Another push for Libya

Kamel Abdallah , Thursday 15 Dec 2022

The UN and Germany are trying to revive Berlin process.

Bathily and Bashagha in talks to find a solution for Libya s political stagnation


Germany and the UN have stepped up efforts to revive the Berlin process set in motion in January 2020. This is a response to the Libyan Presidency Council announcing a new initiative to resolve the political stalemate preventing the House of Representatives in Tobruk and the High Council of State in Tripoli from reaching a consensus on the constitutional basis for the general elections needed to form a unified government. The elections had been scheduled to take place in December last year, but were called off at the last minute. Since then, the House of Representatives (HoR) voted to dismiss the Government of Nation Unity (GNU) headed by Abdel-Hamid Al-Dbeibah and approved a new government formed by Fathi Bashagha. Dbeibah has refused to step down and institutional bifurcation has begun to dig in its heels.

German Special Envoy to Libya Christian Buck arrived in Tripoli on Monday to meet with GNU officials to discuss ways to resume the Berlin process and rally support for a third Berlin conference. He met with GNU Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation, Najla Al-Mangoush, and with UN Special Representative and Head of the UN Support Mission in Libya (UNSMIL) Abdoulaye Bathily, while the German Ambassador to Libya Michael Ohnmacht met separately with Presidency Council Vice Chairman Abdullah Al-Lafi. Buck and his Libyan interlocutors discussed the latest developments, the efforts of the Presidency Council to resolve the political crisis, and the national reconciliation project that the council has been working on in collaboration with the African Union, which it is hoped will culminate in a comprehensive reconciliation conference.

Mangoush reaffirmed her government’s “efforts to create security and logistical conditions to ensure fair and transparent national elections” and its “support for efforts to hold a third Berlin Conference that seeks to meet the aspirations of the Libyan people for prosperity and comprehensive stability,” the Libyan Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation reported in a statement.

The German envoy reaffirmed his country’s support for holding elections as soon as possible on a sound legal basis and for Bathily’s efforts to strengthen stability in Libya. Ambassador Ohnmacht, on his Twitter account, added that he and Buck discussed with Mangoush and Bathily “what German diplomacy can do to help Libya resume the Berlin Process leading to inclusive elections, restoring unity and renewing legitimacy.”

The Presidency Council, for its part, stated that Vice Chairman Al-Lafi, in his meeting with Ohnmacht, stressed the importance of consensus among Libyan stakeholders over a constitutional basis to meet the Libyan people’s aspirations for transparent elections that will bring an end to the crises. Ohnmacht had reaffirmed Berlin’s support for any process leading to presidential and parliamentary elections and expressed his appreciation for the national reconciliation project being carried out by the Presidency Council and for the council’s ongoing efforts to include all parties in the political process.

Buck’s visit to Tripoli occurred several days after a meeting of the Security Working Group, which was created in the framework of the Berlin process and is made up of representatives from the UK, Italy, Turkey, France and the African Union. The meeting was held in Tunis on 8 December and was also attended by the GNU Chief of General Staff Lieutenant General Mohamed Al-Haddad, members of the Joint Military Commission (JMC 5+5) and GNU Interior Ministry officials responsible for the security of the elections, as well as other Berlin Process member states. This was the first meeting of the group after a several month hiatus. Its purpose was to study the next steps for fully implementing the provisions of the ceasefire agreement, reunifying the Libyan military establishment and ensuring the security of the electoral process. Discussions focused on monitoring the ceasefire, disarming and dismantling the militias and integrating their members into the armed forces, withdrawing foreign mercenaries, fighters and forces, and the formation of a small joint military force under the JMC.

UN Special Representative Abdoulaye Bathily, who co-chaired the meeting together with France, outlined the next steps of the JMC which, he said, is scheduled to meet again in Sirte on 15 January 2023. In the context of the withdrawal of foreign forces, fighters and mercenaries, he said that the JMC has achieved a level of “relative preparedness” with the Libyan Ceasefire Monitoring Mechanism but that “political will and decisive actions are needed to launch the process.” He added that the JMC agreed to provide the conditions necessary for the establishment of the UNSMIL Ceasefire Monitoring Component in Sirte “to cement trust between the two sides and move forward with the training of local monitors.” 

