Remarks to the Security Council by Ján Kubiš, Special Envoy of the Secretary-General for Libya, and Head of the United Nations Support Mission in Libya
Mr. President, Distinguished Members of the Security Council,
My briefing today comes at a crucial time with one month left to elections in Libya, and following the conference hosted by President Macron of France and co-chaired by Libya, France, Germany, Italy, and the United Nations in Paris on 12 November, with the participation of 30 member states and regional organizations, which represented an opportunity to strengthen international consensus in support of the implementation of a Libyan-led and owned political process facilitated by the United Nations, leading to a political solution to the Libyan crisis. The participants including the Libyan interim executive authority reiterated their backing for holding the long-awaited presidential and parliamentary elections.
The final declaration agreed upon at the Paris Conference, stressed the importance for all Libyan stakeholders to commit unequivocally to the holding of free, fair, inclusive and credible presidential and parliamentary elections on 24 December 2021 as stipulated in the Libyan Political Dialogue Forum (LPDF) roadmap and endorsed in UN Security Council resolutions 2570 and 2571 (2021) as well as the conclusions of the second Berlin conference of 23 June 2021, and to accept the outcomes of these elections. I echo the call on all Libyan stakeholders and candidates to respect their commitments towards holding elections on 24 December 2021, to publicly commit to respecting the rights of their political opponents before, during and after the elections, refrain from using hate or revenge speech and threats, incitement to violence and boycott, to accept the results of the elections, and to uphold their commitment to the Code of Conduct prepared by the HNEC ( High National Election Commission).
The conference highlighted the importance of avoiding any vacuum of power and that the transfer of power from the current interim executive authority to the newly elected executive authority should take place following the simultaneous announcement by the HNEC of the final results of both presidential and parliamentary elections.
In my last briefing on 10 September, I informed that the Speaker of the House of Representatives (HoR) had transmitted to the HNEC, law 1 of 2021, setting the legal framework for the presidential elections. On 4 October, the Speaker of the HoR transmitted law 2/2021 concerning parliamentary elections, which is largely based on the electoral law of the 2014 parliamentary election. Law 2/2021 stipulated that the HoR will determine the polling date for parliamentary elections to take place after 30 days from the first round of the Presidential elections, upon a proposal made by the HNEC. The HNEC is expected to propose the specific dates for the elections after finalizing the list of candidates for the presidential elections in early December, following the complaints and appeals adjudication process. It is necessary that the HoR promptly endorses the polling dates for both parliamentary and presidential elections proposed by the HNEC.
Following the failure of the LPDF to agree on a constitutional basis for a legal framework for the elections, and with the aim to mitigate the risks around electoral disputes, the mission has continuously urged the HoR, and other institutional and political actors to address concerns expressed by Libyan stakeholders regarding the procedural and substantive shortcomings of the electoral laws, and to adjust the electoral framework. We urged the HoR and High Council of State (HCS) to follow the consultative process as prescribed by the Libyan Political Agreement, urged holding inclusive presidential and parliamentary elections simultaneously, bringing it in line with the respective UN Security Council resolutions. Throughout the months of October and November, only some technical amendments requested by HNEC were issued by HoR to both the presidential and parliamentary electoral laws.
Following the receipt of the amended electoral laws by the HoR, on 7 November in a press conference, the HNEC Chairman announced the start of the candidates’ registration process for presidential and parliamentary elections on the following day. This process for presidential elections closed on 22 November. This afternoon HNEC intends to announce a preliminary list of the candidates from among 98 candidates including 2 women from across the country, that registered for the presidential elections. Thus far 2001 candidates including 276 women registered for the parliamentary elections, in the ongoing registration process that should conclude on 7 December.
During the 7 November press conference, the HNEC also confirmed the plan to hold the first round of presidential elections on 24 December, while the second round of presidential and the parliamentary elections to take place approximately fifty days after 24 December, to accommodate the results tabulation, possible electoral challenges, and appeals. It also stated that the final results of both elections would be announced simultaneously.
