The Libya Initiative was founded in 2015 within the framework of the MEDirections Programme, at the Robert Schuman Centre. It focuses on three areas: policy research on Libya with a strong fieldwork component, support for homegrown mediation initiatives, and policy dialogues. In 2022 the project’s team moved to the Luiss School of Government in Rome. In this interview Virginie Collombier, the project coordinator, talks about what has been achieved over these years.
Virginie, the Libya Initiative focuses on policy research on Libya with a strong fieldwork component. How have you managed to be on the ground over these years?
One key feature of our Libya Initiative has been the research mentorship programme we developed for Libya-based junior analysts. When we launched the Libya Initiative, I was still able to travel regularly to Libya, engage with local actors, conduct interviews and observe developments on the ground. But, over the years, the deteriorating security situation has made access to the country much more difficult. Thanks to the mentorship programme and our close collaboration with junior analysts across Libya, we managed to continue producing original field-based research, while also contributing to amplify local perspectives on key policy issues.
What have been the main achievements so far in terms of ‘homegrown mediation’ and policy dialogues?
Since 2015, the Libya Initiative has been aiming to support and contribute to local efforts of dialogue and reconciliation. Together with our partners from the ‘Peace Makers Libya’ team, we have built a wide network including high-level political and social leaders, intellectuals and civil society figures from across Libya and from across conflict divides. The continuity of our work throughout the years, as well as several important achievements have earned the team a reputation as respected dialogue facilitators, both in Libya and on the international stage.
In 2015-2016, our Societal Dialogue towards Reconciliation directly contributed to prisoner exchanges, the delivery of humanitarian assistance and the return of Internally Displaced People in several conflict areas. More significantly, our mediation efforts to put an end to the constitutional deadlock contributed to the drafting of the Constitution in April 2017. At the time, the Libya's Constitution-Drafting Assembly (CDA) President publicly highlighted the key role played by our initiative in reaching an agreement.
As the constitutional process stalled again, in 2017 and 2018 we led an inclusive grassroots dialogue between a broad range of Libyan stakeholders which resulted in the collective drafting of a new ‘Social Contract’ document. This document was publicised in Libya, but also shared and discussed with the United Nations Support Mission in Libya (UNSMIL). It was commended as a very valuable input to the political process and to national reconciliation.
With the resumption of the civil war in April 2019, the wide network of trust built since 2015 was mobilised again in support of the UN-led mediation efforts. We have continued to facilitate dialogue meetings bringing together influential social and political figures from across the political divides. This has proven important when the UN’s legitimacy was contested or its action complicated by divisions at the international level.
To this day, continuity and Libyan ownership of dialogue have been central features of our work and, I believe, a key element of our success.
What are your plans for the continuation of the Initiative, now that you have moved to Luiss?
With the move to the Luiss School of Government and the establishment of the Mediterranean Platform – of which the ‘Libya Platform’ is part – we are stepping up the development of our activities in Libya and the broader region. The Libya Platform remains based on three key pillars: policy-relevant research, policy dialogues, and capacity-building and education. More than ever, the youth is central to our vision. We encourage their active participation and contribution to thinking the future of their country, with a view to helping the younger generations become effective and positive agents of change. We have already launched many new activities, including the Youth Platform and the Music for Peace initiative.