Libya: Examination of intervention and collapse and the UK's future policy options Contents


Libya from 1969 to 2010

1.In 2010, Libya was governed by the 68-year-old Muammar Gaddafi, who had seized power in a coup in 1969.1 The 1969 coup overthrew the al-Senussi monarchy, which had been established under the auspices of the United Nations in 1951 uniting the three former Ottoman provinces of Tripolitania, Fezzan and Cyrenaica.2 In the course of his 40-year dictatorship, Muammar Gaddafi led an autocratic regime which was responsible for a range of domestic human rights abuses and which exported terrorism internationally including to the United Kingdom.3 Libya’s refusal to comply with a United Nations Security Council Resolution condemning and addressing its sponsorship of terrorism in the 1980s led to the imposition of sanctions and increased isolation from the international community in 1992.4

2.Libya began to normalise its international relations in the late 1990s. British-Libyan diplomatic relations were restored in 1999, when the Libyan Government accepted responsibility for the murder of PC Yvonne Fletcher in 1984 and handed over suspects in the Lockerbie bombing to the Scottish authorities.5 Following the terrorist attacks of 11 September 2001, the Gaddafi regime, which faced its own threats from al-Qaeda linked groups, moved to improve its relations with the United States and the United Kingdom. In 2003, the Libyan Government compensated the families of the 270 victims of the Lockerbie bombing and abandoned its programmes to develop weapons of mass destruction and ballistic missiles, which led to the lifting of United Nations sanctions.6 7 The then Prime Minister Tony Blair travelled to Libya in 2004 to meet Muammar Gaddafi and to negotiate agreements on trade and on oil exploration.8 Libya’s international rehabilitation continued in the late 2000s, when Muammar Gaddafi was selected to chair the African Union and addressed the United Nations General Assembly in New York.9

Libya in 2010

3.The Libyan economy generated some $75 billion of gross domestic product (GDP) in 2010. This economy produced an average annual per capita income of approximately $12,250, which was comparable to the average income in some European countries.10 Libyan Government revenue greatly exceeded expenditure in the 2000s. This surplus revenue was invested in a sovereign wealth fund, the Libyan Investment Authority (LIA), which was conservatively valued at $53 billion in June 2010.11 The United Nations Human Development Report 2010—a United Nations aggregate measure of health, education and income—ranked Libya as the 53rd most advanced country in the world for human development and as the most advanced country in Africa.12 Human rights remained limited by state repression of civil society and restrictions on freedom of assembly and expression.13

Civil war and military intervention

4.Beginning in Tunisia in December 2010, a series of protests against repressive regimes broke out across the Middle East and North Africa. Demonstrations began in Libya on 15 February 2011, when anti-Gaddafi protests erupted in Benghazi. By the end of February 2011, the Gaddafi regime had lost control of a significant part of Libya, including the major cities of Misrata and Benghazi.

5.In March 2011, pro-Gaddafi forces launched a counter-offensive against the rebels that reached the outskirts of Benghazi. On 12 March, the Arab League called on the United Nations Security Council to take the necessary measures to “impose immediately a no-fly zone” over Libya.14 In response, the United Nations Security Council agreed Resolution 1973 on 17 March, which authorised member states to establish and enforce a no-fly zone over Libya and to use “all necessary measures” to prevent attacks on civilians.15 A coalition of nations including Belgium, Canada, Denmark, France, Italy, Norway, Qatar, Spain, United Arab Emirates, UK and USA contributed military assets to enforce Resolution 1973. Parliament approved the UK’s participation in the military intervention following a debate on 21 March 2011 by a vote of 557 to 13.

6.Military action commenced on 19 March 2011, when the coalition targeted Libyan air defences and military targets with aircraft and missiles. NATO assumed command of all coalition military operations in relation to Libya as part of NATO Operation Unified Protector on 31 March 2011.16 Between March and October 2011, regime loyalists fought militias aligned with the opposition National Transitional Council (NTC) in a civil war which extended across Libya. The NTC forces were supported by NATO air power, which facilitated their combat performance.17 By the end of August 2011, NTC affiliated forces were largely in control of Tripoli and other cities.18 The United Nations recognised the NTC as Libya’s governing authority on 16 September 2011. Muammar Gaddafi was killed after being captured on 20 October 2011, and the NTC declared the liberation of Libya and the official end of the war on 23 October 2011. NATO Operation Unified Protector ended on 31 October 2011.19

General National Congress

7.In late 2011, the NTC appointed a Transitional Government, which was charged with overseeing elections, which were generally regarded as free and fair, to a new democratic assembly, the General National Congress (GNC).20 Despite fighting between militias in the first half of 2012, elections took place on 7 July 2012 with turnout of more than 60%.21 The GNC assembled on 8 August 2012 and appointed a Government in December 2012. However, the GNC Government was unable to project state authority and security across the whole of Libya.22 As a result, armed Libyan groups, including former Libyan military forces, Islamist, tribal and other militias, engaged in increasingly violent clashes, which resulted in significant civilian casualties in Benghazi in June 2013 and in Tripoli in November 2013.23

