout Africa. States with influence on the Libyan parties should encourage them to further de-escalate. Noting the holding of the Forum, he said the parties must also discuss important questions regarding the parameters for the formation of effective national authorities. The central role in the Libyan settlement belongs to the United Nations.
The Dominican Republic’s representative said that a high level of insecurity, migrant smuggling and human trafficking, and constant violations of arms embargos are among the causes of deep concern to his delegation. However, with the 23 October ceasefire agreement, he sees “the light at the end of tunnel”. His delegation put faith in the current negotiations on the political, security and economic tracks, he said, commending the acting Special Representative and UNSMIL for their roles. He said he was pleased with a significant participation of women in the first in-person meeting of the Forum and the agreement on the road map for holding presidential elections, but is concerned that the Special Envoy for Libya has not been appointed. Despite many challenges, Libyans appear more determined than ever to use dialogue to bring about lasting peace, he said.
The representative of the United States applauded the agreement by Libyan parties on a road map to hold elections in 2021, which demonstrates the country’s broadening consensus and validates that an inclusive political process is the only way forward. Calling on all Council members to actively and genuinely support the process, she said successful implementation of the ceasefire “depends on every member of our Council”. Warning against any externally imposed solution, she said all mercenaries and foreign fighters must withdraw within 90 days. Turning to accountability for human rights violations, she recalled that the United States, along with Germany and other Council members, have nominated some of the most egregious human rights abusers to be placed on the 1970 Committee’s Sanctions List. In that vein, she welcomed the establishment of an international fact‑finding mission to document atrocity crimes and voiced support for steps to ensure full transparency in Libya’s oil revenues. She also echoed calls to quickly fill the position of Special Envoy with an experienced individual, declaring that Nickolay Mladenov — the United Nations current Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process — “is the right choice” for the job.
Estonia’s representative welcomed the permanent ceasefire agreement signed by the 5+5 Joint Military Commission on 23 October and called on all parties to continue with its implementation and to abide by all the political and economic commitments. Support from the international community must include putting an end to all foreign interference and to the violations of the Libyan sanctions regime, he emphasized. In that context, the European Union Operation IRINI is and will continue to make an important contribution to those efforts. Turning to the humanitarian situation in Libya, he said migrants and asylum seekers are frequently subjected to violence, including sexual and gender-based violence. However, access to health‑care facilities, especially considering the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, remains very limited, he warned, calling on the authorities to take concrete steps to allow aid to reach those most in need.
Niger’s representative said the October ceasefire agreement reflects the Libyan peoples’ willingness to take the necessary steps towards peace and the shared commitments of multiple actors including UNSMIL, League of Arab States and the African Union. Rounds of talks in Tripoli, Morocco and Tunisia have contributed to the positive momentum, in that regard. However, there will only be a genuine progress towards its implementation when foreign intervention ends, he said, expressing support for the ceasefire monitoring mechanism proposed by the Secretariat. As for the planned 2021 elections, he urged the international community to adopt support measures for the electoral process as soon as possible. On the economic front, there has been a deterioration in living conditions and on the Government’s ability to deliver services to Libya’s people. In that context, he welcomed the reopening of all oil facilities and the uptick in daily production. Turning to the humanitarian situation, the coronavirus has wreaked havoc in Libya, where violence has severely impacted the health infrastructure, he cautioned. In addition, there needs to be a particular focus on African migrants in detention camps as they are often used as human shields or enlisted in armed groups.
The representative of Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, Council President for November, spoke in her national capacity, echoing expressions of praise for the Libyan parties’ recent progress. Those strides have been achieved due to the determination of Libya’s people and the support of the international community, she said, underlining the need to fully respect the country’s sovereignty and territorial integrity. “A reversal of the gains, and losing the current momentum, would be debilitating,” she stressed, calling for strict compliance with the Council’s arms embargo and urging relevant countries to act responsibly. Expressing concern about the humanitarian situation in Libya, now compounded by the pandemic, she went on to voice support for the establishment of a fact-finding mission aimed at examining crimes committed during the conflict. She also called for more attention to the plight of refugees and migrants, noting that Libya remains an unsafe port for their re-entry.
Libya’s representative, recalling the many past attempts to reach a ceasefire in his country, expressed his hope that the current agreement will hold, and that mercenaries and foreign fighters will depart as required by its terms. “It is no longer acceptable to waste the wealth of the Libyan people,” he stressed, also praising a recently convened meeting aimed at ensuring that the country’s oil revenues are more fairly utilized. However, he voiced broad concern about the possibility that progress may not continue, recalling that past attempts have been repeatedly stymied by spoilers. Indeed, foreign interference in Libya’s affairs is unlikely to stop “unless there is someone willing to listen”.
Noting the fear held by many Libyans that such past mistakes will be repeated, he said the elections now scheduled for December 2021 will be a critical step towards rebuilding trust. They will also serve as a “true test” of those who claim to support peace. He called on the Council to adopt a binding resolution in support of the Libyan political process, along with a new mandate for UNSMIL to provide logistical assistance for the 2021 elections and means to hold accountable any spoilers. Meanwhile, the African Union should convene a Libyan reconciliation conference, and anyone responsible for war crimes or crimes against humanity — “regardless of which countries are involved” — should be held to account. Noting that perpetrators must be promptly placed on the 1970 Committee’s Sanctions List, he regretted that some Council members are trying to “hide these facts”, as shown by the lack of a Committee briefing on 19 November. The Council should seize the current opportunity to support peace in Libya and stop using the country as a vehicle to settle scores, he concluded.