Don’t forget those ‘other’ Libya issues
November 16th, 2012
12:23 PM ET

Don’t forget those ‘other’ Libya issues

By Fred Abrahams, Special to CNN

Editor’s note: Fred Abrahams is Special Adviser at Human Rights Watch. You can follow him @fredabrahams. The views expressed are his own.

The Obama administration’s handling of the September attack in Benghazi, which killed the U.S. ambassador and three other US citizens, became a matter of heated presidential campaign debate. But Libya should not be allowed to gradually fall off the U.S. radar, even if it’s no longer time to score political points. Policy makers and analysts should learn from the deadly attack and review how the U.S. government and others can help Libya build stability and security after 42 years of dictatorship.

Here are some ideas to start that conversation. First, encourage and help Libya develop security forces that can operate with the professionalism, transparency and accountability that were absent for four decades under Moammar Gadhafi.  Libya desperately needs effective military and police. But these forces should break with past practice and serve the public under the rule of law rather than the interests of one man.

A reported U.S. plan to help Libya develop a rapid-response anti-terrorism force could offer a useful start. But such a force should fit into broader security sector reform with recruits vetted for past abuses, trained in human rights standards and appropriately disciplined and punished when they overstep the law. The police and military should be under civilian oversight, and the armed forces should not be used for domestic law enforcement.

More from CNN: A general's warning about militants in Libya

Second, focus simultaneously on rebuilding Libya’s dysfunctional justice system, which has largely been neglected since Gadhafi’s fall. The judicial police responsible for court security need bolstering and the prisons need modernizing. Investigators should learn how to collect evidence for use in court instead of the longtime practice of relying on confessions, often extracted with force. Throwing money into special forces and neglecting the justice system will not bring the lasting stability and security that Libyans and others seek.

Third, offer technical and if necessary financial assistance, in coordination with the U.N. mission and other international actors, to help the newly elected Libyan government disarm and reintegrate the myriad militias that wield so much power more than a year after Gadhafi’s death.  This needs to be a Libyan-driven process, but outside advice and support, building on experience in other post-conflict societies, can definitely help.

Fourth, challenge the Libyan government when it strays from its domestic and international human rights obligations, and encourage allies to do the same.  It does not help to remain silent about violations that continue today, such as indiscriminate attacks in Bani Walid and the forced displacement of people from Tawergha, towns considered to be pro-Gadhafi, or the destruction of religious sites of the Sufi religious minority.  The U.S. government should condemn these violations and urge the Tripoli authorities to address them.

This includes punishing those responsible for serious violations, regardless of whether they fought with or against Gaddafi. The crimes of the dictator’s security forces before and during last year’s conflict need to be addressed, as well as abuses by the forces that brought him down. A new law that grants immunity to those whose acts were “promoting or protecting the revolution” against Gaddafi should be revoked.

In all this, governments wishing to assist Libya will have to walk a thin line. On one side, they should help strengthen the new government’s authority and its control over the militias and regional gangs. On the other side, they must avoid reviving the authoritarianism that thrived under Gadhafi. In other words, they must contribute to the creation of a strong central state without the abusive practices of the past.

The countries that intervened militarily in Libya have a special responsibility to help the country traverse that tightrope. In the process of democratization, getting rid of Gadhafi was just one step. The difficult work is to build independent institutions that can replace the power of one man.

Since Gadhafi’s fall, the United Sates has abdicated that responsibility. Then we saw too much U.S. attention, for domestic political reasons, on dissecting every angle of the Benghazi attack.  What happened in Benghazi should be known, but the bigger question is whether the future Libya will be a country that is more stable, secure and law abiding than the Libya of the past.  That is the key issue on which the Obama administration’s policies should be judged.

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Topics: Libya • Middle East

soundoff (16 Responses)
  1. Lyndsie Graham

    Contrary to what Fred Abraham says, we had no right to take over Libya, not even by proxy like we did last year. We would have done far better to establish diplomatic relations with the Qaddaffy regime and take it from there!

    November 16, 2012 at 2:48 pm |
    • shraeve

      You are right about that. This was not a popular uprising, it was imperialism by proxy. The "rebels" were not able to to anything at all without US air support.

      Obama claimed authority under "Responsibility To Protect". But the UN RTP resolution said that military force should be the last resort – for Obama it was the first resort.

