Libya between war and COVID-19: according to the UN, a ceasefire is urgent

Destructive bombings on Tripoli Destructive bombings on Tripoli © Spazio Transnazionale

This article is a brief presentation of the Secretary-General’s report on the Libyan tragic humanitarian situation

UN Secretary-General (UNSG) Antonio Guterres called for a new immediate ceasefire between the parties involved in the civil war in Libya - the Libyan National Army and the Government of National Agreement – to prevent the further deterioration of the «already dire humanitarian situation», worsened by the COVID-19.

As the report submitted to the Security Council by Antonio Guterres on 5 May underlined, the spread of the pandemic increased poverty and led to food shortages, especially within the more vulnerable areas of the country. Moreover, it hampered access to humanitarian aid and the movement of medical and humanitarian personnel, obstructed not only by the health crisis, but also by the incessant bombings due to the ongoing conflict. Since the last weeks of March, violence escalated with air and heavy artillery attacks against the civilian quarters of Tripoli and the neighboring regions, destroying infrastructures and hitting civilians. At the beginning of April, about two million persons were without water and the civilian casualties were 131 (64 deaths and 67 injuries), including women and children, whom the unique “fault” was to live near the theatre of armed clashes. An analysis carried out by the UN on the main causes of civilian casualties revealed that during the first three months of 2020, ground fighting and the use of heavy weapons and small arms fire caused 73% of the total civilian casualties; targeted killings are the second leading cause with 15% of total civilian casualties;  and air strikes were the third leading cause with six deaths and three injuries. 

Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) are also among the casualties of the situation facing Libya: 749,000 persons estimated to be residing near the areas directly affected by the conflict are at risk. Moreover, referring to the estimates of the International Organization for Migration (IOM), the UNSG presented another problem linked to the presence of 654,000 migrants and refugees in the country. Indeed, with the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic and the consequent closure of the borders, the voluntary humanitarian returns of migrants and the evacuation and resettlement of refugees were temporarily suspended. The humanitarian framework painted, therefore, is truly dramatic. 

Both national and international authorities immediately announced the adoption of preventive measures to address the damages of this epidemiological crisis, allocating 575 million Libyan dinars (about $406 million) to COVID-19 preparedness and response. But – as the UNSG underlined – every effort is useless if both sides do not lay down their weapons and make an end to their hostilities, two preconditions for the reopening of the political process (launched in January) aimed at the peaceful resolution of the conflict.

«I am disappointed that the positive response by the Government of National Accord and the Libyan National Army to my call for a humanitarian pause in the context of the pandemic has not translated thus far into a ceasefire»: here are Antonio Guterres’ words by which he reminded that to prevent the escalation of violence, Member States must rigorously implement the embargo against Libya and respect the ban on selling or supplying arms to the parties, in accordance with the UN Security Council resolutions 1970 (2011), 2473 (2019), 2509 (2020) and 2510 (2020). In his recommendations, he also reiterated:

- the ban on the parties to conduct indiscriminate shelling and and air attacks affecting residential neighborhoods and other civil areas;

- the duty to guarantee the respect and safety of medical staff, hospitals and medical facilities, essential for dealing with COVID-19 and the humanitarian emergency;

- the obligation not to violate international humanitarian law and not to commit war crimes.

The UNSG concluded by stating that his personal commitment is to identify all the conditions necessary to achieve an effective ceasefire agreement between the parties, that is possible only under the auspices of the United Nations: «the international community has a vital role to play in ensuring that progress achieved on the tracks of the intra-Libyan dialogue is sustained».


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Author: Antonella Palmiotti

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