Will Libya's Ganfouda Tragedy Be UN Martin Kobler's Legacy

My analysis last week on the United Nation’s inaction with regards to the siege and carnage in Ganfouda, Libya was, sadly, confirmed at a press conference held late last week by the UN’s special representative in Libya, Martin Kobler. The German diplomat has been involved in Libya’s tragic post-revolutionary transition since 2015. He’s a direct witness to how General Haftar, a cruel remnant of Libya’s Qaddafi regime, is laying siege to hundreds of families in Ganfouda, a densely populated district in Benghazi. Kobler also knows that the “Tobruk government” with which Haftar has allied himself with has no legitimacy and that the ruthless general’s sham “Libya National Army”(LNA) is little more than a coalition of ragtag militias.

When questioned by Inner City Press’ UN reporter Matthew Russell Lee about the UN’s relationship to Haftar, instead of going through these details, Kobler decided instead to shield Haftar and his faction from international scrutiny. In other words, instead of being a fair-minded, human rights first kind of political mediator, the UN’s top representative in Libya is essentially taking sides in this conflict with a faction that has no regard for international law.

Kobler could’ve mentioned how he has reminded all parties involved to show military restraint, or how Haftar walked away from an evacuation deal (after agreeing to it) that would’ve saved many lives in Ganfouda, but he didn’t. Instead, Kobler conflated Haftar’s military aggression in Ganfouda—which now has no water, food, or medicine—against a UN-recognized, Tripoli-based government, and the anti-ISIS victory in Sirte by Libya’s official army. Kobler disregarded how ISIS fighters were able to leave Benghazi towards western Libya, without obstruction, while killing interior ministry personnel along their way. This is a grotesque display of political mendacity.

Kobler has chosen to try and realize his own political agenda, which includes not alienating Haftar. He’s done this by avoiding all discussion of human rights. In his press conference, Kobler made zero mention of the humanitarian disaster that Haftar’s faction is responsible for. The UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) confirmed the sheer scale of the disaster in a statement issued last November. He also made no mention of the civilians detained in Benghazi’s infamous Kuwaifiya prison, which has been condemned by the National Commission for Human Rights in Libya (NCHRL). Worst of all he recognized the lost lives of LNA fighters but left out any reference to the civilian killed by LNA drones.

It’s now not at all a stretch to speculate that Kobler, while representing the UN effort in Libya, is working within Haftar’s agenda. Haftar is a powerful player in Libya’s transitional process—albeit one who has a lot of blood on his hands—and it could be that Kobler has decided to appease him as much as possible. The evidence is certainly piling up.

But if this is the case, then Kobler would actually just be following in the footsteps of his predecessor in Libya—Spain’s Bernardino León who, according to emails obtained by The Guardian, was working with Haftar’s allies in the UAE while playing the role of political mediator for the UN.

Leon’s involvement became a scandal after it was revealed that the UAE was exercising direct influence over him, despite being an outside party. So this time, the Emirates is being more careful by using Haftar as a proxy. Kobler could simply be fulfilling the role of a willing UN counterpart, ala Leon. Meanwhile, it’s the people of Libya—particularly those under siege in Ganfouda—who must pay the ultimate price for this shameless politicking.

In fact, the UAE has been using drones to pick off civilian targets in Ganfouda for months. The Emirates is saying that they’re using the drones to help Libya rid itself of jihadists, but there’s no evidence that such militants have even been near the Ganfouda residential area. Kobler, of course, has steered clear of any discussion with regards to the UAE’s outside, pro-Haftar meddling. In fact, the seasoned diplomat has steered clear of a lot of things since taking up his post in Libya.

He seems to show no appreciation for Libya’s modern history or tribal politics. As such, he’s shown utter callousness towards the people of Ganfouda, whose abuse at the hands of Haftar’s undisciplined LNA on January 24, 2017 when coerced to leave through the LNA has become one of the darkest aspects of the conflict. Reports of six civilians from Ganfouda executed in cold blood by LNA fighters is evidence that Haftar’s “military” is nothing more than a loose groups of untrained militants who don't have any real discipline and are prone to abuse and torture.

Kobler and the UN are facilitating the continuous suffering of the Libyan people by placing their own agenda above human rights. We’re seeing more of this kind of cynicism now, primarily in the siege of Aleppo, Syria. While Haftar’s militias are laying a cruel siege to Ganfouda, the international community is conveniently looking the other way. With rumors of the UN replacing Kobler in the near future, will the Ganfouda tragedy be Kobler’s legacy and ultimately another failure of the UN?