The Berlin Conference ends with limited tangible outcome
On 19 January, Germany held an international conference on Libya in Berlin including multiple state leaders and high-level delegates from Germany, the UK, France, Russia, Turkey, the US, the UAE, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, China and Algeria. The Government of National Accord (GNA) Prime Minister Fayez al-Serraj and the head of the Libyan National Army (LNA) Khalifa Haftar were also in Berlin but did not meet one another nor attend the international leaders’ meeting. The main aim of the conference was to help turn the “truce” on the southern Tripoli frontline established over a week ago into a permanent ceasefire and to create a mechanism to monitor the ceasefire as a first step towards allowing the UN-mediated political process to resume.
The conference concluded with unanimous agreement on a final 57-point communiqué including a number of broad, aspirational commitments such as the continuation of the Berlin “process” in order to find a political solution to Libya’s crisis, the implementation of the UN arms embargo, security sector reform, economic and financial reform and respect for international law and human rights. In terms of specific mechanisms and follow up, the UN Support Mission to Libya (UNSMIL) will oversee an International Follow-up Committee (IFC) composed of delegates of the conference attendees, including Senior Official-Level monthly meetings and four technical working groups. The first of these is due to be held in mid-February.
The communiqué called for the UN Security Council (UNSC) to create an international committee to monitor the ceasefire and to impose sanctions on violations of the ceasefire. It also called for the competing Libyan belligerents to nominate five military officials each to make up a special committee to monitor the truce –both Serraj and Haftar have allegedly provided their delegates who are expected meet in the coming week in Geneva. Various statements from Italy, Germany, the UK and the EU indicated that these countries would be willing to deploy personnel and possibly peace keeping forces under a UN mandate to help support a ceasefire. On 20 January, The EU foreign affairs chief, Josep Borrell, said that the EU was preparing to revive Operation Sophia to police the UN arms embargo. He said diplomats would draw up proposals to present to EU ministers in February. Sophia’s mandate, which mainly focuses on tackling migration in the Mediterranean, is due to expire in March 2020 and currently only involves aerial assets (no naval assets).
This was a significant event insofar as brought together high-level leaders of often bitterly opposed countries and re-energised the international focus on the Libyan conflict. However, despite the lengthy final statement and commitments, there were few tangible outcomes from the conference. On the most fundamental level, there remains a significant disconnect between events in Berlin and on the ground in Libya. While the aim of the Berlin process was always to address to international drivers of the conflict, it was the Russian-Turkish brokered ceasefire that triggered this conference and as such, it was hoped the event might result in a more formal ceasefire being agreed. This has not happened and although a fragile truce remains in place at present, Berlin did not result in any implementable mechanisms to force a sustained halt to the fighting. While Haftar and Serraj have agreed to the 5+5 committee, it seems unlikely negotiations will be productive given the two leaders cannot even be in the same room. Furthermore, while the Berlin statement called on the UNSC to implement the UN arms embargo, there are no indications that it will do so given all five permanent members were present at Berlin yet specific sanctions were not discussed. In the short – medium term, it is likely that the various follow up meetings and groups will move ahead but unless the truce on the ground can be formalised and the UNSC starts to act, the Berlin conference itself is unlikely to result in any meaningful improvements in the Libyan crisis in the immediate- short term.