26/03/2010

Towards national reconciliation in Libya

During the 1990s, Libya has had to face several threats. The regime was threatened by the international community who wanted to impose sanctions, but also Islamists were the main opponent of Colonel Gadhafi, seeking to overthrow the regime.
In the 1990s, Libyan militants, who came to fight the Soviets in Afghanistan, formed the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group. Officially, this movement existed since 1995. The group, affiliated to Al Qaeda, was intended to replace the regime of Colonel by radical Islamic state. This was the beginning of a struggle against this movement, and hundreds of Islamists were imprisoned. In 2007, the LIFG continued to proclaim his fight against the regime and at the same time, reaffirmed its affiliation to Al Qaeda. But the year 2008 marked a turning point for the Islamic movement in Libya: their leader was killed by a U.S. missile in Pakistan, and that put an end to their activities. So far the Libyan Islamists are still incarcerated.

By the Gadhafi Foundation, charitable foundation working for the Libyan development, created by Sheif El Islam, it has established a program of reconciliation between the government and Islamist militants. 214 detained extremists, who abandoned the fight, including the leaders of LIFG once linked to al-Qaida, were released in March 23, 2010.

But why Libya frees LIFG leaders and began a program of reconciliation while Saudi Arabia and the Maghreb are still threatened by terrorism?

Human rights are the apparent reason of this release. On the one hand, prisoners’ families, who are without news of them since the late 1990s, put a lot of pressure especially after the killing of Abu Salim in 1996, and continue to demonstrate. Moreover, Libya is also criticized by human rights’ association and organizations. This question is indeed the sine qua non condition for Libya’s reintegration into the international community. In May 2009, Ibn al-Shaykh al-Libi, Islamist linked to Al Qaeda killed himself in his cell at Abu Salim prison. This event sparked strong reactions from Western countries and organizations, denouncing violations of human rights in Libya.

Chairman of the Libyan Red Crescent and the Gaddafi’s Foundation, Seif El Islam tries to put an end to an era that he describes as « tragic » and gives another image of the country by starting to deal with human rights ‘issue. It the Gaddafi Foundation itself, in a report, which put into question incarceration’s conditions and it accused Libyan authorities of torture and unjustified detention.

Seif El Islam’s work can satisfy the detainees’ families, associations of human rights and Western countries. But is it his real strategy? We may wonder about the authenticity of Seif El Islam because this is only a part human rights ‘issue in Libya. Civil society and international actors should stay focus on Libya’s human rights policy: if in theory Libya seems to be towards a normalization of Human Rights’ management, in human rights’ field relating to immigration and temporary detention centers, there is still a long way to go.

Sophia Vignard