Monday, 1 April 2013

Tribal animosities and militia rule tarnish Libya's human rights record and democratic credentials.

Tribal animosities and militia rule tarnish Libya's human rights record and democratic credentials.

remi ochlik

Hassan Al Amin, the chairman of the Human Rights and Civil Society Committee and a long time Gaddafi opposition figure, resigned earlier this month following numerous death threats. Justifying his decision, he cited his inability to conduct his work as chairman in an increasingly polarised political environment .

Al Amin's high profile resignation serves as a reminder of the reality of Libya's new 'democratic' rule and the state of human rights in the country. The authoritative annual report published by Human Rights Watch for 2013 reveals that Libya continues to be plagued by serious rights abuses, including arbitrary arrests, torture, and deaths in detention.

Like many Libyans, Al Amin believes that the GNC has strayed from its mission and obligations towards the Libyan people. It has failed to deliver on the most important issues affecting the country during the ongoing transitional period.

The GNC has already deferred the drafting of a new constitution to an unforeseeable time and has been unable to maintain adequate oversight over governmental program. Critics have also pointed to the GNC's failure to implement a coherent plan of national reconciliation and transitional justice.
Al Amin's views and his will to foster the respect of human rights in Libya have earned him a number of enemies, particularly in his electorate district of Misrata.

Misrata provides an illustrative and bleak example of everything that is wrong with Libya today.
The town is a place where lawlessness, the "rule of the gun" and a dubious 'revolutionary legitimacy' are vaunted by armed militias. They have come to trump the democratically elected local representatives and civil law.

Like elsewhere in Libya, Misrata's prisons are filled with those captured during the chaos and in the aftermath of the revolution. Militiamen allegedly guarding these facilities subject their captives to inhuman and degrading treatment. Arbitrary detentions, torture and murder are a common occurrence; perpetrated by the very men supposed to prevent them. Accountability is non-existent and government officials tasked with preventing the abuse such as Al Amin are branded traitors and threatened for merely doing their job.

Though these issues affect the whole of Libya, the current situation in Misrata fully captures the toxic legacy of tribalism has had on the country.

Gaddafi maintained his hold on power by manipulating old tribal grudges against his opponents. Applying the clausewitz's concept of war being the continuation of policy by other means, it is easy to see how tribal cleavages that kept Gaddafi in power determined which groups supported the revolution and which groups did not.

Entire tribes whose members supported the old regime against the revolutionaries have been targeted by revenge killings and abuse by armed militias while central authorities turn a blind eye.

For example, the people of Tawergha are unable to return to their city out of fear of revenge from Misrata Militias. Tawerghians allied themselves with the Gaddafi regime during the revolution. They participated in the siege of neighbouring city of Misrata and now face persecution.

Tawerghans have been targeted for arrest and attack by Misrata's Militias, who accuse people from Tawergha of committing serious crimes against them during the war. It is reported that around 1,300 people from Tawergha are detained, missing, or dead.

Human Rights Watch went as far as stating that abuses committed against Tawerghians may amount to crimes against humanity and could be prosecuted by the International Criminal Court.
The image of Libya as a poster-child for successful democratic transition has been tarnished by the brush of tribal lawlessness. If the GNC does not take immediate and substantial steps to remedy the situation on the ground, it risks turning the current regime into the very thing Libyans fought and died to overthrow.

Breaking the spiral of violence:

If the GNC fails to act, the current status quo is likely to have disastrous consequences for the country and its citizens. Tribal feuds can spiral into a never ending vendetta of revenge killings. Neutralizing militias remains the most basic prerequisite for implementing a system of governance based on justice and the rule of law. Laws and policies cannot be drafted when neither the parliament nor the Prime Minister's office are safe from armed groups storming them.
Though grievances against the old regime are justifiable, forcing officials chosen by the ballot out of office with the barrel of a gun goes against the core principals of public office in a democracy. Claiming authority through 'revolutionary legitimacy' is merely the exercise of control through fear and violence, the hallmarks of Gaddafi's regime.

Reconciliation is the first building bloc for a successful transition. The GNC should therefore deliver on its promise to make reconciliation a priority. It ensures the return of dignity and justice to all who have been wronged , allowing everyone to move forward without being hampered by the past.
Reconciliation must be followed up by an inclusive development program. Young Libyans in Militias must be incentivized with alternative sources of income and better prospects to develop as law abiding citizens.

Finally, NGOs and officials overseeing the application of the law and the respect of human rights should be treated as partners of the Government. A robust civil society strengthens the rule of law and discourages 'tribal justice'.

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