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Very soon after the reported death of Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi in Surt on Oct. 20, the United Nations responded with a statement by the secretary-general calling for reconciliation and national unity and with a press conference live from Tripoli featuring Ian Martin, the head of the UN’s new political mission in Libya, which was set up in September.
“No one should underestimate in this moment of celebration in Libya how great are the challenges that lie ahead,” Martin, who is a longstanding career diplomat at the UN and a founder of Amnesty International, said by video. (Martin’s deputy at the Libyan mission is Georg Charpentier,a Finn who recently served as the UN resident coordinator and humanitarian coordinator in Sudan.)
“Immediately, there are many who have been bereaved on one or other side of the conflict, people who have been seriously maimed and injured,” he said. “There are victims who are traumatized not just by what has happened during this conflict but by torture, disappearances, extrajudicial executions during the years of the Qaddafi regime. There is a major challenge in the future of those of the fighters who don’t wish to return to previous civilian occupations.”
Yet the sense of unease that has prevailed as Libyan rebels from Misurata fought in Qaddafi’s hometown of Surt over the many weeks has finally lifted, in what Martin called this “historic day” in Libya marking the end of the former leaders’ 42-year rule.
This is a country, Martin emphasized, that now has a “very strong sense of the values of human rights, democracy, accountability and transparency” – “United Nations values” – given that it has lacked such attributes for so long. The UN will play a major role enabling these steps forward, he said, which will be lead by the Libyan people, including youth and women “at the fore.”
The hard work is hardly over for the Transitional National Council leadership as well as Libyans striving for full peace in their country. The formation of an interim government, elections for a national council and drafting a constitution are just the beginning, Martin said. The TNC, as the rebel leaders’ group is known, contends that it is interested in international human rights norms and reconciliation methods, but that does not mean that the road to these standards will be smooth.
Martin said that instances of “significant abuses” by the rebels occurred in Surt, where the last battle was fought and Qaddafi apparently died, but Martin said that he believed the TNC’s commitment to address such abuses is real. Efforts at reconciliation by the TNC will depend first on the new government’s formation, he added.
The UN stance on amnesty excludes those who allegedly committed war crimes and crimes against humanity, Martin said, addressing a question about Qaddafi loyalists who have fled over Libya’s borders.
“Libyans do want to see justice done so far as the worst perpetrators of what they’ve experienced are concerned,” he added.
Another major concern is preventing the spread of arms across the region. The UN, he said, was doing its best to secure chemical weapon stocks in the country as well as nuclear material and other ammunition, but there are reports of other weapons that have gone missing and may have crossed borders by now, particularly in Somalia.
As to the still-murky details of how Qaddafi died, Martin said that it was up to the International Criminal Court and the Human Rights Council to investigate the matter and not his office. Navi Pillay, the UN high commissioner for human rights, has ordered an investigation, as have Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has said that he supports Pillay’s quest.
The death of one Qaddafi son, Mutassim, in Surt, has been confirmed, though Seif al-Islam’s fate is “less clear,” Martin said.
In addition, one reporter asked about the possibility of shariah law being incorporated in the country’s new constitution. Martin said the topic was part of the debate by the interim leaders, but that drafting the document will take at least eight months. He added that such debates on shariah law are also going on in Egypt and Tunisia,suggesting that it is not unusual.
NATO announced that it would most likely leave Libya by Oct. 31. It began the aerial bombing campaign in the country in March, authorized by a controversial no-fly zone mandate from the UN Security Council. It has been credited with speeding up the rebels’ battle to oust Qaddafi.