Justice for Libya delayed as international community evades accountability

Justice for Libya delayed as international community evades accountability
Comment: Five years after the UN approved NATO's bombing of Libya, the ICC and the UNSC are disseminating conflicting and illogical narratives, writes Ramona Wadi
5 min read
07 Jun, 2016
Bensouda hailed the UN-brokered government of National Accord as the result of “significant developments” [Getty]

NATO's bombing of Libya will undoubtedly provide one of recent history's worst examples of what the UN understands as "humanitarian intervention".

Having downplayed the power vacuum opening immediately after the lynching of Muammar Gaddafi, the so-called transition to democracy became the only excuse international institutions could exploit in order to avoid accountability for the mutating violence in Libya.

International Criminal Court Chief Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda told the UN Security Council: "Nations are not built overnight - but to last and to withstand the challenges of the 21st century, they must be built on strong foundations. Justice will always serve as a central pillar."

Bensouda hailed the UN-brokered Government of National Accord as the result of "significant developments" and insisted that the body's priority should constitute "devising effective plans and strategies to address atrocity crimes while investing in the necessary national institutions for such a critical endeavour".

The ICC's success in Libya, added Bensouda, was dependent upon the willingness of the "collective determination of all relevant actors to bring perpetrators of crimes to justice and, by so doing, help deter the commission of future crimes".

   What's been going on in Libya?

The General National Congress was the Islamist-led elected body ruling Libya for two years following Gaddafi's ousting and death. After its 18-month deadline to form a new constitution passed in January 2014, the body resolved to extend its mandate.

General Khalifa Haftar, a senior figure in the forces that toppled Gaddafi, called on the GNC to disband. In May, Haftar led troops against Islamist militias in Benghazi and the GNC in Tripoli in an offensive named Operation Dignity.

Amid the chaos, an election was held to form the House of Representatives, which took power from the GNC in August. With rival militias ruling Libya's streets, the election turnout was just 18 percent. Islamist militias then launched Operation Libya Dawn to fight Haftar's troops.

With the lack of security in the capital, the House of Representatives hired a Greek car ferry harboured in the eastern city of Tobruk as a temporary legislature.

In late August, a group of GNC members reconvened in Tripoli and claimed legislative authority over the country, effectively replacing the House of Representatives as Libya's parliament. The Tobruk-based House of Representatives remained the internationally recognised government, though its actual authority on the ground in Libya was limited.

Libya's Supreme Court, based in Islamist-held Tripoli, ruled in November that the formation of the House of Representatives was unconstitutional, legally dissolving the Tobruk-based legislature and nullifying its decisions.

The Tobruk-based parliament refused to accept the court's ruling, saying it was made "at gunpoint".

Libya became torn between the rival parliaments and the heavily armed militias that support each. Allegiances between the militias changed frequently, which only added to the instability, violence and danger faced by ordinary Libyan citizens.

Efforts by the UN to establish a "unity government" has led to a third administration, this one led by Fayez Sarraj, claiming overall political legitimacy for the country and setting up shop in Tripoli in late March 2016. The much-anticipated chaos subsequently failed to materialise, as Sarraj faces the task of strengthening his mandate through popular acceptance and working towards an end to the violence and insecurity plaguing the country.

The court of last resort

A common assertion in response to Bensouda's speech regarding the ICC was the reminder that as a court of last resort, it was never intended to replace national justice systems. However, discussion as to how Libya might build a justice system that would promote any semblance of a fair trial was all but absent.

It is clear that far from expressing the importance of Libyan autonomy, the UNSC is promoting the perpetual "role of the international community".

Apart from the fact that the ICC has been routinely criticised for its selective prosecution of individuals, with a focus upon African nations almost to the exclusion of other countries, the current scenario in Libya creates more contention than accord, regardless of whether the ICC or national courts embark upon prosecution.

Libya's power vacuum has resulted in a cacophony of competition between factions that can trace their ascent to foreign backing since 2011. Adding a third entity, primarily a body of collaboration with the UN, provides an illusion of stability.

However, when considering the wider scenario, it is clear that the international community is more concerned with laying a veneer over the reality in Libya. In addition, it is clear from the responses that the UN-backed unity government has already been assigned a role - that of functioning as an extension of the international community while ostensibly representing Libya.

As a result, while the ICC may continue to insist on prosecuting individuals - notably from Gaddafi's era - the terror unleashed, now epitomised by IS, has been mired in a discourse of "alleged war crimes".

Since the notion of justice left the arena, both the ICC and the current Libyan representatives have been embarking upon legalising vengeance in order to remain consistent with the narrative inscribed by the UNSC and NATO.

This was particularly evident in the trials, torture and sentencing of Gaddafi's sons and aides - trials that were heavily criticised, even by the UN and Human Rights Watch.

Absence of logic

Differing from other representatives, the Russian Federation's representative, Vitaly Churkin, made concise criticism exposing the contradictions within the narratives disseminated by the ICC and the UNSC. He pointed out that "the Libyan government was unable to function as a fully-fledged executive body" and tied this to the long term ramifications of NATO's actions.

International institutions should not only be held responsible for Libya's destruction, but also for their consistent dissociation, ensuring that accountability will never emerge as a prime concern.

This is in turn is reflected in the way both the UNSC and the ICC discuss terror in Libya, divested of the impositions that resulted in the current failed state.

In the absence of either law or justice, both the UNSC and ICC insist upon deterring future crimes, despite full knowledge of the imposed framework which paved the way for Libya's plunder - while its citizens are murdered, tortured, disappeared or displaced. Indeed, there is an absence of logic that is difficult to ignore.

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.