Libya in Transition: Opportunities, Challenges and Critical Gaps in International Assistance

Endast inbjudna · Wanha Satama Conference Centre, Hall H · 10.12.2013 15:00 - 17:00
  • Endast inbjudna

Endast inbjudna

The eruption of violent clashes between rival militias and demonstrators on the outskirts of Tripoli in mid-November and the consequent announcement of the state of emergency reflect the fragility and complexity of the post-Gaddafi transition process in Libya. The country is facing numerous challenges in statebuilding, including the fragmentation of societal cohesion, the persistent weakness of the central government in controlling numerous armed groups, and porous borders opening Libya to flows of drugs and illegal migrants and exposing neighbouring countries to arms proliferation risks. The purpose of the seminar is to discuss these challenges and possibilities of the international community, notably the UN and the EU, in tackling them. Are tendencies of federalism and local autonomy growing and what are their implications, as Libya is on the road to the establishment of a constitution and permanent government? How can Libya secure its borders against destabilising flows of migrants and contraband, and thus reduce the illegal incomes on which many armed groups depend? How will the country’s numerous armed groups with local, tribal and ethnic affiliations be successfully integrated in the security and justice sectors? How can legal livelihoods be supported, to reduce the attractions of militia membership or smuggling?

Opening words: Teija Tiilikainen, Director, the Finnish Institute of International Affairs


Georg Charpentier, United Nations Support Mission in Libya (UNSMIL) Deputy Special Representative of the Secretary General and Resident & Humanitarian Coordinator for Libya

Antti Hartikainen, the Head of the EU Integrated Border Assistance Mission (EUBAM Libya)

Chair: Mika Aaltola, Programme Director, the Finnish Institute of International Affairs


Further information: Sannamari Bagge,


Summary of the seminar

Dr Teija Tiilikainen, Director of the Finnish Institute of International Affairs, gave the opening words of the seminar. She started her speech by welcoming the audience and pointing out that Libya, one of the countries in which high hopes were vested in the context of the Arab Spring, went through a regime change and was seen heading towards a stable democracy; since then, the situation has changed as new struggles and violence have emerged. Dr Tiilikainen then welcomed the speakers, Mr Georg Charpentier, UN Deputy Special Representative of the Secretary General and Resident & Humanitarian Coordinator for Libya, and Mr Antti Hartikainen, Head of the EU Integrated Border Assistance Mission (EUBAM). She also called Dr Mika Aaltola, Programme Director at the Finnish Institute of International Affairs, to serve as Chair for the questions and answers session. Dr Tiilikainen then gave the floor to Mr Charpentier.

Mr Charpentier, speaking under the topic ”Overview of Libya’s transition; possibilities, challenges and priorities of United Nations Support Mission in Libya (UNSMIL) in assisting Libya’s transition” thanked the organisers of the seminar for the initiative of calling Finnish citizens regularly home to share their experiences from abroad. Mr Charpentier started by noting that Libya remains high on the global agenda: Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon had recently confirmed that there would be a Security Council mission to Libya. Mr Charpentier then gave an outline of the challenges in the transition in Libya: two years have passed since the revolution that liberated Libya of 42 years of dictatorship, and following the revolution there was much optimism among the Libyan people and the international community that the country would quickly transform into a stable and prosperous democracy. Rapid resumption of oil production towards pre-revolution levels and the holding of free and fair elections were positive early signs, but the atmosphere today is markedly different, with growing distrust in public institutions, proliferation of radical groups and weapons, frequent assassinations, armed clashes between revolutionary brigades, increasing discontent among ethnic minorities, and rapid decline in oil profits leaving even public finances at risk. Mr Charpentier said he wanted to talk about the challenges but also about the opportunities that Libya is facing. He would also outline the priorities of the UN as well as how the UN and the international community can help Libyans make the best use of these opportunities.

First, Mr Charpentier would discuss the political transition; second, the developments in the security sector; third, the socio-economic situation. Before that, he gave an overview of the humanitarian intervention: the UN and the international community mobilised quickly to put in place a humanitarian intervention at the beginning of the revolution. The cost of the intervention was approximately 270 million dollars and met 80 percent of the initial emergency needs. Many UN agencies participated to provide water, food, medicine and other humanitarian support. Giving credit to the resilience of Libyan people and local communities, Mr Charpentier pointed out that the externally funded support could be phased out rather quickly at the end of 2011; training and capacity building was given to local humanitarian staff in 2012 and 2013.

