Yesterday’s attack on the American diplomatic presence in Benghazi, Libya, which killed the United States ambassador and three other diplomats, was a “sobering reminder” of the serious security challenges that persisted even as the country made steady progress toward democracy, the United Nations’ top political official told the Security Council today.
“This horrific and tragic attack, together with a spate of assassinations of security personnel in Benghazi, a series of explosive devices in Tripoli, and attacks on Sufi shrines, further emphasizes the security challenge facing the authorities in Libya,” the UN Under-Secretary-General for Political Affairs, Jeffrey Feltman, told the 15-member body at a meeting on the situation in Libya.
Mr. Feltman strongly condemned the attack as he introduced Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon’s latest report on the UN Support Mission in Libya (UNSMIL), while also signalling Mr. Ban’s appointment of a new Special Representative, Tarik Mitri, replacing Ian Martin, who helped establish the Mission last year.
According to initial media reports, it is believed the US ambassador to Libya, Christopher Stevens, and three other diplomats were killed when suspected Libyan religious extremists stormed the US Consulate in Benghazi late Tuesday. The extremists reportedly attacked the location in protest against an anti-Islamic video produced by an American-Israeli real-estate developer.
In his remarks to the Council, Mr. Feltman welcomed statements by the Libyan authorities to bring to justice those responsible for the Benghazi attacks. He said that Secretary-General Ban reminded Libyan authorities of their obligations to protect diplomatic facilities and personnel.
In his report – written before Tuesday’s attack in Benghazi – Mr. Ban says that Libya’s General National Congress elections, held on 7 July, marked a major milestone in the country’s transition toward a modern democratic State, after decades of autocratic rule and toppling of the regime of Muammar al-Qadhafi.
Colonel Qadhafi ruled the North African country for more than 40 years until a pro-democracy uprising last year – similar to the protests in other countries in the Middle East and North Africa – led to civil war and the end of his regime.
Mr. Feltman underlined the importance of the 8 August transfer of authority from the National Transitional Council, which emerged from the civil war, to the 200-member General National Congress, that quickly and transparently elected a President and two Vice-Presidents in accordance with the country’s Constitutional Declaration.
“For the first time in over four decades, Libya now has a democratically elected body,” he said, noting that today, its Congress will vote to appoint a Prime Minister following lengthy deliberations and public presentation of candidates, setting “new standards for the region.”
However, he added, the General National Congress now needs to address several urgent governance priorities, including the initiation of a national reconciliation dialogue, providing oversight over all levels of government, tackling decentralization and fighting corruption.
“Progress on local governance issues will constitute the first step towards addressing the legitimate and urgent need for decentralized government,” he said, adding that it was crucial to assure civil society a voice in that process.
UNSMIL and the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) provided technical assistance and parliamentary training in preparation for the transfer of authority from the National Transitional Council to the General National Congress, Mr. Feltman said.
“The UN will continue to provide technical support to the Congress and to coordinate with the international community offers of assistance and technical support,” he added.
However, foremost among the challenges facing the Libyan people is security, as yesterday’s attack showed, the UN official said, pointing to arms outside state control, lack of clarity and competition over security responsibilities between and within relevant institutions and the continued prevalence of armed brigades.
In addition to these concerns, Mr. Feltman said border security remains a top national priority to combat the smuggling of arms, drugs, human trafficking and illegal migration, as well as the spread of transnational organized crime.
The urgency with which security needs to be addressed was also highlighted by the spate of attacks on Sufi shrines in Libya over the past few weeks, in Zliten, Tripoli, Benghazi and Misrata – all of which had been condemned by the Government.
According to media reports, ultra-conservative Islamists were responsible for the damage, reportedly with the acquiescence of members of the security forces. The sites are revered by Sufis, a branch of Islam known for its moderation but considered heretical by some branches of the Islamic faith.
UNSMIL was assisting the Government to address its acknowledged shortcomings in all key security areas in an integrated manner, Mr. Feltman said, as well as strengthening international coordination to support security sector governance.
Addressing the issue of detainees held since the civil war, over which the UN chief expressed deep concern in his report, Mr. Feltman said that while such prisoners were gradually being brought under the authority of Libya’s Ministry of Justice, as well as being screened, a more systematic and accelerated approach was needed.
UNSMIL, he said, continued to urge Libyan authorities to prevent and investigate torture and other mistreatment of detainees, and was working closely with authorities on judicial and penal reform essential for bringing about due process for all detainees.