quinta-feira, 31 de março de 2011

The international response to Libya: some unanswered questions.

Leonie Timmers
In February 2011, the so-called ‘Arab Spring’ arrived in Libya. Numerous protests emerged against the Gadaffi-regime, which has been in power since 1969. Earlier upheavals in Algeria and Egypt finally let to the voluntary step-down of the governing elites, but the situation in Libya was different. Gadaffi did - and does still - not surrender to the protests, and has tackled them by resorting to armed violence against the population. While the Western role in the ‘Arab Spring’ had thus far consisted of putting pressure on the respective governments to resign, it seemed clear that this strategy was pointless in Libya. Therefore, the Security Council (SC) started discussing an appropriate response to the regime.

The first response came with SC Resolution 1970, unanimously adopted by the 15 members of the Council. This Resolution imposes smart sanctions on the Gadaffi-regime, such as asset-freezing and a travel ban for various members of the Gadaffi-family. Furthermore, it contains a referral of the situation to the prosecutor of the International Criminal Court.
As the atrocities continued, several actors called for a ‘no fly zone’, most importantly the Secretary-General of the Arab League. While the West - especially the United States - was initially reluctant to intervene, the strong message from the Arab League turned the scale and led to the enactment of SC Resolution 1973, this time with abstentions from inter alia Brazil, India and China. Resolution 1973 imposes a no-fly zone, an arms embargo and authorizes member states to ‘use all necessary means’ (read: the use of force) to protect civilians. Since its adoption, military strikes by air and sea have been performed by American and European forces. While the exact impact of such military strikes is difficult to establish because of the lack of independent information about the situation on the ground, the latest reports indicate that the strikes are helping the rebels to regain ground in Libya.
The reaction of the international community to the atrocities committed by the Gadaffi-regime demonstrates that Western leaders have learned many lessons from the past. After the widespread critique of the unilateral response to armed conflict in Iraq which was largely pushed by military commanders, the reaction to the violence in Libya is characterized by the respect for multilateral decision-making; no action was undertaken without approval of the Security Council, the United States was clearly hesitant to take the lead in determining a reaction to the atrocities and much importance was attached to regional support and input, for example by the Arab League. This step can certainly be applauded as it increases the legitimacy of the intervention and shows a willingness of the so-called ‘hegemons’ to stay within the limits of international law.
However, there are several issues that remain problematic and should be considered in somewhat more detail. Firstly, Resolution 1973 does not impose a time limit. Therefore, one would expect that the operation would be over once the purposes are fulfilled. Resolution 1973 has identified three such purposes: protection of civilians, enforcement of the no-fly zone and enforcement of the arms embargo. The main purpose is the protection of civilians, and this is also the most problematic as it is open to interpretation when civilians are sufficiently protected. In light of the fact that Gadaffi has proved willing to use force against its own population, it is unclear whether they can be safe while Gadaffi remains in power or whether regime change is required? Nothing in Resolution 1973 indicates that regime change is the purpose of the use of force, and several Western leaders have indicated that they do not interpret the Resolution as aiming for regime change. However, in the course of the operation, it might well be argued that the aim of protecting civilians requires regime change. The question then becomes; regime change for what? A representative democracy? The ongoing difficulties in Iraq should serve as a warning for the intervening states that it is not at all certain that a military operation can ‘impose’ democracy.
Another issue of concern is the inconsistency of these ‘protecting civilians’ operations. The SC Resolutions in relation to Libya were special in that they mentioned the ‘Responsibility to Protect’. This concept was first outlined in the Outcome Document of the World Summit 2005 and is based on the idea that every government has a responsibility to protect human rights within its territory and where the government fails to do so, other countries may step in to protect those rights. While the concept as such is showing a positive development towards more concern for human rights abuses, the fact that in reality such concern seems to arise only in countries in which other (economic) interests beg for an intervention makes it problematic. Labeling operations as purely ‘humanitarian’ does not make the West popular among populations of other countries in which human rights abuses by the government are common. Instead of pretending that humanitarian grounds are the sole motives of an intervention, it may be better to acknowledge that there are not sufficient monetary and military means to intervene everywhere and that decisions to intervene are also based on economic or political interests.
Finally, the Resolution does not provide solutions for the effects of the conflict in Libya. One of these effects is the increase in refugees. The ‘Arab Spring’ has brought a flow of refugees from Algeria, Egypt and Libya into Europe and the European attitude towards them has - to say the least - been far from welcoming. This does not only create doubt as to the apparent concern of the Western states with the fate of the Libyan population, but might also be in violation of the Convention on the Status of Refugees (1951). In order to increase the legitimacy of the operation and prevent accusations of double standards, the side-effects of the operation must be properly addressed.
In conclusion, the response of the international community to the situation in Libya shows in some ways that the international community is willing to learn a lesson from the past and wage war through legitimate procedures. However, the response has also severe shortcomings such as the issues of time, consistency and double standards. Only time can tell whether these issues lead to problems or whether the Libya-intervention will enter the history books as a successful example of ‘collective security’.
Leonie Timmers é mestranda em Direito Internacional Público na Universidade de Leiden, Holanda.

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