Libya: back to square one after resignation of UNSMIL’s Abdoulaye Bathily

Libya

Published on Friday 19 April 2024 Back to articles

UN Special Representative to Libya, Abdoulaye Bathily, has resigned citing intransigence of Libya’s political leaders

Abdoulaye Bathily — The UN Special Representative to Libya and head of the United Nations Support Mission in Libya (UNSMIL) — has tendered his resignation to UN Secretary General, António Guterres. He made the announcement in a 16 April press conference following his bi-monthly briefing to the UN Security Council (UNSC). He told reporters that under the circumstances, there was no way the UN could operate successfully in Libya, further commenting, ‘There is no room for a solution in the future.’

This gloomy assessment was reflected in the content of his briefing. Bathily made it abundantly clear that the situation was desperate and that there was no hope for any UN initiative to succeed. This included his own most recent proposal to bring together the heads of the country’s five main institutions in order for them to try to forge a way to elections. Bathily did not hold back in criticising these institutions or their leaders for their unwillingness to co-operate with this plan, accusing them of ‘stubborn resistance, unreasonable expectations, and indifference to the interests of the Libyan people.’ He lashed out, stating that UN-led efforts had been met with an ‘intentional defiance to engage in earnest’ and a ‘tenacity to perpetually delay elections.’

Bathily was also explicit in his assertion that all of Libya’s political institutions have remained in office despite passing their official mandate long ago. He noted that, despite the insistence of the House of Representatives’ (House) speaker Aguila Saleh that the parliament is Libya’s most legitimate institution, the legislature was elected ten years ago. Likewise, Bathily argued that the incumbent Government of National Unity (GNU) had ‘entrenched itself’ in the west and had extended its lifespan beyond the promised delivery of elections. He made it clear, however, that the UN was not in the business of endorsing the demands for a new interim government to oversee elections, and stipulated that the GNU ‘remains the internationally recognised government of Libya in the current interim phase.’

Bathily spelled out the UN’s continued refusal to acknowledge the eastern-based parallel Government of National Stability (GNS) despite the fact that he recently met its Prime Minister Osama Hammad. He remarked that giving the GNS a separate seat at the negotiating table in his initiative would only formalise Libya’s existing divisions. He further justified the decision by noting that the GNS was the ‘executive wing’ of the Libyan Arab Armed Forces (LAAF), which he said was ‘indisputably the decision-making authority on political, military and security matters in Eastern and Southern Libya.’

He also accused those in power of putting their personal interests above the needs of the country and warned that their ‘selfish resolve’ to uphold the status quo must be brought to a halt. 

The international community must share the blame

Bathily’s damning final assessment of the situation brings to an end the tenure of yet another UN Special Representative. With eight having held the position since 2011 the post increasingly looks like a poisoned chalice. Those appointees who have held the appointment since the launch of the UN-facilitated peace process in 2014 — including Bernardino León, Martin Kobler, Ghassan Salamé, Stephanie Williams and Ján Kubiš — have all had a particularly hard time of it. Their terms in office were all marked by failure, albeit to differing degrees, which has left Libya stuck in a political limbo for a whole decade. 

All have tended to blame Libya’s leaders for the failure of the peace process, accusing them of intransigence and of seeking to perpetuate the status quo for their own selfish ends. Like Bathily, some lashed out particularly fiercely towards the end of their tenure. While some of the blame must undoubtedly fall on the shoulders of the country’s political leaders — who have largely refused to make the necessary concessions to enable the peace process to move forwards — the international community must also accept some culpability in Libya’s failure. 

After shattering Libya by helping to topple Muammar Qadhafi’s regime in 2011, the international community’s attempts to put the country back together again have been pitiful. Major Western powers have shown a distinct lack of political will and imagination in their approach, with Libya often seeming to be little more than an afterthought. Libyans have repeatedly complained that the big powers only pay attention when their own interests are directly under threat, whether this be: because of the presence of Islamic State in 2015-2016; illegal migration across the Mediterranean; or Russia’s expanding influence in eastern Libya. No one is under any illusion that America’s recent concentration on military engagement, especially in western Libya, is a direct response to Moscow’s solidifying its relations with the eastern authorities, which is something triggering unconfirmed reports that Russia is sending arms and military equipment to Africa via Libya. 

The international community’s blind insistence on holding elections, seemingly at the expense of everything else, has also appeared increasingly aimless and fantastical given the dire state of the situation on the ground. With elections having become an aim in themselves, the core issues underpinning the conflict have yet to be resolved. This lack of serious interest by major Western powers has opened space for regional powers to intervene at will. 

This excerpt is taken from Libya Focus, our monthly intelligence report on Libya. Click here to receive a free sample copy.

The April 2024 issue of Libya Focus also includes the following:

Politics

  • UN’s Abdoulaye Bathily tenders his resignation…
  • GNU Oil Minister is suspended…
  • Profile: Abdullah Qadirbuh

Security

  • Worsening security in western Libya…
  • Reconciliation conference is postponed

Energy & Economy

  • Ajdabiya court issues order of judicial guardianship…

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