Category Archives: International Criminal Court

Civil Society Reflections on the Lubanga Trial

The International Criminal Court (ICC) delivered its first ever verdict on 14 March in the case of the Prosecutor vs. Thomas Lubanga Dyilo, marking an historic day for the international legal body and the fight against impunity for the gravest breaches of international law. The decision was also an important milestone for the Responsibility to Protect (RtoP), as the ICC is an important tool under the norm’s preventive framework. The verdict sent a clear message to perpetrators of war crimes that such acts would not go unpunished.

The Court found Lubanga, the former President of the Union des patriotes Congolese (Union of Congolese Patriots or UPC) and Commander-in-Chief and political leader of UPC’s military wing, the Force patriotique pour la libération du Congo (Patriotic Force for the Liberation of the Congo) (FPLC), guilty of committing war crimes – in particular of conscripting, enlisting, and actively using children as soldiers – in the Ituri region of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) between September 2002 and August 2003.

Thomas Lubanga Dyilo, found guilty by the International Criminal Court for actively using children under the age of 15 in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (ICC/CPI/Evert-Jan Daniel/ANP)

Today, impunity ends for Thomas Lubanga and those who recruit and use children in armed conflict,” said the UN Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Children in Armed Conflict, Radhika Coomaraswamy.In this age of global media, today’s verdict will reach warlords and commanders across the world and serves as a strong deterrent.”

Civil society organizations, including ICRtoP members Citizens for Global Solutions (CGS), Human Rights Network Uganda (HURINET), Human Rights Watch (HRW), and the International Refugee Rights Initiative (IRRI), as well as the Coalition for the International Criminal Court (CICC), Amnesty International, and the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH) lauded the Lubanga verdict as an important step for the ICC in deterring and preventing egregious violations of international law.

CGS CEO Don Kraus remarked on the importance of the Lubanga verdict for the ICC and the rule of law:

“Lubanga’s guilty verdict is a landmark moment in the short history of the Court…“During the past decade we witnessed the Court mature from a fledgling institution, to one that delivers results, holds mass killers accountable, and helps bring justice to their victims. The precedents set in this case will affect how the ICC administers justice for the rest of this century, if not beyond.”

On the message the decision sends to would-be perpetrators, Géraldine Mattioli-Zeltner, international justice advocacy director at Human Rights Watch, stated:

The verdict against Lubanga is a victory for the thousands of children forced to fight in Congo’s brutal wars. Military commanders in Congo and elsewhere should take notice of the ICC’s powerful message: using children as a weapon of war is a serious crime that can lead them to the dock.”

A press release by ICRtoP Member HURINET and the Uganda Coalition for the ICC (UCICC) echoed both of these points, applauding the “sure and steady” process, which included victims in the proceedings, and the condemnation of the use of child soldiers in armed conflict, which, “deprive and rob children of their childhood, innocence and future.”

The verdict was also an opportunity to reflect on the processes of the Lubanga trial itself and the impact of the ICC’s intervention for the people in the Ituri region of the DRC, where Lubanga’s forces were most active.

While the decision was an historic moment for international justice, it was a long time coming: Lubanga was detained on 17 March 2006, but, according to the CICC, “two successive suspensions of the proceedings contributed to significant delays in the trial.” See HRW’s Q&A on the Lubanga trial, including why the proceedings were so delayed.

Concerns were also raised in the final judgment by the Court, which were echoed by HURINET and the UCICC, HRW, and the CICC in their respective statements, regarding the role of intermediaries in the Lubanga trial. It was found that the Office of the Prosecutor (OTP) should not have relied on local individuals and/or organizations in the DRC to establish contact with witnesses in the case, as the evidence provided by a number of witnesses was deemed unreliable.

As such, both HRW and HURINET and the UCICC called for improved field investigations conducted directly by the OTP, and for greater regulation and supervision of the role intermediaries play in the Court’s processes.

HRW also expressed the urgent need to bring Lubanga’s co-accused, Bosco Ntaganda, to justice, with HURINET and the UCICC calling on all states to execute all remaining arrest warrants in the DRC.

