Libya: Analysis of the work of the Security Council (2018 – 2020)

By Noura Birkl

Almost ten years after the 2011 uprisings that saw nearly one in five women taking part in protests to advocate for change, diverse women in Libya continue to call for inclusion in decision-making processes and protection of fundamental human rights. Multiple factors drive the ongoing violence and widespread insecurity, including inequality stemming from deeply-rooted patriarchal norms that reinforce a range of discriminatory legal, social and cultural structures and practices; the widespread availability of weapons;[i] militarized responses to conflict and violence; corruption; human rights violations; and the internationalization of the conflict. These factors intersect with decades of oppression of ethnic minorities in Libya, including the Amizigh, Tuareg and Tebu, who continue to fight for basic recognition of their identity and cultural and linguistic rights.

In recent years, there has been a shrinking of civil society space, and freedom of opinion, expression and assembly have been curtailed. This has particularly impacted activists, human rights defenders and peacebuilders, who face targeted violations, including abductions, harassment, arbitrary arrest, sexual violence and even killings. Migrants, including men and boys, experience cycles of abuse, systematic torture and sexual violence at the hands of smugglers, traffickers, members of armed groups and detaining authorities while traveling, in detention centers, at sea and upon arrival in Europe. Exacerbating this already dire situation, the COVID-19 pandemic and resulting response measures have had a distinctly gendered impact, and there has been a subsequent increase in domestic violence and child marriage.[ii]

The extent to which the Security Council discusses women, peace and security (WPS) is influenced by a range of factors, the most significant being reports of the Secretary-General and senior UN officials’ briefings. In the context of Libya, the Security Council has received gender-sensitive conflict analysis during briefings delivered by women civil society leaders (January 2018, April 2019, September 2019) and three meetings of the Security Council Informal Expert Group (IEG) on Women, Peace and Security (April 2018, November 2018, August 2019). Nonetheless, the vital information presented in those interactions was not enough to outweigh the minimal or non-existent references in reports of the Secretary-General and briefings of senior UN officials. As articulated by one Libyan civil society leader, the result is that the Security Council’s discussion of Libya is superficial and fails to “address the reality on the ground.”

Informed by the work of our members,[iii] recently published research[iv] and our analysis in 2018 and 2019, this brief highlights two critical dimensions of the WPS agenda that remain inadequately addressed by the Security Council:

 

  • Women’s meaningful participation in peace and political processes; and
  • Violence targeting human rights defenders, peacebuilders and journalists.

 

Women’s meaningful participation in peace and political processes

At the heart of the conflict in Libya is competition for political power that is perpetuated through the use of violence and instrumentalization of regressive gender norms in efforts to obtain or maintain power. The proliferation of weapons and, consequently, the militarization of both public and private spaces results in political processes that are inherently and intentionally exclusionary. The actors considered ‘legitimate,’ who must be included in peace and political processes, are those that use violence. The increased influence of ultra-conservative religious groups directly undermines the realization of women’s rights, as recent research demonstrates that support for violence against women is the single most decisive factor associated with support for violent extremism. Consequently, these structural and political barriers, which prevent the meaningful participation and leadership of diverse women in peace and political processes and replicate existing systems of corruption, inequality and exclusion, often mean that even when women gain access, they cannot significantly influence outcomes.

In the immediate aftermath of the revolution, women were sidelined in newly created government structures and marginalized in formal peace and political processes.  It has been due to the persistence and extensive engagement of women leaders, peacebuilders, human rights defenders and activists at the local level that any small amount of inclusion has occurred, often at the last minute, such as in the Palermo talks in 2018.

