US House passes Libya sanctions bill after blow to unity government

The measure comes after officials in Tobruk passed a vote of no confidence in Libya's unity government, jeopardising upcoming elections

Interim Prime Minister of Libya Abdul Hamid Dbeibah addresses supporters at a protest calling for the country’s parliament to step down last week in Tripoli. Photo: AP
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The US House of Representatives on Tuesday passed a bill that could sanction many foreign actors supporting rival factions in Libya should the unity government and current ceasefire fall apart.

Voting 386-35 in favour, the House approved the bipartisan Libya Stabilisation Act, introduced by Democrat Ted Deutch and Republican Joe Wilson, one week after Libyan officials in Tobruk passed a vote of no confidence in the UN-backed unity government based in Tripoli.

That no-confidence vote could jeopardise the Libyan national elections currently set for December.

“The Libyan people deserve a future free from foreign meddling, from conflict and corruption and form economic turmoil,” said Mr Deutch, who chairs the House Middle East panel.

“They deserve to choose their leaders in free and fair elections.”

The legislation would sanction any foreign actors backing Libyan forces loyal either to Tobruk or Tripoli.

“The Libya Stabilisation Act will deter foreign interference in Libya by placing sanctions on those who deploy mercenaries, support militias, violate the UN arms embargo and commit human rights abuses in Libya,” Mr Deutch said.

The bill allows President Joe Biden to defer the sanctions if he “determines that the parties to the conflict in Libya have agreed to and are upholding a sustainable, good-faith ceasefire in support of a lasting political solution in Libya.”

Separately, the House also passed its annual defence authorisation bill 316-113 last week, which contains a provision from Democrat Tom Malinowski that would require the Biden administration to conduct a sanctions review of foreign actors violating the UN arms embargo on Libya.

Mr Malinowski also introduced a second provision to that bill requiring the Biden administration to report on torture and war crimes committed by US citizens in Libya.

The Senate must pass both the Libya Stabilisation Act and the defence authorisation bill before Mr Biden can sign the legislation into law.

“I’ve been heartened to see the Biden administration take a more active role in US policy in Libya, which is a critical goal of this legislation,” Mr Deutch said.

Former president Barack Obama has said one of the biggest regrets of his presidency was failing to provide enough resources and attention for Libya after the US-led aerial campaign that helped the opposition oust Muammar Ghaddafi in 2011.

Former president Donald Trump placed even less emphasis on Libya and did not appoint a special envoy for the country as Mr Obama had.

Mr Biden has elevated US ambassador to Libya Richard Norland to the role of special envoy for the country. Still, the United States has largely deferred to a German-led effort to advance Libyan elections in December and put an end to the decade-long conflict.

German Foreign Minister Heiko Mass co-led a high-level Libya meeting on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly in New York last week.

Updated: September 28, 2021, 9:43 PM