Transcript of Opening Remarks by Stephanie Turco Williams, Acting Special Representative of the Secretary-General and Head of the United Nations Support Mission in Libya, at a Press Conference

UN Photo by Violaine Martin

16 Jan 2021

Transcript of Opening Remarks by Stephanie Turco Williams, Acting Special Representative of the Secretary-General and Head of the United Nations Support Mission in Libya, at a Press Conference

Palais des Nations, Geneva, 16 January 2021

Good evening, thank you for being here on a Saturday.

Over the past months, and under the umbrella of the United Nations, Libyans have come together to build bridges within and across the various tracks of the Berlin process in order to genuinely tackle the issues that have driven Libya’s long-standing conflict, including the armed conflict itself, its economic roots, the political crisis and division, and the need for accountability, transitional justice and reconciliation. This is a Libyan-Libyan process. It is not being brokered by foreign powers in smoke-filled rooms in faraway capitals. 

The Roadmap that was charted in Tunis in November is the first critical step to renew the political legitimacy of Libyan institutions and to restore their sovereignty through the holding of national elections on December 24 of this year.  Through the Roadmap the Libyan Political Dialogue Forum also agreed clear steps leading to these elections that shall be held on an agreed upon constitutional basis, and the Roadmap set out a very reasonable timeframe for the politicians and the relevant institutions to live up to their responsibility to  complete these steps - with built in contingencies in the event the institutions fail or impede the process.

In Tunis, the Libyan Political Dialogue Forum also agreed on the need to restructure the executive authority to govern Libya in the run-up to these elections. This new, unified government would be tasked with putting in place the necessary conditions for the elections to take place. It will also launch national reconciliation that will seek to combat corruption and restore the delivery of public services across the country.

As you know, we have convened the advisory committee of the Libyan Political Dialogue Forum here in Geneva since Wednesday. With us here is a group of 18 members selected and nominated from within the broader group of the 75 composing the Libyan Political Dialogue Forum. This is an advisory committee formed to overcome the deadlock on the mechanism for the selection mechanism for this temporary executive authority, in line with the Tunis Roadmap agreed upon in mid-November.

I am very pleased to report that the Advisory Committee members truly rose to the occasion and they have met their responsibility with a constructive spirit, cooperative efforts, and a great deal of patriotism. During these deliberations, I have witnessed a spirit of fraternity, solidarity, and a commitment to put the interests of the country and the Libyan people first and foremost. I wish to extend my heartfelt thanks to the Advisory Committee members for their efforts, and to the rest of the Dialogue members for their continued support during these consultations.

I am happy to announce – and I congratulate them - on reaching an agreement on a recommended selection mechanism that has now been shared with the remaining members of the Libyan Political Dialogue Forum, earlier this afternoon. The Plenary will vote on this mechanism on Monday. They have taken indeed a decisive step towards meeting the goals that were set in Tunis.

On the basis of the proposal devised by the Advisory Committee, each electoral college shall separately nominate their respective representative to the Presidency Council based on the principle of agreement and selection 70 per cent.  If this is not possible, lists shall be formed from all regions. Each list shall consist of 4 persons who will specify the position for which they are running: i.e. President of the Presidency Council, member of Presidency Council, or Prime Minister. In order for the list to be presented for voting by the Plenary, it must receive 17 endorsements (8 from the West, 6 from the East, and 3 from the South). The winning list shall be the one that receives 60% of the votes of the Plenary in the first round. If none of the lists receive this percentage, the two lists that received the highest percentage shall compete in the second round. The winning list in that round shall be the one that receives 50%+1 in the Plenary.

I believe this decision reached today is the best possible compromise, as this proposal respects the regional dimension, and it indeed encourages people to work across the divide and across regions, in order to strengthen understanding and to build unity in the country. And it embodies the principles of full inclusivity, transparency and fair representation across regions and within different population groups.   

I want to emphasize that the UN will not in any way be involved in composing the lists. As I have repeatedly stated, this is a Libyan-Libyan solution.  Our role is to support and facilitate.

