By Taher El-Sonni
Libyans rose up in the Arab Spring of 2011 to fight dictatorship. Their dream was to establish a civil, democratic state.
The United Nations noted that the intent of its own support was to achieve “an immediate cease-fire in Libya, including an end to the current attacks against civilians.”
Fast forward nine years. The United Nations is calling for a cease-fire to stop the bloodshed unleashed by Khalifa Haftar, once a henchman for former leader Moammar Gadhafi, after his military effort to stop our internationally recognized government from ushering in democracy.
The difference today is that the United Nations has stood idly by for 10 months.
The United Nations helped create the Government of National Accord in 2015. The purpose was to establish an interim government to organize free and fair elections and a structure for a government that is permanent and democratically elected.
We were on the brink of doing this with the support of UN Secretary General António Guterres last April when Haftar launched his attack. Since then, Haftar has violated the terms of every cease-fire agreement he has been party to.
Meanwhile the United Nations and world leaders continue to issue toothless statements of disapproval. These are backed by no real penalties, even for the most flagrant abuses.
The United Nations and global powers have passively watched as foreign states turn Libya into a battleground for proxy wars.
Haftar is treated as a sort of equal to the legitimate Libyan government and is relied on to keep his word and to follow a cease-fire agreement.
A lasting cease-fire won’t come about willingly, however. Haftar and his foreign partners, including the United Arab Emirates and Egypt, seek to take control over Libya at any cost.
The United Nations suggests we plan still more talks. Yet every time Haftar signals his willingness to participate in a peace process, he later sabotages the process and its prospects entirely.
That is what he did last year. It is also the pattern we saw in Moscow when Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Russian President Vladimir Putin tried to broker a cease-fire.
The GNA showed up and signed — it was the right thing to do. Haftar came to Moscow, made a spectacle of himself, and left without signing at all.
While we were in Berlin for much-anticipated peace talks in January, eastern-based militias under Haftar’s command announced that they were “ready and determined” to continue the violence and carried out an offensive on our capital, Tripoli, with a series of attacks targeting civilians and our civilian airport.
World powers have repeatedly said that only a political solution will lead to lasting peace. They’re right, but reaching that solution will require them to stop accommodating and cajoling Haftar. We can’t keep repeating history, hoping that it will turn out differently.
Ending the killing and destruction in Libya has always been our goal. That is why we flew to Moscow and remained fully engaged throughout the Berlin process. However, there comes a time when reality must finally sink in.
It’s time for the responsible members of the international community to take decisive action, to work with only those Libyans who are sincerely committed to doing what it takes to find a peaceful end to the hell that Libyans have been living through.
It’s time for the UN Security Council to reach the long-overdue consensus needed to issue a resolution enforcing the agreements made in Berlin.
In February, a UN Security Council resolution was adopted, supposedly to call for a cease-fire and for support of the outcomes of the Berlin conference.
The resolution aims for a three-track dialogue process covering military, economic and political dimensions. Haftar’s response was immediate: In less than 24 hours he continued the breech of truce, shelling areas in south Tripoli and killing at least four people, as well as targeting the airport.
Haftar’s war has done immeasurable damage to the economic stability and social fabric of Libya.
It has intensified migration challenges for our European partners, led to a resurgence of ISIS and other terror groups that create serious risks beyond our borders, and contributed to unstable global oil markets — even more so after Haftar cut off oil production in the east.
These threats will only increase as the conflict escalates and drags on.
It should not be forgotten that Libya has immense potential. The problems we face today can indeed be solved using political means, with great benefits to the international community.
We have a young and well-educated population, as well as abundant natural resources. We are strategically located on the Mediterranean, nestled between Europe, Africa and the Middle East.
However, any positive vision for Libya depends on what happens post-Berlin.
The longer the world tolerates Haftar’s attacks and belligerence, the further we get from a democratic future and regional stability.
We want peace now.
Libyans have a right to live in a democratic state free from the threat of harm.
To do that, the GNA needs to be able to rely on the international community to take responsible action.
Taher El-Sonni is the Permanent Libyan Ambassador to the UN. The views expressed are the author’s own.