The UNSMIL Draft Agreement and International Engagement with Libya

Since UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon nominated Mr. Bernardino Leon as the UN Special Representative and Head of the UN Support Mission in Libya (UNSMIL) in August 2014, stagnant Libyan waters have moved. When he announced the launch of a political dialogue in September 2014, Libyans who lost confidence in the political process—having witnessed a tremendous deterioration in their security and quality of life—distrusted the initiative, doubting that such a dialogue could be realized. Since that time, Leon has worked diligently to build a Libyan constituency among its rival powerbrokers to reach agreement over Libya’s future. While this effort has culminated in a draft proposal to end Libya’s political crisis, the terms of the draft agreement thus far place far too great a burden on any future Libyan government without clearly defining the obligations of the United Nations or international community towards its implementation.

Table 1. Timetable of the UN-brokered Libya talks and outcomes





September 29, 2014

Ghadames, Libya

Active and boycotting House representatives

Agreed to convene a second round of talks in order to address all outstanding differences within the framework of a political process, and to call for an immediate nationwide ceasefire.

January 14-16, 2015

Geneva, Switzerland

Active and boycotting House representatives, NGO and independents.

Agenda to form a national unity government, make security arrangements to end fighting, secure phased withdrawal of armed groups from cities, and confidence building measures.

January 26-27, 2015

Geneva, Switzerland

Active and boycotting House representatives, NGO and independents.

Accelerating dialogue to form a national unity government, agreement on security arrangements to coincide with the formation of the government. Call for ceasefire.

January 28-29, 2015

Geneva, Switzerland

Mayors and representatives of municipal and local councils

Agreed on Misrata prison visits, right of Tawergha to return to their  land, working groups to improve quality of life

February 11, 2015

Ghadames, Libya

Active and boycotting House representatives, GNC members, NGO and independents.

For the first time, all invited participants attended. Leon held separate meetings with the delegations. Agreed to continue the discussions, deescalate conflict

March 11, 2015

Algiers, Algeria

Political party leaders and activists

A declaration that includes: preserving Libya’s unity and integrity, commitment to the political process and security efforts

March 5-7, 2015

Skhirat, Morocco

Active and boycotting House representatives, GNC members, NGO and independents.

A pause for consultations with their respective constituencies before resuming the talks

March 11-13, 2015

Skhirat, Morocco

Active and boycotting House representatives, GNC members, NGO and independents.

Resumed work on the draft documents presented by UNSMIL in earlier discussions.

March 19-20, 2015

Skhirat, Morocco

Active and boycotting House representatives, GNC members, NGO and independents

UNSMIL presents proposal to end political crisis (March 24), Leon speaks to press (March 25)

March 23-24, 2015

Brussels, Belgium

Mayors and representatives of municipal and local councils

Agreement on political dialogue and unity government, call for ceasefire, condemn and fight terrorism, withdrawal of armed groups from all towns; reopening civilian airports, condemning media incitement, respecting rights of detainees, return of refugees and internally displaced people by December 31, 2015, full humanitarian access, and enhancing the participation of women in the political dialogue.

April 13

Algiers, Algeria

Political leaders and activists.


UNSMIL’s hopes to create a national unity government through the political dialogue, vested with the power that would allow it to govern free of parliamentary manipulation. UN and international community members would then provide assistance to surmount Libya’s most urgent challenges—including security, militias groups, arms proliferation, and managing the remaining transitional period. The third round of talks in Skhirat represented a breakthrough, when UNSMIL provided a complete draft agreement on “The Political Transition in Libya” for all parties to the political dialogue to consider in the coming days. This is the first complete draft agreement issued by UNSMIL since the Libyan political dialogue began in September last year.

The fifteen-page proposal is divided into eight chapters: an introduction, regulatory rules, terms for a national unity government, confidence building measurements, security arrangements, constitution making, international support, and final provisions. Two chapters of the draft agreement address how the international community will engage with Libya’s national unity government. Chapter V, which focuses on security arrangements, references international support in four of the fifteen articles:

  1. Article 19 states that “… the national unity government, through the army, police and different security institutions, is responsible for the execution of temporary security arrangements with the support of the UN and the international community.”
  2. Article 22.2 outlines the creation of a committee, to be presided over by the unity government, to oversee ceasefire observation: “The UN, with the assistance of the international community, and upon the request of the unity government, shall provide the necessary assistance to the [ceasefire observation] committee.”
  3. Article 23.3 states, “The unity government, and in coordination with the legislative power, has the right to ask for assistance from the UN and the international community for the purpose of executing the cease fire agreement and security safeguards.”

