Three years after the death of Muammar Qaddafi and the end of the revolution in Libya, security and justice are stalled and elusive despite the proliferation of security providers. The power of the gun prevails over the rule of law. Many see no end in sight. Based on a nationwide survey and drawn from interviews and focus group sessions, this report—supported by the USIP and the Small Arms Survey—tracks security and justice in Libya from before the revolution through today, its realities, and its impact on the country and its population.

Summary

  • Three years after the revolution, rule of law in Libya remains elusive.
  • During Qaddafi’s forty-two-year rule, the primary forms of state security and justice—police and army, regular courts and prosecutors—were deliberately and systematically weakened as real power was diverted to the regime.
  • In the wake of the revolution, people rejected formal systems and turned instead to their communities, finding security in revolutionary ketibas and justice through tribal leaders, wise men, and religious leaders.
  • The current web of security is a mix of old and new, creating confusion and feeding feelings of uncertainty.
  • Initially Libya’s saviors, the revolutionary thuwar are now held largely in disfavor. The plan to integrate them into the state security system has had limited success.
  • The presence of weapons, the vast majority of which are beyond state control, and frequent unpredictable acts of violence compound the lack of security.
  • The justice system has not been able to resume normal levels of functionality. Nonstate dispute mechanisms have emerged to fill the void, but rely more on the relative power of the disputing parties than on the law and have not proved effective.
  • Self-help and vigilante justice are thus on the rise but also fail to meet citizens’ needs.
  • Libyans continue to look to the state—through the police, the army, and the judiciary—to be the sole provider of security and justice.
  • Both the Libyan government and local communities need to reframe their reform efforts. Certain recommendations are key to that effort: a national vision, security for civilians and justice sector actors, dialogue to build trust, and engagement with rather than around formal institutions.

About the Report

This report maps the evolution of Libya’s weak security and justice sector from the Qaddafi era through the 2011 revolution to today. Supported by the United States Institute of Peace (USIP) and the Small Arms Survey, and drawn from interviews, focus groups, and a nationwide household survey, the report analyzes the realities of the security and justice sector and their impact on ordinary Libyans. For more on Small Arms Survey's publication on perceptions around security, justice and weapons, see their report Searching for Stability.

About the Authors

Fiona Mangan is a senior program officer with USIP’s Governance Law and Society Center and facilitator for the International Network to Promote the Rule of Law. Her work focuses on prison reform, organized crime, and justice and security issues, primarily in Libya. She previously worked at the Stimson Center, the Irish Department of Justice, Independent Diplomat in New York, Lawyers Without Borders in Liberia, and the International Stability Operations Association in Washington. Mangan has also served as an international election observer for the Carter Center in South Sudan and for Progressio in Somaliland. Christina Murtaugh is a senior program officer at USIP’s Rule of Law Center. Her focus is on the Justice and Security Dialogue Program; the International Network to Promote the Rule of Law, a community of practice initiated by the Rule of Law Center in 2007; and field-based empirical research on rule of law in Libya.

Related Publications

On the Road to Peace, Libya Makes Progress but Hits Pitfalls

On the Road to Peace, Libya Makes Progress but Hits Pitfalls

Wednesday, July 14, 2021

By: Nate Wilson; Dr. Elie Abouaoun

After a decade of war and division, Libya has made progress toward peace this year. In March, a Government of National Unity (GNU) was formed to unify the warring Western-based Government of National Accord and the Eastern-based authorities supported by Gen. Khalifa Haftar, who commands forces known as the Libyan Arab Armed Forces (or Libyan National Army). The GNU is a provisional body meant to lead the country to long-delayed elections on December 24. While some progress has been made — a cease-fire agreement has been signed and the executive has been unified — many challenges remain. Chief among those challenges is developing a framework for national reconciliation and addressing the destabilizing role of foreign powers.

Type: Analysis and Commentary

Reconciliation; Peace Processes

Contested Citizenship Marginalizes Libya’s Vulnerable

Contested Citizenship Marginalizes Libya’s Vulnerable

Thursday, May 27, 2021

By: Abigail Corey; Ali Alansari

After a decade of conflict, Libya has made welcome progress toward stability. A cease-fire inked in October 2020 paved the way for the establishment of an interim unity government tasked with preparing for national elections at the end of 2021. While these developments are cause for hope, numerous issues remain that could threaten long-team peace — including many people’s undetermined legal status. An estimated several hundred thousand people in Libya — even some born and raised in the country — lack proof of citizenship. Marginalized groups, such as those with disabilities, are among those most impacted by citizenship struggles. In this war-torn country, this is but another issue that exacerbates conflict and tension. 

Type: Blog

Human Rights; Peace Processes

Libya: Amid Hope for Peace, Regional Rifts Still Pose Hurdles

Libya: Amid Hope for Peace, Regional Rifts Still Pose Hurdles

Friday, February 26, 2021

By: Simona Ross; Stefan Wolff

Libyans and the United Nations advanced their current effort to end almost a decade of instability and war this month when a U.N.-backed forum nominated an interim government to prepare nationwide elections by the end of 2021. The new transitional government brings hope that this process—the third major U.N. peace effort in Libya—might lead to stability. Still, achieving lasting peace will require that the process address the main underlying driver of conflict: the divisions among Libya’s three main regions, notably over how to organize the government. It also will need the United States and other countries to support the transitional government and hold Libya’s contesting sides accountable.

Type: Analysis and Commentary

Peace Processes; Democracy & Governance

Libya 10 Years After Revolution: To Forgive or Forget

Libya 10 Years After Revolution: To Forgive or Forget

Thursday, February 18, 2021

By: Esra Elbakoush; Nate Wilson

This week marks the 10-year anniversary of the uprising that overthrew the four-decade dictatorship of Muammar Qaddafi. In the intervening decade, Libya has been mired in conflict and political gridlock, exacerbated by competing power centers and longstanding tribal hostilities. What’s more, a host of foreign powers have entered the fray, looking to pursue their own interests rather than build a peaceful Libya. While there is momentum toward peace in recent months, Libyans will have to decide for themselves how to arrive at reconciliation and build a roadmap to get to a sustainable peace. But what does that look like?

Type: Analysis and Commentary

Peace Processes; Reconciliation

View All Publications