Monday, March 10, 2014

Libya at Risk of Unprecedented Violence

International and well-coordinated support is vital to helping Libya through its democratic transition, a United Nations envoy told the Security Council today, as he described the recent polarization in the country, a dramatic increase in violence, including attacks on the media, as well as difficulties in strengthening the security sector. “Libya faces the risk of embarking on a new trajectory of unprecedented violence,” Tarek Mitri, the Secretary-General’s Special Representative and head of the UN Support Mission in Libya (UNSMIL), said in his briefing to the 15-member body.

Mr. Mitri has been heading the UN’s efforts to assist the Libyan Government and people as they undergo a democratic transition following the toppling of former leader Muammar al-Qadhafi three years ago. Recent months have witnessed worsening security and political divisions which threaten to undermine the country’s transition. He recalled that, on 2 March, the General National Congress building was stormed by protestors demanding its dissolution. About 150 young men ransacked the main chamber and assaulted members, four of whom were injured. 

“Intense efforts to resolve differences and negotiate an agreement on the management of the transitional period, including the future of the General National Congress and the Government, have not succeeded in bringing an end to the divisions that have paralysed the political process,” noted Mitri.  “Considerable differences remain over holding both parliamentary and presidential elections, and the extent of powers to be granted to a future president.”

The previous three months have witnessed a “dramatic” increase in violence across the country, he stated. This includes violence in Sabha in the south that resulted in over 100 fatalities, including children and the elderly, as well as the displacement of hundreds of families and shortages of fuel, food and medical supplies. 

In the east, the unabated campaign of targeted assassinations, bombings and abductions in Benghazi has reached “intolerable” levels. Many victims have been security and judicial personnel. But civilians have also suffered unchecked terror and intimidation. 

“In a city which prides itself on its role in putting an end to decades of tyrannical rule, the present public’s sense of anger is mounting,” said the envoy. “While the primary responsibility for reining in the perpetrators of this ugly campaign of terror lies with the State, this will only be possible with the concerted efforts by the Government, political, civic and revolutionary forces, aiming at the protection of the civilian population.” 

In addition, Mr. Mitri reported that there has been an “alarming” increase in attacks on journalists and media institutions. Several television stations in Tripoli and Benghazi were the target of armed acts of vandalism. A number of journalists and media figures were abducted.  He added that strengthening the State’s ability to assume its security responsibilities continues to be hindered by the absence of a political agreement over the rebuilding of a national army, the integration of revolutionary fighters and the collection of weapons. 

“A solution to this problem will require a clear strategy and giving a number of assurances to the revolutionaries who are only nominally under state authority. These include recognition of their contributions to the revolution and safeguards for their legitimate rights and interests.”

The people of Libya, said Mr. Mitri, expect that the international community will assist them in the difficult task of building a State, with strong and accountable institutions.  “Support to Libya, however, can be meaningful and effective if there is unequivocal commitment on the part of Libya’s leaders to this goal and a political will to resolve, through dialogue and concerted efforts, the major problems of the country.”

The Council also heard today from the current chair of the committee set up to monitor UN sanctions imposed on Libya, which include an arms embargo, a travel ban and an assets freeze.

Highlighting some observations made by the panel of experts assisting the committee, Ambassador Eugène-Richard Gasana of Rwanda noted that the proliferation of weapons to and from Libya remained a major challenge for the stability of Libya and the region.  In that context, the panel noted that the control of non-State armed actors over the majority of stockpiles in Libya, as well as ineffective border control systems remained primary obstacles to countering proliferation and that Libya had become a primary source of illicit weapons. Also, trafficking from Libya was fuelling conflict and insecurity, including terrorism, on several continents, which was unlikely to change in the near future. 

In discussing the report of the panel, the committee focused on serious concerns about persistent arms proliferation from Libya; the need to further clarify arms procurement structures and procedures in Libya; cooperation with UNSMIL concerning the storage and security of stockpiles; and how to carry forward the recommendations of the panel.

(UN press release)

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