By Sami Zaptia.
London, 28 March 2020:
The European Union (EU) and the United States yesterday called for a humanitarian truce in Libya’s fighting in order for the country to focus on fighting the Coronavirus (Covid-19) pandemic.
In its statement the EU said ‘‘The European Union and its Member States regret that the fighting has increased in Libya despite the international calls for a humanitarian truce to help contain the Coronavirus pandemic in the country. The challenging circumstances created by the Coronavirus pandemic make the need to halt the fighting in Tripoli and across the country even more urgent. We strongly condemn any attack against civilian population.
We urge all the relevant Libyan actors to immediately stop the fighting and engage in reaching a political solution to the crisis. The leadership of the two parties should commit to the draft ceasefire agreement developed by the Joint Military Committee (“5+5”) in the UNSMIL-facilitated Geneva talks, so that all available assets can be deployed in priority to contain the Coronavirus crisis.
We condemn the use of civilian infrastructure for military purposes and call on all parties to respect human rights and international law. A truce would facilitate taking all the necessary steps to protect the Libyan population and the most vulnerable in the country, including the Libyan IDPs as well as migrants, refugees and asylum seekers in the detention centres, for whom the possible spread of the virus could have further catastrophic consequences. We strongly support and encourage efforts of Libyan health authorities to come together to assist the Libyan population. Health workers should be protected at all times.
We call once again on all UN Member States to respect and uphold the UN arms embargo, to discontinue the influx of foreign fighters into Libya and to refrain from destabilising actions that could further deteriorate the already fragile situation in the country.
All the Libyan parties need to engage constructively in the UN-facilitated intra-Libyan talks in order to agree on the implementation of urgent economic and financial measures, including the audit of the Central Bank of Libya and its branch in the East.
It is also crucial to safeguard Libya’s oil resources and protect its infrastructure in full compliance with the relevant UN Security Council resolutions. Oil production should resume under the auspices of the National Oil Company (NOC) as a matter of urgency and its equitable distribution among all Libyan regions and in the interest of all Libyans should be ensured.
On their side, the European Union and its Member States reiterate their full commitment to support the Berlin Process and the UN-led mediation efforts. They are ready to deploy all the instruments necessary to ensure full implementation of the Berlin Conference Conclusions, including through the new Common Security and Defence Policy operation EUNAVFOR MED-IRINI. They recall the important role of neighbouring countries and regional organisations in the follow-up of the Berlin Process. They also reaffirm their full support to the active role of the UNSMIL and underline the need for a new United Nations Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Libya to be appointed.
Meanwhile, the US statement came in a public letter by its Ambassador to Libya, Richard Norland to Libya’s political and military leadership and the people of Libya. This included a call for an end to the fighting, for salaries to be paid and for the sick to receive treatment.
Here is his full statement:
‘‘I am writing out of deep concern regarding a lethal threat to Libya that looms on the horizon. Without a robust, unified response, COVID-19 could rapidly provoke a widespread public health emergency, spreading sickness and death among the ranks of soldiers and civilians alike. We have not seen a global pandemic like this in over 100 years and ensuring that Libya survives it without catastrophic losses requires both courageous leadership and individual action. As I watch my own country contend with a dramatic surge in confirmed infections, I strongly urge Libyans to take these steps in advance of the expected outbreak:
Stop the Fighting:
A halt in hostilities is an absolute necessity to provide public health authorities across Libya the opportunity to collaborate, in a spirit of national cohesion, to contain and overcome this outbreak. Unfortunately, contagious diseases thrive in war and this deadly viral pandemic could easily spread among those fighting on the frontlines and quickly overburden health facilities. Both Prime Minister Serraj’s Government of National Accord and Khalifa Haftar’s Libyan National Army have said they would abide by a humanitarian truce. Regrettably, while each side accuses the other of violating the truce, fighting has significantly escalated in recent days, endangering healthcare workers and distracting Libyans from the more urgent task of confronting our shared enemy, COVID-19. The best approach to concretize the humanitarian truce is for General Haftar to suspend his campaign on Tripoli, allowing both sides to return to the ceasefire framework established through UNSMIL’s 5+5 negotiations in Geneva. I further call upon both sides to announce an immediate freeze to the deployment of foreign fighters, who risk further spreading COVID-19 in Libya. The U.S. also recognizes that foreign actors are responsible for fuelling the conflict, and is addressing that in diplomatic channels.
Pay the Salaries:
Libyans need a steady source of income to cope with this crisis, and many Libyans depend on public sector wages. Unfortunately, since January, public salaries have not been paid regularly. Whatever the justifications for withholding disbursement, salary payments must resume immediately without conditions, prioritizing in particular health sector workers who are on the frontlines against COVID-19. Doctors and nurses should have the assurance that they are able to provide for their own well-being and that of their families. Additionally, restarting Libya’s oil production is critical to ensure Libyan authorities have access to sufficient revenue to pay salaries and foreign currency to procure much-needed medical equipment such as personal protective equipment, testing kits, oxygen, and ventilators. Furthermore, if Libya has any hope of securing international help after this virus strikes, there must be improvements made to institutions. Allowing an external audit of the Central Bank would be an easy move that would show the world that Libyan leaders are committed to transparency and fighting corruption; such an audit is ready to begin but for some reason it remains stuck. This can only hurt Libyans.
Treat the Sick:
COVID-19 is highly contagious: anyone displaying symptoms should be isolated and treated in a safe location to prevent further contagion. The United States continues public health support to Libyan authorities, through our work with the World Health Organization (WHO) and a number of international NGOs. I am concerned that critical medical supplies procured by the WHO – including COVID-19 testing elements, protective equipment, antibiotics, and insulin – are stuck in ports in Tripoli, Misrata and Benghazi, due to delays from Libya’s Customs and Food & Drug Authorities. I call on relevant authorities to immediately release these supplies. Populations in Libya with irregular status, such as IDPs, migrants, and refugees should also be allowed access to healthcare at this critical time. Refusing these populations treatment will only further spread the virus among Libyans.
I share these thoughts out of America’s genuine concern for the well-being of Libyans and the stability of Libya. The United States has a long history of working with Libya to improve its health infrastructure and we will continue these efforts, but no amount of outside help can compensate for what Libyans themselves must do to confront this deadly virus.
While leaders will hopefully address the issues I’ve outlined above, I urge all Libyans to consult public information on COVID-19 from the World Health Organization (https://www.who.int) and Libya’s National Center for Disease Control (https://ncdc.org.ly/). COVID-19 has already infected over 500,000 and killed over 25,000 worldwide, it threatens the stability of entire nations and societies. We must all act in a spirit of responsibility, sacrifice and cooperation to confront and defeat this threat to our shared humanity’’.