Skip to main content

Further uncertainty hits Libya as Supreme Court rules HoR unconstitutional

House of Representatives currently debating next move after court rules it unconstitutional
Security Services guard Libyan Supreme Court after Thursday ruling AFP

TRIPOLI: Libya's Supreme Court has declared the House of Representatives (HoR), the county’s internationally recognised parliament "unconstitutional".

The decision, handed down on Thursday, had been postponed twice and comes two months after forces opposed to the HoR took control of the capital Tripoli, where the court is based.

No official statements have been made so far by the HoR although the HoR is now holding emergency talks.

HoR member from the mountain town of Rujban, Salah Subhi, told MEE: "The verdict was made under pressure from the Libya Dawn militias.

"All the meetings between the judges were secret, and over 300 armed militiamen guarded the court house meaning it was impossible for the judges to give any other verdict" Subhi told MEE by phone from Tobruk.

"We also heard that 3 judges were replaced last night as their votes were not falling in the interest of the HoR,” he added.

The UN has issued a statement urging for calm.

UN Support Mission in Libya said it was “studying closely” the Supreme Court ruling. It also called on “all parties to place the national interest above all other considerations”. The mission emphasised the “need for all to act responsibly and desist from taking any action that would escalate the existing polarisation”.

Libya has seen fierce fighting in recent months, as the country has descended into civil war with two opposing camps vying for control.

While the HoR was elected in June, spiralling violence in Libya’s second city Benghazi forced the new parliament to instead move further east to Tobruk, a move many contest was unconstitutional.

The previous parliament the General National Congress refused to accept the legality of the HoR and re-banded in Tripoli, ignoring international calls to dissolve.

GNC Justice Minister Mustafa Glieb told MEE by phone that: "We have to respect the court's decision".

"The future is unclear, the GNC will now take charge and will make a decision. I think it is a positive move forward for Libya," he added.

The Tripoli-based parliament is backed by militias loyal to Libya Daw, a collection of Misratan-led militias, while the HoR has been backed by militias from Zintan which have been operating under the so-called Libya Dignity movement that includes forces serving under rogue ex-general Khalifa Haftar.

The decision has been met with widespread confusion across Libya.

Civilians who support the GNC and Libya Dawn were quick to take to the streets of Misrata and Tripoli to celebrate the court’s decision, with celebratory gunfire by Libya Dawn forces clearly audible throughout the capital.

The HoR, however, has responded with a sense of outrage and shock.

Many ordinary Libyans have now found themselves even stuck in the middle.

"I'm not sure whether to be happy or sad, I'm just worried for Libya's future" said a Tripoli resident who did not want to give their name for security reasons.

"I don't care anymore who's in charge, I just want the violence to end, and for Libya to move forward".

The court controversy

Libya has been operating as a split state since Libya Dawn's take over in Tripoli, with two parliaments, and governments, one in charge in the east the other in the west.

According to Libya's constitutional declaration, set after the revolution that ousted dictator Muammar Gaddafi in 2011, the HoR was supposed to convene in Benghazi. When it failed to do so due to the security situation and the prevalence of militias like Ansar al-Sharia that do not recognise the Libyan state and have proclaimed their own Islamic Emirate, it sparked a constitutional controversy that was referred to the court.

Forces allied to the HoR have been trying to seize control of Benghazi since May. While for months they made few inroads and looked set to lose their outposts in the city, a recent assault has left the HoR troops on top with local media reporting they could move in and take Benghazi in as little as two weeks. Several analysts suggested to MEE that the fighting would likely continue irrespective of the HoR’s decision. More than 200 people have been killed in fighting in and around Benghazi in the last two months in Benghazi.

Special international envoys have met with representatives from both political camps but it is unclear how far international mediation efforts can go, given that the international community has repeatedly stressed that it considers the HoR the legitimate democratically elected government, and called on the GNC to step down.

However, the international community hasn't opposed the Supreme Court’s previous decisions, and the body has been so far been seen as one of the few neutral bodies in the war-torn country, whose rulings should be respected.