Awkward: Explaining Dialogue in Libya Amid U.S. Government Shutdown


Graffiti art along a wall in Tripoli

I am cross-posting a blog that I wrote with a colleague on our recent trip to Libya.  The blog appeared on the United States Institute of Peace website as part of their “Olive Branch” blog series.

Here is the original link

Monday, October 28, 2013
By: Colette Rausch and Christina Murtaugh
It was Oct. 1, and we were midway through an 11-day visit to Libya. Our intent was to nurture the development of rule of law by guiding civic and business leaders, government officials, militia fighters, police, judges, young people and even artists through Justice and Security Dialogues. The process empowers communities to create a forum where they can bridge differences and make progress establishing security and justice among all those involved.

And then the U.S. government shut down.

In Libya, representing the U.S. Institute of Peace, an independent, nonpartisan organization funded by Congress, we couldn’t – and wouldn’t – take sides. But the questions started coming: how can the United States government, often seen as a template for democracy, shut down and stop its work? Even with all the chaos, violence, and lack of full central government control, we were told, the Libyan government had not ceased its work.

We were also faced with explaining the premise of the dialogues — that communities need to meet and discuss issues to build a peaceful, democratic society — all while our own government appeared to be taking the opposite route. Negotiations in the U.S. Congress, one of the most-admired deliberative institutions in the world, had broken down so severely that federal budget authority lapsed, forcing many government offices to shut their doors and furlough some 800,000 workers.

With the implicit hit to our credibility as facilitators and supportive partners, we felt we had to take a step back and reinvest in building trust.

First, some background. USIP and its Rule of Law program have been engaged in Libya since soon after the ouster of Libya’s longtime dictator, Muammar Gadhafi, in 2011. The program engages in a variety of work, including research, workshops, and the dialogues, to help Libya address the many security issues that hamper its emergence from violent revolution and its transition to an entirely new system based on the rule of law.

USIP specialists have criss-crossed much of Libya traveling to the cities hit hardest by the revolution, to remote corners ignored for decades by Gaddafi, and to the various borders with Libya’s neighbors, assessing the country’s prisons, researching intricate challenges of justice and security and offering other expertise wherever we are welcome.  Our colleagues have braved firefights and a car bombing and we put ourselves at risk for the cause of peace as a matter of necessity.  Developing contacts, trust and engagement in such an unstable environment is a long, arduous and sometimes dangerous process that requires no small measure of finesse, diplomacy, risk-taking and determination on both sides.

So it’s not hard to imagine the puzzlement and frustration of our Libyan colleagues when they learned that other USIP counterparts who had been furloughed back in Washington were prohibited by law from replying to e-mail or otherwise engaging in an official capacity while our government was shut down.  The two of us had been exempted for the work we were doing in the field. By being there, we were able to explain the unanswered e-mails and maintain the constant contact and relationship-building required to make peacebuilding work.

In perhaps a reverse irony, our own government’s challenges ultimately provided us a valuable point of entry for our discussions around Justice and Security Dialogues in Libya.

In one dialogue, a town elder walked us through a document that he and others in his shura council had developed with considerable thought and deliberation.  But as he presented it, others in the room began to fidget and show signs of unease.  The confidence displayed by the presenter was in sharp contrast to some of the others around the table.  So we asked the speaker to pause as we asked the others about their discomfort.

“We have not seen this document before,” said one of the youths at the table.  The elder insisted everyone had been consulted and that he had addressed everybody’s needs. But then another participant said that he also had not been consulted.

What we were experiencing was a microcosm of difficulties facing societies and countries the world over.  No matter how well-drafted a law or even a constitution may be, at the end of the day, whether people will follow it often depends on whether they feel “ownership.”   Until then, it is just words on paper.  We have seen many occasions where groups criticize their country’s existing constitution, but what they are really saying is they don’t feel it reflects their own ideas and aspirations.

In this group, while everyone agreed that the document was thorough and well thought-out, the process used to develop it was not fully transparent, nor did the process involve all different groups in the community. The elders, meanwhile, felt it was their traditional role to provide such guidance. Moreover, many in the room felt they had been waiting for security for over two years, and opening up the process would delay any potential progress. In the end, people saw the need to include the other elements of their society to ensure buy-in and ownership. They would need to find a way to balance this without having to start anew.

Through dialogue, this small group of elders, youth, police, artists, business professionals and others experienced the challenges and benefits of the kind of inclusive process that makes a democracy work. We couldn’t help but think it was a lesson far too often overlooked back home.

Colette Rausch is USIP’s associate vice president for governance, law and society. Christina Murtaugh is a USIP program officer for rule of law.


Eleven Days in Libya: The Peacebuilding Roller Coaster

Graffiti art in Tripoli, Libya. The city sponsored artists to create art on each panel of the wall.

Graffiti art in Tripoli, Libya. The city sponsored artists to create art on each panel of a retaining wall along a road coming into Tripoli.

Having lived and worked in multiple war-affected countries, I have grown used to the inevitable ups and downs of transitions from war to more peaceful countries.  I use the term “more” because the reality is that just because active conflict may end, transitions are fraught with continued instability, often for years if not decades to come.  Libya is no different.

After the fall of the Gadaffi regime in 2011, Libya, like many transitional countries, has struggled to establish a just and secure state.   Militia members, who may or may not have fought in the revolution, are loath to relinquish the power they have secured and the weapons that they feel keep them safe from a variety of threats, including other armed groups competing for power, those seeking to settle scores, even common criminals.  The central government itself is struggling to establish functional institutions based on principles of accountability, transparency, inclusion and justice where none existed before the revolution.  No easy feat — even in stable environments.  But doing so in Libya, with trauma from the conflict still so fresh in the minds of Libyans, pre-existing and factitious divisions that span decades, sometimes centuries, combined with the legacy of the Gaddafi-era scare tactics — is a much higher hurdle to overcome.