In parallel, on 8 November the HNEC started the nationwide distribution of voter cards to more than 2.8 million registered voters. To date, more than 1.84 million of voter cards have been distributed at 1,906 electoral centers across the country in the ongoing process, covering by now some 64.3.% of the total number of registered voters.
I call on the Government of National Unity to provide all the security, financial and logistic support to HNEC and to ensure the smooth functioning of its offices and operations across the country.
As of 5 October, the HNEC has been accrediting domestic, international observers, and media. To date, more than 3,200 domestic observers, 320 national media representatives, 20 international media, and 9 international observation organizations have submitted their applications to be accredited by the HNEC for the upcoming elections.
I call on further domestic, regional, and international organizations to submit their accreditation application to HNEC in time to send observers for the December elections.
While I praise the continued efforts of the HNEC to implement the elections, despite technical challenges and in a short timeframe, I have to report that the political climate remains heavily polarized. The number of candidates for the presidential and parliamentary elections as well as of registered voters confirm that the Libyan people, from across the country, are eager to go to the polls and democratically elect their representatives. At the same time, vocal opposition to the holding of elections on the basis of the existing legal framework persist, as some leaders and constituencies continue questioning the legality of the electoral laws issued by the HoR on different grounds and thus the legitimacy of the whole process. They also note less than desirable conditions for holding the elections. Additionally, as the process moves forward, tensions are rising over the eligibility of some high-profile presidential candidates along with fears of armed confrontation or that the current framework may take the country back to authoritarianism. I call on all those that challenge the process or the candidates to channel their challenges through the existing judicial mechanisms, and to fully respect the verdict of the judicial authority.
At the same time, even those who oppose the elections based on the current legislative framework and constitutional basis, without a permanent constitution and on less than optimal conditions, agree that Libya needs free and fair democratic elections. As they said, the way towards a stable and united Libya is through ballot boxes and not through ammunition boxes. Also, those in favour of the elections stress that political confrontations must not and will not turn into an armed confrontation, that they will not follow that path, and that Libyans will find among themselves solutions for their problems if left without foreign interference.
I, therefore, echo the call on Libyan stakeholders to take steps, including with the good offices of UNSMIL, to increase mutual trust and build support for the upcoming presidential and parliamentary elections, for the acceptance of the results, and to all relevant Libyan authorities and institutions to provide HNEC with the required support to deliver free, fair, inclusive and credible elections, in a safe and peaceful environment and with the full, equal and meaningful participation and representation of women, and inclusion of youth.
On the security file, while the ceasefire continues to hold, the presence of foreign fighters, foreign forces, and mercenaries remains a cause of grave concern for Libya and the international community, including countries of the region, notably Libya’s neighbours. However, the 5+5 Joint Military Commission (5+5 JMC) has continued to make progress. With UNSMIL support and facilitation, the 5+5 JMC convened in Geneva on 8 October and developed an Action Plan for the withdrawal of mercenaries, foreign fighters, and foreign forces, in a synchronized, phased, gradual and balanced way. This plan aligns with the Ceasefire Agreement of 23 October 2020, United Nations Security Council Resolutions 2570 and 2571 (2021), as well as the outcomes of the Berlin Conferences, and should pave the way for the initial stages of the withdrawals of mercenaries and foreign fighters, taking into full account the needs and concerns of Libya and its neighbours as a step towards the full implementation of the ceasefire agreement and the UN Security Council resolution 2570.
The Action Plan was presented at the Libya Stabilization conference held in Tripoli on 21 October, convened by the Government of National Unity, which I welcome as the first such international gathering held in Libya since the beginning of the crisis and as an important testimony of Libyan ownership and leadership of the political process, towards the unification and stabilization of the country.
