After more than 40 years of repression and nearly a decade of civil wars, Libya remains fragile. A viable and inclusive transitional justice process could strengthen the rule of law, reform state institutions, dismantle systems of corruption, address the long legacy of gross human rights abuses, and end a culture of impunity.

There are three men in discussion with each other, the man on the left in an orange vest is holding a piece of paper and listening to the other two men.

The advocacy group and ICTJ partner Lawyers for Justice in Libya consulted with over 3,000 Libyans from 37 different communities on the drafting of the country's constitution. (Lawyers for Justice in Libya)


Background: From Repression to Civil War

For 42 years, Colonel Muammar Gaddafi ruled Libya with an iron fist leaving no room for freedoms and human rights. Despite having the largest oil reserves in Africa, the country did not develop and prosper. Gaddafi’s brutal and corrupt dictatorship instead misappropriated the country’s resources, enriching but a few while marginalizing and impoverishing vast segments of the population. After Gaddafi declared a “people’s revolution” in 1977, revolutionary committees were established to administer the country. The decades of poor governance that resulted, combined with military interventions in different neighboring conflicts and a chaotic foreign diplomacy based on Gaddafi ambitions, destabilized the country, eroded the rule of law, and debilitated state institutions, opening the door to anarchy.

In February 2011, sharing the aspirations for freedom of their neighbors in Arab Spring countries, Libyans took to the streets peacefully to demand transformative change. However, within days, the protests turned violent and escalated into a nationwide rebellion and armed conflict. In October 2011, Muammar Gaddafi was captured and killed, inaugurating a new era in Libya. The country’s fragile situation, however, has since not improved. Without a strong central government and effective state institutions, Libya has been unable to prevent armed groups from filling this void, gaining control in the regions, and igniting a civil war that continues today. To make matters worse, members of ISIS and other terrorist groups have entered and are now operating in the country. At present, attention is focused on resolving ongoing conflicts and divisions, rather than achieving a transition to democracy.

Libya is now split and governed by two competing authorities: the officially recognized Government of National Accord (GNA) based in the capital Tripoli and the Libyan National Army (LNA), led by General Khalifa Haftar, which controls the eastern part of the country with central command in Benghazi. Since April 2019, General Haftar has led an offensive to “liberate” Tripoli from armed militias and terrorism. The ensuing civil war has evolved into a proxy war among intervening regional powers, as the international community seems unable to negotiate a political solution to the conflict. Several nations have violated the UN arms embargo on Libya that has been in place since 2011, not only by selling or supplying weapons to armed groups in the country but also by providing logistical support, training, and even fighters. Under these circumstances, violations of international humanitarian law and international human rights law, including murder, abduction, enforced disappearance, and torture, have become everyday occurrences. Since the conflicts began in 2011, hundreds of thousands of people have been displaced from their homes; refugees and migrants have been held in detention centers and sold as slaves. Women, in particular, have been the targets of these and other abuses.

Since the toppling of the Gaddafi regime, the country has attempted to deal with its past. It enacted several laws, notably the Transitional Justice and National Reconciliation Law in 2012 and the Transitional Justice Law in 2013 (known as Law 29), which replaced the former. However, the proposed process was neither sufficiently inclusive nor comprehensive in terms of the violations, alleged perpetrators, and periods of time it was to investigate. The process ultimately failed to launch not only because of the deteriorating security situation and proliferation of armed groups but also because of other obstacles related to controversial legislation such the Political Isolation Law, promises of immunity for rebels who fought against Gaddafi, and deeply rooted tribal divisions.

Though the country is embroiled in a bloody civil war, many Libyans are still working to establish the rule of law, address the grievances that brought about the revolution, deliver justice, and end impunity.

ICTJ’s Role

ICTJ mainly provides capacity building and technical assistance to various local stakeholders. Since 2012, ICTJ has been monitoring the country’s transition and supported early transitional justice efforts. For instance, we advised stakeholders on the related laws passed in 2012 and 2013, notably the 2013 Transitional Justice Law (Law 29). We also provided training to Libyans lawyers and activists.

  • We work with Libyan and non-Libyan partners to build the capacity of local civil society organizations to document ongoing violations, play an active role in the country’s transition, and shed light on the root causes of the conflict.
  • We conduct research and provide expert analysis to help identify opportunities for transitional justice in the Libyan context.
  • We share comparative experiences of transitional justice processes and institution reform with Libyan activists and other stakeholders. We bring them together with counterparts in other countries pursuing transitional justice by organizing international workshops and other activities.
  • We work to ensure that women and youth are involved in shaping transitional justice processes in Libya.