We had come to Libya to work with our Libyan colleagues as part of the United States Institute of Peace’s (USIP) ongoing justice and security dialogues, bringing together police, local government, elders, doctors, engineers, professors, militia, youth and others who make up the fabric of Libyan society, to discuss justice and security challenges and find ways to work together to address them.  In order to really understand the immense challenges ahead for this fledgling new nation, as well as the tremendous potential that exist in Libya, all one needs to do is follow our travelogue:

DSC09831 Day 1 – Landing in Tripoli

As wheels touched down in Tripoli, so began my third trip to the Libyan capitol since the revolution ended.  My first visit came shortly after the fighting to oust Libyan dictator Gadaffi had ended, and the new transitional government sought to avoid, or at least gird for, the many pitfalls that often follow such violence. Between my own visits, my colleagues have been in and out of Libya multiple times, providing as close to an uninterrupted presence and continuity as possible in the face of limited budgets and resources.

As we drove from the airport, I noticed some minimal upgrades in security that had been made since my last visit.  Upon arriving at our hotel – off the beaten path and far from the center of the city – I was surprised to discover what could only be described as an oasis. Here, lush green grass, palm trees, and a hospitable staff made a convincing argument Tripoli was slowly regaining its feet, compared to my earlier visits. There was not the usual din of noise around us, but an unexpected quiet, complemented with a tranquil serene surrounding. Under different circumstances, I am confident this was a place I could come to relax.

As we met up with colleagues and poured over our schedule and agenda for the coming eleven days, we set off for the hotel’s dinner – an outside barbeque on this particular evening. As we began our meal, the silence and serenity was interrupted by gunfire just beyond the compound walls.   Gunfire is not an uncommon phenomenon on these trips. In fact, during my first trip to Tripoli, a full-fledged rocket propelled grenade battle erupted down the street from my hotel.   But you can always measure what your own level of alertness needs to be by judging how those who experience such events daily react, and since no one else at our dinner seemed overly concerned, we went on eating. But then there was a loud, unsettling “boom.”  At this point, a number of people stopped what they were doing and turned toward the blast – including the wait staff.  After one more blast, we were all alert and silent.  Then the familiar crackling sounds of fireworks followed, and we all let out a visible sigh of relief. It never fails to amuse me that countries the world over, having so recently experienced the brutality of war, still prefer fireworks and gunfire to celebrate everything from weddings to weekends, or just letting off steam.

DSC09841Day 2 – The city I remember and the signs of progress

The second day, we moved from the calm oasis on the outskirts of the city into a hotel that could accommodate our full group. It was in the heart of Tripoli, and driving in I saw the sites I remember from my previous trips – the Mediterranean Sea, Tripoli Towers, the Old City and its Ottoman Empire Walls, pock marked with the destruction of current generation ordinance. As we drove into the city, the one major change was the Tuesday Market roundabout. There were four very orderly and well coordinated checkpoints set up – staffed by different security personnel (some in standard police uniforms, others in green fatigues, some in black uniforms, with vehicles parked to their side including everything from standard police cars to small pick up trucks  (“technicals”) mounted with Russian-made DShKM 12.7 heavy machine guns.)  As we drove through one, there were about 4 “lanes” in which officers were inspecting cars as they drove by. At first, it seemed like they must be looking for illegal armed groups or others that might cause harm, but as we drove through our lane, cars were being pulled over for a myriad of violations – improper or no license plates, illegally tinted windows, etc. And not only were these cars being pulled over, the police were issuing tickets. After two years, this is a clear indication that, in the capital city at least, police were carrying out policing functions beyond filing paperwork. These small signs indicate that the security apparatus is beginning to chip away at the lack of state control – even if just a small chip.

DSC09853Day 3 – Into a lion’s den?

On the third day of the trip, we were driving to another town to host the pilot Justice and Security Dialogue (JSD). The event would last two days, and was the culmination of my colleague Christina Murtaugh’s month long planning.  On the way, I was pleasantly surprised to see a traffic cop in a immaculate white uniform, with cap on head, directing traffic in a most professional way, with all the drivers obediently honoring his instructions. Then came the first hiccup.

We got an urgent call from our Libyan colleague who suggested we contact him upon reaching the outskirts of the town.  He informed us that the main highways had been shut down. He didn’t give a lot of details, but as we neared the town, we saw his car waiting for us.  We followed him as he wove his way into the town center through back roads and side streets. We learned that the main highway had been blocked by a local militia that had been battling a rival over the past month, resulting in numerous casualties on both sides, as well as a number of prisoners being taken.

The militia in question was blocking the highway to protest reports that the neighboring militia had reneged on a tentative peace agreement forged by the two adversaries that stipulated each would release their respective prisoners, while only their own side had followed through on the agreement.

Eventually, we arrived at the location where we were to conduct our meeting only to find trucks and cars lined up on either side of the road for more than a mile and the entrance to the location blocked.  Despite the backlog of vehicles and barred gate, everything appeared calm on the surface as Libyan Shield (former militia members that are now part of the Ministry of Defense) were milling about the entrance. Libya Shield had also been serving as de facto peacekeepers between the two squabbling militias I mentioned earlier.   So we cautiously made our way to a back entrance and entered the location. We learned that this protest was the result of yet another local militia wanting local companies to employ them.

With our own adrenaline piqued after such an arduous commute, we openly questioned whether it would be possible to get such desperate and divided groups to join us at the table to initiate discussions around these and much more pressing justice and security challenges.

Our own unease aside, the palpable tension seemed to provide the ideal backdrop for substantial progress.  In fact, rather than the traditional platitudes and niceties – a part of the cultural fabric of Libya in which they take great pride in being gracious hosts and making each visitor feel at ease and welcome – each participant talked openly and honestly about the severity of their challenges, the extent of their differences and each’s understanding of the root causes. This transparency and honesty is an essential and necessary ingredient toward establishing real and constructive dialogue and finding solutions that will actually improve the situation, but usually takes time to foster.  The fact all the tension was already on the table at the outset gave us hope as we left the first day.