On the political side, Mr Charpentier noted that in August 2011, the National Transitional Council issued the Interim Constitutional Declaration which provides a roadmap for the political transition in Libya, including steps, timelines and plans for the election of an interim legislative body, drafting and adopting a new constitution and organising elections. This was initially the rationale for a UN special political mission in September 2011. Mr Charpentier said that he himself was working in Libya under a broad mandate, comprising issues within a political element such as supporting the elections, national dialogue and constitutional process as well as those in the security sector such as public security and also human rights issues and transitional justice elements. Later on, the UN Security Council added two elements to the mandate: the issue of arms proliferation and the coordination of international assistance.

Mr Charpentier said that one of the first deviations from the Roadmap mentioned above was when, under threat of election boycott from the East, the constitution drafting committee was decided to be elected not appointed. Furthermore, the political isolation law preventing high-profile officials from the old regime holding public offices was passed under strong pressure from revolutionary brigades; the law has been so comprehensive that its full implementation might result in devastation and thus doesn’t seem probable. These two controversies caused a severe delay in the timeline of the democratic transition and were negative displays of government for the public, portraying a political elite fighting for their own selfish interest, not for the best of the country. This weakened the credibility of the government and strengthened the position of the revolutionary brigades. Preparations for the constitution drafting committee elections have started only recently with certain groups boycotting, and the elections will likely be delayed until early 2014.

Mr Charpentier continued by stating that in response to the precarious political situation, UN has worked on both programmatic and political advisory tracks so to help Libya develop a more effective legislative body, as well as collaborated with ministries and civil society. UN activities have been complemented by the international community and actors such as the EU. On the political advisory track, the most important effort has been facilitating a constructive national dialogue; this way, representatives of Libyan political forces have agreed on regulatory principles guiding the drafting of a roadmap towards democracy. UN is also supporting the drafting of the constitution and aims to promote awareness-raising on what the constitution means for Libya. At Benghazi University, some key issues have been studied, such as governance system, the role of Islam, the status of women, federalism, democracy, as a reflection of the aspirations of the Libyan people.

On the security sector, Mr Charpentier underlined that recent clashes by revolutionary brigades have highlighted the importance of bringing security to state control. With no such armed force in its possession, the state has actually been dependent on the brigades to maintain security. Alarmingly, the brigades have begun to be seen as part of the political system and some of them have developed significant economic interests. The UN-supported process of building a national army and police has been focusing on the institutional development and has so far failed to meaningfully engage the revolutionary brigades. However, a number of Western countries will be training Libyan soldiers in an accelerated manner. While details remain unclear, in the medium and long term this should be a positive development for security in Libya, but in the short run, the well-armed revolutionary brigades must be included and made responsible in the common process of working towards the establishment of a strong national force able to protect the country from criminal groups.

Mr Charpentier then discussed the socio-economic situation in Libya. He pointed out that while there has been a decreasing trust in the political system, and the security environment is unstable at best, with the seventh highest proven oil resources in the world Libya is certainly not a poor country. Normal oil and gas production output of 1.7 million barrels a day allow Libya to run an economy of 50 billion dollar annual economy by a population of only 5 million people. Initial release of frozen assets and that of hydrocarbon output doubled the real GDP in 2012. However, groups expressing discontent in the current government have started to compromise the oil production system which, due to its major role in the national economy, is a potential source of instability. Despite the riches, the political impasse has resulted in hesitancy in making important decisions, and combined with challenges in the governance system the delivery of public services has remained at a low level since the end of the revolution, while not enough funds have been divided to local levels to help maintain education, housing and welfare. The UN is assisting in organising elections for local councils which can hopefully assure that the role of the local level is taken into account in the governance system. Basic services are, according to Mr Charpentier, of vital importance to stability in Syria. The UN also helps streamlining the government systems as well as developing services with expectation of rising amounts of funding from the government to communities.

