Yesterday, I watched the images of Libyans celebrating in Tripoli's Green Square as opposition forces took control of large parts of the city. After six months of intense fighting, it seems as though the regime of Moammar Gaddafi is coming to an end. As I witnessed the pure joy on the faces of those celebrating in Green Square, I was reminded of those I met during my own recent visit to the region.
In March, I was part of a team from Refugees International that traveled to Tunisia, Egypt, and Libya. In the short space of time that we spent in Libya, I was struck by the revolutionary fervor that had spread throughout the east of the country. The Libyans we spoke to acknowledged the many struggles they faced in trying to topple the powerful forces of Moammar Gaddafi. But they had a passion and commitment to their cause that was greater than their concern for their own well being. And they were confident that this shared desire to create a free and democratic post-Gaddafi Libya would overcome any obstacles in the long run.
Now, with the opposition's National Transitional Council poised to take over control of the 'new' Libya, the challenges that it faces are numerous. In the aftermath of Moammar Gaddafi's inevitable overthrow, the U.S. government, its allies, and key regional stakeholders must take all necessary measures to revitalize the Libyan economy. Due to major shortages of cash, the NTC has been unable to pay salaries or control the prices of basic commodities -- both key elements required to help stabilize the country and ensure a smooth transition of power. In light of this, we at RI welcome the Obama Administration's recent effort s to immediately unfreeze $1.5 billion in Libyan assets. We urge the Administration to provide strong political leadership on the UN Security Council to ensure that the estimated $165 billion in frozen Libyan assets around the world are made available as soon as possible for the Libyan people.
These stabilization measures are essential in order to alleviate the most urgent needs facing Libya and the NTC and prevent new tensions from arising and possible conflict from erupting again. Furthermore, as the opposition forces make military gains, the NTC must continue to allow unhindered humanitarian access to vulnerable populations and ensure that its followers don't carry out reprisals against those aligned -- or perceived to be aligned -- with the Gaddafi regime. Protection must be assured for all people in Libya, regardless of their political allegiances.
Of particular concern to RI are the Sub-Saharan Africans inside Libya, estimated at more than 1 million in the country pre-February 2011. These migrants, many of them from Somalia, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Chad and Sudan have become vulnerable targets of violence and harassment by all parties of the conflict. According to journalists and human rights organizations, since the earliest days of the fighting, Sub-Saharan Africans have been targeted, attacked and harassed by opposition forces who have accused them of being regime loyalists -- mercenaries recruited by Moammar Gaddafi. The Council's chairman, Mustapha Abdul Jalil, has committed the new Libyan government to the principles of tolerance, forbearance, and forgiveness. In a speech on Monday, he called upon all revolutionaries: "...not to take the law into their own hands." This is a welcome statement. The NTC must honor its commitment to human rights by providing protection for Sub-Saharan Africans inside Libya and ensuring that they will not be the victims of reprisal attacks.
This same spirit of tolerance and forbearance must also be extended to those Libyans who were forced to leave during the conflict. More than 200,000 Libyans fled the country since the start of the crisis in February. A majority of them have returned, but it is still too soon to know how many of those remaining outside the country will decide to come back. For those who choose to rebuild their lives in the new Libya, the NTC should allow them to return without prejudice.
It's impossible to predict what shape a post-Gaddafi Libya will take. How the NTC and its international allies respond to Libya's most vulnerable populations will go a long way to illuminating what the future there might hold.
Michel Gabaudan is the President of Refugees International, a Washington DC-based organization that advocates to end refugee crises and receives no government or UN funding. For more information, go to www.refugeesinternational.org