“Seven and half months into the conflict in Libya, and given the recent dangerous escalation in the hostilities in and around Tripoli, we find ourselves ever more in a race against time to reach a peaceful solution that would spare many lives”.
Special UN envoy Ghassan Salamé spoke for the fifth time via teleconference from Tunis in front of the UN Security Council in New York, on November 18th. Projected onto a screen above the ring of diplomats, the leader of the UN’s Support Mission in Libya looked weary, but determined.
Then he provided the Security Council with a tragic update.
“I am angry and sad to report to you that today there was another mass civilian casualty event,” he said. “A biscuit factory in the Wadi Rabi’a neighbourhood of Tripoli was hit by an air strike, according to early information.” As per his remarks, ten people were killed, some of them migrants, and at least 35 injured. “It may constitute a war crime,” said Salamé.
Since April, violence across Libya has escalated with civilian casualties increasing as conflict occurs in populated areas. Salamé drew attention to the loss of infrastructure and necessary services due to an alarming number of drone strikes in Tripoli, which he said were “facilitated by external parties.” He refrained from naming countries who have put civilian lives at stake, having violated the arms embargo and having funded the Libyan Coast Guard to intercept and detain migrants in Libya.
During the morning briefing, several members of the UN Security Council spoke, including two guests, Rida al Tubuly, a pharmacologist and activist from Tripoli, and the Foreign Affairs Minister of Libya’s Government of National Accord, Taha Siala.
During the public briefing, the United States and France made no remarks. Russia, who has reportedly provided mercenaries to Libya, was also silent.
Salamé scrutinized the ongoing arbitrary detention of migrants, citing “serious concerns” over the “transfer of migrants intercepted at sea by the Libyan Coast Guard to the official and unofficial detention centers.” According to a recent report issued by the Office of Migration, while the number of deaths in the Central Mediterranean is lower than last year, the mortality rate of migrants crossing the Mediterranean has increased as conditions have worsened.
In Tripoli, more than 135,000 civilians are exposed to the front lines and an additional 270,000 people live in close proximity to conflict across the country. In just 8 months, 200 civilians have been killed and more than 128,000 people have fled their homes.
Yet Salamé reported positive progress on the promotion of peace and dialogue in Libya and abroad. Last month, Salamé’s office organized two workshops to combat the spread of hate speech on social media. And while municipal elections remain suspended, efforts continue to bring political constituencies and civil groups together. Salamé thanked Germany for their work in preparing an international summit, but did not say when the summit would take place.
To conclude his remarks, Salamé remained positive. “All is imminently possible,” he said.
The Foreign Minister of Libya, Taha Siala, lost no time in deriding the international community for “exacerbating” conflict through their “indifference” and “interference.” He described the schools, hospitals, bookstores and health facilities that had been attacked by militias, and he called upon the EU, UN and African Union to take a “clear and unified approach.” He made a list of pointed action items, illustrating a way forward from this “unconventional political stage,” so that there would be no more “tampering with the destiny of Libya.”
During her testimony, Rida Al Tubuly, who leads a non-profit called “Together We Build It” in Tripoli, criticized the international community for not taking peace-building efforts seriously and for “turning a blind eye” to the arms escalation in Libya. She accused the international community of “giving power to a violent minority,” suggesting more attention was owed to the work done on the ground. The non-profit has built a database for women professionals and a network for activists and organizations eager to join peace efforts.
After the briefing, La Voce di New York asked Al Tubuly if she believed the Security Council and Italy were committed to finding a solution to the Libyan situation. Al Tubuly said both are divided and lack a united approach.
“We are very connected to Italy. And for this reason, we wish Italy would play a different role” she said, speaking on her own. Al Tubuly believes France and Italy need to come together as does the EU. “If they come together, if they join forces, there will be stability in Libya. If there’s stability in Libya this will mean that there will be stability in the Mediterranean Sea,” she said.