      It is no coincidence that all the "rebels" came from the Northeast part of Libya where, not coincidentally, all of Libya's oil is located. These are just elitists and jihadists who want Libya's oil for themselves.

      November 16, 2012 at 4:29 pm |
    • coyote

      Spot on – and as long as we treat them like our goals are their goals by saying that they wanted this outcome, then we are off on the wrong foot from the get go! The militant groups are a shared problem now and one that we can only address if we are honest about who we are – they certainly are.

      November 16, 2012 at 7:02 pm |
  2. Petraeus

    Great job everyone! Sorry, I can't stay to discuss, I got a thing...lates!

    November 16, 2012 at 3:33 pm |
  3. JAL

    Great ideas. I hope it is not too late to muster support.

    November 16, 2012 at 4:50 pm |
    • JAL

      I still love the idea of companies moving economic infrasructure to Libya. It will serve as a model of partnership between the west and the Arab world. I see great things happening for the people of Libya. As a note, I think the root financiers in the Benghazi attacks realize that they do not have the time, money or infrastructure to infiltrate the Libyan people enough to slow progress of this initiaive. The sooner we can muster top level support and make this transition, the better.

      November 16, 2012 at 5:31 pm |
      • JAL

        The Benghazi attackers think they can inflict depravity and force poverty to maintain their malice in a cost effective way. Lets prove them wrong, right now.

        November 16, 2012 at 9:21 pm |
  4. deniz boro

    It is time that USA take the time out to take some action. But otherwise all that can be said is NO COMMENT.

    November 16, 2012 at 6:19 pm |
  5. The Sanity Inspector

    No foreigners have any claim on U.S. blood and treasure. If not the U.S. over the past 100 years, all the howling mobs and foreign talking heads denouncing America would have never even been born.

    November 16, 2012 at 6:48 pm |
    • deniz boro

      You do provide a nice sample you know! If the word was in order and ...shoots.

      November 16, 2012 at 7:54 pm |
  6. abdulbastm

    We, the people we live under the tyranny of the dictator and the America we provided assistance and we thank the American people to help us and the slain ambassador was a friend of the people. And killing tax paid by your state and our relationship with him.

    November 18, 2012 at 6:02 am |
  7. rightospeak

    The author of this article has an agenda. He wants to persuade Americans to meddle in other people's affairs .Libya, a sovereign nation under UN Charter , was INVADED and its oil stolen. If there was no oil , there would be no invasion. The author should be more concerned with the US bankrupcy, lack of healthcare, children going to bed hungry As I said before , the author has an agenda and is being paid to spread propaganda.

    November 18, 2012 at 10:10 am |
  8. j. von hettlingen

    Gaddafi left behind a mess that has little to build on. There's still no law and order in Libya.

    November 19, 2012 at 5:46 am |
    • j. von hettlingen

      Militias are heavily armed and pose a threat to stability. Scores are being settled among tribes and groups.

      November 19, 2012 at 5:48 am |
  9. cnposter

    "...the forced displacement of people from Tawergha." It's called ethic cleansing. Unless, of course, Obama and Clinton bombed to make it happen.

    The radical Islamic nature of the Libyan rebel movement was well known to our state department before we sent hundreds of cruise missiles raining down on Libya. Gaddafi had cooperated utterly with the west for the last decade, from renouncing his own country's weapons programs to providing invaluable intelligence about terrorist activities in the region and apprehending terrorism suspects. THE primary beef the rebels had with Gaddafi was that he was secular. Gosh, if he had only turned over his country's natural resources, this could all have been avoided. Instead, we bombed a path for Islamic militias to loot countless weapons and supply Islamic Jihad with missiles deadlier than anything ever before known in Gaza. Funny, I thought we indefinitely detained people suspected of providing material support to terrorist organizations. Maybe after the inauguration.

    November 21, 2012 at 1:55 am |
  10. Lawyers Articles

    Thanks for this wonderful article. Yet another thing to mention is that nearly all digital cameras come equipped with a zoom lens so that more or less of that scene to be included by simply ‘zooming’ in and out. Most of these changes in target length will be reflected in the viewfinder and on substantial display screen on the back of any camera.
    Lawyers Articles

    September 6, 2013 at 4:35 pm |

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