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Ramona Wadi

The UN's 'exploit and discard' cycle in Libya

UN envoy to Libya, Martin Kobler and deputy PM of Government of National Accord [Getty]

Date of publication: 22 August, 2016

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Comment: Recent reports that the Libyan unity government is losing support are in line with the UN's plans for Libya, writes Ramona Wadi.

The cycle of intentional failure in Libya has become a predictable story. NATO's war - waged in the name of the international quest to obliterate Muammar Gaddafi - left the country torn apart. The UN justifies the aftermath of violence, including the targeting of black and Tawergha people as part of the process of Libya's alleged transition to democracy.

Militia violence and the proliferation of weapons were euphemised as "civil war". The mainstream narrative ensured that the rival governments were dissociated from the NATO war, although their ties to entities promoting the war in Libya were evident.

The UN-backed Libyan unity government is swiftly heading towards a repeat of the rigmarole of contradictions and blatant lies. The impeccable timing of the formation of the Libyan unity government had provided a veneer of respectability that the US could exploit for its most recent bombing campaign - sanctioned by the UN, thanks to the Libyan unity government's backing. But this government's validity may now be reaching the end of the road.

Loss of support

A recent Reuters report stated that the unity government was facing "crumbling" support, as Libya's economy continued to plummet, and the people experience increasing hardships, such as power cuts and problems with currency exchange.

Reuters quoted Libyan Prime Minister Fayez Serraj, who remarked on the difference in support for the unity government between last April and now. "At the time Tripoli had 20 hours of electricity a day, now it is 12… In April people had to pay 3.5 dinars for a dollar. Today it is 5 dinars. That is devastating for an import-oriented economy. Support is crumbling."

   What's been going on in Libya?

The General National Congress was the Islamist-led elected body ruling Libya for two years following Gaddafi's ousting and death. After its 18-month deadline to form a new constitution passed in January 2014, the body resolved to extend its mandate.

General Khalifa Haftar, a senior figure in the forces that toppled Gaddafi, called on the GNC to disband. In May, Haftar led troops against Islamist militias in Benghazi and the GNC in Tripoli in an offensive named Operation Dignity.

Amid the chaos, an election was held to form the House of Representatives, which took power from the GNC in August. With rival militias ruling Libya's streets, the election turnout was just 18 percent. Islamist militias then launched Operation Libya Dawn to fight Haftar's troops.

With the lack of security in the capital, the House of Representatives hired a Greek car ferry harboured in the eastern city of Tobruk as a temporary legislature.

In late August, a group of GNC members reconvened in Tripoli and claimed legislative authority over the country, effectively replacing the House of Representatives as Libya's parliament. The Tobruk-based House of Representatives remained the internationally recognised government, though its actual authority on the ground in Libya was limited.

Libya's Supreme Court, based in Islamist-held Tripoli, ruled in November that the formation of the House of Representatives was unconstitutional, legally dissolving the Tobruk-based legislature and nullifying its decisions.

The Tobruk-based parliament refused to accept the court's ruling, saying it was made "at gunpoint".

Libya became torn between the rival parliaments and the heavily armed militias that support each. Allegiances between the militias changed frequently, which only added to the instability, violence and danger faced by ordinary Libyan citizens.

Efforts by the UN to establish a "unity government" has led to a third administration, this one led by Fayez Sarraj, claiming overall political legitimacy for the country and setting up shop in Tripoli in late March 2016. The much-anticipated chaos subsequently failed to materialise, as Sarraj faces the task of strengthening his mandate through popular acceptance and working towards an end to the violence and insecurity plaguing the country.

Martin Kobler, Special Representative of the UN Secretary General and Head of the UN Support Mission in Libya (UNSMIL) was reported to have said that there was no alternative to backing the GNA.

Referring to the current US airstrikes on Libya, Kobler also appealed for supporting the unity government, stating, "strikes by the Americans alone cannot defeat IS. The fight has to be a Libyan one. It will be won with ground troops."

UNSMIL's mandate

UNSMIL's mandate is based upon four principles: Ensuring the transition to democracy in Libya, promoting the rule of law and protecting human rights, countering the proliferation of weapons and government capacity building. These were defined in Resolution 2144 by the UN Security Council.

The speech given by Kobler to the UN Security Council in June portrays a truly dire situation, rendering UNSMIL almost irrelevant. The humanitarian situation in Libya continues to deteriorate: According to statistics cited by Kobler, the number of displaced people has reached 435,000. In addition, 6,000 families have fled Sirte, and there has been a 30 percent increase in the number of refugee drownings in comparison with last year.

The political scenario in Libya, and Kobler's proposals to address the discrepancies are equally ambiguous. While acknowledging that there is no support for the unity government, Kobler has insisted upon moving "quickly to meet the needs of the Libyan people". There is, however, no indication as to what strategies should be implemented.

A more realistic statement by Kobler - although seriously lacking in accountability - suggested that "we must recognise... that Libya is a country awash with weapons - 20 million pieces of weaponry in a land of six million people."

It is, however, somewhat disingenuous to claim that "these arms fuel the conflict", given that arms proliferation is a repercussion of the NATO aggression and completely foreseen by the UN, NATO and the countries embarking upon a new colonisation of Libya.

Shifting accountability

It is clear that Libya is the epitome of an imploded state, and that responsibility for its deterioration lies with the international community. In light of the current reports and dwindling support, there are discrepancies in the disseminated narrative that should be addressed. Power cuts in Libya have been a recurrence since 2011, so it is highly unlikely this is one of the reasons behind the unity government's crumbling support.

Politically, it seems as if the UN itself no longer needs the unity government. Keeping in mind that this entity was formed during the same period as the US conducted its preliminary missions in Libya, leading to the current strikes, it appears that the government's sole mandate was to allow the US to strike Libya.

Now that acquiescence to renewed military intervention in Libya has been regained, the cycle of admitting defeat and failure once again comes into play.

Politically, it seems as if the UN itself no longer needs the unity government

Even more despicable is the fact that the unity government has allowed Libyans to remain ensnared in the cycle of violence, as envisaged by the UN and NATO. Keeping in mind Kobler's stark statement that Libyans have to defeat IS, it is clear that the international community, particularly the US and the UN, has no intention of eliminating IS.

They have allowed international terrorism to flourish in Libya and now expect Libyans to fight international terror in their homeland.

The result is predictable. Libya will not be classified as a failed state, so that UNSMIL can bolster its presence within the perpetual "transition to democracy phase". Meanwhile, the international community - as instigator of the Libyan failed state - can avail itself of the violent chaos to promote its aggressive intent, disguised under humanitarian intervention or "fighting terror".

After all, in UN jargon, it is parroted statements, rather than facts, that are promoted and adorned with relevance. Consequently, the international narrative will never allow Libyans to be the true protagonists of their country, or their history.

Ramona Wadi is an independent researcher, freelance journalist, book reviewer and blogger specialising in the struggle for memory in Chile and Palestine, colonial violence and the manipulation of international law. Follow her on Twitter: @walzerscent

Opinions expressed in this article remain those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of The New Arab, its editorial board or staff.

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