On Monday, January 18, UNSMIL will call upon the Political Dialogue members to vote on the proposed mechanism. The vote on the mechanism will be conducted over a 24-hour period. We will announce the results on January 19, 2021, after voting has been completed. The threshold for agreement that was agreed by the Advisory Committee on the selection mechanism is 63% of those who participate in the vote. If this percentage, if the percentage of 63% is not attained, we will conduct a second round of voting that will be held two days later. The required threshold for agreement for the second round is 50%+1 of those who participate in the vote. 

It is important to reflect and to remind everyone that what we are talking about here is a temporary, unified executive authority that will be replaced by a permanent, democratically elected government, chosen by the Libyan people on December 24th of this year.

Our principles are unambiguous: a temporary unified executive staffed by Libyan patriots who want to share responsibility rather than to divide the cake.  This temporary executive has a clear and limited mandate, and as I said, that expires on the date of the elections are held on the 24th of December.  We have set the table to decide a selection mechanism that does embody these principles, and my message to the Libyan people today is: with this breakthrough that we have seen, your patriotic and committed representatives here in the Advisory Committee have fulfilled, you know, their commitments, and have done so in a very admirable manner.  Thank you very much. 


Questions and Answers

Question: Thank you so much Alessandra and thank you to Ms. Williams to have taken the time to come and brief us. As she read her notes, would it be possible to send them as soon as possible to the press because there are very technical elements and in order to have a perfect coverage, if we could have it as soon as possible, it would be much appreciated. Thank you so much. My question is regarding that temporary government. When is it going to start? Is it just after the election on 19 January? Could you please clarify the process?  Thank you so much.

The Acting Special Representative: So the vote on Monday is on the selection mechanism for the temporary executive, so if that vote passes, then there would be, you know, a nomination period that will run several weeks, that would be my estimation, and then there would be a vote on the executive itself after that period. So look, I set a very firm deadline and timeline for this Committee to meet, mindful of the circumstances on the ground and the need to move forward and fulfil the Roadmap that was charted in Tunis. This is all driving towards the holding of these elections at the end of the year, which will return decision-making to its rightful owners, and that is the Libyan people who will, you know, ultimately decide their representation at the ballot box.


Question: Does that mean that on the 24th of December, is that going to be a national general election then, can you elaborate on that please?

The Acting Special Representative: Yes indeed. So in Tunis, you know really the first major breakthrough on the Roadmap that was charted by the Libyan Political Dialogue Forum was to set the date for national elections for December 24th of this year, that is also coincides of course with Libyan independence day. And so those are national elections that will be held on a constitutionally agreed upon basis and, you know, there is a lot of work to do, of course with setting the electoral framework as well, and that is why, you know, it is incumbent upon the relevant institutions, you know, to produce the framework necessary for these elections to take place. I think that the timeframe is quite reasonable.


Question: My question is in Arabic. I want to clarify a basic issue Ms. Williams. You said that the agreement or understanding that was reached today was discussed with parties of the LPDF, the 75 Libyans. So what is the need for voting on these proposals next Monday? Have you reached a final agreement about the executive authority? Thank you.

The Acting Special Representative: Okay, thank you very much for that very good question. So look, we are, you know, running a fully inclusive and transparent process. This is Advisory Committee, the members were put forward through a process of nomination and, you know, selected based on regions.  There is of course representation of women, and I must say that the women in the Advisory Committee, as they have throughout this process, really played a brilliant role, also in, you know, in building bridges. There are the youth component in this Committee as well, and the various, you know, I would say the political forces. This is an Advisory Committee, it was always, and it is my pledge, that we will take the proposals that they came up with back for decision in the plenary and that is exactly what we are going to do on Monday. The members of the plenary will have the opportunity to vote on the mechanism and that is the proper and fully inclusive way forward.       


