Stateless ethnic minorities in Libya and the upcoming elections

Libyan expectations are high and candidates are starting to express their interest in running in the elections scheduled for December of this year.


These were delayed for three years following a military campaign in the capital Tripoli by the renegade government of military commander Khalifa Haftar, based in Tobruk in the east.

The New Interim Government of National Unity (GNU) is an interim government body that was sworn in on March 15. He was tasked with leading the Libyan Arab Jamahiriya to presidential and parliamentary elections later this year.

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

These include the Amazighs, the Tuaregs, and the Tebu.

The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) is unable to provide an exact number of stateless people in the country, but the percentage of undocumented migrants remains high. Many are unable to acquire citizenship or other forms of documents that would allow them to vote on both elections and a possible constitution.

By the time Libya gained independence in 1951, many non-Arab nomadic communities had settled in the country. But unlike the Libyan Arabs, many of these ethnic minorities suffered from discriminatory laws that excluded them from society.

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Mohammed A’Sunoussy, member of the National Assembly in Tebu, said: “After Libya’s independence, the government took steps to register and issue civil status documents to the Libyan people… but there are had little effort to reach out to Tebu in the desert. as a result, many Tebu were left without any documents at that time. “

Some were also stripped of their Libyan nationality after the International Criminal Court ruled that the mineral-rich Aouzou strip in the south must be returned to Chad. Former Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi issued a decree stating that any documentation issued in the strip must be revoked and, therefore, many Tébou have not been able to obtain documentation since.

Obstacles to human rights

Likewise, Tuareg tribes have faced discrimination with respect to citizenship rights.

Shortly after the election date was set, the Tuareg Tribal Council met with House of Representatives (HoR) Speaker Agila Saleh to discuss a solution to what they called “obstacles to human rights which [Tuareg] families live among those who hold provisional documents at the Civil Status Authority “.

Holding of temporary documents is common among the Tuaregs, which means they cannot obtain full citizenship rights.

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When the revolution broke out in 2011, Gaddafi recruited Tuareg soldiers by promising them Libyan papers. These promises never materialized and to date, around 14,000 Tuaregs do not hold official papers, according to the World Directory of Minorities and Indigenous Peoples.

These official papers, like the “Carnet de famille”, are essential proofs of citizenship that are often difficult to apply in nomadic communities. Valerie Stocker, researcher at the European Peace Institute, said that “people with undetermined legal status currently cannot participate in formal political life because they are not eligible to vote or stand for election.”

In a statement, the Supreme Council of Libyan Tribes and Cities hailed the GNU led by Abdel Hamid al-Dbaibah, and said the election was an “important step in the unification of Libya.”

However, they also called on the interim government to include the country’s ethnic minorities in the upcoming electoral process.

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Similar concerns were expressed ahead of the 2012 elections in Libya. To address this issue, a decree was issued allowing individuals to register to vote with some other form of documentation, including a driver’s license or national identity card.

Despite this, various human rights groups claim that some voters from ethnic minorities were barred from voting on the grounds that they were not “Libyan citizens”.

Stocker documents more than 1,000 Tubu voters in the southeastern district of Koufra who were disqualified, some of whom were denied the right to vote on the basis of their Tubu names.

Although Tuareg activists campaigned against the electoral commission ahead of the 2019 municipal elections, it did not come into effect in time. Southern towns such as Ubari, located in the southwestern constituency of Sabha and home to both the Tuareg and Tebu communities, were overlooked in the electoral process.

Many therefore fear that Libyan ethnic minorities will again be excluded from the voting process due to the lack of documents proving their “Libyan origins”.

In a statement earlier this month, 51 HoR members called for approval of the draft constitution, saying it is necessary to ensure security and stability ahead of the elections.

“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 at least one member from each group to transmit the document. This, however, was until the Amazighs withdrew their participation from the CDA.

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

In the past, the council had expressed “a serious concern … mainly because of the provisions on decentralization, which do not give them any of the autonomy that some hoped”. Also known as “blind centralism,” the constitution would make decision-making over the problems of these communities the responsibility of Tripoli. Sultan of Tebu Ahmed Haki Musa also condemned the constitution, calling it a “racist referendum”.

“No significant public exchange”

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

Citizenship therefore remains somewhat of a controversial subject in Libya. As Stocker puts it, “Although some aspects are frequently discussed in media and social media platforms and in statements made by state officials, there has been no meaningful public exchange or dialogue on the matter. “.

Organizations such as La Lil-Tamiz continue to campaign to denounce the racism directed against ethnic minorities which ultimately prevents them from integrating into society.

But as the elections get closer by the day, it becomes essential to ensure that the non-Arab minority in Libya participates in the political process.

The elections aim to create 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 post-revolutionary Libya unless the country’s entire population – including its ethnic minorities – changes from stateless to voting.

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