Overcoming the current political impasse in Libya can unleash much-needed progress in tackling myriad crises there, the UN chief said on Friday at a high-level meeting of the African Union in the Ethiopian capital.
“What is urgently needed is the political will to break the protracted political stalemate and achieve progress on multiple fronts,” UN Secretary-General António Guterres said at the latest meeting of the High-level Committee on Libya, taking place in Addis Ababa.
Progress is sorely needed towards holding elections and advancing gains in security, national reconciliation and human rights, he said, adding that the UN continues to be committed to Libyan-owned and Libyan-led solutions.
Priority areas for action
Noting that the UN has been “totally committed to overcoming the misunderstandings of the past”, he outlined priorities areas for action.
“We have no agenda and no goal but one: to secure the right of the Libyan people to live in peace, to vote in free and fair elections, and to share in the prosperity of their country,” he said.
The challenges are dire. A UN human rights fact-finding probe in late January included testimony of extrajudicial killings, torture, arbitrary detention, enforced disappearances, human trafficking, internal displacement, and the existence of mass burial sites.
Since the 2011 overthrow of Muammar Gaddafi who had led Libya since 1969, the oil-rich nation has grappled with multiple crises and rival administrations – a UN-recognized Government of National Accord, based in the capital Tripoli, and the so-called Libyan National Army based in the east.
‘No alternative to elections’
In December 2021, legal disputes and other challenges forced the cancellation of historic presidential and parliamentary elections. To address this pressing issue, the Secretary-General said his Special Representative has engaged the Libyan parties and international partners to agree on a constitutional basis for elections by the end of February.
“I share the growing frustrations of the Libyan people,” the Secretary-General said. “The absence of elections worsens economic insecurity, heightens political instability, risks renewed conflict, and raises the specter of partition.”
But, without agreement, the United Nations, in close collaboration with key Libyan stakeholders, the African Union, and international partners, should propose and pursue alternative mechanisms towards finding solutions, he said.
“There is no alternative to elections,” he stated. “They remain the only credible pathway to legitimate, unified governance.”
‘Instrument of hope’
Meanwhile, the 2020 ceasefire agreement continues to hold, he said, commending progress on security challenges. Efforts include the work of the “5+5′ Joint Military Commission, convened by his Special Representative, which represents “an instrument of hope for all Libyans”, he said, as well the African Union’s engagement and support.
Withdraw foreign fighters
“The next priority of the Joint Military Commission must be the complete withdrawal of foreign fighters and mercenaries from Libya,” he said, recalling that external interference had fuelled Libya’s descent into conflict.
Welcoming the recent meeting in Cairo between the military commission and representatives of Libya, Sudan, and Niger, he said the decision to establish a coordination and information sharing committee marks “an important step towards greater stability and peace in Libya and the wider region”.
Progress towards national reconciliation is also a priority, he said, pointing to the AU’s ongoing efforts to support an inclusive process.
Human rights concerns
Outlining serious human rights concerns, he said migrants, refugees, and asylum seekers continue to suffer abuses with impunity. Thousands who attempt to cross the Mediterranean Sea are returned to Libya and detained in inhumane and degrading conditions with restricted humanitarian assistance, with thousands more unaccounted for.
He reiterated his call for all countries involved to respect the integrity of international refugee law, and for Libyan authorities to find rights-based alternatives to detention.
“The United Nations and the African Union – together with other key regional actors and organizations – must work together to support the Libyan people in realizing their legitimate aspirations to a more peaceful and prosperous future,” he said.