Transitions

Libya’s politicians duke it out with the Supreme Court

On Tuesday April 9, the Libyan General National Congress (GNC) voted to amend the Constitutional Declaration, the interim legal charter that’s filling the gap while the country’s future constitution is being drafted and ratified, to provide the controversial "isolation law" with constitutional immunity in the face of Supreme Court opposition. The amendment is a breach ...

MAHMUD TURKIA/AFP/GettyImages
MAHMUD TURKIA/AFP/GettyImages

On Tuesday April 9, the Libyan General National Congress (GNC) voted to amend the Constitutional Declaration, the interim legal charter that’s filling the gap while the country’s future constitution is being drafted and ratified, to provide the controversial "isolation law" with constitutional immunity in the face of Supreme Court opposition. The amendment is a breach of judicial sovereignty and tantamount to directly undermining Libya’s transition to democracy.  

The isolation law would target individuals who are linked to the Qaddafi regime (or have worked in bureaucratic jobs in government at a senior or junior level) and would prevent them from holding public office in Libya for 5 to10 years. However, the proposed isolation law would violate Article 6 of the constitutional declaration, which states:

"Libyans shall be equal before the law. They shall enjoy equal civil and political rights, shall have the same opportunities, and be subject to the same public duties and obligations, without discrimination due to religion, doctrine, language, wealth, race, kinship, political opinions, and social status, tribal or eminent or familial loyalty."

The new amendment gives the isolation law absolute immunity from appeals in the Supreme Court to assess its constitutionality.  As the GNC has yet to agree on the final version, part of the amendment is intended to reduce the necessary quorum needed to pass it from 120 votes down to 101.

The Libyan Observatory for Human Rights was quick to condemn the move by the GNC calling it "an unprecedented violation of the rights of citizens to appeal against laws that would affect their lives or violate their rights."

Speaking to journalists on Sunday, the GNC’s spokesperson, Omar Hmaidan, suggested that the objectives of the isolation law are public demands. However, within the GNC, the isolation law will manifest in political gains and the avoidance of battle between different blocs. This represents a dangerous precedent especially when political agendas of certain groups and party interests supersede the democratic values for which Libyans have fought.

Supporters of the isolation law (Islamists in particular) deem it necessary because loyalists of the former regime are trying to derail Libya’s transition to a stable democracy and overall success of the revolution in the country. However, limiting the powers of the judiciary to uphold justice is a greater danger since elected officials would be able to govern without checks and balances, or respect for the concept of separation of powers and independence of the judiciary.

However, counter-arguments by anti-isolation groups (including the liberal leaning National Forces Alliance led by Mahmoud Jibril) suggest that other steps can be taken to protect the revolution and help Libya’s democratic transition. These steps include, building judicial capacity to deal with the issue of the transitional justice, approving a comprehensive Transitional Justice Law, and establishing systems and practices that would prevent corruption and affirm democratic values and practices.

Furthermore, they assert that isolation happened naturally during the eight-month long armed struggle, because the majority of officials who sided with Qaddafi fled the country, have been killed during the fighting, or are currently imprisoned pending trials.

There is real concern that the isolation law is more about current political opponents fighting each other, than about the national interest or the protection of the revolution. Libya is currently facing a historic moment in which we have to choose to complete our revolution by affirming the values of compassion, inclusiveness, and respect for human rights. The alternative is that we abandon these values and become prey for groups that have put their narrow party interests above the national interest. 

Mohamed Eljarh is the Libya blogger for Transitions. Read the rest of his posts here.  

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