Recent developments highlight challenges facing Libya’s transition, says UN envoy

Special Representative Tarek Mitri briefs the Security Council. UN Photo/Evan Schneider

14 March 2013 – While there has been notable progress in Libya’s democratic transition, recent political and security developments have revealed the challenges associated with this process, a senior United Nations envoy told the Security Council today.

“Given the legacy bequeathed to the Libyan people by the former regime, the process of democratic transition will surely face an array of obstacles requiring long-term responses,” said Tarek Mitri, the Secretary-General’s Special Representative and head of the UN Support Mission in Libya (UNSMIL).

“The past few weeks have seen increased political polarisation in the debate over the draft political isolation law, and attempts to openly undermine the authority of the democratically-elected bodies and legitimate institutions of the State,” he added.

A political crisis arose during recent weeks from the controversy over a proposed law on political isolation, proponents of which argue that it is a necessary tool to protect the revolution and ensure that those who corrupted public life in the past are excluded from holding public office.

“While there is strong support for such a law in some quarters, the debate over its adoption has been politically divisive,” noted Mr. Mitri. “In its current form, the draft law contains an extensive list of criteria, many of them based on affiliation, and would apply to a wide range of public office holders at national and local levels, including elected officials and the judiciary. The draft law is also silent on how it is to be implemented.

“The legitimacy of adopting measures to exclude individuals who committed serious human rights violations from holding public office constitutes a valid transitional justice measure,” he stated.

“However, in meetings with political leaders and Congress members, we have consistently urged caution on the adoption of the law, and highlighted international standards that ought to apply to any vetting mechanism.”

A special session last week of the General National Congress to discuss the draft law ended in “disarray” after protesters threatened to use force unless Congress members voted to adopt the draft law. This was followed by the attempted assassination of the head of the Congress, as well as other attacks and acts of violence.

Libya has been undergoing a transition toward a modern democratic State, after decades of autocratic rule and the toppling of the regime of Muammar al-Qadhafi. The former leader ruled the North African country for more than 40 years until a pro-democracy uprising in 2011 – similar to the protests in other countries in the Middle East and North Africa – led to civil war and the end of his regime.

Mr. Mitri said that despite the fact that the Libyan people have come a long way since the liberation of the country 17 months ago, the security problem remains “formidable,” and is arguably the predominant concern for most Libyans.

“Significant progress in improving the country’s precarious security situation remains hampered by weak state institutions and security coordination mechanisms, as well as continuing mistrust of the State’s security forces by many of those who fought during the revolution, most of whom remain armed,” said the envoy.

“The country remains awash with unsecured weapons and munitions that continue to pose a regional security risk given Libya’s porous borders.”

Mr. Mitri said that, in spite of these difficulties, the Government led by Prime Minister Ali Zeidan – who also addressed the Council’s meeting today – is resolved to move forward expeditiously to enhance security and address the various problems pertaining to the proliferation of weapons and continued presence of armed groups outside the legitimate control of the State.

“UNSMIL will continue to provide assistance in this regard,” pledged Mr. Mitri.

In addition to discussing the situation in Libya, the Council also adopted a resolution extending UNSMIL’s mandate for another 12 months, as recommended by Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon in his recent report.

UNSMIL is tasked with continuing its assistance to the Government in defining the national priorities related to its democratic transition and efforts to build a modern, accountable State based on the rule of law and respect for human rights.

By the terms of the resolution, the Council also extended the mandate of the Panel of Experts assisting the Libya Sanctions Committee for 12 more months. In addition, it decided to partially lift the arms embargo on Libya and gradually ease the asset freeze on some Libyan financial institutions.


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