Finally, Mr Charpentier highlighted the importance of reconciliation and inclusion. After 42 years of dictatorship, this will necessarily take time: relations need to be managed between the perceived losers and winners of the revolution in a less emotional and more rational way. Ethnic minorities with temporary citizenship despite of long residence – an important group especially in the south that could be empowered in security and border control work instead of alienation – as well as those who were seen siding with the losing side and displaced and exiled citizens in fear of reprisals are groups that need special attention. Positive developments include a displaced group being able to broker a deal to return home without the fear of reprisals. The transitional justice law made it possible to release from detainment a group that earlier sided with Gaddafi, and should help moving power from brigades to the Ministry of Justice.

Mr Charpentier concluded by saying that one shouldn’t be too pessimistic about the future of Libya: after a long time of dictatorship, it should be understandable that a working public sector and reconciliation are not achieved overnight; moreover, Libya has been able to overcome challenges without major disruptions to national security; a large majority of Libyans want a peaceful, united and democratic Libya with strength in moderation against escalations; and Libyans have strong resilience and a sense of unity in difficult times. In this situation the UN has promoted inclusiveness, dialogue and compromise as the necessary bottom line towards democratic development. In Mr Charpentier’s view, Libya needs a national dialogue involving all parts of society and basic consensus on ground rules. The UN and the international community needs to remain engaged, also financially, but bearing in mind the respect of Libyan sovereign decision-making, while remaining patient and confident that Libyans themselves are best fitted to solve the current challenges and bring the country towards a successful path of stability and development.

Mr Hartikainen then thanked the organisers and began discussing the ”Role of EUBAM in assisting Libya’s transition”. Before starting his speech, he mentioned that there are many positions held by Finns in the mission. Mr Hartikainen would have three main messages: according to him, first, secure borders are necessary for wider national security; second and conversely, borders are difficult to secure without taking into account the questions of wider security; third, socio-economic development is hard to reach without security. In Mr Hartikainen’s view, international support can make the country safer, but there are limits to what can be done and the fate of Libya is ultimately in the hands of Libyans themselves.

Mr Hartikainen affirmed that Libya’s greatest challenge is the number of different armed groups. These groups are often better equipped than the regular army, and amount to a greater number. Some of them have links to terrorist groups, some to organised crime and others have specific interests related to e.g. tribes and political groups. Mr Hartikainen said that by undermining the state monopoly of the authorised use of force, the armed groups threaten the stability of the state. The armed groups may also challenge any political decisions in conflict with their own interests. Loose borders are particularly useful for armed groups: they can e.g. smuggle out subsidised goods. The value of smuggling out goods is about 3 billion dollars annually. Some groups smuggle out weapons, as Libya remains full of weapons since the time of Gaddafi, and incomes are shared and divided with groups that share similar ideological backgrounds. Cocaine is imported from West Africa towards Europe, and alcohol too, even if strictly forbidden. Illegal immigration may, according to Mr Hartikainen, be used by smugglers for their own purposes and may create an opening for more dangerous travelers. This way, loose borders provide income for armed groups which cause instability in Libya.

Mr Hartikainen asserted that borders are dominated by armed groups connected in a loose network of shifting alliances that run the risk of conflicts when deeply rooted tensions surface. Additionally, smuggled fake medicines damage the health of thousands of people each year, and migration causes social tensions. This is why safer borders lead to a safer Libya, as threats from extremists, criminals and drugs as well as income for armed groups are mitigated, Mr Hartikainen stated. This is equally important for the stability of neighbouring countries – it is vital that the whole region can grow and prosper. Mr Hartikainen said that border management agencies cannot do their duty if the legitimate use of force is challenged and if there are no sanctions for crimes against them. This may be the case if the communities rely on smuggling, and this is why investments are needed to give meaningful work opportunities as well as reliable protection against any revenge attacks. According to Mr Hartikainen e.g. the Libyan Coast Guard has improved its activities significantly.

Mr Hartikainen also said that, conversely, borders cannot be secured if there is generally no security in the country. This is why border agencies must pursue collaboration with other security agencies. This does not mean, of course, that nothing could be done: EUBAM and the UN can both help Libyans make improvements in border management even with the current state of affairs. Some of these steps forward include equipping officials with uniforms, increasing the efficiency of the agency organisations and building capacity on integrated border management. Compared to other countries that have experienced a transition of power, an important part of the wider governance system has been missing in Libya: working structures, accountability mechanisms and rules have to be rebuilt but these are often political and contested. Despite these challenges, according to Mr Hartikainen, progress is being made. The neighbouring countries have little confidence over Libya’s capacity to secure its borders. This is seen as a threat; Gaddafi’s open border policy also lays a historical burden.

