Libya, the international community and the responsibility to protect

The situation in Libya requires the international community to get involved early. In such cases, the problem of sovereignty must give way to the responsibility to protect. The international community cannot accept that the government of Muammar el-Qaddafi keeps on insisting that these are facts that relate only to Libyan domestic policy, then to be managed in terms of domestic policy.

The international community’s response must be fast, firm and effective. The history of Rwanda in 1994, Srebrenica and Darfur does not allow us to be very optimistic about the effectiveness of the international community when responding to emergency situations. But we must try it. A special meeting on Libya took place at the Human Rights Council in Geneva on Friday February 25. The next day, the Security Council of United Nations met in New York in this regard. This last resort has ultimately a role and in particular the International Criminal Court – once the ICC is entitled to act at the request of the executive organ of the UN.

The fact that the Security Council of United Nations recognizes that the Libyan issue is of its concern, portends a significant point. At most if the Council just requested the ICC to take hand in the matter. Libya is not a State Party to the Rome Statute (1). Conversely, the Security Council can always promote preliminary investigations: in the case of Darfur, the Council established an investigation committee headed by Italian jurist Antonio Cassese (2). The work of the commission allowed the ICC to be aware and to have jurisdiction on the atrocities committed in the Darfur region.

Such a committee would be useful in elucidating the events in Libya and would be a quick reaction faster to materialize in situ. Its presence and implementation would largely stem the state of violence and abuses that run on the ground at the moment. There are precedents.

So, can the UN act effectively? What can be done?

Both much and little. Because the United Nations are States. The ones that might be fully involved and committed. There has been progress lately, yet the UN machine still remains slow-moving today. The Security Council meets permanently and the Human Rights Council can be in session urgently. Obviously a watchdog having a streamlined executive resolving power would be more effective, but the reality of the current international relations does not allow a real quick response in dealing with such concerns.

Since Monday 28 February, the Human Rights Council shall be meeting for 3 weeks. Surely Libya shall be at the center of the debate. Last Friday, during the Council special session, while the Libyan seat remained empty in the morning, the second secretary at the Libyan embassy in the UN announced in the afternoon, amidst loud applause, that from that moment the Libyan delegation in Geneva represented « the free people of Libya. »

________

(1)  The treaty that established the International Criminal Court (ICC). Adopted in Rome on July 17, 1998, and that 139 countries have now ratified.

(2) Antonio Cassese was the first President of the International Criminal Court for the Former Yugoslavia. He is Professor of International Law at the University of Florence and Editor in Chief of the Journal of International Criminal Justice

Related Posts:

· The ‘Responsibility to Protect’ in the spotlight

The ‘Responsibility to Protect’ in the spotlight

During a session of the UN General Assembly, held last July, Noam Chomsky presented an interesting paper [1] (which inspired this post) that calls for consideration on humanitarian intervention, so called since the second half of 20th century and now considered under the general concept of “Responsibility to Protect“, which was the focus of that meeting.

This meeting was attended by nearly a hundred countries. Their armed force units have a presence in countries as Bosnia-Herzegovina, Kosovo, Afghanistan, Chad and Lebanon and keep observers in UN missions. None of them deploy overseas for wartime missions but essentially to “protect” life and interests of other peoples.

For the eminent linguist, historical precedents for such missions generate a few distrust. He mentions some of the basic principles on international relations, assumed over the centuries, which could be summarized as follows:

  • The strong do what they want and the weak suffer what they deserve (principle already formulated by Thucydides).
  • Legislators pay more attention to the interests of the powerful than to the common people (suggested by Adam Smith).
  • Many military interventions have been made under the principle of protecting the people, but have been characterized by their cruelty. Chomsky brings up three examples: the Japanese invasion of Manchuria in 1931, the Italian invasion of Ethiopia in 1936 and the Nazi occupation of Czechoslovakia in 1938. In all three cases, a bleeding rhetoric on the protection of the own people was invoked, that barely concealed the true motivation, that is a firm imperialist expansion.

Anyone acquainted with the history of colonization realizes that “evangelizing mission” of the Spanish conquerors in the American lands was intended to save the souls of the Indians although that involved the exploitation and exhaustion of people, the occupation of their homeland and embezzling their resources. Not worse than the French, British or Belgian “civilizing mission” with more often than not unmentionable objectives as well i.e. in Africa and India.

Another issue to bear in mind regarding the protection of peoples, is the reason that NATO wielded to fix on that Balkans should be protected, even bombing Serbia in 1999 with a total lack of consideration (remember, incidentally, that the bombing did not alleviate the plight of the Kosovar people but aggravated it) and, on the contrary, it was appropriate to ignore other people, Kurdish, that was suffering –within its own territory under the responsibility of NATO– a brutal persecution by Turkish forces, one of the main partners of the Alliance .

NATO “protective” interventions do not only care about the suffering peoples. Kofi Annan, the former UN Secretary-General announced in 2007 that Allied troops should protect the pipelines transporting oil and gas to western countries and other infrastructure elements of the energy system. For Chomsky, this “opens the door to employ the right of protection as a tool of imperial intervention, as suitable.”

