Stateless ethnic minorities in Libya and upcoming elections Election News


Libya’s expectations are high and candidates are beginning to show interest in running in the elections scheduled for December this year.

These have been delayed three years after a military campaign in the capital of Tripoli by the government of renegade military commander Khalifa Haftar, based in Tobruk, in the east.

The new interim Government of National Unity (GNU) is an interim government agency that was sworn in on March 15 and was tasked with leading the Libyan Arab Jamahiriya in this year’s presidential and parliamentary elections.

While many Libyans are eager to go to the polls, the country’s ethnic minorities risk being overlooked in the electoral process.

These include Amazigh, Tuareg and Thebes. The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) cannot provide an exact number of stateless persons in the country, but the percentage of undocumented remains high. Many are unable to acquire citizenship or other forms of documentation that allow them to vote on both the election and a possible constitution.

At the time of Libya’s independence in 1951, numerous non-Arab nomadic communities had settled in the country. But unlike the Arab Libyans, many of these ethnic minorities suffered discriminatory laws that set them apart from society.

Mohammed A’Sunoussy, a member of the Tebu National Assembly, says: “After Libya’s independence, the government took steps to register and issue civilian documentation to the Libyan population … But there was little effort. to reach Tebu in the desert. As a result, many Tebu were left without any documentation at this time. “

Some were also deprived of their Libyan citizenship after the International Criminal Court ruled that the mineral-rich Aouzou strip in the south should be returned to Chad. Former Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi issued a decree ordering the revocation of all documentation issued in the strip and, as a result, many tebu have not been able to obtain documentation since.

Tuareg tribes roam the desert [File: Wolfgang Kumm/EPA]

Human rights obstacles

Similarly, Tuareg tribes have been discriminated against in terms of citizenship rights.

Shortly after the election date was set, the Tuareg Tribal Council met with the Speaker of the House of Representatives (HoR), Agila Saleh, to discuss a solution to what they referred to as “obstacles to human rights that [Tuareg] the families live among the people who have temporary records in the Civil Status Authority ”. Having temporary records is common among Tuaregs, meaning they cannot obtain full citizenship rights.

When the revolution broke out in 2011, Gaddafi recruited Tuareg soldiers promising them Libyan documentation. These promises never materialized and to date, approximately 14,000 Tuareg have no official papers, according to the World Directory of Minorities and Indigenous Peoples.

These official documents, such as the “Family Brochure,” are an essential proof of citizenship that is often difficult for nomadic communities to apply for. Valerie Stocker, a researcher at the European Peace Institute, says: “People with undetermined legal status cannot currently participate in formal political life as they are not eligible to vote or stand for election.”

In a statement, the Supreme Council of Libyan Tribes and Cities welcomed the GNU led by Abdel Hamid al-Dbaibah and said the elections were an “important step in the unification of Libya.” However, they also called on the caretaker government to include the country’s ethnic minorities in the established electoral process.

Similar concerns were expressed before the 2012 Libyan elections. To address this, a decree was issued ruling that people could register to vote with another form of documentation, including a driver’s license or national ID.

Despite this, several human rights groups claim that some ethnic minority voters were disqualified from voting because they were not “Libyan citizens.” Stocker documents more than 1,000 Tebu voters in the southeastern district of Kufra who were disqualified, some of whom were denied voting rights based on their Tebu names.

Although Tuareg activists campaigned against the election commission before the 2019 municipal elections, this did not take effect in time. Towns in the south such as Ubari, located in the Sabha constituency in the southwest and home to the Tuareg and Tebu communities, were overlooked in the electoral process.

Therefore, many fear that Libya’s ethnic minorities will again be excluded from the voting process due to the lack of documentation proving their “Libyan origins”.

In a statement earlier this month, 51 HoR members urged approval of the draft constitution, believing that security and stability must be ensured before the election.

‘Racist referendum’

Last week, the Amazigh, Tuareg and Tebu tribes rejected the referendum on the draft constitution, calling it “illegitimate.”

The 17-member Constitutional Drafting Authority (CDA) includes two members from each of the three minority communities and requires that at least one from each group transmit the document. This, however, was until the Amazigh withdrew their participation from the CDA.

Since then, the Supreme Council of the Amazigh has called on the United Nations Support Mission in Libya (UNSMIL) to work to guarantee the rights of its groups, seeking an amendment to the 1951 constitution.

In the past, the council had expressed “a major concern … mainly over the provisions on decentralization, which do not give them anything like the autonomy that some expected.” Also known as “blind centralism,” the constitution would assign decision-making on the issues of these communities to the responsibility of Tripoli. The Sultan of Tebu, Ahmed Haki Musa, has also condemned the constitution and called it a “racist referendum”.

No “significant public exchange”

However, some members of the drafting committee believe that this is a starting point for minority rights and a significant improvement over the 1969 Constitution, which defined Libya as an “Arab state” with the Arab as its “only official language”.

Citizenship, therefore, remains a rather controversial issue in Libya. As Stocker says, “although frequent issues are addressed on media and social media platforms and statements by state officials, there has been no significant public exchange or dialogue on the issue.”

Organizations such as La Lil-Tamiz continue to campaign to expose racism aimed at ethnic minorities that ultimately prevents their integration into society.

But with elections getting closer, it is crucial to ensure that Libya’s non-Arab minority participates in the political process.

The elections are aimed at creating a sense of national unity after years of a brutal civil war that has divided the country. Observers say national unity cannot be achieved in a post-revolution Libya unless the entire population of the country, including its ethnic minorities, goes from stateless to voting.

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