A New and Optimistic Libya, Struggling to its Feet

Here is a blog on my recent trip to Tripoli posted on the website of the United States Institute of Peace (USIP): http://www.usip.org/in-the-field/new-and-optimistic-libya-struggling-its-feet

February 10, 2012
By Colette Rausch

The moment I learned the gun battle erupted down the street from my hotel, my mind started racing with the implications it could have on Libya’s tentative steps toward its new chapter.

I was just wrapping up a trip to the newly dictator-free North African country. My colleague Vivienne O’Connor and I had been in the country to work with our Libyan colleague Najla Elmangoush and Lebanese colleague Ali Chahine and offer our assistance and experiences working in transition countries. We were also there to conduct workshops on rule of law and justice in the country where — until so very recently— both were foreign concepts.

NATO strike on Qadaffi forces concealed position. Misurata, Libya

We traveled the coastline from Benghazi, the birthplace of the revolution, to Tripoli, then to the rebel towns of Zawia and Misurata that came under heavy attack by Qaddafi forces, as he struggled to put down the revolution spreading across Libya.

Everywhere we went, we encountered enthusiastic and energetic Libyans, eager to experience the freedoms and challenges of good governance in a country where none had existed before. They understood that their chosen path was not an easy one. In fact, just the day before our arrival in Benghazi, the governmental headquarters of the new National Transitional Council (NTC) had been overrun by a mob of protestors. They cited frustration with the slow pace of reform and the lack of both transparency and inclusiveness of the deliberations of the new transitional leadership.

Munitions collected and displayed in front of Misurata war memory museum

As we arrived in Tripoli, news circulated of torture of Qaddafi fighters held in Misurata prisons. And there is widespread anxiety over what is seen as a growing criminal element in Tripoli in a country already awash in weapons.

At the same time, there are a large number of fortified checkpoints and armed militias still occupying the country’s streets—equally fearful of a return of Qaddafi loyalists as being left out of the emerging power structure. But despite these significant concerns and challenges, a spirit of optimism prevailed on the streets of Libya.

We were asked on multiple occasions to pass along the Libyan people’s thanks and gratitude to the people of the United States, and specifically to President Barack Obama for coming to their aid.

Bombed out hotel, now war memory museum in Zawai,Libya

The Libyans’ newfound freedom came at a very heavy cost. For example, while in Misurata, we did not meet a single Libyan who had not lost a friend or relatives or both to the conflict. Driving down the renowned Tripoli Street and surveying building after building in ruins, it was not hard to understand the impact on the people of this seaside city, the third largest city in Libya. We visited no less than three “martyr museums” in three cities, dedicated to those who had lost their lives in the struggle and the excessive brutality that had been arrayed against them.

Over 11 days, through workshops and meetings in Benghazi and Tripoli, as well as small group meetings in Zawia and Misurata, we met with a variety of people, from governmental officials to civil society groups to youth and taxi drivers to discuss the lessons from other countries in transition and asking a number of questions: What is your vision for Libya in five years? What are the main strengths of the justice and security system and challenges that lie ahead? And, when legal disputes arise, what mechanisms are being used to resolve the dispute?

Discussions in Benghazi on rule of law in Libya

In the workshops in Benghazi and Tripoli, the participants created a list of priorities in the short, medium and long-term. They also suggested how outsiders can support their efforts at building a Libya that is just and secure. It was an honor to work with them as they take the first tentative steps toward a just and free society based on the rule of law.

Compared to other conflicts, Libya is doing OK given where it has been. We heard over and again how its culture, customs and traditions are what have held it together thus far. We witnessed this firsthand during our travels.

So when the gun fight erupted down the street, I knew there was the risk of it spiraling out of control. Not the gunfight so much. But experience has taught me that this would be a story that would splash across the news for days to come and overshadow the real story of a new, optimistic and free Libya, now struggling to its feet — warts and all.