DSC09842Day 4 – Landing on a high note

On the second day of our dialogue, all the of the overt symptoms of the immediate security challenges were gone – negotiations the previous evening ended the road blocks, and the militia, blockading the location where we were holding our meeting, had sufficiently made their point known with their protest the previous morning and were nowhere to be seen. We came into the dialogue with renewed spirit – day two was about finding solutions to the difficult challenges aired in day one. The participants made significant headway, and by the end of the day there were a number of constructive solutions. The participants had agreed on a short-term roadmap, selecting one idea to begin working on as a test of their collaboration. And they had selected a steering group in which to drive their work. But most of all, we had grown close to this group, seeing the real struggles they are dealing with in bringing justice and security to this small corner of Libya. By the culmination of the two-day dialogue, we were confident that seeds to real partnership had been planted, and the mechanisms in place to ensure they developed fruit.

DSC09855Day 5 & 6 – Seeing the future of Libya

After the JSD sessions, we returned to Tripoli. As we drove back to the capitol city, we had opportunity to reflect on the experiences the two days prior.  While encountering roads blocked by various militias on separate occasions, it would be easy to feel disheartened.  But the fact that, in both cases, the militias had chosen peaceful protest and civil disobedience over brute force was actually an encouraging sign that perhaps slowly but surely even the militias are evolving toward rule of law over rule of the gun.

That afternoon our sense of encouragement was further bolstered as we conducted a workshop with a group of youth on facilitation skills.    This group of five – from every corner of Libya – energized my colleagues and myself with their enthusiasm, dedication and inventiveness. These youth put in hard work over the first two days of our training, epitomizing the raw leadership, ingenuity, and work ethic that permeates the Libyan society through and through. Of course, all these positives come with the unanswered question – how to harness the youth’s exuberance, idealism and raw abilities to promote lasting peace and prosperity throughout all of Libya?

DSC09836Day 6 into Day 7 – The coming storm

On our sixth day in Libya (the second of youth facilitation in Tripoli), word came down in the early evening that the Russian Embassy, just blocks away from our training, had come under sustained attack by a group of armed men, who had breached the embassy grounds.

As seemed to be a theme throughout our dialogues, the reasoning for the attack was far ranging and often contradictory.  The one consistency in the story was that a Russian woman, unattached to the embassy, had killed a prominent Libyan revolutionary.  Some said she was the man’s wife, while others insisted she was a pro Gadaffi loyalist.  No one in the embassy was hurt while two of the attackers reportedly were killed.

Three a.m. the next morning, I was startled awake by gunfire followed by explosions.  Unlike the “celebratory” fire I heard on my first night in Libya, this was clearly different, clearly a firefight. It ended after about five to ten minutes and the night calm returned.  Sleep, on the other hand, was not quite as resilient.  Later that morning I would learn that there had been an exchange of gunfire on the street of one of our youth participants. She said she had been awoken when the windows of her home began to rattle with each fusillade. She said she was instantly taken back to 2011 and the war in Benghazi.  Later we learned, although, like many things in Libya, one can never know for sure, that it was a battle between two rival groups, either drunk or on drugs. Sadly, like many societies coming out of conflict, the drug and alcohol trade and organized crime in Libya have been very quick to exploit any security shortcoming the moment it materialized.

DSC09830Day 8 – Just another weekend in Libya

Day 8 of the trip coincided with the start to the weekend in Libya. With the groups and motivations behind the assault on the Russian embassy still unknown, we felt it best to keep a low profile as the situation became clearer. As reports on the Russian embassy attack trickled in, news of a series of assassinations earlier in the week of former and current security personnel in the eastern part of Libya, around Benghazi, added to our general unease.

A few days earlier, a naval officer and his eight-year-old son were killed as the man took his son to school.  Earlier in the week three army officers had been killed.  (Other assassinations were to follow, including the killing of a senior retired police officer two days later, on Saturday.  Then on Sunday, a Colonel in the Libyan Air Force was murdered.) Our colleagues have told us – this is what they have now come to expect.  Very targeted attacks on individuals that have a symbolic message as well. After all of this bad news, we were hoping our ninth day would bring a bit of peace.

Security is never far from any of our minds.  While the nature of the job of a peacemaker is to venture into places where there is no peace, we do not do so without ample caution, prudence and no small amount of apprehension.

DSC09838Day 9 – As mixed of a bag as one can get

On our ninth day, we travelled back to our colleagues from the JSD roundtable to establish next steps following our dialogue. We weren’t sure what to expect, or what they wanted from us in terms of partnership. Upon arriving in their city, we first met with the police who had participated in our preliminary dialogue. Through our conversation, they reminded us that we had mentioned two things essential to the success of our partnership with his city: (1) we must ask what people think, and not impose ideas from the outside; and (2) we must start with what can be achieved, working on the small activities, and not try to solve all Libya’s problems at once, or we’d be overwhelmed by the complexity of the challenges.

We then met with the steering committee that had been appointed during our previous discussion. The group had made amazing progress in the six days since our initial dialogue – they had a plan of action, a division of tasks, and had created timetables, and points of contact.

Yet we discussed the planning and process, it became evident that each group had carved out different objectives based on their goals, and not necessarily respecting the others sitting across the table from them.  In many ways, it was a microcosm of the community at large, and the motivations and power struggles that exist everywhere, including my own country.

It became clear that each participant needed to spend more time on their own internal process, laying ground rules to ensure respect for one another’s interests as well as their own. It was a teaching moment for both them and us. Without an inclusive, transparent process, occasionally, the only progress that can be made is backwards.  Or at least, back to the drawing board.

Despite the setback, we left encouraged – seeing just how much work and effort the group put in, and the willingness to do more and to compromise – each with the common goal of moving forward.  We also witnessed just how difficult making change can be, and how important it is to give each process – no matter how small or large – the time needed to achieve sustainable impacts.

As we made our way back Tripoli, our own progress came to a screeching halt. As we walked in the old city, comparing notes about what we had accomplished and what we had left to do, I checked my Twitter feed only to learn that an accused member of Al Qaeda had been nabbed off the streets of Libya. Speculation was ripe as to who could have carried out such a mission, but with a five million dollar bounty on his head, and accused of plotting the 1998 U.S. embassy bombings in Kenya and Tanzania, it was widely believed to have been a U.S. forces-led operation that had taken Abu Anas Al-Libi.  As the Twitter began filling with such suspicions and concerns about retribution, we returned to our hotel to get more information.  Official statements from the U.S. government confirmed that U.S. forces had captured Al-Libi.

