Efforts by the outgoing U.N. envoy for Libya to unite the country's rival governments were overshadowed this week by the disclosure that he has been seeking a job with the United Arab Emirates — which has been supporting one side in the Libyan dispute.
A report in The Guardian, a British newspaper, exposed private emails in which Bernardino Leon was shown to have been negotiating for a lucrative job training diplomats for the UAE while simultaneously conducting negotiations on behalf of the United Nations.
The UAE has been supporting the Libyan National Army, which fights on the side of the Libyan House of Representatives, the nation's internationally recognized government. That regime fled to Tobruk last year after the General National Congress (GNC) and its allied militias took control of the capital, Tripoli. The two rivals have been stuck in a spiral of violence that has contributed to the refugee crisis in Europe and led to the rise of Islamist extremist groups in Libya.
Leon on Thursday defended himself against reporters' questions about the seeming conflict of interest in his negotiating for a job with a party that had a stake in his mediation. He said his his new job was “mainly academic work” and that he didn't see a conflict.
Leon said the political agreement he has worked out over a year's time, which lays out the composition of a future unity government in Libya, has included the efforts of hundreds of Libyans.
“Is it fair to say now that the result of this work is biased? I don’t think so,” he said.
“You may say the optics is not nice,” he continued, “and I can agree with this. If it is a matter of saying I could have done things in a different way, maybe this is the right answer.”
U.N. spokesman Stephane Dujarric defended the envoy, telling reporters that "Mr. Leon’s tireless and unending work to try to reach an accord on a government of national accord in Libya, I think, speaks for itself.”
Members of the GNC did not appear to agree, reportedly sending a letter to the United Nations protesting Leon’s actions.
In his final briefing before the U.N. Security Council on Thursday, Leon urged leaders of the rival Libyan governments to stop blocking the democratic process and vote on the political agreement. In recent weeks, he said, there has been progress toward resolving outstanding issues — such as representation of the parties in the new government — but that there has been no formal acceptance of the accord.
“The U.N. Support Mission in Libya [has] continued to impress upon both the Libyan House of Representatives and the Tripoli-based General National Congress the need to urgently convene sessions that would allow for a democratic vote on the political agreement and proposals for the presidency council,” he said.
“Libya’s leaders have a unique opportunity to reach a political settlement that spares their country and people further bloodshed and destruction,” Leon added.
He said the political agreement offers a “viable middle ground” on which all Libyans can meet.