As Demand for Reform Grows in Burma, the U.S. Opens a Door

I returned from Burma a few days ago.  It was an amazing trip.  The United States Institute of Peace (USIP) posted my write up on the trip.

http://www.usip.org/in-the-field/demand-reform-grows-in-burma-the-us-opens-door

As Demand for Reform Grows in Burma, the U.S. Opens a Door

(NYT PHOTO)
January 14, 2012

USIP’s  Colette Rausch, director of the Institute’s Rule of Law program, is in Burma at a historic time. The U.S. on January 13 announced it would send an ambassador to Burma after the military-led government agreed to free political prisoners and implement other reforms just the day before. This effectively ends the U.S. isolation of the Burmese government. Around the same time, the Karen rebels agreed to a ceasefire, potentially ending decades of fighting. Just prior before these major developments, Rausch filed the dispatch below from Yangon, the former capital of Burma.

Yangon, Burma

This past year, Burma saw significant changes designed to transform it from a country in total isolation and under complete military rule to a budding democracy. Since his election in 2010, President Thein Sein has introduced positive, yet incremental reforms on the political, social and economic fronts. With these reforms, public skepticism is slowly diminishing and in its place is cautious optimism. Contributing to this optimism is Aung San Suu Kyi’s willingness to join the still imperfect political system in support of President Sein’s efforts to reform. She will be running for a vacant seat in the parliament in the April 1 elections. Though there is a long road ahead to democracy, and the potential for reversal remains, many are beginning to believe that the positive change underway must be nourished and reinforced by institution-building in order to make it more difficult to turn back. The key challenge is how to carry the transition safely over the hurdles presented by Burma’s decades-long isolation and totalitarian history.

I have been in Burma for the past week as part of a delegation led by the Asia Society to engage in Track II discussions with representatives from a newly created, independent research institute that provides policy advice to Burma’s president. The goal of the dialogue is to establish an ongoing channel of communication and explore opportunities for cooperation to advance relations between the U.S. and Burma. Discussions focused on issues related to environmental sustainability and economic development, rule of law, democracy building and people-to-people exchanges. During our meetings in Yangon and Burma’s capital Naypyitaw, we also met with government officials, representatives of the business community and civil society.

The years Burma spent in isolation has left it without the tools for managing modern political and economic life. There is an urgent need for exposure, awareness and capacity building to develop the systems and structures needed to foster an emerging democracy. During our trip to Burma this month, a common refrain from those we met was: “we lack awareness, knowledge and capacity. Without these, we cannot build our democracy.” As one person declared, “We have been hibernating for so long. We are starved for information and capacity building. Only a small handful in the country have capacity and that is not enough.” Accordingly, training is needed in all sectors: public, private, government and civil society. There is recognition that their lack of capacity is debilitating and they welcome assistance. “We need everything. You name it, we need to reform it,” one person said.

Further, Burmese business, government and civil society representatives with whom we met were very humble and welcoming of assistance, specifically from the U.S. The new government’s reform element believes in an urgent need to move reforms forward and to do it properly, inclusively and in line with democratic principles. Those we met with:

  • Seek to stimulate economic growth but with sustainability and environmental factors integrated
  • Recognize the need for the government to show timely and concrete deliverables to the Burmese people
  • Understand that the country is stymied by economic sanctions compounded by a lack of human and institutional capacity to deliver on needed reforms

With the desire for change growing, the government faces the precarious task of balancing the need for immediate changes with the need to make good reform decisions and to maintain stability. Despite the incremental nature of the actual changes on the ground so far, it is certain that the new government contains a strong reform element that is giving the Burmese people new hope and even respect for the government, especially the president. But it will be critical to deliver tangible positive outcomes for the people soon.

Our delegation included Suzanne DiMaggio, Asia Society’s vice president of Global Policy Programs; Priscilla Clapp, former U.S. chargé d’affaires in Burma; Dr. Ji-Qiang Zhang, vice president of Programs for the Blue Moon Fund (an environmental foundation based in Charlottesville, VA); Debra Eisenman, assistant director of Global Policy Programs at the Asia Society; and Billy McCarthy, program assistant for Blue Moon.

From the Souk to a Field Hospital: Building Peace in Yemen

Children in Change Square, Sana'a, Yemen

The piece set forth below, describing my recent trip to Yemen, was posted today on the United States Institute of Peace (USP) website:  http://www.usip.org/in-the-field/the-souk-field-hospital-building-peace-in-yemen

From the Souk to a Field Hospital: Building Peace in Yemen

USIP’s Colette Rausch describes her recent trip

December 5, 2011

I arrived in Yemen the day before the long-awaited Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) agreement between President Ali Abdullah Saleh and the opposition parties was signed on November 23. The GCC agreement set the stage for the President to transfer power to the Vice President and for the ruling and opposition parties to share power through a unity government. Despite the agreement, fighting and violence continued unabated. Just the day after the agreement, five anti-government protestors were killed and many others wounded. Late that night, from our hotel, we could hear gunfire and an explosion in the distance.