Ntanganda was indicted by the ICC on 22 August 2006 for the same charges as Lubanga, but remains at large, and, according to the ICC, is allegedly still active as the Chief of Staff of the Congrès national pour la défense du people (CNDP) in North Kivu in the DRC.

This touched on a more general concern raised by HRW, who stated that the scope of the ICC’s involvement in the DRC was not deep enough. The human rights organization contends that the charges brought against Lubanga were too narrow, and do not adequately reflect other atrocities committed by him and his militia in the DRC. Also, HRW stated:

The ICC’s docket in relation to the DRC – currently limited to one other trial involving two leaders of an armed group that opposed the UPC in Ituri – fails to address the causes and extent of horrific crimes endured by civilians throughout eastern Congo.”

HRW called for a broader investigation into a fuller range of serious crimes, “in particular against those who armed, financed, and directed armed groups in eastern Congo.”

Reflecting on the importance of the trial for the people in Ituri, IRRI and the Association pour la promotion et la défense de la dignité des victims (Association for the Promotion and the Defence of the Dignity of Victims) (APRODIVI) took stock of the Court’s intervention in the DRC in order to better understand its impact on one of the most war-affected regions of the country.

Steps Towards Justice, Frustrated Hopes: Reflecting on the Impact of the ICC in Ituri chronicles how after years of devastating internal warfare, much was expected of the ICC’s involvement in securing peace and justice in the region by its people, including in preventing further atrocities. Years later, despite a “degree of appreciation for the Court’s work” and the Lubanga verdict, the report details from first hand accounts with individuals and organizations on the ground in Ituri that action is still needed from many actors – from the Congolese government to the ICC to the international community of states – to improve accountability for crimes committed in the region.

While the ICC’s first conviction is being celebrated, it remains unknown whether Lubanga and his lawyers will exercise the right to appeal the decision, what the sentence for his crimes will be, and the manner in which providing reparations for victims will proceed.

The reflections of civil society organizations highlight the crucial importance of learning from the trial. And if learned and implemented, as William Pace, Executive Director of the World-Federalist Movement-Institute for Global Policy, Convenor of the CICC, and Co-Founder and Steering Committee member of ICRtoP stated, “the difficulties encountered during the course of this trial will serve to improve the expediency of those to follow and will someday bring about an end to the era of impunity.”  

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The RtoP and the ICC: Complementary in Prevention, Assistance and Response

The International Criminal Court (ICC) has delivered its first ever verdict with a finding of guilty in the case of the Prosecutor vs. Thomas Lubanga Dyilo on 14 March 2012.

In light of this, and with the ICC playing differing but integral roles in responding to mass atrocities in recent situations like Libya and Côte d’Ivoire, we’d like to expand on the relationship between the Responsibility to Protect (RtoP) and the ICC. In this effort, we asked several ICRtoP member organizations, including the Kenyan Section of the International Commission of Jurists, Citizens for Justice and Accountability, the International Refugee Rights Initiative, and the World Federalist Movement-Institute for Global Policy to provide their reflections on the relationship.

The Responsibility to Protect (RtoP) and the International Criminal Court (ICC) are two interconnected initiatives that seek to ensure that the world responds to mass atrocities and hold perpetrators of these egregious crimes accountable. At their core, however, the RtoP and the ICC are complementary in seeking to prevent these crimes from occurring altogether.

Both the RtoP and ICC articulate the primary responsibilities of states. The Rome Statute of the ICC provides that it is the primary responsibility of national authorities to investigate and prosecute individuals responsible for the commission of genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity.

George Kegoro, Executive Director of the Kenya Section – International Commission of Jurists, explains this further: “The ICC is a ‘court of last resort’ – that is, its mandate is to prosecute only when domestic avenues have been exhausted, and where a State is unable or unwilling to prosecute those individuals responsible for the gravest of crimes.”

