Three Years Later: Can the Libyan Revolution Succeed?

Libyans on Monday celebrated the third anniversary of the beginning of their popular revolution against the dictatorship of Muammar Gaddafi. The commemoration was bittersweet, since although personal freedoms have much expanded, 3,000 non-governmental organizations have been founded, and political activity is relatively unconstrained on paper, the persistence of militias and low-intensity violence have cast a pall on the achievements.

VOA reports: Libyans Mark Anniversary of Revolution

Sarah Leah Whitson of Human Rights Watch explains where Libya needs to go from here:

Tripoli – Can Libya be a nation whose citizens enjoy freedom and security? The quandary made itself all too clear when we tried to hold a news conference in a hotel in Tripoli in late January.

In that room, we and those who joined us, including representatives of several disenfranchised minorities, could speak as critically of the government’s shortcomings as we wished. There was no comparison with our fear and caution back in Muammar Gaddafi’s time in 2009, when we did the same thing.

But outside our rambunctious conference room, paramilitary militia members lounged in the lobby. Other militias were fighting in Zahra, on the outskirts of the capital, Eijelat in the West, as well as in Sebha, in southern Libya, and in Sarir, in South Eastern Libya.

Two and a half years since NATO’s UN-authorized intervention, Libya is teetering on the brink of failure. The still-transitional government has at best nominal control in much of the country, including the capital, but has been unable to disarm dozens of armed groups. Some provide essential security at the government’s behest, while others terrorize, kidnap and murder civilians and government officials with total impunity.

An ambitious plan with an already-past deadline of December 31 to integrate the militias into the official security services seems rife with uncertainty. Will all militia members continue to receive their salaries? What will the government do if they ignore this decree, as they have the others?

There is no magic formula to lend reality to the rule of law here. But a concerted effort to address a few key problems may help restore some confidence in the government’s ability to exercise its authority, and that is where the international community can help.

To start, the Justice Ministry can move more decisively to either charge or release the approximately 5,000 detainees held in 41 prisons often under the nominal – but not real – authority of the Judicial Police. It should also urgently document how many detainees are under militia control – a number that shockingly, no one seems to know – and move them to the jurisdiction of the government.

Many of these people have been locked up for as long as three years, without facing a single charge, much less seeing a judge or a lawyer. Isn’t this the sort of thing the revolution was supposed to end? The legal answer is clear: the authorities are obliged to release these detainees in light of their failure to charge and bring the detainees before a judge well beyond any limit provided under international law.

Justice Minister Al-Marghani has said he urgently wants to solve this situation, but lacks the trained staff. Meanwhile, the government has set yet another unrealistic deadline to resolve their cases by March 2. Rather than focus just on training staff, which will take years, the international community should provide the trained, technical personnel who can document the case files for these detainees and identify the basis for their detention; this would eliminate any further excuse for their continued detention without charge.

While it seems that Libya has no intention to comply with its legal obligation to hand Gaddafi’s son, Saif al-Islam, over to the International Criminal Court, the authorities could do far more to provide him and other detained prominent former Gaddafi officials, including Sanussi, Baghdadi and Dorda, regular family visits and unrestricted access to counsel of their choosing, as for any regular detainee.

We visited them in late January. They didn’t voice serious concerns about their detention conditions, perhaps presuming that our conversations were not private, although no guards were present. But they uniformly protested the unfair process against them, including multiple interrogations by judicial, militia and unknown plain-clothes persons, and were convinced that they would not receive a fair trial in Libya.

Surely even militia members and revolutionaries, some of them detained without due process under Gaddafi, would support providing any detainee basic rights and an impartial process that would ensure justice.

It would also make a huge difference if the authorities could aggressively prosecute at least some of those responsible for the most prominent political assassinations since the end of the Gaddafi era, which have exponentially increased this past year.

We have documented about 70 cases in Benghazi and Derna, where most of these killings have taken place, including lawyers, judges and political leaders. Just this Saturday, Abdelaziz al-Hasadi, the first prosecutor general appointed after Gaddafi’s fall, was gunned down in Derna. One judge told us that as many as 25 of his fellow judges have fled Benghazi to Tripoli, threatened with murder if they pursued cases. In Derna, we’re told that the courts are closed, with no active judges or judicial police. There’s no doubt that prosecuting these cases poses tremendous risks to investigators and the judiciary, but the cost of doing nothing is much greater, as Libyans lose faith in the government’s ability to provide security against the rampant killing.

Whatever difficulties it faces, the authorities can also seriously investigate the killings of at least 82 protesters in Benghazi and Tripoli last year and prosecute those responsible. Despite the government’s promises, there’s no evidence that they have taken the most basic investigatory steps, like summoning witnesses. They may be limited in their capacity to prosecute, but at a minimum it should make the findings of its investigations public. It will put those responsible on notice that they will face justice one day.

