A feature article in the New York Times takes on the “toothless UN embargo” that allows “foreign states” to “meddle with impunity in Libya”. The article references the recently released report of an errant airstrike in July on a migrant detention centre that killed 53 civilians. However, the UN report only identified the perpetrator as a “foreign state” without specifically identifying which one. As UN Libya envoy Ghassan Salame has previously said, this risks the UN embargo becoming a “cynical joke”. The New York Times calls out the UN’s reluctance to name names as part of a bigger problem of the international community’s inability to take concerted action over Libya.
At least 6 foreign nations are currently actively involved backing one side or the other in the conflict, despite the embargo. Of these, Turkey now openly provides arms and military advisers to the GNA in Tripoli. Others provide arms, logistical supplies and even supply mercenaries.
The air strike that killed 53 is most likely from a UAE fighter plane. The UAE backs Haftar’s LNA with heavy airpower and drones, among other means. But due to the UAE’s close ties with the US and EU countries, nobody calls it out for its behaviour. Its not the only one. Russia sends mercenaries, Egypt provides logistics support, Sudan mercenaries, Jordan sends arms and France reportedly has been offering clandestine aid to Haftar for years. Turkey, the main backer for the GNA, provides arms, training and now, also thousands of Syrian mercenaries.
The fact that all these continue to supply arms and fighters to the conflict as they all sat in Berlin just two weeks ago is almost comical if it weren’t tragic. That is, since average Libyans and helpless refugees are the ones caught in the process, often paying the price. Just last week, Turkish warships were spotted off the coast of Tripoli, and over 2000 Syrian mercenaries are said to have flooded into Libya recently (we have seen reports of close to 5000 Syrians in Libya already), while the UAE reportedly sent dozens of cargo plans filled with arms for Haftar.
Salame responded by describing the various countries as “unscrupulous actors” who “cynically nod and wink toward efforts to promote peace and piously affirm their support for the UN” as they “double down on a military solution, raising the frightening spectre of a full-scale conflict and further misery for the Libyan people.” He did not specify to whom he was speaking, but we can be sure his words were especially aimed at Ankara, Moscow and Abu Dhabi.
If the Berlin process, or any diplomatic process, has a chance of surviving, the international community, with the EU countries, Arab League, African Union and the US, all working under the UN, must specifically call out and investigate those violating the embargo, to which they are all signed on to and committed.
Moreover, the UN must reopen its investigation into private military contractors, or mercenaries in other words, who have grown increasingly influential in the Libyan conflict. A UN report conducted during the summer of 2019 and released towards the end of the year called out Sudanese and Chadian militias fighting for Haftar. This was a step, although nothing was done to remove these fighters from the conflict.
Since September, Russia has thousands of mercenaries fighting for Haftar, even as it denies their presence. And, since early January, Turkey has reportedly shipped well over 2000 and growing Syrian militants to fight for the GNA.
These forces are supremely destabilising, perhaps more than any other force at this time. The UN should immediately launch a new investigation into those countries employing mercenaries, especially and including Russia and Turkey. And, unlike the current “toothless” sanctions, these must have punitive measures to make them enforceable. Otherwise, Libya risks becoming the fully internationalised and full-blown civil war we all hope it doesn’t become but fear it might.
It’s not too late, but the UN must step up.