DUBAI, 29 February 2012 (IRIN) - One year after a popular uprising toppled its former dictator, Libya’s new transitional government has failed to provide coherent state leadership and control, analysts say.
A continuing power struggle with hundreds of militias threatens Libya’s transition towards a secure and democratic state. In the absence of national institutions, rebels instrumental in overthrowing former leader Muammar Gaddafi now run everything from detention centres to hospitals, but have also engaged in fatal clashes and stand accused of human rights abuses.
Recent weeks have seen a rise in inter-militia violence; the killing of a member of the former regime; and fatal tribal clashes in the south. Revenge attacks against the entire community of Tawergha have allegedly been repeated against others accused of fighting alongside Gaddafi during the war.
If the transitional government does not succeed in stabilizing state institutions in the coming months, observers fear national elections, scheduled for June 2012, could lead to a further escalation in conflict.
Here is a round-up of recent publications by think-tanks, analysts and human rights organizations:
A 16 February report by Amnesty International accused the ruling National Transitional Council (NTC) of lacking both the authority and the political will to rein in militias, which it described as being “out of control”. The report said militias were committing widespread human rights abuses, including torturing detainees, sometimes to death, during interrogations. Detainees told Amnesty they confessed to rapes and murders they had not committed just to stop the torture. Amnesty said the militias enjoyed “blanket immunity” and that the authorities had done “nothing” to investigate and prosecute war crimes.
Militias have become entrenched; they are well organized and have their own procedures for registration of members and weapons, the International Crisis Group (ICG) said in December, in its latest report on Libya, but they are bound together by a quest for power and territorial security rather than a political agenda. “Militias mimic the organization of a regular military… they issue warrants; arrest and detain suspects… sometimes at substantial cost to communities subject to discrimination and collective punishment.” Geographical inequality, power plays and fragmented chains of command have led to armed clashes between them, affecting the country’s ability to develop, but militias should not be forced to disarm until their interests and security fears have been addressed, the ICG said. “Rebuilding Libya requires addressing their fate, yet haste would be as perilous as apathy.”
Pushing the militias to disarm too hard or too fast could backfire by provoking resistance, theInstitute for Near East & Gulf Military Analysis (INEGMA), agreed in November 2011. “Some are predicting that a new conflict may be nearing a 50 percent chance of occurring.” To avoid this, INEGMA research associate Ash Rossiter said the NTC should focus on increasing its own legitimacy and gradually building up national security forces.
But left unchecked, militia violence could bring the country back into civil war, the head of the NTC, Mustafa Abdel Jalil, warned in January.
The defence and interior ministries will require significant capacity-building in order to transform disparate groups into national military and police forces, Bob Perito, director of the US Institute of Peace’s Security Sector Governance Center of Innovation, wrote in early February, after meeting police, military and government officials in Libya.
Alina Menocal, a research fellow with the Politics and Governance Programme at the Overseas Development Institute (ODI), said the transition to a new Libya would require more than the simple abolition of the militias, but rather a dialogue on how to sustain a political consensus that would make them secure enough to give up their arms and power. “A basic political settlement is missing,” she wrote in a 2 February ODI blog post.
According to Joost Hiltermann, deputy programme director for the Middle East and North Africa at ICG, who participated in apublic discussion on Libya hosted by ODI in late January, it is a bit of a vicious circle: A lack of security slows efforts towards greater rule of law, because without security, people turn to militias and warlords; and yet “until an elected, legitimate government is in place, regional militias will remain across the country and there will be no possibility of demobilization.”
Photo: Heba Aly/IRIN