Neither the UN is safe from Chomsky’s criticism: “No one thinks today to protect the Gaza people, which are also a United Nations responsibility (according to the Geneva Conventions), together with other people who lack basic human rights. Nothing serious is considered about the worst catastrophe in Africa, if not the world: the eastern Congo, where several multinationals have been accused of violating UN resolutions on the illegal trafficking of valuable minerals, by which a criminal conflict is funded.

The responsibility to protect does not seem to reach hungry people. They now number about one billion human beings, while the World Food Fund announces a reduction in aid, because rich countries give priority to save their banking systems and there are no funds enough as a result of the crisis, just originated by those same banks. All this shows the validity of the principle formulated by Thucydides.

Let’s not get carried away by the lucid pessimism of the relentless American critic. Keep in mind that this issue has been addressed in an international forum, the UN General Assembly, whose echoes can be extended worldwide. Conversely, a century ago, the Algeciras conference was held to share out Morocco between France and Spain –with the approval of the great European powers. 20 years earlier, these powers gathered in Berlin to share other vast African territories. There was no intention to protect the affected people, though the Moroccan division was entitled as “protectorate”. So it seems we’re making some progress on this issue.

The Responsibility to Protect, Noam Chomsky and Friends part 1

The Responsibility to Protect, Noam Chomsky and Friends part 2

.

[1] ‘Responsibility to Protect‘, by Noam Chomsky (talk delivered at UN General Assembly), 23 Jul 2009

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Noam Chomsky on the Responsibility to Protect

At a session of UN General Assembly, held last July, Noam Chomsky presented an interesting paper that calls for consideration on humanitarian intervention, so called since the second half of 20th century and now considered under the general concept of “Responsibility to Protect”, which was the focus of that meeting.

This meeting was attended by nearly a hundred countries. Their armed forces units have a presence in countries as Bosnia-Herzegovina, Kosovo, Afghanistan, Chad and Lebanon and maintain observers in UN missions. None of them deploy overseas for wartime missions but essentially to “protect” life and interests of other peoples.

For the eminent linguist, historical precedents for such missions generate a few distrust. He mentions some of the basic principles on international relations, assumed over the centuries, which could be summarized as follows:

  • The strong do what they want and the weak suffer what they deserve (principle already formulated by Thucydides).

  • Legislators pay more attention to the interests of the powerful than to the common people (suggested by Adam Smith).

  • Many military interventions have been made under the principle of protecting the people, but have been characterized by their cruelty. Chomsky brings up three examples: the Japanese invasion of Manchuria in 1931, the Italian invasion of Ethiopia in 1936 and the Nazi occupation of Czechoslovakia in 1938. In all three cases, a bleeding rhetoric on the protection of the own people was invoked, that barely concealed the true motivation, that is a firm imperialist expansion.

Anyone acquainted with the history of colonization realizes that “evangelizing mission” of the Spanish conquerors in the American lands was intended to save the souls of the Indians although that involved the exploitation and exhaustion of people, the occupation of their homeland and embezzling their resources. Not worse than the French, British or Belgian “civilizing mission” with more often than not unmentionable objectives as well i.e. in Africa and India.

Another issue to bear in mind regarding the protection of peoples, is the reason that NATO wielded to fix on that Balkans should be protected, even bombing Serbia in 1999 with a total lack of consideration (remember, incidentally, that the bombing did not alleviate the plight of the Kosovar people but aggravated it) and, on the contrary, it was appropriate to ignore other people, Kurdish, that was suffering –within its own territory under the responsibility of NATO– a brutal persecution by Turkish forces, one of the main partners of the Alliance .

NATO “protective” interventions do not only care about the suffering peoples. Kofi Annan, the former UN Secretary-General announced in 2007 that Allied troops should protect the pipelines transporting oil and gas to western countries and other infrastructure elements of the energy system. For Chomsky, this “opens the door to employ the right of protection as a tool of imperial intervention, as suitable.”

Neither the UN is safe from Chomsky’s criticism: “No one thinks today to protect the Gaza people, which are also a United Nations responsibility (according to the Geneva Conventions), together with other people who lack basic human rights. Nothing serious is considered about the worst catastrophe in Africa, if not the world: the eastern Congo, where several multinationals have been accused of violating UN resolutions on the illegal trafficking of valuable minerals, by which a criminal conflict is funded.

The responsibility to protect does not seem to reach hungry people. They now number about one billion human beings, while the World Food Fund announces a reduction in aid, because rich countries give priority to save their banking systems and there are no funds enough as a result of the crisis, just originated by those same banks. All this shows the validity of the principle formulated by Thucydides.

Let’s not get carried away by the lucid pessimism of the relentless American critic. Keep in mind that this issue has been addressed in an international forum, the UN General Assembly, whose echoes can be extended worldwide. Conversely, a century ago, the Algeciras conference was held to share out Morocco between France and Spain –with the approval of the great European powers. 20 years earlier, these powers gathered in Berlin to share other vast African territories. There was no intention to protect the affected people, though the Moroccan division was entitled as “protectorate”. So it seems we’re making some progress on this issue.