Then around dawn, we awoke to the sounds of automatic weapons firing and the echo of what sounded like mortars. At the same time, people went about their business and lives. We drove to the Old City’s souk, and people were busy working and shopping, a testament to the resilience of the people of Yemen. Together with my colleagues Manal Omar and Mark Shaw, we traveled to Yemen to consult with a wide range of stakeholders from across the social, economic, and political spectrum on the challenges facing Yemen. We also sought input on what a justice and security dialogue process would look like. Ideally, one that would bring together all stakeholders to identify concrete steps that can be taken to improve justice and security in the immediate-term, and help create a long-term vision for civil justice in Yemen.

Over the course of the week, we had the privilege to meet collectively with over 100 people from civil society, the government, opposition, and youth. I was pleasantly surprised by how friendly and open people greeted us. Even as foreigners, we were warmly welcomed and treated with great respect. Upon learning that our trip coincided with the American Thanksgiving day, our Yemeni colleagues invited us that day for a traditional Yemeni meal — and we joined with our new friends in the spirit of Thanksgiving.

Roadblocks, Sana'a, Yemen

Power Outages and Checkpoints

While only in Yemen for a short period of time, we had time enough to witness the many hardships so many of its people face. “Welcome to our world,” a youth activist wryly said as the power went out during a meeting, prompting him to direct the glow of his mobile phone interface onto my paper so I could continue to take notes from our discussion. In addition to frequent power outages—where the power is off more often than it is on— Yemenis are subjected to skyrocketing prices for food, gas, and suffer other shortages. Yemenis have become used to patiently spending days in line just to fill up a car with gas, assuming they could afford it. Driving from the airport to the hotel gave us a glimpse into other challenges facing so many Yemenis.

Sana’a is largely a divided city, where government, rebel army, tribal, and opposition parties mark their territory using checkpoints, roadblocks, and sandbags. The result is a time-consuming slog to get from one part of the city to the other. The hope is that with the implementation of the GCC agreement, the barriers will be taken down and the military divisions will be resolved.

Late for my flight out of Sana’a, having just driven through an area controlled by a tribal leader, a gunshot wrang out. My colleague and I instinctively ducked. Unfazed, our driver smiled and told us it was coming from near a government ministry building that we had just driven past. As many Yemenis we met, he seemed used to such errant gunshots while driving around town. Power outages and checkpoints, however, pale in comparison to the suffering caused by the violence that each day makes the lives of Yemenis difficult and threatens the stability of the entire country.

Sana’a Field Hospital

As part of our consultations in Yemen, we were invited to visit the Field Hospital set up by volunteers to treat the injured in the heart of the capital’s iconic Change Square. Just inside the southern gate of Sana’a University, Change Square has since February become the site of an encampment for primarily disaffected youth, opposition parties, and other forces protesting the lack of civil administration and justice in Yemen. The Square is now an elaborate tent city, complete with electricity, permanent structures, an art studio, and the tent “offices” of various disparate organizations and causes. Born of necessity, the Field Hospital found its home in the square’s mosque because the regular hospitals either would not or could not treat the wounded — fearful of retaliation.

Since its creation, the Field Hospital, like Change Square itself, has evolved as the conflict has. With modern equipment and provisions provided by Doctors Without Borders and other donors, it is now a full-scale emergency hospital, complete with surgery center, emergency room, x-ray lab, pharmacy, laboratory and ultrasound clinic room. It was there that I met with doctors, surgeons, pharmacists, nurses and other healthcare workers who work tirelessly to save the lives of those caught in the violence. Far too many of these volunteers have become victims of the violence themselves, either hit in the cross fire or targeted because of the assistance they provide the injured.

The tour started with viewing photo after photo of those who had been killed. Our host, the director of the Field Hospital, explained the background of their efforts and what the photos depicted. As often as I have seen the carnage of war over the years, I never actually get “used” to it. I look at each person and think about their life, their family, and the fact that through violence nothing will ever be the same for that family and their friends. It makes me wonder how people can do what they do to other people.