The current peace process, the UN-facilitated Libyan Political Dialogue Forum (LPDF), commenced in November 2020 with the intended goal of negotiating a new governance structure and framework for future elections. In advance of the LPDF, the UN facilitated a range of consultations with diverse stakeholders, resulting in recommendations from various constituencies, including women, youth, civil society and mayors. Out of 75 participants, 17 women were invited. The 17 women participating in the LPDF drafted a separate statement with specific demands, including meaningful political representation with women in 30% of leadership positions and youth in 20% of leadership positions. The roadmap resulting from the first meeting of the LPDF integrates several of these recommendations, emphasizes gender equality and guarantees the proposed 30% quota.

However, even among participants, there has been concern regarding the extent to which the LPDF will achieve its intended outcome. Criticism has been levied at the selection of participants, underrepresentation of regional, ethnic and tribal groups, and inclusion of individuals accused of corruption. Recently allegations of bribery and voter buying were publicized, resulting in public acknowledgment of the situation and an investigation into the allegations. Finally, another concern expressed by many civil society leaders, including women leaders, is that the structure of the process replicates exclusionary systems, which will only reproduce the status quo and fail to advance the conversation in any meaningful way.

Despite the importance of ensuring women’s participation in the current process, the Council has failed to discuss the critical role of women’s meaningful participation during its meetings and has included only superficial references to women’s participation in outcome documents. The mandate for the United Nations Support Mission in Libya (UNSMIL), most recently renewed in Resolution 2542 (2020), has a provision calling for gender to be a cross-cutting issue, yet this language could be strengthened through increased specificity. Beyond the mandate, there is no additional operative language highlighting women’s meaningful participation. Language added to the preambular paragraphs, while positive, fails to meaningfully hold actors accountable for their obligations to implement the WPS agenda. Further, the press statement adopted in October 2020, which focused on the ceasefire and the forthcoming LPDF, failed to include any reference to women.

Resolutions serve as an articulation of the will of the Security Council as a whole, but individual statements delivered by members are also important expressions of political support. In this context, Council members fall short. Out of all references to the peace process made in statements delivered by Council members, only 6% in 2019 and 3% in 2020 referred to women’s inclusion in peace processes. When references were made, they were typically vague, framed as something “important” but not required, and comparatively weak when examined alongside similar calls for women’s participation in other country-specific situations, such as Afghanistan.

Violence targeting women peacebuilders, human rights defenders and journalists

Libyan women active in public life – human rights defenders, activists, elected officials and peacebuilders – continue to face targeted attacks designed to intimidate, silence, discredit and stigmatize their work. The threats faced by human rights defenders have been well-documented by human rights organizations and linked to the broader insecurity within the country, which both contributes to and is also rooted in near-complete impunity for all actors for a range of violations, including sexual violence, torture, arbitrary detention and unlawful killings. High-profile and public killings and abductions, such as those of Naseeb Kerfana, Salwa Bugaighis, Fariha al-Barkawy, Entisar El HassariSiham Sergewa, and most recently Hanan Al-Barassi in November 2020, have increased significantly since 2014 and are committed in an environment of impunity in which women are frequently targeted both online and in-person. In late November 2020, UN Women noted that there had been reports of threats and personal risks faced by women participating in the current LPDF. This climate of impunity emboldens perpetrators and has a direct and lasting impact on women’s work and livelihood by creating a hostile environment for women human rights defenders and activists who face continuous backlash, including those who have briefed the Security Council. The result of these attacks on women and women’s rights groups is undeniable; many women gradually withdraw from public space and numerous women’s organizations have permanently ended their activism.

Our analysis illustrates that the Security Council has overlooked this issue in its outcomes, and the information flowing to the Council via both reports of the Secretary-General and briefings of senior UN officials is similarly deficient. Despite the widely publicized attacks and killings of activists, Security Council members only began referencing threats facing women politicians and human rights defenders in their statements during meetings beginning in 2019, and only referenced the issue in an outcome document, albeit in a preambular paragraph, for the first time in Resolution 2542 (2020), adopted in September 2020. This inclusion was undoubtedly influenced by the briefings of women civil society leaders (January 2018, April 2019, September 2019) and discussions during the Security Council IEG on WPS (April 2018, November 2018, August 2019).

