Libya: The Need for a New International Approach

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This report details key deficiencies and recurring flaws in the ongoing political transition in Libya. The report takes a critical approach, identifying and exploring flaws for these to be challenged and improved upon to make positive steps. It takes a dual approach and examines the Libyan transition from both a historical and international-actor based perspective.


In Chapter 2, the report addresses historical issues in Libya’s transition post-2011. It examines the time of the National Transition Council and General National Congress of 2011-2014, the outbreak of violence during the fragmentation of Libya into Operation Dignity and Libya Dawn bet ween 2014-2015 and the run up to the 2015 Libyan Political Agreement, the aftermath of the Agreement from 2015-2017, and finally the recent event from December 2017 to the present day. From this historical perspective the report identifies the following general flaws:


  • • Political processes were normally exclusive and marginalized opposing groups and perspectives;

  • • Timeframes for implementing steps, such as constitutional reform amendments and election deadlines, were often too strict and were normally not met;

  • • Unity between opposing groups was temporary, and depended upon a common enemy to unite against;

  • • Political processes were too slow to adapt to the changing complexities and realities of the Libyan political environment;

  • • Solutions proposed by the international community lacked innovation.

In Chapter 3, the role of international community and international actors, in terms of the United Nations and European Union, is addressed. Regarding the United Nations, specific sections are dedicated to the United Nations Support Mission in Libya, the contents of the Libyan Political Agreement, one of the most recent official reports of the United Nations regarding Libya (the 2018 National Conference Progress Report), and the role of other United Nations bodies in Libya. Regarding the European Union, the report explores current European Union policy in Libya, as well as specific member state policy of France and Italy.


From an international actor perspective, the report identifies these flaws in Chapter 4:


  • • The credibility of the United Nations Support Mission as an honest dealbroker in Libya has gradually reduced;

  • • There has been a consistent lack of international unity from all sides;

  • • The European Union has not posited its own concrete position on Libya beyond migration policies;

  • • The 2015 Libyan Political Agreement has been stated to be the only possible framework for political transition, and so few, if any, alternatives have been explored.


To address these flaws, specific recommendations have been suggested in the following pages for ways for the international community to improve its approach to the Libyan political process. These recommendations are built on the discussion about the following general ways to move the political transition forward:


  • • The international community must present one unified approach to Libya;

  • • New, alternative modes of political dialogue must be explored;

  • • All Libyan actors must be engaged with fairly;

  • • Unhelpful timeframes must be avoided;

  • • It must be stressed that the election of a president is the least important aspect of the process;

  • • A new, positive vision for Libya must be presented;

  • • The possibility of a new principal deal-broker must be explored.


To all international decision-makers involved in the Libyan political process:


- Present one, unified approach to Libya showing solidarity and shared political will, including:


  • • A fair, effective engagement with all actors across the Libyan political spectrum, by inclusively integrating representatives from all sides at every stage of the political process, including conferences and high-level meetings, and other informal ways of engagement;

  • • A clearly defined framework for the process, including, but not limited to the framework of the 2015 Libyan Political Agreement as seen below;

  • • A tandem development of effective transitional justice mechanisms that move beyond the punishment of ‘losing’ parties, and instead constructively address grievances;

- Explore potential, alternative paths for political dialogue beyond the framework of the 2015 Libyan Political Agreement including:


  • • A clear space for all domestic political actors in Libya to participate across all levels of the process, including constitutional reform and electoral law, to better integrate differing positions on political reform and counter-act claims of bias;

  • • A clearly defined status of existing security apparatus across all parts of Libya, with an eye towards building a singular unified national apparatus. This status would be one that delineates roles, responsibilities and competencies of existing security forces in the prospective national security force, incentivizing paths of cooperation;

- Avoid over-hasty timeframes regarding political steps taken in the process, and move towards more flexible monitoring mechanisms instead;


- Clearly articulate that the election of a President is the least important aspect of the political transition, which should instead be a ceremonial goal to show some resolution of the political process;


- Build a new, unified, positive vision for Libya that can seek to begin addressing fractured grievances across the political spectrum including through a comprehensive, public plan for the development of Libya as a state that looks beyond current polarization to collective social and cultural goals for the future, such as plans for a museum of remembrance, and investment into the national university sector.


To the United Nations Support Mission in Libya:


- Clearly determine its role in the Libyan political process and resolve itself from the conflicting responsibilities of mediator between political actors, and Human Rights monitor of said-actors;


- Consider involving the competencies and expertise of the European Union at the level of

  • direct mediation and negotiation.


To the European Union:


- Definitively and publicly adopt a position on the Libyan political process, in line with the overall international position;


​​​​​​​- Engage more directly with Libyan actors at the negotiation level, utilising the support of the United Nations Support Mission in Libya.


Libya is a country that has been, and continues to be, in  a state of political upheaval. The revolution against former ruler Muammar Gaddafi in 2011, resulted in a system without established political institutions or governance. Successive transitional governments were established to attempt to build a fledgling democracyin Libya. Since the initial National Transition Council (NTC) in 2011 that led Libya in the immediate aftermath of the revolution, there have been a total of four new successor institutions; the General National Congress (GNC), House of Representatives (HoR), National Salvation Government (NSG) and Government of National Accord (GNA), some of which have existed simultaneously with others. A key moment in this transition was the break between the GNC and HoR following the latter’s contested elections in 2014. These governments broke into distinct geographical regions, west and east, and were supported by key armed groups that came into confrontation during the 2014 conflict between Libya Dawn and Operation Dignity.


Despite a reduction of tensions since 2014, Libya has remained divided. The security sector as a national entity is non-existent and is served by a variety of armed militias and groups with sometimes-overlapping, often-competing interests. There has been a crisis of legitimacy and recognition between the successor political institutions in Libya’s east and west. And as with such a post-conflict environment, humanitarian crises have emerged; citizens have become trapped in conflict zones, persons have become internally-displaced, and migrants from other countries that have been trafficked through Libya towards Europe have endured great suffering in detention centers and slave auctions, in addition to the mortal risk of the Mediterranean boat crossing to Europe.


To resolve the Libyan political crisis, in December 2015 the United Nations (UN) facilitated a framework for democratic transition that was signed by some of the key competing Libyan parties in Schirat, Morocco. The Libyan Political Agreement (LPA) was meant to serve as a roadmap for constitutional reform and proceeding national elections, and to establish the role of the then-existing institutions of the GNC and HoR. However, despite the implementation of a unity government, the GNA, the two-year deadline for elections as envisaged by the LPA expired in December 2017. Since then, the United Nations Support Mission in Libya (UNSMIL) has made great attempts to revive the LPA and has sought to work towards new, successive deadlines for implementation. However, as of January 2019, there has been little progress and Libya remains divided as ever.


This paper revisits the history behind the political polarization in Libya as well as the international efforts made to remedy the situation. It identifies recurring themes and failings in the post-revolution period in Libya, as well as in international efforts. It challenges the established roles of key international players such as the UN and European Union (EU), and critically assesses the suitability of the 2015 LPA in the current 2019 political environment in Libya. Recommendations for improvements follow from the concluding remarks that aim to build a new alternative international approach to Libya, one that is both unified and positive, and that clearly delineates roles and responsibilities for domestic and international actors involved.


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AP Photo/Mohammad Hannon