We then went into a small room to huddle around a computer to view a video of the injured and killed who have passed through the clinic’s doors. I struggled to keep my emotions in check while watching the graphic scenes and to maintain my composure. I admired how my host and all the hospital staff, in the face of such unimaginable violence and hardship, showed such strength, grace, and dignity. As the video played, I noticed a young man, maybe in his late 20’s, whose eyes betrayed a depth of pain and trauma. As the video presentation concluded, the man was asked to stand up and reveal his bare chest and back.

I was told that he was a healthcare worker who had been abducted, detained for weeks, tortured, and only recently released. I was told that the starburst-shaped, burn-like marks etched into his back were the result of electric shock. He also had a bright red welt across the length of his chest. At first I worried that the simple act of being asked to show his injuries could trigger further trauma to the young man. However, when I shared my concerns with my host, he reassured me that, no, actually, the act of bearing witness to what had happened to him, helped give the young man back the power that had been taken away.

As we left the small room, we came to a laboratory, complete with refrigerator full of bags of donated blood for emergency transfusions. Then our host took us to the pharmacy, a room the size of a large closet. A photo of a man was posted on the cinderblock wall in between two well-stocked shelves. I was told that he was a pharmacist who had been killed in the violence. We also viewed the X-ray room, where I marveled at how sheets of tin had been pounded and nailed to the walls to improvise a rudimentary protection from radiation. Then we found ourselves in front of a room where, on the floor before the entrance, were two footprints and a big X, spray-painted in red, indicating that uncovered shoes were not permitted. This was the operating room.  At that point, we all donned disposable scrubs, masks, head covers, and booties. In the operating room, I spoke with two female scrub nurses. They mentioned how honored they were to be able to serve side by side with their male colleagues to treat the wounded. Our tour ended in the large treatment room, where we learned that the hospital, in addition to treating those injured due to the violence, had also begun to provide basic medical care to the surrounding communities.

I was impressed with the incredible ingenuity of the Field Hospital staff who had worked with what they had to create a full service, functioning emergency center. The doctors and other healthcare workers were an inspiration. They assumed personal risk to aid others and reflected a commitment to caring for patients, no matter which side of the conflict they belonged.

After we departed the Field Hospital, still processing the dedication of its volunteers and the carnage they deal with on daily basis, I was motioned to the raised platform overlooking Change Square where presentations, announcements and even entertainment take place. As I stood at the platform’s edge, peering over at the expanse of women and children preparing for Friday prayers, one, two and then a crowd, children first, then women, came toward the platform, many holding up their hands and fingers in the sign of “victory”, a sign of protest and defiance in the face of the hardships and country’s poor governance that they face. When I left the podium, I was surrounded in a sea of children and a chorus of “hellos.” One after another, the children jockeyed to shake my hand. As I reached for hand after tiny hand, I could not help but be moved by the contrast between what I had just witnessed in the Field Hospital and the hope and optimism of these children.

Art Tent in Change Square, Sana'a, Yemen, where residents come to express their emotions through art

A Lasting Impact

Traveling to countries suffering from the ravages of conflict and meeting those caught in the crossfire, always leaves a lasting impact on me. My brief time in Yemen was no exception. Even after returning to the United States, I find myself still connected to Yemen and its people and their stories, not able to fully integrate back into my own life. Although my trip was limited to Sana’a, Yemen’s capital, other parts of Yemen are suffering as well. Early on in our visit, I met with three youth activists who had traveled to meet with us from the besieged city of Taiz, a five-hour trip to Sana’a. They spoke of civilians suffering from shelling and fighting, including seeing their friends injured and killed. They talked among themselves about how many friends each of them had buried. But despite all of this, they also spoke of their hope for peace to come to their city and of their insistance that the youth be given an active voice and role in building that peace. Upon my return back to the US, in following the media, Twitter and other social media, I learned that the death and injury toll in Taiz increased to even greater numbers and wonder how those I met from Taiz are faring.

