Libya Fights For Change

For 42 years, the people of Libya have lived as prisoners in their own home. For 42 years, Libya’s people have been suppressed, its resources and wealth squandered and its citizens threatened and killed all at the command of Muammar Gadhafi, who took power in a 1969 military coup. For 42 years, the country has been brimming with fear and repression. But this February, the people of Libya, in the same spirit that has been sweeping the region recently, stood up to their oppressor and demanded liberty and human rights in what is known as the February 17 Revolution.

Uprisings in cities across Libya have been met with violence by security forces, resulting in the death of hundreds of people. Though the death toll is yet unclear, estimates range from 600 to more than 2,000 people. Among the hardest hit have been the cities of Benghazi, Tripoli and other cities with security forces firing live ammunition on Libyan people protesting Gadhafi’s tyrannical rule.

Although protests have been met with violence in other Middle Eastern countries, Gadhafi’s brutality makes the case of Libya a unique one. On Feb. 19, troops shot and killed 15 mourners at a funeral procession. The same day, the Libyan government cut access to the Internet.

Despite the blocked Internet and enforced curfew, eyewitnesses have reported horrific scenes of brutality from security forces. Gadhafi also sent roaming bands of armed African mercenaries to shoot, strike and kill unarmed, peaceful protesters.

In his contemptuous speech last week, Saif al Islam Gadhafi, Gadhafi’s son, called foreign media’s coverage of the violence against the Libyan people an “exaggeration.” Repeating numerous times that “Libya is not Tunisia or Egypt,” he made it clear that the regime will continue to fight its people and stated that Libyans will be “mourning hundreds and thousands of casualties.” In a similar show of ruthlessness and insanity, Muammar Gadhafi’s speech said in too many words that he will not step down and that he would fight “until the last living Libyan” if protesters did not surrender. He blamed al Qaeda and others for influencing the young protesters and drugging them, as if something other than his ruthless rule would lead his people to protest.

A ruler who shamelessly threatens his people should be tried in a court of law, not welcomed as a leader. Not only is it the Libyan people’s duty to ensure that Gadhafi and his successors are removed, but it is the duty of nations around the world to ensure that he and others are tried for their crimes.

Not only has Gadhafi responded to opposition with murder (he has a history of violently silencing opposition), but he has also squandered the country’s wealth. As a supplier of oil to European countries, Libya should be developing its infrastructure and economy with its oil wealth. Instead, the wealth lies in the hands of one family, while the country endures a 30 percent unemployment rate and significant underdevelopment.

However, hope for a new government and for more fearless opposition to the regime is reflected in the ongoing protests. Additionally, multiple Libyan diplomats and politicians, including the justice and interior ministers, have resigned. Generals and soldiers have deserted their posts and joined the people. Fighter pilots sent on air raid campaigns against civilians have defected and flown to Malta or simply parachuted and left their planes to crash. Entire battalions including a garrison in the northeast of the country have joined the revolution.

Furthermore, international aid groups have provided support to the people of Libya. The governments of Libya’s neighboring countries, Tunisia and Egypt, have also supplied shelter and food for those crossing out of the country.

The international world has taken some steps, but stronger steps are needed. The U.S. State Department and the Swiss Bank have frozen some of Gadhafi’s assets. France and the United Kingdom have moved to impose sanctions and an arms embargo on Libya. Today much of the eastern region of the country and many western cities are out of Gadhafi’s control.

But the violence continues. On Feb. 25, the army attacked the city of Az Zawiyah, indiscriminately using machine gunfire against civilians. When protesters sought refuge at a mosque, government forces fired at the mosque with anti-aircraft guns.

Ultimately, the international community must ask itself how many more must die before the world takes serious steps. If we claim to want peace, stability and democracy, now is the time to call for justice. Perhaps the most effective course of action will be to promise that Gadhafi and any of his supporters will be tried for their crimes against humanity, thus removing the fear that would motivate someone to support such a tyrant. Although Internet and media coverage are restricted, the international community cannot allow the Libyan government to hide its crimes against humanity.

In a growing international climate of revolution, this people’s revolution in Libya must succeed. In today’s connected world, we, as people of conscience, must demand an end to unlawful use of force against peaceful protesters, demand that Internet access is restored in Libya and hold Gadhafi responsible for his serious violations of international human rights law.

At this moment of revolution, the time has come for us to side with liberty and justice and demand freedom for Libya and all other countries under oppressive rule, not simply because it is just, but because it is the greatest sentiment for how much we value our own.

Hadeer Soliman is a fourth-year public health and Spanish double major. She can be reached at hsoliman@uci.edu.