Situation Growing Confrontational as ‘Status Quo Forces’ Use Diverse Tactics to Obstruct Conduct of Polls, Special Representative Says
The Security Council stressed today the importance of free and fair presidential and parliamentary elections in Libya, scheduled for 24 December, urging Libyan authorities and institutions to clarify the constitutional basis for the polls, in a presidential statement adopted at the end of a ministerial-level meeting on restoring peace and stability in the North African nation.
Through the text (document S/PRST/2021/12), presented by France, Council President for July, the 15-member organ called on the Libyan Political Dialogue Forum to take steps to facilitate the elections and welcomed efforts by the United Nations Support Mission in Libya (UNSMIL) to encourage the Forum to develop proposals for a fair, free and inclusive electoral process.
It urged all Member States, Libyan parties and relevant actors to fully implement the 23 October 2020 ceasefire agreement, including the withdrawal of all foreign forces and mercenaries from Libya without delay. It also reiterated its grave concern at the dire situation faced by migrants, refugees and internally displaced persons in Libya; recalled that all Member States shall comply with the arms embargo; welcomed the completion of an independent audit of Libya’s Central Bank; and reaffirmed its intention to ensure that assets frozen under its resolution 1970 (2011) shall be made available “at a later stage” for the benefit of the Libyan people.
Today’s meeting, which came on the heels of the Second Berlin Conference on Libya in June, unfolded amidst growing concern that the much-anticipated elections — which would coincide with the seventieth anniversary of Libya’s independence — might not happen on time, due to divisions within the Libyan Political Dialogue Forum, which held five days of in-person talks in Geneva that ended on 2 July. [The Forum’s Proposals Bridging Committee is to convene on 16-17 July in a virtual format.]
“The situation in Libya is getting more difficult, confrontational and tense,” with status quo forces — old and new — using diverse tactics to obstruct the holding of elections, Ján Kubiš, the Secretary-General’s Special Representative of Libya and Head of the United Nations Support Mission, told the Council. If this impasse over the constitutional basis for elections is not quickly resolved, and if leaders fail to demonstrate political will, then the positive momentum seen just a few months ago will be reversed, he warned.
Jean-Yves Le Drian, Minister for Europe and Foreign Affairs of France, speaking in his national capacity, said that the international community must act to address real threats to Libya’s political transition. The electoral calendar must be respected, while foreign forces and mercenaries — whose presence violates Council resolutions as well as Libya’s sovereignty — must withdraw, he added.
Othman Jerandi, Minister for Foreign Affairs of Tunisia, welcomed Libya’s commitment to holding elections in December, as scheduled, and urged all political parties to engage in constructive dialogue. He stressed the need for ongoing commitment to the ceasefire agreement and Council resolutions in order to build trust. He also called for a Libyan mechanism to monitor implementation of the ceasefire, with support from the United Nations.
Niger’s representative said that steps must be taken to prevent the Sahel from being struck, for a second time, by the consequences of conflict in Libya. He recommended the structured and orderly withdrawal of foreign fighters and expressed concern over the ill treatment of African refuges and migrants who find themselves detained in Libya after attempting to cross the Mediterranean to Europe.
The United States’ representative said a political solution in Libya is possible, necessary and urgent, but it requires that elections be held on December 24 as planned. She emphasized that the electoral process must be Libyan-owned, Libyan-led and free from foreign interference or malign influence.
The Russian Federation’s representative said that his country is cautiously optimistic about the situation in Libya, as opposing forces overcome mutual mistrust stemming from a conflict provoked by external intervention in 2011. Implementing the road map leading to elections is not easy, but a framework must be adopted in order for voting to proceed on 24 December, he said.
Abdul Hamid Dbeibeh, Prime Minister of the Government of National Unity of Libya, took the floor near the end of the meeting, emphasizing that there now is a glimmer of hope for his country, whose people are entitled to elections on 24 December. He requested the Council to help secure the immediate withdrawal of mercenaries and foreign fighters. Their presence is unacceptable and poses a real risk to the political process and the ceasefire agreement. He also asked the Council to consider easing its freeze on Libyan assets and for the root causes of migration through Libya from other African countries to be addressed.
Also speaking today were ministers, senior officials and representatives of Kenya, India, United Kingdom, Estonia, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, Ireland, Viet Nam, Norway, China, Mexico and Germany.
The Secretary General of the League of Arab States also spoke.
The meeting began at 10:07 a.m. and ended at 12:27 p.m.