The government should also make clear it represents all of Libya’s people, not just Arabs, but also Tuareg, Amazigh, Tabu, and other minority groups. Three years on, it has done little to end, let alone prosecute, an ongoing crime against humanity – the shameful forced displacement of 35,000 people from Tawergha and the destruction of their town by militias that accused the Tawerghans of supporting the Gaddafi side during the battle to oust him.

We visited their camp in Tripoli and found women and children living in deplorable conditions in makeshift containers, packed six to a room. Rather than its acquiescence, the international community could take measures to end this ongoing crime, such as sanctions against the responsible militia leaders. The least the international community should do, as an interim step, is to help identify a person of international standing to urge the militias to end their collective punishment of this community, and allow those who obviously had nothing to do with the fighting return home.

“This is a jungle, and here we have the law of the jungle,” one detainee told us. How soon the government can act to prove him wrong will determine the future of all Libyans.

Sarah Leah Whitson is the Executive Director of Human Rights Watch’s Middle East and North Africa Division.

Mirrored from Human Rights Watch

13 Responses

  1. Where were Rasmussen, gulf Arab prince lings and Hillary? Or they just settled a personal score and left a nation holding the bag.

    • Human Rights Watch does not always get it right, but it is a lot more objective in its reporting than the ideological, anti-U.S. screed from NACLA linked above. It reads at the level of Soviet Agitprop during the period of the Comintern and the Third International.

      • Now there is a blast from the past…
        Maybe you’ve read another screed, Bill, one that tracks CIA agitprop on a world scale during the Dulles and later years, and gives a nice look at how deeply the Narrative-knitters penetrated the whole thinking universe:

        “The Cultural Cold War — The CIA and the World of Arts and Letters”

        link to

        Got a nice heavy dogmatic Cold Warrior’s slam on that set of documented observations on how our frisky-pig Squealers went about re-writing all of thought and history in service of the Great American Empire?

        • It takes a certain type of mind to look at the history of the CIA’s propaganda in the 1960s and draw the conclusion “Therefore, anything goes!”

          Do you actually disapprove of agitprop, JT? Or only when it’s not being used to attack the United States?

        • Actually, I should thank you for the link to that chapter of the book, Mr. McPhee. I don’t think you read it very carefully, as it describes in spades the Soviet efforts to culturally and psychologically twist the Germans (and other Europeans) view of the United States and the West in the post-War years. The author does a fine job of describing why the circumstances prevailing at the time made it necessary for the CIA and other US government organs to use culture, art, and letters in the battle to counter the Soviet propaganda (Agitprop, again).

          The Soviets were pouring rubles into the Communist Parties of France and Italy, as well as others, in an effort to win votes. That effort on the part of the Soviets, coupled with their propaganda machine, made it imperative for the US to counter it with our own effort (including the successful Marshall Plan), an effort that, thank goodness, resulted in Western Europe remaining free of Communist tyranny.

        • Of course, Bill, what I was linking to was the whole book, which is stuffed with endless chapters full of charming examples of the “agitprop” that was aimed not just at those Evil Commies and their Evil Designs to Take Over The World, but at that good old US of A culture, to fill our collective heads with the canto of the Cold War that Bill speaks so eloquently and anachronistically in and for. It wasn’t just “propaganda,” it was subversion of all kinds of intellectual processes in what used to be thought of as America, in service of fertilizing the ground that the, can one deny it, evil creeps that were “protecting us” by COINTELPRO and destabilizing Italian democracy and artfully and clumsily and foolishly “changing regimes” in Korea and Iran and South Vietnam and and helping kill Allende and doing the Iran-Contra shuffle on the faces of Nicaraguans and ssshhh, Phoenix Program, and there’s not room to list all the “initiatives.” Oooohh, They were doing it, so WE better be doing it too, and bigger and better. To give Them the incentive to try to do more of it too! Hence “our” military and “security” establishment(s) and MIC and weapons sales just “lead the world.” Not leading in “greening,” are we? No profit in that yet….

          Actually, I do “disapprove of agitprop,” if I can follow Joe’s obscure syntactical “insinuendo.” Just one of the disease vectors that are helping most humans slide ever faster down a very factoidal Teflon (r)-coated slippery slope into species suicide by heat. Of course, those who suck up to those who profit from and manage that lubricity, who live free of consequences, get to live safe and comfortable and well fed and die, in the fullness of time, comfortably and with the best of care.

