• Indigenous peoples in Libya

    Indigenous peoples in Libya

    The Tuareg and the Toubou live in the south of the country; they are generally nomadic, moving from one place to another with their livestock and living in tents. Libya voted in favour of the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.

Indigenous World 2019: Libya

Arabs of different origins (Egyptian, Sudanese, Tunisian, Palestinian, Bedouin, Maltese, etc.) make up the majority of the Libyan population, accounting for approximately 90%. They are followed by the Imazighen (4.7%), Westerners (1%), Indo-Pakistanis and other Asians (around 1%), Nilo-Saharans (less than 1%) and Filipinos (less than 1%). Most Arabs of Libyan origin are of mixed descent, i.e. Arab/Imazighen.

The Imazighen live in small villages in the west of Libya; they tend to identify along tribal or village lines rather than as Libyan nationals. The Tuareg and the Toubou live in the south of the country; they are generally nomadic, moving from one place to another with their livestock and living in tents.1

Libya voted in favour of the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.

General situation

International mediation  between  the  Libyan  factions  intensified throughout 2018 without, however, culminating in any tangible results. On the ground, the split between the Cyrenaica region (in the east), under the control of Marshal Khalifa Haftar’s National Libyan Army (ANL), and the Tripolitania region (in the west) where Faïez Sarraj’s internationally-recognised “National Union” government sits, remains a gaping one. Two summits involving the main protagonists of the crisis, one in Paris in May and the other in Palermo (Italy) in November, resulted in nothing more than vague declarations of principle.

Exploiting these divisions, core groups of Islamic State (IS) again made their presence felt with a number of high-profile actions, in particular the May attack on the Election Commission, in the heart of Tripoli, where 12 people were killed and seven wounded.

By hosting a further summit in November 2018, the Italian government was seeking to play a role of diplomatic mediation but the recalcitrant attitude of Marshal Haftar threw a shadow over the meeting. The objective of holding elections was upheld but postponed until spring 2019. A “national conference” is scheduled for the spring of 2019 to prepare this electoral timeline.2

Referendum on the Constitution

A referendum on Libya’s new Constitution could take place in February 2019 if the security conditions are met, announced Mr Sayeh, President of the High National Election Commission (HNEC) on 7 December 2018. Mr Sayeh specified, however, that the Commission’s funds were “in the red” and that they would need 40 million dinars (around US$ 30 million) to conduct the process successfully. Validation of the Constitution via a referendum should open the path to legislative and presidential elections in Libya, intended to mark an end to the interminable transition period and to separate the rival camps in this oil-rich country.3

Minority Rights Group’s 2018 report on Libya

The Minority Rights Group (MRG) report, published in early 2018, ranks Libya’s peoples 11th on the international most vulnerable list. This classification is based on a summary of ten indicators, including conflicts over self-determination, armed conflict and the number of displaced persons.4

Anger following abduction of an Amazigh activist

On 4 January 2018, Rabie-Al-Jayash was accused of espionage for being in possession of a book written in the Tifinagh alphabet and speaking in the Amazigh language. The abduction of this high-level Amazigh activist by armed men linked to Khalifa Haftar resulted in a wave of anger among Libya’s Imazighen.5

Tamazight-speaking towns want legal status for their language

Libyan towns inhabited by the Imazighen want to extend a ruling that is already being applied in the town of Zaouara by which written communications – on advertisements, in shops and administrative buildings, as well as on official logos – are all written in Tamazight. A Zaouara source stated that at least two districts from the mountainous west would shortly be announcing a decree legalising the status of the Amazigh language, Tamazight.6

Toubou and Ouled Slimane Arabs clash in Sebha (Fezzan)

Although a peace agreement was signed, with Italian mediation, in Rome on 2 April 2017, clashes between the Toubou and Ouled Slimane Arabs resumed at the end of February 2018.7 Bitter grudges – the Ouled Slimane deny the Toubou their “Libyanity”, defining them as “Blacks” and “Chadians” – and tribal vendettas have been ripping the two communities apart since 2012. Above all else, however, it is competition over access to economic resources that fans the flames of this conflict. Sebha is the door to the Sahara and so flows to (and from) Sub-Saharan Africa inevitably pass through this town of 130,000 inhabitants. 8

Influential Arab  individuals  from  Ouled  Slimane  have  joined Haftar’s self-proclaimed “National Libyan Army” while some Toubou military chiefs have joined Sarraj from the Tripolitania region. Neither of the two leaders truly exercise any authority over Sebha, the “capital” of Fezzan (South region). It is generally thought that the resumption in hostilities in Sebha is more linked to local factors than to the national battle raging between Haftar and Sarraj.

Notes and references

  1. Aménagement linguistique, Université Laval, Quebec
  2. Le Bilan du monde, Frédéric Bobin, Le Monde special edition, 2019
  3. AFP, 7 December 2018
  4. Minority Rights Group (MRG) report, https://peoplesunderthreat.org
  5. Libya crisis, Nadine Dahan, 4 January 2018
  6. Libyan Amazigh-speaking cities to give their language legal status, The Libya Observer, 1 April 2018
  7. RFI Afrique, 27 February 2018
  8. Célian Macé, Le Sud libyen au bord de l’embrasement Libération, 14 March 2018

Patrick Kulesza is Executive Director of GITPA, the Groupe International de Travail pour les Peuples Autochtones www.gitpa.org



IWGIA - International Work Group for Indigenous Affairs - is a global human rights organisation dedicated to promoting, protecting and defending indigenous peoples’ rights. Read more.

Indigenous World

IWGIA's global report, the Indigenous World, provides an update of the current situation for indigenous peoples worldwide. Read The Indigenous World.

Subscribe to our newsletter

Contact IWGIA

Prinsessegade 29 B, 3rd floor
DK 1422 Copenhagen
Phone: (+45) 53 73 28 30
E-mail: iwgia@iwgia.org
CVR: 81294410

Report possible misconduct, fraud, or corruption

NOTE! This site uses cookies and similar technologies.

If you do not change browser settings, you agree to it. Learn more

I understand