By Vidya Mahavadi
The death of Colonel Muammar el-Qaddafi on October 20, 2011 officially marked the end of a six-month struggle to overthrow the former dictator’s authoritarian regime, thus bringing about Libya’s much-awaited liberation. Inspired by its sister uprisings in Tunisia and Egypt, the Libyan revolution began in February 2011 as a stand against 42 years of repression. It evolved into a bloody civil war as anti-Qaddafi protestors clashed with government security forces, police, and military, until August 2011 when opposition forces finally managed to push Col. Qaddafi from power.
Qaddafi’s fall gives way for a new Libya, and as the National Transitional Council proceeds to establish a democratic country, it is necessary to reflect on the past in order to prevent history from repeating itself. Re-examining Libya’s past impels citizens to address issues that Qaddafi refused to discuss, including decades of inequality, corruption, and suppression. As Libyans begin to rebuild their nation, they also have an opportunity to put an end to years of human rights violations.
During Qaddafi’s reign, freedom and human rights were ideas that were never acknowledged. According to The Economist, many Libyans had no basic understanding of these concepts. Human rights in pre-revolution Libya “were not as much violated as nonexistent,” a fact that has not only affected Libyans prior to the revolution, but continues to cause turbulence during their transition period. Anti-Qaddafi sentiments towards the fallen leader himself and his loyalists have been understandable considering their decades of frustration, but Qaddafi’s death has not brought about the expected decrease in tension between anti-Qaddafi protestors and Qaddafi loyalists. In fact, matters have gotten more personal as many anti-Qaddafi members seem to be seeking revenge against pro-Qaddafi supporters.
After nearly 7 months of turmoil, Libya has finally gained the second chance it needed. At this point, citizens should look towards a united future, not one divided into those who were against Qaddafi and those who were not. In such situations, a big part of fostering this unity depends upon the acknowledgement of human rights. The question still remains, however, about how to properly establish human rights in a country that has been lacking them for nearly half a century.
One solution to this dilemma deals with pre-existing organizations catering towards research and development in human rights. Upon request by two Libyan political parties, one such organization, the Helsinki Foundation for Human Rights (HFHR) has been setting up workshops in Libya, holding lectures on the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, discussing issues such as the death penalty and abortion, debating the differences between physical and mental torture, and holding mock trials depicting the International Criminal Court. The goal of this foundation is clear: to create awareness of not only the written law that forbids the violation of civil liberties, but also the unspoken moral code that resides between humans.
Aside from organizations such as the HFHR trying to foster human rights within citizens, there are committees analogous to South Africa’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission focusing their efforts on ensuring that justice is ever-present during tentative times such as Libya’s. The main objective of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission is to take past wrong-doings and hold respective members accountable for their actions. Although currently without such a committee, the establishment of a Libyan Truth and Reconciliation Commission may facilitate Libya’s transition into the constitutionally elected government by minimizing or preventing any malevolence or suspicion that might be brewing within Libyans. According to The Guardian, a Truth and Reconciliation Committee that is “well designed and properly implemented could be the first crucial step to closing the open wounds of the Gaddafi period and focusing Libyans on moving forward with shared purpose.”
Unfortunately, the anomaly with these methods is that the effectiveness of such external intervention cannot be determined immediately, especially considering how recent Libya’s situation is. Using history as a mirror, however, might help officials project the potential benefits of an outside perspective. Bosnia and Herzegovina during the early 1990’s presents one of the more accurate parallels to post-revolution Libya.
After Bosnia was recognized as independent from Yugoslavia in 1992, tensions between the Bosnian Muslims and the Bosnian Serbs grew deeper than the political civil war that facilitated the breakup of Yugoslavia. The European Union’s (EU) attempted mediation failed and the United Nations refused to interfere. The EU’s failed try and the U.N.’s lack of trying ultimately catalyzed the outbreak of the Bosnian War and an even greater human rights abuse, the Bosnian Genocide. The basis for the war lay deep in the resentment the Bosnian Serbs harbored towards the Bosnian Muslims. Until December 1995 when a peace agreement was reached, the Bosnian Serbs continued to oppress and “ethnically cleanse” Bosnia, exterminating masses of Bosnian Muslims.
It was the 1995 Dayton Peace Agreement that finally terminated the Bosnian War. Amongst other points established, the agreement stated that both parties (Croat-Muslim Federation and Republika Srpska) must agree to allow U.N. human rights agencies, the international tribunal, and other organizations complete access to oversee the human rights situation. It also instituted a Commission on Human Rights comprised of a human rights ombudsmen and a human rights court, in which the ombudsmen was authorized to investigate any human rights offenses. North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) was also sent over an implementation force organized to maintain peace in Bosnia. As is seen here, it was foreign involvement that ultimately concluded this brutal chapter of Bosnia’s past.
Assessing Libya’s condition in comparison to the results seen ten years ago in Bosnia is a more challenging task, but a tentative conclusion can be drawn that there is potential for a repeat of the Bosnian War in Libya. Utilizing the expertise of the HFHR was an essential step in the right direction, but Libya must now install an approach that takes a more active role in combating current rebel vigilante acts and preventing them from escalating into a full-fledged massacre. Leaving Libya alone might have been an option, but an increasing number of vigilante crimes committed by anti-Qaddafi protestors are too alarming to watch passively. As Human Rights Watch stated, “There was a military action that caused this dramatic transition in Libya, [now] there is a responsibility to make sure the transition works. That means that the United Nations and governments that were active in the NATO campaign, Arab states, like Qatar, all of them have to be engaged in helping Libya”(RT). With Libya currently in a state of uncertainty, the National Transitional Council has a lot to handle in terms of re-establishing an elected government. Active international mediation on the part of the U.N. or a combination of multiple countries might go a long way in maintaining peace in Libya.
The appropriate resolution for Libya is not a clear-cut answer that will immediately quell any inter-citizen turmoil. Taking decisive action to bring in the aid necessary, however, will significantly help smooth Libya’s progression into its future. The first step is the most crucial one and any further moves can be tailored to fit the needs of the country. On an even greater scale, the way Libya is dealt with can also be extrapolated to other countries in similar plights, potentially altering the way future conflicts are handled. Regardless, at this point in time, external intervention seems to be the most effective way of containing Libya’s crisis and preventing a potential breakdown of law and order.
Photo Courtesy of BRQ Network