18 – 31 December 2019: UNHCR renewed its call for protecting civilians in Libya as international involvement increases

Jan 2, 2020 | International actors

On 17 December, the Italian Minister of Foreign Affairs, Di Maio visited Libya and met with the head of Government of National Accord (GNA), Fayez al-Serraj and the head of the Libyan National Army (LNA), Khalifa Haftar. He urged all parties to immediately de-escalate and help UNSMIL and relevant international actors’ effort in paving the way for the Berlin Process. Di Maio also said that Italy intends to appoint a new special envoy to Libya and has invited Haftar to visit Rome in the coming weeks to discuss a possible political breakthrough to the crisis.

On 21 December, the United Mission Support in Libya (UNSMIL) issued a statement saying it is following with serious concern information received from Tarhouna and adjacent areas, including reports of grave violations against civilians, which are being verified and documented to submit to national and international criminal justice.

On 21 December, a senior US State Department official said that the United States is “very concerned” about the intensification of the conflict in Libya, in particular about the rising number of reported Russian mercenaries supporting the LNA on the ground.

On 23 December, the European Union (EU) issued a statement reiterating its calls on all Libyan parties to cease all military actions and resume the political dialogue. It stressed there is no military solution to the crisis in Libya and that all members of the international community should observe and respect the UN arms embargo.

On 24 December, a high-profile meeting gathered together representatives from the Russian and Turkish foreign ministries. They reportedly discussed the possibility of an ‘immediate’ resolution to the crisis in Libya. On 26 December, Russia condemned outside interference in Libya’s conflict. The same day, Turkish President Erdogan accused Russia of being actively involved in Libya and of supporting Haftar’s forces, with as many as 2000 mercenaries linked to the Russian Wagner Group.

On 25 December, Erdogan paid a surprise visit to Tunisia and met with Tunisian President Saied.  On 26 December, the GNA’s Minister of Interior Bashaagha announced at a press conference in Tunis that a Turkish-Tunisian-Algerian alliance had been established to support the GNA. However, the office of Tunisian President said that Tunisia would not be part of any alliance in Libya.

On 28 December, Italian Prime Minister Conte warned that Russia and Turkey, and not Europe, are setting the agenda in Libya’s conflict and that they are only pursing a military and not a political solution in the country.

On 29 December, Greek Prime Minister Mitsotakis said in an interview that Greece wants to be included in the UN-sponsored Berlin conference on the Libya conflict that is due to be held in January. Mitsotakis reiterated Greece’s rejection of the maritime MoU, arguing it is baseless as Turkey and Libya share no maritime border. He said that if things cannot be worked out regarding the continental shelf and maritime zones in the Aegean and the eastern Mediterranean, then Greece would look to settle the case “at an international judicial body, such as the International Court (of Justice) at the Hague.”

On 29 December, the UN Envoy to Libya Salamé, called for greater civilian protection following several incidents in western Libya last week where civilians were killed and said that indiscriminate attacks against civilians are “utterly unacceptable.” The same day, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) renewed its call for protecting civilians in Libya from the escalating military conflicts, including refugees and migrants in detention and respecting international humanitarian law and international human rights law.