Breifing by the Special Representative of the Secretary General Ian Martin to the Security Council
SRSG breifing - Meeting of the Security Council, 10 May 2012
Libya is approaching a key moment in its democratic transition. On 1 May, registration of voters opened for the election of a National Congress - the first election since those which took place under considerable limitations more than 45 years ago. By last night, the High National Elections Commission reported that some 1,024,000 voters had registered at over 1,500 registration centres throughout Libya. I will indicate later difficulties which face the electoral process, but this is no small achievement.
There continue to be other positive signs that Libya is moving towards democracy. Following the local election in Misrata in February, a number of other cities have planned to elect local councils, some in the coming weeks. Libyans are increasingly exercising their freedom of speech: free media is developing at a rapid pace and civil society organisations, many of them led by youth and women, are being established across the country. There is a strong desire on the part of the public to be active, involved and consulted on matters of local and national interest – a right which they have been deprived of for the last 42 years – and a determination to hold their leaders accountable. One can clearly sense that for the first time in a generation, people are unafraid to speak out.
In the context of this newly found freedom, local conflicts and tensions that existed before the revolution, but were repressed, are surfacing more clearly. Some of these tensions have escalated into armed conflict, testing the reach and authority of the government's security apparatus and ability to impose the rule of law.
On 26 March, fighting erupted between Tabu and Arab brigades in Sabha, the major city of south-west Libya. The situation rapidly deteriorated over a five-day period of fighting, resulting in 147 dead and approximately 500 wounded. At the outbreak of the fighting, a joint delegation of the government and the National Transitional Council (NTC) was dispatched to Sabha to lead negotiations for a ceasefire, with the support of local tribal and security leaders. The Ministry of Defence deployed troops from the National Army, supported by revolutionary brigades from outside the area, to help secure and enforce the ceasefire. United Nations agencies and the International Organization for Migration provided humanitarian assistance to the displaced families in the area.
Soon after, fighting broke out on 1 April between the western Libyan towns of Zuwara, on one side, and Jmeil and Rigdalin on the other. Clashes, reportedly involving heavy weapons, continued for three days until a 48-hour ceasefire was agreed. Unconfirmed reports indicate 48 people lost their lives. The government responded rapidly by dispatching a force to the area to enforce the ceasefire – a mix of National Army, Ministry of Interior units and revolutionary brigades from various cities. There has been a history of conflict between the two sides, usually ascribed to ethnic differences, attitudes toward the previous regime and rivalry for control of smuggling routes. I visited the area in late April and met in all three cities with local officials and civil society, who voiced their support to reconciliation efforts underway by the government and the NTC.
Thirdly, on 21 April, fighting erupted for the second time this year in the south-east town of Kufra, between the Tabu community and elements from the National Army which had been deployed to the area in February to enforce the ceasefire. The NTC dispatched a delegation together with the Ministry of Defense to negotiate a 48-hour ceasefire. The ceasefire was broken 24 hours after it began with increased clashes, including the reported use of heavy weapons. In an effort to halt the clashes, the Minister of Defense visited the communities on 25 April and though the situation continues to be tense, the fighting has subsided. Unconfirmed reports indicate that several persons were killed and dozens wounded.
In each case, the government took swift action in deploying forces and mediation capacities immediately after the conflicts started, and with each case the government's reaction improved and lessons learned were taken into consideration. Each case has further highlighted that rapid action is necessary to defuse local tensions and prevent their entrenchment. But, in addition to the immediate response, in these cases as well as in other cities such as Bani Walid and Sirte, the provision of long-term security, delivery of services and pursuit of reconciliation are then required to fully address these conflicts. Unfortunately, these conflicts have compounded an already complex and ambitious workload for the NTC and the government, forcing them to divert attention from other key priorities.
Meanwhile, the government has also faced disturbances resulting from discontent among some of the armed brigades. The most contentious issues are perceived inequities in the treatment of war wounded, and the decision to suspend payments to former revolutionary fighters whilst procedures are put in place to properly regulate the disbursement of funds. The latest incident at the Prime Minister's Office on Tuesday, in which one person was killed and others injured, indicates the seriousness of this discontent, but it also displays a growing government determination and capacity to confront those taking to violence in pursuit of their demands.
