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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.

Mediterranean Migrants Libya
A Libyan smuggler, left, and an associate near a safe house in Tripoli, Libya, April 26, 2015. Photo courtesy of Tyler Hicks/The New York Times.

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:

Mohamed Elharj, a journalist, noted that many people are looking beyond official channels for justice:

Libya Al Hurra TV agreed that security and justice were breaking down, caused by broader identity-based rifts:

The conversation turned to police, the courts and the roles of “informal justice actors” (those outside the state judicial systems).

Michael Aron, the outgoing British ambassador to Libya, chimed in with a critical question:

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.

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.

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: 

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.

Read the full conversation on Twitter.

Steven Ruder is USIP’s senior social media specialist.

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