Wisdom has it that we should be learning from our mistakes. In reality, this is hardly the case.
Back in 2003, when Paul Bremer, then-U.S. Administrator of the Coalition Provisional Authority in Iraq, decided to ban Saddam Hussein's Arab Socialist Ba'ath Party, things in this country started to tumble. After the joy on Iraqi streets over the destruction of Hussein's regime, the U.S. and coalition partners made a tremendous mistake by dismantling the then-ruling bureaucratic apparatus. It may have been the "politically correct" thing to do at the time, inspired partly by rhetoric suggesting such a move would inspire thoughts of a heroic international community in the minds of the Iraqi people, but it proved to be disastrously wrong and impractical. There was no party on the scene at that time to replace the Ba'athist middle- and lower-level government officials. Day-to-day operations like food deliveries and water supplies faltered. Salary payouts were delayed. The economy collapsed, militias took over, tribal rivalry and religious rhetoric bloomed, regional anti-Western forces jumped in, and a tragic bloodbath ensued. The world could have learned its lesson.
Libya's Political Isolation Law
Ten years later, born out of the local ownership of the Arab Spring in Libya, on May 5, 2013, Libya's post- Gaddafi General National Congress (GNC) -- with muted international opprobrium -- repeated America's mistake in Iraq by passing the Political Isolation Law banning anyone who served under Gaddafi from entering public life over the next decade. Muhamed Al-Mugariaf, the GNC's first president and a dedicated longtime opponent of Gaddafi, nobly resigned as soon as the law was passed in the GNC. Al-Mugariaf served briefly as Gaddafi's ambassador to India, but turned against the regime with such force that the dictator placed him at the top of his hit list. At least four ministers and fifteen members of the GNC were affected by the legislation, including interim Prime Minister Mahmoud Jibril and the GNC's then-Vice President Jomaa Atiga. Analysts suggest that about half a million people who had held less visible but vital positions were pushed out by the law.
This lustration law did not precipitate the chaos in Libya, but it certainly does not strengthen a weakened state to exclude those who know best how to operate it. Punishing half a million civil servants -- and, through their absence, the rest of the country -- for the very real abuses of Gaddafi's henchmen is shortsighted and vengeful. It is an abuse of individual rights. The international community should not tolerate such violations of human rights, even considering sanctions to press for compliance. This is not justice; it is political reckoning, with grave consequences.
It is up to the political and tribal leaders in Libya to seriously engage in dialogue toward reconciliation, and the international community should help and make it clear that Libya has to be for all Libyans. Leaving outside the public and political arena so many citizens hardly contributes to stability in this troubled country. It is time to reach out to the leaders of the Warfalla, Gthathfa, Trhona, Warshfana, and other tribes to work for genuine reconciliation.
No to Collective Political Punishment in Tunisia, Yes to Political Inclusiveness
We see the risks escalating in Tunisia as well, where transitional justice started in the early days following the revolution. Article 24 of the "mini-constitution," the provisional law regulating public authorities passed by the National Constituent Assembly (NCA) in 2011, is considered one of the major post-revolutionary achievements. The article states that the NCA should create a law regulating and organizing processes to deal with past crimes.
With calls to investigate crimes and hold their perpetrators responsible in order to compensate victims and restore their dignity, this debate is very emotional and divisive. On one hand, there is the opportunity to build a country on the foundation of the rule of law; on the other, there is fear that the old regime, thrown out the door, will undergo a "facelift" and return through the window.
The recent decision by military justices to reduce sentences for former high-ranking officials in the Ben Ali government has sparked an outcry and prompted discontent of some NCA members who decided to freeze their memberships. They demand the adoption of Draft Law 44, creating special tribunals to prosecute those accused of violence during the revolution. The law was introduced in August 2012 but was never ratified.
Lustration aims at altering the electoral landscape and led to the decision to dissolve the former ruling RCD party. Former high-ranking party members have been banned from candidacy since the first NCA elections in 2011. It appears that lustration in Tunisia has been primarily pursued through electoral laws prohibiting participation by specific categories of individuals.
By all means, prosecute those who committed crimes and defrauded the country -- on an individual basis. Avoid the mistake of collective punishment.
The international community must speak with one voice in protection of the basic human rights and democratic values, or what we may end up witnessing is a reproduction of the very same types of regimes. From Iraq to Libya to Tunisia, the risk and results of retributive purges are visible, creating a broad class of "losers" with a stake in sabotaging the new political order and derailing democracy.