Building on these positive developments, the Arab Republic of Egypt hosted, in Cairo from 29 October to 1 November, the 5+5 JMC coordination talks with Libya’s southern neighbours Chad, Niger, and Sudan. Positive discussions among the four countries concluded with an agreement on a concept of an effective communication and coordination mechanism to support the implementation of the Action Plan for the withdrawal of mercenaries, foreign fighters and foreign forces from Libyan territory. As we meet today, the 5+5 JMC and the African Union are meeting in Tunis. I am also pleased to report that the 5+5 JMC is welcomed to conduct similar consultations in Ankara and Moscow and intends to consult with other regional, notably neighbouring countries.
To complement and support these positive steps, the first group of UN ceasefire monitors was deployed to Libya on 10 October 2021. As mandated by the Security Council, they will support the 5+5 JMC and the Libyan-led and Libyan-owned Ceasefire Monitoring Mechanism (LCMM) in implementing the ceasefire agreement, particularly the withdrawal of foreign fighters and mercenaries as requested by the 5+5 JMC.
As we welcome this important progress, we are mindful that as elections approach, there is a risk that entrenched political and institutional divisions turn into confrontation fueled by uncompromising attitudes and inflammatory rhetoric and fake news. In the Western region and in particular, in the capital, tensions are high and could escalate further amidst elections-related polarization. The fragmentation of the political context, lack of an inclusive and consultative political and electoral process, ensuing lack of trust and consensus, and continued controversies on the electoral process could undermine the implementation of the electoral process.
Some incidents affecting the electoral centers for issuing voter cards were recorded. The Ministry of Interior established an electoral security cell to ensure the security of polling stations and is committed to addressing security incidents impeding access to electoral centers. Activities of groups opposed to the elections might result in cases of impediments for citizens to collect their voting cards and later to cast their votes. The ability to freely campaign in the east, south, and west is also at stake. Legal challenges aiming to annul the results of the elections might revive an institutional and constitutional crisis following the elections. Moreover, an increasing likelihood of asymmetric activities perpetrated by violent extremist organizations aiming to disrupt the stabilization processes cannot be excluded.
The unification of Libya’s banking system remains of critical importance to restoring the stability of and confidence in the Libyan financial system. The process of re-unifying the CBL will continue to require attention and support as it goes forward and the IFCL Economic Working Group will reconvene the parties to receive an update on their latest efforts.
The healthy performance of the economy is essential for the country to face the many challenges ahead. Most important is the continued functioning of the National Oil Corporation (NOC) which remains the primary source of revenue for the country. Deep concern was expressed in Paris Conference Communique about the continued attempts of armed groups to exercise control over the National Oil Corporation and oil exports and stressed that such actions may constitute a threat to the peace, security, and stability of Libya In this regard, I am closely monitoring the current contest of leadership over the NOC and am urging all parties to avoid politicizing the institution and to maintain its integrity and unity. Libya’s natural resources must benefit all Libyans through the transparent management and equitable distribution of resources, and the delivery of public services.
The human rights situation in Libya remains critical
, notwithstanding the prevailing ceasefire. In this pre-election period, restrictions on fundamental freedoms through legislative measures are of concern. Documented incidents involving the targeting of journalists, civil society activists, and individuals expressing views against State agencies, armed groups, and political actors are increasing.
Measures to curtail Civil Society Organizations (CSOs) continue to be imposed. CSOs can be denied registration, or be dissolved by the Executive authority, on overly broad grounds. CSOs are also required to report any interaction with UN officials which raises serious concerns about our engagement with human rights defenders and human rights organizations. These regulations are inconsistent with Libya’s international legal obligations and restrict the rights to freedom of expression, assembly, and association, and of increased concern as the country heads to elections. I call on the Libyan authorities to lift these restrictions and ensure a safe civic space for all individuals and organizations and to protect human rights defenders and activists.