DSC09845Day 9 & 10 – Risk assessment

A colleague from Benghazi reported that a Facebook page had been set up with a phrase along the lines of, “We are all Al-Libi.”  Meanwhile, many other Libyans I met expressed relief at the operation, and that Al-Libi’s abduction was a good thing because he represented the extremism plaguing so much of the country, responsible for many of the targeted killings and continued instability.  I heard from other Libyans who expressed concern that the U.S. acted unilaterally and didn’t allow Libya’s own justice system to operate in the way that it should, thereby violating Libya’s sovereignty.

Still others wondered how Al-Libi could walk the streets of Tripoli with a large bounty on his head for so long without action from the young Libyan government.  Further, they questioned why the U.S. was able to tackle Libya’s militants while the Libyan government seemed unable or unwilling to address the extremist problem with the same resolve?

While others expressed they wished their own government had handled the developing crisis with more tact, that rather than proclaiming that they had no prior knowledge of the raid, that it would have been preferable if the government had made a strong statement condemning terrorism, while couching their sovereignty concerns in that context.

Many speculated on whether there would a violent reaction to the raid and who would be targeted. Given this, and working with our many colleagues on a risk assessment, we decided it was best to lay low in our hotel until we flew out the next day.


As we awaited our remaining hours before our departure, we reflected on the sheer volume of challenges presented by this particular trip and concluded that the culmination of events and multitude of emotions, set backs and breakthroughs that we experienced, perfectly epitomized in microcosm similar challenges every country emerging from conflict experiences nearly daily:

• The excitement and exhilaration that comes with the realization that with Gaddafi gone, entirely new options, promise and opportunity await the new Libya.

•  The despair and disappointment that inevitably comes as groups try to exploit even the slightest gaps and security vacuums that materialize as the new system of government takes to its feet.

•  Dismay at the power-hold militias have created for themselves by force, unwilling to cede an inch of the ground they gained in their push to topple Gadaffi.

• The hope instilled in the young generation and the potential and opportunity they possess that their forbearers did not.

While these 11 days riding the roller coaster that Libya has become, my own government was going through its own gyrations with the government shuttered and negotiations to revive its democratic processes at a standstill. And in five days since I left Libya for another African country where I am working now, the roller coaster ride in Libya hasn’t changed.

Its Prime Minister was detained by a government-backed militia group, only to be released hours later.  Prime Minister Zeidan has since called this an attempted coup.  Extremists in the eastern part of the country have grown frustrated with the governments’ role in the Al-Libi case and have threatened retaliation. Over the past week, a number of security incidents have occurred: the Swedish consulate in Benghazi was struck by a car bomb, while the wave of assassinations have continued unabated.

Yet, the fact that the militias chose to show their displeasure with the  Al-Libi capture with a peaceful protest rather than violence can only be seen as an encouraging development. I continue to turn on the news, glance at my Twitter screen every few minutes, and look on Facebook to see the next turn that Libya takes.

Had I been in Washington, D.C., I too, would be one of the hundreds of thousands of government employees furloughed over a conflict – albeit a non-violent one. It was upon those reflections, that I recalled the wise words of the police we met with during our trip: “We must let communities – whether a small town, city, country, or the world at large – first develop solutions for themselves.   And only then begin to solve the problems by focusing on building unity by focusing on shared solutions that can be achieved, rather than trying to fix everything at once, and being overwhelmed.”

But most importantly, communities the world over must strive to recognize their common interests, because ultimately, whether a household, a city block, a city, state, country or continent: united we stand, divided we fall.

This blog was originally posted on the Peace and Collaborative Development Network. (PCDN)   I am cross-posting it here.   Here is the link from the PCDN website:

Libya’s Storm Before the Calm


Graffiti on wall in Misurata, Libya. Photo I took in May 2012.

Here is a blog I wrote that was posted on the website of the United States Institute of Peace.  

The original blog can be found at

Friday, September 20, 2013
By: Colette Rausch
Every time I hear about one more in a rash of targeted killings of influential figures across Libya, I’m disheartened by the thought that much of the instability and chaos plaguing the North African country is neither unexpected nor unique to Libya.
Collected munitions and memorabilia such as a war-martyr poster outside the Martyr's Museum in Misurata, Libya, January 2012.
Collected munitions and memorabilia such as a war-martyr poster outside the Martyr’s Museum in Misurata, Libya, January 2012. Colette Rausch/USIP


Nearly every war-torn country returning from conflict faces similar challenges and setbacks.  Even more disturbing is that much of the mayhem is deliberate and can be attributed to the same profile of bad actors and motives, regardless of conflict or continent.

In 2006, I was a contributing author and the editor of Combating Serious Crimes in Postconflict Societies: A Handbook for Policymakers and Practitioners, which was made available online at no cost. In it, more than 40 seasoned practitioners–judges and generals, prosecutors and human rights activists, scholars and government officials from across the world–explore in detail the causes and motivations behind much of the instability that inevitably follows conflict.

Libya, a country I have come to know and love and whose people I greatly admire, showcases the challenges that must be overcome as war-torn nations strive for normalcy and a return to (or an embrace of for the first time) rule of law and good governance. As of Aug. 8, for example, more than 50 people have been assassinated in a wave of political killings in the cities of Benghazi and Derna in eastern Libya, according to Human Rights Watch.

In January 2012 and May 2012, I traveled to many of the Libyan town centers that bore the brunt of the fighting during the bloody civil war that led to the ouster of long-time dictator Muammar Gadhafi in October 2011. USIP held workshops on rule of law in Benghazi, Tripoli, Misrata, and Zawiya.  Our team worked to convey the many challenges, pitfalls and opportunities Libyans will likely face as they endeavor to build from scratch a system of governance that reflects the will of the people, based on a fair and equitable application of the rule of law.