Similarly, RtoP bestows the primary responsibility to protect civilians from genocide, war crimes, crimes against humanity, and ethnic cleansing – the four ‘RtoP crimes’ – to the state. As William Pace, the Executive Director of the World Federalist Movement-Institute for Global Policy (WFM-IGP), a founding Steering Committee Member of the ICRtoP and the Coalition for the ICC, notes, this synergy dates back to the march towards the creation of the ICC, as “RtoP emerged massively from the Rome Statute process – the same crimes, complementarity, national and international responsibility.”

However, as has been witnessed in countless situations, some states fail to uphold their obligations. In instances where states are willing but unable to protect populations, the second pillar of RtoP – international assistance and capacity-building – asserts that the United Nations (UN), its Member States, regional organizations, and civil society have a role to play in ensuring that those states receive the assistance necessary to assume their RtoP.

Similarly, the Assembly of States Parties of the ICC adopted a resolution at the May-June 2010 Kampala Review Conference which premised that the Court and its members, the States Parties to the Rome Statute, should provide the tools needed to assist states who were willing but unable to fulfill their Statute responsibilities. One such example of this was provided by Sulaiman Jabati, Executive Secretary of the Freetown, Sierra Leone-based Citizens for Justice and Accountability  (COJA), who said that the ICC should “expand its outreach activities in countries that have early warning signs for potential conflict.” In this sense, RtoP and the ICC are both complementary in calling for the provision for international assistance to ensure states uphold their primary responsibilities.

RtoP and the ICC are also complementary in instances where states are found both unable and unwilling to meet their responsibilities. The Rome Statute provides that when a state does not meet its primary obligations to prosecute individuals responsible for the commission of Statute crimes, it will ensure situations are investigated, warrants are issued, and those in its custody are prosecuted.

Similarly, when a state is found unable and unwilling to uphold its responsibility to protect civilians, the norm provides that the responsibility to protect those civilians yields to the UN and its Member States in cooperation with regional organizations.

Libya and Côte d’Ivoire: The ICC in the RtoP Toolkit

As the recent cases of Libya and Côte d’Ivoire have demonstrated, the Court is firmly engrained under RtoP’s third pillar – timely and decisive response – as a tool used to respond to situations where mass atrocities are threatened or have occurred, as well as to prevent further atrocities from being committed through deterrence.

In response to the situation in Libya, where the regime of the now-deceased Colonel Muammar Gaddafi committed widespread atrocities against civilian protesters beginning from 17 February onwards, the RtoP framework guided early and unprecedented action to avert further crimes against civilians. An ICC referral was one of the broad range of measures taken to halt the threat of crimes in this context.

On 26 February, the UN Security Council (UNSC) passed Resolution 1970, in which it referred the Libyan case to the ICC and imposed other non-coercive measures to respond to the crackdown. Pace calls the Resolution 1970, “one of the finest ever of the UNSC, and the process leading to the 15-0 decision [result of the vote] among the best examples of how the international community should maintain international peace and security.”

The investigation that ensued resulted in the indictments of Muammar Gaddafi, his son, Saif Gaddafi, and former intelligence chief, Abdullah Senussi, which were announced by the Court while the conflict raged on. But, as Dismas Nkunda, Co-Director of the International Refugee Rights Initiative (IRRI), suggests, the indictments being made while Libya was in the midst of a conflict were problematic. “The arrest warrants before the fall of Gaddafi regime played into the discourse being propagated by the African Union,” states Nkunda, “that the ICC was more interested in trying African leaders,” than finding peace in the country.

Furthermore, Nkunda said the process raised serious concerns on the African continent about the independence of the ICC from the influence of the UNSC, particularly as, “the Libyan case was seen to be biased against one side of the conflict.” Disquiet over the impartiality of the Court has thus led to concerns over the selective application of the RtoP, Nkunda said, which may prove problematic for both the norm and the institution moving forward.

Despite these concerns, the Court remains actively involved in Libya. After Saif’s arrest in November 2011, the ICC has been engaged with Libya’s National Transitional Council (NTC) on the issue of his trial. It had been reported that the Court would allow Libya to try Gaddafi’s son, but as of 25 January 2012, no decision had yet to be made by the ICC.

