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The Libyan angle

The Libyan angle
  • PublishedFebruary 1, 2018

The almost complete breakdown of law and order in Libya following the fall of Muammar Gaddafi has created the perfect environment for human rights abuses and slavery. By Tom Collins

The Libyan capital city of Tripoli was once a thriving commercial hub and the oil-rich north African country is a bygone symbol of relative stability and success.

Tripoli’s streets are now lined with people queuing for basic amenities. Food and petrol are scarce, and there is poor access to public services, water and power as the country has been torn apart by civil war. The currency – the dinar – has lost value and infrastructure is crumbling.

Political alliances are broken as quickly as they are formed and an informal economy run by gangs and militias has taken precedence. These are the conditions under which slavery and forced labour have emerged in Libya as the rule of law has taken a backseat to rival government factions vying for power. Feeding into this lawlessness is a mix of European and African realities and policies, which are working to trap migrants in
Libya.

Unfortunately, this mix of unruliness and flawed policy is creating the perfect ecosystem for slavery to flourish. As each branch pushes and pulls on the situation, the safety of African migrants becomes increasingly compromised.

A tale of two governments

The situation in Libya has been a chaotic mix of fundamentalist groups, opposing governments and failed peace deals since the fall of Muammar Gaddafi in 2011.

The first post-Gaddafi interim government, the National Transitional Council of Libya, failed to regenerate the economy and secure the country, and was replaced in 2012’s elections by the General National Congress (GNC).

In 2014 the GNC, whose mandate had expired, refused to step down and mass protests erupted across the country. An election followed shortly after and the GNC handed power over to the House of Representatives (HoR).

Khalifa Haftar, a military defector from the Gaddafi era who commands the armed forces loyal to the HoR, then launched a military operation against Islamist groups in Benghazi, in the east. Fighting spread to Tripoli and Haftar’s troops – known as the Libyan National Army (LNA) – were pitted against a coalition of fighters known as the Libya Dawn Coalition.

The HoR moved to the eastern city of Tobruk, where they continue to govern today. The GNC was then reinstated in Tripoli, leaving two opposing
governments: the GNC in Tripoli and the HoR in Tobruk.  In 2015, a UN peace deal was signed proposing a unified government called the Government of National Accord (GNA), which replaced the GNC in Tripoli. The deal lasted a few months but was overturned in 2016 when Haftar launched a second offensive, aiming to take greater control of oil terminals. Much of the fighting since has been to secure control of lucrative terminals.

Es Sider and Ras Lanuf are two which have been reopened for exports, but they are functioning well below capacity. Oil production has fallen from 1.6m barrels a day to 700,000 and fighting continues between the opposing governments and associated militia.

Some are proposing a return to military rule, whereas the Tripoli government led by Fayez al-Sarraj is proposing a return to civilian rule and elections. This is where Libya finds itself today: locked between two warring authorities, with a spluttering economy and a whole host of militia operating on the sidelines.

“The situation in Libya continues to deteriorate and continues to be dangerously fragmented. The political stalemate has not moved forward despite the international community putting in considerable effort to reach a settlement between at least some of the main factions,” explained Hanan Salah, Libya researcher for Human Rights Watch.

Understanding of the situation remains hazy and optimism – from the international community – is overshot. Although the Tripoli government has international backing, its capacity to govern, police and administrate is minimal and a recent attack at Tripoli’s M’etiga international airport which left 20 dead illustrates exactly that.

Much has also been said of Gaddafi’s son, Saif al-Islam Gaddafi, wanted by the International Criminal Court for war crimes. Some of his allies want him to run in 2018’s elections.  The reality, however, is that Saif al-Islam Gaddafi has rarely been seen since June 2014, according to Salah, and elections this year are a UN pipedream as the situation remains extremely volatile.

“It is dangerous to waggle the election card given that the conditions for free and fair election are not there in Libya, at any level,” she said. Within this context of Libya’s fractured politics, slavery has been able to flourish and grow. NA

Written By
Tom Collins

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