HR Ashton and transitional justice in Libya. But is the EU up to it?

EU foreign policy chiefs were unusually quick off the mark to comment on the fall of Sirte and reported death of Colonel Gaddafi today. Presidents Van Rompuy and Barrosso called on the National Transitional Council (NTC) to ‘pursue a broad-based reconciliation process which reaches out to all Libyans and enables a democratic, peaceful and transparent transition in the country.’ High Representative Ashton said ‘It is important that [Libya’s] leadership unite to build a democratic future for the country in full respect of human rights. While the crimes of the past must be addressed, the leadership must also seek a path of national reconciliation… The EU will remain a strong and committed partner in the future’.

The emphasis on human rights and transitional justice in Ashton’s statement is important (interestingly, this is lacking from van Rompuy’s and Barrosso’s); the EU has also repeatedly stated its commitment to supporting human rights, civil society and security sector reform in Libya. Experts argue that transitional justice is more effective when trials, truth commissions and security sector reform are complementary. Yet – as I have argued elsewhere , the EU’s extensive support to transitional justice in other parts of the world has been largely ad hoc:  the EU has no policy guidance on supporting transitional justice. A key question will be how will the new government addresses not only the legacy of the Gaddafi regime, but also atrocities allegedly committed by both sides during the recent conflict. What will the EU do to support this?

Security sector reform – one of the EU’s priority areas for support in Libya – is also crucial for transitional justice. Earlier today, the UN Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Libya Ian Martin warned of the great challenges that lie ahead with disarming fighters, particularly those who don’t want to return to  civilian life. He also re-stated the UN’s position on amnesty: that there can be no amnesty for war crimes, crimes against humanity or serious human rights violations. Amnesty – even for the most serious crimes – is another area where the EU simply lacks policy (although it often follows the UN position). Any efforts the EU makes in supporting security sector reform (SSR) would (presumably) have to be in line with its own Concept on SSR  which states that ‘EU support to SSR will be based, inter alia, on […] democratic norms and internationally accepted human rights principles and the rule of law, and where applicable international humanitarian law.’  Will the EU be able to support genuine, human-rights based SSR?

Finally – one notable absence from both statements is any reference to the International Criminal Court. If the EU does indeed fully support it, wouldn’t the EU’s leaders rather have seen Colonel Gaddafi, along with Saif al-Islam Gaddafi and Abdullah Al- Senussi in the Hague?

Experience from other countries suggests that transitions are generally long, messy and difficult. HR Ashton has set an ambitious target for EU support for Libya’s transition: to be a ‘strong and committed partner’ committed to human rights, democracy and transitional justice. This will certainly take more than money alone : is the EU up to it?



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