UNSMIL SRSG's Speech at Benghazi University, 10 April 2012
Special Representative of the United Nations Secretary-General for Libya, Ian Martin, speech at Human Rights Workshop for Civil Society:
Members of the University of Benghazi, Ladies and Gentlemen,
You have celebrated the first anniversary of the beginning of the February 17 Revolution, and you have commemorated the day when the forces of the Qadhafi regime were turned back from their assault on Benghazi. For me, it is nearly a year since I first set foot in this city, on 29 April 2011, two weeks after Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon had appointed me to coordinate the United Nations planning to assist Libya when the conflict would have come to an end.
As I discussed likely future needs with representatives of the National Transitional Council (NTC) and Libyan civil society in the months which followed, some principles which should guide future international assistance became clear to me and my colleagues. The first was the uniqueness of Libya, and the importance that it should be understood for itself, and not approached with attitudes transferred from other post-conflict settings. The second, closely related, was respect for national ownership: Libya had made its own revolution, and however grateful Libya might be for some external assistance during its struggle and during its transition, Libya would decide its own future.
I learned during this period what the United Nations has almost forgotten, but is well remembered here: the role the United Nations played in the emergence of independent Libya in 1951. UN Commissioner Adrian Pelt recorded his own account of Libyan Independence and the United Nations in a book of 888 pages, and I am struck today by his wisdom sixty years ago. Writing of himself, he recalled:
The guiding principle to follow, he believed, should be encouragement of the Libyan people in formulating their own wishes and making their own plans without undue interference from himself, the Administering Powers, or the Council...[p.112-3]
If that was the correct approach, as it proved to be, in a country not yet independent, then it is all the more the correct approach sixty years later. Libya now is of course a much different country than it was in 1951, but the support the United Nations offers to Libya today is based on the same foundation: the ability to rise above the interests of particular governments or regions, and to act only in the interests of the people of a Member State.
Then and now, the United Nations has had no other interests or agenda, 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.
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 include the 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. Let me tell you the main ways in which we are working to do so.
From my earliest discussions here in Benghazi, it was clear that free Libya would look to the United Nations to assist it first and foremost with the electoral processes that would be at the core of its democratic transition. Even before UNSMIL – the United Nations Support Mission in Libya - was mandated by the Security Council in mid-September, we prepared to do that. As soon as the NTC appointed its Electoral Committee, UN electoral experts worked with them as they prepared and then revised the legal framework to establish the electoral administration and the main Elections Law. The United Nations role was to provide options and technical advice on best practice, while respecting the fact that key political decisions involving compromises among competing viewpoints must be ones for Libyans to make – decisions such as the role of political parties, the choice of a majoritarian or proportional electoral system, and the allocation of seats and definition of constituencies. Throughout the United Nations recommended and participated in as much consultation as a very tight timetable made possible, and advocated provisions which were inclusive of all Libyans, as well as those which would be technically most feasible in organizing quickly the first national election after so many decades.
The Elections Law, which reflects the NTC's final decisions regarding some difficult compromises, is more complicated than we would have wished, but in our view it certainly offers the basis for a credible election. It is worth remembering that the election of the National Congress is only a first election, which sets in train the making of a constitution within which the framework for future elections will be decided.
The challenge has now passed to the Higher National Election Commission. Again, the United Nations electoral expert team is working with them day-by-day as they plan their operations and establish their administration. Their challenges, and our advice, include voter registration, logistics and field operations, training registration and polling staff, data management, candidate nomination, out-of-country voting, and public outreach. Today we have some 20 United Nations international electoral advisers in Libya, which will increase to around 60 by the end of this month, based in Benghazi and Sabha as well as in Tripoli.
I want to pay tribute to those we have worked with and are working with, in the NTC's Electoral Committee and in the Higher National Election Commission, who have had to address heavy challenges in a context of no electoral experience. The electoral process now needs the help of everyone. Voter education is crucial, and the United Nations and several other international actors are engaging with civil society as well as with the Election Commission to maximise efforts and ensure sound information to voters. We give high priority to ensuring the fullest participation of women, including rural women, as well as of youth. The crucial role of civil society extends to electoral observation as well as voter education. International partners are ready to assist with the training of national observers, within the framework of accreditation to be determined by the Election Commission.
Of course, security is important for a fair electoral process. I shall go on to say more about the broader challenge of public security, but here let me say that the United Nations is already working with the Ministry of the Interior as well as the Election Commission on an election security plan and the necessary training of Libyan police. I hope that by the date of the election, further significant progress will have been made in the strengthening of the police and other state security forces, including through the integration and training of revolutionaries. 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.
I told the members of the United Nations Security Council when I briefed them last October that while Libyans may seek from the international community lessons in the detail of democracy, your revolution can offer lessons in its spirit. That has been further proved by the local elections that have been held, including in Misrata, and that you are now planning here in Benghazi. There is no higher priority for the United Nations than to assist further in the democratic process.
