The General National Congress(GNC) Libyan government based in Tripoli has demanded an explanation from UN General Secretary Ban Ki-moon for hiring Bernardino Leon, claiming he was biased against the GNC government.
The UAE announced last Wednesday that Leon had been hired as the head of a diplomatic college that would train UAE diplomats and help advance UAE policies. The UAE is a strong backer of the of the internationally-recognized House of Representatives(HoR) government. The UAE, with the help of Egypt,is even thought to have bombed Tripoli in support of the HoR government and as part of the Operation Dignity, meant to defeat the Libya Dawn militia that supports the GNC government. The GNC said the revelations "threaten to destroy the political track during this sensitive time." Given that the parliaments of the two rival governments have not voted on the Leon's last draft of the Libya Political Dialogue, and both sides have issued statements rejecting the draft, the political track has been stalled for some time in any event.A recent Guardian article cited many emails from Leon to the UAE indicating he was clearly trying to de-legitimize the GNC and promote the HoR government. As long ago as June, Leon had been offered the post at the UAE academy with a salary of over $1,500 U.S. a day, plus a huge living allowance. He was busy over the summer trying to obtain a larger housing alliance. When the Guardian contacted Leon last Monday Leon denied he had taken the job. He asked the paper to hold off publishing the story and offered an interview to explain the situation. On Wednesday, the UAE announced Leon had been appointed to the position. This is interesting timing.The UAE must have known that this would force the UN to remove Leon from his position earlier than was planned. His term had just been extended and the UN had just expressed its full confidence in his work. I can only conclude the UAE wanted to throw a wrench into the dialogue. The agreement was a threat to Khalifa Haftar, the commander of the HoR armed forces. It would likely remove him from his position. With the dialogue process failed, the UAE, Egypt, and the Arab league can get on with their support for Haftar and the campaign against Islamists and the Tripoli government. In his recent meeting with UK prime minister David Cameron, Egyptian President el-SIsi appears not to have even mentioned the dialogue or the Government of National Accord that is supposed to be created.Leon claims he was not in any conflict of interest and pointed out that many on both sides support his draft. This neglects that he has never been successful in his parallel military dialogue that was supposed to forge an agreement between the rival military forces of the GNC and the HoR. Haftar calls the forces of the GNC terrorists, and refuses to negotiate or agree to a ceasefire with them. He has contempt for the dialogue and even bombed the one functioning airport in Tripoli prior to peace talks. On one occasion this caused the GNC delegates to be a day late for talks. So blatant were Haftar's snubs against the UN and the peace process that the EU named Haftar and his air force chief as subject to sanctions. He dismissed the threat as ridiculous. He then went to Jordan and signed a military agreement with that country. Egypt, the UAE, and the Arab League all supported Haftar and the HoR government, whose Operation Dignity fights against "terrorism," which means any Islamists opposed to them. The sanctions appear never to have come into effect but the press seem not to have noticed. I have seen no account of what happened.There are guidelines for UN mediators:Ali Tekbali, a member of the HoR, said that UN talks with the GNC would resume under the leadership of the new UN Special Envoy to Libya, Martin Kobler, before the end of this month. Saad Abusharrada a member of the GNC who supports talks said that the Leon situation is not likely to affect negotiations. The GNC might not be in favor of using the latest Leon draft as the basis for new negotiations given it had been developed by Leon. Any negotiation will be more or less fruitless unless Haftar is sidelined and removed from his post.The UN should realize that the HoR government probably can survive only as long as it has the support of Haftar. The prime minister Abdullah al Thinni has twice been prevented from leaving the country by Haftar, and has been forced to allow Haftar to approve his cabinet appointments..The rival parties and many others will not accept any agreement which does not sideline Haftar. The UN has continued negotiations for over a year while studiously ignoring the actual military situation and the influence of that on the two parliaments. Haftar has been untouchable.
The UN guidance on effective mediation says mediators should “not accept conditions for support from external actors that would affect the impartiality of the process” and that they should “hand over to another mediator, or mediating entity, if they feel unable to maintain a balanced and impartial approach”.How can Leon deny a conflict of interest when he accepted a well-paying job from the UAE, a country that clearly supports one side in the dialogue Leon was heading? Surely this is accepting conditions for support from external actors that would affect the impartiality of the process. However, Leon claims it didn't damage his impartiality and obviously he did not feel he was "unable to maintain a balanced and impartial approach." Yet in his emails Leon makes remarks such as that he was attempting to de-legitimize the GNC government and promote the HoR. Leon admits "the optics are bad". The optics are not bad. The problem is that Leon was in a conflict of interest and the facts make this perfectly clear for everyone to see. The optics are fine.