Libyan Prime Minister, Fayez Sarraj

Human Rights Watch (HRW) on Wednesday warned Libya to resist rushing into elections this year because the country is too violent and authorities cannot guarantee freedom of assembly or free speech, which are essential for a vote.

Potential contenders on both sides of Libya’s main political divide have called for a vote to resolve an impasse in which the government in the capital has limited authority and largely depends on armed groups for security.

The UN helped set up the government in 2016 and says it would like to see elections this year if security and legislative conditions are met.

A voter registration process began in December but no election dates have been set and it is unclear how local, parliamentary and presidential polls would be sequenced.

The last parliamentary elections in 2014 led to rival governments being set up in Tripoli and the east, backed by competing, loose armed alliances.

In the past week, there have been deadly clashes between rival armed factions in the cities of Sabha in the south and Derna in the east.

In Tripoli several prominent figures have been kidnapped, including the military prosecutor.

“Libya today couldn’t be further away from respect for the rule of law and human rights, let alone from acceptable conditions for free elections,” said Eric Goldstein, deputy Middle East and North Africa director for the rights group.

“The authorities need to be able to guarantee freedom of assembly, association and speech to anyone participating in the elections,” he said in a statement.

HRW said one precondition for elections was a judiciary that could resolve disputes, but the justice system was in a state of collapse.

“Armed groups have threatened, intimidated, and attacked judges, prosecutors, lawyers, and government officials. Law enforcement and criminal investigation departments around the country are only partially functional, often lacking the ability to execute court-issued summons and arrest warrants.

“Libya’s courts are in no position to resolve election disputes including on registration and results.”

The statement came as the UN human rights office said armed groups continued to execute and torture civilians in Libya with almost complete impunity.

The United Nations has pointed to the voter registration process as evidence of Libyans’ enthusiasm for elections.

Since December, more than 923,000 voters have registered, according to the electoral commission, and more than 2.4 million are now registered nationwide.

However, analysts say this does not necessarily indicate high turnout, given security challenges and a voting population estimated at between 4.2 and 4.5 million.