While various sides differ as to who is responsible for the violence and what is feeding its continuation even after the GCC agreement, there is a growing consensus that the time for bloodshed is past. We heard over and again how it is now in the interests of all Yemenis to reach practical solutions to provide the stability necessary to rebuild. We heard from youth and elders alike how the youth can be looked to for inspiration. The youth are peacefully demanding a society that abides by the rule of law, one where governments are accountable to the people and corruption is actively countered.

The international community can support the youth’s and other Yemeni’s ideas on how to build a civil state that is founded on justice, freedom and security for all Yemenis. Peace, justice and security cannot take hold where certain factions use fear and violence to divide the country’s people, where peaceful protestors and other civilians cannot demonstrate without facing death or where only a small group of people monopolize the country’s resources and power.

Contrary to what the news headlines convey and any preconceptions I may have had before traveling to Yemen, having met so many resilient people from every sector of society collectively conveying a desire and vision for an inclusive and just Yemen, their unyielding commitment to seeing that vision through, no matter the cost to themselves, and their optimism – even if cautious optimism — I left Yemen feeling hopeful for the future of their country, despite the looming challenges that still lie ahead.

Caution:  Segments of this video are graphic.  Viewer discretion is advised.

Thanksgiving in Yemen

I did not plan to spend Thanksgiving Day in Yemen. As a matter of fact, I had ordered a fresh turkey from the Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) farm that I support. I was ready to brine the turkey, whip up some potatoes, and create a variety of side dishes from the new edition of Bon Appetit magazine. I looked forward to sharing the meal with my family. But in my line of work, sometimes plans need to be changed.

We had planned to travel to Yemen earlier this month but there had been a serious increase in violence, leaving many dead in Sana’a, Yemen’s capital. This would not only make security a challenge, but would signficantly decrease freedom of movement around the divided city with armed checkpoints indicating the pro-government and pro-opposition factions. In this environment, meetings would not be productive. So we regrouped and rescheduled as soon as a “calm” window appeared open.

And so here I am, in Yemen, on Thanksgiving Day. It is one of the biggest holidays in the US where we gather with family and friends to celebrate such relationships and for what we are grateful in our lives. Being in Yemen where so many have suffered greatly, yet stand resilient and in search of stability, justice and peace, I am ever mindful of how I have so much to be grateful for.  (I was just watching Al Jazerra and a piece they covered emphasized this modern gratitude aspect of Thanksgiving but also discussed its historic tie to Native Americans and the lost of land and lives that they suffered at the hands of America’s early settlers. Here is wikipedia’s description of its origins:

Typically in Europe, festivals were held before and after the harvest cycles to give thanks for a good harvest, and to rejoice together after much hard work with the rest of the community. At the time, Native Americans had also celebrated the end of a harvest season. When Europeans first arrived to the Americas, they brought with them their own harvest festival traditions from Europe, celebrating their safe voyage, peace and good harvest. Though the origins of the holiday in both Canada and the United States are similar, Americans do not typically celebrate the contributions made in Newfoundland, while Canadians do not celebrate the contributions made in PlymouthMassachusetts.) 

So on this Thanksgiving Day, in the spirit of its modern meaning, I express gratitude for my family who are sharing this year’s feast without me.  At the same time, I thank my new friends in Yemen for sharing a wonderful traditional Yemeni meal with me. Our Thanksgiving, Yemeni style. It was a truly amazing feast and I plan to find a Yemen food cookbook and pick up some spices before I leave. So I suspect a future blog will report on how my attempts to recreate traditional Yemeni food.  So stay tuned….

In conclusion, on the day after the power transfer agreement was signed between the Yemeni President and opposition groups, I wish a peaceful transition for all Yemenis. I met with many brave and amazing youth over the past few days. They have protested peacefully for positive changes in Yemen, despite suffering violent attacks on themselves and witnessing the killings of their friends. The youth in Yemen are an inspiration. They are committed to a peaceful process. As one impressive young woman activist said today, darkness cannot be changed by darkness, but only by bringing in the light. May we all follow this path.

Yemen in Transition: Signing of the GCC Initiative Today

Photo Courtesy of Manal Omar

I have been so honored and privileged to be in Yemen and have the opportunity to meet so many wonderful Yemenis over the past few days who are working to build peace in their country. It was also very interesting to arrive in Sana’a the day before an agreement, the GCC Initiative, was signed between the President and opposition parties whereby the President would step down from his post and a coalition party would govern. For all Yemenis, I hope this is the beginning of a peaceful transition that will see Yemen as a model for justice and rule of law.

