I was at a music event in east London on Saturday night (watching the rather manic band Atomic Suplex, if you’re interested …) when I starting seeing excited tweets on my phone about how Libyan rebels were closing in on Tripoli.
After weeks of speculation about an “endgame” (some game), it really did look like the regime was caving in militarily. Now, nearly two days later and with a fierce battle still ongoing near Colonel Muammar Gaddafi’s compound in Tripoli, it’s looking like we might be seeing the last significant military episode in this bloody period for Libya.
It’s not over yet though. BBC journalist Rupert Wingfield-Hayes’ account of being ambushed by Gaddafi loyalists in Tripoli this morning is a vivid reminder of that – hearing audio of him shouting “Drive, drive, drive!” to his driver as he and his crew came under fire was a powerful illustration of the dangers faced by him (a past Amnesty UK media award winner) and others covering this conflict.
Meanwhile, if and when the Gaddafi regime falls there are key questions that will need to be answered. For example:
1: Are Colonel Gaddafi, his high-profile second son Saif and other senior members of the pro-Gaddafi regime going to be held accountable for human rights crimes stretching back years (not just the six months of the uprising and civil war)?
2: Will the international community – including our own government – fully support a process where Gaddafi and others are brought before the International Criminal Court (this morning Foreign Minister Alistair Burt sounded equivocal about this, merely repeating that it was a “matter for the Libyans”. Well no, it’s also an international justice matter).
3: Will Libyan “loyalists” or those perceived to be loyalists be protected from reprisal attacks?
4: Will there be an investigation into whether rebels have committed human rights offences?
5: And not least, will long-term human rights safeguards – over freedom of speech and assembly, about freedom from torture and the death penalty, about enhanced women’s rights and so on – be part of a post-Gaddafi future in Libya?
So what next? It’s a very different scenario, but as we’ve seen with Egypt, toppling an authoritarian ruler doesn’t actually guarantee that authoritarianism itself will evaporate or indeed that ordinary people’s lives will improve very much (in fact Amnesty has a report out tomorrow about how Egypt’s poor are still ignored by the habitually high-handed authorities in the country).
And of course the horror of post-Saddam Iraq’s descent into truly horrible sectarianism is one frightening version of what can happen in these situations. Conversely, another more optimistic outlook was alluded to by the Royal United Services Institute’s Shashank Joshi (giving comment throughout the Today programme this morning). He ended with the observation that Libya doesn’t (like Egypt or Tunisia) have a “powerful, predatory” military with authoritarian leanings and its oil wealth may help it develop into a better country. Let’s hope so.
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