USIP’s Colette Rausch, director of USIP’s Rule of Law Center of Innovation, discusses the situation in Libya and what issues Libyans will have to address after Col. Muammar al-Qaddafi is out of power. While no two countries are exactly alike, USIP’s Rule of Law Center has been there before – helping countries like Nepal, Kosovo and Iraq as they navigated the minefield that is a transition from dictatorships to civil societies.

August 24, 2011

USIP’s Colette Rausch, director of USIP’s Rule of Law Center of Innovation, discusses the situation in Libya and what issues Libyans will have to address after Col. Muammar al-Qaddafi is out of power. While no two countries are exactly alike, USIP’s Rule of Law Center has been there before – helping countries like Nepal, Kosovo and Iraq as they navigated the minefield that is a transition from dictatorships to civil societies.

What are biggest hurdles facing Libya in the coming days?

The biggest challenge is just the transition, because so many things can happen during that time of uncertainy. You have elation, then that’s followed by reality. You have insecurity because it’s unclear who’s in charge. And this is that critical period. That reality is, you’re going to have a situation where you will have a security and justice problem. You saw this in Iraq, for example, when you had looting and general insecurity.

Police are worried about retribution or are unclear of their place in a new order, so they may step back and that creates a vacuum. If you have a country where you had a leader who kept a firm hand on things, then, when the firm hand is off, you may see old grievances emerge, retribution against the old regime and people going after those who were aligned with Qaddafi. This may cause members of the old regime to continue to fight on. These are all the types of things that can happen in these environments.

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How should the world expect to see Libyans react during this period of change and uncertainty?

The Libyan opposition has had the luxury of time in thinking about what they would do when Qaddafi’s regime ends. We know the Transitional National Council has been researching top issues and “gaming” the end of the regime. But we won’t know how effective any of that preparation is until the transition really begins in the coming days and weeks.

What’s so critical in this period of time is, people are going to look for a leader, and they are going to look for a credible, just and inclusive leader. And not just a leader, but a governing body. That new leadership has to be firm and fair and instill confidence right away. If the new Libyan leadership fails to instill that confidence early on, that could lead to problems because it’s hard to get it back once trust is broken. Their first steps have to set the scene. They need to deliver, in the form of instilling confidence and providing even basic services, even if it is taking small but positive steps forward.

It’s also critical for Libyans to take a consultative and inclusive approach to making decisions, say in terms of how to handle past abuses or creating approaches for transitional justice. Quick or impulsive decisions made in the heat of the moment will not serve the new Libya well.

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What will transition look like?

Ultimately, it will take a long time to infuse the new institutions, like the “police service,” the judiciary and other institutions with the values demanded by Libyans. The road to true reform takes a long time – years and years, but initially, there is no time to focus exclusively on those bigger picture concepts. One needs to keep the long-term goals in mind – strategic overhaul and reform of Libya’s rule of law institutions such as the judiciary and police service.

At the same time, its new leaders must keep an eye on what can be done in the short term to adapt these institutions in smaller ways that meet the long-term objectives of overall reform. That’s why in the immediate aftermath of the crumbling of the Qaddafi regime, it will be critical to begin both a “bottom-up” and “top-down” process for rebuilding Libya’s institutions. In some cases, we’ve seen where a country’s new leaders emerge from a conflict only to focus on developing institutions at the higher, “top-down,” level, ignoring the day-to-day needs of the citizenry. That runs the risk of significant disillusionment at the lowest – but arguably, the most important – level.

You need to work with the institutions that are already there. No existing institution is perfect, but otherwise, you’re creating a bigger gap. No transition plan survives initial execution, it will have to be adapted, but that will have to be the first step. My hope is that a discussion about what the long-term outcome of this revolution will look like can occur at the same time as the new Libyan leaders focus on the very pressing needs of a population looking for immediate answers to their questions about justice and security.

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What are some practical things Libyans can do to begin to rebuild critical justice and security institutions that are so important right now? Would a Justice and Security Dialogue (JSD) work?

Maybe, in some form. A JSD is a way to convene security forces and local community leaders to identify what a “new Libya” should look like. What do the people of Libya want in their justice and security systems? It can help build that critical relationship between the two entities in a country such as Libya that has experienced intense conflict and injustice. Such a dialogue is essentially an ongoing conversation between governing officials, security forces, civil society leaders and the citizenry to work through issues of mistrust and injustice that have grown over the years and in particular due to the conflict.

A JSD is a tool, created by USIP, to address the power and security vacuum caused by a leadership change. It worked well in Nepal, where King Gyanendra fell after a revolution, creating a void that had to be filled quickly. The dialogue helped to foster new understanding, a stronger relationship between society and its police, and ultimately, a society defined by a new rule of law in those critical days and weeks following a leadership change. It is also working in Kirkuk, Iraq.

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What role can USIP play?

This is a classic situation where USIP has a wealth of information on other types of transitions. No place is the same, but there are certain principles that guide each transition. We have provided quite a bit of rule of law material to those in Libya working on a transition plan in recent months.

USIP’s Manal Omar, who is in Libya now, is exploring ideas with Libyan officials on how USIP might support their efforts as they seek to establish a new government with reformed institutions. These Libyan officials have expressed interest in USIP’s thoughts on education, the role of civil society, the role of women and the rule of law. She is identifying Libyans that we might work with in these and related fields. She will also discuss with these officials some of the work we have already done in other countries in the Middle East.

More specifically, we are quickly developing plans to launch three programs: one would be an alliance of Libyan facilitators, another would be a network of nongovernmental organizations that focus on conflict mitigation and transformation and a third will be a workshop designed to convene Libyan nationals across the country on the constitutional process.

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