Popular protests against the authoritarian rule of Colonel Muammar al-Gaddafi in Libya in February 2011 resulted in violent armed conflict between Gaddafi’s forces and rebel fighters. In March 2011, NATO implemented a no-fly zone to enforce UN Resolution 1973, which condemned the ‘systematic violation of human rights’ by the Libyan authorities under Gaddafi and authorized member states to ‘take all necessary measures’ to protect civilians and civilian populated areas. By October the same year, Libya’s interim authorities declared the country’s official liberation from Gaddafi’s rule.
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General elections took place in July 2012, and Libya experienced a period of relative stability and growth. However, throughout 2013 and 2014, tensions grew between different political and militia factions. This resulted in the emergence of two distinct blocs. One bloc, comprised mainly of Islamist factions, sought the removal of Gaddafi-era officials from positions of power. The other bloc opposed Islamist groups and believed former regime figures could continue to play a role in Libya. A second general election took place in June 2014; however, the Islamist political factions fared poorly. In response to the political defeat, Islamist-aligned militias took control of Tripoli by force, reinstated the previous government, and declared the 2014 elections unconstitutional. The newly-elected parliament fled to eastern Libya where they continued to meet. The result was two separate sets of governing institutions – one in eastern Libya and the Islamist-backed government in Tripoli – covering different parts of the country and with competing claims to legitimacy.
This fragmentation of Libya’s social and political fabric led to instability, violence and confusion, particularly in the capital of Tripoli. As conflict escalated in 2014, many foreign embassies and international organisations relocated across the border to Tunisia. International support also shifted from high-level, governance-related programming to peace building assistance and humanitarian aid. Throughout 2015, the United Nations Support Mission in Libya (UNSMIL) attempted to bring rival factions together to agree on a unity government. On 17 December 2015, partly as a result of UNSMIL’s efforts, Libyan representatives signed the Libyan Political Agreement (LPA) in Morocco, creating the Government of National Accord (GNA) that took power in Tripoli in March 2016.
However, conflict has continued to flare up across the country while daily living standards have dropped due to instability, damaged infrastructure and economic decline. The GNA has faced major difficulties in exerting control outside of Tripoli, while institutional reunification and political reconciliation efforts have been slow to gain traction. To date, Libya remains a deeply divided country where militias wield more power than politicians, and smugglers, people traffickers and jihadist groups are able to exploit the population.
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