          Attack the United States? “The United States,” that abstraction, is NOT “the Administration” of our Empire and the commercial interests that own it. Rooskies pumping rubles into the Communist Parties of Europe? Kochs and Murdochs and squat little casino barons dumping hundreds of billions into our electoral processes, to more very directly and frontally “buy votes” and write the laws that “legalize” theft and crush the rest of us? How is fomenting wars of choice for profit and fun, or fracking the joint, or encouraging “clean coal,” or sneaking the TPP through and accelerating the gutting of a healthy middle of our nation, or feeding so much of our non-military real-wealth budget to the Vampire Squids of the patently disloyal or, more mildly, post-loyal, “financial industry,” and on and on, not “attacking the United States?” All depends on how you “loyalists” define The United States — does it not? How about private prisons, or private schools that, for tax-funded profit, teach patent idiocy to generations, maybe cynical and destructive “wars on drugs”? You know there’s lots more where that came from…

  2. Thanks for this update. The evidence presented suggests that the government is not in sufficient control to do much enforcement. Confidence in its wish to protect all groups may determine more than its statements. If it has any forces it should show good faith in protecting the minorities relying upon militias, so as to remove causes of contention. As militias see that risks from their rivals are reduced, integrate them into a national force which is further deployed to address causes rather than fight other militias. Focus local aid where militias are deciding to support central government. Let them detain the Ghaddafi figures for now, or you will lose influence by creating political problems for the central government on behalf of a small group.

  3. [Sarah Leah Whitson of Human Rights Watch explains where Libya needs to go from here]

    I am really not sure what exactly legitimacy Ms.Whitson has in Libya. She was not elected there, does not seem to have any military power. Or maybe she has?

  4. Ms. Whitson has succinctly described what, in her own words, is a state “teetering on the brink of failure.” After two and one-half years, it has developed none of the institutional marks of a coherent state in control of its destiny: No rule of law; no functioning legal and judicial system; no security forces–police and military–accountable to the government; and on it goes.

    In some respects, it reminds me of the U.S. toppling Saddam Hussein and creating the wreckage that is Iraq. Those who supported the intervention to depose Gaddafi and his government apparently gave no thought to what might follow, any more than the Bush Administration gave thought to what might follow in Iraq.. Well, now we see what followed, and in both cases it isn’t pretty. Perhaps we should think long and hard before deciding to intervene, whether on the basis of false information or on humanitarian grounds. If there is no U.S. interest at stake (and there was no U.S. interest advanced in the cases of either Iraq or Libya), perhaps it is best to stay out of it.

    • Oddly enough, Bill, the Libyan people don’t seem to agree with you that they were better off under the vicious oil dictator. But as your next observation shows, it’s not really their well-being that’s driving your calculus, is it?

      There is a notable difference between Libya and post-Saddam Iraq: Gadhaffi was the one who demolished the state institutions in Libya, so there was nothing left that could be repurposed when he fell, while it was the Bush administration that made the decision to abolish, rather than reform or repurpose, Iraq’s institutions. Libya always would have had build the institutions of a state from the ground up, while that didn’t have to be the case in Iraq.

      • “Oddly enough, Bill, the Libyan people don’t seem to agree with you that they were better off under the vicious oil dictator.”

        That’s a non-sequitur, Joe, because I did not claim the Libyan people were better off under Gaddafi.

        “There is a notable difference between Libya and post-Saddam Iraq…”

        Yes, but that does not address my point, which is that in both cases there was no thought given to what would follow our intervention.

  5. “States” are not actual entities, except for conversational convenience. “States” are collections of individuals with interests and institutions that kind of go along together, until they don’t any more. The “interests” are not those of some disembodied “state,” being generally only the “interests” of the well-placed and well-off, intent on further gain by the taking and consumption of other people’s stuff.

    Places like Libya and Tunisia and Egypt, let alone “America,” have an increasingly hard time growing any kind of national and cohesive identity because so many people who profit by disparatism and the promotion of anomie have their fingers in the pie — whether those people are home-grown demagogues or sneaky-petes or militarists and their industrial appendages from other “states.” And always the vulture capitalists are circling, circling, ready to grab any chunk of the carcass and its resources that might be “on offer.”

    Iraq or Libya, the folks who initiate such interventions actually do seem to have a pretty clear vision of what they would like to have “follow,” which, if you follow the money, pretty clearly shows where personally profitable, socially destructive advantages and gains and externalities and the seeds of more can be expected and so regularly found. That the PNAC did not get to directly grab the petroleum under Iraq does not negate the reality of what was planned, nor the reality of hundreds of billions in disappeared and frittered wealth and all those lives.

    The Great Game and the sanctification of the fraud and misappropriation of “nations,” and claiming validity for “national interests,” are a big part of what is causing our planet to choke and die. But thank goodness the Blessed Ones who get rich off the consumption and bleeding will be spared any of the consequences that fall on ordinary people who don’t have a healthy organizing principle to model their “states” on, and face active and subversive Game play, and bad but encouraged and maybe incurable habits of tribalism and violence, opposing any such development.

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