UN peace process in Libya - Edward Zammit Lewis

A member of the Libyan National Army runs during clashes with Islamist militants in Benghazi, Libya. Photo: Esam Omran Al-Fetori/Reuters

A member of the Libyan National Army runs during clashes with Islamist militants in Benghazi, Libya. Photo: Esam Omran Al-Fetori/Reuters

Having a failed state in one’s immediate neighbourhood should be a matter of major concern for any country.  Following the downfall of Colonel Gaddafi in October 2011, and the jostling for power by the various militias and power groups that emerged during the civil war, Libya degenerated into a failed state which serves as a base for smuggling and international crime, and as a conduit for irregular migration to the central Mediterranean.

Malta has additional reasons for being seriously concerned by the situation in Libya. Malta has traditionally sought to follow a policy of good neighbourly relations with that country. During the Gaddafi era this was not without hiccups, among these one can mention the long continental shelf dispute during the early 1980s.

Nonetheless, Malta managed to forge an understanding with the Libyan leadership which led to substantial Maltese investment in Libya and vice versa.  Thousands of Maltese worked in Libya and their remittances made a significant contribution to their households and to the Maltese economy.

For these and many other political and economic considerations, Malta continues to strive relentlessly for a political solution to the Libyan crisis and for bringing stability in its immediate southern neighbourhood.

The government of Malta is convinced that the complex security situation in Libya, as well as the multifaceted, and sometimes conflicting, interests of regional stakeholders, can best be tackled by the collective weight of global and regional powers speaking with one voice and acting as one through the United Nations.

So far the UN’s mediation efforts have failed to achieve a negotiated settlement acceptable to all legitimate parties in Libya, in spite of various attempts at national reconciliation.

These efforts intensified throughout 2015, and led to the signing of the Libyan Political Agreement on December 17, 2015, at Skhirat, Morocco.

The agreement established the Government of National Accord led by Prime Minister Fayez al-Sarraj. It was endorsed by the Security Council and recognised by the international community as Libya’s legitimate government.

However, the healing of the rift between rival governments in Tripoli and Tobruk was short-lived. During the summer of 2016, the Tobruk-based House of Representatives withdrew its recognition of the Government of National Accord.

After nearly two years the government of Prime Minister Sarraj has failed both to bring the west of the country under unified control and to co-opt or push aside the rival government in the east.

Under these circumstances, and with the status quo in Libya nearing collapse, it became crucial for the UN to restore more forcefully its mediation role in Libya.

There is no faction that was totally right and there should be empathy towards the different positions

A high-level meeting on Libya, held on September 20, on the margins of the United Nations General Assembly, stressed the urgency of healing Libya’s institutional divides and of addressing pressing economic and security challenges.

The UN secretary-general Antonio Guterres and his new special representative for Libya, Ghassan Salamé, presented an action plan to relaunch the political process.

The action plan was endorsed by the Security Council on October 10. It reaffirms that the 2015 Libyan political agreement, though in dire need of amendments, remains the only viable framework to end the Libyan crisis.

Consequently, the first step of the action plan is to negotiate a political package that addresses the amendments required to the Libyan political agreement. The next step will be the organisation of a national conference that will bring together the largest possible spectrum of Libyan perspectives and consensually agree on the filling of important positions.

In the light of discussions at the national conference, changes to the current draft constitution will then be agreed. This, according to the action plan, will pave the way for parliamentary and presidential elections within a year.

The Maltese government has been following closely these developments. On September 23 Prime Minister Joseph Muscat, while in New York to attend the United Nations general assembly, discussed the Libyan crisis with Guterres for which meeting I had the privilege to attend. He also had informal discussions with leading actors in the region.

Muscat stressed that Libya was an absolute priority to Malta, and that Malta, as one of the European countries that could most understand Libya, was willing to help. He wisely conveyed a clear message that there was no faction that was totally right and that there should be empathy towards the different positions.

The Maltese government argues that greater international convergence is needed to restore the primacy of the UN process. For the action plan to succeed it needs the full support of all actors that have been involved in Libyan diplomacy, particularly major international and regional actors, as well as regional institutions, like the EU, the League of Arab States and the African Union.  A top priority in Malta’s diplomatic activity is to achieve this international convergence and support. Malta is making full use of its network of bilateral contacts with stakeholders in the region and in Libya itself to contribute to the peace process spearheaded by the UN.

Moreover, as a member of the EU, Malta keeps urging the union and its member states to continue to focus their diplomatic action in support of the UN peace process, and to direct the EU’s Common Foreign and Security Policy instruments towards providing concrete support for Libya’s transition to a stable and functioning country through close cooperation with the United Nations Support Mission in Libya.

The government of Malta is also aware that the successful implementation of this action plan does not depend only on the commitment of the international community but above all on the backing of the wide array of actors who make up Libya’s fragmented political and military landscape.

In this context one has to recommend the wise and pragmatic approach of Muscat which recognises that no faction is totally right and that there should be empathy to the different positions.

Edward Zammit Lewis is a Labour MP.

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