Building the new Libya
In a warehouse on the out skirts of Tripoli, forensic experts had carefully marked the site of a massacre of prisoners during the final days of Libya’s conflict. Grim-faced survivors told their stories to a visiting UN delegation led by Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and General Assembly President Nassir Abdulaziz Al-Nasser.
The men, young and old, said that troops loyal to the Qaddafi regime had lobbed grenades and opened fire with machine guns into a shed where more than a hundred detainees were being held. Near where they spoke, charred pieces of bone and ash still littered a floor blackened by fire.
The Secretary-General expressed horror at what Libyans had endured, both in the recent conflict and during decades of dictatorship. He pledged that the United Nations would support them in building the new and democratic Libya.
Addressing the human rights crimes of Libya’s past, while promoting national reconciliation, is just one of the many formidable challenges facing the nation and its new authorities. Many other crucial responsibilities rest on their shoulders: providing public security and employing former fighters, organizing elections and drafting a new constitution, creating a professional military and rebuilding its police force, controlling the spread of weapons and disposing of chemical and nuclear materials, and revitalizing Libya’s oil-based economy.
That Libyans will lead this rebuilding effort is a point the interim authorities have strongly emphasized in their contacts with the international community. At the same time, they have reached out to the United Nations to provide support and expertise in a number of these areas, and to help to ensure that outside assistance is well-coordinated.
The UN’s efforts on the ground are led by the United Nations Support Mission in Libya, UNSMIL, a political mission managed by the Department of Political Affairs. Since its deployment in September 2011, just weeks after the fall of Tripoli, the mission, under the leadership of veteran UN envoy Ian Martin has been gradually stepping up its assistance. The pace and intensity of UNSMIL’s work was expected to increase further in 2012, while remaining a relatively light, civilian mission.
Martin, the Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Libya, led the UN’s extensive post-conflict planning for Libya, and was in attendance at the country’s Declaration of Liberation on 23 October. Important progress has taken place since that momentous event, marking the end of the fighting and beginning of the post-conflict phase.
The formation of an interim government and cabinet headed by Prime Minister Dr. Abdurrahim El Keib constituted an early milestone in a detailed transitional political process envisioned by Libya’s new authorities.
Concrete steps have also been taken toward forming a national army and police force to maintain public security and guard Libya’s vast borders. The National Transitional Council (NTC) and Interim Government convened the first National Reconciliation Conference in December 2011 and began drafting proposals on transitional justice.
While significant economic policy decisions will not likely be made until after the elections and many challenges remain, economic chaos has been averted, and recovery from the collapse in oil production has been faster than initially foreseen.
Assistance for Elections scheduled for June 2012
Still, numerous hurdles remained to be overcome and public expectations are mounting. Tensions have run high over the presence of militias in the streets, pending the integration of former fighters into government security forces or civilian walks of life. As 2012 began, disparate groups who had fought in the struggle against Colonel Qaddafi remained in control of key areas of the country. UNSMIL was prepared to support Libya’s leaders in this area drawing on the UN’s considerable experience on such matters in other conflicts.
Elections are another huge challenge. After four decades under strongman rule, Libya has virtually no modern experience in holding democratic polls. UNSMIL was working closely with the new authorities to provide advice on the drafting of electoral legislation and the establishment of an electoral commission. If credible elections for a national congress are to be held by June 2012, decisions must be made on matters such as the choice of an electoral system, the eligibility of candidates and voter lists.
In December, the Security Council expanded UNSMIL’s mandate to include assisting Libyan national efforts to address the proliferation of arms, ammunition and explosive remnants of war. The change reflected concerns internationally and in the region that weapons, including man-portable surface to air missiles (MANPADs), could fall into dangerous hands.
The mission has also encouraged prompt action by the international community to free up billions of dollars in Libyan assets frozen during the conflict as a measure against the former regime. This is liquidity needed critically by Libya’s authorities to address the many post-war challenges they face.
UNSMIL has also kept a close eye on the plight of detainees and the treatment of migrant workers, urging the improvement of conditions of detention and a proper and swift review of all cases, leading to release or fair trial.
During visits to cities that suffered during the war, among them Misrata, Zawiyah, Zintan and Yefren — as well as Benghazi where the revolution was sparked on 17 February 2011 — SRSG Martin has met with Libyans from a broad spectrum of society. He has emphasized the importance of civil society, the empowerment of women and inclusion, while also stressing that UN assistance will be guided by national priorities.
Inspiration for the World
Building an inclusive democracy in Libya will take time and patience, but Libyans have the wherewithal to succeed, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said at the conclusion of his November 2011 visit to the country.
“Libyans inspired the world in throwing off tyranny,” he said. “In building a future of peace and dignity for all, I am confident that you will inspire the world once again.”
Website of the UN Support Mission in Libya (UNSMIL)