As he briefed the Security Council, Tarek Mitri, head of the United Nations Support Mission in Libya (UNSMIL), spotlighted senior political appointments, the determination of the new Government to tackle major internal problems, including a precarious security situation, and a wealth of institution-building initiatives as positive signs Libya's transformation was moving forward.
Yet, the Council would need to remain vigilant, he said, because drafting a new constitution was bound to be difficult, and because the country was still plagued by security threats - driven by dire humanitarian needs and violent political dissent from within, and stoked by unrest along its borders, most troublingly, the crisis in Mali.
"Equally necessary is consensus-seeking on national priorities in this critical phase of democratic State-building," he said, citing another priority for the new Government and noting that Libyan authorities, political forces, community and tribal leaders, revolutionaries and civil society organizations should therefore engage in a process of national dialogue. UNSMIL was committed to assist in that endeavour, he said.
Updating the Council on political matters, Mr. Mitri said that since his last briefing, Prime Minister Ali Zeidan and his cabinet had officially taken office, and thus far, appeared to enjoy board support among the General National Congress, political parties and the public. The new Government had expressed its determination to tackle the major internal problems and the Prime Minister had taken the initiative to enhance cooperation and mutual respect with Libya's neighbours and with international partners. UNSMIL, meanwhile, had begun providing technical assistance in developing effective institutions, while similarly assisting the Congress to support the establishment of internal structures.
Continuing, he said that the constitution-making process had gained increased political significance, with mounting public pressure on the National Congress to move quickly on setting up a drafting body. Congress had not yet decided whether the members of the body would be elected or appointed, and it was clear that the issue was tangled up in regional politics. With public consultations ongoing, UNSMIL was providing support to the committee organizing those talks.
The Mission was also encouraging inclusive dialogue on the drafting procedures and the proposed contents of the constitution, hoping to enhance the process. He said that on 14 January, women members of the National Congress had announced the formation of a women's caucus that would mainly focus on ensuring fair representation of women on the constitutional drafting committee. He said that UNSMIL has been supporting such efforts, and that he had also recently met with representatives of the Amazigh, Tabu, and Tuareg communities, to discuss their demands that the Government and the constitutional process address issues affecting them, including questions of Libyan identity and citizenship, political participation, and language rights.
Turning to security matters, he said while that situation "remains precarious", efforts to reform the security sector had begun to assume greater coherence. On 11 December, the Minister of Interior had announced plans to develop and restructure that Ministry, with priorities on increasing police presence and visibility, moving gradually towards the integration of members of the Supreme Security Committee into the police and establishing a vetting mechanism aimed at instilling public confidence in the force. Since that announcement, some 20,000 revolutionary fighters attached to that Committee had enlisted in the Ministry and the training process had begun.
He noted however that the Government's plans had been met with resistance from certain revolutionary brigades who were not ready to surrender their weapons and be absorbed into State institutions. "UNSMIL continues to offer, in a more coordinated and efficient manner, its technical advice on issues such as demobilization and reintegration, training, national security policies, legal frameworks, organizational structure and budget," he said.
Security along Libya's borders remained a key concern, given the current capacity limitations and the possible impact of recent developments in Mali. He said that in early December, Prime Minister Zeidan visited Algeria, Chad, Niger and Sudan to discuss border security and ways to improve bilateral relations. That visit had resulted in agreements on border security cooperation. Further, on 12 January, the Prime Minister met with the Prime Ministers of Algeria and Tunisia in Ghadames and agreed to joint measures to combat organized crime, terrorism and smuggling across borders.
Meanwhile, he continued, discontent among the population in the south had increased, with accusations of insufficient service delivery prompting a temporary walkout by some national Congress members to draw attention to the issue. "Libyan authorities at the highest level expressed, through visits and otherwise, their willingness to address these problems," Mr. Mitri said, noting that his Deputy had led a joint UNSMIL/United Nations country team mission to the south from 19 to 23 November. The team met with local authorities and civil society representatives to look into humanitarian and development needs and some of the findings had been shared with officials in Tripoli.
"Despite some progress, the security situation remains problematic," he said, citing the 3 January assassination attempt on President Mohamed Yousef El-Magariaf during a visit to Sabha. In another incident on 12 January, unknown gunmen had fired upon the vehicle of the Italian consulate in Benghazi. In addition, targeted attacks on security officials continued in the east. The head of Benghazi's police directorate and a top official in the city's Criminal Investigation Department had been killed. Police stations in Benghazi and Derna were regularly attacked, as were police patrols.
