Tobruk Goes to Vienna as Haftar Describes Unrealistic Rosy Picture
In an interview with the Italian newspaper ‘Il Corriere della Sera’, Khalifa Haftar described a rosy, albeit contradictory, picture of the ongoing Libya crisis. Talking to Francesco Battistini, Haftar claims that his troops are firmly in control of approximately 80% of Benghazi and that he has set himself a deadline of 15 December to bring the Tobruk-based institutions back in the main Cyrenaican city. However, after claiming that the battles for Derna and Tripoli are going to be much easier than that for Benghazi, and that it might take less than three months to retake the capital city, Haftar complains that the international community in general and Western states in particular have been too hesitant in their support for him. Operation Dignity, he states, has so far received only old weaponry and technology from Saudi Arabia, Egypt, the UAE and Algeria and demands to be provided wit external support along the lines of thar provided to Kurdish fighters in Northern Syria. In the rest of the interview, Haftar reinforces the framing of the current crisis as a battle between moderate and government affiliated forces vs radical Islamists ones. He also adds a number of statements likely to resonate with the Italian and Western public about the proximity of Derna’s costs to Italy and about the risk of radical militants’ infiltrations in the old continent through the route of illegal immigration.
For lack of major developments on the military front, however, the story of the week was the position taken by the OPEC over which Libyan delegation to invite at its latest Vienna meeting. Unsurprisingly but quite foolishly, OPEC fell in line with the international consensus over recognising Tobruk’s government and institutions. Although they could have refused to have any Libyan representative at all, their actual move is likely to reinforce internal and external claims that the Supreme Court ruling has been influenced by the presence of Libya Dawn forces in Tripoli. In an interview to Reuters on Wednesday, Libya’s Oil Minister in the al-Hassi government, Mashallah Zwai, threatened legal actions in case his representatives would not receive an invitation to attend OPEC’s meeting in Vienna. Much like Haftar’s proclamations of victory, however, these threats are likely to remain only on paper, especially in light of the promises made by Zwai that all contracts and deals would be respected and that its government would not try to hijack the Central Bank any further. The Tripoli government wants to be seen as playing nice so as to avoid sanctions against itself, while also wishing to pursue the contradictory goals of control over Libya’s institutions.
Looking at Haftar’s and Zwai’s interviews, the most striking common trait emerging from both is the short-sighted nature of strategies currently employed in Tripoli and Tobruk. In the midst of failed/abortive negotiations and continuous violence, it appears that both sides are quietly hoping to receive an unlikely but equally fundamental boost from the international community to “win the war”, either through the reception of modern weaponry and tactical support for the Tubroq side or through widespread political recognition and engagement for the Tripoli side. In light of these delusional tactics, is now the time for Libya’s partners to use the stick rather than the carrot to reign the fighting in?
This last question is all the more pressing in light of the disturbing reports focusing on the human costs of protracted fighting and instability in Libya published this week by Human Rights Watch and by the Danish Institute Against Torture (Dignity). Whilst Human Rights Watch focuses on the current events marring life in Derna, the Dignity report focuses on the effects of torture and violence in post-revolutionary Libya and presents a very bleak picture with regards to mental health problems.
The data collection was completed in October 2013. 2,692 household interviews were included in the national survey. Every fifth household responded to having a family member disappeared, 11% reported having a household member arrested and 5% reported one killed. Of those arrested, 46% reported beatings, 20% positional torture or suspensions, 16% suffocation and from 3 to 5% reported having suffered sexual, thermal or electrical torture. In short our data support the allegations that widespread human rights violations and gross human rights violations have taken place in Libya.
The consequences at the level of the population are massive: 29% of individuals report anxiety and 30% report depression, while PTSD symptoms were reported by 6%. These results indicate that the respondents at the time of interview could still be in an acute or post-acute stage and have yet to reach the post-trauma stage, hence we predict that the prevalence of post-traumatic stress reactions will increase over time, if or when the internal conflict subsides.
You can read the whole report from the Danish Institute Against Torture here.