Libya, formally known as the Great Socialist People's Libyan Arab Jamahiriya, has undergone a dramatic rehabilitation since 2003. Libya renounced then its programmes of developing weapons of mass destruction and accepted responsibility for the Pan Am 103 (Lockerbie) bombing. It also expressed its readiness to cooperate in the international fight against terrorism and to compensate the families of those killed at Lockerbie as demanded by Security Council Resolutions 748 and 883 of 1992 and 1993 respectively. These resolutions had imposed sanctions on Libya, including a ban on military sales, air communications and certain oil equipment. They had already been suspended by the Security Council in 1999 after Libya agreed to hand over two nationals to stand trial, under Scottish Law, in connection with the Lockerbie bombing, before a court sitting in the Hague. In 2001, one of the suspects, Mohamed Al Megrahi, was found guilty of killing 270 people in the bombing. UN sanctions were lifted on 12 September 2003. A Scottish Criminal Cases Review Commission, after conducting a four-year investigation concluded in 2007, referred the case to the High Court of Justiciary, allowing Megrahi a second appeal. The appeal was dropped on health grounds, however, and Megrahi was subsequently released on compassionate grounds in 2009.
Over the years, Libya was said to have supported a broad range of militant groups, including the Irish Republican Army and the Palestine Liberation Organisation. Libya's alleged involvement in attacks in Europe in the 1980s triggered US military strikes in 1986. Dozens of people were killed, including the Libyan leader's adopted daughter.
Libyan ruler Colonel Gaddafi has consistently sought a leading world/regional role, however, successive pan-Arab moves failed in 1970s, including plans for an Islamic Arab Republic with Tunisia in 1974 and those for a state union with Syria in 1980. Libya fought a four-day war with Egypt in 1977, has had border disputes with Algeria, Niger and Tunisia and invaded Chad in the 1980s, occupying the Aouzou strip, from which it withdrew permanently in 1994.
Despite progress made with regard to its human rights record, international monitoring NGOs such as Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch have indicated that the situation in Libya remains "dire".
Following the successful toppling of leaders in Tunisia and Egypt via peaceful demonstrations in early 2011, Libyan protesters also took to the streets in February 2011 demanding that Colonel Gaddafi step down from power. His violent response to protesters has been strongly condemned by the international community, with the UN Human Rights Council ordering an inquiry into alleged abuses and Libya subsequently suspended from this body. The United States unilaterally imposed sanctions on Libya on 25 February 2011. The next day, the UN Security Council unanimously voted in favour of an arms embargo and asset freeze against the country, while also referring the situation to the International Criminal Court for alleged crimes against humanity perpetrated against protesters (Resolution 1970 of 2011). Fighting continues in Libya, particularly in the oil-rich East of the country. A disputed number of mercenaries are reportedly employed by Colonel Gaddafi as part of his army of supporters.
On 17 March 2011, acting under Chapter VII of the UN Charter, the Security Council authorized the use of "all necessary measures" to protect civilians in Libya (Resolution 1973 of 2011). A coalition of states began military operations in Libya on 19 March 2011, led by American, British and French forces. In July 2011, the International Contact Group on Libya recognised the opposition National Transitional Council (NTC) as the legitimate government of the country. On 23 October 2011, the NTC formally declared Libya "liberated" and NATO officially ended its mission on 31 October 2011.
Post-Gaddafi Libya has not ceased to see turmoil. The oil-rich eastern region centred on Benghazi has been the site of clashes between former rebel forces and was also where the US embassy was infamously attacked in September 2012. Militias continue to be armed and to engage in fighting, including on the streets of Tripoli.
This overview is based on the BBC and ICG country profiles for Libya.
Last updated: 22 November 2012