From Flourishing Democracy into Land of Unending Chaos: The Story of Libya


The principle of non-intervention is a rule of international law that restricts the ability of outside nations to interfere with the internal affairs of another nation. It is corollary to the principle of sovereignty possessed by each nation. It was stated by the International Court of Justice (ICJ) in the Nicaragua case that the principle involves the right of every nation to conduct its affairs without outside interference. The court went on to state that intervention is wrongful when coercion is used, regarding choices that a State is entitled to make, particularly forces directly through military action or indirectly through support for subversive activities in another State.

Five years have now lapsed since the killing of Colonel Muammar Gaddafi and Libya continues to bear the mark of a failed State riddled with chaos and a haven for terrorists. Resolution after resolution gets adopted by the United Nations in a bid to save the State, all efforts being to no avail. It was believed that under Gaddafi, Libya was a dictatorship where gross violations of human rights happened and that Libyans needed saving. On the contrary, Libya enjoyed what could arguably be termed one of the world’s most progressive democracies.

Under Gaddafi, Libya was decentralised and divided into small communities that could be deemed States within a State. The said States had control over their areas and made a range of decisions. An example being how to allocate oil revenue and budgetary funds. The States had three councils that made decisions and were a forum for citizens to participate in the process; in essence, decision making was at the grassroots. It was reported by the New York Times that through the councils, people took part in local committee meetings to discuss issues and vote on different issues ranging from foreign treaties to building schools. On different occasions, decisions made by the people prevailed over those of Gaddafi. Some examples are when he suggested the abolition of the death penalty but the people chose otherwise and when he pushed for home schooling over traditional schooling.

Further, under his reign, a home was deemed a natural human right, medical treatments, education and electricity were free, mothers with new born babies were given bursaries, and Libya was the only country in the world that had a bank owned by the State and thus could give zero percent interest loans by law and had no external debt.

Intervention in the country was justified on the premise of human rights violations and the UN Charter’s 7th Chapter, which gives the Security Council the mandate to determine the existence of any threat to the peace, breach of the peace or act of aggression and to take military and non-military action to restore international peace and security.

Two weeks ago today, President Obama stated that the failure to prepare for the aftermath of the ousting of Colonel Gaddafi was the worst mistake of his presidency. It was his view that the intervention was the right thing to do, but he expressed regret that the country was plunged into chaos. With the Islamic State gaining a foothold and the leader of the faction ruling Western Libya threatening to prosecute any of his ministers that co-operate with the UN backed administration.

It is evident that the principle of non-intervention is overridden when matters of humanitarian nature come into play. However, the UN Security Council needs to go beyond the intervention and ensure the State in question is better off than it was before. Regrets by the American President do not fix the situation in Libya, therefore, the United Nations Security Council must be mandated to ensure that they take responsibility whenever such situations of conflict arise.

Hawa Gaya

Lawyer, lover of the environment and a beliver in peaceful dispute settlement
Hawa Gaya