By Sami Zaptia.
London, 24 March 2020:
Fighting around Tripoli has continued over the last few days in total disregard for the ‘‘humanitarian pause’’ agreed by both combatants as UNSMIL today strongly condemns the violations.
At times the fighting has been intense with numerous reported civilian injuries and at least three civilian deaths caused by indiscriminate shelling.
It will be recalled that the international community (17 March) and UNSMIL (18 March) had called for a ‘‘humanitarian pause’’ in fighting in order to focus on fighting the bigger enemy; Coronavirus (Covid19).
UNSMIL added that COVID-19 has no affiliation and breaks through all frontlines, and called on all Libyans to join forces immediately before it is too late to face this overwhelming, fast-spreading threat, which requires consolidating all resources and efforts for the prevention, awareness and treatment of possible victims.
It encouraged the implementation of a consolidated mechanism to face COVID-19 in Libya in close collaboration with WHO and other UN agencies on the ground, and the friends of Libya. The UN family in Libya stands ready to continue to support Libyans in facing this threat, its statement had concluded.
Both the combatant sides, the internationally recognized Libyan government in Tripoli (19 March) and the Khalifa Hafter-led Libyan National Army (LNA) (21 March), made positive responses to the call for a humanitarian pause.
UNSMIL had welcomed this ‘‘positive responses’’ by both parties for a humanitarian pause amidst the worldwide Coronavirus (Covid19) outbreak on 21 March.
Today, Acting Special Representative of the Secretary-General (SRSG) and UNSMIL head, Stephanie Williams, strongly condemned today’s repeated shelling of the Ain Zara neighbourhood, including the Al Rwemi prison, reportedly by forces affiliated with the Libyan National Army. The statement said that these attacks have resulted in a number of injuries, reportedly including among inmates, prisoners and judicial police officers.
The Acting SRSG called for an immediate halt to the shelling on the prison and the area where the prison is located, to avoid mass casualties among prisoners and prison guards.
Williams Said, “Despite the calls by many UN Member States, UNSMIL and the Secretary-General for an immediate cessation of hostilities to enable joint approaches to the COVID-19 pandemic, armed clashes, shelling, and mobilisation of forces in Libya continue, with unacceptable disregard for the safety and wellbeing of the civilian population.
“In the past 48 hours, UNSMIL documented more than 13 violations of the humanitarian pause, which resulted in the killing of at least three civilians and injuries to others,” Williams added.
The Acting SRSG urged the authorities across Libya to release all prisoners who are arbitrarily detained, and consider releasing pre-trial prisoners, and in particular, women, children, persons with disabilities, migrants and refugees in the context of the COVID 19 outbreak.
“The continuation of the fighting risks an undetected and out-of-control spread of the COVID-19,” Williams warned. She reiterated her call on all parties to the conflict in Libya to respect international human rights and humanitarian law, to abide by the commitments they have publicly made to halt all military operations, and to put the interests of their people and communities first, above any other considerations.
It will be recalled that in reality, the fighting for Tripoli has continued for most days since the 19 January Berlin conference and resultant 12 February UN Security Council resolution endorsing the Berlin outcomes and calling for an immediate truce.
Ironically, both sides of the political divide seem to be making visible progress in mitigating and preparing for Covis19. Libya today reported that there are still no cases of Covid19 in the whole country.