Question: A question on the vote on Monday. When you are talking about plenary, could you specify which plenary, just so it is clear.  And also, as we are with the pandemic in a virtual world, many things are happening on the Internet, could you specify where the vote will take place? Is it specifically in Geneva, or elsewhere, or will it be in a virtual way? If you could explain how this vote will take place and if it will be by secret ballot? Could you give more details? Thank you.  

The Acting Special Representative: Thanks, that is another good question. So yes, we are obviously very mindful of the fact that we are running this peace process during a global pandemic, which is why we have been extremely careful in deciding when to convene face-to-face meetings like we have done so here in Geneva, and only to do so when it’s absolutely necessary. We have conducted  votes, you know, since Tunis, which was the last, you know, and first major meeting of the LPDF over the telephone. The secret ballot that is run by the Mission with oversight from our electoral division. So that is how we will conduct the vote on Monday as well. 


Question: Good evening. I would like to understand better how this proposal, the political track reconciles with the military and economic tracks that are also being negotiated in other places in different time maybe  because all three are part of the same bigger  deal that you look forward to get peace and prosperity again to Libya. Thank you.

The Acting Special Representative: Thank you for that question. The tracks are interrelated and they complement each other and when we see movement and progress on one track that often inspires, you know, the desire for progress on the other tracks, and indeed, what we saw today comes after, again, some encouraging progress on the other two tracks. I will start with, you know, the economic track. We had an economic dialogue meeting here in Geneva last month. We brought together members of the, you know, Libyan economic track of the Berlin process with, you know, the institutions on both sides of the divide, and with the sovereign institutions, the Central Bank in the West and the Central Bank in the East, and an official from the National Oil Corporation. And that laid the groundwork for movement forward. There had already been some very good, you know, work that had been done, you know, including by, you know, the Deputy Prime Minister of the Government of National Accord and others across the divide, the Deputy Finance Minister of the Interim Government as well as the Minister of Planning of the GNA towards, you know, building a unified budget and they had been working with, you know, international financial institutions, particularly the World Bank, with some technical assistance. And then we sort of folded this  under the umbrella of Berlin, we had another virtual meeting of this group in early January, and lo and behold, we saw last week, again, Libyans coming together on Libyan soil in Brega in central-eastern Libya, and they agreed a unified budget, and also come from a backdrop of the first meeting of the Board of the Central Bank of Libya for over six years, that Board meeting was held in December. A decision was taken to unify the country’s exchange rate.  So we have seen some very good progress on the economic track.

On the military track, there has been yet another exchange of detainees with the participation, and really the leadership of the (5 + 5) Joint Military Commission as well as the Elders Councils, and again, that was very encouraging to see that, and then we are seeing that there is progress towards opening the Coastal Road between Abu Ghrein and Sirte, as really  the first critical step in the implementation of the ceasefire agreement. So, what I have observed is that Libyans again across the divide, divided institutions with, you know, after these long years of conflict, they are building confidence amongst themselves and between each other. That I think really also inspired the group here. The different tracks now challenge each other and they often in their internal meetings are referring to what is happening in the other tracks. And so they are very interrelated, and so I think again, after today’s forward movement here in Geneva, I expect, you know, that will translate into more progress on the other tracks.


Question:  If the proposed mechanism will gain majority, will the mechanism become binding to everybody? If there will be any guarantee that any party that will not respect will be held responsible? Thank you very much.

The Acting Special Representative: I think that is a reference to spoilers. So look, I mean, I think, the way that the vote is structured, again, is to reflect, you know, maximum inclusivity, and the way that the process of reaching this decision today, you know, also reflected representation across the group and indeed was more reflective of the Libyan population. Yes, I expect there will be spoilers, there will be people, you know, seeking to obstruct. I think that they are in the minority. There is, you know, overwhelming desire as we have seen, really going back to last summer, when frankly, you know, people took to the streets in Libya. There has been a lot of frustration over the failure to deliver services, basic services, to the municipalities. The country is facing a sharp deterioration in infrastructure, and particularly the electrical grid, which needs, we estimate, a billion dollars’ worth of investment urgently in order to avert total failure of the electrical grid next summer. So all of this sort of militates in paper for of mending this divide, particularly in the executive and financial and sovereign institutions. And that rubs up against the vested interests, who frankly don’t want to see change. But I think the process that we have built here is broadly reflective of the desire of the overwhelming number of Libyans  that the country must move forward, that it must unite, that national reconciliation, that efforts to have the internally displaced and those in the diaspora finally return home. That, you know, all of this work is building towards that outcome. And so I don’t think that the obstructionists will prevail.   


