Ex-UN Commissioner on Libya War
The Berlin Libya conference was a novelty, says Martin Kobler. But the decisions reveal gaps. He sees no military solution.
taz: Mr. Kobler, just over a week after the Berlin Libya conference is fighting again in Libya. Can you still save the Berlin process?
Martin Kobler: First of all: the Berlin conference was a novelty. For the first time, heads of state and government have dealt with Libya, adopted a document and agreed a follow-up mechanism. In this respect, the results go beyond previous conferences in Palermo and Paris.
In Berlin a political process was agreed, first steps. It was clear to everyone that expectations could not be very high. It is good that the federal government is keeping this process prominently on the international agenda. Now it's time to stay tuned. The Berlin document actually contains little new – a new commitment to comply with the arms embargo and to agree a ceasefirethat should go into a permanent ceasefire is good.
The arms embargo is not being observed, according to the UN …
I have doubts whether all of this will succeed if there is no international surveillance on site. If you have an agreement in which the military and militias commit to an armistice, the chances are better if this is monitored by third parties. We do the same with the OSCE observers in Ukraine. The Berlin Agreement does not contain such a mechanism. The federal government says you shouldn't think the second step before the first – I think you can already think in parallel.
Your successor as UN representative for Libya, Ghassan Salamé, rejects a UN force, Is he right?
I think he's right. There are other forms of military surveillance. All that is important is the approval of the UN Security Council. Already in 2014/15 a "coalition of the willing" was thought of, military observers and soldiers from different countries – not blue helmets, but a force to monitor the Libyan Political Agreement. That was not followed up.
After two years of relative stability, the fighting started again. Salamé is of course right when he says that there is no acceptance for international troops in Libya – but foreign mercenaries, militias, Haftar's units are now operating there, and Turkey is openly involved in the military. I think that international military observers observing a ceasefire and the arms embargo are also the lesser evil for the Libyan population.
Why should work now that didn't work then?
The situation in the country is now much more precarious. The most desperate is the Libyan population, who has been suffering from electricity and supply shortages, the lack of proper health care for years, but above all from the power vacuum and the arbitrariness of the belligerents. It is a scandal in this oil and gas richest country in Africa. The situation of migrants is unsustainable and another eyesore.
The camps are raped and tortured, on the border with Europe. The pressure on the international community is growing and I would like a more active, robust attitude, especially of the Europeans. However, it is primarily the responsibility of militia leaders and commanders across the country to sit down and share power, thereby ending the suffering of the population.
Born in 1953, was UN Special Representative in Libya from 2015 to 2017. Before that, he headed the UN mission in Congo, before that in Iraq. The German diplomat now lives in Ethiopia.
You have done this before with the Libyan Political Agreement, which was concluded in December 2015 in the Moroccan Skhirat. This resulted in Serraj's "unity government" in Tripoli, which is now being fought by Haftar. Why couldn't this government prevail?
Even then there were several centers of power in the country: Tripoli with the militias, in Tobruk in the east the parliament and the Libyan national army under Haftar. But the situation was not so acute. The Libyan Political Agreement, which has now been reaffirmed in Berlin, was a good basis for nationbuilding to bring the country together. However, it has not proven effective to leave the implementation alone to the Libyan parties.
You shouldn't have intervened in 2011 and then said, carry on with your revolution alone. Libya needs a constitution, the institutions have to be brought together again – the central banks, the oil companies, the two governments, the two parliamentary chambers. At that time we also tried to advance the constitutional process with the constituent assembly, my successor continued to be very committed and wanted to take the people along with the National Conference. All of these positive approaches have been torpedoed by the military escalation.
Haftar obviously wants the military solution. Can you stop that? Do you have to stop that?
Yes, you have to stop it in the interest of the people. I do not see a quick military solution either – but it has not yet been possible to convince Haftar of this. The path the Berlin document is taking is the right one. It is important to enforce the arms embargo – with sanctions if necessary. The conflict is increasingly becoming a proxy war.
Unfortunately, the Berlin document remains vague here and does not require the withdrawal of foreign troops and mercenaries. We have to go back to the principles of the UN Charter: non-interference, respect for sovereignty, respect for human rights. All of that fell by the wayside. If we succeed, we will be one step further. But the parties also have to want it themselves!