Three weeks later came a reminder that we should be careful what we wish for…
The Libyan Political Agreement (Draft VI) was proposed by the United Nations Support Mission in Libya (UNSMIL) on 8 June.
The details are available here but central to it were proposals which would make the House of Representatives (HoR) – the internationally-recognised which was judged illegitimate by the Libyan High Court – the main legislative body and the General National Congress (GNC), which is certainly no more legitimate than the HoR the major component of a body which would have been able to make binding alterations to proposals and laws.
Despite having spent months negotiating to reach this point, the HoR responded to the proposals by saying it would reject them, and refuse to take part in discussions to ratify them.
It was, as noted at the time, a childish reaction to a plan to give Libyan politics a chance to succeed after more than a year of bitter warfare.
In the event, however, the HoR did decide to attend. But only on its own terms.
Last Thursday, 2 July, UNSMIL issued a document which began with the words ‘A statement issued by the participants in the political dialogue in Skhirat, Morocco…’ and contained the line ‘We would like to announce to the Libyan people in this holy month, consensus on the text of the political agreement of Libya’.
It appeared, for a brief moment, as if a solution had been found to the political – if decidedly not to the military – divides which have cast Libya into chaos, killed more than 3,500 people, and wrecked hundreds of thousands more lives.
And then, a second look snatched that possibility away, killing all hope.
Because this was not the same document, and despite the UNSMIL declaration, was not even signed by all the participants in the negotiations.
On 1 July, representatives of the GNC and HoR sat down together with the UN Special Representative in Libya, Bernardino Leon. Both the GNC and HoR had debated the Draft Political Agreement IV within their own (illegitimate) chambers, and proposed alterations to it.
But in the new document, Draft Political Agreement V, only the amendments demanded by the HoR had been made.
The major impact of the frankly extraordinary decision of UNSMIL to accept the alterations demanded by one party in the negotiations, and ignore those requested by the other, is that the Draft V contained the proposal that the HoR would be the major legislative body in the new government, while the High Council of State – the body of 120 people, 90 of whom would be drawn the GNC – would have an advisory role, but without any suggestion that the HoR should ever accept that advice.
Faced with a proposal which was worse – for it – than either the one they had proposed, or the one which had originally been presented by UNSMIL, the GNC elected to return to Tripoli, to debate Draft V.
One day later, UNSMIL issued its ‘statement of agreement’. It had been signed by the representatives from the HoR, and the representatives of UNSMIL. But those two groups had never been in any disagreement. It had not been signed by the GNC, which felt – not without reason – that it had been hijacked, and required further debate within its ranks.
There are moments, while writing, at which one must pause, and decide whether the words one wishes to use are the words one should use.
I described the decision of UNSMIL to accept all the alterations to its document proposed by one ‘side’ in the negotiations, and none of those proposed by the other, as ‘extraordinary’. And it’s not without due consideration that I label UNSMIL’s decision to publish an ‘agreement’ signed by only one side in the negotiation process as astonishing. What could they possibly have hoped to achieve?
The Draft Political Agreement is not a trivial document.
As I have mentioned previously, it is not a panacea for the chaos and violence wrecking Libya, but it is the only game in town, the only possibility for the creation of a legitimate and stable Libyan government, and it contains the building blocks to enable a concerted effort to bring together two of the illegal militias murdering one another and Libyan civilians, to put up strong opposition against IS.
Faced with threats from HoR, it is perhaps understandable that UNSMIL attempted anything it could to get HoR to the table (even though Draft IV had been far more favourable to HoR than to GNC).
And it is certainly not unreasonable for UNSMIL to stress the Draft’s importance: it, and the two ‘governments’, have spent many months negotiating against an ever-worsening backdrop of economic and social collapse, chaos and death.
But it is also not unreasonable for the GNC – when presented with a document which contains none of its proposals, all of the other negotiators’, and alters the original plan from one in which both would have political power to one in which it has none – to ask questions and take time to debate the revised proposal.
Instead, UNSMIL has issued a document which claims ‘consensus’ when in fact only one side – the one which has had all of its demands met – has actually agreed to the new proposals.
The UN’s central bodies have appeared to take the same, slightly concerning, approach, as its Libyan Mission.
In the wake of the ‘agreement’ that was nothing of the sort, the UN Security Council offered the following statement, which seemed both to ignore the situation’s details, and offer threats of reprisal.
It said: ‘The United Nations Security Council is ready to act against those who threaten Libya’s peace, stability and security, or that undermine the successful completion of its political transition.’
It added its ‘unqualified support’ for Draft V and called for ‘rapid agreement and signing of the deal’.
In Tripoli, where the GNC met on Thursday and Friday 2-3 July, a protest gathered outside the Parliament building to oppose the proposals.
GNC spokesman Nuri Abu Sahmain told the crowd that he had been contacted by UK Ambassador to Libya, Peter Millett, and claimed he has said: ‘the GNC members who boycott the HoR should go to the GNC and press it to ratify Draft V. The murder of 37 people in Tunisia will be blamed on Libya, because that is where the killer was trained. The UN will sanction those who do not press the GNC to agree to Draft V.’
He added that the French Ambassador Antoine Sivan had also contacted the GNC, and warned: ‘If you don’t sign the Draft, a civil war will erupt in your country, assets of the Central Bank of Libya will be frozen, plan B will be implemented to seize oil ports and fields, and airports.’
Anyone who has been observing Libya will be aware that just because someone says something has happened, does not mean it actually has.
And we should note that Libya is already in the middle of a Civil War: it has been going on for almost 14 months and killed more than 3,500 people.
But even by the standards of Libya’s chaotic present, the Speaker of one of Libya’s (admittedly illegitimate) Parliaments actively lying about the statements of the Ambassadors of two UN Security Council permanent members would be remarkable.
And the freezing of Libya’s financial assets has already happened, once, when NATO joined Libyans to topple Ghadddafi.
It is understandable that there is urgency in the UN’s approach to Libya’s situation. People are dying. Cities are being destroyed. And Libya is in real danger of collapse.
But the GNC’s response to being handed a document which appears to ignore all of its wishes, while delivering all of those of a group which is on record as wishing to destroy it is also easy to understand.
Delay, on this urgent issue, is frustrating. But it is also born out of GNC’s not unreasonable frustration.