On 20 September 2017 the UN Special Representative of the Secretary-General to Libya, Dr. Ghassan Salamé, announced an Action Plan for Libya at a High-Level Event on Libya on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly. A key stage in this Action Plan was the organisation of a National Conference. On 9 February 2018, Dr. Salamé officially requested the Centre for Humanitarian Dialogue (HD) to run preparatory consultations in order to clarify the objectives and strategy of the National Conference, and provide an opportunity for Libyans from all walks of life to contribute to its conclusions.
The consultation phase of the Libyan National Conference, which ran from April to July 2018, was a broad-based nationwide dialogue process. It aimed to find elements of consensus in Libya’s fragmented political landscape on key issues related to the conflict and the future of the Libyan state. This consultation was the first truly inclusive, bottom-up and national process to occur in Libya for decades. And it started, for the first time since 2011, a formal, structured and nationwide discussion on the roots causes of Libya’s current crises and conflict. Moreover it brought people into the political process who had hitherto been excluded or refused to take part. People in places in the far south of the country such as Ghat, Qatrun and Kufra participated in consultation meetings, as well as those in Bani Walid, Wershefana and Brak Shati who had not been part of a national political process for over seven years.
As part of the consultative process, 77 separate meetings were held in 43 locations both inside Libya and abroad. More than 7,000 Libyans from all parts of society took part, a quarter of whom were women. In addition to the consultation meetings, citizens also participated in the process via a online platform, submitting over 1,700 completed questionnaires and 300 additional email contributions. Social media was also used to great effect, providing an opportunity for around 131,000 followers to interact on Facebook, a further 1,800 on Twitter, and reaching an overall total of 1.8 million Libyans. In addition to the success of these online campaigns, Libyan local media outlets played a key role in covering the consultation meetings from beginning to end.
The consultation meetings were organized by local institutions, municipalities, universities, student unions, civil society organizations, community leaders and local security and military figures. These organizers moderated the events and produced reports of each meeting, summarising the main recommendations. HD worked with the organizers and was present at each event to ensure coherence between meetings and answer any questions about the process. All efforts were made to ensure that the process was inclusive and that as many citizens as possible were able to contribute. The consultations were publicized in advance and open to all who wished to participate. Those who were unable to participate in person could send their contributions via the website. These online contributions included academic texts, joint proposals from Libyan organizations and individual contributions from everyday citizens concerned about the future of their country. The process was entirely transparent: every individual meeting report and online contributions can be found online in their original form. These meeting reports and online contributions form the basis of this report.
The framework for the consultation meetings was a set of questions in the form of an agenda designed to generate discussion. The first session of the agenda asked the participants what they felt should be the priorities of their government at local and national level. The use of the general term ‘priorities’, and the open question over which government or governments should be referred to, led to a vast array of responses that touched upon the desperate nature of the current Libyan crisis. People bemoaned the absurdity of the current situation where a rich and harmonious country is facing financial crises and perpetual conflict. Among the main outcomes of this session was therefore a broad statement of what Libyans felt should be the priorities of their nation state: the need for sovereignty and unity, and a state that manages Libya’s wealth, security, and public services for the benefit of all its citizens.
The second session focused on questions concerning Libya’s security and defence. Participants were asked to offer their evaluations of current problems and their proposals for future stability. The session was often the most frank, with many strong views expressed. However, a remarkable level of consensus was eventually achieved. Participants agreed, above all, that security is both a basic right and a prerequisite for any sustainable future. The participants were unanimous, in their view that current divisions in the security institutions, and particularly in the military, pose the gravest threat to such a future.
The third session discussed how resources and powers should be distributed in Libya, specifically between local and national levels of government. This session covered a range of complex issues, including ways to prevent political interference in the sovereign institutions that manage Libya’s resources, as well as the technicalities involved in enhancing local governance. A clear consensus emerged that the role of all governments should be to distribute resources fairly and that this can best be achieved through a more decentralized system. Participants praised the role played by many municipalities in providing services to citizens during the crisis. Many also criticized the lack of support these local institutions received.
The fourth session addressed how Libya can exit its ongoing crisis. Discussions focussed on the constitutional and electoral processes and national reconciliation, and elicited many contrasting opinions and proposals. Views differed, for example, on the details of the constitutional and electoral processes, including their sequencing, timing and structure. The general consensus, nonetheless, was that the country needs to ‘turn the page’ and end the transitional phase. Participants expressed fatigue and frustration with the current political situation and called for an election or other major change to usher in a new system. Few participants expressed confidence, however, that a new constitution or elections alone will solve all of Libya’s deep-seated problems. Throughout the consultative process, participants reiterated the need for national reconciliation to begin to address these problems. all participants agreed that reconciliation is needed to heal the wounds inflicted on Libyans by their own compatriots over the past eight years and earlier. The participants unanimously agreed, furthermore, that Libyan society needs to heal these wounds as a precondition for any sustainable solution.
While the consultation process produced a range of opinions, several important areas of consensus did eventually emerge and key proposals were made. These conclusions are summarised briefly below, and can be found in full in the final section of the report:
Libya’s unity and national sovereignty must be preserved, while recognizing local and cultural differences within a framework of decentralization. This entails a complete rejection of negative foreign interference.
Rational and effective democratic governance is needed. This must be based on clear and objective criteria and competences rather than tribal, political or regional affiliations. This requires greater transparency in public affairs and appointments, and strong judicial oversight free from all coercion and pressure.
Security is essential in daily life, with strong and independent security and military institutions based on national values, obedient to the rule of law and subject to civilian and judicial oversight.
Unified sovereign and military institutions must be protected from political, partisan and regional interference. These institutions must operate in the interests of all Libyans.
Libya’s national resources must be protected. Economic reforms are needed to ensure an end to corruption and the waste of state resources. Strong oversight must be exercised over public spending and financial institutions.
Libya’s resources must be distributed fairly. This entails greater allocations for municipalities and a budget for major developments, reconstruction and infrastructure. A special fund should be created to reinvest some of the wealth generated by oil-producing and exporting companies in the sustainable development of the regions in hic they operate.
The functioning of the state must be built on strong local governance. This requires capacity-building and a revision of the current legislative framework and system of municipalities. It is essential that municipalities continue to operate as apolitical bodies and in in the interests of citizens.
The transitional phase must be ended, definitively, with the adoption of a constitution based on a consensus that can unite the country.
Safe, secure and transparent elections must be held when the minimal conditions are met, with no barriers to the full participation of all Libyans.
National reconciliation must be achieved, based on traditional Libyan practices and values and with respect for the demands of justice. The reconciliation process must be free from foreign interference.