JÁN KUBIŠ, Special Envoy of the Secretary-General and Head of the United Nations Support Mission in Libya (UNSMIL), said that the constitutional basis for parliamentary and presidential elections in Libya on 24 December should have been clarified by now, but the House of Representatives — which is mandated to do so in consultation with the High Council of State — has yet to deliver. During his recent visit to Libya, all his interlocuters reiterated their commitment to elections on that date, “but I am afraid many of them are not ready to walk the talk”. He added that during an in-person meeting of the Libyan Political Dialogue Forum to consider a draft constitutional basis, it became clear that its members were fragmented into different blocs and interest groups, leaving that body unable and unwilling to come to an agreement. As a result, “the situation in Libya is getting more difficult, confrontational and tense,” with status quo forces — old and new — using diverse tactics to obstruct the holding of elections.
If this impasse over the constitutional basis for elections is not quickly resolved, and if leaders fail to demonstrate political will, then the positive momentum seen just a few months ago will be reversed, he warned. The ramifications are already beginning to manifest themselves, including the House of Representatives’ failure to adopt a budget and the postponed reopening of the coastal road that connects eastern and western Libya. The Libyan National Army is meanwhile not allowing the Government of National Unity to extend its authority to areas under its control. While the ceasefire agreed on 23 October 2020 is holding, the unity of the 5+5 Joint Military Commission — and implementation of the agreement — could unravel if the political process remains stalled. He added that in line with resolution 2570 (2021), UNSMIL is preparing for the deployment of a ceasefire monitoring component, with the Secretariat to reach out to Member States for support once financial resources are secured.
The continued presence of foreign forces and mercenaries also threatens the ceasefire, he said, emphasizing that Libyan and international actors must agree on a plan for their withdrawal. Further complicating the security situation are recent attacks by Al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb and Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL/Da’esh), particularly in Libya’s south. The delayed reunification of Libya’s security and military apparatus, and the lack of a centralized and coordinated approach, is allowing space for violent extremist groups to recruit new members and carry out asymmetric attacks. Security actors must jointly address that threat in consultation with the Joint Military Commission and tribal leaders, he said.
He went on to discuss the dire situation of migrants and refugees, saying that the number of people attempting to cross the Mediterranean Sea continued to grow in the first five months of 2021. As of 26 June, the Libyan coast guard had intercepted 14,751 migrants and refugees and returned them to Libya. That is more than the total number of returnees in 2020. The result is a dramatic growth in the numbers of migrants and refugees arbitrarily detained in official detention centres, with no judicial review and in often inhumane conditions. Libya is not a safe port of disembarkation for migrants and refugees, and Member States that support operations to return individuals to Libya should revisit their policies.
He concluded by welcoming the outcome of the second Berlin Conference on Libya and the collective efforts of Member States and regional and international organizations to help the Libyan people in their quest for unity, peace, stability and prosperity. Implementation of the ceasefire agreement and progress on the political and economic tracts are interdependent, but positive steps are needed now to avoid backsliding. He hoped to count on sustained support from the Security Council and the Berlin process partners going forward, emphasizing however that it is incumbent on Libyan political actors to make every effort to hold elections on 24 December, in accordance with the Libyan Political Dialogue Forum road map and Council resolutions. In particular, members of that Forum must set aside their differences and agree on a constitutional basis for immediate consideration and adoption by the House of Representatives. Interest groups, spoilers and armed actors must not be allowed to derail the process, he said.
JEAN-YVES LE DRIAN, Minister for Europe and Foreign Affairs of France, Council President for July, spoke in his national capacity, pointing out that, despite the strong message of support for the political transition conveyed by the unanimous adoption of resolutions 2570 (2021), 2571 (2021) and 2578 (2021), the international community must act to address real threats to this process. It is vital that the electoral calendar be respected and that legislative and presidential elections occur on 24 December. Foreign forces and mercenaries — whose presence violates Council resolutions and Libya’s sovereignty — must withdraw, and he called for the establishment of a timeline for their orderly departure. He also supported the reopening of the Libyan Coastal Highway and said that the international community must work with Libya’s authorities — in full respect of that country’s sovereignty — to strengthen their control over land and sea borders. The European Union Naval Force Mediterranean Operation IRINI could provide training support to this end, he added.
OTHMAN JERANDI, Minister for Foreign Affairs of Tunisia, welcomed Libya’s commitment to holding elections in December as scheduled and urged all political parties to engage in constructive dialogue to empower the Libyan people. Continued commitment to the ceasefire agreement and relevant Council resolutions is necessary in order to build peace and trust, and he called for the development of a Libyan mechanism to monitor implementation of the ceasefire, with support from the United Nations. Stressing the need to withdraw foreign fighters and mercenaries from Libya — which represent a threat to the country, its neighbors and the region as a whole — he underscored the need to increase international and regional cooperation on counter-terrorism operations. A strong mechanism to limit the growing phenomenon of illegal migration through the Mediterranean is critical, he added, as such activity poses security, economic, social and humanitarian challenges for Tunisia and other affected countries.