Although it is different in every country, there are always certain dynamics of human nature that are entirely predictable.  When a country like Libya endures such widespread and dramatic change and wholesale revamping of its institutions and structure of governance, a power vacuum initially develops, and uncertainty is exploited by disparate groups with questionable motivations.

That grim reality is one of the most difficult to convey to conflict-affected populations, who are often euphoric after having overcome tremendous challenges and sacrificing so dearly to achieve their lofty and admirable goals.

After all, it is during the rebirth of a nation when those groups who pushed and fought for reform are the most optimistic, political groups are still unified in having triumphed together against a common foe, and the bad actors and traditional spoilers, meanwhile, find themselves disorganized, scared, scarred, flat-footed and licking their wounds.

Sadly, time is on the side of the spoilers.

Once-unified coalitions often begin to unravel as their attention turns to consolidating their gains.  In Libya, for example, where various tribes and militias fought side by side to make victory possible, convincing them now to lay down their arms and rejoin society is a tall order, demanding enormous amounts of trust in the country’s fledgling new government.  It also requires that, for the common good, they cede some of the power that they now hold.

In addition to competing political factions maneuvering to ensure dominance in the new system, corruption and crime (including organized crime and political violence) undermine the establishment of law and order.  In Libya today, many of the most prominent assassinations are alleged to have been politically motivated, but not all.   Drug traffickers have begun battling for access to Libya’s strategic ports and shipping lanes, often to gain access to markets in Europe and generating waves of crime, including targeted killings.

Yet Libya is being asked to not only develop institutions from the ground up, including security structures, but to also create a new social contract in which citizens are no longer passive recipients of what the government is offering but instead an integral part of the solution.

I once traveled to a militia-run prison, where the warden explained that he was a successful businessman before the revolution.  After the revolution, he decided that, given everything he had been through and the violence he had experienced, he couldn’t pick up where he had left off. Instead, he chose to remain the warden of the prison run by the militia he commanded. Yet he had no training on how one runs a prison consistent with international human rights standards, and he has faced criticism for not yet living up to these standards. A country that has never known a culture of “lawfulness” cannot be expected to achieve it overnight.

This paradox perfectly illustrates one of the most important points both the international community and societies emerging from conflict should heed: Countries emerging from the shadows of a repressive government face the burden of transforming institutions that had been designed solely to protect the state and political elite into structures that represent the society at large and ensure equal protections under the rule of law.

U.S. Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel spoke this week by telephone with newly appointed Libyan Minister of Defense Abdullah al-Thani and reiterated the American government’s support for the country’s transition. “The two leaders discussed how the United States military can assist training for Libyan security forces and strengthening regional security through stability and rule of law,” according to a statement from Pentagon Press Secretary George Little. It’s one element of a range of technical assistance that experts convening at The Atlantic Council last week said Libya would need to stabilize and advance its newfound democracy. USIP’s rule-of-law assistance to Libya includes frequent workshops for Libyan civic activists, government officials and military officers there and during exchange or training visits to the U.S.

For transitional countries like Libya, an entirely new, sometimes alien, form of government must be stood up from the ashes of conflict. The new system is freighted with the public – and international – expectation that, rather than meting out violence and human rights abuses, it will deliver accountability, transparency, and justice.

All of this requires equal amounts of determination and patience from all the parties involved. One factor that can tilt the scales in favor of rule of law is being fully aware of the playbook, motivation, and tactics of those who would obstruct it.

Colette Rausch is director of rule-of-law programs at USIP.

Garden Round Up for August 2013


It is hard to believe that we are already heading into the end of the summer gardening season. But then again, when I take a look at the community garden plot and our patio garden, I see tired plants. Heck, I’m tired! It has been a tough growing season with the temperature fluctuations placing stress on the plants (and me) and encouraging the bugs to multiply.  Just a few days ago, we arrived at the plot to see an infestation of beetles.  It looked like something from the Twilight Zone.  There were hundreds of them swarming the kale and surrounding areas. Beetles won. Kale lost.

This season, though, I have finally acquired the detachment attitude.  Before I would stress out when blight hit my tomatoes or when insects devoured my swiss chard.  But this year I have taken a different approach. I shrug and let it go. I chalk it up to “that is nature” and move on. It only took me five years of gardening to get to this point but better late than never. Truth be told, I had a lot of help getting to this point through 1) a lot of blight and insects and failure; and 2) our community supported agriculture farmer who does this for a living and totally moves on, no sweat, when a crop of his hits the skids.


Patrick Pepper Nose. I think posting this may lessen my chances of him enlarging my greenhouse….

With the Fall on the horizon, I am getting my cool weather crop seeds planted and thinking about buying some new plastic for the low tunnel cold frame that will go in the community garden plot.  I am also planting the seeds with my husband that maybe, just maybe, if he feels like it, he can expand my greenhouse in our backyward so I can have a “double wide.”  I have outgrown (well, at least the plants have) the one he built for me last year……..

So here is a line up of photos taken during August:

Banana peppers.

Banana peppers.

Eggplants today in my patio garden.

Eggplants today in my patio garden.

Swiss chard and lots of tomatoes.

Swiss chard and lots of tomatoes.

Made a Caprese salad with the basil and yellow tomatoes growing well.

Made a Caprese salad with the basil and yellow tomatoes growing well.

Sweet yellow bell peppers in the home patio garden.

Sweet yellow bell peppers in the home patio garden.

Calvin weary of tending the community garden plot.

Calvin weary of tending the community garden plot.

Dad and Calvin in the community garden plot.

Dad and Calvin in the community garden plot.

My canned beets, okra and spaghetti sauce from tomatoes.

My canned beets, okra and spaghetti sauce from tomatoes.

Last beet harvest of the season.

Last beet harvest of the season.

Today's harvest.

Today’s harvest.

A "volunteer" tomato plant growing out of the compost bucket.

A “volunteer” tomato plant growing out of the compost bucket.

Amazing "volunteer" tomato plant from last year's seeds (green zebra) growing out of a crack by the shed. Quite resilient.

Amazing “volunteer” tomato plant from last year’s seeds (green zebra) growing out of a crack by the shed. Quite resilient.

