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After 13 years of mission and seven successive leaders, the UN at an impasse in Libya

Abdoulaye Bathily, UN special representative for Libya, resigned on Tuesday April 16.

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After 13 years of mission and seven successive leaders, the UN at an impasse in Libya

Abdoulaye Bathily, UN special representative for Libya, resigned on Tuesday April 16. He explained his decision by “the lack of political will” of the Libyan leaders and went so far as to affirm that the latter are “happy with the impasse” that Libya is currently experiencing. At the end of a meeting of the United Nations Security Council, the 77-year-old diplomat announced to the press that the UN Mission in Libya (Manul) cannot “act successfully”. Before the Senegalese citizen, three other of his predecessors resigned, when the others also encountered numerous obstacles.

Manul was adopted by the UN on September 16, 2011, in the middle of the Libyan civil war and about a month before the death of Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi. Its mandate is defined as such: “to assist and (...) support Libyan national efforts aimed at restoring public security and order and promoting the rule of law.” This resolution determines the duration of the political mission to “an initial period of three months”. Faced with the stagnation of the Libyan crisis, the UN is gradually extending the duration of UNSMIL, which is still in progress today. In 13 years, the mission has had no less than seven special representatives, three of whom resigned before the end of their respective mandates.

Ian Martin, an independent English diplomat, is the first to take up the challenge. He was appointed on September 11, 2011, but did not stay more than a year. 10 years after leaving his post at Manul, he published his work All necessary measures? The United Nations and international intervention in Libya (All measures necessary? The United Nations and international intervention in Libya, in French) which reviews the failure of the mission during his mandate. The book mentions in particular successive governments which “have not succeeded in establishing their authority” over “constantly proliferating armed groups”.

Tarek Mitri, former Lebanese foreign minister, takes over and stays in office for two years. Later, he also published a book on his mandate as special representative, titled Rugged Paths (2015, Sentiers accidentés, in French). The collection evokes the multiple tribulations and trials that Manul faces, including the difficulty of rebuilding a solid political system while having to manage conflicting interests, on a local and international scale.

On August 14, 2014, it was the turn of the Spaniard Bernardino León to be appointed head of the mission. The former Spanish Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs only remains in office for 14 months in Tripoli. The circumstances of his departure are widely controversial, in particular because of leaked emails revealing the existence of secret negotiations that he allegedly conducted at the time with the authorities of the United Arab Emirates.

The latter is therefore relayed by the German Martin Kobler. This polyglot has already worked as deputy special representative to the United Nations assistance mission for Afghanistan, then as head of the United Nations Assistance Mission for Iraq. He is also strongly criticized within the framework of his mandate as special representative to Baghdad, the population having demonstrated in order to obtain his dismissal. Indeed, Ghanem al-Abed, the leader of the protest, affirmed in March 2013 that Martin Kobler was “incompetent to discuss human rights”. The demonstrations then provoked protest resignations among senior officials of the mission. However, Martin Kobler was appointed to Libya and stayed there for almost two years. In 2016, while still in office, the native of Bonn did not hesitate to declare that the Libyan situation was “a dead end”.

In June 2017, Ghassan Salamé became the second Lebanese citizen and minister emeritus of the country of cedar to be appointed special representative in Libya. Like his predecessor, he went through the United Nations Assistance Mission for Iraq before taking up his post in Libya. After a mandate of almost three years - a record never equaled - he resigned for "health" reasons, because of a level of "stress" too high to exercise "one of the most difficult jobs in the world" , he then said. At the end of this mandate, Libya remains in an impasse because of “foreign interference”, already mentioned in Ian Martin’s testimonial book.

At the dawn of 2021, Slovak diplomat Jan Kubis is appointed to replace his Lebanese predecessor. Nevertheless, the black streak continued for Manul when he announced his resignation barely eight months after taking office. He “feels that he does not have enough support,” said a diplomatic source. This surprise emerges a month before the election which is to be held in Libya at the end of 2021. Finally, the Slovak politician offers to stay in office until the presidential election takes place. However, with the vote constantly being postponed, the diplomat permanently leaves his position.

Here again, the results of the mandate are hardly fruitful, among other things because the special manager had difficulty carrying out his mission from the distant city of Geneva, to which the post of UN envoy for Libya is attached. . With the native of Bratislava appreciating the coastal city of Lake Geneva more than Tripoli, according to information from Le Monde, the situation was not made easy.

Also read “I cannot sit idly by”: in Libya, the royal dream of Prince el-Senoussi

The post of special representative remains vacant for almost a year and the UN resolution authorizing the extension of the mission is slow to be voted on. Once the maintenance of the UN mandate has been decided, the reins of Manul are finally entrusted to a citizen of an African country, as the States of this continent had requested in 2020. Indeed, the Senegalese Abdoulaye Bathily is appointed to the post of special representative for Libya and head of the mission at the beginning of September 2022. A year and a half later, he also resigned, even though his forty years of political experience had been touted for the position.

It remains to be seen whether the UN will reform Manul or appoint a new representative, at the risk of seeing the stalemate continue.

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