There is progress in the area of economic recovery. Currently, some 1.4 million barrels a day of oil are being produced. Individuals, for the most part, now have access to their bank deposits. There are visible signs of new commercial activity. With the approval of the budget, smaller construction projects are able to be resumed. The overall reconstruction process will not be fully operational until the return of foreign companies and investors, currently inhibited by security concerns, though Libyan private sector companies are resuming activities. Two international trade conferences took place in Tripoli during the month of April, offering the government the opportunity to present its investment and management plans for the country's reconstruction and future development. On 29 March, the Ministry of Planning hosted a meeting with the international community to present the Government's Strategic Plan, which builds on the ten transitional goals outlined by the interim government in November and articulates sectoral plans and targets that will serve as a foundation for the Government's activities, as well as the coordinated support of international partners.
However, the scale of the challenges coupled with the high expectations of the Libyan people for tangible and quick progress has strained the interim political system. Five months have passed since the appointment of the government and though all parties understood that the tasks set forth for the transitional authorities were ambitious, both the executive and legislative branches have become increasingly frustrated by the lack of progress in a number of sectors. The NTC has been requesting explanations in this regard, and there have been debates within the NTC about a possible 'no confidence' vote in the government. Such debates show a commitment to democratic accountability, but have created a sense of instability in an already fragile system. It is important that the executive and legislative branches work together to ensure that tangible progress, especially on security and decentralization of government services, can be seen by the citizens of Libya in the short time that remains prior to the elections and a new government.
The transitional authorities at national and local levels deserve credit for returning the country to relative normalcy and maintaining an environment in which people are living and working freely, children are going to school and basic services are available. But the Libyans' expectations of concrete progress in the post-revolution period are strongest in relation to security, where ordinary Libyans would like to see a coherent process of re-building institutions, establishing the rule of law and integrating the revolutionary forces. Major challenges and gaps remain, and UNSMIL continues to support the government's efforts in these areas.
UNSMIL's police advisors embedded within the Ministry of the Interior continue to provide support in the areas of training, border security, logistics, election security and media outreach. UNSMIL continues to co-chair the international coordination mechanism, to assist the Ministry in development of its priorities and plans and to coordinate the international community's bilateral offers of assistance so as to ensure that they best address the needs of the Libyan Police. A long-term plan is underway for comprehensive reform and restructuring of the Ministry of Interior, including the police, and will require significant enhancement of capacities in the areas of effective decision-making, management and strategic planning. At the same time, recent crises have led to the call for an acceleration of efforts to rehabilitate the Libyan Armed Forces, and the Minister of Defence and Chief of Army Staff have asked bilateral and international partners to coordinate their efforts in this respect.
A key issue related to public security is the integration or demobilization of the revolutionary fighters and the control of weapons. The Libyan public regards advances in this respect as a key measure of overall post-revolutionary progress and government performance. So far, results in this area have been mixed. Given the weak capacity of the state security apparatus to absorb immediately the revolutionary fighters, the government has developed an interim mechanism in the form of a Supreme Security Committee (SSC), operating under the authority of the Ministry of Interior with branches across the country. It is positive that the SSC goes some way to provide a unified command and control of the brigades, and limits their fragmentation. It has also provided the state with a pool of auxiliary forces for quick dispatch alongside the National Army to crisis areas. Thus far, according to the Ministry of Interior, approximately 60,000 to 70,000 fighters have registered to take part in the SSC. But as the SSC was designed as a temporary body, the challenge is now to plan for their eventual integration into the Ministry, as it undergoes its own reform processes. It is essential that the transition take place as a matter of priority so that the SSC does not become a parallel security structure.
Meanwhile, the Warriors Affairs Commission continues to register fighters and some weapons, and is working with the Ministry of Labour to determine the civilian job opportunities available. Stronger coordination of plans for integration, demobilization and reintegration is needed to avoid confusion and duplication of effort, and planning needs to go on to address further the control of weapons and disarmament.
