Switzerland provides humanitarian aid and supports peacebuilding efforts in Libya to protect the civilian population and bring stability to the country. Switzerland supports the UN peace process and co-chairs the Working Group on International Humanitarian Law and Human Rights as part of the Berlin process on Libya. Libya is also crucially important for Switzerland in terms of migration and security policy.
On 14 October 2020 the Federal Council adopted a specific strategy for the Middle East and North Africa region (MENA Strategy) 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 out three priorities for Switzerland's activities in Libya: 1) peace, security and human rights; 2) migration and protection of people in need; 3) sustainable development.
1) Peace, security and human rights
Switzerland promotes itself as a host country for UN political processes. It is actively involved in the Berlin process and co-chairs the working group on respect for international humanitarian law and human rights.
Switzerland supports projects to promote dialogue and conflict transformation at local and national level. It supports the UN process and the international community's conflict-sensitive approach to migration and other issues. It contributes to projects aimed at improving prison detention conditions and respect for prisoners' detainees’ rights. It works to ensure that violations of migrants' human rights are documented. It also supports capacity-building and resilience-building projects for human rights defenders.
2) Migration and protection of people in need
Switzerland supports people in need and is engaged in the political dialogue on humanitarian issues. It plays a key role in coordinating international humanitarian efforts.
Finally, Switzerland contributes to the protection of vulnerable migrants, internally displaced persons and host communities. Switzerland spent CHF 21 million on international cooperation with Libya in 2011–16 and budgeted over CHF 16 million for the 2017–20 period.
Switzerland organises study tours in Switzerland for Libyan actors on themes such as fiscal federalism, sustainable agriculture and water management for the purpose of transferring know-how and to strengthen relations with all parties.
Other areas of cooperation
Economic affairs, finance, science
In 2009, Libya was Switzerland's second-largest trading partner in Africa. Trade with Libya plummeted as a result of the diplomatic crisis with the Libyan government at that timebetween the two countries, which imposed and a Libyan an embargo against Switzerland, as well as the conflict that has gripped the country since 2011.
Libya was for many years Switzerland's leading supplier of crude oil. Swiss imports have fallen sharply since 2015, however, from around CHF 289 million in 2019 to around CHF 136 million in 2020. Swiss exports to Libya amounted to CHF 120 million in 2019 and about CHF 119 million in 2020. Pharmaceutical products account for about half of Swiss exports.
Education, research and innovation
Researchers and artists from Libya can apply for Swiss Government Excellence Scholarships from the State Secretariat for Education Research and Innovation (SERI).
Swiss nationals in Libya
At the end of 2020, there were 44 Swiss nationals living in Libya.
History of bilateral relations
Switzerland recognised the newly created Libyan state immediately after its declaration of independence in 1951. Around 10 Swiss citizens were living in Libya at the time. After oil companies established operations in Libya, the number of Swiss nationals, especially technical experts and geologists, increased rapidly. A number of Swiss lawyers, including Eduard Zellweger (1901–75), took up positions as advisers to the young state.
From 1962 to 1965, Switzerland's interests in Libya were represented by the Swiss embassy in Tunisia. In 1965, Switzerland opened a consulate in the Libyan capital, Tripoli, followed by an embassy in 1968.