Libya Part Four: Mediation and Negotiation


From a general viewpoint attempts to bring peace in Libya through mediation and negotiation have proved unsuccessful and the three governments that have emerged from years of factional fighting and civil war have chosen military force as their primary means of gaining territory, support and the consolidation of their power. We have looked at the progression of violence, from uprising and civil war, through factional violence, the beginning of the second civil war in 2014 and its continuation into 2018. Throughout this, the problems of the breakdown of centralised rule, the competing strains of Liberal, Centrist and Islamist factions in Libyan politics, and the influence of the armed groups on politics have marred attempts at reaching a national solution to the crisis. The lack of a functioning and representative government and the inability of politicians to provide a political sphere free of the law of the gun mean that the key problems of dealing with unemployment, the economy and the provision of stability and security cannot be addressed. Libya poses a major challenge for mediators not simply because of the three competing governments but because they also draw their support from a myriad of smaller but highly influential actors who have their own aims and objectives in a country where the rival governments are unable to provide security and prosperity.

We should acknowledge that where there have been successes they have occurred at the local level and have been pragmatic compromises to ensure local security and prosperity. These have involved local elders and notables with legitimacy earned from their involvement in civil society and experience of politics, mediation, and negotiation at the local level. This does not exclude the involvement of national and international actors and has been undertaken in the context of a wider attempt at reducing the impact of violence and with the support of national and foreign actors. The strategic importance of a given area is also important, with the oil rich regions being less amenable to de-escalation through mediation and negotiation. One example is the ‘Social Dialogue’ in the Nafusa Mountains between Tripoli and the Tunisian border, where local civil society actors were willing to engage in dialogue as the forces fighting in the area were reaching the point of exhaustion. They did so with UN observers present, thus giving grassroots backing to the UN-led political process. While this demonstrates the importance of traditional leaders in achieving a cessation of violence at the local level it was also dependent on the military situation and the involvement of the UN, indicating that resolution at the local level is not solely dependent on the influence of the local actors but the circumstances on the ground and external support.

The UN has been heavily involved in seeking a political solution to the violence in Libya but has met severe obstacles from the off. The special envoy to Libya in 2011, Abdelelah al-Khatib, found himself undermined by the UN’s referral of Libya to the International Criminal Court (ICC) and UN Security Council authorisation of a no-fly zone that clearly indicated the UN was not an impartial actor and envisaged a Libya without Gaddafi. The existence of rival mediation tracks, including those of the AU and Arab League also undermined further attempts at mediation as they had their own underlying agendas. With the war over, the United Nations Support Mission for Libya (UNSMIL) was established on the 16th September 2011 to support the transition process and facilitate the establishment of a new government. UNSMIL coordinates the work of all UN agencies in Libya and is a political mission only, having no military involvement and does not provide peacekeepers. This ‘light footprint’ of support towards achieving a political solution without coercive intervention is indicative of the difficulties the ongoing violence presents in terms of seeking a solution. There had been an assumption that the introduction of democratically elected leaders would bring about legitimacy for an internationally recognised government, but this reckoned without dealing with the underlying political, social and economic problems that the previous regimes totalitarian rule had papered over and the proliferation of armed factions as a result of the First Libyan Civil War. Even with UN backing and support for the establishment of representative governance the naked truth that Libya’s new political establishment was severely divided and vulnerable to the whims of individual ambition. Moreover, it didn’t represent the people but the factions claiming to represent them and was unable to unite the armed groups into a national army or control them and stop them being used to establish strongholds or influence politics directly.

The UN continues to attempt a mediated solution between the combating factions and has been integral to the setting up of political institutions in Libya and has engaged in a peace process that has, at least, brought warring factions to the table. In December 2015 the Libyan Political Agreement was signed after protracted negotiations and sought to form a unity government, the Presidential Council (PC) but this has not achieved its goal of uniting opposing factions and the confrontation between the House of Representatives (HoR) and the General National Congress (GNC) continues and there has been further divisions between those who support the LPA and those who don’t. The conflict is currently deadlocked and the PC is yet to assert its authority. The LPA thus far has failed to provide the traction needed for a political solution and negotiations are hampered by the manoeuvring of the protagonists who are still seeking to improve their position militarily. The complexity of the actors involved in the conflict also hinders the search for a political solution as, while the HoR and GNC are seen as the primary protagonists this hides the fact that they are dependent on other actors in the conflict for political and military support. This has a major impact on the attempts of the UN to mediate a political solution.

Next week: International implications.

For more information regarding this week’s blog see:

Dr Carl Turner, Site Coordinator.


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