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Department of Political Affairs

Building the new Libya

 DPA E-News, Feburary 2012

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.

Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon listens to massacre survivors during his visit to Libya in November 2011.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.


UN Supports Libyan-owned Rebuilding Effort Video Reports from 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.


Political Mission

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.

UN Special Representative for Libya, Ian Martin, visits the city centre of Zawiyah, a town that saw heavy fighting during the 2011 conflict.

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.


Arms Proliferation

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.

Video Reports from Libya

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

Scene of joy in Libya 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.”



Related Links

Mission explores impact of Libyan Crisis on the Sahel region

Video reports from Libya

More about the UN's work in Libya

Website of the UN Support Mission in Libya (UNSMIL)