The UN Independent Fact-Finding Mission (FFM) released last month in Geneva calls for “accountability for the crimes against humanity” committed in Libya by state security forces and armed militia groups against migrants and refugees.
The report revealed that several migrants were subjected to sexual slavery, which is considered a crime against humanity.
The investigation also found that Libyan authorities, mostly the security forces, are restricting the rights to freedom of expression, association, and assembly. It also documented a number of cases regarding extrajudicial killings, arbitrary arrest, rape, abduction, and enforced disappearances.
This is a lugubrious picture of the current situation in Libya.
The European Union as well as the African Union have ceaselessly called on the Libyan authorities to combat human trafficking and bring to an end arbitrary detention of migrants and refugees, a task that is well-nigh impossible when we consider Libya’s current state of chaos and political instability.
The more fundamental question that needs to be asked is: how did Libya end up as a failed state?
It should be mentioned that Muammar Gaddafi’s Libya relished its moment of glory among European powers, especially France and Italy, when it granted access to its massive oil resources and spared no effort to curtail irregular migration.
Long before the creation of Frontex, Gaddafi’s Libya guarded the southern shores of the Mediterranean.
But with the advent of the Arab Spring in 2011, which began in neighbouring Tunisia and swept across the Maghreb and into the Middle East, everything changed. The Libyan uprising was never peaceful. It was armed and violent right from the beginning.
It was in this context that NATO’s Operation Unified Protector was launched.
“When they pass the Libyan border, the migrants find themselves packed into warehouses like cargo after the original smuggler sells them on to smugglers inside Libya.”
How migrant children deal with torture in Libya’s detention centres ⬇ https://t.co/NPnFWIQAnt
— The New Arab (@The_NewArab) March 5, 2023
The overriding reason put forward—and authorised in UN Security Council Resolution 1973 — has been the creation of a No-Fly Zone over the whole of Libya “to protect civilians and civilian populated areas under threats of attack.”
It is important to note that NATO’s operation in Libya lasted about seven months and killed and wounded dozens of civilians. Until now, NATO has always rebuffed any demand to investigate the exact number of casualties.
Yet, many observers have applauded NATO’s intervention in Libya as a humanitarian feat as it has thwarted a bloodbath in Benghazi – the second largest city, and ended Gaddafi’s 41-year-rule.
These analysts fail to notice the nefarious roles played by former British Prime Minister David Cameron and former French president Nicholas Sarkozy. They are both considered as the architects of the Libyan debacle.
According to President Obama, Sarkozy pushed for a military operation for political self-interest. Even British MPs blamed both Cameron and Sarkozy for the reckless Libya intervention.
“UK policy in Libya before and since the intervention of March 2011 was founded on erroneous assumptions and an incomplete understanding of the country and the situation,” claimed committee chairman Crispin Blunt, a member of Cameron’s Conservative party.
In truth, NATO’s intervention did not aim, first and foremost, to protect civilians as it was claimed, but rather to overthrow Gaddafi’s regime, even at the expense of jeopardising the lives of millions of Libyans. And this is the bitter reality.
We have to admit that former Libyan President Muammar Gaddafi was a brutal autocrat, but he was not the only pebble on the beach. The MENA region is replete with local potentates who are as ruthless as Gaddafi was. And as former US Secretary of Defense Robert Gates put it, “he was not a threat to us anywhere.”
However, on the second day of the NATO bombing, Tomahawk cruise missiles were fired at Gaddafi’s Bab al-Azizia compound in Tripoli. Though some officials claimed the military objective was to attack and disrupt the capabilities of the loyalist forces, it was clear that the objective was to physically eliminate Gaddafi.
Weeks later, Senator Lindsey Graham (R-South Carolina) insisted that NATO should “cut the head of the snake off, go to Tripoli, start bombing Gaddafi’s inner circle.” Following in Mr. Graham’s footsteps, Senator John McCain (R-Arizona) called on “the need to take Gaddafi out.”
Years later, during the Benghazi hearing of October 2015, and when asked about a video clip that read, “we came, we saw, he died,” Hillary Clinton retorted, “that was an expression of relief that the military mission undertaken by NATO and our other partners had achieved its end.”
Whether we like it or not, the NATO intervention, in some way, led to civil war. There is an obvious causal relationship.
Many African leaders have decried NATO’s decision to disregard the African Union Road Map for Libya that would have saved lives and averted the current state of chaos and insecurity, and marked by rival tribal militias vying for power.
It has also exacerbated human rights abuses, triggered the surge of Islamic radicalism, aggravated humanitarian suffering, and worsened weapons proliferation in Libya and neighbouring countries. As an analyst put it, if Libya was a “model intervention,” then it was a model of failure.
Libya’s descent into civil conflict and the resulting power vacuum led to the current instability in the Sahel, and the current mass exodus of thousands of Sub-Saharan Africans.
Libya, as everybody can see, is a mess, and nobody can deny the fact that the NATO intervention was a huge mistake.
The NATO intervention, based as it was on faulty premises and bogus justifications, and the greed of some western leaders, has wrought havoc on a country which had one of the highest GDP in Africa and the Arabic-speaking world.
To make amends for the suffering and the destruction Libyans have endured, the international community should put its shoulder to the wheel, support Libyan reconciliation efforts, and help Libyans rebuild their shattered country.
It must also assist the Libyan authorities in achieving transitional justice and seek durable solutions for migrants and refugees.