Calvin's healthy breakfast with a "green" smoothie made of kale, yogurt, juice and bananas.  Then a bit of watermelon and cucumber on the side.

Calvin’s healthy breakfast with a “green” smoothie made of kale, yogurt, juice and bananas. Then a bit of watermelon and cucumber on the side.

Cantaloupe growing well in community garden plot.

Cantaloupe growing well in community garden plot.

Planted watermelon this year.  Happy results.

Planted watermelon this year. Happy results.

Garden Round Up for July 2013


Hot.  Humid. Wet. Bugs. More bugs. This describes the gardening experience of July. The cucumbers, squash, cantaloupe and watermelon blooms are a plenty. So far so good. But wait!  There is a battle going on. Who will win?  The powdery mildew on the squash plants or me with my organic spray? Who will win? The wilt on the cucumber plants or me who is killing off the cucumber beetles and eggs hiding around the garden? Who will win? The early blight on the tomatoes or me snipping the affected leaves to lengthen the production period.  Man (or woman in this case) v. nature. To learn the answers to these questions, check back to this blog for the Garden Round up for August 2013.  In the meantime, here is what I got (in photos).

Greenhouse with basil plants

Greenhouse with basil plants

Eggplant in patio garden

Eggplant in patio garden

Beans in patio garden

Beans in patio garden

Herbs in patio garden

Herbs in patio garden

Tomatoes in patio garden

Tomatoes in patio garden

Beets harvested from community garden plot

Beets harvested from community garden plot

Final harvest from kale planted in community garden plot last fall

Final harvest from kale planted in community garden plot last fall

Lettuce still being harvested from community garden plot

Lettuce still being harvested from community garden plot

Cucumbers growing in community garden plot

Cucumbers growing in community garden plot

Lettuce still growing in patio garden

Lettuce still growing in patio garden

Volunteer tomato plant in crack near shed. A plant sprouts every year from this spot.  Not sure where the original seed came from. Love the resiliency of nature.

Volunteer tomato plant in crack near shed. A plant sprouts every year from this spot. Not sure where the original seed came from. Love the resiliency of nature.

Tomato plants in patio garden

Tomato plants in patio garden

Lettuce still growing in community garden plot

Lettuce still growing in community garden plot

Yellow squash in community garden plot

Yellow squash in community garden plot

Harvest from community garden plot

Harvest from community garden plot

Squash, cucumber and peppers from patio garden

Squash, cucumber and peppers from patio garden

Sautéed Kale with Kohlrabi


This week’s Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) delivery included two Kohlrabi bulbs.  I had no idea what to do with them as I have never cooked with Kohlrabi and don’t recall ever eating one.  I also had mounds of Kale from my Community Garden plot.  So what to do?  I entered Kohlrabi and Kale into my search engine and up popped a recipe that sounded perfect. I learned that both vegetables are from the same family (brassicas) so work nicely together.  I was sold.  So I tweaked the recipe a bit and tried it out on my family today.

Here are the ratings from my husband Patrick and son Calvin:

Calvin ***** (five peas)

Patrick: *** (three peas)

Sautéed Kale with Kohlrabi


  • 1 1/4 pound kohlrabi, bulbs peeled
  • 1/2 teaspoon grated lime zest
  • 2 tablespoons fresh lime juice
  • 1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil, divided
  • 2 pounds kale (2 bunches), stems and center ribs discarded
  • 5 garlic cloves, finely chopped
  • 1/3 cup salted roasted pistachios, chopped


Slice kohlrabi into 1/2 inch slices.  Then slice each 1/2 slice into quarters.  Then slice in half each of these quarters.

Whisk together lime zest and juice, 2 tablespoons oil, and 1/2 teaspoon each of salt and pepper in a large bowl. Toss kohlrabi with dressing.

Finely chop kale. Heat remaining 2 tablespoons oil in a 12-inch heavy skillet over medium-high heat until it shimmers. Sauté garlic until pale golden, about 30 seconds. Add Kohlrabi. Sauté for about 1 minute. Then add kale by the handful, turning and stirring with tongs and adding more kale as volume in skillet reduces. When all of kale is slightly wilted, sauté with 1/2 teaspoon salt until just tender, about 3 minutes. Transfer to a bowl and cool to room temperature. Add pistachios.

(I adapted this recipe from the September 2009 edition of Gourmet magazine.  The original recipe can be found at

Garden On!



Post winter clean up of community garden plot. Chard and Kale in the back growing well post removal of the winter cold frame tunnel. Planted lettuce under the floating row covers.

Let it grow, let it grow, let it grow! Everything is planted and ready to go. My garden crew and I spent the past month and a half clearing out the community garden plot and patio pots, weeding and planning what to plant.  (Garden crew aka my husband Patrick and son, Calvin, age 9).

The swiss chard and kale planted in the Fall were doing great under the low tunnel cold frame so we pulled off the plastic and set them free. The strawberries planted the year before last were back and doing well.  So was my thyme.  Then we planted lettuce and sorrel seeds under the cucumber and squash trellises, thus providing shade once the vines start their trek upward.


Greenhouse with the parsley that had been over wintered, the tomato seedlings from the nursery that were biding their time until planting and my newly planted basil and cilantro seeds in pots.

Next came beets and onions and a few seeds to begin replanting the swiss chard and kale. That was it for the “cold”weather planting.  So I started planting a few things in the greenhouse including basil seeds and cilantro seeds. I also kept back a few herb pots that I had over wintered until I felt they were ready to leave the protection of the green house.

Then I began my yearly period of angst trying to predict the weather and our last frost.   Every year, I know better but can’t help myself. I know that mother nature has her own rhythm.  Then of course global warning throws in a few curves just to remind us that we cannot control mother nature. But after a long winter, I just so want to plant my “warm” weather plants:  tomatoes, eggplants, peppers, cucumbers and squash. I know that to do it too early will result in stunted growth and vulnerability to disease at best,  and maybe even premature death of the plant. But to wait too late could mean the plants won’t have enough time to root and get settled before the wicked summer heat settles in. So I need to work with the predicted last frost dates, my intuition and chance and hope for the best.