RAYCHELLE OMAMO, Cabinet Secretary for Foreign Affairs of Kenya, urged Libyans to keep working towards a peaceful, secure and stable country, including through elections on 24 December, in line with the Libyan Political Dialogue Forum road map. Initiatives to galvanize national unity should make all Libyans feel reached and represented. All foreign fighters and mercenaries must exit Libya, she said, emphasizing that their ongoing presence creates a conducive environment for terrorism and violent extremism. Security sector reforms are also needed to better protect Libya’s southern border, alongside the establishment of disarmament, demobilization, reintegration and rehabilitation programmes in other States in the region. Given the regional dimension of the situation in Libya, UNSMIL must work in close coordination and consultation with neighbouring countries, regional organizations and other interested partners. She went on to call for the humane treatment of refugees and migrants, including a halt to their interception at sea and their return to Libyan ports.
LINDA THOMAS-GREENFIELD (United States) said a political solution in Libya is possible, necessary and urgent, but it requires that elections be held on December 24 as planned. The parties must come together to put the needed legal and constitutional frameworks in place. She emphasized that the electoral process must be Libyan-owned, Libyan-led and free from foreign interference or malign influence. The Council must call for the immediate departure of foreign forces and mercenaries. The international community supports the Libyan people on their road to elections, but the Council must do all it can to ensure that potential spoilers — both internal and external — do not derail months of hard-fought progress. In this final stretch, it is incumbent upon all parties to support the Libyan people, she said.
HARSH VARDHAN SHRINGLA, Foreign Secretary of India, noting that “the next six months will be critical” for Libya, said that free, fair elections must be held as planned on 24 December and, to this end, the relevant parties must agree on the constitutional and legislative bases for their conduct. He also stressed that the 2020 ceasefire agreement, along with successive Council resolutions, must be respected as these instruments continue to be violated, particularly provisions pertaining to the withdrawal of foreign forces and mercenaries. Also expressing concern over continued, blatant violation of the arms embargo, he urged the Council to seriously discuss possible further measures to ensure that its decisions are implemented. Terrorist groups and affiliated entities must not be allowed to operate unchallenged in Libya, which is a matter of grave concern due to the potential cascading effect throughout the Sahel region. The disarmament, demobilization and reintegration of armed groups and non-State armed actors must also be facilitated, and he welcomed UNSMIL’s role in this regard.
BARBARA WOODWARD (United Kingdom), welcoming progress made over the last year, supported by UNSMIL and the Berlin International Conference on Libya, said that free, fair and inclusive national elections must be held on 24 December with the full, equal and meaningful participation of women. She urged relevant Libyan authorities to work with UNSMIL to agree on the legal basis for such elections, ensuring that they occur as scheduled. The United Kingdom “will not hesitate to act against those who deliberately undermine the holding of elections,” she stressed. Full implementation of the ceasefire agreement is also necessary — which includes the immediate withdrawal of all foreign fighters and mercenaries — and she encouraged Libyan parties to open the Libyan Coastal Highway. Highlighting the necessity of providing electricity, water, education and health care, she added that resources must be used for the benefit of people across Libya to rebuild citizens’ trust in the Government.
DMITRY A. POLYANSKIY (Russian Federation) said that his country is cautiously optimistic about the situation in Libya following the signing of the cessation of hostilities agreement and significant progress on the political track. Opposing forces are overcoming mistrust caused by conflict provoked by external intervention in 2011. Implementing the road map leading to elections is not easy, but a framework must be adopted in order for voting to proceed on 24 December. Success depends on the involvement of all major political forces in Libya, as well as regional representatives and those of the former regime. He added that the Russian Federation supports a gradual and coordinated withdrawal of all foreign forces from Libya, so long as the existing balance of forces on the ground is not broken and there is no threat of renewed armed escalation. The security interests of Libya’s neighbours should also be taken into account, he said.
