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Put peace in Libya first, UN chief urges summit on war-shattered nation 

Boys walk through Benghazi Old Town in Libya.
OCHA/Giles Clarke
Boys walk through Benghazi Old Town in Libya.

Put peace in Libya first, UN chief urges summit on war-shattered nation 

Peace and Security

A “rare opportunity” for peace in Libya should be seized by all those involved directly or indirectly in the conflict, António Guterres said on Monday, at a High-Level virtual meeting convened to end the fighting. 

“Libya’s future is at stake and I call on all Libyans to continue to work towards a lasting ceasefire,” the UN Secretary-General said, at the summit being held on the sidelines of the 75th UN General Assembly, co-hosted with Germany. 

“I implore all of you to encourage and support the Libyan peace efforts facilitated by the United Nations – not only in words but in actions,” he continued, urging the “full and unconditional implementation” of a Security Council arms embargo on Libya. 

Violations by countries that continue to deliver arms and other military support to the combatants “are a scandal and call into question the basic commitment to peace of all involved”, Mr. Guterres insisted.  

The development comes amid ongoing concern by many members of the international community over the disastrous, unresolved situation in Libya, amid suspected, longstanding interference and support for the warring parties by several outside States. 

Country divided 

The oil-rich country remains split between the UN-recognised Government of National Accord (GNA) and the self-proclaimed Libyan National Army (LNA), which launched an attack on the capital, Tripoli in April 2019. 

Most recently, the LNA’s 15-month bombardment of Tripoli ended in June, while the city of Tarhouna was reclaimed by GNA forces.  

Noting the uneasy truce currently holding in the city of Sirte, where opposing forces face one another with civilians sandwiched between them, Mr. Guterres insisted that he had been “encouraged” by the lull in fighting in recent months. 

He also welcomed potential overtures for a peaceful resolution to the conflict, following ceasefire appeals by (GNA) Prime Minister Serraj and the (LNA-supporting) Speaker of the House of Representatives Aguila Saleh. 

Potential talks 

In separate declarations, the two sides had also called for the lifting of the oil blockade and a return to the political process, the UN Secretary-General continued, before calling on “all parties” to engage constructively together, potentially at the UN in Geneva “in the coming weeks” on military issues.  

“The conflict has been going on for far too long and today we have an opportunity to recommit to its ending”, he insisted, before explaining that additional impetus for dialogue had been provided by the resignation of the Government in the east of the country on 13 September, and by Prime Minister Serraj’s announcement that he intended to hand over power by the end of October. 

Such moves could help “carve out a process that will lead the country back to sustainable peace, stability and development”, Mr. Guterres stressed. 

During the last round of discussions in August, the parties addressed security and military issues, security arrangements for a demilitarized zone, and the responsibilities of a future Petroleum Facilities Guard.  

‘Abhorrent’ imprisonment  

In a related development at the Human Rights Council in Geneva, the acting head of the UN Mission in Libya (UNSMIL) called for the immediate closure of migrant detention centres in the north African State. 

Conditions in facilities that are “nominally” under the control of the Libyan authorities, as well as others operated by armed groups, remain “abhorrent” for thousands of men, women and children picked up at sea in their bid to reach Europe, Stephanie Williams told the forum at its 45th session. 

“We continue to receive reports of arbitrary or unlawful detention, torture, enforced disappearances, extrajudicial killings and sexual violence in all places of detention”, Ms. Williams insisted in a scheduled update. 

Women and children sit on mattresses on the floor at a detention centre in Tripoli, Libya.
© UNICEF/Alessio Romenzi
Women and children sit on mattresses on the floor at a detention centre in Tripoli, Libya.

Latest data from UNSMIL indicates that in western Libya, some 3,291 detainees remain in detention - including women, children and unaccompanied minors – with 371 held in eastern Libya.  

Death at sea 

Highlighting that “many” migrants still die while attempting to make the perilous journey across the Mediterranean Sea to Europe, the UNSMIL senior official reiterated longstanding warnings from the UN and other organizations that Libya “is not a safe port” for the return of migrants and asylum seekers. 

“Those who survive continue to be returned to Libya where they are arrested upon arrival or simply disappear,” Ms. Williams said, before calling for the immediate closure of detention facilities linked to the GNA and those under the control of armed groups “that are linked to trafficking of migrants and criminal networks, who extort money from the most vulnerable”.   

Libyans must decide their future 

At the Summit, while it was clear that Libyan parties should be expected to “fully shoulder their responsibilities”, Mr. Guterres urged delegates to hear his call for “all outside parties with influence” to “put peace first”. 

Bringing an end to the conflict remains a “top priority” for the Organization, he insisted, adding that the conflict “has been going on for far too long and today we have an opportunity to recommit to its ending”. 

In addition to the foreign ministers of countries that participated in the Berlin Conference on Libya in January 2020, the high-level event also featured senior representatives of key regional and sub-regional organizations.  

Also present were Libya’s neighbours Algeria, Chad, Niger, Sudan and Tunisia, as well as Morocco and South Africa.  

Key objectives of the Summit are “to reaffirm participants’ commitment” to the conclusions of the Berlin Conference and underline the UN’s role in facilitating Libyan-owned political, security and economic dialogue “and reiterate the commitment of the international community to a peaceful resolution of the conflict in Libya”, according to the UN Department of Political and Peacebuilding Affairs (DPPA). 

According to UNSMIL there has been a sharp decrease in civilian casualties in Libya, to at least 19 between June and September 2020, compared with at least 358 between April and June. 

“The only way to protect civilians is for the fighting to stop and all for all parties to lay down their arms and commit to peace,” said UNSMIL’s Ms. Williams. 

Amid widespread problems in the devastated country and the “bleak” outlook, the UNSMIL acting head repeated Libyans’ calls for accountability to be at the “core” of any political discussions about its peaceful future.  

“Libyans want their leaders to act responsibly and constructively, in the interest of their nation, to build consensus on an inclusive political settlement that would restore democratic legitimacy”, she said.