  4. Article 26.1 provides “the unity government through official security institutions, and in accordance with procedures and laws in this regard, and in coordination with military groups, and under the supervision and assistance of the UN, shall collect all heavy weaponry and ammunition, within sixty days starting from the date that the ceasefire enters into force….”

By insisting upon international support in Chapter V of the draft agreement, UNSMIL acknowledges that Libya cannot implement the security arrangements mentioned alone. The proposal’s repeated reference to both the UN and the international community in specific acts, such as “execution of the temporary security arrangements,” “ceasefire observation committee,” “executing the cease fire agreement and security safeguards,” and “collection of all heavy weaponry and its ammunition,” aims to garner the support of the global community to help set the stage for a sustainable political solution. The importance of this chapter is obvious; without a secure Libya, political forces cannot address any of the core issues. The proposal would remain ink on paper unless the UN and the international community can effectively support the implementation of Chapter V.

The phrasing in the above-mentioned articles, however, does not constitute in any way an obligation to secure Libya. The term “international community” is a fluid expression that has different meanings: a group of people or governments, the United States and its allies, or individual UN member states could all fit the definition. But without being able to point to someone, it points to no one at all. Unless the draft agreement names states that have been involved in the dialogue process since its beginning—such as the United Kingdom, the United States, Italy, France, Spain, and/or regional organizations such as the European Union, Arab league, NATO—the terms used in the draft agreement engage no one. Although the agreement affords the unity government the right to call for assistance from the global community, there is nothing new afforded in this right; it is a right of all governments to request assistance in times of war or peace. The issue here is whether anyone would respond to the unity government’s requests.

Chapter VII of the draft agreement, the shortest of all nine chapters titled “International Support,” contains similar problems:

  1. Article 38 oddly equates Libya and UNSMIL in reference to launching efforts to generate support for this agreement from the United Nations Security Council (UNSC). As part of the UN system, derived from UNSC resolutions and from which stems Special Envoy Leon’s mission, it makes no sense to distinguish UNSMIL as a separate entity. More importantly, by isolating UNSMIL from its parent UN structure, it suggests that the agency lacks the authority to endorse this agreement and that additional UNSC approval would be necessary—potentially creating a needless hurdle to finalizing the deal.
  2. Similarly, Article 39 describes the adoption by both Libya and UNSMIL of a plan for the provision of international support to Libyan institutions. UNSMIL would provide guidelines for this plan as an annex to the draft agreement, subject to the unity government’s review. While all well and good in principle, a specific mechanism to ensure such international support (particularly Chapter V) should be drafted in the same process, particularly given the initial burdens on the nascent unity government.

Bearing in mind the numerous UNSC resolutions relating to Libya, it would make more sense to redraft this chapter taking into consideration all international obligations outlined in these resolutions towards Libya, including EU decisions and declarations. This additional step would obligate UN, Arab, European, African, and American parties to define the international engagement towards Libya, one to which they would be bound and agree to honor.

As the UN and foreign nations engaged in the political dialogue have realized, Libyans who needed help in eradicating a dictator in 2011 still need help today with peace building. Uncontrolled arms, arsenals, and their proliferation are destroying the democratization process in its formative stages. Today, no democracy would succeed in Libya in the presence of militias. Chapter V related to security arrangements in the UNSMIL draft agreement puts its finger on the crux of a successful transition. However, the unity government–given its tasks in accordance with the draft agreement–could never implement the obligations without the full engagement of the UN and other concerned states. While Libya’s stakeholders would determine the scope and success of a final agreement, only a clear and binding international support mechanism can maximize the chances for fulfilling the promise of a Libyan Spring and give the phrase “international community” some meaning.

Azza K. Maghur is a lawyer, human rights activist, and former member of the February Committee tasked by the General National Congress to amend the transitional constitution and prepare the elections law.

Image: Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Libya and Head of United Nations Support Mission in Libya (UNSMIL) Bernardino Leon addresses a news conference at the Palais des Nations in Geneva, January 14, 2015. (Reuters)