Editor's Note: Tom Malinowski is the Washington Director for Human Rights Watch. Previously, he was special assistant to President Bill Clinton and senior director for foreign policy speechwriting at the National Security Council. The following is an edited transcript of my interview with him today.
Amar C. Bakshi: What are you most concerned about over the coming days and weeks in Libya?
Tom Malinowski: In the very short-term we want to make sure that the excellent commitments that the Libyan Transition Council has made to avoid retribution against perceived Gadhafi supporters, to maintain security and to preserve state institutions are kept in practice.
The leadership of the NTC has been saying all the right things on all of those issues. And we’ll have to see whether all of the fighters and units that are streaming into Tripoli right now respect the wishes of their leaders.
We’ve urged the opposition to secure key state facilities like prisons and police stations to try to make sure that crowds of people don’t try to burn them down as they understandably often want to do when they encounter buildings that are symbols of state repression.
We’ve urged them to secure arms depots to make sure that dangerous weapons and munitions aren't looted. We’ve urged them to maintain the city police in Tripoli and other places that they take control of so the day-to-day security is maintained and to avoid the mistake that was made in Iraq of disbanding the security forces.
Besides Tripoli there are a number of other places in the country where the regime did enjoy substantial support, Gadhafi’s hometown of Sirte, for example, and several other places are not yet under the control of the opposition council.
They’re going to have to tread very, very carefully to assume control over those places. Hopefully it can be done without a fight.
And then then there are the longer-term political challenges of establishing a functioning court system, reforming the country’s laws, putting into a place an interim constitution and moving towards free and fair elections.
Do you imagine a strong international commitment to and presence in Libya in the months going forward?
There certainly should be a commitment and some presence but I don’t think Libya needs the presence of large numbers of international troops. I don’t think it needs a full-out peacekeeping force. I don’t think the Libyans want that. I don’t think they necessarily need it.
In most of the towns that have come under opposition control, things have functioned fairly smoothly. Local councils have taken over established security and maintained public services. The country isn't broken in the sense that outsiders need to come in and fix it.
I do think though that it would be helpful to have a lower-key monitoring presence under ideally United Nations auspices to have some police monitors, to have human rights monitors who can deploy to potential flash points in Tripoli and Sirte and elsewhere and to blow the whistle on any abuses that might occur. But I don’t think they need well armed troops enforcing stability. It’s not going to be wanted or needed.