Switzerland contributes to the protection of the population and the stabilisation of the country through its humanitarian aid and peace promotion work. It supports the UN peace process and co-chairs the working group on international humanitarian law and human rights within the framework of the Berlin process on Libya. Libya is also a key focus country for Switzerland in terms of migration policy and security.
On 14 October 2020 the Federal Council adopted a specific strategy for the Middle East and North Africa region (MENA) for the 2021–24 period. It identifies five thematic priorities: peace, security and human rights; migration and protection of people in need; sustainable development; economic affairs, finance, science; and digitalisation and new technologies.
These priorities are weighted differently across the various regions and countries. In North Africa, Switzerland's activities focus on good governance, sustainable economic development and cooperation in the area of migration. Switzerland supports reforms aimed at improving economic prospects and increasing civic participation.
Switzerland's priorities in Libya
The MENA Strategy sets three priorities for Switzerland's commitment in Libya:
1. Peace, security and human rights
Switzerland acts as host state for the UN's political processes, playing an active role in the Berlin process as a member of the working group to promote respect for international humanitarian law and human rights, which it co-chairs.
Switzerland supports projects aimed at promoting dialogue and conflict transformation at local and national level. It supports the UN process and the international community's intervention with a conflict-sensitive approach, including in the area of migration. It also supports projects to improve conditions in prisons and strengthen prisoners' rights. In addition, it is involved in documenting violations of the human rights of migrants. It also supports projects aimed at strengthening the capacity and resilience of human rights defenders.
2. Migration and protection of people in need
Switzerland helps people in need and participates in humanitarian political dialogue, playing a key coordinating role among international humanitarian aid actors.
Switzerland also contributes to the protection of vulnerable migrants, internally displaced persons and host communities. Swiss funding commitments between 2011 and 2016 for international cooperation with Libya amounted to CHF 21 million, while over CHF 16 million has been budgeted for the 2017–20 period.
3. Sustainable development
Switzerland organises study tours to Switzerland for Libyan delegations on topics such as fiscal federalism, sustainable agriculture and water management, in order to promote the transfer of knowledge and to boost contacts between all parties involved.
Other areas of cooperation
Economic affairs, finance, science
In 2009, Libya was Switzerland's second largest trading partner in Africa. Trade with Libya fell as a result of the diplomatic crisis with the then Libyan government and its embargo on Switzerland, but also because of the conflict that has gripped the country since 2011.
For a very long time, Libya was Switzerland's main supplier of crude oil, but imports have fallen sharply since 2015, dropping in value from around CHF 289 million in 2019 to around CHF 136 million in 2020. Meanwhile, Swiss exports to Libya were worth CHF 120 million in 2019 and around CHF 119 million in 2020. About half of these exports were pharmaceutical products.
Education, research and innovation
Researchers and artists who are citizens of Libya can apply to the State Secretariat for Education, Research and Innovation (SERI) for a Swiss Government Excellence Scholarship.
Swiss nationals in Libya
At the end of 2020, there were 44 Swiss citizens living in Libya.
History of bilateral relations
Switzerland recognised the State of Libya as soon as it declared independence in 1951. At that time there were barely a dozen Swiss nationals in the country. Their number increased rapidly with the establishment of several oil companies on its territory, which led to an influx of mainly geologists, technicians and other specialists. Swiss lawyers such as Eduard Zellweger (1901–75) acted as advisers to the government of the new state.
The Swiss embassy in Tunisia safeguarded Switzerland's interests in Libya from 1962 to 1965, at which point Switzerland opened a consulate in the Libyan capital, upgrading it to an embassy in 1968.