Of course, the democratic process will be threatened if groups resort to violence, if state capacity is unable to contain this and if its underlying causes are not addressed in an accepted constitutional framework. If one puts together the most pessimistic reports from Libya in the international media in recent days, the picture is indeed a gloomy one. It is a picture of rival militias becoming a menace to security as they trade deadly gunfire, refusing to recognise the authority of the NTC or of the Government, and seeking to become permanent political actors; of regional tensions threatening to break up the unity of the country, or at least see it fragment into fiefdoms ruled by feuding armed factions; and of unchecked vengeance and torture rather than progress towards reconciliation and the rule of law.
There are several respects in which I believe this picture to be severely distorted, even if some of the facts out of which it is built cannot be denied.
First, it is hard for non-Libyans to come to understand just how deep is the disastrous legacy of the 42 years of the Qadhafi regime, and indeed the weakness of nation-building and state-building that preceded it. In so many respects, those who have the early responsibility to begin to build the new state today start from a very low level – a deficit of institutions of a modern, accountable state. And in some respects, the legacy is far worse than that: a legacy of corrupt practices, of human rights abuse, and of divisions among tribes and other groups deliberately manipulated. Even for Libyans who themselves comprehend the legacy, the impatience to overcome it can easily mean unrealistic expectations, especially when what is lacking is institutional not financial.
The deficit is also constitutional, and a major debate about the new Libya lies ahead. One of the striking things to outsiders about a Revolution which was fought locally was its emphasis on the unity of Libya. But even a little knowledge of the history of constitutional debates in 1950-51 makes it no surprise that a major area of debate will be the relationship among central, regional and local governance. In 1950-51, this began with heated divisions, but eventually Adrian Pelt could observe that:
agreement on [the distribution of powers] might come within reach provided all concerned could be diverted from an arid disputation about the meaning of terms like "federalism" and "unitarism" to a fruitful exchange of views on the practical definition of central and local powers. [p.469.]
This is not to say that future decisions will or should be the same as those of 1951; only that they should be argued out with the same practicality within an agreed framework of constitution-making. And practical steps to decentralise services do not need to wait for constitution-making.
The further respect in which I believe that many outside Libya misunderstand the current context relates to the revolutionary brigades. It is not only that the brigades deserve respect and gratitude for the sacrifices they made during the Revolution, although of course they do. It is also that some have continued to perform essential security functions at a time when state security forces were not ready to do so, in some cases without payment for some time, or without equitable payment. The last time I briefed members of the Security Council, I said that contrary to the impression given by some media reports, although the revolutionaries seek guarantees that the transformation for which they have fought is securely on track, there is little indication that they wish to perpetuate the existence of brigades outside state authority. Moreover, we are seeing some appreciable progress in the development of state capacity and state authority over brigades in the provision of security, under the direction of the Ministry of Interior and of the Libyan Army. 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.
Supporting the efforts to establish public security is also a key mandated role of the United Nations mission. We are providing or offering support with two parallel processes: the development of state security forces, particularly the Libyan Police; and the integration within the security forces, or the demobilization and reintegration into civilian life, of the former fighters. United Nations police advisers are working within the Ministry of Interior in the areas of training, logistics, election security and media outreach, as well as the development of the strategic development plan for the police and coordination of bilateral assistance from the international community. They have helped develop the training curriculum for the integration of revolutionaries, to be carried out in Libya, Jordan and Turkey. The United Nations is also assisting the Ministry of Labour in developing economic opportunities for reintegration of former fighters. A major challenge is that of border security, where the United Nations is working with the European Union and other international partners to provide coordinated assistance to Libyan plans. Meanwhile, our humanitarian agencies are supporting the rehabilitation of migrant detention centres and providing assistance to refugees, now including families from Syria.
The third area, along with elections and public security, where the United Nations has consistently been asked by the NTC, the Government and civil society to focus its efforts, is that of human rights, transitional justice and rule of law. I have already referred to the terrible legacy of human rights violations, throughout the Qadhafi regime as well as during last year's fighting. The Revolution was sparked by the demand of victims' groups for justice. Establishing the full truth will take time, and the United Nations is ready to assist the Fact-Finding and Reconciliation Commission being established in accordance with the Transitional Justice Law. 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 need for much public debate on how to promote justice, reparations and reconciliation. UNSMIL has recently conducted two such debates at this University. 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 of them have been subject to torture, and some have died in custody. Arrests have continued to be made 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. We can see that commitment in new civil society organizations which are eager for training in human rights monitoring which the United Nations is now providing, and the United Nations has agreed to collaborate with the Council for Civil Liberties and Human Rights, including by providing training to its staff and regularly sharing views on human rights concerns.
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. Anyone in a leadership position today must expect to find him or herself subject to the criticism which the Qadhafi regime would never permit. I and my United Nations colleagues are in a privileged position, to see and assist the efforts that are being made, at national and local levels, to overcome the legacy of the past and begin the transition to democratic national and local government accountable to a strong civil society. Despite all the problems and deficiencies, in many respects they compare favourably with post-conflict contexts which have had more institutional experience to rely on. But many challenges still lie ahead, and the United Nations will continue to accompany Libya's transition as a partner with no agenda other than its own principles – principles it shares with the Revolution which began here on February 17 last year.