House of Representatives

8.On 25 June 2014, elections were held to the House of Representatives (HOR), the successor assembly to the GNC whose mandate had expired. Turnout was estimated at 18%.24 Following the election, fighting escalated in Tripoli and Benghazi, which forced the newly elected HOR to meet in the eastern city of Tobruk rather than in Tripoli. Some GNC Members refused to accept the legitimacy of the HOR and re-established the GNC as a rival legislative authority in Tripoli. In 2014, two rival Prime Ministers and Governments emerged, with the HOR Government based in Tobruk and the GNC Government based in Tripoli. Key state institutions remained in Tripoli, which led the HOR Government to create its own parallel institutions in Tobruk. Fighting between militias linked to the HOR and the GNC continued throughout late 2014 and early 2015.25

Government of National Accord

9.In 2015, the United Nations Special Representative to Libya, Bernardino Léon, who was appointed in August 2014, brought together elements from the HOR and the GNC to begin to negotiate the formation of a Government of National Accord (GNA). The GNA was intended to serve as the sole legitimate Government of Libya. Martin Kobler replaced Bernardino Léon as United Nations Special Representative to Libya in November 2015. The Libyan Political Agreement, which set out the road map towards the formation of the GNA, was signed in Skhirat, Morocco, on 17 December 2015.26 When we visited North Africa in March 2016 [see paragraph 13], we observed the UN team under Martin Kobler effectively co-ordinating its work with the P5 Ambassadors. We noted that the P5 Governments appeared content to leave the delivery of the Libyan Political Agreement to Martin Kobler’s UN team and their respective Ambassadors. We witnessed the UK Ambassador playing a particularly active and constructive role. The GNA moved to Tripoli and took control of some Government Ministries on 30 March 2016.27

Libya in 2016

10.In 2014, the most recent year for which reliable figures are available, Libya generated $41.14 billion of gross domestic product and the average Libyan’s annual income had decreased from $12,250 in 2010 to $7,820.28 Since 2014, Libya’s economic predicament has reportedly deteriorated. Libya is likely to experience a budget deficit of some 60% of GDP in 2016. The requirement to finance that deficit is rapidly depleting net foreign reserves, which halved from $107 billion in 2013 to $56.8 billion by the end of 2015. Production of crude oil fell to its lowest recorded level in 2015, while oil prices collapsed in the second half of 2014. Inflation increased to 9.2% driven by a 13.7% increase in food prices including a fivefold increase in the price of flour.29 The United Nations ranked Libya as the world’s 94th most advanced country in its 2015 index of human development, a decline from 53rd place in 2010.30

11.In 2016, the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs estimated that out of a total Libyan population of 6.3 million, 3 million people have been impacted by the armed conflict and political instability, and that 2.4 million people require protection and some form of humanitarian assistance.31 In its World Report 2016, Human Rights Watch stated that Libya is

heading towards a humanitarian crisis, with almost 400,000 people internally displaced and increasing disruption to basic services, such as power and fuel supplies. Forces engaged in the conflict continued with impunity to arbitrarily detain, torture, unlawfully kill, indiscriminately attack, abduct and disappear, and forcefully displace people from their homes. The domestic criminal justice system collapsed in most parts of the country, exacerbating the human rights crisis.32

12.People-trafficking gangs exploited the lack of effective government after 2011, making Libya a key transit route for illegal migration into Europe and the location of a migrant crisis.33 In addition to other extremist militant groups, ISIL emerged in Libya in 2014, seizing control of territory around Sirte and setting up terrorist training centres. Human Rights Watch documented unlawful executions by ISIL in Sirte of at least 49 people by methods including decapitation and shooting.34 The civil war between west and east has waxed and waned with sporadic outbreaks of violence since 2014. In April 2016, United States President Barack Obama described post-intervention Libya as a “shit show”.35 It is difficult to disagree with this pithy assessment.

Foreign Affairs Committee inquiry

13.We launched our inquiry, “Libya: Examination of intervention and collapse and the United Kingdom’s future policy options”, with a call for written evidence in July 2015. We conducted eight oral evidence sessions between October 2015 and February 2016. We heard from former Prime Minister right hon. Tony Blair, former Foreign Secretary right hon. Lord Hague of Richmond, former Defence Secretary right hon. Dr Liam Fox MP, former Department for International Development Minister right hon. Sir Alan Duncan MP, Foreign and Commonwealth Office Minister Tobias Ellwood MP, former Chief of the Defence Staff Lord Richards of Herstmonceux, UK Special Envoy to Libya Jonathan Powell, HM Ambassador to Libya Mr Peter Millett, former HM Ambassador to Libya Sir Dominic Asquith, civil servants, academics, analysts and journalists.36 We also met a range of Libyan politicians and civil servants. We are grateful to everyone who took the time to provide evidence to our inquiry.

14.The Foreign Affairs Committee appointed Professor Toby Dodge, London School of Economics, as a Specialist Adviser at the start of the 2015 Parliament to provide ongoing advice on events in the Middle East.37 In addition, we engaged Joseph Walker-Cousins, the former Head of the British Embassy Office in Benghazi, to act as Specialist Adviser for this particular inquiry.38 We thank both Specialist Advisers for their input.