Here is a quick piece that my colleague Manal Omar and I put together on today’s events:

USIP Building Bridges in Yemen

November 2011 | On the Issues by Manal Omar and Colette Rausch

November 23, 2011

Manal Omar and Colette Rausch are in Sanaa, Yemen meeting with a wide range of stakeholders from across the social, economic and political spectrum to learn the approaches for building peace.

How has the news been received on the streets of Yemen that President Saleh will cede power?

The Gulf Cooperation Council agreement signed between President Saleh and the Yemeni opposition sets forth a gradual plan to transfer power from the president to a national unity government. This comes on the heels of popular uprisings in several governates across Yemen that led to a standoff between pro-government and opposition members. There has been a wide range of responses to the agreement, which took many by surprise.

Despite news of his trip to Riyadh, many Yemenis with whom we spoke believed he would not sign the agreement because he had promised to sign the agreement but decided not to do so. Although there is a strong consensus that the nine-month standoff needed to come to an end, there are still many concerns about moving forward. The concerns most often raised come from the youth, who comprise more than half the country. During interviews in Sanaa, youth from different governates expressed concern that the original issues that led them to occupy public squares may not be addressed, given this was a political negotiation that included provisions with which they did not agree, most notably the immunity granted to Saleh.

Opposition leaders understand the concerns expressed by the youth, but have emphasized the agreement is the first step in a gradual process that will lead to long-term change. They also recognize that compromises were crucial to ensure a peaceful transition and to avoid violent confrontation or civil war.

What are the immediate challenges for implementation?

Many Yemenis we talked to believe the potential for Yemen to provide a new constructive model is high, benefitting from lessons learned from other “Arab awakening” transitions. Naturally, there also are many concerns. One of the first concerns raised was whether Saleh will truly leave the political scene or continue to be active in the political life of Yemen – or even support efforts to impede progress. There also is a strong concern people expressed that the new national unity government must maintain national unity and move forward with the implemention of the process as outlined. Further, that they must avoid political infighting and stalemates.

The youth fear they will continue to be marginalized, and that this will be a change of the regime but a continuation of the political process as usual. Some women fear there will be an unwinding of the progress they have made. Despite the concerns expressed, one thing shared by all groups is that there will be a successful transition leading to a peaceful Yemen. All agree that it will be challenging, but that it is just the beginning. As with many transitions, it is difficult because people will need to have patience and manage expectations, but at the same time tangible change will need to be seen.

What are the immediate next steps for Yemen?

The national unity government must demonstrate transparency, openness, and an inclusive process – and that it is not business as usual. This includes dealing with a host of immediate problems, including the North-South divide, further fragmentation, ensuring that their is an interated national army protecting and serving the security of all Yemenis, and establishing a system of fair and equitable governance over all of Yemen.

The GCC agreement grants immunity to Saleh, it does not eliminate other options for the development of accountability mechanisms to address past crimes, human rights abuses, and corruption. The general sentiment across the board is that the principles of justice and accountability should not be lost. Yemenis have expressed the need for an independent system of justice that is trusted by the public. There is a need for a process for achieving justice and accountability, but in a Yemeni context determined by Yemenis in a national dialogue. Youth want to ensure that they are at the center of this dialogue and have more than just a voice. They expect an active decision-making role.

Yemenis are determined to reverse the negative stereotypes of them as terrorists, drug abusers, and citizens of a failed state that they feel has been perpetuated in the last few years. In fact, during interviews the level of sophistication of the youth movement, civil society, the political debates, and the commitment to a new future taken place is a positive indicator of the potential for a positive outcome. Yemenis have expressed a commitment – and demonstrated an ability – for putting the interests of the nation above any individual interests. The best thing external players can do for Yemen is not to impose solutions, but is to provide space and resources for this movement to grow and support an enabling environment for the emergence of local leadership.

