Washington — President Obama says the liberation of Libya from 42 years of Muammar Qadhafi’s rule has offered the Libyan people a new chance for freedom, dignity and opportunity, and the international community’s actions on their behalf have shown what the nations of the world can achieve “when we stand together as one.”
In his September 20 remarks to a high-level meeting at the United Nations in New York, the president said the Libyan people “are writing a new chapter in the life of their nation” after joining together in February and risking their lives through months of peaceful protests and in battle against Qadhafi’s forces.
“Make no mistake, credit for the liberation of Libya belongs to the people of Libya,” Obama said.
But the president said the international support that quickly mobilized when it appeared that Qadhafi’s forces were about to commit mass atrocities against civilians helped to stop the regime and save lives, and gave the Libyan people “the time and the space to prevail.”
“Libya is a lesson in what the international community can achieve when we stand together as one,” Obama said.
Although the world “cannot and should not intervene” every time there is injustice, there are times when it must act to “prevent the killing of innocents on a horrific scale,” the president said.
“This time, we, through the United Nations, found the courage and the collective will to act,” he said.
The intervention occurred thanks to cooperation between the Arab League, which appealed for action, the members of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), who enforced the U.N.-mandated no-fly zone and arms embargo and protected Libyan rebels on the ground, and Libya’s Arab neighbors, who joined the coalition as equal partners and cared for the humanitarian needs of its people, he said.
“This is how the international community should work in the 21st century: more nations bearing the responsibility and the costs of meeting global challenges. In fact, this is the very purpose of this United Nations,” Obama said. “So every nation represented here today can take pride in the innocent lives that will be saved and in helping Libyans reclaim their country. It was the right thing to do.”
The president said the United States will be a friend and partner to the Libyan people as they work to realize peace and prosperity through their newfound freedom. He announced that U.S. Ambassador Gene Cretz is en route to Tripoli and the recently reopened U.S. Embassy.
He urged those who continue to fight for Qadhafi’s regime to lay down their arms and join “the new Libya,” saying that democracy, trade and investment cannot flourish in the country unless it enjoys security. He also called for “a spirit of reconciliation, and not reprisals and violence” as Libyans seek justice for crimes committed against them during Qadhafi’s rule.
“As Libyans rebuild, let those efforts tap the experience of all those with the skills to contribute, including the many Africans in Libya,” he said. He urged the country’s new leaders to “enshrine the rights and role of women at all levels of society.”
The Libyan people deserve a transparent and accountable government, and the country’s wealth and resources must be used to serve them, Obama said.
He said Transitional National Council (TNC) President Mustafa Abdel Jalil has reaffirmed the TNC’s commitment to democratic principles. Libyans and the international community are all aware of the need for a new constitution that provides for the rule of law, the ability to form political parties, a strong civil society, and a timely transition of power that leads to free and fair elections “for the first time in Libyan history,” Obama said.
Obama warned that after more than four decades of Qadhafi’s “iron rule,” it will take time to build democratic institutions and some may even begin to “wish for the old order and its illusion of stability.”
“But if we’ve learned anything these many months, it is this: Don’t underestimate the aspirations and will of the Libyan people,” he said.
Obama told the Libyan people that now comes their chance to realize what they have been sacrificing for.
As they do so, the United States and the international community are uniting to “stand with you as you seize this moment of promise, as you reach for the freedom, the dignity and the opportunity that you deserve,” he said.
TNC President Jalil said the international response to the Libyan uprising had helped enable Libyans to liberate most of their country and realize the aspirations that they had hoped for when they began their revolution on February 17.
“The road before us is still long and there are many challenges at many levels,” Jalil said. He asked for international assistance as Libyans work to build a democratic nation where they can “govern themselves and seek official positions through elections.”
Jalil said that as Qadhafi’s forces were driven back, stability and security spread over much of the country “in a manner that proves that the Libyan people bore their full responsibility” and have limited their reprisals against Qadhafi’s supporters and former officials.
Jalil promised a “just trial” for former regime officials and said the TNC will work in “the spirit of forgiveness and reconciliation.”