“The Absurdity of this Ongoing War” in Libya.

R​eaders will probably remember the famous “Arab Spring” that started in late 2010. It involved a series of popular uprisings in countries across North Africa and the Middle East. This was a pro-democracy movement organized mainly by young people using social media.

Protesters used a range of tactics. Mainly, it involved non-violence. It started in Tunisia, and the revolution there was a qualified success. There was violence and armed struggle. Even so, today Tunisia has a democratic constitution. The country holds free elections. Tunisia is no longer ruled by of its tyrannical former president, Ben Ali.

Tunisia was the lone Arab Spring country whose revolutions improved peoples’ lives. Elsewhere, most of the uprisings led to brutal civil wars, during a time the people now call the Arab Winter. Governments used all means necessary to cling to power and prevent revolutions like the one in Tunisia.

We could cover what happened in twenty countries in the region, but because of recent events, we will focus on Libya in this post. The Arab Spring erupted there in February 2011. At the time, Libya was ruled by the infamous Muammar Qaddafi. It began in Benghazi, where anti-government protesters gained control of the city in a matter of days. The uprising spread to the Libyan capital, Tripoli and rebels actually formed an alternate government for a short time.
Before long, Qaddafi quelled the first uprising. The UN Security Council was concerned about civilian casualties and set up a no fly zone over Libya. Allied forces supported the rebels on the ground with air strikes. The conflict ended with Qaddafi being ousted after 32 years of rule. Qaddafi was killed in the process, but the crisis is still ongoing.

The power vacuum of Qaddafi’s death has never been replaced with anything resembling stability. Today, a UN backed government called the Government of National Accord (GNA for short) runs Libya. Self-appointed warlord, Khalifa Haftar is fighting to overthrow the government. Haftar calls his forces the Libyan National Army. That’s a misnomer. They are illegitimate rebel fighters.

The conflict has left more than 18,000 Libyans homeless. As one would expect, the majority of these displaced people want to leave the country. Their best choice is to cross the Mediterranean and start over in Italy, or in nearby countries in Europe.

The Italian government opposes this. Interior Minister Matteo Salvini has refused to allow ships carrying Libyan refugees to dock in his country. Europeans differ about how to help Libyan refugees. The EU is not willing to take the blame for the number of refugees in Libya. The fact remains that thousands of migrants are trapped there, and Europe won’t let them in.

Events took an ugly turn this week. The Government of National Accord has been forcing the refugees into detention centres in the greater Tripoli area. GNA leaders use these helpless civilians as human shields. Libyan National Army commanders know the camps are there. Yet, they continue to order what they call “strong and decisive air strikes” against targets in Tripoli.

Now, tragedy has struck. As always, the inevitable took place. On Wednesday, an airstrike on Tarjoura, on the outskirts of Tripoli, killed 44 helpless civilians. They were trapped in one of these detention centres. Was this deliberate? Nobody knows. The so-called Libyan National Army denies it. Anyway, that’s not the point.

Why is the GNA using innocent people as human shields? This camp is located next to a military supply depot. Why is the Libyan National Army aiming missiles at targets near refugee camps? The UN had called for these people to be moved long before any of this took place.

If you think that these are good questions, so do the UN, Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch. They are all demanding an inquiry. Based on what we know so far, this is a war crime. As Ghassan Salamé, the UN Special Envoy for Libya put it, “The absurdity of this ongoing war today has led this odious bloody carnage to its most hideous and most tragic consequences.”

We now have 70 million displaced people in the world. 37,000 people a day are forced to flee their homes because of conflict and persecution. Someone is forcibly displaced every 2 seconds. Half of the world’s refugees are under 18. We are facing the highest level of civilian displacement ever recorded.

You can help. The UN refugee agency is called the United Nations High Commissioner on Refugees or UNHCR. (The UN loves acronyms.). They accept donations from private citizens. You can also donate to NGO’s like Amnesty International or Human Rights Watch. This needs to stop.



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