One specific instance of violence targeting a woman leader did receive increased attention; this was the enforced disappearance of parliamentarian and women’s rights activist Siham Sergewa, who had expressed political views critical of the Libyan National Army’s offensive on Tripoli and called for the formation of a civilian state. Her disappearance was referenced by Council members in meetings following her abduction in July 2019.[v] Subsequent reports of the Secretary-General mentioned her disappearance and also situated it within a broader context of targeted violence against women in politics and human rights defenders, and attempts to silence women and girls and exclude them from political institutions.[vi] Further, UNSMIL released a statement calling attention to the disappearance and highlighted its “chilling impact on the work of women activists in Libya.” This is an example of how senior UN officials and Member States should condemn violence targeting human rights defenders and crackdowns of civil society as a means of recognizing the legitimacy and value of human rights defenders in promoting peace and security.

Recommendations

The Security Council must center its work on Libya’s situation by consistently addressing conflict drivers, including gender inequality and militarization. In all discussions and adopted outcomes, the Security Council should:

  • Insist on women’s rights and full, equal and meaningful participation in the current peace and political process: The Security Council must call for women’s rights and the full, equal and meaningful participation and leadership of diverse women, including young women, displaced women, Indigenous women and women with disabilities, in formal, substantive and specific roles at every level of the peace process, including at the local level in provincial councils. Diverse women must be included at all stages and all levels of decision-making – in the pre-negotiation phase, in ceasefires, in the peace process and in implementing and monitoring any resulting peace agreement. Any logistical, technical, legal, accessibility-related and financial barriers must be addressed and removed.
  • Ensure the safety of women leaders, peacebuilders, human rights defenders and activists: Prevent threats and violence aimed at deterring their participation in peace and security processes, including by elevating their role in promoting peace and human rights. Regularly highlight the importance of ensuring an enabling environment for women’s civil society, peacebuilders and human rights defenders, including by utilizing influence in supporting civic engagement and activism, accessibility in peacebuilding spaces, and financial support for building the capacity of women’s movements.
  • Mandate that UNSMIL monitor and report on attacks, threats and killings of human rights defenders, including women human rights defenders: Further require all peace operations to meaningfully consult with diverse women’s civil society organizations in all aspects of mandate implementation, including conflict prevention, protection of civilians, peacebuilding and electoral support, as called for in Resolution 2122 (2013) and outlined in the Department of Peace Operations’ Gender Responsive United Nations Peacekeeping Operations Policy and the Department of Political and Peacebuilding Affairs’ Women, Peace and Security Policy.

 


Endnotes

[i] “The proliferation of weapons despite the UN arms embargo, the breakdown of state institutions, and the general state of lawlessness has had a disproportionate impact on Libyan women’s security and freedom of movement.” Marwa Mohamed, 4 September 2019 (S/PV.8611)