As of November 2011, the Court remained involved in Libya as it continues to build its case against Saif Gaddafi and Senussi and investigates allegations that all parties to the conflict, including anti-Gaddafi forces, committed war crimes and/or crimes against humanity. The 2 March 2012 report of the UN Human Rights Council’s Commission of Inquiry into Libya, and its handing over of a list to the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (UNHCHR), Navil Pillay, of suspected perpetrators, could mean continued involvement for the Court moving forward as well.

The Court also played an important role in the response to the post-election violence in Côte d’Ivoire between 28 November 2010 and 11 April 2011, during which widespread human rights violations and crimes against humanity were alleged to have been committed.

As the situation in the country intensified in March and April 2011, the Office of the Prosecutor of the ICC warned on 6 April that an investigation could be triggered as a result of reports of widespread and systematic killings. On 4 October 2011, in the aftermath of hostilities, the ICC exercised its jurisdiction in the country and authorized an investigation into allegations of such violations committed by all parties to the conflict.

Months after his arrest on 11 April 2011, on 30 November 2011 former President Laurent Gbagbo was transferred to the Court – the first head of state to be in the custody of the ICC – and will stand trial for his in alleged involvement in crimes against humanity over the course of the civil conflict. It was also announced on 22 February 2012 that the Court would expand the scope of its investigation into the country to the 2002-2010 period.

According to Kegoro, while the initial involvement of the Court in Côte d’Ivoire (and Libya as well) was both appropriate and justifiable – in that it had an immediate effect of publicly championing an end to impunity and the promotion of the rule of law – the true impact of the ICC is at a, “fledgling state”.

Assessing how the ICC intervention has affected the prevention of further atrocities and regional stability and the peace will require on-going monitoring and evaluation, both during ICC trial processes and after the decisions,” Kegoro said. While he noted that prosecution of perpetrators of the most serious crimes can have a deterrent impact, “the societal implications of ICC interventions and decisions is something that will only be shaped and understood over time.”

Kegoro concluded by adding that, “The long-term impact of the ICC, especially on African nations, is something that needs to be carefully assessed,” particularly in the wake of the Court’s involvement and the implementation of RtoP in Libya and Côte d’Ivoire.

Peace vs. Justice?

As the ICC was involved in Libya during the conflict, but formally announced its investigation into the situation in Côte d’Ivoire only after hostilities had ceased, debate has arisen over the timeliness of the employment of the ICC as a tool to respond to mass atrocities under the RtoP framework. The debate also touches on a more general discussion of whether justice for victims of atrocity crimes can be pursued while attempting to secure a peaceful resolution to a conflict or vice versa. This is more commonly known as the peace vs. justice debate.

Both Jabati and Pace were unequivocal in stating that there can be no peace in any situation without justice for crimes committed. This idea spurred Jabati’s COJA, along with a number of other civil society organization’s present at the Kampala Review Conference, to push for the ability of the ICC’s Chief Prosecutor to prioritize conflict prevention in Africa through extensive outreach programs, highlighting the importance placed on justice in the pursuit of peace in cost-conflict settings, and in the prevention of violence altogether.

Pace argues against the premise that pursuing peace and accountability for international crimes at the same time doesn’t work, and says that there has been, “no peace strategy that has worked worse” than giving major combatant leaders amnesty and transferring them to a third country with personal and financial security. Instead, the WFM-IGP Executive Director stated that while each individual situation must be evaluated independently, the recent-year examples of Bosnia, Sierra Leone, Uganda, the DRC, and Colombia, “make the case that in many conflict situations introducing international criminal justice actually helps achieve and fortify peace.”

But, drawing on the specific example of Kenya, where the ICC opened an investigation on 31 March 2010 and is currently in the process of trying four individuals it has found responsible for the 2007-2008 post-election violence, Kegoro says that the country’s experience points to the fact that the “most practicable time for ICC intervention is in post-conflict situations.

However, according to Kegoro, this was a result of the fact that Kenya had only exhibited its unwillingness to prosecute perpetrators of violence well after it had subsided; thus the ICC had little role to play during the crisis. Therefore, he states that, “there may be a set of circumstances in the future where direct ICC intervention during an armed conflict is appropriate, or even required.”

