By Gianluca Eramo, MENA Programme Coordinator of No Peace Without Justice
Since mid-May 2014, Libya has witnessed a turbulent period of political . . .[restrict]volatility and outbursts of violence between armed groups, resulting in further polarisation of the political spectrum and a divisive political situation.
Libya’s political evolution is multifaceted and remains trapped within a factional political framework that does not offer a way foward from the transition. While the central authorities remain divided and contentious over power sharing, Libyan society still has to heal the scars of the revolution, which are not only still highly visible on the buildings and roadsides of the country, but clearly perceptible in the Libyan legislative and institutional systems. The armed confrontation among different militias and the political divide resulting from the decision of the a small group of members of the previous parliamentary assembly, the General National Congress, not to disband after the 25 June general elections led to a sharp deterioration in human rights and the humanitarian situation and to the worst outburst of violence since the fall of the Qaddafi regime.
Libya’s political future and long-term stability will be defined by how the post-Qaddafi and post-conflict transition will be managed by the international community and how the few seeds of transitional justice mechanisms, already implanted the Libyan legislative system, will be supported and helped to grow.
These elements play a crucial role in developing a new covenant for Libya’s citizens and will have serious ramifications for the development of political and societal institutions and their ability to protect and expand the civil and political rights of Libyans.
So far, the response to the current crisis by international organisations and Western countries has been haphazard and limited to declarations of principles and general support for political dialogue among the Libyan political actors. Most recently, United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon visited Tripoli with the EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy designate, Federica Mogherini, and four special envoys from EU member states, stressing the need for dialogue. Tellingly, beyond a vague mention of the need to address root causes once the fighting has stopped, the Secretary-General’s remarks in Tripoli were devoid of references to human rights, transitional justice or the need to end legal impunity.
At the same time, neighbouring countries and regional powers are manoeuvering and steering among Libyan militias to gain access, power and control. President Abdel-Fattah Sisi, the new strong-man in Cairo, is methodically putting together an informal coalition with the UAE, Algeria and more recently Sudan to bring Libya under his influence with more concrete plans than the one offered by the West. Last week, in a joint declaration together with President Al-Bashir of Sudan, he promised assistance and materiel to the Libyan authorities to reinforce their armed forces. In August, warplanes, alleged at the time to belong to the UAE with the logistical assistance of the Egyptian air force, bombed the militias besieging Tripoli’s international airport, in their case alleged to be sponsored by Qatar.
The international community must urgently develop a concrete political strategy to support the legitimate aspirations of the Libyan people for security, dignity and democracy. The values for which the revolution that ousted Colonel Qaddafi in 2011 was fought need to be brought back into the political discourse and concretely and strongly supported. As countless other transitional societies have demonstrated, impunity and rewards for violence are too fragile a base upon which to build a stable democracy.
Rudiments of transitional justice mechanisms, such as Law no. 29/2013 on Transitional Justice and the 19 February 2014 Ministerial Decree on Legislation to Redress the Situation of Victims of Rape and Violence, are already present in the Libyan legislative system. These legislative instruments, elaborated by the previous legislative and executive bodies, need to be implemented and become the centre piece of political dialogue between Libyan political forces. The United Nations in general, UNSMIL in particular, and Western countries should identify these transitional justice mechanisms as the cornerstone of their political strategy and raise them accordingly in public and private settings.
Focusing on the implementation of current transitional justice laws would provide Libyan civil society activists and political forces with achievable, concrete goals and build mechanisms for reconciliation and the peaceful resolution of conflicts that can then be key elements in developing broader, inclusive political discussions on respect for human rights, democracy and the rule of law. Ensuring that transitional justice mechanisms are at the centre of national dialogue is one of the main tools to build those crucial State institutions, such as the justice system, that can guarantee equality under the law, accountability and personal responsibility for all citizens. These are fundamental elements without which a democratic, peaceful and stable system cannot be established or sustained.
Ensuring that the political discourse focuses on developing shared, open and fair transitional justice mechanisms can shift attention from the current tendency to look outside the country for political backing and support. It can therefore also help reduce the risk of external actors fuelling cycles of violence and “counter-retribution”. Focusing on transitional justice can help weaken the negotiating position of those who are seeking and retaining power through the commission of violations. The benefits of a focus on transitional justice are many; the drawbacks of failing to do so could be catastrophic.
Libya is at a critical juncture of its history and Europe and the rest of the international community should move with resolve to ensure that the compass by which Libyan political actors define the future of the country is set on transitional justice mechanisms to achieve stability, accountability, democracy and the rule of law — not on geopolitical interests set by outside actors.
NPWJ has been working on the Libyan transition since early 2011, in the framework of its project to support Libya’s democratic transition through justice and accountability.
Opinion articles do not necessarily reflect the views of the Libya Herald [/restrict]