Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Human Rights: Freedom Fighters Can Turn Into Goons

By Ernest Corea*
IDN-InDepth NewsAnalysis

WASHINGTON DC (IDN) - How quickly the tide of international opinion changes course. In took less than a week for the hurrahs directed at Libya's success in ending the Gaddafi dictatorship to turn into criticism of how that success was achieved; specifically, of how the country's late leader was felled.

Even as "bullets of joy" were fired into the air, and other sounds and sights of triumph at the conquest of tyranny erupted over most of Libya, and were captured on phones and film for the rest of the world to witness, segments of the international community were stridently demanding "clarity" on the details of Gaddafi's last moments.

Some kind of "serious investigation" was required to establish the facts and ensure that the law is upheld, said Rupert Colville, spokesman for UN Human Rights Commissioner Navi Pillay.

The demands were, in fact, fueled by the numerous "explanations" offered by the Libyans themselves of what actually happened. Some of these were the exuberant outpourings of adrenaline-pumped rebels who had placed their lives on the line to rid Libya of a four decades old dictatorship and now wanted to claim a piece of the action as their own. Some were the results of inevitable battlefield confusion. Others – such as the claim that Gaddafi was "killed in the crossfire between loyalists and rebels" – were beyond belief.

Whether an investigation will be held, and what form it will take, remains as unclear as the circumstances of Gaddafi's death. The scenes of Gaddafi's death were ugly. The predominant view among Libyans appears to be that such violence is inescapable in a revolutionary situation – "a revolution is not a cocktail party," Chairman Mao said – and that what really matters now are the needs of the living.

Many Challenges

Libya, indeed, faces multiple challenges as it attempts to transform battlefield victory into economic, social, political, and security success.

There are really no "models" on which to base the country's reorganization and renewal. L. Paul Bremer III, an experienced American diplomat, who at one time served as the viceroy in Baghdad of President George W. Bush, has suggested (writing in the Washington Post) that there are parallels between the situation in Libya and in Iraq, and lessons to be drawn from experience in Iraq.

The invasion of Iraq, when Bush sent Americans out to die for a lie, was different in almost every respect from events in Libya. Libyans turned on their leader themselves. They created their own transitional authority without foreign interference to unite and direct the various domestic forces that rose up against Gaddafi. They sought foreign and political support which they received. They were backed throughout by the Arab League.

Thus, the Libyan revolution is very much a domestic product and, while external support will be needed in the days ahead, the responsibility for its success rests squarely on the Libyans themselves. As President Barack Obama said when he commented on the death of Gaddafi: "You (Libyans) have won your revolution." Now comes the hard part.

Security for All

The first and most pressing challenge confronting the new Libya is that of restoring law and order and ensuring the security of the entire population, not only of armed militias and their supporters. Yesterday's freedom fighters can turn into tomorrow's goons. Libya's police are said to be in disarray, and many are absconding for fear of reprisals by their former victims.

Even if they can be recalled into service in fairly short order and their numbers can be augmented with the addition of new recruits, the police will need retraining and police operations will need reorientation. In post-Gaddafi Libya, there can be no place for a police force whose only expertise lies in tormenting the people.

Libya also faces the overwhelming challenge of disarming both revolutionary militias as well as others whose "spoils of war" include materiel wrested from the state. These groups could eventually form the nucleus of democratized Libya’s new armed forces whose role will be to protect the country, not torture its people.

Towards Healing

A parallel challenge is that of nurturing reconciliation and renewal. In a formal statement issued shortly after Gaddafi's death was confirmed, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon reminded Libyans that "this is the time for healing and rebuilding, and not for revenge."

Ban's profoundly useful reminder needs to be periodically repeated. Revenge against the defeated, in a spirit of triumphalism, is unfortunately common among many who emerge victorious from wars and other forms of conflict. This repugnant practice harms and does not heal.

At present, there is not much of healing. The remains of over 50 regime loyalists have been reported from a single spot: they were obviously the victims of extra-judicial executions. Some 7000 loyalist troops are being held without trial in a congested prison. More horror stories abound, many of them unverified.

