Security naturally takes top priority for Libyan citizens these days amid renewed violent conflict, but nationwide political rifts also are causing local civic institutions to break down, said Libyan activists, journalists and analysts during a May 4 online discussion organized by USIP.
As chaos in Libya fuels an exodus of migrants and the United Nations struggles to mediate between two rival governments, the chat featured more than 40 participants, including the British ambassador and Canada’s chargé d'affaires to Libya as well as international scholars. Participants generally voiced support for a unity government and backing for national institutions like the army and the police, but many noted that conditions in Libya seem to be worsening.
Themes from the chat informed a May 6 conference at USIP headquarters on “Supporting Justice and Security Locally in Libya,” which brought together Libyan and international activists and experts for a private discussion of the issues.
The online conversation began with a question on how Libyans perceive security and justice in their communities today. A new report released by USIP found that perceptions of security steadily declined across Libya from 2013 to 2014, although there were wide variations among certain cities.
The Libyan Youth Movement, which includes young people both inside and outside the country, echoed others in the chat in raising concerns about security:
Security is primary and is the driving factor for people's basic concerns in #Libya today. #USIPLibya— Libyan Youth Movmnt (@ShababLibya) May 4, 2015
Support the nation Libyan army is a must #USIPLibya to restore the security in Libya— Doc Amlon(Amel Edib) (@DocAmlon) May 4, 2015
Mohamed Elharj, a journalist, noted that many people are looking beyond official channels for justice:
#USIPLibya: #Libya-ns are turning for their most basic allegiances (i.e. family, tribe, city, militia --etc) to seek justice.— Mohamed Eljarh (@Eljarh) May 4, 2015
Libya Al Hurra TV agreed that security and justice were breaking down, caused by broader identity-based rifts:
Barriers to security & justice in #Libya: national identity issues create schisms that contribute to chaos,cycles of retribution. #USIPlibya— Libya Al Hurra (@LibyaAlHurraTV) May 4, 2015
The conversation turned to police, the courts and the roles of “informal justice actors” (those outside the state judicial systems).
#USIPLibya: In any new governing arrangement police/municipal courts should be under local administration/authority. #Libya— Blaise Offurum (@blaiseview2) May 4, 2015
Michael Aron, the outgoing British ambassador to Libya, chimed in with a critical question:
#USIPLibya If militias left cities would Libyans have confidence in Police if they returned to their units?— Michael Aron (@HMAMichaelAron) May 4, 2015
It sparked a range of responses: many asked where the militias would go if they disbanded, others stressed the importance of disarmament and accountability. Efforts begun after the 2011 fall of Muammar Gadhafi to integrate revolutionary brigades into the National Army and National Police have so far had little impact, according to the new USIP report.
@HMAMichaelAron where would they go?— Manal Mansur (@manalibyan) May 4, 2015
Colin Townson, the Canadian chargé d'affaires to Libya, stressed the importance of accountability for the militias. Other participants responded that ensuring that accountability is difficult without strong governing institutions, and that militia members often lack other employment opportunities.
Withdrawal and disarmament of militias important, but ultimately insufficient without end to impunity. Accountability essential #USIPLibya— Colin Townson (@ColinFTownson) May 4, 2015
Libya lacks accountability in almost every sector.If u want police to police then u have to imm dock pay when they don't show up. #USIPLibya— Manal Mansur (@manalibyan) May 4, 2015
@ColinFTownson Resignation from militias must be replaced with other employment opportunities.#USIPLibya— Marguerite Dehler (@Marguer_d) May 4, 2015
As the rule of law has broken down in Libya recently, crime is on the rise. Participants in the chat identified a number of trends that are particularly destabilizing, and several noted that criminal acts in wartime too often are judged differently:
@USIP I think the most dangerous are the crimes to fund armed groups: bank robberies, kidnappings and highjacking #USIPLibya— Asma Khalifa (@AsmaKhalifa89) May 4, 2015
Migrant issue, weapons proliferation, +++ other lucritive & harmful 'ventures' grow as instability & security neglected #USIPLibya #Libya— Libyan Youth Movmnt (@ShababLibya) May 4, 2015
Criminal threats in #Libya have infinite potential. W/little resistance/deterrence/consequence leaves average Libyan vulnerable. #USIPLibya— Libyan Youth Movmnt (@ShababLibya) May 4, 2015
#USIPLibya all sort of atrocities are being committed in the name of religion/nation/freedom/dignity/honour you name it! #crime is rewarded!— Rami Musa (@RamiAl_shaheibi) May 4, 2015
#USIPLibya #criminals and #thugs are being called heroes and looting of citizens houses became a part of the war. #Benghazi— Rami Musa (@RamiAl_shaheibi) May 4, 2015
#USIPLibya We can't enforce the rule of law with some criminals, who destroyed airports and planes, are treated by some countries as heros— M@Ө (@Libya_inEnglish) May 4, 2015
#USIPLibya Kidnappings/Demolishment/seizure of homes and personal property based on tribal factions/rape/robbery/human smuggling/trafficking— Lala B (@AlaywaB) May 4, 2015
Immigrants dramas are showing the danger of more lawless #Libya. @UNSMILibya Role is needed to bring all factions together #USIPLibya— Amor Shabbi عمر شابي (@AmorShabbi) May 4, 2015
Asked what might improve security and justice in Libya, some participants called for more international involvement, others for less. Many stressed the importance of establishing a unity government, creating jobs and supporting civil society.
@USIP International community has to Support Libya in the Matter and look to #Libya as a country which will bring peace in the region .— Nizar Ibrahim (@NizarLy) May 4, 2015
@FionaBMangan Less foreign interventions are also crucial to build national unity government. #USIPLibya— Amor Shabbi عمر شابي (@AmorShabbi) May 4, 2015
@USIP Unity government that represents the people. A just & impartial system of accountability. Develop employment opportunities. #USIPLibya— Marguerite Dehler (@Marguer_d) May 4, 2015
#USIPLibya key to work with int community to help build capacity&capability as civil society was already severely lacking prior w/gaddafi— Lala B (@AlaywaB) May 4, 2015
#USIPLibya Libya is in need of a a deal maker who can guide the country in to a soft landing and avoid an explosion— Osama Elnaili (@osamaelnaili) May 4, 2015
Including youth in political framework for future is key. Young libyans tend to disengage when they see dinosaurs in their govt. #USIPLibya— Mo Shammam (@MoShammam) May 4, 2015
Read the full conversation on Twitter.
Steven Ruder is USIP’s senior social media specialist.