Security and Justice in the Libya Conflict

UN Photo/Iason Foounten


Security and Justice in the Libya Conflict

08 Oct 2014

A United States Institute of Peace (USIP) report comprehensively maps the disintegration of Libya's security and justice sector from the Gaddafi era through the 2011 revolution to today. Focusing on the experiences of ordinary Libyans using interviews, focus groups and a nationwide household survey, the report analyses the key challenges facing the country in returning to stability.

Published by USIP on 17 September 2014, the report assesses the impact on Libya's institutions of 42 years of repressive rule under the Gaddafi regime, the revolution of 2011 and the failure of post-revolutionary governments to implement adequate structures of security control. The report examines how Libya has developed numerous parallel security structures, resulting in part from the attempts of post-revolutionary governments to integrate the revolutionary militias as a national security force, leading to a number of 'security forces' whose members are not under the effective control of the state. This, along with the presence of numerous non-state armed groups and the abundance of weapons across the country, has contributed to nationwide insecurity and the return of armed conflict in May 2014.

Of particular concern is the proliferation of Islamist militias, most prominently Ansar al-Sharia, which originated in the east of the country and now exerts influence across the whole of Libya. The organisation follows a strict interpretation of sharia and its activities span from the provision of public services to acts of violent extremism.

Of particular concern is the proliferation of Islamist militias.

Simultaneously, post-revolutionary governments have struggled to adequately reform Libya's judiciary. The lack of security has also contributed to the current severe weakness of the judiciary, with widespread targeted attacks creating an atmosphere of fear among judges, prosecutors, lawyers and court officials, to the extent that they are afraid and unable to do their jobs. Instead, Libya has seen an increase in the role of non-state justice providers, in some case modelled on traditional tribal or familial structures.

This report draws heavily on interviews conducted with ordinary Libyans to gather primary data relating to public perceptions around the role of the state. This includes attitudes towards national institutions and their role in providing security and justice, perceptions of the role of the revolutionary militias, and the reasons for weapons proliferation. It concludes that Libyans continue to look to the state as the sole legitimate provider of security and justice, that grassroots support for non-state armed groups is weak and diminishing and that it is therefore essential for the state to refocus its attention on building effective security and justice systems.

Key Findings
  • During the Gaddafi era, state security and justice were deliberately weakened as real power was diverted to the regime. Parallel and obsolete structures were in some cases deliberately imposed in order to cultivate competition and prevent any one institution from retaining too much power. These institutions therefore suffer from a legacy of inadequate management and resources. Since the revolution, there has been a lack of government attention on reforming these institutions to address insecurity.
  • In the wake of the revolution, the National Transitional Council and General National Congress attempted to retain the allegiance of the revolutionaries by integrating revolutionary battalions as state security forces. This integration has had limited success as there has been no evaluation of individual members, a lack of clear expectations and the allegiance of individuals has tended to remain towards the militia, rather than to the state. Thus, the state is essentially bankrolling the uncontrolled activities of armed groups. The militias have now largely fallen from public favour and are widely considered to contribute to destabilisation as much as they do to security.
  • A number of Islamist militias, most prominently Ansar al-Sharia, have emerged since the revolution. Originating from strongholds in the east of the country, Ansar al-Sharia have increased in number and influence and are now present across the country. Ansar al-Sharia was declared a terrorist organisation by the US in January 2014. The organisation follows a strict interpretation of sharia and engages in a wide variety of activities, from security provision and public services to violent acts of extremism.
  • Since the revolution, Libya has shifted from a highly militarised state to a highly armed society. There are now a huge number of weapons beyond state control, which is perceived as a threat to safety by the vast majority of Libyans, who feel unsafe and that they have nowhere to turn in the face of insecurity or injustice.
  • Post-revolutionary governments have also failed to reform the justice system, and a lack of security has effectively now paralysed the system. In its absence, non-state justice providers based on social connections, sometimes family or tribal ties, have been resurrected: these mechanisms rely more on relative power of disputing parties than on the law. Additionally, imams provide guidance on some legal matters and Libyans generally consider religious leaders trustworthy and accessible.
  • Broadly, Libyans demonstrate belief in the state as the provider of civilian security, a willingness to turn to the police to register their concerns, and faith that the system will be restored. Therefore it is critical that the state put forward a national vision for a security and justice system, with particular reference to guaranteeing the security of civilians and justice actors, dismantling parallel security structures, and using dialogue to rebuild trust.

The report may be read in full here.

This article summarises an external report, and is not to be taken as the view of the Tony Blair Faith Foundation. 

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United States Institute of Peace