Libya Committee Hearings

On May 15, 2019, the United States Subcommittee on the Middle East, North Africa, and International Terrorism of the House of Representative’s Committee on Foreign Affairs held a hearing on the conflict in Libya. Libyan American Alliance President, Dr. Esam Omeish, Executive Director, Mr. Mongi Dhaouadi, and non-resident fellow, Dr. William Lawrence, had the pleasure of attending the committee hearing with the witnesses. Four witnesses shared testimonies, stressing the need for a clear U.S. policy on Libya, and answered questions posed by Committee Members. The witnesses included:
Dr. Frederic Wehrey

Senior Fellow, Middle East Program, Carnegie Endowment for International Peace

Ms. Megan Doherty

Senior Director for Policy and Advocacy, Mercy Corps

Mr. Benjamin Fishman

Senior Fellow, The Washington Institute for Near East Policy

Mr. Thomas Hill

Senior Program Officer, North Africa, United States Institute of Peace

Representatives echoed the consequences that interpreted American ambiguity towards Libya, and the human rights violations being committed there, could have on regional relations. Witnesses expressed how the lack of clear U.S. policy was reflected to the people of Libya and, more importantly, the detrimental impacts it had on them. All addressed how former President Trump’s phone call to Libyan warlord and American citizen, General Khalifa Haftar, signaled to many on the ground in Libya that the U.S. had chosen a side in the conflict—the side of the oppressor. Only days prior, after Haftar had launched his April 4 offensive against Tripoli, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announced that the U.S. opposed the offensive, emphasizing that “there is no military solution to the Libya conflict.” However, President Trump’s contradicting actions damaged the reputation of the U.S. by strengthening Haftar’s insatiable ego by complimenting his efforts on “combating terrorism” and indirectly providing him with some source of political legitimacy on a global stage.

LAA non-resident fellow, Dr. William Lawrence, seated behind Mr. Thomas Hill giving testimony.
Representative and Committee Member Ilhan Omar asking a witness a question during the hearing.

By the adjournment of the session, the witnesses’ combined testimonies expressed four main points:

The U.S. must call for a ceasefire
Witnesses all expressed the immediate need for a ceasefire in the Libyan conflict, urging the U.S. to dissuade interfering regional powers from sending further arms and materials to both sides involved. Specifically, witnesses cited the U.N. Security Council’s arms embargo against Libya that has been in place since February 2011, and the U.S.’s responsibility to uphold and enforce it.
Humanitarian support and protection
Witnesses emphasized the desperate need for sustainable, legitimate humanitarian support in Libya amid the internal conflict and the deepening migrant and refugee crisis. While the U.S. establishes and solidifies its policy in Libya, it needs to ensure that humanitarian aid is reaching those in need and use its unique leverage in Libya to engage in small, low-risk measures to help reduce violence against civilians, migrants, refugees, and medical professionals. Additionally, multiple witnesses suggested that Congress could utilize their oversight authority on the implementation of individual sanctions and support war crime prosecution against those committing atrocities on either side to further deter attacks on civilians and critical infrastructure.
The U.S. as a relatively neutral actor

The consensus of the witnesses was that if U.S. leadership was elevated in Libya, there would be significantly less interference from regional and non-state actors, which could translate to a more stable environment for political reconciliation and transition to occur. Based on their individual time spent living in Libya before and after the 2011 revolution, and conversations they had with Libyan citizens, the witnesses explained that, overall, the U.S. is still seen as a relatively neutral, trusted actor, specifying a lack of colonial legacy and geographic proximity. Even though the U.S. has been largely disengaged from Libya since 2012, it is also because of this that many Libyans currently view the U.S. as a potential honest actor with the capacity to organize the international community around a peaceful solution in Libya.

Ultimately, this must be a Libyan-led process

Although the U.S. has a unique role to help with the facilitation of democracy and reconciliation in Libya, ultimately, this must be a Libyan-led process. There is no resolution unless the people of Libya themselves can find a sustainable path toward reconciliation. Before the recent outbreak of violence, Libya had made significant progress, including restoring oil production and partnering with the U.S. to inhibit the Islamic State from establishing a new caliphate in 2016. The people of Libya are clearly capable of self-governing.

Watch a full recording of the hearing in the below video.
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