Also drawing on recent examples, Nkunda sees both positives and negatives of the Court’s involvement during armed hostilities. With the Lubanga case, Nkunda notes that the Court’s engagement during the conflict in the DRC did have a positive impact on limiting crimes, specifically in raising awareness that the practice of conscripting child soldiers was contrary to international law and that such behaviour to could lead to the docket in the Hague.

In terms of negative implications, the IRRI Co-Director points to Sudan as a glaring example, where, “the unintended but expected consequences of the Court’s decision was the expulsion of humanitarian organizations [16 aid agencies operating in Darfur were expelled in early March 2009], which heavily impacted the lives of the very people – the victims – whom the Court was trying to protect.” Furthermore, in singling out individuals as direct perpetrators of the violence, as the ICC did with the indictment of Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir and others in the context of the crisis in Darfur, Nkunda notes that the actions of the Court may have served to insulate one group to become, “more deadly, since they have nothing to lose.”

Our members’ insight, drawn from their experience working in the fields of international law and conflict prevention in unique national and regional contexts, shows that much depends on the complexities of the situation at hand, but that justice should certainly not come at the expense of peace.

Deterrence and the Need for Prevention

Jabati, Kegoro, Nkunda and Pace all touted the deterrent effect of the ICC on would-be violators of Rome Statute provisions, both in conflict and post-conflict settings. At times, however, the ICC itself may not be enough to halt ongoing mass atrocities in specific cases. In both Libya and Côte d’Ivoire, a wider array of measures became necessary to protect populations, including the use of force.

The present Syrian crisis, which has claimed as many as 8,000 lives since March 2011, continues unabated as the civilians remain victim to gross human rights violations at the hands of the regime of President Bashar al-Assad.  Regional and international actors must uphold their Responsibility to Protect the population of Syria by employing additional measures to effectively end the continued “collective punishment”.

In addition to a range of measures to respond to the crisis, the ICC has emerged as a potential tool to respond to the crisis through the RtoP framework. Calls have been made on a number of occasions by UNHCHR Pillay, as well as by French Foreign Minister Alain Juppé, and civil society organizations, including Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International, for the Security Council to refer Syria to the ICC. To date, however, there have been no such moves to ensure justice for the victims of the crackdown through the ICC, and the killing has largely continued unabated.

Only when tangible steps are taken to prevent genocide, crimes against humanity, war crimes, and ethnic cleansing from occurring altogether will this cycle of atrocity and reaction be broken.

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon put forth two such preventive measures in his January 2009 report, Implementing the Responsibility to Protect, by urging Member States to ratify the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court and to implement national legislation against atrocity crimes.

As the report reads, “The Rome Statute seeks to develop mechanisms and processes for identifying, investigating and prosecuting those most directly responsible for crimes and violations relating to the responsibility to protectI would encourage additional States to become parties to the Statute and thus to strengthen one of the key instruments relating to the responsibility to protect.”

But the Secretary-General noted that becoming a Party to the Rome Statute, along with other relevant instruments of international law, is just the first step in the full of the responsibility to protect. Consistent with the emphasis on the primary responsibilities of states by both the RtoP and the ICC, the Secretary-General’s report states that, “these core international standards need to be faithfully embodied in international legislation,” so that impunity for any of the four RtoP crimes is not accepted nationally or globally.

Taking these steps may ensure that states meet their primary responsibilities of protecting civilians by criminalizing the four RtoP crimes under both their domestic laws and their international obligations, and may work to realize their prevention altogether.

Please see the links below for the full statements by our members:

Statement by Sulaiman Jabati, Executive Secretary of Citizens for Justice and Accountability (Freetown, Sierra Leone)

Statement made by George Kegoro, Executive Director of the Kenyan Section of the International Commission of Jurists (Nairobi, Kenya)

Response by William Pace, Executive Director of the World Federalist Movement-Institute for Global Policy, Convenor of the Coalition for the International Criminal Court (CICC), and Co-Founder and Steering Committee Member of the International Coalition for the Responsibility to Protect (New York, USA)

Statement by Dismas Nkunda, Co-Director of the International Refugee Rights Initiative (Kampala, Uganda and New York, USA)

Special thanks to George Kegoro, Sulaiman Jabati, Dismas Nkunda, and William Pace. A shorter version of this post was expanded upon for this blog, and will be appearing in the upcoming print edition of World Federalist Movement News.