A key concern for Libya, and equally for its neighbors, the wider region and international partners, continues to be border security. The Libyan authorities currently face severe capacity and capability limitations. A new border security and strategic installations protection force is being established; the Libyan Armed Forces need to be rehabilitated; the Libyan customs service has been depleted of most of its resources; and police and immigration services require strengthening and training in almost all areas of their responsibilities. Establishing effective border security and management mechanisms will take years and is a complex task. It requires a whole-of-Government approach, across several key ministries, and coordination and collaboration between the different security organs of the state, at all levels. Sustained international focus and assistance will be essential. The United Nations will continue to support these efforts by providing advice, expertise, and coordination, in close cooperation with the Libyan authorities and their bilateral partners. A key priority remains an urgent action plan for improved security and integrated control of the southern border, under joint command and control structures. The United Nations and bilateral partners stand ready to work with the Libyan authorities on such a plan, which would facilitate the provision of international assistance to the various agencies involved.
While I continue to believe that the Libyan government is committed to ensuring its citizens' access to justice and the rule of law, serious obstacles are hampering this process. Thousands of persons remain in conflict-related detention. The transfer of prisons and detainees to the custody of the Ministry of Justice is progressing only slowly: the Ministry states that 31 facilities with some 3000 detainees are now under its control. Control over these facilities is often shared with other parties, including the brigades that had been running them. An additional number of detainees, perhaps around 4000, are still in the custody of brigades, either at formal or secret detention facilities.
Cases of mistreatment and torture of detainees continue. Recently, UNSMIL expressed deep concern regarding the deaths of three individuals at a detention centre in Misrata, controlled by the Supreme Security Committee and thus under the authority of the Ministry of Interior. The deaths all occurred on 13 April, and we have credible information that they were a direct result of torture, as well as information that at least seven other persons were tortured at the same facility. I have pressed both the Prime Minister and the Minister of Interior about the need to investigate these cases and to prevent further abuse through a robust inspection regime. The Supreme Security Committee of Misrata publicly condemned these acts and committed support to investigations and appropriate legal action. We will work with the Libyan authorities to ensure that there is follow-up in these cases, as well as in regard to allegations of torture that we have received from elsewhere in Libya, including detention facilities in Tripoli, Zawiya and Zintan.
Addressing these practices should be a top government priority in pursuit of a new culture of human rights and the rule of law in post-revolution Libya. In this respect, new government bodies were established in the last two months to investigate human rights complaints. These incidents also underline the importance of accelerating the transfer of detainees into the custody of the Ministry of Justice, where they will be guarded by judicial police. UNSMIL is engaging closely with the Libyan prison administration to address their capacity gaps, and is urging the adoption of an overall prosecutorial strategy in relation to the legacy of the former regime and the conflict. Such a strategy could significantly contribute to building public trust in the legal system.
Progress is also needed on the implementation of other aspects of transitional justice, including the formal appointment of members of the Fact-Finding and Reconciliation Commission established by the transitional justice law and the search for and identification of missing persons.
On 2 May, the NTC passed several new laws, including a law "Granting Amnesty for Some Crimes", a law on "Criminalizing the Glorification of the Dictator", and a law on "Some Procedures for the Transitional Period". The last of these stipulates that the Ministries of Interior and Defence shall take measures concerning conflict-related detainees, by referring them for prosecution or release within a two-month period. If implemented with proper respect for human rights standards, this could constitute a step forward in resolving conflict-related detentions in Libya. Other aspects of these laws are of concern and have been criticized by Libyan lawyers, including by the National Council for Civil Liberties and Human Rights created by the NTC itself. The language used with respect to amnesties is ambiguous and therefore open to different interpretations, as it depends on whether acts are deemed as having been 'to promote or protect the revolution'. We are seeking clarification that these laws will be applied in a manner that respects international human rights standards, including the prohibition of amnesties for war crimes, crimes against humanity, and serious violations of human rights. The criminalization of speech against the new authorities is an infringement on the freedom of expression, not compatible with the principles of Libya's Constitutional Declaration or with international standards.
The mounting challenges which Libya's transition has to overcome, especially as regards security, make it urgent that issues of legitimacy are settled through early electoral processes. The Libyan people need to feel that their government is chosen by and accountable to them.
Thus, I am pleased to report the progress in the preparations for the National Congress elections. As requested by the Libyan authorities, the United Nations has expanded its support to the High National Elections Commission (HNEC) by reinforcing its advisory role, supporting voter education, procuring registration and polling material, and coordinating electoral assistance efforts from other international organizations. The UN integrated electoral team of UNSMIL, UNDP and UNOPS personnel is now co-located with the Elections Commission Administration in Tripoli and deployed to three field locations (Tripoli, Benghazi, Sabha).
