On 28 August 2017, Ghassan Salamé, the special representative of the secretary-general and head of the United Nations Support Mission in Libya, told the Security Council that on his first night in the capital, Tripoli, after taking the job, “I fell asleep to the protracted staccato of gunfire.” Civilians, he said, “are killed or injured across Libya as a result of sporadic armed clashes…
Thousands are also detained for prolonged periods of time, many with no prospects of a fair trial.”
Libya’s current state is one of near anarchy. A UN-led initiative resulted in a Libyan Political Agreement in December 2015 and a so-called Government of National Accord (GNA), bringing together two warring “governments,” the Council of Deputies (elected in 2014) and the Islamist General National Congress (GNC).
The GNA is backed by the UN and is internationally recognised. Its authority, however, is both unclear and limited; the country’s capital, Tripoli, the haven of the GNC, is still contested and riven by violence.
The components of the GNA still compete for authority, legitimacy and control over state resources and infrastructure.
Oil production in Libya reached 1 million barrels a day in early October 2017, far below the 1.6 million it produced before the crisis. Mr Salamé said that the “impression of a now well-rooted political economy of predation is palpable, as if the country were fuelling its own crisis with its own resources to the benefit of the few and the frustration of the many.”
When a convoy of UN personnel was attacked with gunfire and rocket-propelled grenades on June 28 2017 by militant groups in the country, Mr Salamé reported that the active “presence of ISIS, Al Qaida–affiliated terrorist groups, foreign fighters and mercenaries, the trafficking of arms and the cross-border black market economy are challenges which extend across Libya’s borders and impact its neighbours and the wider international community.”
Yet this was not a major news item in mainstream US media.
In June, UN investigators reported that terrorists, militants, mercenaries, and partisans have been targeting the two “governments” in the country, as well as residential areas, with improvised explosive devices, causing the death and injury of many civilians.
The investigators reported summary executions of civilians, mass killings and bodies found with “bullet wounds and signs of torture.”
Kidnappings are routine, and so is the “arbitrary detention and torture of journalists and activists involving Haytham al-Tajuri, the commander of the Tripoli Revolutionaries Brigade. Armed groups affiliated with the National Salvation Government were involved in several cases of kidnapping and torture,” the investigators stated in their report.
Thousands have perished in the near-anarchic violence that these multiple groups and their foreign backers perpetuate, and an estimated 435,000 of Libya’s population of just over six million are internally displaced.
September ended with the report of the killing of 26 people and the wounding of 170 by rival armed groups in the city of Sabratha after two weeks of fighting.
In October, CNN reported slave trading in Libya, with a footage of black Africans being auctioned for around $400 each. The footage caused the African Union (AU) chairman, president Alpha Conde of Guinea, to demand prosecutions for crimes against humanity. He condemned the resurgence of a “despicable” trade “from another era.”
Africa Renewal/ Lansana Gberie