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“There is no military solution to the conflict in Libya” – UN Sec-Gen António Guterres

By François Soudan

Posted on February 6, 2020 11:15

In a world increasingly dominated by nationalist-minded leaders – from the US, through Turkey and Russia to China and beyond – multilateral organisations like the United Nations (UN) are squeezed.

Intense pressure from the UN to resolve the Libya crisis had generated some optimism, but this is fading with renewed onslaughts from General Haftar’s forces, backed by Russia.

With nearly 100,000 peacekeepers deployed around the world, however, the UN has the muscle to push back.

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There are clear roles for it to play, believes Secretary-General António Guterres, from helping stabilise the Horn and Eastern DRC, to pushing for developmental solutions in the Sahel that go beyond just security.

As African leaders gather in Addis Ababa to hammer out common positions, Guterres spoke to us about his vision of the challenges the continent faces.

The Berlin conference on Libya gave us declarations of intent but have not yet brought to change on the ground nor the cease of hostilities. Is the UN and the international community out of solutions for Libya?

António Guterres: For several months, we have been witnessing a gradual and dangerous escalation of the conflict in Libya. The consequences for the Libyan people and beyond are disastrous and unacceptable. International humanitarian rights laws, as well as Security Council Resolutions have been violated and disregarded multiple times.

External military support to the parties increases the risk of a regional conflict. In my opinion, it is this risk that made the Berlin conference possible. The participants, as you know, committed to refrain from any interference in the conflict or in the internal affairs of Libya. They also reiterated their commitment to work towards a political solution to the conflict.

READ Libya trapped between a strategy of chaos and the spectre of a new dictatorship

The truce has since been violated as were other commitments made in Berlin, including the arms embargo. This is unacceptable.

Are the mediation efforts of Ghassan Salam, Head of the United Nations Support Mission in Libya, still possible in these conditions?

My Special Representative, Ghassan Salamé, continues his work in a frustrating and extremely difficult context. He has managed to convene the joint military committee – the 5 + 5 committee – in Geneva this week and we hope that this meeting will produce results. The objective is of course to move from a truce to a ceasefire, which would pave the way for a dialogue.

© A Libyan soldier in Sirte, February 2015. Photo taken by Mohamed Ben Khalifa, who was killed on 19 January 2019. © Mohamed Ben Khalifa/AP/SIPA

The African Union is frustrated to be marginalised in these UN-led discussions, why do the two institutions find it so hard to work together?

At the Brazzaville summit last week, Mr. Salamé continued the United Nations’ advocacy for better coordination and cooperation with the African Union to address the situation in Libya. For my part, I will participate in the high-level meeting scheduled for this Saturday on the sidelines of the African Union Summit in Addis Ababa.

I will take advantage of the African Union Summit to renew my plea based on the following message: There is no military solution to the conflict in Libya and we must unite to avoid the country’s descent into a generalized conflict.

READ The global competition over Libya spreads to Moscow and Beijing

I believe that the engagement of the African Union is essential to solving the Libyan crisis. This crisis goes far beyond the country’s borders and has a devastating impact on parts of the African continent, especially given its negative repercussions on the Sahelian zone. The vital issue is how to reverse the spiral of violence and strengthen stability in the Sahel.

The security of many Africans, and the region, now depends on our ability to work together to convince the parties to the conflict to engage in an inclusive dialogue, to also convince all those who support them to respect the arms embargo and other commitments made towards achieving peace and stability in Libya.

On the Sahel

The UN force based in Mali MINUSMA has been the object of sharp criticism within Mali, on account of its supposed inefficiency. Is its mandate sufficiently strong?

With the nature of conflict evolving, UN peacekeeping operations can find themselves confronted to environments characterized by asymmetric warfare and violent extremism.

READ How the Sahel has slipped into a new post-Jihadist era

In Mali, MINUSMA, a multidimensional mission with 3 components (civil, police and military) is often reduced to its military component, while the core of its mandate is to support the implementation of the peace agreement and the protection of civilians.

The fight against impunity, the restoration of state authority, support for electoral processes and support for the Malian defense and security forces are at the center of the Mission’s activities.

© Members of MINUSMA Chadian contingent patrol in Kidal, Mali December 16, 2016. Picture taken December 16, 2016. MINUSMA/Sylvain Liechti

The increase in security challenges faced by the population, the movement of insecurity zones from the country’s north to the center, as well as inter-communal conflicts, have complicated MINUSMA’s work, but the mission continues to adapt to further improve its efficiency.

Despite some understandable frustrations, the populations of the regions where MINUSMA is deployed continue to appreciate the Mission’s work. There is evidence of that in the daily interactions between the Mission and the populations of the northern and central regions of Mali.