15.We heard from all but one of the key British protagonists involved in the decision to intervene in Libya in 2011. We invited the then Prime Minister right hon. David Cameron MP to provide oral evidence to our inquiry in March 2016. He declined this invitation citing “the pressures on his diary”. He pointed out that “the Foreign Secretary and other relevant parts of Government have provided the Committee with a good deal of written and oral evidence”.39

16.We visited North Africa in March 2016, when we met Libyan politicians and technocrats, many of whom were temporarily based in Tunis, along with Egyptian and Tunisian politicians and policymakers. We wanted to visit Libya to assess the situation for ourselves and to hear from ordinary Libyans. However, we were unable to visit Tripoli, Benghazi, Tobruk or anywhere else in Libya due to the collapse of internal security and the rule of law. We would like to thank HM Ambassador to Egypt John Casson, HM Ambassador to Tunisia Hamish Cowell, HM Ambassador to Libya Peter Millett and their respective teams for taking the time to facilitate our visit.

1 His full name was Muammar Muhammad Abu Minyar al-Gaddafi. He is often referred to as “Colonel Gaddafi” by the Western media. For consistency’s sake, he is referred to as “Muammar Gaddafi” throughout this Report.

2 Libya was an Italian colony from 1911 to 1943.

3 Q1 [Alison Pargeter]; Examples of Libyan-sponsored international terrorism include the murder of PC Yvonne Fletcher (1984), a nightclub bombing in West Berlin (1986), the bombing of Pan Am Flight 103 (1988), the bombing of UTA Flight 772 (1989) and the supply of weapons and explosives to terrorist organisations such as the IRA and the Red Army Faction.

5 House of Commons Library, UK relations with Libya, SN/IA/5886

7 In the 2000s, the Libyan Government compensated relatives of the Lockerbie bombing victims, relatives of the US victims of the 1986 Berlin nightclub bombing and relatives of the US victims of the UTA Flight 772 bombing. In July 2015, the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee launched an inquiry into the role of the UK Government in seeking compensation for the victims of IRA attacks made possible by the provision of Semtex and other weapons by the Gaddafi regime. This Select Committee inquiry is ongoing.

8 These British-Libyan negotiations are commonly described as “the deal in the desert”. They included a $900 million exploration and production agreement between the Libyan National Oil Company and BP.

11 The Wall Street Journal, Libya’s Goldman Dalliance Ends in Losses, Acrimony, 31 May 2011

12 United Nations, Human Development Report 2010, Table 1

13 Human Rights Watch, World Report 2011: Libya

14 Arab League, Resolution 7360, 12 March 2011

18 Foreign and Commonwealth Office, LIB013, para 3

19 Foreign and Commonwealth Office, LIB013, para 5

21 FCO (LIB013) para 7

22 FCO (LIB013) para 9

23 FCO (LIB013) para 11

24 FCO (LIB013) para 12

25 FCO (LIB013) para 14

26 UNSMIL, Libyan Political Agreement, 17 December 2015

30 United Nations, Human Development Report 2015, Table A1

31 United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, Global Humanitarian Overview 2016, p23

32 Human Rights Watch, World Report 2016, Libya Events of 2015

33 FCO (LIB0012) para 1

35 The Atlantic, The Obama Doctrine, April 2016

36 In July 2016, Dr Liam Fox MP was appointed Secretary of State for International Trade and President of the Board of Trade, and Sir Alan Duncan MP was appointed Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office.

37 On 8 September 2015, Professor Toby Dodge made the following declaration of interests following his appointment as Specialist Adviser to the Foreign Affairs Committee: London School of Economics and Political Science: Director of the Middle East Centre at LSE from September 2013 to present. The Middle East Centre is funded by two endowments, one from the Aman Charitable Trust and one from the Emirates Foundation for Philanthropy. Kuwait Professor and Director of the Kuwait Programme on Development, Governance and Globalisation in the Gulf States at LSE from October 2014 to present: The Kuwait Professor and the Kuwait Programme on Development, Governance and Globalisation in the Gulf States is funded by the Kuwait Foundation for the Advancement of Science. International Institute for Strategic Studies: Senior Consulting Fellow for the Middle East at the International Institute for Strategic Studies since October 2003. United States Government: March and April 2007 and March and April 2008: Adviser to General David Petraeus, Commander Multinational Forces Iraq, and Ambassador Ryan Crocker, US Ambassador to Iraq. Foreign Affairs Committee, Formal Minutes 2015-16.

38 On 17 November 2015, Joseph Walker-Cousins made the following declaration of interests following his appointment as Specialist Adviser to the Foreign Affairs Committee for the Libya inquiry: Director, Middle East Business Development and Libya Country Manager, KBR UK Ltd; Member, Libyan British Business Council; Staff Officer, MENA Region, British Army Reserve; Independent Adviser to the English Court (commissioned for the court through Mischon de Reya). Foreign Affairs Committee, Formal Minutes 2015-16.

39 Foreign Affairs Committee, Prime Minister to FAC Chair, 25 April 2016

© Parliamentary copyright 2015

9 September 2016