On our Fact Finding Mission to Libya – by Sameh Habeeb
A Trip to War Torn Tripoli of Libya
The ongoing instability in Libya and the complicated political situation since 2011 continue to produce security and economic repercussions across the Mediterranean particularly to Southern European countries. The complexity of the situation makeσ it almost impossible to soundly diagnose and understand the “politics of division” dominatιng the east and western regions of Libya. The recent offensive of General Khalifa Haftar demonstrates that the Libyan Crisis is deepening and far from over.
To fully understand the situation in Libya, ICRD, IPSE and the newspaper European Interest organised an International Fact finding mission in Tripoli, Libya ( June 7-11), with the participation of area studies experts, politicians, journalists and diplomats from fourteen countries across Europe.
The mission went to the country’s capital, the seat of Libya’s Internationally recognised government, and a city under siege. The mission was organised over the course of two months, putting together a team of 30-high calibre participants, whilst taking measures to ensure security and planning meetings with a broad spectrum of government and civic stakeholders on the ground.
Bearing in mind that Tripoli is currently under attack and many governments regard it as a no-go zone, ICRD also faced a number of bureaucratic obstacles, from issuing visas for delegates to ensuring the security of all participants.With the help of the Libyan government, national and international NGOs present on the ground, ICRD was able to secure safe access to a wide array of stakeholders, including civil society, political parties, local councils and local governments, and top government officials.
After a long journey on the evening of the 8th of June 2019, via Tunis, the mission started its first round of consultations with Libyan local government representatives from across the country, particularly conflict-afflicted regions. The Libyan delegates spoke on length about the challenges they face due to lack of funding and resources from the central government. They also voiced their concerns on security challenges. Interestingly, they also added that in many locations they can’t fully operate due to different loyalties of tribes, armed groups to different sides in the east and west of Libya.
Later in the day, the mission met with the political leadership of various political parties. There was a consensus over the condemnation of violence as the means to manage existing power cleavages, while a number of informants spoke at length about the international dimension of the conflict, through local proxies and arms sales, by powers that are seeking part of the oil and gas wealth of Libya. There was also condemnation of the UN position that seeks to retain a balance between the international recognised government and the forces of General Haftar. The term “incompetence” was used on more than one occasion.
A third round of consultations was with civic society organisations, where there was expressed disapproval for foreign involvement that fuels the conflict, especially as regards to encouraging the siege of Tripoli. The condemnation of specific EU member states and Arab Gulf countries was especially vehement. A number of Libyan delegates talked about the need for a Libyan war tribunal, especially in reference to General Haftar.
The mission took note of all speakers, committed only to the principle that conflict resolution must adhere to democratic principles, respect the need to protect civilians, and avoid the use of violence that can irreparably damage the social fabric in Libya. The mission also conveyed a rise in concern over the spillover of national security threats to Europe, particularly via radicalisation and human trafficking from Africa.
Meeting with UN Special Envoy, Ghasan Salame
The delegation held an eye-opening meeting with UN Special Envoy Ghassan Salame to discuss the situation in Libya and the role of the UN. The delegation was briefed about the role of the UN and statistical picture of the ongoing conflict, particularly as regards to internally displaced and casualties. Special Envoy Salame reiterated the UN position of neutrality and invited all parties to find a non violent solution for the current crisis. The ensuing conversation took place off the record.
By the end of the day, our delegation carried out a field visit to a number of sites on the outskirts of Tripoli, including bombarded locations such as the Parliament and residential houses. The field also included a visit to a school that is now converted into a shelter for Internally displaced persons. Our delegation had the chance to speak to the IDPs and listen to their plight such as lack of support, displacement, failure to attend schools and war Trauma.
Meeting with Al Meshri
The second day of our visit commenced with a briefing and consultation with the President of the High Council of Libya, Khaled Al Meshri, essentially the speaker of parliament.
Al Mashri briefed the delegation about the current situation in Tripoli following the Haftar Offensive. He ruled out talks with General Haftar due to lack of trust, describing the leader of the forces besieging Tripoli as “untrustworthy” that failed to abide by previous agreements made during 6 rounds of negotiations. His view reflects a hardened position, suggesting a point of no return in the conflict. Al Meshri focused on the anger in Tripoli and other cities where people can’t get along with their lives due to ongoing fighting and constant attacks on civilian areas on the outskirts of the capital. He also blamed some European and Arab countries who support Haftar in the ongoing offensive.
In response to a question from the delegation about the support the Tripoli government receives from some countries, including weapons or financial support, he clarified that the Government has only imported weapons that are not banned under the UN arms embargo on Libya.
Meeting with Fayez al-Sarraj
The last meeting for our mission was an open discussion with the Chairman of the Presidential Council of Libya and prime minister of the Government of National Accord Fayez Al Sarraj, who condemned the offensive of Haftar against Tripoli and called for an immediate end to all types of hostilities. Sarraj proclaimed the attack illegal and called on international community to step up its efforts to contain the Tripoli offensive. He also asserted that Haftar failed to commit to agreements made during a number of successive rounds of negotiations continuing with an offensive despite his agreement to a ceasefire during negotiations in Abu Dhabi. Al Sarraj also commented on the economic situation and that need for stability thus the Libyans could continue building their country.
Meetings In Tunis
Tunis is the closet neighbour to Libya and experiences the first impact from the ongoing conflict. Since 2011, the country has experience an influx of Libyan refugees and the flow continues, almost uninterrupted, with the flow surging during the peak of the conflict. The small North African country has taken millions of refugees both Libyans; and illegal African refugees, who use the country as Transit point in their journey to Europe.
Our delegation concluded its consultations with meetings at the Tunisian parliament, meeting both MPs and the national security advisor for Tunisia’s President. These consultations took place in confidence at the Tunisian Parliament, hosted by Ms. latifa Hbashi, chair of Committee For Freedoms and International Relations. The discussion gravitated towards the Libyan Crisis and the impact on Tunis. The meeting concluded that Tunis has not received enough support from European Union in dealing with the Libyan refugees nor illegal immigrants. Tunsian MPs added that the country is increasingly vulnerable to terrorism due to crisis in Libya and needs additional support from the International community.
Finally, the delegation then met with the National Security Advisor of the President, Kamel Akrout, to discuss the implications of Libyan conflict on Tunisia. The consultation broadly resulted in the conclusion that a resolution of the conflict in Libya can only be achieved through diplomatic means. He also added that Libyan Government in Tripoli must take the initiative in improving the domestic situation, pointing to a number of lost opportunities since 2016.
Sameh Akram Habeeb is a British-Palestinian journalist. He is the founder and director of think tank organisation “International Centre For Relations & Diplomacy.