25 January 2012

Libyan Interim Authorities Need Space to Address ‘Internal Priorities’, Secretary-General’s Special Representative Tells Security Council

25 January 2012
Security Council
Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York

Security Council

6707th Meeting (AM)

Libyan Interim Authorities Need Space to Address ‘Internal Priorities’,


Secretary-General’s Special Representative Tells Security Council


High Commissioner for Human Rights Outlines

‘Immense Challenges’ as Representative Pledges Action to Redress ‘Mistakes’

Faced with growing public frustration, armed clashes, diverse brigades, tight electoral schedules and proliferation of weapons, the Libyan authorities must be given “the space to address internal priorities” of the moment rather than the longer-term planning requested by international actors, the Secretary-General’s Special Representative in the country told the Security Council today.

“The United Nations Support Mission in Libya (UNSMIL) remains focused on supporting them in these key challenges, and this will be reflected in the proposals which I look forward to discussing with the Council,” said Ian Martin, also the Head of UNSMIL, ahead of the Secretary-General’s presentation of proposals on the Mission’s future, expected in March.

Mr. Martin announced that he and Ashur bin Khayyal, Libya’s Minister for Foreign Affairs, had signed a Status-of-Mission Agreement on 10 January, adding that the rapid accord was a reflection of the “excellent” relationships established with the National Transitional Council.  Consultations with the Libyan authorities regarding the role of UNSMIL beyond its current mandate were ongoing and it was finalizing the integrated mission-planning process to be reflected in the Secretary-General’s upcoming report.

He also announced that on 30 and 31 January, representatives of the United Nations, European Union and World Bank would be convening with a range of Libyan stakeholders in a workshop aimed at aligning international assistance with the Government’s urgent priorities.  Outside the security sector, they included civil society and media, elections, public administration, public financial management, delivery of social services, strategic communications and transitional justice.  The Libyan public were increasingly demanding improved performance from the National Transitional Council, as well as accountability and transparency, expressed recently “in ways which go beyond a healthy democratic spirit, including some physical violence” that had led to the Council Vice-Chairman’s resignation.

Mr. Martin said that last week’s outbreak of fighting in Bani Walid highlighted the challenges of reconciliation.  Responding to clashes between local residents and the revolutionary brigades stationed in the city, as a result of which several people had reportedly been killed, the Government had dispatched units of the national army and was addressing their underlying causes.  Meanwhile, rival brigades had also fought in the capital, Tripoli, and elsewhere earlier in January.  In addition, protests had begun in Benghazi as part of a movement to “correct the path of the revolution”, he said, adding that they appeared to be a reaction to the amnesty under consideration for former pro-Qadhafi fighters and members of the old regime, as part of reconciliation efforts.  Alongside calls to purge supporters of the former regime from national institutions, the protests had broadened into general criticisms of the Transitional Government, as had calls for aid for the war wounded.

Agreeing that transparency and popular consultation were indeed important in fostering confidence in the interim authorities, he commented that the National Transitional Council had only been established in late November after months of a near-complete vacuum of governance and following decades in which democratic machinery had been absent.  In addition, Libya’s new media was still far from being a reliable channel for conveying correct information to the public, he said, noting that civil society was just beginning to organize.

UNSMIL staff saw the interim ministers as “committed and capable, struggling to address major challenges with little support”, but the public only experienced delays in the delivery of funds and services, he said.  National and local institutions, meanwhile, were barely beginning to feel the liquidity provided by the unfreezing of sanctioned funds.  In addition, the tight timeline occasioned by plans to elect a National Congress by June had left little time for public consultations by the Electoral Committee, although meetings had been convened and the draft law published.

Though close engagement with UNSMIL’s electoral team made the process more inclusive, he said, criticism had been sharpened by failure to publish the proposed allocation of congressional seats, a subject that remained under discussion.  In addition, the laws made no mention of the rights and responsibilities of political parties.  The Mission was particularly concerned about the National Transitional Council’s rejection of the Electoral Committee’s proposal to ensure that women held at least 10 per cent of the seats in Congress.  Amid protests, the National Transitional Council had decided to hold further consultations and consider amendments to the electoral laws up to 29 January, he said.

He said that due to the great security challenges, the highest priority of the interim leaders was the future of brigade members.  Amid some initial confusion and a lack of frameworks, an inter-ministerial committee had initiated a process for registering former combatants, the first phase of which had been carried out by local councils and then centrally by the Interior, Defence or Labour Ministries after the information had been processed.

Regarding control of arms and related material, Mr. Martin said he was now supported by a special adviser versed in control of man-portable air defence systems (MANPADS), other explosive remnants, ammunition storage management and mine action.  A MANPADS expert had also been brought in, and UNSMIL had started co-hosting, with the Ministry of Defence, an operational sub-group on those weapons.  So far 123 MANPADS holding sites had been visited, and an estimated 5,000 of the weapons and their components had been accounted for, he said, noting, however, that access to the holdings of many brigades remained a challenge.

There were also 28 mine-clearance teams and 30 risk-education teams on the ground, he said, pointing out, however, that daily new site discoveries called for greater international support.  From 17 to 19 January, inspectors of the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons had verified information on the sulphur mustard agents that had not been loaded into munitions.  Libya must now submit a plan for the destruction of the materials by the end of April, he said, adding that international support had already been indicated in that effort.  As for nuclear materials, he said the eventual sale and transfer of the 6,400 barrels stored in Sabha remained a priority.