Editor’s Note: The views expressed in these individual responses prepared by our civil society member organizations do not necessarily reflect the views of the International Coalition for the Responsibility to Protect.

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FEATURE: Civil Society Reflects on Challenges for RtoP Post-Libya

To better understand the challenges posed for RtoP in the aftermath of the UN-mandated, NATO-led operation in Libya, we asked a few ICRtoP Member organizations from throughout the world to reflect and provide insight on the following questions:

  • Was the UN-mandated, NATO-led operation in Libya a step forward or a setback for the norm? What implications – positive and/or negative – does the Libya operation carry for RtoP moving forward?
  • What are the responsibilities of the international community as Libya transitions into the post-Gaddafi era? Despite the ending of the NATO mandate in Libya, should the international community continue to play a role in civilian protection?
  • Through an RtoP lens, what lessons can be learned from Libya for future cases where international action – whether non-coercive or coercive – is necessary to protect civilians?

The enlightening responses we received drew on the individual expertise of these ICRtoP Members, and brought in unique regional perspectives as well. Members who contributed were:

Rachel Gerber, Program Officer at The Stanley Foundation

Gus Miclat, Executive Director of Initiatives for International Dialogues

Robert Schütte, President of Genocide Alert

Jillian Siskind, President of Canadian Lawyers for International Human Rights

Sarah Teitt, Outreach Director and China Programme Coordinator for the Asia-Pacific Centre for the Responsibility to Protect

Dr. Robert Zuber of Global Action to Prevent War and Armed Conflict

The full post, “Civil Society Reflects on RtoP Post-Libya“, includes our review of the international response to the situation and analysis on its implications for RtoP, as well as the reflections on the challenges for the norm post-Libya by the individuals above.

We have also published a piece to mark the one-year anniversary of the first protests in Libya, which discusses the difficulties of the transition into the post-Gaddafi era.

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Libya, One Year On: National Transitional Council Struggles with Revolutionary Change

The one-year anniversary of the first protests in Libya was marked on 17 February 2012. Spurred on by the arrest of a human rights campaigner and emboldened by protests sweeping the Arab world, citizens in the eastern Libyan town of Benghazi hit the streets in a “Day of Rage” exactly one year ago in protest of the now-deceased Colonel Muammar Gaddafi’s 41-year rule.

Like Tunisia and Egypt before it, protests spread like wildfire across Libya, with Benghazi becoming the de facto stronghold of the opposition to the Gaddafi regime. As they spread, the crackdown by the Gaddafi regime became more ruthless.

The Libyan leader broadcasted his clear intent to commit further widespread human rights violations in a 22 February 2011 speech, calling on his supporters to attack the protesting “cockroaches”, and urging them to “cleanse Libya house by house” until they surrendered.

The international community responded in an unprecedented manner with a range of measures within the framework of the Responsibility to Protect, imposing sweeping diplomatic and other non-coercive measures at the national, regional, and international levels.

Civil society was quick to label Libya an RtoP situation, with a number of organizations calling for decisive action to prevent atrocities against civilians.

Individual states enacted sanctions, asset freezes, and travel bans. Regional organizations such as the League of Arab States (LAS), the Organization of Islamic Cooperation, and the African Union appealed for restraint, with the European Union enacting sweeping sanctions.

The UN Security Council (UNSC) imposed an arms embargo, travel ban, and assets freeze, while also referring the situation to the International Criminal Court through the unanimous adoption of UNSC Resolution 1970. The UN General Assembly suspended Libya from the Human Rights Council, after the Geneva-based body requested such an action be taken.

As the situation deteriorated further, the LAS and the Gulf Cooperation Council called for more robust measures to be adopted. The regime remained unfazed, intent on committing further atrocities.

