Libya’s new rulers on Sunday declared the country “liberated” three days after ousted leader Muammar Gaddafi was captured and killed in his home town of Sirte.
“Raise your head high. You are a free Libyan,” National Transitional Council (NTC) vice-chairman Abdel Hafiz Ghoga told a rally in the eastern city of Benghazi, where the uprising against Gaddafi was launched eight months ago.
Libyans now set their sights on building a viable democracy, drafting a new constitution and organising the country’s first free parliamentary and presidential elections.
Libyans now have the task of putting in place institutions and mechanisms that will prevent the emergence of another Gaddafi.
Gaddafi had for the past 42 years denied Libyans the right to a democratic order.
But his execution has soiled the NTC triumph and the ghost of the slain colonel could one day return to haunt this oil–rich country.
Despite his well-documented culpabilities, Gaddafi deserved to be treated as a prisoner of war.
Killing him was in violation of the Geneva Convention on the Treatment of Prisoners of War and was a demonstration the new rulers in Tripoli are not ready to embrace reconciliation as they attempt to rebuild this war-shattered country.
Article 13 under the General Protection of Prisoners of War is clear.
“Prisoners of war must at all times be humanely treated. Any unlawful act or omission by the Detaining Power causing death or seriously endangering the health of a prisoner of war in its custody is prohibited and will be regarded as a serious breach of the present Convention,” it reads.
“Likewise, prisoners of war must at all times be protected, particularly against acts of violence or intimidation and against insults and public curiosity. Measures of reprisal against prisoners of war are prohibited.”
Gaddafi’s killing is a war crime which must be investigated.
The NTC has unfortunately set a bad precedent. They have created a legacy of violence. Human rights groups have accused the Nato-backed movement of revenge killings of pro-Gaddafi supporters.
There are reports that NTC forces indiscriminately fired at residential neighbourhoods known to be strongholds of Gaddafi supporters using heavy artillery and anti-aircraft guns.
In other words, they were or are still engaged in precisely the same indiscriminate firing of heavy weapons in residential neighbourhoods that provided the original pretext for the Nato intervention when Gaddafi ordered similar action by his own forces.
Amnesty International says as many as hundreds of thousands of migrant workers from sub-Saharan Africa have been labelled “mercenaries” by the NTC forces, by virtue of their skin colour, and subjected to imprisonment, torture and even summary execution.
Another global human rights watchdog, Human Rights Watch (HRW), yesterday called for an investigation into the massacre of Gaddafi supporters in the town of Sirte after the bodies of 53 people were found in a hotel.
“We found 53 decomposing bodies, apparently (Gaddafi) supporters, at an abandoned hotel in Sirte, and some had their hands bound behind their backs when they were shot,” emergencies director of HRW Peter Bouckaert said.
The human rights groups say this seems to be part of a trend of killings, looting and other abuses committed by anti-Gaddafi fighters who consider themselves above the law.
The NTC ought to be reminded that one wrong can never correct another wrong. Gaddafi seized power through violence and he ceded it through similar means.
Examples abound of leaders that seized power through violence and went via the same route. Samuel Doe of Liberia seized power through a military coup on April 12 1980.
He killed then President William Tolbert Jr, in the Executive Mansion in Monrovia and disembowelled him in his bed while he slept.
Doe then ordered the execution of 13 members of Tolbert’s Cabinet as he consolidated his hold on power.
The early days of Doe’s regime were marked by mass executions of members of the deposed government.
But 10 years later Doe was to face the same fate.
A rebel force which had fought Doe’s regime since 1989 defeated his army in September 1990 and captured him.
Doe was tortured and killed in a grisly manner. The infamous killing was captured live on video.
The Nato-backed NTC in Libya must take heed of this.
They must cultivate a culture of tolerance and clemency to nurture a better Libya.
The Libyan situation is compounded by the presence of up to 40 different militia groups that mushroomed during the rebellion against Gaddafi.
These militias remain at large raising questions as to whether the NTC has the ability to rein in all the various groups, many of which have competing interests and look to settling scores from the past.
Somalia plunged into a failed state after the toppling of long-time dictator Mohammad Siad Barre and several warlords with competing interests sprung up.
The euphoria of Gaddafi’s demise must not blind the world into seeing the sad reality that the NTC may not be the best outfit for Libyans given their record so far.
Gaddafi was a bad leader. No doubt about that. But fears abound that Libya’s new rulers holding the reins in Tripoli face a formidable task which they are not altogether up to.