False narratives and selective memory in Libya

False narratives and selective memory in Libya
Comment: A UN Human Rights Council proposal to hold perpetrators accountable for human rights violations in Libya is plagued with ambiguities, and makes several important omissions, argues Ramona Wadi.
6 min read
04 Oct, 2016
UN and NATO are directly responsible for lack of accountability in Libya, writes Wadi [AFP]

Last month's 33rd session of the Human Rights Council in Geneva can be counted as another interlude in which regurgitated proposals and the cycle of political violence managed to capture a sliver of international attention.

Feasibility and accountability, are however, a different story altogether.

Two interventions, by Kate Gilmore on behalf of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra'ad al-Hussein, and Martin Kobler, Special Envoy for the UN Support Mission in Libya, were similar in context, particularly in conveying the impression that the current violence is a phenomenon completely dissociated from NATO's regime change mission.

Gilmore called for the formation of an independent body which would document and report upon human rights violations in Libya, with the aim of furthering accountability. The current "impunity scenario", according to Gilmore, has resulted in perpetrators escaping accountability. "Warring factions continue to show little regard for civilians, failing to take steps needed to avoid or minimise civilian casualties and protect civilian objects from damage."

Kobler's speech focused upon the impact of violence on Libyan civilians, with specific references to "the unfolding of dangerous military developments" in Benghazi, the confrontations between militias and IS in Sirte, as well as the continuing violence in Tripoli. Such instability, added Kobler, is wreaking havoc upon the economy and impacting basic humanitarian needs in Libya.

The solution to Libya's problems - as usual simplified in a series of recommendations - places the burden upon Libyans under the grand statement of "national reconciliation". According to Kobler, "Peace will only be sustained if forged by the Libyans."

The UN's penchant for terms such as 'accountability' and 'conflict' is dangerous and not without precedent

There was a fleeting recommendation that the ICC should "investigate fully international crimes committed in Libya, including since 2011". In addition, Kobler mentioned the agreement reached between Misrata and Tawergha, for compensation and return of 40,000 displaced Tawerghans, described as "two sides of one of the most bitter episodes of fighting during the 2011 conflict".

Prioritising misleading language

The UN's penchant for terms such as "accountability" and "conflict" is dangerous and not without precedent. Accepted mainstream international rhetoric functions as a veneer for human rights violations implemented at an international level. It is thus safe to say that the misleading language perpetuates many ambiguities, which in turn allow the UN to choose who to name as perpetrator and victim.

Herein lies the first contradiction. Such sweeping statements are also interpreted as absolutes when it comes to defining impunity and accountability.

It is clear from both statements at the UN Human Rights Council, that the focus is centred upon the aftermath of the last six months of NATO's destructive mission. Five years later, the earlier violations will continue to be overlooked in terms of both accountability and memory, under the convenient excuse of the alleged "transition to democracy".

The truth is far more complicated than the sweeping statements uttered for the benefit of the UN

While it does not invalidate the existence of earlier reports, the tactic utilised by the UN is still dependent upon dissociation and selectivity, as well as a manipulation of awareness regarding the aftermath of the 2011 intervention.

If the UN is responsible for anything, it is undoubtedly the fomenting of violence and production of the resulting documentation for the sake of its purported "universal human rights" propaganda. This also translates to a silencing of narratives in order to propagate the international interpretation of Libya's failed state - a term which the UN is still reluctant to include in its rhetoric.

The same tactic has been applied to the alleged "conflict" between Misrata and Tawergha, with those in Tawergha having experienced ethnic cleansing, torture, murder, displacement and persecution upon allegations of allegiance to former Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi.  

The UN routinely missed out on the chance to refer to such crimes in appropriate international law terminology, intentionally of course. To veer away from UN Security Council Resolution 1973 would elicit the necessity of including narratives from those directly impacted by international belligerence and the veneer of "bringing democracy to Libya" would have collapsed in the international arena.

Further ambiguity lies in Gilmore's statement regarding Libyan factions' disregard for civilians. The international community's disregard for civilians manifests itself through foreign intervention, the arming of militias with ties to terror organisations and the selective upholding of one narrative over another.

Libya is now a breeding ground for international terrorism, which is another scenario foreseen by the UN. If Libyan factions are exhibiting disregard for civilians, it is both a national and an international responsibility. Above all, it should be noted that such violence did not develop without a premeditated context - it is a direct extension of 2011.

A distorted reality

As desired by the UN, the current dissociated reality will continue to work within the dynamics of including Libyan participation only as a public facade. Libya was presented to the international community as deprived of expression prior to 2011 and thus necessitating western democracy - a concept which is easy to impart when it comes to winning over public opinion.

In the ongoing aftermath, free expression has been completely annihilated, in the name of democracy, of course.

It is therefore pertinent to ask what type of accountability the UN is referring to; what are the parameters, and who stands to be scrutinised and ultimately held responsible?

The answer lies in Kobler's speech, which places the burden of responsibility for national reconciliation and, as a logical result, accountability, upon Libyans.

Any purported national reconciliation is impossible to envisage

The truth is far more complicated than the sweeping statements uttered for the benefit of the UN, as the international community fluctuates between being a participant in violence and a passive spectator of its authored crimes.

Libya is being held responsible for the 2011 intervention. Its fragmented society is shackled between options that are all linked to international impositions and demands, including the more recent US bombing of Libya under the pretext of eliminating IS.

Five years later and still in the clutches of the international community, any purported national reconciliation is impossible to envisage. 

It would have been better to reverse the context of the discourse uttered at the UNHRC, in a manner that would highlight - without resorting to diplomatic niceties - accountability as a burden for which the UN and NATO are directly and irreversibly responsible.

While such action will not bring about any change in policy given the imperialist agenda in Libya and absence of justice, it would go a long way in securing the right to memory for Libyans.

Ramona Wadi is an independent researcher, freelance journalist, book reviewer and blogger specialising in the struggle for memory in Chile and Palestine, colonial violence and the manipulation of international law. Follow her on Twitter: @walzerscent

Opinions expressed in this article remain those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of The New Arab, its editorial board or staff.