HD has been involved in Libya since April 2011, to support dialogue between Libyan stakeholders around a number of contentious issues in the transition process, including transitional justice, reconciliation, and the electoral and constitutional processes. As tensions evolved into violent conflict, HD also became involved in facilitating dialogue between conflicting groups and supporting Libyan mediators to resolve conflicts and to improve co-ordination between them. HD has also been working to support safe humanitarian access to all communities affected by conflict in Libya.
On 15 February 2011, major demonstrations erupted throughout Libya seeking the removal of Muammar Al-Qaddafi. They began peacefully but on 17 February, forces loyal to Qaddafi fired on demonstrators, killing hundreds and provoking resignations from some officials in Qaddafi’s own cabinet, several prominent Libyan diplomats and members of the security forces in the eastern region of the country. Towards the end of February 2011, large parts of the country, particularly in eastern Libya, were outside the regime’s control. The opposition formed local councils in the major cities and created a self-styled National Transitional Council (NTC) in the country’s second largest city, Benghazi. Led by the well-respected former Justice Minister, Mustapha Abdel Jalil, the NTC declared that it sought to create a new government once Qaddafi fell.
Efforts by the African Union, the United Nations and others to facilitate negotiations between Qaddafi and the opposition failed and by the middle of March 2011 the situation on the ground had further deteriorated. Qaddafi’s forces went on the offensive, retaking control of several cities and threatening to overrun Benghazi. On 17 March, the United Nations Security Council passed Resolution 1973, which led to the imposition of a no-fly-zone and permitted NATO air support to the opposition. Over the next five months, the opposition forces were able to push Qaddafi’s forces from key cities in the west of the country, eventually entering Tripoli on 20 August 2011. Following a brutal campaign, which exerted a high toll on both sides, revolutionary forces finally overcame the last bastions of Qaddafi support in Sirte on 20 October. Qaddafi was found and killed while fleeing the city.
The Libyan civil war destroyed the already limited state institutions, which needed to be rebuilt from basic levels and also left the country awash with weapons and highly-armed militias. The new authorities did not have the capacity to assert their control over the territory and have been unable to ensure security, even in major population centers. Violence since the revolution has been endemic in Libya, especially in the south and east of the country. Insecurity has hindered economic development and added to political instability, which has been a feature of Libya since shortly after the General National Congress elections in July 2012.
In May 2014, Libya entered a new phase of high-intensity conflict following the launch of operation Dignity (Karama) in eastern Libya and the subsequent launch of the Libya Dawn (Fajr Libya) operation in western Libya. These military operations, combined with a political dispute over the July 2014 parliamentary elections, have resulted in a de facto split of the country, which now has two rival, competing Parliaments and Governments. The city of Benghazi remains at the epicentre of the conflict, with almost 10’000 killed and more than half the population displaced in early 2016. UN-led efforts to resolve the national-level conflict are ongoing, but the results of this process remain extremely fragile.
In April 2011, at the height of the conflict between the Qaddafi regime and revolutionary forces in Libya, HD initiated an assessment process to identify possible opportunities for involvement. HD found that deep cracks within Libyan society could potentially represent risks of conflict once the civil war came to an end. As a result, HD decided to support dialogue between Libyan stakeholders.
HD’s involvement in Libya focuses on building Libyan capacities to manage internal conflicts and find non-violent solutions to their differences. HD’s strategy has centered on addressing national-level conflicts and issues which affect the country’s stability, as well as regional conflicts driven by specific local matters but also affected by the national situation and, local tensions which have the capacity to add to wider conflict.
For that purpose, HD has held a series of events since 2011 on some of the key contentious issues in the national transition process. Those included twelve dialogue roundtables on the electoral and constitutional processes in the run-up to the national elections in July 2012. These events were held in key locations across the country, including with representatives of communities and civil society in the east, south and far west of Libya, and culminated in a conference on the Libyan Constitutional Process with over fifty political actors from across Libya. HD held an additional three rounds of dialogue on the transitional justice process in 2011 and followed up on this work by facilitating dialogue around Libya’s controversial political isolation law, which excludes those associated with the former regime from holding key political and administrative positions. In close co-ordination with the United Nations Support Mission in Libya (UNSMIL), the organisation also provided technical assistance to Libya’s national dialogue process. This technical assistance initially focused on helping to consolidate Libya’s various national dialogue initiatives and promoting co-ordination between these and other key aspects of the transition process.
Alongside these activities, HD has developed close contacts with principal groups of Libyan mediators, tribal and religious leaders known as the Hukama (Wise Men) and has worked closely with a select number of active mediators on particular regional conflicts. HD has also developed extensive links with other actors involved in the resolution of violent localised conflicts in Libya. In October 2012, HD organised a meeting with over 80 Libyans involved in the mediation of local conflicts (including the Hukama, civil society representatives and parliamentarians, as well as government and security sectors actors). The event improved co-ordination between those involved and has, for example, resulted in joint events and missions by the Hukama and the Army Chief of Staff.
Following recommendations from the October meeting, HD held follow-up events throughout 2013 which brought together Libyan mediators with other actors involved in the prevention, management and resolution of violent conflicts, notably active women’s groups, civil society organisations and representatives of the media.
HD has also been providing technical assistance to the Elders in their mediation of local conflicts. In Sabha, a region plagued by violent cycles of inter-communal violence since the revolution in 2011, the Hukama successfully mediated the Sabha peace agreement in April 2012, with HD’s support.
Following the signing ceremony, HD remained engaged in Sabha through the 2013. In September, HD convened a roundtable discussion in Tripoli on the theme of “Promoting Stability and Consolidating Peace in Sabha,” during which participants decided to establish a Sabha Working Group to promote social cohesion and inclusiveness. HD has since been supporting this group. When violence erupted again in Sabha in early January 2014, networks which HD had established were able to initiate and catalyse negotiations that resulted in a temporary ceasefire within days. HD will continue to be engaged in Sabha, and more broadly in southern Libya, to transform temporary ceasefires into more permanent peace agreements.
In 2014 and 2015, as the conflict escalated, HD focused its efforts on supporting national and international efforts to resolve the political and military dimensions of the national-level conflict. At the same time, the organisation conducted efforts to support stability in Benghazi and improve humanitarian access to the city. In December 2015, HD convened a roundtable on the humanitarian and security situation in Benghazi, and in March 2016, the organisation supported the conclusion of a Humanitarian Appeal for Benghazi which was signed by a large number of influential figures from the city.
HD would like to thank the European Union for its generous support to this project since 2012. HD would also like to thank the Federal Department of Foreign Affairs of Switzerland and the German Federal Foreign Office for their ongoing support to this project. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Netherlands also generously provided support to this initiative in 2011.