Question: Ms. Williams, everybody knows the extent of  foreign interference in Libyan affairs, Turkey, the Gulf, Europe, Egypt, Russia… How are you planning to save what you agreed on here in Geneva from all these foreign interferences. Will all these countries and all this interference allow you to implement the agreements  reached by the Libyan parties, and what do you say today to the  countries interfering today in Libyan Affairs?

The Acting Special Representative: To be truthful, I, and the Mission, have found broad support from the international community for the Roadmap that was charted in Tunis, for this entire political process that was enshrined in the UN Security Council resolution 2510. You know, the message to them is, listen to the Libyans. Listen to and respect the decisions that they have taken. And follow the lead of the Libyans, and that is really across all of the tracks, military and now politically.


Question: It is similar to Moussa’s question and it was about the Libyan-led initiative, does it have the backing of the big powers that have been involved in  this conflict? That is also important for the people who are involved internally in solving the conflict to have that sort of backing, I think that get conflicts resolved.

The Acting Special Representative: I guess that is ultimately a question you should pose, you know, in those capitals, but what I have seen, what I have observed in my direct contact, we have the Berlin process of the countries and the regional organizations, along with the UN, it has almost been a year since the Berlin conference. We come together on a regular basis and of course the reports to the Security Council and what I can say is that we have received the requested support, the countries and the regional organizations that are part of the Berlin process participate in the international working groups that come under the umbrella of Berlin. We have seen some very good interaction between these working groups and the Libyan track. We have seen that on the economics file, in particular.  There were representatives from the Co-Chairs of the economic working group that participated in the meeting here in Geneva and in the virtual session that we held earlier this month. This of course increases they buy-in from the international community, solidifies it, and it also gives confidence to the Libyans.


Question: You have seen meaningful breakthroughs, all of them are fragile and depending on the security situation in Libya in the field. Could you tell us if you have discussed the possibility of international observers to observe the ceasefire in Libyan?

The Acting Special Representative: Yes indeed, the Secretary-General at the end of last year delivered a report to the Security Council responding to the Libyan request for the deployment of civilian international observers. That is something that we are working through, both on the New York end and in continued discussions with the Five Plus Five. You know the good thing is there is calm on the ground in Libya and that certainly has helped the peace process. We reflect back to when we were here last February and, you know, bombs were falling on Tripoli, and it was hard to have talks in that atmosphere. The talks are really greatly assisted when the guns are silent. And for that I commend the Libyan parties. It is all very fragile of course, and that is why we are moving forward, you know, to consolidate the gains, to unite the institutions, to start to really generally address the underlying drivers of this conflict, to put Libya on a path to stability and prosperity.


Alessandra Vellucci, Director of the United Nations Information Service in Geneva: Thank you very much Stephanie. This concludes the list of people that wanted to ask you questions. I would like to take this opportunity to thank very much Ms. Williams, the Acting Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Libya, because every time that we have had the great pleasure to have the talks on the Libyan situation, whether military, political, economic, she has been with us. It has been a great pleasure to work with her and also to have her every time briefing the Geneva press corps. Thank you very much Stephanie for this.

The Acting Special Representative: Thank you Alessandra and I want to thank the UN Office in Geneva for all of the wonderful assistance in these extraordinary times, as well as, of course, the Government of Switzerland, without whom, none of this could have been possible, they jumped through amazing hoops to bring the Libyan participants here and to make these talks possible. Thank you very much.