Finally, it is important to remember that the UN Peacekeeping Mission is one element of a broader collective response to address the root causes of instability and violence in Mali and in the Sahel region. The key word is the complementarity of the respective actions of national, regional and international actors engaged in the struggle for stability and development in Mali and the Sahel.

The security situation in the Sahel is worsening each week. Is this a war lost in advance?

The deteriorating situation in the Sahel is one of my biggest concerns on the continent.

The flow of arms and combatants generated by the Libyan crisis has hit the Sahel head-on, fueled by perceived and real vulnerabilities and injustices between communities. The population is suffering the devastating consequences.

READ The US threat to withdraw leaves Sahel vulnerable

In Burkina Faso, Mali and Niger, more than 4,000 people were killed in terrorist attacks last year. There are ten times more people displaced by violence than at the same time last year.

Repeated attacks on civilians and the military have shaken public confidence in their institutions and leaders.

The attacks continue despite the efforts of the governments concerned, the G5-Sahel joint force and international forces. This shows that the security system in place is not sufficient to counter the threat of terrorist organizations operating in the region, which are beginning to threaten the countries of the West African coast.

I continue to advocate for an African force with the means to fight terrorism, which should be mandated by the Security Council under Chapter VII and with predictable funding.

Improving our ability to deal with the threat to the Sahel is essential, but a strictly military response is not enough. We must also tackle development issues as well as the humanitarian situation. Building resilience to climate change in the region must also be a priority.

On the Democratic Republic of Congo

Is the gradual disengagement and eventual total withdrawal of the UN force in Congo – MONUSCO – on the agenda? What are the possible timelines?

The new mandate of the peacekeeping mission, MONUSCO, voted at the end of December, is clearly in line with the prospect of a gradual transfer of the Mission’s main tasks to the national authorities and of a responsible and sustainable MONUSCO withdrawal.

© During a joint operation conducted by the FARD and Monusco against the Ugandan ADF rebels in 2014 in the Beni region. © MONUSCO/Sylvain Liechti

The conditions on the ground will determine the pace of this withdrawal The United Nations stands ready to support the Congolese Government in its efforts to strengthen the authority of the State over the entire territory.

In summary, the Peacekeeping Mission is preparing the ground to leave in a responsible and sustainable manner.

READ Is the DRC ready for peacekeepers to leave by 2022?

The Security Council has asked the United Nations to engage in dialogue with the Government to develop a common strategy and to define a set of measurable indicators. This strategy must be submitted to the Council at the latest on 20 October this year, with a view to begin this gradual transfer and to further reduce MONUSCO’s level of deployment and its area of operations.

Our priority remains the protection of civilians, through support for the country’s Armed Forces (FARDC) to neutralize armed groups. This also includes a refocusing of military operations in the provinces most affected by the conflicts and a strengthening of the United Nations support for the sovereign powers of the State, the police and the justice in particular, in relatively more stable provinces, such as Kasai and Tanganyika.

On Guinea Conakry

Your Special Representative Ibn Chambas has just finished a mission to Guinea, where tensions are high. How can the situation be calmed? What do you think of the constitutional revision project of President Alpha Condé?

Indeed, my Special Representative, Mohamed Ibn Chambas, is very active and works with national actors and regional and international partners to help Guinea get out of this crisis through a real dialogue, because the violence we see today is not the solution.

I condemn all forms of violence, as well as hate speech, and I call on the authorities to take the necessary measures to guarantee fundamental freedoms and ensure the safety of citizens. This is vital to initiate a dialogue between the parties to end this crisis.

We continue to act in this direction to help create the conditions for a sincere dialogue which will, among other things, find an agreement between the stakeholders around the question of the revision of the constitution and concerning the electoral register, which will be used for legislative and presidential elections.

At the same time, it is important that initiatives to ease tension are taken quickly by the Government and also by the opposition and other Guinean actors to promote a return to calm.

In this regard, in coordination with our partners, the UN will contribute to the organization of an intercommunity forum to consolidate social cohesion and harmony.

On Cameroon

The ‘Grand National Dialogue’ of October 2019 clearly did not bring peace back to the anglophone regions of the country. Must there be negotiations with the anglophone leaders seeking independence? Must the army withdraw from the anglophone provinces?

Cameroon is a very important pillar in Central Africa. The country is a generous host to hundreds of thousands of refugees and the international community has to do more to support Cameroon’s generosity. Cameroon also plays an important role in the efforts to eradicate terrorism and violent extremism in the Lake Chad basin. The United Nations is also concerned by the crisis in the north west and south west regions of Cameroon.

The national dialogue held last Fall has led to the adoption of important measures, in particular with regard to the special status granted to these two regions. This is an important step, but it is also essential to initiate a dialogue with stakeholders who have not taken part in this dialogue. The UN encourages the parties involved to continue engaging and will continue to advocate for a resolution of the crisis through an inclusive dialogue. We unequivocally recall at this stage that the United Nations insists on the territorial integrity and sovereignty of Cameroon.

