Recent savage terrorist acts – culminating in the beheading of 21 Coptic Christians – highlight the “imminent danger” confronting Libya, its people and the wider region, the United Nations envoy to the country warned today, urging swift agreement among the main parties on resolving the crisis and ending the military and political conflict.
Strongly condemning all the “horrific and brutal acts” witnessed in recent weeks in Libya, Bernardino León, the Secretary-General’s Special Representative and head of the UN Support Mission in Libya (UNSMIL), underscored in his briefing to the Security Council that “no words can express my outrage and revulsion at the beheading of 21 men, including 20 Egyptian nationals who were targeted for no other reason than their religious belief and nationality.”
Yet, that atrocity should not eclipse the barbarity of other acts committed by extremist groups, including the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) and Ansar al-Sharia. Speaking via video conference from Tripoli, Mr. León pointed out that in November, three young activists were beheaded in Derna; towards the end of December, a young Egyptian doctor and his wife, also Copts, were brutally murdered at their home in Sirte; their daughter, who was abducted, was found dead on the city’s outskirts the next day.
“These are but a few of the many countless incidents which every day affect thousands of civilians, who bear the brunt of war and displacement and are victims of serious violations of human rights and international humanitarian law, especially in areas like Benghazi,” said Mr. León, warning that without a swift agreement among opposing Libyan political factions, the country, its people and the wider region were at risk of even more turmoil.
Indeed, he said, ISIL and its affiliates over the past weeks had shown blatant disregard for Libya’s sovereignty and state institutions. The capture of public installations in Sirte and the attack last month on the Corinthia Hotel in Tripoli reflect a growing ability and determination on the part of ISIL to exploit the political crisis and consequent security vacuum to consolidate its presence and influence across Libya.
Mr. León said that extremist groups with radical ideologies, associated with Al-Qaida, have been on the rise since the end of the armed conflict in 2011, with Ansar al-Sharia’s strongholds in Benghazi and Derna already constituting a serious terrorist challenge in the context of the Libyan crisis. These have served as platforms for mobilizing support for ISIL.
“[ISIL] has already shown its potential for destruction in Iraq and Syria. Operating across borders, it has mobilized recruits and significant financial resources, including through the use of social media,” he said, explaining that in Libya, the group has found fertile ground in the growing post-revolution political instability, capitalizing also on the weakness of state institutions and state security sector. A steady influx of foreign nationals has bolstered its ranks and now threatens to introduce yet another dimension to the conflict in Libya.
“We should be gravely concerned by this turn of events and firmly oppose the ideology and terrorist practices of the [ISIL]. These radical forces must be confronted at every turn. No strategy will be successful without strong regional cooperation and an empowered Libyan State and authorities,” he stressed. This is particularly the case in light of the complexities of Libya’s crisis; of its weak and fragmented state institutions, their current political polarization; the predominance of armed groups seemingly oblivious to the national interest; and media incitement and inflammatory rhetoric and corruption.
Mr. León said that since his last briefing to the Council, considerable headway had been made in the talks he has been mediating, in bringing the main parties to the negotiating table. “We have progressively structured a political dialogue along five mutually reinforcing tracks, bringing together representatives from a broad spectrum of the Libyan political, military and social landscape.”
In January, the UN hosted two rounds of political talks in Geneva in which discussions were focused on reaching agreement on a national unity government and security arrangements to include also a comprehensive ceasefire. He reported that within Libya, reactions to the talks have been overwhelmingly positive and appear to have injected a new ray of hope regarding the possibility of a peaceful resolution of the political crisis and military conflict.
He went on to report that a week ago, he had been in Ghadames, Libya, where for the first time, all the parties joined the UN-facilitated political dialogue. “No doubt this marks an important breakthrough towards an inclusive political agreement, which remains the only avenue for a sustainable way out of the crisis.”
The envoy said that he is also hopeful a political agreement can be reached soon – “the differences among the parties are not insurmountable” – and that he is confident that their sense of responsibility for the fate of the Libyan people and national unity, democracy and territorial integrity of the Libyan State will prevail over their differences.
“Yesterday, it was the anniversary of a revolution intended to realize these values, which look so far away today,” he pointed out, adding: “The images of the brutal acts of terror, which we have witnessed in Libya in the recent months, have shaken our collective conscience. We must capitalize on this sense of urgency and – today more than ever – we must stand firmly behind the political process.”
Given the sense of urgency, Mr. León said he had called for the next meeting of the political dialogue to finalize discussions initiated in Geneva on the formation of government of national unity and security arrangements to pave the way for a formal and comprehensive cessation of hostilities.
“Defeating terrorism in Libya can only be achieved through the political and institutional determination of a united Libyan Government, which will need the strong and unequivocal support from the international community in confronting the myriad challenges facing Libya,” he said, also emphasizing the international community’s shared responsibility to build consensus among the Libyan counterparts.
“It is crucial for the international community as a whole to maintain a unity of purpose, through coherent messaging and actions. Our efforts to counter terrorism in a sustainable manner cannot be a series of isolated acts and we should not allow terrorism to disrupt the political dialogue.”