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Justice and reconciliation in Libya focus of Leiden meeting

On 25-26 October 2022, a select group of high-level participants gathered in Leiden to discuss research on Libya’s national reconciliation and access to justice, and to explore implications for policy and law.

As autumn coloured the leaves around Leiden’s canals, the University’s Old Observatory was the site of a remarkable gathering about reconciliation and access to justice in Libya. These topics are hotly debated in Libya and have been the subject of an interdisciplinary research cooperation between the universities of Benghazi and Leiden since 2012. At its heart has been a partnership between Dr Suliman Ibrahim who works both at Leiden University and at the Centre for Law and Society Studies (CLSS) at Benghazi University, and Prof. Jan Michiel Otto of the Van Vollenhoven Institute for Law, Governance and Society (VVI) at Leiden University. Their cooperation has been mostly funded by the Netherlands Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Netherlands Embassy in Libya.

The high-level meeting began on 25 October with introductory remarks by Leiden’s rector Prof Hester Bijl and Benghazi’s vice-rector Prof Yahya Mahmoud Lamloum. They expressed their appreciation for this unique cooperation, which has endured throughout turbulent times in Libya and has helped inform policy and law. Both rectors expressed their hope that the cooperation will continue, and that it may be expanded to include more faculties. To mark this commitment, the rectors signed a new Memorandum of Understanding.

This academic meeting was remarkable for its inclusion of politicians, policy makers, and diplomats, including Libya’s vice-president Abdullah Al-Lafi, the Libyan ambassador to the Netherlands, Marai Arhim, and the Dutch ambassador to Libya, Dolf Hogewoning. There were also representatives of the Netherlands Ministry of Foreign Affairs, including Deputy Director General of International Cooperation Ms Birgitta Tazelaar, and of the United Nations Support Mission in Libya, and the International Centre for Transitional Justice. Their presence encouraged discussions of the practical implications of academic research.

The meeting’s first day focused on national reconciliation. Each presentation was followed by candid, critical, and constructive discussions. One Libyan participant remarked, ‘I am grateful for the honesty and openness here ... We need honesty dealing with such sensitive topics like reconciliation.’ Prof Nagib el-Hassadi, Dr Jazia Jibreel, and Dr Suliman Ibrahim presented their research on ‘The Role of Law in Libya's National Reconciliation’ (RoLLNaR). Libya’s Vice-President Al-Lafi elaborated the Presidential Council’s Strategic Vision on National Reconciliation. Prof Kuni Abouda spoke on behalf of the committee which has been drafting a law on reconciliation. Lastly, a panel discussion addressed the role of the rather divided international community vis-à-vis Libya’s reconciliation, debating among other things the fine line between support and interference.

Day two was more academic. It included presentations both on the completed RoLLNaR-project, and on the ongoing ‘Access to Justice in Libya’-project. Speakers included Dr Hala El-Atrash, Dr Bruno Braak, Dr Suliman Ibrahim, Dr Jazia Jibreel, Mr Ali Abu Raas, and Prof Jan Michiel Otto. Especially the sensitive subject of Libya’s security forces generated ample discussion.

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