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article imageOp-Ed: Recent UN statements on Libya

By Ken Hanly     Nov 15, 2014 in Politics
Tripoli - The United Nations Support Mission In Libya (UNSMIL) issues periodic statements on the situation in Libya. Every statement has predictable motherhood bromides urging all the parties to eschew violence and stop fighting.
The statements are mostly of interest not because of what is said but by the way it is said and what is left out. For this article I will consider three recent statements about the situation in Libya, beginning with a statement about the Libyan Supreme Court decision that declared the June elections unconstitutional. The ruling also said that the resulting parliament meeting in Tobruk should be dissolved. UNMSMIL on November 6th a day after the Supreme Court decision issued a statement that includes the following:
The United Nations Support Mission in Libya (UNSMIL) takes note of the Supreme Court’s ruling, and will be studying it closely. In this regard, UNSMIL is consulting closely with Libyan stakeholders across the political spectrum, and with international partners.
UNSMIL emphasizes the urgent need for all parties to forge consensus on political arrangements regarding the transition. In this regard, Special Representative of the Secretary-General Bernardino Leon will confer with all the main stakeholders on the way forward.
Notice that the statement does not say who the stakeholders are with whom Leon will confer. Up to this point the stakeholders were members of the House of Representatives and on the other side elected members of the house who boycotted the Tobruk parliament. The UN regarded the Tobruk government and the House of Representatives as the sole legitimate government, the aim seemed to be arrange for the inclusion of some who were elected into that government but were boycotting it. As UNSMIL said in an earlier statement about the political dialogue that they were hosting: This is why we believe it is very important, as it has been stated today that there is one parliament, one legitimate parliament representing all Libyans and that has to be the House of Representatives.. The dialogue was with other parliamentarians who had not joined the legitimate government yet: This is a dialogue between parliamentarians, between members of the House of Representatives. The country has to overcome the institutional crisis it has today. It is very important to send a very strong message about the unity and territorial integrity of Libya .. Relevant stakeholders such as CIA-linked General Haftar and his militias, the Islamist militias such as Libya Dawn, and the competing government of Omar al-Hasi who was declared prime minister by the General National Council, were not stakeholders who took part in the UN dialogue. The whole dialogue exercise was intended to increase the power and legitimacy of the Tobruk government. The Tobruk government is dominated by non-Islamists or even anti-Islamists. This is the type of government many of the "international partners" who recognize the Tobruk government want.
The Supreme Court ruling throws a monkey wrench into the UN plan, not that it was working in any event, since the militias simply went on battling each other in many places. The situation has changed however, in that the Tobruk government now supports Haftar and his Operation Dignity.
The prime minister of the opposing government, Omar al-Hasi, has called for new elections as a way out of the impasse. Do not expect to hear a word about that in any UN statement. A spokesperson for Omar al-Hasi's government also proposed a variation on the elections theme: Omar Homaidan, spokesman for the Tripoli-based parliament, which is not internationally recognised, suggested the supreme court’s reasoning for the ruling was the fact that the March amendment that put in motion the June elections had passed without a required majority vote in the assembly. He said a possible way out of the crisis was to wait for a 60-member panel to finish writing Libya’s new constitution, then call a referendum on it and hold elections after that. The problem would be who would rule Libya until that happens.
Since the November 5th decision of the Libyan Supreme Court over a week ago UN statements for some reason do not even make reference to it. Perhaps they are still studying it even though it is quite clear what the decision was, and as the quote above points out, the probable grounds for making it. The Tobruk government has rejected the decision, unlike the Islamists who eventually accepted a Supreme Court decision when it went against their choice of premier. This resulted in Abdullah Al Thinni becoming premier. Al Thinni is also premier of the Tobruk government now.
The next statement by the UN after the Supreme Court decision speaks of the UN envoy meeting with Prime Minister Al Thinni, as well as the person who heads the committee drafting the new constitution: I also met with Prime Minister Abdullah al-Thinni in Shahat to hear his views on the latest developments in the country, including efforts to agree on a ceasefire to alleviate the suffering of the Libyan population in the east and in the west and ways to move forward with the political dialogue. Note that Al-Thinni is still the prime minister as far as the UN is concerned. The Supreme Court decision has not led to any change in their view of which government is legitimate. The language is even more revealing in a subsequent statement on November 11, which shows that at least the Supreme Court decision led the UN to feel that they had to extend their envoy Mr Leon's dialogue with new stakeholders: Mr Leon met Mr. Nouri Abu Sahmein in the framework of his consultations with different political personalities to overcome the Libyan crisis. Mr. Leon listened to his views and ideas on how to break the stalemate in the efforts to resolve Libya's current political and security crisis. The discussions were fruitful, frank and open, and in-depth views were exchange. On Sunday 09 November, Mr. Leon traveled to Al-Baida where he met with the Chairman of the Constitution-Drafting Assembly, Ali Tarhouni, to discuss UN technical assistance and later met in Shahat with Prime Minister Abdullah Al-Thinni to hear his views on the latest developments in the country.
So who is this Nouri Abu Sahmein? How come Al Thinni is given the title of Prime Minister but Abu Sahmein not only has no title, there is not even an account of who he might be. He cannot be described because that might give some legitimacy to his position. Abu Sahmein was the president of the General National Congress and according to those in the alternative government still is. He convened the GNC who made Omar al Hasi prime minister and tasked him with forming a government. The UN is not about to explain any of this. Of course the UN insists: The United Nations is impartial and neutral in its approach and wants the best solutions for the Libyans, but it is for the Libyans themselves to come up with these solutions and we will assist in every way we can. Our work will always be guided by full respect for Libya’s sovereignty, national unity and territorial integrity. Probably in their spare time the people who write these statements turn their talents to writing for the Onion.
Perhaps the UN should be applauded for taking the time to study the Supreme Court decision, unlike the UN-supported and internationally recognized government in Tobruk which immediately rejected it. However, it is now well over a week since the decision. Shouldn't the public be apprised of the results of their study? The public also await the pronouncements of important international stakeholders such as the US, EU and others about the decision.
This opinion article was written by an independent writer. The opinions and views expressed herein are those of the author and are not necessarily intended to reflect those of
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