In an effort to support an independent, free, and robust civil society in Libya, this month UNSMIL organized a consultative meeting with representatives of many civil society organizations with discussions facilitated with a range of experts, including the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the Right to Freedom of Assembly. Key recommendations will inform a protection strategy for human rights defenders particularly women.
I am also deeply concerned at the continuing use of hate speech and incitement to violence, including sexual violence, against civil society activists and human rights defenders, particularly against politically active women. Many have been targeted with violence, abuse, social media vilification, and threats, including rape and other forms of sexual violence, in some instances with fatal consequences.
Promoting women’s rights and empowerment together with addressing violations and ensuring the protection of women, is particularly important in the current political context and with the upcoming elections. It is critical that our calls for the representation of women in public and political life be matched with action to foster an environment in which women can freely express themselves coupled with measures to ensure women’s protection.
High rates of arbitrary and unlawful detention in Libya, as well as enforced disappearances, victimizing both men and women, continue to be reported and documented. Many detainees including migrants, refugees, and asylum seekers are subjected to torture, sexual violence, and other grave human rights violations involving State officials, and thousands of detainees are held in secret facilities run by armed groups and human trafficking networks. I urge Member States, providing support to Libyan security and migration authorities, to ensure human rights concerns are considered and addressed.
UNSMIL continues to work with Libyan authorities to end and prevent arbitrary detention and most recently facilitated a meeting of senior officials of the public prosecution and law enforcement agencies from across Libya. Recognizing that arbitrary detention is widespread, the forum agreed to establish a 10-member high-level committee, representing key institutions, to address all forms of arbitrary detention. The focus will be on implementing an action plan to facilitate the release of all persons detained arbitrarily and coordinate efforts to end the practice of arbitrary detention. UNSMIL is continuing to provide technical support and guidance to this process. I reiterate that addressing the long-standing issue of arbitrary detention is closely linked to sustainable peace, the rule of law and security sector reform, and rights-based national reconciliation in Libya.
As members of this Council are aware, one of the starkest reminders of the horrors of the Libyan conflict was the discovery of mass graves in the outskirts of Tarhuna, following the recapture of the city by pro-GNA forces in June 2020. As the exhumation progresses, Libyan authorities have discovered yet more mass graves in the area. Many of the bodies recovered have signs of injuries consistent with severe torture or indicative of summary executions. To date, the remains of nearly 200 individuals have been uncovered in these mass grave sites; most have yet to be identified. I reiterate UNSMIL’s consistent calls for a thorough and transparent investigation into these atrocity crimes and for perpetrators to be brought to justice. The mass graves need to be secured as crimes scenes, victims identified, with cause of death established and bodies returned to victims’ families.
The Mission is strongly concerned with the dire situation of several thousand migrants and refugees who were made homeless as a result of large-scale forced evictions and destruction of their homes by security forces using excessive and disproportionate force in early October. UNHCR’s efforts to provide humanitarian and protection assistance to these refugees and asylum seekers at UNHCR premises in Tripoli are being obstructed by groups of violent individuals using threats and extortion against them. I urge the Ministry of Interior to ensure the security of the UNHCR premises to enable safe access of people to humanitarian services. I also call on Libyan authorities to provide shelter and protection to urban refugees and asylum-seekers affected by the October raids.
I welcome the government’s cooperation in the resumption of IOM and UNHCR facilitated voluntary humanitarian flights of migrants and refugees out of Libya. I reinforce the need for such flights to operate uninterrupted and on the basis of established and transparent procedures.
I encourage the Libyan authorities to further promote safe, legal channels for migrant workers into Libya and through continued discussions with major countries of origin including Egypt and Niger to facilitate the opening of channels for regular labour migration and address concerns about the welfare of migrant workers in Libya. I welcome the upcoming regional roundtable in Niamey to discuss good practices on Bilateral Labour Agreements between Libya and neighboring countries.