ABDOU ABARRY (Niger) welcomed the positive momentum in Libya, where the ceasefire is fortunately holding. The new Government of National Unity must scrupulously adhere to the Libyan Political Dialogue Forum road map. Libyans have committed to organizing national elections by 24 December and they will require technical, logistical and financial support, he said, adding that the Council must speak with one voice to deter potential spoilers. He emphasized that steps must be taken to prevent the Sahel from being struck, for a second time, by the consequences of conflict in Libya. The withdrawal of foreign fighters from Libya should be carried out in a structured and orderly manner, in cooperation with countries of origin and under the aegis of the United Nations. He went on to express concern over the ill treatment of African refuges and migrants, agreeing with the Secretary-General that the policy of disembarking in Libya migrants intercepted on the high seas must be reviewed.
SVEN JÜRGENSON (Estonia) underscored the need to make all preparations necessary for the holding of free, fair, inclusive and credible elections on 24 December according to the Libyan Political Dialogue Forum’s road map and resolution 2570 (2021). He called on relevant authorities to take immediate steps towards agreeing on a legal basis for elections, which must ensure full, equal and meaningful participation for women and youth. Further, the 23 October ceasefire agreement must be fully implemented, which includes the immediate removal of all foreign fighters and mercenaries and the cessation of all actions that violate the arms embargo. Expressing concern over the humanitarian situation — as migrants and asylum seekers continue to be exposed to violence — he called on authorities to alleviate the suffering of civilians and ensure access for humanitarian aid and workers. Fighting impunity, ensuring accountability and focusing on reconciliation are essential in order to heal society, he added.
INGA RHONDA KING (Saint Vincent and the Grenadines) welcomed UNSMIL’s role and called for strengthening the Mission’s capacity to carry out disarmament, demobilization and reintegration activities aimed at facilitating the return of fighters and mercenaries and at addressing the influx of illegal weapons. Further, arrangements must be finalized for the holding of inclusive, free, fair, transparent and credible elections on 24 December, and the 23 October ceasefire must be fully implemented. Expressing concern over the humanitarian situation of refugees, migrants, internally displaced persons, women and girls, she stressed the importance of ensuring the protection and safety of these groups and reiterated that Libya is not a safe port for disembarkation of migrants and refugees. She also underscored the need to unite critical institutions, including the Central Bank, to address financial shortcomings, treat socioeconomic deficiencies and tackle the COVID-19 pandemic.
BRIAN PATRICK FLYNN (Ireland) reiterated his country’s firm support for elections to be held on 24 December and called on the Libyan Political Dialogue Forum to keep searching for a workable compromise. For its part, UNSMIL should redouble its efforts to safeguard the political process. Any delays to the December timeline risk jeopardizing Libya’s political transition and prospects for security and economic reform. He also encouraged the Mission to proceed with its deployment of ceasefire monitors to Libya as soon as possible and encouraged further international support and regional cooperation to enable the disarmament, demobilization and reintegration of armed groups. He went on to call for an end to the arbitrary and indefinite detention of migrants, especially children.
DINH QUY DANG (Viet Nam) called on the relevant parties to resolve outstanding differences and expedite all necessary legal and logistical arrangements to ensure the holding of national elections under the agreed framework, stressing the importance of full and equal participation by women in the process. The parties must fully implement the October 2020 ceasefire agreement, and all foreign forces and mercenaries should withdraw from Libya in a timely, orderly and comprehensive manner. This, however, should not translate into instability in neighbouring States and the region. Pointing out that humanitarian challenges remain due to the impact of COVID-19, he called on international partners to continue providing support to vulnerable groups, such as women, children and migrants.
MONA JUUL (Norway), underscoring the importance of holding presidential and parliamentary elections on 24 December, urged relevant State institutions to clarify the constitutional basis and enact the necessary legislation by 1 August. These elections must ensure full, equal and meaningful participation for women — both as voters and candidates — as Libya must leverage women’s skills and leadership to reach and sustain peace. She also called for the full implementation of the 2020 ceasefire agreement and rapid deployment of ceasefire monitors pursuant to resolution 2570 (2021). Turning to the arms embargo — which remains ineffective — she urged all actors to respect the embargo and expressed support for actions by the European Union Naval Force Mediterranean Operation IRINI towards this end. Libyan authorities must also respect international law relating to search and rescue operations for migrants and refugees trying to cross the Mediterranean, she added.
DAI BING (China), noting that the political process is at a critical stage, called on all parties to increase dialogue and expand consensus as Libya’s authorities prepare for general elections. Elections must be held according to the agreed-upon road map, and he supported UNSMIL’s work in assisting with preparations. He also welcomed the Government’s announcement pertaining to the opening of the Libyan Coastal Highway, along with the early deployment of UNSMIL’s ceasefire monitoring team. Stressing that foreign fighters and mercenaries must withdraw from Libya, he called on parties to strengthen consultations towards this end, while fully accounting for the concerns of neighboring countries. Post-conflict reconstruction must also be supported and, while the Government has taken steps to implement financial reforms, stabilize oil prices and improve public services, the legislature must provide financial guarantees for public services, health care and education, he observed.
