The UN Secretary-General’s former Special Advisor on Libya, Stephanie Williams, has urged Libya’s High Council of State and the House of Representatives to make “historic compromises” to shoulder their responsibility and agree on a roadmap to elections within a constitutional framework.
“I still believe elections are possible in Libya and are the key to solving the perpetual conflict over the executive authority,” she told Asharq Al-Awsat in an interview.
“The two chambers need to pass the last hurdle which will, in my view, require a spirit of historic compromise and the strong backing of the international community,” Williams said.
She also stressed that “the Libyan people want national elections in order to renew their political class and to elect a President.”
Williams said she “appreciated the commitment of the 5+5 Joint Military Commission … to maintain, in word and deed, the October 2020 ceasefire agreement.”
She also expressed concern “about efforts to politicize the National Oil Corporation (NOC).”
Williams, who left her post last month, also expressed hope that the UN Security Council would soon appoint a Special Representative for UN chief Antonio Guterres in Libya.
Here’s the full text of the interview.
Is there a connection between you leaving your post and the extension of the UN mission for just three months?
My tenure was always envisioned as being short-term, originally for four months, pending the appointment of an SRSG/UNSMIL Head of Mission. I had already made commitments that pre-dated my appointment as Special Adviser and therefore I was unable to accept the request for yet another extension beyond the end of July. I hope and expect that the Security Council consensually agrees as soon as possible the appointment of an SRSG and to extend UNSMIL’s mandate for one year.
How was your relationship with the five permanent members of the Security Council?
I enjoyed a good relationship with all UN member states, including those present in the UN Security Council.
Did the Russian-Western clash in Ukraine affect Libya?
Despite divisions as a result of the conflict in Ukraine, the Security Council has continued to meet to discuss Libya and the Berlin Process is still operative.
You have previously said that some people have “hijacked Libya’s political future.” Who are those people?
There are a variety of factors that play into the refusal of the conflict parties to advance the process. But my marching orders from the Secretary-General were to listen to the Libyan people and what I heard from them was abundantly clear: the Libyan people want national elections in order to renew their political class and to elect a President. So, I decided to listen to the nearly three million Libyans who registered to vote rather than the narrow political class. The High Council of State has been in office for over ten years and the House of Representatives for over eight years. Their expiration dates have long passed.
The demonstrations in early July were a clarion call for the holding of elections. The two chambers should shoulder their responsibility and agree on a roadmap to elections within a constitutional framework. They have a clear responsibility towards their fellow citizens and future generations to make the necessary historic compromises to enable the needed breakthroughs.
You have played a role in the success of the Berlin conference. Where does it stand now? What is its fate?
Pursuant to my directions from the Secretary-General, I led the three intra-Libyan tracks laid out by the Berlin Conference and enshrined in the subsequent United Nations Security Council resolutions. The three intra-Libyan tracks are complemented by three international working groups. During my tenure we held meetings of the international security working group when France was the chair and in the presence of the Joint Military Commission (5+5) as well as holding a meeting of the international economic working group co-chairs (Egypt, European Union and United States) with a number of Libyan institutions and constituencies represented. Co-chair meetings of the international political working group and the International Humanitarian Law and Human Rights working group were held. The Political Working Group is co-chaired by Germany, Algeria and the Arab League while the International Humanitarian Law and Human Rights Working Group is chaired by the Netherlands and Switzerland.
I especially appreciated the commitment of the 5+5 Joint Military Commission, with whom I had the pleasure to work for over two years, to maintain, in word and deed, the October 2020 ceasefire agreement and to press ahead with plans to unify the military institutions, work on disarming militias and on security sector reform, and to arrange the departure of mercenaries and foreign forces who violate Libyan sovereignty. I also appreciated their commitment to the principle of civilian oversight of the military, a principle which must be upheld.
On the economic front, I pressed for continuing transparency and accountability in the management of the country’s oil revenues. While it has been positive to see the oil blockade lifted, I remain concerned about efforts to politicize the National Oil Corporation (NOC). The NOC and all sovereign institutions should enjoy complete autonomy and independence from political maneuvering. The recommendations of the UN-facilitated audit of the Central Bank of Libya should be fully implemented, including the much-needed unification of the bank.
A new grouping called 5+2 (US, UK, France, Germany, Italy + Turkey and Egypt) was formed and held its first meeting in Istanbul on July 19. What do you think about the coordination of the international community that should be led by Germany?
I appreciated the opportunity to engage with the international community through a variety of gatherings, whether through the regularly scheduled large diplomatic briefings, the Berlin international working groups or smaller gatherings comprising a discrete group of countries. During my eight months I also undertook travel to a number of countries: Tunisia, Egypt, Turkey, Russia, Italy, Germany, Great Britain, France, Spain, and Algeria. Wherever the United Nations was welcome to give its view, it was my duty to be present.
When do you expect elections to be held in Libya?
I still believe elections are possible in Libya and are the key to solving the perpetual conflict over the executive authority. When the Secretary-General requested that I undertake my Mission last December, he made it clear that my top priority should be to listen to the millions of Libyans who registered to vote to go to the ballot box to restore the legitimacy of the country’s institutions via national elections. I believe it is only with the establishment of a consensual constitutional framework which sets the milestones, the contract between the governed and those who govern them, and the guardrails for the end of the very long transitional period through national elections that the current political stalemate and recurrent executive crisis can be overcome.
I was accompanied by a remarkable team of constitutional, electoral, and legal experts in three rounds of negotiations between the two chambers to reach a consensual formula for the needed constitutional framework in order for Libya to move to the long-anticipated national elections. In all, we spent almost a full month conducting these negotiations during which quite a lot was accomplished, including agreement on the vital issues of decentralization and a mechanism for the distribution of resources, both of which are considered to be among the drivers of the conflict in Libya. The two chambers need to pass the last hurdle which will, in my view, require a spirit of historic compromise and the strong backing of the international community.
I also used my time to reach out to the broadest possible spectrum of interlocutors and representatives of Libya’s political, security and social domains to listen and understand their concerns, their vision for the future of their country and their ideas and suggestions to help Libya end the long period of transition that has beset the country since 2011. I continued to advocate for the inclusion of youth in the political process and held several digital dialogues and conducted other outreach to youth groups. As well, I advocated for the inclusion of women in the process. Too many Libyan women have been attacked, abused, illegally detained, disappeared and perished for their political ideas. Women’s participation in public life is both necessary and must be protected.
Will we see Ms Williams in the future having a new position in US diplomacy or she will write memoirs on the mission in Libya with Dr. Ghassan Salame?
I shall continue to devote my time to working on the Middle East and North Africa region through writing, teaching, speaking, and advocating. I believe that the issue of accountability is absolutely vital, to hold responsible those who have committed grave abuses. Throughout my various tenures in Libya, I dedicated my time to listening to the horrific testimonies of the many victims of human rights abuses perpetrated across the country. I will never forget the day that I spent in Tarhouna with the families of the victims of torture and those are still missing, all at the hands of murderers and their sponsors. It’s necessary that those who have committed grave abuses be held accountable in order for the country to heal and move forward. The same can be said for other countries in the region that have witnessed civil wars, including Syria, Iraq, and Yemen.