North Africa Theater
Algeria's President Abdelmadjid Tebboune held an official commemoration of the "February 22 Revolution," marking the first day of the nationwide protests last year that finally ousted his long-ruling predecessor Abdelaziz Bouteflika. Tebboune, who came to power in a December special election, declared the day a special holiday to honor what is being called the "Smile Revolution" to emphasize its nonviolent ethic. But the day before the official commemoration, protesters mobilized in their thousands for the 53rd straight week of Friday marches, dismissing the December elections as controlled and saying that the old regime still remains in place. They are calling the movement by its original name of the "Hirak," or "people's mobilization." Adopting a new slogan in response to the official commemoration, protesters vowed to "disqualify the system's agenda of self-renewal, and to lay the foundations for a new republic." A popular slogan was "We're not going to stop." (AfricaNews, France24, NYT)
A senior UN official charged Feb. 16 at a press conference in Munich that numerous countries are violating the Libya arms embargo and that they must be held accountable. UN Deputy Special Representative to Libya Stephanie Williams said that "the arms embargo has become a joke." Williams' comments follow a UN Security Council resolution passed just a week earlier expressing "grave concern" for the humanitarian situation in Libya, noting especially "deteriorating living standards and insufficient provision of basic services" and "the situation faced by migrants, refugees, and internally displaced people." The Libyan National Army (LNA), led by Khalifa Haftar, has been fighting with the internationally recognized Government of National Accord (GNA) for control of Tripoli since April of last year. Russia, Egypt and the UAE are said to be supporting the LNA, while Turkey supports the GNA. Foreign powers are violating the arms embargo "by land, sea and air," Williams said. (Jurist)
A report published Jan. 27 by the UN Support Mission in Libya (UNSMIL) and the UN Human Rights Office reveals that at least 53 migrants and refugees were killed in the July 2019 air-strikes on the Tajoua detention center outside Tripoli. Those killed were determined to be citizens of Algeria, Chad, Bangladesh, Morocco, Niger and Tunisia. The report also determined that 87 male migrants and refugees were injured in the attack. The strikes were found to have been conducted by aircraft belonging to a "foreign state" that might have been under the command of the Libyan National Army (LNA) or operated under the command of that foreign state in support of the LNA. The report found that in addition to the internal conflict in Libya, a "parallel situation of international armed conflict" may also exist between outside states supporting the LNA and rival Government of National Accord (GNA).
The Presidential Council of Libya's internationally-recognized government issued a statement condemning the Jan. 5 air-strike on Hadba Military College in Tripoli, in which some 30 cadets were killed and many more injured. "The attackers aim to destabilize Tripoli in order to seize power via such repeated terrorist attacks, disregarding the safety of civilians," the statement read. The Tripoli-based Government of National Accord (GNA) blamed the strike on warlord Khalifa Haftar, who is loyal to the rival government based in Libya's east and has been besieging the capital for months. Haftar's forces, in turn, denied responsibility for the attack.
The Turkish parliament voted overwhelmingly Jan. 2 to send troops to Libya, to back up the UN-recognized government in Tripoli, now under siege from an offensive by warlord Khalifa Haftar, who is loyal to the rival government based in the country's east. Lawmakers voted 325-184 in an emergency session to give Ankara a one-year mandate to deploy forces to the North African country. US President Donald Trump responded to the vote by calling his Turkish counterpart Recep Tayyip Erdogan, warning him against intervening in the Libyan conflict. Weeks earlier, the US State Department issued a statement calling on Haftar to halt his offensive, and also warned against "Russia's attempts to exploit the conflict." Russia is believed to be backing Haftar. (EuroNews, BBC News, Politico, Al Jazeera)
The UN says it is unable to help most residents of an overcrowded refugee center in the Libyan capital it once touted as a safe haven. To encourage people to go, it is offering money and aid—and even telling them they won't be able to register as refugees to leave the war-torn country if they remain. Originally intended as a temporary residence for a small fraction of refugees—just those already vetted by the UN's refugee agency (UNHCR) and scheduled for evacuation or permanent residency in other countries—the Gathering and Departure Facility (GDF) now has some 1,150 residents, well over its stated capacity. Most arrived over the last eight months of clashes in Tripoli, including 900 who UNHCR says entered "informally"; some even bribed their way in. As the fighting has intensified, numbers in the center have risen and many of the people inside are hoping for—or demanding—a way out of the country, even though the UN says it can't offer that to everyone.
The UN's holding facility for undocumented migrants in Libya was unveiled last year as an "alternative to detention," but critics say it is coming to mirror the notoriously harsh detention centers it was supposed to replace. The Tripoli facility is overcrowded with nearly 1,200 migrants—about twice the number it was built for—including hundreds who fled from abuse at other detention centers in hopes of sanctuary. Conditions inside are deteriorating fast, and there are accusations that the UN refugee agency, UNHCR, is planning to force migrants, refugees and asylum-seekers to leave by cutting off food (a claim the agency denies). The people inside are among an estimated 600,000 migrants in Libya, including more than 45,000 registered refugees and asylum-seekers. Some have come in search of work, others are hoping to make the incredibly dangerous trip to Europe. Those who risk it are often "rescued" by the Libyan coast guard and returned to land, and end up in the country's oppressive detention centers—which is among the reasons a recent French plan to give the Libyan coast guard more boats met with strong opposition. (The New Humanitarian, AP, Dec. 6)
With the forces of eastern strongman Khalifa Hifter stalled outside Tripoli in his drive to oust Libya's Government of National Accord (GNA), both sides have been sniping at each other with drone strikes. Experts say that Haftar has procured Chinese-made Wing Loong drones from his main backer, the United Arab Emirates. The GNA, meanwhile, has turned to Ankara, its own increasingly open backer, which is believed to be supplying Turkish Bayraktar drones. All of this is in defiance of a supposed arms embargo, just renewed by the UN Security Council in June. Over 1,000 have been killed, close to 6,000 injured, and 120,000 displaced in the battle for Tripoli, which opened a year ago. (SCMP, Spet. 19)