With sweeping non-coercive measures failing to bring an end to the crackdown, on 17 March 2011, exactly one month after the first protest erupted, the UNSC passed Resolution 1973, which authorized “all necessary measures” to protect Libyan civilians. A Coalition of international states, led by the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), moved to quickly enforce the mandate on 19 March 2011.

The decision was another benchmark for RtoP, as it was the first time the Council had mandated the use of force to protect civilians from one or more of the four crimes under the norm’s framework.

Seven months later, after a protracted civil war with devastating consequences for civilians and combatants, Gaddafi was captured and killed on 20 October 2011 by rebel forces, with assistance from NATO airpower. The dictator’s shocking demise spurred the UN’s Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, the ICC’s Chief Prosecutor, Human Rights Watch, and Amnesty International to raise suspicions that a war crime was committed.

It was a violent end to the old Libya, and a turbulent beginning to the new era.

Insecurity, Lawlessness Prevail

As Libyans celebrated an end to the Gaddafi era, Mahmoud Jibril, the former leader of Libya’s now-provisionally-ruling National Transitional Council (NTC), hailed Gaddafi’s death as an end to “all the evils” in his country.

One year on however, evil has not vanished from Libya. Instead, insecurity and lawlessness prevail, and a number of high-profile civil society organizations have documented allegations of widespread human rights violations by Libya’s revolutionaries.

According to a 16 February report by Amnesty International (AI), hundreds of armed and “out of control” militias threaten Libya’s transition in the post-Gaddafi era, which the provisional NTC has been unable to rein in.

Running street battles often break out between the militias, terrifying and threatening civilians. Revenge attacks and discrimination against known or suspected Gaddafi supporters, as documented by ICRtoP member Human Rights Watch (HRW) in a 22 January report, are commonplace. Clashes between rival militias have erupted in the southeast, and despite NTC forces intervening, have continued. The violence is fueled by easy access to weapons stockpiles, some of which have slipped across Libya’s borders into neighbouring countries.

Impunity also reigns. These “out of control” militias, along with some NTC-affiliated military and security entities, have allegedly engaged in ill-treatment, torture, and killings of detainees. Lacking an effective judicial system, these alleged crimes have largely gone unpunished in the new Libya.

Detention in these conditions persists for thousands, mostly in centres that are controlled by militias independent of the ruling NTC. A 16 February report by the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) indicated that 8,500 detainees remain in custody in over 60 separate places of detention, most of which are under the control of different authorities.

Detention centres in Misrata were appalling enough to cause Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) to suspend their work in the prisons on 26 January. In a press release, MSF stated that officials from Misrata-based militias that ran the detention centres frequently subjected detainees to torture and denied them medical care. Furthermore, members of MSF staff were repeatedly brought detainees in the middle of an interrogation to be given medical care so that they could be questioned further.

At a UNSC briefing on 25 January, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay stated that the lack of central oversight “creates an environment conducive to torture and ill-treatment”, and urged the detention centres to be brought under the control of the Ministry of Justice. However, while the NTC has reportedly assumed custody of more detainees, the reports of AI, HRW, and MSF highlight the continued risk of torture and other human rights violations in post-Gaddafi Libya.

Despite this, there are glimmers of progress. The citizens of Misrata held Libya’s first real exercise in democracy in 42 years by going to the polls on 20 February to elect a new City Council. The NTC has also vowed for elections in June, along with drafting a new constitution, although no date has been set. These gains are threatened by the fact that Libya’s revolution cities, like Misrata, are outpacing the NTC with reforms and forming nearly autonomous city-states.

Reports emerging from Libya in the first months of 2012 are certainly troubling. The struggle to establish security in the new Libya after an eight-month civil war has been compounded by an equally difficult struggle to ensure that human rights are protected, the rule of law is built and respected, and reconciliation is pursued.

Moving forward, the country’s authorities, along with partners at the international, regional, and national levels, must work together to ensure both peace and justice as Libya rebuilds. Such a challenge may prove as a great a test for RtoP as its implementation in response to the crackdown nearly one year ago; however only then will the responsibility to protect truly be upheld in the post-Gaddafi era.

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