Key questions on Libya’s coming transition
Developments are still unfolding quickly in Libya, and there’s a lot that’s still unclear. We’re laying out some key questions along with what we know so far. We’re updating this feature as we go. And we want you to be part of it: Email us or tweet @ProPublicawith questions you’d like to see answered.
Will Qaddafi and his cohorts be brought to justice?
The International Criminal Court, the global war crimes court, is currently negotiating with rebels to get them to hand over Qaddafi’s son Seif al-Islam, whom the rebels appear to have captured yesterday. The court issued arrest warrants earlier this year for Muammar Qaddafi, his son Seif al-Islam Qaddafi, and intelligence chief Abdullah Al Sanousi, having found “reasonable grounds to believe” that the three men had committed crimes against humanity in the form of murder and prosecution. (Read the decision [PDF].)
The rebels have insisted on trying Qaddafi at home. A rebel spokesman told Sky News today: “We want to see him be tried in Libya and not in any other place in the world.” They have promised to give him a fair trial.
It’s worth noting that it’s not clear whether Libya is actually obligated to hand over Qaddafi. Along with the United States, Libya is one of a few countries that hasn’t signed on to the ICC’s founding treaty. But ICC prosecutor Luis Moreno Ocampo has said that as a member of the United Nations, Libya and “any future government” in Libya is obligated to execute the warrants and turn over Qaddafi.
If the rebels do execute the warrants, an ICC trial would shield Qaddafi and his cohorts from the death penalty, which a trial in Libya would not.
Nonetheless, the United States and other countries cheered the news of the warrants when they were issued. It was the first time the United States had voted to refer an issue to the war crimes court, and as we noted, the United States only did so after including a carve-out that would shield Americans from investigation or prosecution by the court.
How much help have the United States and allies been giving the rebels?
A lot. NATO’s stated mission was simply to protect Libyan civilians, but its actual role appears to have gone well beyond that.
While NATO has denied that it has any “boots on the ground” in Libya, British and American officials speaking anonymously have said that there are “dozens” of British Special Forces soldiers, as well as American CIA operatives, working in Libya. An Al-Jazeera film crew captured images of armed Westerners in the rebel frontlines west of Misrata, and a rebel source told Al Jazeera in April that he had received training from American and Egyptian special forces.
In April, France and Italy also announced they would be sending a “small number” of military officers to “be mentors” to rebel forces.
NATO has also coordinated closely with rebels in directing air strikes against Qaddafi’s forces. Since its U.N.-approved operations began in March, NATO forces have conducted nearly 7,500 strike missions.
Rebel forces took advantage of this support, “selecting targets and transmitting their location, using technology provided by individual NATO allies, to NATO’s targeting team in Italy,” the New York Times reported.
“The rebels certainly have our phone number,” an unnamed diplomat told the Times.
Over the past few weeks, the Times reported, NATO’s strikes became increasingly sophisticated, “establishing around-the-clock surveillance over the dwindling areas that Libyan military forces still controlled, using armed Predator drones to detect, track and occasionally fire at those forces.”
Strikes over the weekend appeared to be closely integrated into the rebel offensive on the capital, as the New York Times reported:
NATO warplanes had flown overhead for days, bombing targets in the capital and its surroundings to clear the path to Tripoli…An uprising in Tripoli on Saturday night also laid the groundwork. At the “zero hour,” as the rebels called it, residents took to the streets and held demonstrations that were met with deadly force by Qaddafi soldiers — who also further exposed their heavy artillery to NATO surveillance, one rebel leader said.
The Post reported that these efforts were part of a “pincer” strategy created with the help of British, French, and Qatari special forces on the ground.
What’s been the rebels’ record on rights so far?
The track record of rebel groups on human rights isn’t comparable to the bloody massacres by Qaddafi’s forces, but it’s still been far from stellar.
Qaddafi’s forces have planted thousands of land mines to thwart the rebels, but advocacy group Human Rights Watch also accused rebel fighters of planting some roadside mines in April. Rebel leaders subsequently pledged not to use mines and to adhere to the Mine Ban Treaty in the future. (The Los Angeles Times notes that neither Libya nor the U.S.have signed that treaty.)
Then in July, Human Rights Watch accused some rebel forces in the western mountain regions of burning and looting hospitals, homes, and businesses in several towns they managed to overtake. They were also accused of beating people suspected of being Qaddafi loyalists. One rebel military commander admitted some of the abuses but said they were in violation of orders, according to Human Rights Watch. The rebels laterissued a statement condemning the abuses and pledging to investigate.
Questions about the rebel groups’ unity and adherence to the rule of law resurfaced againin late July, when the top rebel military leader was mysteriously shot dead. Rebel leaders later acknowledged that a group of rebel soldiers had assassinated Gen. Abdul Fattah Younes, who had been close to Qaddafi prior to his defection to the rebels.
The incident also underscores the fact that the rebels are fundamentally a loose coalition made up of various factions whose actions aren’t always in sync — so it’s unclear at times which faction was responsible for accused abuses.
The rebels also once placed tough restrictions on journalists and banned access to the front lines, but they seem to have loosened up a little. At least one Sky News correspondent, Alex Crawford, has been freely reporting live in recent days from within the rebel convoy.
Where is Qaddafi’s money, and what happens to it now?
Qaddafi and his now fallen government invested tens of billions of dollars around the world, which will likely make their way to an incoming Libyan government, though it’ll take time and won’t be easy.
After the United States and other countries lifted a previous round of sanctions on Qaddafi in 2003 and 2004, the Libyan government established a sovereign wealth fund that became one of the largest in the world, worth $53 billion last year. Qaddafi’s managers bought stakes in an Italian bank and soccer club, a Russian aluminum company and a British publishing house, to name just a few, according to the Wall Street Journal. The fund also had billions invested in public stocks like Halliburton and also in more complicated financial products managed by Western banks.
Western governments froze most of those assets after the United Nations Security Council passed sanctions against Qaddafi in February. The U.S. alone froze more than $30 billion in Libyan government assets. President Obama could free up that money by unilaterally lifting the block on the government’s assets once a new regime is in place.
The rebels have succeeded in convincing France and the United Kingdom to do just that with several hundred million dollars (they may have wished for the same from several celebrities, including Beyonce and Mariah Carey, who donated money they had earned performing for the Qaddafis to causes like Haitian relief). But for now, the vast majority remains tied up in shares of everything from London real estate to private companies.
But even if the money is given to the new government, a former Treasury Department official told NPR recently, the rebels may not be able to cash in too quickly. Most of Libya’s money isn’t sitting in a bank account, the official said, but is invested in shares of property or nonpublic companies. Turning those stakes into cash is difficult. One option, the former official said, would be for governments to donate or lend money to the new government, using the assets as collateral.
Or the rebels may want to look closer to home. Back in March, the Financial Times reported that Qaddafi had more than $6.5 billion worth of gold in the country’s central bank. It’s unclear what if anything happened to that gold, or where it is now. As the Times reported, it would have been difficult for Qaddafi to sell the gold to international banks or trading houses, but he could have moved it to neighboring countries to be traded for currency. The New York Times also reported on what was likely tens of billions of dollars in cash that Qaddafi had stashed within Libya as a rainy day fund. Again, it’s unclear how much of that may be left or where it might be.
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