I am pleased to report that the number of internally displaced persons in Libya continues to decrease with just under 200,000 people still displaced compared to 278,00 people at the start of this year. The humanitarian community is working with Libyan authorities – at national and local levels - to accelerate the voluntary, safe, and sustainable return of displaced communities including as part of national reconciliation and stabilization efforts. With durable solutions for displaced persons a top priority, the Office of the Resident and Humanitarian Coordinator is seconding a durable solutions expert to further support government efforts to assist 648,000 returnees in areas of return and to take forward a national strategy on internal displacement.
I thank Member States for their support to the 2021 Humanitarian Response Plan. At the same time, I stress the imperative to continue to assist the most vulnerable people in need in Libya and highlight that the extension of the current Plan to May 2022 requires additional funding to sustain the humanitarian response.
While the number of confirmed cases of COVID-19 decreased in recent weeks, community transmission remains high in all districts in Libya. The utilization rate of adequate supplies of vaccines is only 49 per cent with eight percent of the population fully vaccinated and 16 per cent partially vaccinated as of mid-November. Although Libya has set a year-end target of vaccinating 40 per cent of its population, vaccination hesitancy persists which the national COVID-19 vaccination campaign is targeting with support from UN agencies.
Mr. President, Distinguished Members of the Council,
Libya continues to be at a delicate and fragile juncture on its path to unity and stability through the ballot boxes. While risks associated with the ongoing political polarization around the elections are evident and present, not holding the elections could gravely deteriorate the situation in the country and could lead to further division and conflict.
As demonstrated by the high number of registered voters and candidates, the Libyan people are yearning for an opportunity to elect their representatives and give them the mandate to govern Libya through democratic legitimacy. The aspiration and determination of the majority of Libyans to participate in the presidential and parliamentary elections as candidates or voters must be fulfilled.
It is important that the international community remains united in its support for elections as demonstrated at the Paris conference. At the same time, pragmatic engagement is required to safeguard the integrity of the electoral process and minimize risks of polarization and confrontation. I urge the Libyan actors to ensure inclusive, free, fair parliamentary and presidential elections and ensure acceptance of results as an essential step in further stabilizing and uniting Libya. We will continue to make every effort to address concerns and mitigate the risks of a disputed electoral process, to build consensus for holding the elections and dealing with the post-election situation.
The judiciary has the final word regarding the objections raised about the process as well as some presidential candidates. Their verdict must be respected.
The final decision is for the Libyan people who will be making their choice through the elections. It is the Libyans that have their future and the future of Libya in their hands. They should participate in the elections, vote for those that are committed to a stable, prosperous, united, sovereign, and democratic Libya, governed by rule of law and committed to fighting corruption, pursue national reconciliation, justice, and accountability.
It is high time that Libya, led by the authorities and institutions with a strong democratic mandate derived through elections, liberates itself from external interferences. Libya cannot continue destroying itself, by continuing to offer itself as a playground for foreign interests and ambitions.
Mr. President, Distinguished Members of the Council
In light of the ongoing political and security transitions as well as the delicate and complex electoral processes in Libya the need for an UN-mediated process and good offices within Libya has intensified. It is, therefore, in my view, necessary to urgently relocate the Head of UNSMIL to Tripoli, ideally based on a UN Security Council resolution authorizing the return of UNSMIL to its previous configuration. Just to note, from the very moment of my appointment, I expressed support for splitting the positions of the Special Envoy (SE) and the Head of Mission (HoM), and for locating the HoM in Tripoli. In order to create conditions for this on 17 November 2021, I tendered my resignation.
In the resignation letter to the Secretary-General, I also confirmed my readiness to continue as the Special Envoy for a transitional period - and that in my opinion should cover the electoral period - to ensure business continuity provided that it is a feasible option. I hope an appropriate solution will be found.
In response to my letter of resignation dated 17 November 2021, the Secretary-General in his letter dated 23 November 2021 accepted my resignation, effective as of 10 December 2021.