There has been a drastic shift in the demeanour of UN Special Envoy Ghassan Salamé in the last few weeks. The stoic diplomat — who has survived terrorist attacks in Baghdad in 2003 and Beirut in 2005 — has been shaken by the Tripoli offensive. On the cusp of unveiling the National Conference his hopes were dashed by Khalifa Haftar’s ill-conceived attack on the capital in early April. Salamé appeared on the verge of tears when speaking about the Libyan conflict. There was no photo of his latest meeting with Haftar and many have interpreted this as a sign of the poor relationship between the two men.
Battered, but not yet broken, Salamé appeared before the UN Security Council (UNSC) on 29 July and was frank about the currently dim prospects for ending the Tripoli conflict. He spent time describing the carnage in the capital and especially the indiscriminate 3 July airstrike against the Tajoura migrant detention centre.
He highlighted the numerous challenges that have become worse since April:
- the lack of basic services; the persistent migrant crisis and the lack of a satisfactory policy to cope with it;
- the continued attacks on Mitiga airport;
- the flagging legitimacy of the parliament;
- eastern efforts to delegitimise municipal elections;
- the role of the media in perpetuating the conflict;
- the use of new weaponry including armed drones and cyber-attacks, especially the abuse of bot accounts on Twitter and Facebook; and
- foreign interference.
He was, however, also defiant and highlighted that — although UN staffing in Tripoli had been reduced as a result of the conflict — a skeleton team had remained behind and a new hub in the east had been established.
In the face of these challenges, Salamé proposed a three-point plan to end the conflict, for which he sought Security Council endorsement. The three points, which would occur sequentially, included:
- a truce among warring parties during Eid al-Adha — expected between 9-14 August — and concurrent confidence-building measures such as prisoner exchanges;
- a high-level international conference to agree on a commitment to: end the violence; better implement the arms embargo; and enforce international humanitarian and human rights law against belligerents; and finally
- a reboot of the proposed National Conference in the form of an international meeting of influential Libyans to discuss political, security, and economic elements