[ii] For detailed research and analysis COVID-19 as it relates to peace and security, see the following for further information:
CARE. (2020). Gender Implications of COVID-19 Outbreaks in Development and Humanitarian Settings. https://www.care.org/sites/default/files/gendered_implications_of_covid-19_-_full_paper.pdf
CARE. (2020). Global Rapid Gender Analysis for COVID-19. https://www.care.org/sites/default/files/global_rga_covid_rdm_3.31.20_final.pdf
Center for Reproductive Rights. (2020). In the Face of COVID-19 Pandemic, Sexual and Reproductive Health Services are Essential. https://reproductiverights.org/press-room/face-covid-19-pandemic-sexual-and-reproductive-health-services-are-essential
Cordaid. (2020). Human security at stake: The gendered impact of COVID-19 in Libya. https://www.cordaid.org/en/publications/human-security-at-stake-the-gendered-impact-of-covid-19-in-libya/
Human Rights Watch. (2020). Human Rights Dimensions of COVID-19 Response: Address disproportionate impacts on women and girls. https://www.hrw.org/news/2020/03/26/protect-rights-people-disabilities-during-covid-19
Human Rights Watch. (2020). Libya: Detainees at Risk of Coronavirus Spread. https://www.hrw.org/news/2020/03/29/libya-detainees-risk-coronavirus-spread
Madre. (2020). A Feminist Foreign Policy to Confront Authoritarian and Militarist Responses to the Pandemic. https://www.madre.org/press-publications/statement/feminist-foreign-policy-confront-authoritarian-and-militarist-responses
Madre. (2020). Care and Connection in Crisis. https://www.madre.org/sites/default/files/PDFs/Care%20and%20Connection%20in%20Crisis.pdf
Outright Action International. (2020). Vulnerability Amplified: The Impact of the COVID-19 Pandemic on LGBTIQ People. https://outrightinternational.org/content/vulnerability-amplified-impact-covid-19-pandemic-lgbtiq-people
Refugees International. (2020). Gender Matters: COVID-19’s Outsized Impact on Displaced Women and Girls. https://www.refugeesinternational.org/reports/2020/5/4/gender-matters-covid-19s-outsized-impact-on-displaced-women-and-girls
UN Women. (2020). Impact of COVID-19 on violence against women and girls and service provision: UN Women rapid assessment and findings. https://www.unwomen.org/en/digital-library/publications/2020/05/impact-of-covid-19-on-violence-against-women-and-girls-and-service-provision
UN Women. (2020). Impact of COVID-19 on Violence against Women and Girls in the Arab States through the Lens of Women’s Civil Society Organizations. https://arabstates.unwomen.org/en/digital-library/publications/2020/08/brief-impact-of-covid19-on-vaw-in-the-arab-states-through-the-lens-of-women-csos
UN Women. (2020). Rapid Assessment: The Effects of COVID-19 on Violence Against Women and Gendered Social Norms – A Snapshot from Nine Countries in the Arab States Preliminary. https://arabstates.unwomen.org/en/digital-library/publications/2020/08/brief-the-effects-of-covid-19-on-violence-against-women-and-gendered-social-norms
Women Enabled International. (2020). COVID-19 at the Intersection of Gender and Disability. https://womenenabled.org/pdfs/Women%20Enabled%20International%20COVID-19%20at%20the%20Intersection%20of%20Gender%20and%20Disability%20May%202020%20Final.pdf
Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom. (2020). Feminist principles for a post COVID-19 settlement. https://www.wilpf.org/portfolio-items/feminist-principles-for-a-post-covid-19-settlement/
Women’s Refugee Commission. (2020). We Cannot Abandon Migrant and Refugee Women During the COVID-19 Crisis. https://www.womensrefugeecommission.org/wrc-news/we-cannot-abandon-migrant-and-refugee-women-during-the-covid-19-crisis/

