Poorly designed reconciliation initiatives in Libya could perpetuate the cycle of abuse and hinder the reintegration of displaced populations.
The relationship between the security and justice sectors in Libya and internally displaced persons (IDPs) is existential. The existence of IDP communities is the direct outcome of the failure of these sectors to effectively perform their core mandates since the beginning of the civil war.
Despite the repeated promises of successive interim governments to restore the bond of national unity through a consensual social contract, the policies which these governments pursued have been detrimental to transitional justice mechanisms.
When, in 2017, the Government of National Accord (GNA) adopted a reconciliation agreement between Misrata and Tawergha, the agreement backfired because it was not based on an approach rooted in restorative justice or reconciliation.
Today, five years later, thousands of Tawerghans are still refusing to return home because the authorities are reluctant to provide basic services in the city.
Moreover, in May 2022, the displaced Tawerghans residing in Al Falah Camp 1 and Al Falah Camp 2 in the center of the capital, Tripoli, were shocked to receive an order for immediate eviction issued by the Public Prosecution and the Stabilization Support Agency, which is a armed group affiliated with the Presidential Council.
The decision was immediately condemned by local and international human rights organizations, which saw it as a direct result of the unimplemented policies adopted by the GNA towards IDPs.
Furthermore, when programs for the disarmament, demobilization, and reintegration of former militants failed, and interim governments co-opted hybrid security governance to legitimize armed groups, it became even harder to adopt any security reform initiative that embraced the four main principles of justice: accountability, integrity, legitimacy, and citizen empowerment.
In fact, throughout the post-conflict period, legislative authorities seemed to be promoting immunity and impunity, and suppressing all legal approaches that would ensure accountability for the horrendous crimes against humanity that were committed by various Libyan actors.
The Amnesty Laws No. 35 and 38 of 2012 and No. 6 of 2015 were serious obstacles to addressing the legacy of human rights violations because, according to the findings of the International Commission of Inquiry in its 2012 and 2014 reports, they avoided prosecuting rebels who committed war crimes and crimes against humanity and expanded the scope of amnesty to include all Libyan parties.
In addition to amnesty laws, the immunity article No. 69 of Libya’s penal code has been interpreted by some to include the obstruction of any vetting of members of the military, the security forces or the intelligence services.
This means that convicted perpetrators working within these groups could safely continue with their violations and human rights abuses against IDPs who will consequently lose all confidence in the legitimacy of these sectors.
Another major challenge to a sustainable solution to the situation of IDPs is ongoing conflict over the property and land of the forcibly displaced. The inability of IDPs to access their homes and properties is a manifestation of the extent to which armed groups can influence the reintegration process of the displaced.
In March 2023, non-governmental organizations in Benghazi denounced the large-scale demolition of numerous historic buildings in the city, a process which no official body had detailed publicly.
The demolitions led to the displacement of the residents of the area who were forced to sell their destroyed properties for very small sums of money. When large-scale protests erupted, Maher Elgheryani, the director of the media office of the Benghazi municipality, criticized the demolitions on his social media accounts. Immediately afterwards, he was arbitrarily arrested by the Tariq bin Ziyad Brigade, a militant group affiliated with Major General Khalifa Haftar’s forces.
The arrest of Elgheryani was a reminder that, in spite of the warlords’ repeated public denouncement of the theft of citizens’ property since the start of the second civil war, the significant role their armed militias play in looting and demolition shows otherwise.
As for the criminal justice system, which is supposed to play a vital role in developing a durable and peaceful reintegration process, it has not improved much from its days under Gaddafi’s rule.
The Libyan judiciary system is infamously corrupt and politicized, and the policies of the Supreme Judicial Council do nothing to ensure the legitimacy and integrity of the legislative body. Over the past decade, the Council has carried out arbitrary reshuffling and transfer procedures without specifying clear criteria for reallocation, and without obtaining the consent of the judges concerned.
The local courts have been no better as they only prosecuted the Tawerghans (whom the revolutionary forces perceived as being loyal to the former regime) and turned a blind eye on those responsible for the forcible displacement of local populations and those who committed human rights violations ranging from torture and arbitrary detention to enforced disappearance.
The situation of IDPs in Libya is different to that in other countries where long and violent conflict raged, like Bosnia, for example. In these countries, the success of the judicial re-selection helped remove many legal obstacles for the displaced and built the legitimacy that generated trust between IDPs and the justice sector, which encouraged the return of minorities.
At the international level, the initiatives adopted by the United Nations Support Mission in Libya (UNSMIL) will potentially yield similar results to those adopted by local authorities.
During the 5+5 Joint Military Commission (JMC) Meeting with Military and Security Leaders in Benghazi on April 7, UNSMIL focused on the return of IDPs but failed to address the long legacy of violations that the forcibly displaced have had to endure. Such failure could result in a repetition of the outcomes of the Misrata and Tawergha agreement regarding IDPs from the Eastern Province.
It is clear that the failure to build trust between displaced communities and the security and justice sectors, and the disregard for effective vetting measures that ensure accountability, as well as the lack of a comprehensive approach to justice in the security sector, will jeopardize initiatives that encourage the return and reintegration of displaced people in Libya, especially if the current political division persists.
Abdelrhman Zayid is a Libyan freelance journalist and documentary producer who specializes in humanitarian issues and human rights.