The Elections Commission had to establish sub-offices, identify warehouses, and recruit and train staff, at the same time as adopting numerous regulations and by-laws, including those related to voter registration, candidate and entity nomination and the observation process. As I opened by reporting, from 1-9 May, just over one million people have registered as voters. So far, registration of women has been relatively low – about 36 per cent of those registered. Because of the lack of reliable population figures and the very specific demographics of Libya, it is extremely difficult to establish a reliable estimate of the eligible voter population; educated guesses put the figure between 3 and 3.5 million. The initial registration figures, while encouraging, show that the pace of registration will need to increase during the second week of registration, and indeed daily registration figures have accelerated over the last few days.
Registration of candidates and political entities presenting lists for the proportional races also started on 1 May and was scheduled to be conducted over an eight-day period. In response to strong representations by political entities, on 7 May the Commission decided to extend the period for an additional week, to close on 15 May. The overall number of registered candidates and political entities is very encouraging, with 1,100 individual candidates and 47 political entities registered thus far. While the initial pace of candidate and political entity registration was slow, the pace has consistently gained momentum and continues to do so following the extension of the nomination period. Among individual candidates, however, the number of women coming forward has been extremely low - only 29 so far. This is disappointing but unsurprising, as most women who want to run prefer to be included in the lists of political entities, which by law must include alternating male and female candidates.
Voter education has been a serious challenge in the process. The Elections Commission has produced in-house nationwide voter education materials that include a poster campaign, newspaper inserts, text messages and public service announcements on television. Regrettably, this process started late and a major increase in such activities is urgently needed.
Voter registration has proceeded with few security problems. A full election security plan is still being developed, with high-level government attention and the strong involvement of UNSMIL's police advisers. The Ministry of Interior has established an election security committee to coordinate all activities among the police directorates and districts, as well as among other security elements. The Ministry has designed and started to implement, under the guidance and assistance of UNSMIL police experts, extensive training programs for all police officers that will be involved in election security. Logistical, communication and vehicle shortages may impede implementation of the election security plan, and local arrangements will be crucial. It is essential that all security agencies come together effectively to implement the plan.
The outcome of the voter registration process, the registration of political entities, the complaints and management process, and - perhaps most importantly - the vetting of the candidates by the Integrity and Patriotism Commission, will be key factors affecting the timeline. Political entities have publicly voiced concerns with regard to the short time allotted to voter registration and candidate nomination processes, especially in light of the weak state of civic education and political entity development. Nevertheless, a number of political parties and entities are emerging, holding congresses, developing manifestos and electing their leadership bodies. This is a healthy and concrete sign of the development of the democratic process. I want to take this opportunity to commend the High National Elections Commission – a body which set out less than four months ago with no electoral experience - for its commitment and continued efforts to carry forward the electoral operations, in difficult conditions and an extremely limited timeframe.
Elections are part of the transition: they are not the beginning and not the end. Elections will help address some of the issues which plague the transitional authorities, but following the elections, Libyans must re-commit themselves to serious long-term state-building.
While the Constitutional Declaration stipulates that the National Congress will be a transitional body and that elections for a long-term legislative structure will take place one year from this election, the incoming National Congress will have several important tasks. These include formation of a new government, appointment of the Constitutional Commission, and review and issuance of important legislation, including the next electoral law. Given that this will be the first elected legislative body in Libya over the last half century, UNSMIL and UNDP are consulting with various stakeholders to prepare to provide both procedural and substantive support to the National Congress and the Constitutional Commission. While the democratic transition will move on to a new phase, UNSMIL's support to public security; human rights, transitional justice and the rule of law; and arms proliferation and border security will also remain priorities for assistance to the new authorities.
As I have repeatedly said in this Council, we must constantly remind ourselves of the terrible legacy and tremendous difficulties that the Libyan authorities are facing in establishing a functioning state based on the rule of law and democracy. They should be credited with the degree of stability and achievements made thus far. At the same time, the international community should be frank with them and with ourselves in continuing to identify the challenges and gaps, and remaining committed to support the Libyans in their quest for democracy and stability with technical advice and practical support. A stable democratic Libya is in everyone's interest.