Ahmed Gebreel - "It Was About Dignity and Respect"

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Nov 18, 2013
by Oscar Tollast
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Ahmed Gebreel - "It Was About Dignity and Respect"

Former diplomat discusses cause of Libyan Revolution and effect on human rights Mr Gebreel speaking during one of Salzburg Global's workshop sessions

Political advisor Ahmed Gebreel has suggested a lack of human rights played a fundamental role in the build up to the Libyan Revolution.

Mr Gebreel was the first diplomat to defect from Muammar al-Gaddafi’s regime and publicly announce his support for the Libyan Revolution.

"Some people believe that the revolution was about prosperity, a good life, money, [and] a modern country.

"I think it was about dignity and respect, human rights, and protection. Gaddafi’s regime violated the basic human rights in Libya: access to good education, health, the environment."

"Forget about free speech and gender equality. Even these rights, which everybody in a country like Libya should have – a rich country – we did not have."

Mr Gebreel served as deputy ambassador of Libya in London. He suggested those who worked within the Foreign Office were afforded the opportunity to interact with people from other countries and explore the world.

"I found during my work in the Foreign Office that diplomats were the most educated and most aware about the state Libya was in compared to other countries."

Mr Gebreel suggested frustrations began to boil between 2008 and 2009 after a lack of reforms under Muammar al-Gaddafi’s regime.

"When the revolution started, I think we were all enthusiastic about it but we were also very worried about the response of the Gaddafi regime from the very beginning.

"We expected the revolution to be very bloody and this unfortunately is what happened."

Mr Gebreel described to Salzburg Global the steps that led to him declaring his support for the revolution.

"The first day, when I was walking in the street filming what was happening, I was a little bit hesitant to express myself in public and to talk to the media."

It was when Mr Gebreel visited a hospital the following day to film those injured when he took the decision to inform the world what was happening and support those against Muammar Gaddafi's regime.

"It just happened on that day when I saw what was happening: the violation of human rights, the killing of civilian people who were demonstrating in the streets demanding their basic rights. All the hesitation went off."

When Mr Gebreel chose to announce his support for the revolution, he had to overcome a number of obstacles.

Based in the east of Libya at the time, he was unable to access the Internet or make any international phone calls.

He left for Egypt to email and call several people around the world: New York, Washington, D.C., London, and Cairo. He then came back to Libya.

"People didn’t have any idea about what was happening in the country. Gaddafi closed off the country. There was no Internet. The borders weren’t very open, except for Libyans, and there were no phone calls.

"I started receiving so many phone calls from the media from organizations, and even from the UN Security Council."

Mr Gebreel served as a political coordinator in the UN Security Council representing Libya.

He revealed people working on behalf of the U.S. and Russia started to contact him and ask him to describe the situation.

A number of senior Libyan public officials began to renounce the Gaddafi government or resign from their positions upon the use of force against protestors, including Mustafa Abdul Jalil, Minister of Justice at the time.

Mr Gebreel said he was asked by Mr Jalil's son to announce his father's resignation on air whilst speaking to Al Ahrar TV.

"When I announced the resignation in the evening, I came back home and Al Ahrar TV called me and said, ‘Tripoli is denying your announcement this morning about Mustafa Jalil’.”

This led to Mr Gebreel contacting Mr Jalil to confirm what had happened. A phone interview was then later set up with the TV station for Mr Jalil to officially announce his resignation.

"From that day we started working together trying to form a body in the city and then we got calls and contact from other cities.

“We started talking about a bigger body for the whole country, which was later established as the National Transitional Council."

Mr Jalil went on to become Chairman of the National Transitional Council, whilst Mr Gebreel served as a political advisor.

Mr Gebreel has worked in various capacities with multiple human rights organizations, such as Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International.

Since the beginning of the revolution, Mr Gebreel has focused much of his work on human rights in Libya. He returned to Libya as he wanted to live in his country whilst important changes took place.

“We have seen so many violations of human rights. I think this constitutes a grave concern for us. This goes against the principles of the revolution.

"I think the overwhelming majority of the Libyan people condemn these violations and we are trying to find a way in preventing such violations."

Mr Gebreel explained to Salzburg Global that a number of methods are being explored to prevent violations from being repeated.

This included a national conference held in May 2012, attended by international actors such as the United Nations and Human Rights Watch.

"Fortunately, the group that organized the conference, most of them were involved in the work of the National Transitional Council at the beginning of the revolution.

"They felt more responsible in bringing this issue, dealing with it and trying to find a solution not just to prevent these violations but at least minimize the violations."

A strong supporter and defender of human rights, Mr Gebreel spoke to Salzburg Global whilst attending a session co-organized with the Arab Human Rights Fund: 'Getting Transition Right: A rights-based approach towards Diversity and Inclusivity'.

He revealed he was initially hesitant about coming to the session, feeling that he wasn't the right person to attend. But after participating in a number of workshops, he left "very, very satisfied".

"The subject that has been discussed is the core issue for what’s happening now in Libya, for the obstacle facing the country from moving forward is the attempt by some political groups to dominate the whole political, economic and social life in Libya.

"I think it’s very important for all countries in the region but in particular for Libya to recognize and realize how important this topic is."

Mr Gebreel suggested there was a "denial for diversity" in Libya and that he would look to promote the significance of the issue for Libya's benefit.

"What I will try to do is work with civil society organizations in Libya. I am a candidate for the constitutional committee.

"Even if I am not elected, I will still work with them and highlight this issue and try to bring it to the public eye as much as I can."