The previous day, the JMC met in Tunis. In his speech at the Security Working Group meeting, the UN special representative recounted that the JMC members had “endorsed, in my presence, the terms of reference for the Disarmament, Demobilisation and Reintegration (DDR) technical sub-committee to establish criteria for categorisation of armed groups in accordance with the 4th provision of the ceasefire agreement related to the categorisation of armed groups. They also recommended to open a dialogue with the leaders of armed groups to discuss their future and to find feasible solutions. They agreed to establish a technical sub-committee to carry out this task. I reiterated UNSMIL’s readiness to provide technical support in accordance with the Mission’s mandate as outlined in related UN Security Council resolutions.”

He explained that the DDR had to be based on Libyan solutions reached through negotiations rather than military ones. This entailed building confidence and trust between the relevant stakeholders, a process in which national reconciliation and transitional justice have a key role to play. He stressed that efforts towards these ends required support from all parties in Libya and abroad.

The JMC, in its 7 December meeting, also discussed establishing the small joint military force called for in the third provision of the October 2020 ceasefire agreement. Further details were presented in the Security Working Group meeting the following day. Also in that session, Libyan minister of interior officials responsible for the security of the elections gave a presentation on preparations to that end. The head of UNSMIL, in his speech, told participants that, in November, he had attended a simulation exercise for election security that had been organised by the Interior Ministry. On 7 December, he met with the officials again and they “assured me of their preparedness to implement the election security plan to meet the aspirations of more than 2.8 million voters to choose their future leaders.”

In tandem with German diplomatic efforts to revive the Berlin process, in collaboration with UNSMIL, the Presidency Council presented an initiative which involves UN sponsored consultative meetings between the council, the House of Representatives and the High Council of State to prepare for a constitutional dialogue. Participants will entertain ideas and proposals submitted by political parties and other Libyan political forces and sectors of society with the aim of formulating the constitutional basis for the elections. This step is, therefore, crucial for ending the vicious cycle of interim phases in which Libya has been mired for more than a decade.

The Presidency Council initiative is consistent with the provisions of the roadmap that was adopted by the Libyan Political Dialogue Forum (LPDF) in Tunisia in November 2020 and has governed the current interim period. The initiative, which was launched on 8 December, is “inspired by the moral responsibility that falls on the council and its determination to achieve a consensus between the House of Representatives and the High Council of State on a constitutional basis for the elections,” a Presidency Council statement said. Its purpose will be “to remedy the outstanding points of difference that continue to obstruct holding a referendum on the draft constitution in accordance with the 10th amendment to the Constitutional Declaration and the Hurghada Agreement between the HoR and HSC that was sponsored by the UN and hosted by Egypt.”

The initiative was welcomed by the German ambassador and the UN envoy, but so far it has not elicited other responses. The HoR and HCS have been working to develop an independent political process that would lead to the creation of a new executive authority and new appointments to the sovereign offices that were created in accordance with the Libyan Political Agreement signed in Skhirat, Morocco, in December 2015. Only afterwards do they plan to reach a consensus on the constitutional basis for elections and electoral laws.

Despite repeated international reminders of the priority of holding elections, the HoR Speaker Aguila Saleh and the HCS Speaker Khaled Al-Mishri arranged a meeting on 4 December with UNSMIL Chief Bathily to discuss the points on their agenda. However, Bathily was unable to attend “due to logistic reasons outside UNSMIL’s control,” so the meeting was called off.

To complicate matters further, the HCS suspended its communications with the HoR after the latter passed a law to establish a supreme constitutional court in Benghazi and to re-designate the Supreme Court in Tripoli as the Court of Cassation. The legislature’s step has stirred heated controversy and it is feared that rising tensions may lead to a complete rupture between the HCS and HoR, putting paid to months of rapprochement and renewed cooperation between the two representative bodies that had been missing for several years.

*A version of this article appears in print in the 15 December, 2022 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly

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