Dialogue Continues in Geneva Despite Violence
Despite the assault on Tuesday 27 January on the Corinthia Hotel in Tripoli and, even more importantly, despite the continued fighting ongoing in several parts of the country which ultimately amounts to a failure of previously announced ceasefires, dialogue in Geneva continued throughout the week involving various stakeholders and local representatives. At the start of the week, rather generic but optimistic goals were set for negotiations, especially as multiple reports indicated that a two week timeframe was being self imposed to achieve the formation of a national unity government with the capabilities to impose itself on the territory, if necessary through the support of external peacekeepers. On Thursday, however, a significant concrete breakthrough was achieved with regards to Tawerghans and to their right to return to the city they were forced out from since 2011. UNSMIL’ statement on the matter reports:
In line with the positive environment that prevailed at the meeting, the UN facilitated an agreement between the municipalities of Misrata and Tawergha on the following points:
- Establishment of a committee from the local council of Tawergha and whoever they call upon to help in visiting the prisons in the City of Misrata and to receive assurances about their conditions, and to review with the responsible authorities the charges against them and their legal status.
- The right of the people of Tawergha to return to their land through the establishment of a committee to discuss the mechanism to achieve that on the ground and to remove all obstacles and prepare all the appropriate conditions.
There was agreement that UNSMIL will follow up this process in cooperation with the two sides.
The breakthrough achieved with regards to the Tawergha community is not only encouraging from a humanitarian perspective, but also significant in that it highlights the key role that Misrata can and should now play in favoring negotiations. While the GNC continues to set excessively stringent preconditions to join talks and Haftar sends out ambiguous messages regarding its future ambitions in Libya, as talks return to Libya, key communities and stakeholders in both blocks should do everything possible to preserve the positive momentum developed in Geneva and prevent other elites and groups from derailing the ongoing rapprochement.
Misrata has now more than ever a strong incentive to act as peace-promoter also due to the economic hardships and stagnation that are slowly but surely engulfing the city as a result of the protracted crisis marring the country. This is due in part directly as a result of the security threat hanging over the city from Operation Dignity’s air force and in part as a result of the broader collapse of the Libyan oil sector and economy. Even Misrata’s steel factory is now operating to a mere third of its full capacity, due to lack of liquefied gas supplies coming in from Sirte and to the lack of vessels docking in the city’s port to pick up finished products for fear of airstrikes.
Lastly, a very worrying but interesting read for all those interestedin Libya is represented by Amnesty International’s recent report on abuses and possible war crimes being carried out in Benghazi since the start of Operation Dignity in May 2014. The report documents crimes committed by both rival sides active in the city. Interestingly, an aspect highlighted by this report, but so far underreported in media documenting the fight for Benghazi is the degree of revenge attacks carried out on families of Islamists believed to be aligned with Ansar al-Shari’a, the Muslim Brotherhood and other likeminded organisations.
Amnesty International has received reports that scores of family homes, shops and businesses of perceived Islamists, including leaders, current and former members of armed groups affiliated with the SCBR -possibly as many as one hundred in the al-Salmani neighbourhood alone- have been attacked with explosives or direct fire, ransacked, set on fire or demolished with bulldozers. Civilian property belonging to individuals of Misratah origin have also been targeted. Such attacks have been reportedly carried out by “neighbourhood youths” aligned with Operation Dignity forces, reportedly following incitement on social networking sites such as Facebook.
It appears that, in a few cases, houses came under attack that may have been used for military purposes, including for storing ammunition or as a base for launching military attacks, and would therefore (temporarily) lose their immunity from attack under international humanitarian law. However, Amnesty International has gathered evidence showing that in most cases such attacks have been carried out against protected civilian homes of perceived Islamists or members of groups affiliated with SCBR merely in retaliation for their political activities, association to individuals involved in the fighting or origin.
The complete Amnesty’s “Benghazi’s Descent into Chaos’ report can be found here.