Late last night the UN failed to agree on a statement condemning an air strike which killed 44 refugees in a detention centre in Libya because the US ambassador said he needed Washington’s approval.
The UN-recognised GNA Prime Minister Fayez Al-Sarraj has blamed the commander Khalifa Haftar, who controls the east of the country, for the attack. A video of the aftermath showed an empty, twisted shell of a building, a blood-spattered police car and the remains of foam mattresses amid the rubble.
Though ostensibly the US supports the peace process in Libya and backs the GNA, this is not the first time it has blocked action against Haftar in a bid to keep its regional allies happy. Egypt, the UAE and Saudi Arabia all provide funding to the commander, along with military and intelligence support.
In April much was made of a phone call between Trump and Haftar in which he discussed “ongoing counterterrorism efforts” and “securing Libya’s oil resources.” It was viewed as the American president’s tacit support for the commander.
It emerged through a Wall Street Journal report that at the time Saudi crown prince and the Egyptian president lobbied Trump to back the general. Haftar went on to bombard Tripoli in an attempt to unseat the GNA, with the support of his allies, displacing thousands in the process.
In the aftermath of Tuesday’s strike, Libyan Foreign Minister Mohamed Tahir Sayala sent a letter to the president of the Security Council accusing foreign countries that had not been named. Head of the advisory body, the High Council of State of Libya, Khaled Al-Meshri has said on Twitter: “The country that is currently presiding over the African Union is the same country that bombarded the African immigrants last night in Tajura.”
Both officials were alluding to Egypt, whose president currently chairs the African Union despite being kicked out of the body in 2013 following the coup. As chair, Egypt should be brokering peace in Libya, not supporting Haftar who on Tuesday proved once again that he has little regard for civilian lives.
Whilst the Chairman of the African Union Commission Moussa Faki Mahamat has condemned the strike and called for an independent investigation into the matter, Libya and its allies must be held accountable. The AU must do more to abide by its stated principles to promote peace and democratic principles, which is impossible with Egypt at the helm.
Five months ago, foreign affairs chief of the EU, Federica Mogherini, said the bloc was united in calling for a truce and a return to diplomacy in Libya, but this is not strictly true. The Libyan prime minister has accused France of supporting Haftar after Paris blocked an EU statement which called on Haftar to halt his attack on Tripoli.
Yesterday, the EU joined the United Nations in calling for “an immediate investigation” into Tuesday’s air strike, but the massacre has brought into sharp focus gaping holes in Europe’s migration policy, which put the refugees there in the first place.
Instead of providing a safe route for refugees to leave the country, thousands of people picked up from the Mediterranean are returned to the North African country and holed up in refugee centres, which are prisons where they are tortured, raped and now massacred, just to keep them away from Europe’s shores.
Instead of training Libyan coast guards to return people rescued at sea to Libya, the EU should put their efforts into resettling asylum seekers outside of the country and protecting the civilians dying in Libya as a result of the ongoing conflict.
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.