Trial by Error: Justice in Post-Qadhafi Libya
Tripoli/Brussels/ Washington | 17 Apr 2013
Unless Libya breaks the cycle of violence and urgently reforms its justice system, there is a real risk of an increase in assassinations, urban violence and communal conflicts.
Trial by Error: Justice in Post-Qadhafi Libya, the latest report from the International Crisis Group, analyses the ills plaguing the judicial system in Libya. Well over a year after Qadhafi’s regime was ousted, some armed groups continue to run prisons and enforce their own forms of justice, while others resort to violence to achieve political or criminal aims. All this triggers more grievances, further undermining confidence in the state.
The report’s major findings and recommendations are:
Distrust towards the Libyan judiciary, still considered a Qadhafi-era relic, and disarray within the security forces have led some individuals and groups to take matters in their own hands. They have rounded up thousands of alleged Qadhafi loyalists in total disregard of official procedures and carried out assassinations. This fuels resentment and grievances and risks triggering renewed conflicts.
Since coming to power, Prime Minister Ali Zeidan has declared a zero-tolerance policy towards arbitrary detention and revenge killings and made it a priority to transfer arbitrarily detained people into state custody. This is a welcome change of direction, yet he must tread carefully lest a confrontational approach towards brigades backfire.
Holding members of armed groups accountable for their actions is not enough. The government should work to restore trust in the judiciary. A first tangible step in this direction would involve establishing an independent panel tasked with vetting members of the judiciary found to be corrupt or guilty of unlawful behaviour.
Ultimately, Libya needs a comprehensive transitional justice strategy encompassing criminal trials against high-ranking Qadhafi-era officials, appropriate vetting procedures and truth commissions. The Fact-Finding and Reconciliation Commission and its local branches should begin operating alongside the ordinary criminal justice system, tackling both past and current abuses.
“The severe deficiencies of the current judicial system are rooted, first and foremost, in the failings of the one that, in principle, it has replaced”, says Claudia Gazzini, Crisis Group’s Senior Libya Analyst. “Four decades of arbitrary justice under the Qadhafi regime served as a burdensome backdrop to the new government’s efforts”.
“There are many necessary cures to Libya’s endemic insecurity, but few more urgent than repairing its judicial system”, says Robert Malley, Crisis Group’s Middle East and North Africa Program Director. “There are no quick fixes, but taking immediate measures to restore confidence in the judiciary and enhance its capacity to deal with abuses, both past and present, would be a first significant step forward”.