Calvin taking a nap at the garden nursery....

Calvin taking a nap at the garden nursery….


Community Garden Plot

So this year I split the difference and planted tomatoes at home in my patio garden early (and ended up covering them with row covers and bedsheets a few nights of a cold snap) and waited to plant in my community garden plot.  The lettuce and sorrel were already growing strong. But eventually I could no longer wait to plant my warm weather crops so went ahead and planted my tomatoes, peppers, eggplant, cucumbers and squash in the community garden plot.

At the same time, I also added the peppers, cucumbers and squash to my patio container garden.  Okay, I guess I got a little ahead of myself, perhaps, and had to run out (well, Patrick did for me :)) and cover it all ever so tenderly with row covers and plastic bags to survive the freak cold snap two nights, but hey, it was worth it. Everything was planted just before a major rain storm period started and YES all was good.

Patio Container Garden

Patio Container Garden

I know from experience that planting on a gray day before a period of rain is golden.  It gives the plants a great head start. Then a few days of rain and next thing you know, the plants are well rooted and seem to double their size overnight. So all is well in garden land. We have been harvesting the lettuce and enjoying fresh salads each night. And this is just the beginning of the growing season. Garden on!

Lettuce in community garden plot

Lettuce in community garden plot


Herbs in patio container garden


Lettuce, basil and lavender in patio container garden


Strawberries in patio container garden


Swiss chard and kale that had over wintered in the tunnel cold frame, plus beets and onions that I planted this spring.


Harvested lettuce from community garden plot.

Got Barrel. Let it Rain!


Rain Barrels. Who knew that I would become fixated on them? My first rain barrel was nothing special. Just a big plain plastic barrel. Having lived and traveled in war affected countries, and having gone through multiple storms here where the power was off for days at a time, my original thought was to have a rain barrel so we would have water “just in case” of an emergency. Well, two years passed and no need. I considered using the barrel to draw water for my container patio pots as that would not only lighten my carbon foot print but also my water bill. But the side yard where we placed the barrel was a nightmare due to neglect, resulting in a jungle-like mess that I avoided like the plague.

So this year I decided to get the side yard cleared out and the rain barrel in use. After a weekend of clearing the weeds and acorns turning into trees, we laid down landscaping fabric, hauled up the hill 3.5 tons of pebbles (bucket by bucket by my husband Patrick), set down stone path pavers, lined the borders of the side yard with lumber, planted some flowers in the planters and mulched the planters. IMG_0532

IMG_0531Then we raised the rain barrel with bricks, added some solar lights and we were ready to go! Now I use the rain barrel to water my entire patio container garden and I am very happy. I call the side yard my zen garden.

I was on a roll. Why have only one rain barrel when you can have two? We have two small ponds in the backyard and I figured we could save on the water bill by installing a rain barrel to catch the rain water from the shed near the ponds. I found one that was attractive, had a flower planter space on top of it and would look nice next to our ponds. We installed it, using nice pavers as a platform, and planted flowers on top and around it. Patrick ditched the old metal tubing and built one out of bamboo for the water to travel from the gutters down to the rain barrel.

IMG_0524 IMG_0525

Now that we had a rain barrel to water our back yard patio container garden and one to fill up our two small ponds, I needed one to water our front porch flower pots. Lugging gallons of water from the kitchen, across the living room and out to the porch was a chore. Not to mention it was quite messy too with all the slopping water on the wood floors.

Patrick and I were looking at images of rain barrels on-line when we came across one made of wood. Patrick was inspired. He used a pond liner to serve as the receptacle for the water. Then he picked up some cedar wood planks (closet liners were adapted) for the frame.Then Patrick picked up the hardware for the spigot and overflow valve and we were off and running.IMG_0554

Then in a bit of a creative flash, Patrick decided to install a fountain on top. So he picked up a bucket that he hung from the top of the rain barrel with plastic chains, drilled holes in the bottom of the bucket so it would not float and then installed a fountain motor. (Love sitting on the porch listening to the bubbling sound.  Very relaxing.) To top it all off, Patrick used polymer clay to craft a flower for decoration. You can see the result at the top of this post. Three rain barrels so far. Two more to go……………

Burma Transition Pressures Mount as Presidents Meet in U.S. Visit


T-shirt I bought from a sidewalk stall in Yangon in March. The shirt commemorates President Obama’s visit to Burma last year.

I am cross posting a news feature discussing Burma’s President Thein Sein’s visit with President Obama today that appeared on the United States Institute of Peace website.  See:

Burma Transition Pressures Mount as Presidents Meet in U.S. Visit

By Viola Gienger

May 20, 2013

Burma’s President Thein Sein is visiting Washington this week to meet President Barack Obama as the U.S. continues its push to support progress toward democracy in the once-closed Southeast Asian nation. The efforts include USIP work with partners on the ground who want to adopt rule-of-law standards and are searching for ways to defuse religious and ethnic tensions.

The state visit marks the first in more than four decades by a leader of Myanmar, which the State Department refers to as Burma, its name before the military junta changed the name of the country and its capital in 1989. In November, Obama became the first sitting U.S. president to visit Burma. He was accompanied by then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who had first visited in 2011 and then in September 2012 welcomed Nobel Laureate and opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi to Washington, where she gave her first public address at USIP.

Burma “is seeking to rejoin the world community after so many years of isolation and authoritarian rule,” said Colette Rausch, director of USIP’s rule of law program, who conducted training with colleagues in Burma in February and March.

Thein Sein’s Washington visit “signifies the U.S. interest in helping Burma along its transition,” Rausch said. “The challenges that Burma is facing are going to continue.”

Religious tensions have developed during the transition in western and central Burma between certain communities of the nation’s majority Buddhist religion and minority Muslims. The strains have erupted into clashes that have heightened fears the violence could spread.

Dealing with that will require not only encouraging public tolerance of other beliefs, but also exerting legitimate legal authority against those who commit violence to hold them accountable, Rausch said. Burma has the advantage of existing inter-faith networks that can be supported for maximum effect in maintaining peace.