Meanwhile, arms smuggling, illegal immigration, possible insurgencies forming in neighbouring countries and drug trafficking had increased concerns about border security, he said, adding that UNSMIL was helping to identify priority areas with the National Transitional Council and in close coordination with the European Union.  The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and the International Organization for Migration (IOM) were working with the authorities on the current influx of Syrian refugees, ha said, stressing the crucial need to intensify dialogue with neighbouring countries on such issues.

Joining Mr. Martin in briefing the Council was Navi Pillay, United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, who said the new authorities had begun the “arduous task” of legal reform and the adoption of new legislation, including a law on transitional justice that had not yet been made public.  Before it was enacted, care must be taken to ensure full compliance with international human rights standards, she cautioned.

Immense challenges” lay ahead, she said, citing the National Transitional Council’s lack of control over the revolutionary brigades, who were still armed with light and heavy weaponry, in addition to holding thousands of detainees.  The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) had visited more than 8,500 detainees in approximately 60 detention sites between March and December, and had found that a lack of oversight by the central authorities had created an environment conducive to torture and ill-treatment.  All detention centres must urgently be brought under the control of the Ministry of Justice and the General Prosecutor’s Office, she stressed, adding that a structure for the judicial screening of detainees must be put in place immediately.

She went on to describe the plight of internally displaced people, noting that some groups were unable to return home for fear of reprisal attacks.  As for the situation of women, she emphasized that in light of the Transitional Government’s recent decision not to stipulate a minimum percentage for their representation in the National Congress, it was essential to facilitate stronger representation for women in public life.

Ms. Pillay then turned to the question of addressing past human rights abuses — including those committed by the former regime and during the recent conflict — commending the authorities’ stated commitment to transitional justice processes and mechanisms, which would enable Libya to deal with past abuses.  The process should ultimately lead to institutional reforms within the security sector and to the prosecution of individuals who were criminally responsible, as required by international law.  In that respect, there remained the outstanding question of civilian deaths resulting from North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) operations, she said, noting that the Commission of Inquiry mandated to investigate those allegations was currently at work.  It would discuss its findings with members of the Human Rights Council on 9 March.

She said that in addition to providing secretariat support to the Commission, her Office had sent two senior staff members to Tripoli, Benghazi and Misrata in October to assess needs and assist in setting the priorities of UNSMIL’s human rights component.  With the establishment of the Mission’s Human Rights Section, staff from the Office of the High Commissioner had been deployed to Libya on a temporary basis to bolster capacity, she said, adding that she had also initiated a consultancy to strengthen civil society capacity to monitor and advocate for human rights protection.  In the major undertakings of the coming weeks and months, the authorities should use civil society activists and organizations — including women and youth groups — as a key resource in addressing a range of social and political challenges, she said.

Abdurrahman Mohamed Shalgham (Libya) confirmed that Mr. Martin had been able to establish a strong relationship with local stakeholders that would certainly lead to positive results.  However, great challenges lay ahead following an “atrocious war” that had seen the former regime perpetrate massacres and rapes.  Noting that there was power without legitimacy as well as illegitimate power in Libya, he said the country needed training and structure in many areas, emphasizing in particular that unauthorized detention centres must be brought under control.  He stressed also that the transitional authorities would neither allow mistakes to continue, nor hide them.  Those whose hands had been bloodied or who had participated in robbery and theft would face justice, while those who had not participated in crimes had been told that they would have their rights restored, which was, after all, the purpose of the revolution.

It was particularly important to deal with the Tuareg issue, he said, emphasizing that they had not been targeted because of their colour, but because of their work for the former regime.  Colonel Muammar Qadhafi had recruited Libyan Tuareg as well as those from Mali and other neighbouring countries, who would be repatriated.  Hopefully, a solution would be found in the near future, he added.

Outlining other problems, he said it was important to include ex-combatants in the power structure, particularly considering that many of them were highly educated.  Reconciliation was extremely important and could be taken up with the help of respected local persons, following the examples of South Africa and Morocco.  As for the question of women, he said the 10 per cent quota for their participation was too small.  At least 30 per cent representation was needed and the issue must be dealt with “courageously”, he stressed.

He said people were embracing the values of Islam, such as tolerance, forgiveness and the proper treatment of people.  “We do not need talk of vengeance,” he added.  Acknowledging that violent incidents had occurred, he pointed out that such incidents were possible after 42 years of repression.  Managing differences of opinion was something quite new in Libya, which had experienced political parties for only a short period of its history.  However, there was cause for optimism about the future due to the country’s educated population and the abundance of its resources.

Turning to the question of “collateral damage” caused by NATO bombing, he said they included a mistaken strike on “revolutionary forces” and possible civilian damage, although there was a question about whether some of the incidents had actually been staged by the Qadhafi forces.  However, Libya was ready to cooperate with any investigating body, under United Nations auspices, and would set up mechanisms to provide compensation to victims once the findings were available.

The meeting began at 10:40 a.m. and ended at 11:45 a.m.

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For information media • not an official record
For information media. Not an official record.