In Fezzan, Stateless Minorities Continue to Demonstrate for their Right to Vote

Despite the fact that they consider themselves citizens, hundreds of thousands of Libyan non-Arab minorities are not officially recognised as Libyans. The majority are first, second, or third generation immigrants, who have lived in Libya for over 50 years. They live with temporary records while their citizenship application is currently on hold. Even though it has been registered with the civil registry authority, their illegal status does not provide them with any civil rights, limiting their access to public services, political participation, employment, or even marriage. Moreover, during the regime of former President Muammar Gaddafi, this social exclusion of non-Arab minorities in Southern Libya was exacerbated by the focus on Libya’s Arab identity and related “Arabisation” policies. This has caused citizenship challenges for several non-Arab minority groups in the country.

However, their concern intensified during the process of drafting the constitution, as Libyan civilians became increasingly aware of the upcoming parliamentary and presidential elections. They were worried that they would be forgotten if they were not given the opportunity to enrol in the electoral registration system.

Libyan presidential and parliamentary elections remain a far dream, especially after failing to hold them in December 2021. It is seen as a cornerstone of national unity by the international community. National unity, on the other hand, will not be established solely through elections. While Tuareg and Tebu minorities were included in the Libyan community, they were only given temporary records and administrative numbers and were denied political participation. They had no possibility of being included in the next electoral registration system. As a result of deliberate marginalization by the government authorities, their hope of voting in the next election is out of reach.

With temporary records, Tuareg and Tebu are unable to prove their Libyan identity or practice full citizenship rights. This situation has become more problematic after the passage of Law No 8 in 2014, which establishes a national numbers system that deprives stateless persons of all civic and political rights in the countries. As a result, solving and organizing their presence has become more difficult. However, in 2015, decree 102 was passed to offer administrative numbers, which do not provide any civic rights and only worsen and pressurize their everyday suffering.

As a result, they were unable to obtain a family book or a national number after 2011, causing them to continue living under temporary registration. Consequently, they were further marginalized political and development sphere, making them vulnerable to basic necessities and services such as education, health, employment, and even marriage, which are all facilitated by the national number system but are unavailable to those who lack it.

The registration of Tuareg and Tebu with temporary records in Libya’s upcoming election is still shrouded in doubt. Despite the fact that under item 2.8 of the Geneva Road map it says, “Address the issue of the administrative numbers according to the Libyan legislation in force and the international agreements and conventions ratified by the State,”  to ensure and facilitate their participation in the election system. Yet, individuals have temporary records and administrative numbers as they have already been registered as citizens, not foreigners, with the Civil Status Authority. They do not, however, have the right to participate in electoral processes or have any other type of political engagement. According to statistics issued by the Libyan Institution for Investigative Journalism, more than 14000 families today have no right to study, no access to free health care, or cannot participate in the political process because of their temporary records.

For Libyans with temporary records and administration numbers, the electoral process is nothing new. They took part in the National General Conference (GNC) in 2012, which was organized under Law No.4, allowing all Libyans, without exception, to participate in the electoral process. As a result, stateless people took part in the one and only election process. However, because voter registration only required a national number, the minority with administrative numbers were left out of the elections succeeding the GNC, and, more significantly, the forthcoming presidential and parliamentary elections.

Government of National Unity (GNU) which was selected by the Libyan Political Dialogue Forum (LPDF) in February 2021, issued decree number 322. A decree establishing a central committee charged with reviewing applications for Libyan citizenship and demonstrating the authenticity of Libyan ancestry to a set of categories outlined in the decree included the stateless individuals of minorities with temporary records and administration numbers. This action was taken in order to meet the Geneva Road map’s objectives, as stated in article 1, item 2.8. However, this decree was met with opposition and condemnation from a number of local organizations and members of parliament, who accused it of being a mistake that threatened national security by changing the demographic situation. Since 1951, numerous laws have been passed granting repatriated minorities the ability to apply for Libyan citizenship. They were treated according to a law issue in 1954 to grant Libyan nationality to those born or have stayed in the country for more than ten years before 7th October 1950, followed by many laws that have been passed to organize Libyan nationality for returnees and nomad populations. The most recent during the Qaddafi rule, Law 24, 2010, established all of the rights that stateless individuals seek, but the issue was putting it into practice.

Hope for the minorities and stateless people increased after the 2011 revolution, especially for the Tuareg and Tebu minority, who were hopeful that the new Libyan legislation would bring equality and justice to them. However, the situation slipped and became more complicated after the passage of the law established a national numbers system that stripped stateless persons of all civic rights and confined them to temporary documentation.

Therefore, Tuareg and Tebu consider the suspension of their status by the Libyan government   not a legal matter. Despite this, it was put on hold owing to a lack of social justice and their case has been socially questioned. Tuareg, Tebu, and other stateless returned Arabs have banded together once more to organise and campaign (la lltamyez) against discrimination. They met with the UN Secretary-Special General’s Adviser on Libya in Tripoli in mid-February 2022 where they urged UN cooperation on a number of topics, including emphasizing the Geneva Road plan aims to resolve minority’ nationality issues.

On the other side, despite the current political rift, a new government and a new political roadmap were selected by parliament in the east. In the midst of the country’s political instability, the holders of the temporary records continue to look for hope. Tuareg returned to demonstrate in front of Alsharara oil field in mid-February, joined by other stateless people, threatening to shut it down if no one from the current Libyan governments responded to them and moved to resolve their temporary records.

Before the next presidential and parliamentary elections in Libya, this issue should be resolved. Ensuring that Libya’s minority participates in the democratic process becomes increasingly important.  Previously, in 2014 security risks occurred as a result of their inability to participate in elections, resulting in the closure of polling stations in their cities in southern Libya. As a result, social exclusions from voting for minorities with temporary records do not reflect national unity, particularly when significant numbers of minorities are banned from voting. Addressing the unresolved citizenship issues of the Tabu and Tuareg communities in southern Libya, on-going for more than half a century, is critical for these elections and social stability.

Minorities, on the other hand, were frustrated by the postponing and suspension of their legal status. Their fear of being left out of the next election has grown and the complexity of their problems combined with the uncertainty surrounding the Geneva Road map has rendered any decree issued in this challenging situation ineffective. As a result, the difficulty faced by Libya’s stateless populations is primarily social, necessitating a stable political context to coordinate effective initiatives to offer civic and political rights to them on both a social and legal level.