For EUBAM, migration is only one of the issues on the table and the mission aims not to give a picture of it focusing only on migration. Mr Hartikainen stated that EUBAM wants to enhance stability in Syria by following two tracks: firstly, using the strategic approach of institutional development and secondly, a tactical approach of capacity building and mentoring. Both are needed in order to secure both tangible results and institutional development. Concrete results are important for gaining the support of the Libyan people and EU taxpayers as well, but so is the strategic level because support from top level political leadership such as ministers is vital for any lasting progress to be made. An example of this is a new border management working group. One of the challenges is that border agencies themselves would like to go ahead, but the inertia on the political level due to the inefficient decision-making system slow down the process. Even EUBAM proposals may be met with no definite political decisions necessary for implementation. Ministries should be contacted more frequently, but due to security challenges and an isolation law this has proved to be difficult. Finally, Mr Hartikainen reminded that while the EU has an important leading role in Libyan border management, the future of Libya is in the hands of Libyans. Not everything can be achieved in a day, and it must be Libyans who set the priorities.

Serving as the Chair of the seminar, Dr Mika Aaltola, Programme Director at the Finnish Institute of International Affairs, thanked the speakers and opened the questions and answers section of the seminar which proved to be particularly lively. Dr Aaltola himself asked, referring to the ideal of ultimately handing over the control to Libya, whether the interests of the international community may at times deviate from those of Libyans. A member of the audience, referring to a Gaddafi quote about Libya as the Pandora’s box, asked whether the developments in Libya were expected by the West or happened as a surprise. Another wanted to underline the gravity of the situation and that the governability of the country is at great risk. A third audience member was interested in concrete examples of challenges in reaching the political level and ministries, and a fourth one inquired whether the idea of a common Libyan people is even supported in a very diverse country.

Mr Charpentier stated his view that Libyan people got and wanted to get rid of a regime that limited the freedom of expression, livelihood and thought. Regime change was the aspiration of common Libyans, not something the international community wanted to put in place in order to be dealt with easier. However, building a new political system after a revolutionary war will take time – maybe generations – and this requires trust by the international community in Libyans. On national identity, Mr Charpentier noted that certain divisions were actually accentuated by the past regime and that overall Libyans do feel like one people despite the tensions and tribal differences. What is important is the inclusion of each and every one in the political process towards a renewed state. For example, certain ethnic minorities are temporary citizens without the right to vote. Mr Charpentier also underscored that despite a national identity, Libyans want a more decentralised state than in the time of the Gaddafi regime. Mr Hartikainen agreed by affirming that the government should focus more on regions: decentralisation should be implemented by giving more power to regions and local communities.

Referring to the question about conflicts between the interest of the international community and that of Libya, Mr Hartikainen said that even if a shared commitment to migration issues has only developed over time, at least border security interests are shared. Mr Hartikainen didn’t see Libya as a failed state but shared the concern with the audience member of a huge risk if the situation should fail to be stabilised. Mr Hartikainen asserted that weapons should be collected from citizens and armed groups, but this is an enormous challenge because armed groups see the weapons as a means of protecting themselves and believe they have the ownership to the revolution. As a concrete example of difficulties in connecting with the political level, Mr Hartikainen mentioned a project proposal on border control governance submitted as early as last summer but not having been decided on as of December despite frequent inquiries.

An audience member pointed out that the international community doesn’t accept states that differ too much from the general rule, and even if Gaddafi had begun moving Libya in the acceptable direction, the transition finally took the form of a revolution. Another noted that there was some intelligence predicting the upcoming instability in Libya and that this failed to be recognised so to prevent the violence. Finally responding to a question about governability and corruption, Mr Hartikainen admitted that this is a problem: because Libya produces a relatively small number of goods and much is therefore imported, the corruption of customs is a significant threat. Mr Charpentier hoped, on the other hand, that the dynamism of a renewed civil society would imply that an equitable sharing of resources in Libya would be more probable now than in Gaddafi’s time. He also said that many foreign workers have indeed not returned after the war, but this happens in proportion with the economic situation and the number of those will increase as the economy starts growing again. With the questions and answers sessions in its conclusion, Dr Aaltola closed the seminar.