In response, the Interior Ministry, supported by the Benghazi Local Council, had begun implementing a participatory security policy, involving citizens and tribal leaders, aimed at creating the stability in Benghazi that Libyans desired. Benghazi residents also organized a demonstration on 28 December in which they demanded an end to the attacks against security personnel, an investigation into the recent events, and the dissolution of all armed groups. "In my meetings with the local council, non-governmental organizations, political parties and independent personalities, all emphasized the need for more effective implementation of the Government's decisions to improve security in the east," he said of his 29 November visit to the region.
He went on to say that the security situation in the east posed a serious challenge to the Government and threatened to derail its attempts to secure stability. Assassinations and attacks had to be viewed, primarily, in the context of the resistance of some armed groups to the State's attempt to re-establish its authority.
"The opposition of armed radical groups to the military intervention in Mali may exacerbate the situation given ideological and/or ethnic affiliations as well as porous borders in Libya," he said, adding that senior Libyan officials whom he had recently met had stressed their concern over the situation in the east and had pledged to provide better security to the diplomatic community and the citizens of Benghazi. He also said that the situation in Bani Walid had stabilized and that the UNSMIL human rights team was continuing to follow-up on alleged violations committed during and in the aftermath of the conflict.
"Events in Bani Walid and elsewhere highlight the urgent need to promote reconciliation and transitional justice," Mr. Mitri said, noting that last month, the United Nations, in collaboration with the Ministry of Justice and relevant Government entities, had held two conferences on those vital issues. A new draft law on transitional justice, introduced by the Justice Minister, provided for a more coherent truth-seeking mechanism, clearer provisions of criminal accountability, and expanded provisions on compensation.
He warned, however, that various efforts towards holding together the need for national reconciliation and the imperative of justice were likely to be affected by tensions that may be created or exacerbated by the divisive character of "certain thorny issues". Following the exclusion from public positions of persons associated with the previous regime, on the basis of reviews by the Commission on Integrity and Patriotism, there was a strong drive among certain political forces to take that further. On 26 December 2012 and following the proposal of some of its members, the National Congress had discussed the adoption of a law on "political isolation" and had formed a committee to make a proposal.
"UNSMIL encourages consultations on this proposal, looking carefully into possible undesirable effects on reconciliation, social cohesiveness and political Pluralism," he cautioned, adding that the distinction between personal misconduct and affiliation need not be overshadowed by the desire to be receptive to a popular demand. Any law should also provide sufficient due process guarantees for those whose rights were affected. He went on to note that the ongoing detention and mistreatment of several thousand people stemming from the conflict remains a source of deep concern. While there had been some progress in the screening and processing of conflict-related detainees, "this has remained limited in scope".
He said that the Mission continued to urge the Libyan authorities to accelerate the screening of the detainees, the release of those against whom there was insufficient evidence, and the transfer of detainees to State-controlled facilities. Additionally, UNSMIL continued to advise Libyan authorities on prison reform. It had also commenced weekly meetings with the National Congress human rights committee and held additional trainings of civil society organizations.
In addition, UNSMIL continued to advise the Prosecutor's General Office on the implementation of an overall prosecutorial strategy, with a focus on cases of those with a high level of responsibility or those responsible for serious crimes. In that regard, on 1 January, the Prosecutor's Office announced that it had made significant progress in the investigations against Saif Al-Islam Gadhafi and Abdullah Al-Senussi. Saif al-Islam Gadhafi had appeared before the criminal court in Zintan on 17 January on charges of undermining State security and attempting to escape from prison. The hearing did not include any crimes related to the conflict. He said that the trial of Mahmoud Al-Baghdadi, former Secretary of the General People's Committee, commenced on 12 November. The court adjourned until 11 February to allow the defence additional time to summon witnesses.
Turning to international engagement, he said that on 17 December, the United Kingdom's Government had hosted an international meeting with the participation of Libyan officials from the Ministries of Foreign Affairs, Defence, Interior, Justice and Intelligence to discuss international assistance to Libya in its reform of the security sector and institution-building in the justice sector. The meeting had endorsed the priorities outlined by the Government, emphasized the importance of coordination, and identified specific international assistance needed to realize progress. Finally, he told the Council that a ministerial conference would be held in Paris in February, and UNSMIL would continue to help the Libyan authorities prepare for the event and would be ready to assume its responsibilities in ensuring proper coordination in following up on the decisions.
Breifly taking the floor before the conclusion of the meeting, the representative of Libya said his country relied on the presence of UNSMIL to strengthen its institutions and help ensure its stability. "It is a difficult time," he said, stressing the importance of the expertise provided by the United Nations in several areas, including security sector reform, constitution-drafting and preparation for elections. In particular, he praised the ability of the Special Representative to build confidence in the Mission's working methods.
The meeting began at 10:06 a.m. and adjourned at 10:35 a.m.