My special representative for Central Africa, François Louncény Fall, visited Yaoundé in January, along with the Secretary-General of the Economic Community of Central African States. I join their call for the electoral process leading to the legislative and municipal elections scheduled for February 9 to take place in calm and serenity.

UN efforts are also continuing to seek solutions to human rights issues and the humanitarian situation following the violence and attacks in the south west, north west and north of the country. Increased efforts are needed to protect civilians, especially women and children, as well as meet the urgent needs of refugees and displaced persons. All acts of violence must be firmly condemned, and transparent investigations must take place so that justice can be done.

On Western Sahara

Since the resignation of Horst Köhler from the post of Personal Envoy of the Secretary-General, his successor has yet to be announced. Why? Is the Western Sahara dossier without solution?

A selection process is under way and I hope to be able to appoint someone as soon as possible.

The United Nations remains fully committed to supporting the parties in finding a political solution that will be fair, acceptable to all, and above all that will put an end to this conflict, which has been going on for too long.

The Western Sahara issue is complex, but I remain convinced that with a strong political will on the part of the parties and the international community, a solution is possible.

On the Horn of Africa

The Horn brings together a complex set competing commercial and security issues, including the fight to build ports, profiteering by security forces, pushback against Chinese influence, and those encouraging Somaliland’s independence. What is the role for the UN here, given the influx of “new partners” in the last decade ? What are the security risks of Ethiopia’s reform.

Ethiopia is undergoing a remarkable process of key reforms. All stakeholders must work together to ensure this is conducted in a peaceful atmosphere, in particular in the context of elections later this year.

Abiy and the Nobel Peace Prize © Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed, 2019 Nobel Peace Prize laureate. © HÃ¥kon Mosvold Larsen/AP/SIPA

The region has an enormous potential, including some of the fastest growing economies in Africa.

Positive political developments in the region over the last couple of years have paved the way for Horn countries to reap tangible benefits from cooperation. The United Nations is working closely and inclusively with a large number of partners, including the African Union and the Inter-Governmental Authority on Development (IGAD), to support all Horn countries in fulfilling their potential and addressing outstanding peace and security issues.


Africans often complain that their countries are not getting their fair share of climate finance: India captures a large amount, Africa very little. Why is that, who is responsible, how can this change?

People living in developing nations are often the first to see their lives impacted by climate change. They experience more periods of drought, stronger storms and floods – and yet they are the ones who least contribute to these changes.

The African continent is no exception and I have seen the impact of climate change firsthand in countries such as Mozambique, where cyclones Idai and Kenneth destroyed livelihoods and uprooted thousands of people.

Building resilience and helping people adapt to climate change is not only a priority, it is a necessity. On the African continent, tens of millions of people are now facing unprecedented levels of food insecurity because of drought. In the Sahel, the impact of climate change is one of the elements feeding instability and insecurity.

At the climate summit in New York last September, solutions were brought forward to not only respond to immediate climate impacts but also to advance initiatives that will make people safer. Initiatives included insurance for the most vulnerable, assistance for smallholder farmers to adapt to climate change, as well as support to prevent disasters.

© Climate protesters demonstrate outside the local government legislature’s offices in Johannesburg, South Africa, Friday, Sept. 20, 2019. (AP Photo/Themba Hadebe)

On the African continent, more investments in adaptation and resilience are essential. But it is equally important to ensure adequate support and investments in infrastructure to achieve the goals of the Paris agreement.

That’s why we must ensure that at least $100 billion dollars a year is available to developing countries for mitigation and adaptation and to take into account their legitimate expectations to have the resources necessary to build resilience and for disaster response and recovery.

Getting the resources for this requires the commitment of the biggest emitters, on whom I’ve repeatedly called on to step up and keep their promise to mobilize, $100 billion each year from public and private sources for developing countries.

READ Kenya’s economy weakened by the scourge of locusts, climate change

At the next climate conference — COP26 in Glasgow – Governments must deliver the transformational change our world needs and that people demand, with much stronger ambition – ambition on mitigation, ambition on adaptation, and ambition on finance.

On the UN

Of the ten ‘late payers’ of the UN who lost their right to vote on 10 January, five were African. Can we improve the financial situation of the UN by removing the right to vote from a handful of poor countries, while many rich countries are failing to pay their dues in full? 

There is a provision in the UN Charter stating that States can indeed lose their voting rights in the General Assembly if the amount of their arrears equals or exceeds the amount of the contributions due from it for the preceding two full years.

This, however, is a measure that is decided by the General Assembly, and it’s important to note they can also decide to allow Member States who haven’t paid to vote if they can demonstrate that their failure to pay their budget contribution is due to conditions beyond their control.

As of today, two member states do not have the right to vote in the 74th session of the General Assembly: the Central African Republic and Venezuela.

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