Libya’s Revolution has been a revolution in the name of human rights. It began with protests at the arrest of a human rights lawyer, campaigning for families of victims who disappeared in the Abu Salim prison massacre. Those of you who joined the revolution did so to create a new Libya where Libyans could speak freely, associate freely with one another, and be free from arbitrary detention, torture, disappearances and murder by a state which allowed no transparency or accountability to its own people.
The United Nations works throughout the world, but it is a particular privilege for us to work in Libya today. We understand that the Libyan transition is unique, and must be understood for itself, and not approached with attitudes transferred from other post-conflict settings.We respect national ownership: Libya has made its own revolution, and however grateful Libya might be for some external assistance during its struggle and during its transition, Libya will decide its own future.
The United Nations has had no interests or agenda other than to act in the interests of the people of Libya as a Member State, but it does bring with it some firm principles – the principles of the United Nations Charter, and of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. The United Nations is an organization made up of governments, but the Charter begins “We the Peoples…” The principles I and my United Nations colleagues bring to our work here include a commitment to democratic participation; to the promotion and protection of human rights – both civil and political rights, and economic, social and cultural rights; to accountability and transparency; to the equality and empowerment of women; and to the importance of civil society.
This is why I work for the United Nations, and my own background makes it a personal privilege to work now in Libya, and indeed to be among civil society today. I had never been to Libya before last year, but during six years as Secretary-General of the international human rights organization Amnesty International, I was all too aware of the nature of the Qadhafi regime, as our researchers documented its abuses and our members worked for political prisoners and victims of torture. I hope that work helped some to survive to be part of building the new Libya today.
As a United Nations official, I was present in the gallery of the General Assembly on the day in 2009 when Muammar Qadhafi tore up the United Nations Charter at the rostrum. Happily, the principles of the United Nations includethe very principles for which Libya’s Revolution was launched and for which so many gave their lives or still suffer injury today. Thus the role of the United Nations is to support Libya in achieving its own goals, especially in three crucial areas: the democratic transition, through elections and the making of a constitution; the establishment of public security; and transitional justice, human rights and the rule of law.
Article 21 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights says that “The will of the people shall be the basis of the authority of government; this will shall be expressed in periodic and genuine elections which shall be by universal and equal suffrage and shall be held by secret vote or by equivalent free voting procedures.” In a few days, voter registration will open throughout Libya for the election of a National Congress. The time is now for a campaign of voter education to reach even the most marginalized of Libyan citizens. Not only is the right to vote a human right: the election must take place in a climate of full respect for human rights, irrespective of political or other differences. The United Nations is working daily with the High National Election Commission, and we and other international partners will work too with civil society, whose rolein safeguarding human rights and observing a fair electoral process is crucial.
The election of the National Congress will provide the basis for the drafting of a constitution. Drafting a constitution needs experts, but it needs the widest possible consultation of the people. And it needs to provide strong guarantees of human rights. It is not too early for civil society to begin to prepare itself for these tasks, and the United Nations is ready to support this process.
Our second major role is to support the establishment of public security. The security structures of the Qadhafi regime were there to violate human rights, but proper security forces are essential for the enjoyment of human rights. The United Nations is working to help build a police force which protects human rights, including through the integration and training of revolutionaries. The brigades deserve respect and gratitude for the sacrificesthey made during the Revolution. Some have continued to perform essential security functions at a time when state security forces were not ready to do so, in some cases withoutpayment for some time, or without equitable payment.Contrary to the impression given by some international media reports, there is little indication that they wish to perpetuate the existence of brigades outside state authority. It is in the interest of those Military Councils and brigades which have responsible leadership and discipline to help to make sure that undisciplined elements are not allowed to resist the assertion of state authority. This is crucial for a fair election: all Libyans have the right to participate in the electoral process, but as individuals or members of political entities, not through the influence of armed brigades. And security during the election must be upheld with full respect for human rights.
The third area, along with elections and public security, where the United Nations has consistently been asked by the National Transitional Council, the Government and civil society to focus its efforts, is that of human rights, transitional justice and rule of law. Establishing the full truth of the terrible legacy of human rights violations from the decades of the Qadhafi regime and from last year’s conflict will take time. The United Nations is ready to assist the Fact-Finding and Reconciliation Commission being established in accordance with the Transitional Justice Law, and implementation of the Law is urgent. In the meantime, everything possible must be done to establish the fate of the thousands of missing persons, and there too the United Nations is facilitating technical assistance. Victims’ groups should play an important role in the processes of transitional justice, and there is still a great need for civil society to promote public debate on how to promote justice, reparations and reconciliation.
It is the duty of the state to do justice, and to ensure that others do not take justice into their own hands. When so many violations have been committed, not every perpetrator can be brought to justice. But the firm position of the United Nations is that there should be no amnesty for crimes against humanity, war crimes or the gravest of human rights violations. We are supporting the Ministry of Justice in the resumption of the justice system, including the screening of conflict-related detainees and preparing for the investigation and trial of those accused of serious crimes as members of the former regime or during the conflict.
Today the majority of the thousands detained at the end of the conflict are held outside the custody of the state and without legal review. Many detainees have been subject to torture, and some have died in custody.I am sorry to say that even today we are having to report to the authorities recent cases of deaths in custody and evidence of continuing torture and arrests outside the law. This has given rise to strong international concern, but first and foremost it should be a concern for Libyans who fought a revolution in the name of human rights. There is a real problem of state capacity to take responsibility for detainees which brigades wish to hand over, and some brigades have been doing their best to provide reasonable conditions of detention. But it is the state’s responsibility, and once again in the interests of the reputation of revolutionaries, to prevent abuse and bring all detention within the rule of law as soon as possible.
The protection of human rights in Libya should not depend on international criticism, but on the commitment of Libyans themselves to fulfil the promise of the Revolution to build a new Libya in which the rule of law is fully respected. Civil society organizations should monitor human rights and be ready to put pressure on the state and on brigades to eliminate incidents of torture. You shouldvisit places of detention and report violations. The United Nations is willing to provide training in techniques of monitoring and reporting, based on international standards of human rights which Libya has ratified. We urge you to form networks to work on a country-wide basis and increase the strength of your advocacy: you will have the encouragement and support of the United Nations.
I believe that the new Libya is a country with a strong sense of the values of human rights, democracy, accountability and transparency, precisely because these are the opposite of what Libyans suffered for so long.The spirit of the Revolution, which opened up space for the contributions of youth and women, should continue to inspire the way ahead. The path will not be easy, as legacies and remnants of the past are still to be overcome. Civil society can play a crucial role in making sure that Libya stays on the course it has set for itself, of conducting fair elections, drafting a constitution for a new democratic and inclusive Libya, building security institutions under democratic control which defend human rights, and delivering transitional justice for victims and human rights protection for all.