The Stateless Tebu of Libya?

Published: 1/May/2013
Source: University of Tilburg Law School

Tilburg Law School Legal Studies Research Paper Series No. 010/2013

By Laura van Waas


Little is known about the problem of statelessness in the Libyan Arab Jamahiriya (Libya) today. Neither the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) – the agency which carries the primary UN mandate for statelessness – nor any other official source offer a figure for the number of stateless people in the country. Nevertheless, there are indications that statelessness may be a significant concern in Libya. In particular, the emphasis on Libya’s Arab identity and related “Arabisation” policies implemented during the rule of former President Moammar Gadaffi (1969 – 2011) are reported to have created obstacles for access to citizenship by various non-Arab minority groups present in the country. These include the Berber (Amazigh), Touareg and Tebu. Many members of these populations were denied official documentation at one time or another and some may indeed be stateless.

While it remains to be seen how these minority populations are treated in post-Revolution Libya, initial reports suggest that any cases of statelessness that exist among these groups will not be resolved immediately. The UN Inter-Agency Mission to Southern Libya, for instance, identified statelessness as a particular concern for the Tuareg. It furthermore reported that many Touareg have become displaced by inter-communal tension and that their plight is aggrevated by their “perceived association with the former regime” – a perception that may hinder their recognition as citizens. According to another report, when Touareg representatives approached the chairman of Libya’s National Transitional Council to request the granting or confirmation of citizenship, they were informed that any such action could only be pursued after the 2012 elections. It is an initially positive sign that, in the context of these elections, that the Libyan transitional government acknowledged existing problems relating to access to documentation for particular groups and adopted a flexible approach to proof of eligibility for voter registration. In post-Revolution and post-election Libya, it will be critical to ensure that the presence within the Libyan populous of non-Arab minority communities is fully recognised and that the country’s nationality policy is implemented in a non-discriminatory manner. To this end, there is an evident need to better analyse the situation of the Tuareg and other minority groups in order to understand their current citizenship status and explore remedies where cases of statelessness are identified.

The present report explores some of the challenges relating to the identification of statelessness in Libya, through a specific focus on the position of another of the groups mentioned above: the Tebu. Their situation was similarly influenced by historic policies of Arabisation. There is an added layer of complexity when seeking to understand the legal status of the Tebu, in the form of a dispute between Libya and Chad on the question of jurisdiction over the “Aouzou strip”. This dispute led to ambiguity surrounding the nationality status of those resident in or otherwise associated with the area – a problem that particularly affected the Tebu, for various reasons as will be considered below.

In focusing on the situation of the Tebu, the report does not presume to be exhaustive in its discussion of potential statelessness in Libya. Furthermore, after a brief introduction to the relevant political and legal developments in Libya affecting the Tebu people, the main body of this report is constituted by an in-depth interview with a member of the National Tebu Assembly, Mr. Mohammed A’Sunoussy. His extensive and authoritative knowledge of the situation of the Tebu people offers a unique insight into their position within Libyan society and under Libyan law. Nevertheless, the account of this interview may not provide a fully comprehensive picture of the question of statelessness as it affects the Tebu – it is offered here by way of tabling the need for further research into the present legal status of this and other populations in Libya.

Download report here.

Themes: State Succession, Border Changes, Statelessness
Regions: North Africa, Libya
Year: 2013