JUAN RAMÓN DE LA FUENTE RAMIREZ (Mexico) said Libyan political actors must agree on a legal framework for elections on 24 December that includes measures to ensure the full participation of women and youth. The elections will be a unique opportunity for reconciliation after a long decade of conflict. The Council, through UNSMIL, must help prevent the electoral process from becoming mired in division. He emphasized that more than 1 million Libyans still require humanitarian assistance and that thousands of migrants remain in clandestine detention centres. Their human rights must be protected and authorities must facilitate the work of humanitarian personnel. The fragile security situation in Libya and the region demands respect for the arms embargo and the coordinated withdrawal of foreign fighters and mercenaries, he added.
ABDUL HAMID DBEIBEH, Prime Minister of the Government of National Unity of Libya, said that today there is a glimmer of hope for his country. Through the grace of God and support of the United Nations and friendly nations, the situation in Libya is more positive and stable. The Libyan people are entitled to elections on 24 December and fulfilling that pledge requires solidarity and close cooperation among all sides. Foremost is the establishment of a constitutional basis for the elections and an electoral law as soon as possible, he said, emphasizing that his Administration is doing its part with the allocation of funds to the electoral commission, even though the House of Representatives has yet to approve a budget. He called on the House of Representatives and the High Council of State to assume their responsibilities and reach a consensus for elections to be held on time.
He requested the Security Council’s help in tackling the question of mercenaries and foreign fighters. Their presence is unacceptable and poses a real risk to the political process, the 23 October 2021 ceasefire agreement and efforts to unify Libya’s armed forces. They must be immediately withdrawn, he said, reminding relevant States of their responsibility for the actions of their citizens outside their respective territories. He also called on the international community to support Libya’s efforts to unite its military and security forces under a comprehensive security strategy that includes disarmament, demobilization, reintegration and rehabilitation, security sector reform and securing national borders. That strategy will enable the State to control its territory and borders while also facing the real enemy, namely terrorism, transborder crime and human trafficking.
Libya is working to address illegal migration, but the problem must be tackled not only in the Mediterranean or along Libya’s coast, but also at its source, he said. The causes of such migration must be dealt with and that is no one State’s responsibility alone. He asked the Council to amend its sanctions regime to allow relevant Libyan institutions to manage assets which are currently frozen. He called on relevant States to stop attempting to weaken the Government of National Unity, as that only harms Libyan citizens and interests. The international community, and the African Union in particular, must support the launch of a process of national reconciliation and transitional justice. At the same time, the Council must address the spoilers working “with all their might” to deprive Libyans of their willpower, he said.
HEIKO MAAS, Minister for Foreign Affairs of Germany, pointed to the ceasefire agreement and lifting of the oil shutdown as evidence of the progress made over the last year. Detailing gains made on during the Second Berlin Conference on Libya — including commitments relating to Libya’s sovereignty, the withdrawal of all foreign forces and the need to hold free, fair and inclusive elections on 24 December — he asked the Council to support the implementation of this work. He also expressed regret over the Libyan Political Dialogue Forum’s failure to agree on a legal basis for national elections, urging the Council to reaffirm that it will not tolerate any obstruction in this regard.
AHMED ABOUL GHEIT, Secretary-General of the League of Arab States, pointed out that many parties to the Berlin International Conferences on Libya have become demoralized by major delays, which could hinder the political process and undermine progress achieved. The positive momentum that began with the first Conference — including implementation of a ceasefire, formation of a Government of National Unity and agreement on election dates — must continue in order to serve the interests of the Libyan people who have placed their hope in this process. The inability to agree on a constitutional foundation for 24 December elections “reflects the primacy of narrow interests”, he observed, and the League, for its part, is working to encourage all Libyans to move from an attitude of competition to one of consensus as elections approach.
Those elections, he said, will be a milestone in efforts to save Libya and preserve its sovereignty and territorial integrity; re-opening discussion of the 24 December date will only generate further conflict. He stressed that all foreign fighters and mercenaries must leave Libyan territory — as this is critical for the transition from chaos to stability — and delays in their withdrawal will have serious repercussions for the entire political process. Noting a trend that some parties are making Libyan territory a transit zone for migrants and asylum-seekers, he said these attempts — deliberate or otherwise — to transform Libya from a temporary shelter for these individuals to a permanent one will have grave consequences for the country’s stability.