Since the revolt that led to NATO intervention in Libya in 2011, the UN Security Council has passed almost 30 different resolutions and issued half-a-dozen presidential statements on the situation in the North African country. They cover almost everything, from the arms embargo to illegal oil trading, and call for the arrest of suspected criminals involved in smuggling people and goods. Yet arms still flow into the country, smuggling is still rife, and no one has been arrested.
It is worth noting that none of these Resolutions was ever fully implemented apart from 1970 and 1973, passed in February and March 2011 respectively. At the time, the late Muammar Gaddafi was still in power and both resolutions aimed to topple him, no matter how illegal that was. Every aspect of both resolutions against the former Libyan government was implemented with military force and vigour, leading to the Libyan leader’s murder while he tried to leave his home town of Sirte in October 2011
All of the aforementioned UN resolutions have a common denominator in setting out to protect civilians in Libya and helping it to become a stable democracy. Despite this, it has become anything but democratic and its people, including illegal migrants, are far from protected. In fact, the dangers faced by ordinary Libyans every day surpass any that they saw before 2011. Libya today is a very dangerous place for its people as well as its neighbours thanks to the UN intervention. The country is fractured and far less safe than it was under Gaddafi.
During the civil war that erupted in March 2011, all major countries, including Security Council veto-holding members France, the US and Britain, kept propagating the false message that the only obstacle to Libya’s peace and prosperity was Gaddafi. It is now almost seven years since the man was murdered and his regime collapsed, but neither peace nor prosperity has returned to Libya. In fact, many Libyans miss the days of calm and security, and the relatively easy life that they enjoyed under his rule.
Since February 2011, there have been six UN special envoys looking after the Libyan file, with an average tenure of about 13 months. Of them all, the current postholder — Lebanese-French academic and former politician Dr Ghassan Salamé — seems to have the best understanding of the situation in Libya, although he appears to be losing his way.
As soon as he took over as envoy, Salamé declared that he is open for talks with all Libyans, including former regime loyalists; such inclusivity is pivotal to any successful political process in the country. Indeed, in tribally-divided Libya, it is very difficult to envision reconciliation if the political dialogue excludes any group based on its loyalties. Former regime loyalists still represent a sizeable group inside Libya and across the Libyan diaspora, particularly in Egypt and Tunisia, where most of them fled after the war ended in late 2011.
Earlier this year, Salamé announced his roadmap based on three separate pillars: a Pan-Libyan conference that will include ideas from all Libyans regardless of their political inclinations; open and fair elections; and a national reconciliation process that would bring Libyans together to agree on ways to settle their differences.
However, Salamé is falling victim to conflicting ideas and messages coming from competing countries with high stakes in Libya, particularly Italy and France, along with Qatar and Egypt. While the French are pushing for elections to be held by 10 December this year, the Italians are arguing that Libya will not be ready for fair and transparent elections in time for that deadline. What’s more, Rome is angry that France is trying to play a leading role in Italy’s former colony while the government in Paris believes that its rival’s former status does not give it the automatic right to lead on efforts to sort out the mess that Libya is in.
The recent flare-up of violence around Tripoli seems to support the idea of delaying the elections. Fighting erupted last week between different factions, forcing air travel to be suspended and the closure of the only airport serving the capital; hundreds of civilians were displaced. Daesh fighters attacked the headquarters of the National Oil Corporation, killing at least two and injuring more than a dozen employees.
Over the past seven years, the UN role in Libya seems to have evolved into one of managing the conflict rather than solving it. Even the UN-backed Government of National Accord (GNA) is far weaker today than it was a year ago. The GNA is still unable to control Tripoli let alone the rest of the divided country with a competitor government based in the east of the country.
Moreover, the UN seems to be less keen on implementing its resolutions as seriously as it did in 2011 when the objective was to topple Gaddafi rather than protect civilians. Most Libyans are increasingly suspicious of the UN role and think that the world body does not really care about them and actually helps to prolong the conflict year after year. This thinking is widespread among ordinary Libyans, and is gradually degrading whatever credibility the UN used to enjoy among them, especially between 2012 and 2013 when hopes were high and popular enthusiasm was widespread.
So far, therefore, it is fair to say that the UN is failing Libya every step of the way. Since it cannot enforce its own resolutions, it is unlikely that the international organisation will be able to gain the trust of the very people it is supposed to be helping.
Mustafa Fetouri is a Libyan academic and freelance journalist. He is a recipient of the EU’s Freedom of the Press prize. His most recent book about Libya has just been published.
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.