x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 27 July 2017

Libya’s ‘wanted’ list does not help to heal old wounds

Rebuilding and reconciling a divided nation is more important than settling old scores, writes Mustafa Fetouri.

Out of curiosity, I recently checked Interpol’s website to view the “wanted persons” list in Libya, my home country. I knew I was in for a few surprises and they didn’t take long to arrive. The first one was a photo of a dead person listed as “wanted”, while the name underneath the picture was that of his living brother.

I knew both brothers, the deceased brother passed away more than a decade ago, while the living brother is freely moving in Libya and even visited Europe twice last year.

Even Iz-Al-Din Al Hanshiri is still listed as wanted, despite the fact that he was one of nearly 70 people travelling in Muammar Qaddafi’s convoy when they were attacked, captured and executed in October 2011 as they fled Sirte. Al Hanshiri is listed for abuses of power.

On another page, Abdullah Al Senussi is wanted, despite the fact that he has been in custody in Libya since Mauritania handed him over in September 2012.

Saif Al Islam Qaddafi appears on another page, even though he has been held by militia in the western city of Zintan since November 2011. Qaddafi made a brief appearance in court in the city last month, only for his trial to be adjourned until the end of next month.

On another page, Hala Misrati, the former TV presenter, is accused of embezzlement and squandering public money. She rose to fame during the civil war as a staunch defender of the regime.

I do not know Ms Misrati, but knowing the company she worked for and how it was managed, I am confident that she did nothing more than present her talk show. She was not in any position to touch public funds, let alone squander them.

One of the images Interpol uses is a screen grab from one of her broadcasts. That photo goes back to April 2011, when Ms Misrati appeared on live television and pointed a revolver at the camera and threatened what she called “the traitors of Libya”, namely those who stood against the regime.

In May 2011, at the height of the war, the regime’s security services caught a young religious cleric who was feeding a major Arabic satellite channel with all kinds of stories, most of which turned out to be fabricated. One of the interesting things he revealed to Ms Misrati in a live phone interview before his capture was that he kept a database of all people who appeared on state TV.

When pressed on this topic, he said that he was compiling a list of all those who appeared on TV so that they would be punished once the regime was deposed.

Elsewhere, the Interpol records reveal that the infamous Moussa Koussa is only accused of embezzlement and misuse of public funds. Nothing at all is said about his years as head of the secret services.

Except for Qaddafi and Senussi, almost all other wanted individuals are accused of either embezzlement or squandering of public funds, or both. Most of these characters were either low-level bureaucrats or supporters of the former regime.

Having witnessed the looting of many government buildings during and after the fall of Tripoli in August 2011, I have always maintained that any Libyan authority will have a hard time convincing any respected judge to hand over any of its now sworn enemies.

During that period of looting, I saw files and documents being thrown out of windows of government buildings after they came under rebel control as forces opposed to the regime swept through Tripoli. Hundreds of files were also burnt or stolen.

At the same time, foreign agents also took large quantities of government data out of the country.

Interpol should update its records. If Libya is seeking justice and reconciliation among its people after decades under Qaddafi’s divisive rule, outdated lists on its website will not help.

In fact, such lists will further divide Libyans even more than they already are.

For instance, the Libyan authorities have a very good idea of who was responsible for recent mass murder in Tripoli and Benghazi, but have yet to bring a single person in for questioning.

This sorry state of affairs gives the impression that the current Libyan government cannot be trusted to handle more complicated social issues such as national reconciliation, let alone transitional justice.

It also leads one to the conclusion that the current listing on Interpol’s site is more about settling old scores than it is about rebuilding and reconciling a divided nation.

Mustafa Fetouri is a Libyan analyst at IHS Global Insight, an author and a freelance journalist