Much as other tasks that confront the Transitional National Council (TNC) are important, the process of reconciliation demands maximum priority. Without harmony among sometimes disparate forces, Libya can very quick descend into murderous chaos.

Road Map

To win the support and confidence of the people while undertaking these and other tasks, the TNC has to demonstrate its commitment to political transformation by deeds and not only by words. Very early in its existence, the TNC crafted a "road map" to democracy. The mileposts on this journey included the election of a constitutional council no later than by next June.

The council will be tasked with drafting a democratic constitution that will be submitted to the people for ratification. Libya's first free elections will then be held. Any slippage in this process could lead to disenchantment and turbulence on the streets.

Economic renewal is on the list of challenges as well. The World Factbook published by the CIA reports that in 2010 Libya's GDP growth rate was 4.2 percent. Composition of GDP by sector was agriculture – 4 percent, industry – 23 percent, and services – 59 percent. Employment, as last reported, was around 30 percent.

Robber Barons

These and other indicators are likely to have deteriorated as a result of bloody fighting over the past eight months, and the amount of food hat has to be imported might need to rise from the established average of 75 percent.

Economic revival is likely to be determined primarily by the speed and effectiveness with which the petroleum industry is revived, with production resumed and then increased. The former average output of some 1.6 million barrels of oil a day has been reduced to less than half that amount, with some oil fields completely dormant.

Bringing these back to full production will involve not only investment but security as well, and training for Libyans to replace the largely foreign workforce whose members have fled the country. Equally important is the question of whether revenue from Libya’s oil will be used to support Libya and not to aggrandize itinerant robber barons whose thirst for profits is propelled not by need but by greed.

Schools for Harmony

The restoration of electricity wherever power supplies have been disrupted, the reopening, staffing and reinvigoration of hospitals, schools, and numerous other institutions are on the NTC's "to do" list, as well. So, too, does the publication of textbooks to replace those idolizing the fallen leader. Schools could be mobilized to encourage reconciliation.

Frozen Funds

On another front, Libya's stockpile of material for producing weapons of mass destruction (WMD) need to be sequestered so that they do not slip into terrorist hands. State Department spokesperson Victoria Nuland has explained that Libya's WMD materials "are not weapon-ready chemicals; they can't be converted on a dime and they're in these massive drums inside a heavy bunker and we are able to monitor the security with national technical means." Not everybody is as sanguine.

In addition, there is concern, too, in international monitoring circles that sophisticated surface-to-air missiles, known as MANPADS (for Man-Portable Air Defense Systems) could wind up in the hands of terrorists.

To overcome this array of challenges the TNC will need money in the bank; received and disbursed under careful controls and mandatory auditing. More resources will become available as the oil industry stirs itself back into production. Until then Libya deserves a package of assistance from those who supported and encouraged the revolution – neighbours in the Arab world as well as more distant supporters.

Jabril has urged that all of Libya’s frozen assets should be restored for reconstruction and renewal. This is not an unreasonable request.

Lest We Forget

A tipping point in the struggle against Gaddafi's forces was reached when he urged his forces to track down his opponents – all of them, fellow citizens – and kill them "like rats." He would lead the charge, he promised, moving alley by alley in Benghazi. "It’s over," he said. "We are coming tonight…we will show no mercy…no pity."

The domestic and international reaction his vicious rhetoric evoked, should have warned him that it was time to pull back, to change not just his personal ways but the ways in which he governed. But he could not. The style of governance he developed over much of his 42 years in power had too powerful a hold on him for him to let go.

Equally, the disenchantment of the people that grew during those years, despite the undeniable benefits from the early years of his rule, could neither be ignored nor overcome.

That’s the past. Now, the future beckons. [IDN-InDepthNews - October 25, 2011]

*The writer has served as Sri Lanka's ambassador to Canada, Cuba, Mexico, and the USA. He was Chairman of the Commonwealth Select Committee on the media and development, Editor of the Ceylon 'Daily News' and the Ceylon 'Observer', and was for a time Features Editor and Foreign Affairs columnist of the Singapore 'Straits Times'. He is Global Editor of IDN-InDepthNews and a member of its editorial board as well as President of the Media Task Force of Global Cooperation Council.