[iii] See the following for further information:
Cordaid, et. al.. (2020). Libyans at Risk: Measuring the daily safety for effective peacebuilding in Libya. https://www.cordaid.org/en/wp-content/uploads/sites/11/2020/12/Cordaid-Research-Paper-Libyans-at-Risk.pdf
Cordaid, Tamazight Women’s Movement, et. al.. (2019). UPR Stakeholder Report – Joint Submission Libya 3rd Cycle (October 2019). https://www.cordaid.org/en/wp-content/uploads/sites/11/2020/11/The-3rd-Universal-Periodic-Review-of-Libya.pdf
Global Partnership for the Prevention of Armed Conflict. (2020). Meaningful Engagement of Young Men and Women in Building Sustainable peace in Libya. https://gppac.net/files/2020-12/Libya%20YPS-WPS%20Policy%20Paper.pdf
Human Rights Watch. (2020). Submission to the Universal Periodic Review of Libya. https://uprdoc.ohchr.org/uprweb/downloadfile.aspx?filename=7905&file=EnglishTranslation
Mader, McMillan, & Tonelli. (2020). “Do Our Voices Matter?”: An analysis of women civil society representatives’ meaningful participation at the UN Security Council, NGO Working Group on Women, Peace and Security & Oxfam International. https://policy-practice.oxfam.org/resources/do-our-voices-matter-an-analysis-of-women-civil-society-representatives-meaning-621133/
Saferworld, Oxfam International, & Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom. (2018). Building inclusive peace: gender at the heart of conflict analysis. https://www.saferworld.org.uk/resources/publications/1167-building-inclusive-peace-gender-at-the-heart-of-conflict-analysis
Salah. (2020). To End the Killings in Libya, the Cost Balance Needs to Change, Human Rights Watch. https://www.hrw.org/news/2020/12/15/end-killings-libya-cost-balance-needs-change
Together We Built It Organization & Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom. (2018). Policy Brief: A Roadmap to Sustainable Peace in Libya – A Feminist Approach towards Achieving Peace and Security in the Face of Patriarchy, Militarism, and Fundamentalism. https://www.wilpf.org/wilpf_statements/policy-brief-a-roadmap-to-sustainable-peace-in-libya-a-feminist-approach-towards-achieving-peace-and-security-in-the-face-of-patriarchy-militarism-and-fundamentalism/
Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom, Together We Build It, et. al.. (2020). Joint submission for the Universal Periodic Review of Libya. https://www.wilpf.org/portfolio-items/joint-submission-for-the-upr-of-libya/
Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom. (2017). Frontline: Addressing Women’s Multidimensional Insecurity in Yemen and Libya. https://www.wilpf.org/portfolio-items/feminism-at-the-frontline-addressing-womens-multidimensional-insecurity-in-yemen-and-libya/

[iv] See the following for further information:
El-Kikhia. (2020). Women and Youth Are Shaping Libya’s Political Dialogue—but More Progress Is Needed for Inclusivity. https://www.washingtoninstitute.org/policy-analysis/women-and-youth-are-shaping-libyas-political-dialogue-more-progress-needed
Johnston & True. (2020). Misogyny and violent extremism: Implications for preventing violent extremism. http://tiny.cc/5757tz
Khalifa. (2020). Living in the Shadows of Authoritarianism, Sadeq Institute. https://www.sadeqinstitute.org/short-reads/living-in-the-shadows-of-authoritarianism
Monash University & UN Women. (2019). Gender Equality and Violent Extremism: A Research Agenda for Libya. https://arabstates.unwomen.org/en/digital-library/publications/2019/11/gender-equality-and-violent-extremism-in-libya
Monash University & UN Women. (2019). Policy Brief: Misogyny and Violent Extremism – Implications for Preventing Violent Extremism. https://arabstates.unwomen.org/en/digital-library/publications/2019/10/wps-policy-brief
UN Women. (2020). Deepening Stabilization in Libya: Overcoming Challenges to Young Women’s Participation in Peace Building. https://arabstates.unwomen.org/en/digital-library/publications/2020/12/deepening-stabilization-in-libya
UN Women. (2020). The Economic and Social Impact of Conflict on Libyan Women Recommendations for Economic Recovery, Legal Reform and Governance for Gender-Responsive Peacebuilding. https://arabstates.unwomen.org/en/digital-library/publications/2020/04/the-economic-and-social-impact-of-conflict-on-libyan-women

[v] Libya (S/PV.8611, Special Representative Salamé, Germany; S/PV.8660, France, United Kingdom; S/PV.8667, Special Representative Salamé, Germany)), including explicit acknowledgment that her disappearance illustrated broader patterns of violence against women in Libya (Libya (S/PV.8667, Special Representative Salamé))

[vi] (S/2019/682 para 57; S/2020/41 para 54 and 97; S/2020/360 para 52)

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