More stick, less carrot needed in Libya

The UN should stop threatening Libyan war criminals with sanctions and actually implement it.

Libya Dawn fighters search for ISIL militants during a patrol near Sirte [Reuters]
Libya Dawn fighters search for ISIL militants during a patrol near Sirte [Reuters]

Libya’s rivals are continuing their meetings in Morocco under United Nations sponsorship led by Bernardino Leon, UN special envoy to Libya, whose mandate is about to expire at the end of March.

According to multiple people involved with whom I have spoken over the weekend, the discussions revolve around three main sticking points: legitimacy, a unity government, and putting an end to the fighting.

The House of Representatives (HoR), which was elected several months ago and is headquartered in the city of Tobruk near the Libyan-Egyptian border, insists that it is the only government body that should be considered legitimate and that because it was elected, it should not be put in the same position as the other bodies or groups.

Libya peace talks appear on verge of collapse

Never mind the fact that more than half of its members are boycotting it and that it was elected by only 16 percent of registered voters, who, in turn, make up only approximately 20 percent of the population. The rest didn’t bother to vote, were unable to vote for security reasons, or were not allowed to vote because they live in exile outside the country. 

The latter group represents approximately 20 percent of the population and is comprised mainly of supporters of the former regime living in Egypt, Tunisia, and elsewhere since the killing of Muammar Gaddafi in 2011.

Perceived superiority

The HoR’s perceived position of superiority is reinforced by international recognition, which is a legacy of circumstances that have long passed.

The issue of unity government involves the usual haggling over who gets what and who should head it. More important, having seen the documents being discussed myself, is the absence of any clear and detailed road map of who does what and when – and, who will guarantee the security of the government and protect it from the many armed militias and gangs controlling the country, which is precisely the same issue that afflicted its predecessors for four years.

UN Special Envoy to Libya, Bernardino Leon [AP]

The final issue that must be resolved in order to implement a truce between the warring parties is the same old revolving door as to who can ensure such disengagement, if even supposed allies of the “internationally recognised government” were bombing their enemies in Tripoli on the very day the talks in Morocco began.

If there is any real hope of hammering out an agreement that can last anytime soon, Leon needs to get serious and stop this nonsense of wanting everyone to play nice.

First, I think Leon needs to make it clear to the HoR that technical electoral “legitimacy” is not equivalent to representation nor does it give the HoR and General Khalifa Haftar, who was appointed in clear defiance of international advice, an open-ended check to play spoiler and engage in acts of war against the very people with whom they are sitting down to negotiate.

If the HoR is using this international fig leaf of recognition to be more intransigent, then maybe that fig leaf should be withdrawn so that everyone can be treated for what they really are; equal parties in the civil war.

If there is any real hope of hammering out an agreement that can last anytime soon, Leon needs to get serious and stop this nonsense of wanting everyone to play nice.

Political process

Second, Leon needs to put forth very clear criteria as to who will have a seat at the table and be part of the political process, irrespective of who they are, where they are, or what politics they espouse.

Then, he needs to allow them to sort themselves out and either accept these conditions or be considered outside the process and placed on the UN sanctions list.

Third, Leon should no longer delay the UN process of showing the stick of sanctions against individuals who have committed war crimes by bombing civilian targets, airports, and the like, as he has been doing for months, despite having a clear UN mandate, passed in September of 2014.

There has also even been a list of candidates to be placed on the list, which includes such people as Haftar and Salah Badi, both of whom have led military assaults on airports, which is an international war crime. Leon, who has been hoping to get these people to agree to a peace process, has delayed activating this sanctions list.

Fourth, Leon needs to offer guarantees, including a UN contingency of peacekeepers to secure the main urban centres, government facilities, oil terminals, etc. once the negotiating parties have agreed on a unity government and a clear mechanism to elect a new legislative body that can produce a real legitimate and representative body.

Finally, the UN needs to take control of the reserves and oil revenues to remove them from the grab of militias and rivals, and internationalise the financial dimension of Libya’s conflict and put a stop to its ATM facilities to terrorists and militias from one side or the other.

Hafed al-Ghwell is a senior non-resident Fellow with the Rafik Hariri Center at the Atlantic Council in Washington DC and former adviser to the Dean of the Board of Executive Directors of the World Bank Group.

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera’s editorial policy.


More from Author
Most Read