“In any sort of change, you’re affecting power structures,” Rausch said. Thein Sein “is going to have to navigate that and deal with the root causes of the issues,” such as political and economic factors that play into the tensions and affect the country as a whole.

Rausch noted that one of the Thein Sein’s first stops on his U.S. tour was the home of the first American president, George Washington. Thein Sein “would have learned of the many challenges, setbacks and breakthroughs that accompanied the U.S.’s own long transition to democratic governance and that it did not happen overnight,” she said. “It is an ongoing, never-ending process.”

Asked about the visit in advance of Thein Sein’s arrival, State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki praised Burma’s reforms thus far and urged its leaders to continue such efforts. The government released about 20 political prisoners before Thein Sein’s trip. While that brings the number freed to more than 850, according to Psaki, human rights groups say many more political prisoners remain in detention.

“We can’t underestimate the fact that Burma has made great progress in the last couple of years,” Psaki told reporters at the State Department on May 17. “Yes, there’s still more work to do, but the progress they’ve made has been significant and they’ve put in place an ambitious reform agenda, and we encourage them to keep doing more.”

Viola Gienger is a senior writer at USIP.


Burmese Officials, Civic Leaders Examine Challenges of Transition


Leanne, me and Susie in front of a chart that an amazing group of youth created on their own initiative during one of the working sessions. We had a mind map in English of all the components of a justice and security system. The innovative group recreated the chart and translated it into Burmese. We carried the chart all over Burma to use at other workshops.

Here is a piece that a colleague and I wrote on Burma’s transition and my recent trip to the country to meet with officials and civil society to discuss the rule of law issues.  It was an inspiring trip and despite the challenges faced in the present and future, there were so many people who hold a positive vision for the country that transcends Burma’s past. (I am cross-posting this piece as it first appeared on the website of the United States Institute of Peace at

Burmese Officials, Civic Leaders Examine Challenges of Transition

By Colette Rausch and Viola Gienger

April 22, 2013

A recent two-day U.S. Institute of Peace workshop in the southern Burmese capital of Mon State, Mawlamyaing, was intended to be a discussion of the rule-of-law and mechanisms to promote it amid the country’s rapid transition. But the occasion also illustrated some of the very fundamental questions that bewilder national, state and local officials and civil society leaders in environments of such rapid political and economic change.

USIP began to engage with counterparts in Burma more than a year ago, following the U.S. Government’s move to renew direct engagement with the country after decades of isolation and sanctions that followed the military regime’s 1988 crackdown on the democratic opposition. USIP’s engagement started with unofficial discussions to strengthen relations between the two countries. This track 2 dialogue was in partnership with the Asia Society and Blue Moon Fund. Government legal advisers from the capital Naypyitaw also have come to Washington D.C. to discuss the way forward for their country, and civil society as well as government representatives have attended courses at USIP’s Academy for International Conflict Management and Peacebuilding. USIP’s Burma Team also works with civil society, particularly the religious and media sectors.  The February/March visit to the country this year also included two one-day workshops in Shan state, the Mawlamyaing workshop, as well as other meetings and discussions with government and nongovernment actors.

In the two-day workshop, the presenters were Colette Rausch, director of the Institute’s Rule of Law Center of Innovation; Susan Hayward, a senior program officer in USIP’s Center of Innovation for Religion and Peacemaking; and Leanne McKay, an independent consultant in rule of law.

More than 60 participants flooded to the February 16-17 course from Mon and Karen States, twice the number planned, but with so much interest, USIP felt it had to meet the need. The participants included a range of actors: state parliamentarians, police, judges, lawyers, academics, youth, journalists, and civil society activists. The participants’ active engagement in the group work and discussion similarly demonstrated the intense and genuine level of interest across all sectors on issues regarding the rule of law.

The aims of the workshop were to define rule of law as a concept and a practical end-state; describe how it relates to other concepts of justice, security, human rights, conflict and peacebuilding; help the participants identify both institutional and community-driven responses to rule-of-law issues in their context; and design strategic responses that would promote rule of law in Burma.

But as so often happens in cases of transition, discussions veer from those specific points to the broader context and underlying functioning of a whole society.

During breaks and over dinner in particular, the questions came tumbling out:

What happens when you feel national security is threatened and you need to take action that some might see as violating rights?

How do you balance law and order with rights and citizens’ concerns?

What do you do when some people in a country think they are above the law?

How did Kosovo deal with these issues? What are people in Libya doing about them now?

The thoughtful questions dug deep for answers. Participants were particularly eager to hear about the experience of establishing and strengthening democracy within the United States. They asked about the dilemmas and debates between national security and civil liberties the U.S. experienced in the years after the September 11, 2001, terror attacks on New York’s World Trade Center and the Pentagon, that also included the crash of another hijacked flight in a field in Pennsylvania. Debates that, to some extent, continue even today.

The participants also worried about the accountability of big companies in their country as economic sanctions are lifted and more transnational businesses enter the scene.  They asked how the U.S. handles such situations. They didn’t pull punches on sensitive questions – they’d heard of the Ku Klux Klan and asked if it was still active. They asked about corruption and greed in our country, and what Americans do about it.

They were the kinds of questions that are impossible to duck, especially when the credibility of a training in rule-of-law rests on openness and transparency. Their willingness to probe deeply seemed to reflect a level of trust and a feeling that this was a safe space where they could express their concerns.

They seemed to understand our explanation that democracy is a dance — an ongoing process that constantly reinvents itself, hopefully improves itself, around fundamental principles. That in the U.S., the democratic system is not perfect, but reflects the human beings who constitute it, with all their prejudices, weaknesses, aspirations, and convictions. And for this reason, establishing the rule of law begins with each person recognizing and fulfilling their own rights and responsibilities.

The discussions provided a reminder that such a workshop is often simply a vehicle for looking at the broader context of a transition. It’s easy to jump right into a discussion of systems, when a more effective approach for the creation of sustainable peace is to reflect first on the root causes and drivers of the conflict.

The good news, as one of the participants pointed out, is that two years ago, they couldn’t even have had that discussion. Now, another said, it is time to begin the dialogue in order to understand one another and together build a peaceful future.