Libya in Transition: The Significance of U.N. Resolution 1973 and Democracy in the Middle East and North Africa

Photo: Courtesy of Bill Fitzpatrick/USIP

Today we held an event on Libya. It was a fun event. We had over 100 people in the audience, together with about 80 folks who joined us via the webcast.  There were lots of great questions from the audience and through twitter.  The panelists provided very insightful comments. While acknowledging the challenges, overall, the panelists were optimistic about Libya’s transition to democratic governance. Here is an overview of the event:

Libya in Transition: The Significance of U.N. Resolution 1973 and Democracy in the Middle East and North Africa

At a time when people in the Middle East and North Africa are calling for democracy and human rights, the United Nations Security Council, inspired by the Responsibility to Protect principle, approved Resolution 1973 to protect Libya’s civilian population against escalating violence. Subsequent actions by NATO and allied Arab country forces have helped bring about the fall of the Qaddafi regime and recognition of the revolutionary National Transitional Council as Libya’s legitimate government. The efforts to establish justice, security, and the rule of the law in Libya offers lessons for other Middle Eastern and North African countries seeking democratic rule.

The United States Institute of Peace (USIP) and the United Nations Association of the National Capital Area (UNA-NCA) hosted an event to assess the effort to establish democratic rule in Libya, the role of the U.N. resolution in that effort, and the importance of the transition and resolution to democracy efforts throughout the region.

Speakers

  • Dean Pittman, panelist
    Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary
    Bureau of International Organization Affairs
  • Laith Kubbapanelist
    Senior Director, Middle East and North Africa
    National Endowment for Democracy
  • Manal Omarpanelist
    Director of Iraq, Iran, and North Africa Programs
    United States Institute of Peace
  • Ted Picconepanelist
    Senior Fellow and Deputy Director, Foreign Policy
    The Brookings Institution
  • Colette Rauschmoderator
    Director, Rule of Law Center
    United States Institute of Peace
  • Dick Rowsonintroduction
    Board Member
    United Nations Association-National Capital Area

Partners

United Nations Association of the National Capital Area

“The United Nations Association of the National Capital Area (UNA-NCA), a chapter of UNA-USA, is a membership-based nonprofit that works to promote constructive U.S. leadership in an effective United Nations. UNA-NCA uses our unique position in the nation’s capital to inform, inspire, and engage local residents and national leaders through a wide variety of outreach, education, and advocacy programs. Joining UNA-NCA provides opportunities for networking, using and developing your leadership skills, making your voice heard, and having an impact both globally and locally.”

 

Helping Libya’s New Leaders Move from Euphoria to Reform

It was a busy week last week with news of the imminent fall of Qaddafi in Libya.  For those of us working in the “rule of law” field, questions of what next? were being posed. My thoughts are set forth below. In addition, I did a live TV interview for Alhurra TV and a radio interview for Voice of America.  My main points are as follows:

•     Transition is a difficult period.  Elation is followed by the hard work of building a new Libya

•     There will likely be a foreseeable justice and security vacuum

•     That new leadership has to instill confidence right away

•     People are going to look for a leader or governing body that is credible,  just, accountable, transparent  and inclusive

•     Goal is to achieve a diverse and competent civil society

•     Reform will take time and patience and working together

Here is the link to the Voice of America radio interview:  http://www.voanews.com/english/programs/radio/pressconference/87228367.html

 

Helping Libya’s New Leaders Move from Euphoria to Reform

 August 2011 | On the Issues by Colette Rausch

August 24, 2011

USIP’s Colette Rausch, director of USIP’s Rule of Law Center of Innovation, discusses the situation in Libya and what issues Libyans will have to address after Col. Muammar al-Qaddafi is out of power. While no two countries are exactly alike, USIP’s Rule of Law Center has been there before – helping countries like Nepal, Kosovo and Iraq as they navigated the minefield that is a transition from dictatorships to civil societies.

What are biggest hurdles facing Libya in the coming days?

The biggest challenge is just the transition, because so many things can happen during that time of uncertainy. You have elation, then that’s followed by reality. You have insecurity because it’s unclear who’s in charge. And this is that critical period. That reality is, you’re going to have a situation where you will have a security and justice problem. You saw this in Iraq, for example, when you had looting and general insecurity.

Police are worried about retribution or are unclear of their place in a new order, so they may step back and that creates a vacuum. If you have a country where you had a leader who kept a firm hand on things, then, when the firm hand is off, you may see old grievances emerge, retribution against the old regime and people going after those who were aligned with Qaddafi. This may cause members of the old regime to continue to fight on. These are all the types of things that can happen in these environments.

How should the world expect to see Libyans react during this period of change and uncertainty?

The Libyan opposition has had the luxury of time in thinking about what they would do when Qaddafi’s regime ends. We know the Transitional National Council has been researching top issues and “gaming” the end of the regime. But we won’t know how effective any of that preparation is until the transition really begins in the coming days and weeks.

What’s so critical in this period of time is, people are going to look for a leader, and they are going to look for a credible, just and inclusive leader. And not just a leader, but a governing body. That new leadership has to be firm and fair and instill confidence right away. If the new Libyan leadership fails to instill that confidence early on, that could lead to problems because it’s hard to get it back once trust is broken. Their first steps have to set the scene. They need to deliver, in the form of instilling confidence and providing even basic services, even if it is taking small but positive steps forward.

It’s also critical for Libyans to take a consultative and inclusive approach to making decisions, say in terms of how to handle past abuses or creating approaches for transitional justice. Quick or impulsive decisions made in the heat of the moment will not serve the new Libya well.

What will transition look like?

Ultimately, it will take a long time to infuse the new institutions, like the “police service,” the judiciary and other institutions with the values demanded by Libyans. The road to true reform takes a long time – years and years, but initially, there is no time to focus exclusively on those bigger picture concepts. One needs to keep the long-term goals in mind – strategic overhaul and reform of Libya’s rule of law institutions such as the judiciary and police service.

At the same time, its new leaders must keep an eye on what can be done in the short term to adapt these institutions in smaller ways that meet the long-term objectives of overall reform. That’s why in the immediate aftermath of the crumbling of the Qaddafi regime, it will be critical to begin both a “bottom-up” and “top-down” process for rebuilding Libya’s institutions. In some cases, we’ve seen where a country’s new leaders emerge from a conflict only to focus on developing institutions at the higher, “top-down,” level, ignoring the day-to-day needs of the citizenry. That runs the risk of significant disillusionment at the lowest – but arguably, the most important – level.

You need to work with the institutions that are already there. No existing institution is perfect, but otherwise, you’re creating a bigger gap. No transition plan survives initial execution, it will have to be adapted, but that will have to be the first step. My hope is that a discussion about what the long-term outcome of this revolution will look like can occur at the same time as the new Libyan leaders focus on the very pressing needs of a population looking for immediate answers to their questions about justice and security.

What are some practical things Libyans can do to begin to rebuild critical justice and security institutions that are so important right now? Would a Justice and Security Dialogue (JSD) work?

Maybe, in some form. A JSD is a way to convene security forces and local community leaders to identify what a “new Libya” should look like. What do the people of Libya want in their justice and security systems? It can help build that critical relationship between the two entities in a country such as Libya that has experienced intense conflict and injustice. Such a dialogue is essentially an ongoing conversation between governing officials, security forces, civil society leaders and the citizenry to work through issues of mistrust and injustice that have grown over the years and in particular due to the conflict.

A JSD is a tool, created by USIP, to address the power and security vacuum caused by a leadership change. It worked well in Nepal, where King Gyanendra fell after a revolution, creating a void that had to be filled quickly. The dialogue helped to foster new understanding, a stronger relationship between society and its police, and ultimately, a society defined by a new rule of law in those critical days and weeks following a leadership change. It is also working in Kirkuk, Iraq.

What role can USIP play?

This is a classic situation where USIP has a wealth of information on other types of transitions. No place is the same, but there are certain principles that guide each transition. We have provided quite a bit of rule of law material to those in Libya working on a transition plan in recent months.

USIP’s Manal Omar, who is in Libya now, is exploring ideas with Libyan officials on how USIP might support their efforts as they seek to establish a new government with reformed institutions. These Libyan officials have expressed interest in USIP’s thoughts on education, the role of civil society, the role of women and the rule of law. She is identifying Libyans that we might work with in these and related fields. She will also discuss with these officials some of the work we have already done in other countries in the Middle East.

More specifically, we are quickly developing plans to launch three programs: one would be an alliance of Libyan facilitators, another would be a network of nongovernmental organizations that focus on conflict mitigation and transformation and a third will be a workshop designed to convene Libyan nationals across the country on the constitutional process.