Libya: The End of the Gaddafi Regime, and the Responsibility to Protect

This is a real moral victory for “the West” (if there is such a thing), “whose” intervention to protect the thousands of civilians threatened by Ghaddafi with imminent death has been accompanied, from the beginning, by ignorant recriminations from the general public about “starting yet another war in the Middle East.” Echoes of this mood affected even the political scene of the primary campaign in the US, as evidenced by some of the populist isolationist rhetoric exhibited during their first debate by most Republican candidates, some of whom have been very muscular at the time of the Iraq intervention (which was anything but a humanitarian intervention).

For once, the governments of European countries and the US had the courage to intervene when genocide was imminent. One would think that, after Bosnia, Somalia, Rwanda, Sudan the general public would be more aware of what happens when… nothing happens; when those who can do something, do nothing. Most of it is ignorance, all too often accompanied by some of those wonderful conspiracy theories, from the usual “it’s all about oil”, to other, more darkly elaborate and farther removed from reality ones. For once, however, the governments of influential countries in the West dared to invest money, resources, and human lives, to save the lives of thousands of people.

The conquering of the capital Tripoli by the so-called “rebels” – who are in fact ordinary Libyans who rose up against Gaddafi regime – comes at a moment when there were renewed discussions about the will and the ability, both political and material, of these Western governments, to continue the aerial and logistical support they have been giving to the battered members of the uprising.

Of course, the fact that a genocide has been stopped, and that the population has removed Gaddafi’s regime from power, does not mean that Libya will become a safe, democratic country – not overnight, and perhaps not even on a longer term. The intervention was about saving people, about stopping a murderous ruler’s forces from carrying out the massacre of the population. For anyone not remembering what this was about, here is a short reminder: “140 ‘massacred’ as Gaddafi sends in snipers to crush dissent“. But we have to look no further than today’s events, to remind ourselves of the true nature of Gaddafi’s regime:

(See this timeline of events in Libya, from the beginning of the uprising, for a memory refresher.)

Libyan society is divided by tribal allegiances, and there are tribes who have been close to the Gaddafi regime, and have probably profited from it. This predicts serious challenges to establishing a functional, perhaps democratic political system. This, at its turn, raises new questions about the Western governments’ duties with regards to a continued commitment. Do they want that? Should they get involved? To what degree? In what sense? These are not easy question, but for now let us just state that, for once, the responsibility to protect has been assumed by the international community, and that is undoubtedly a good thing.

See the website of the The International Coalition for the Responsibility to Protect (ICRtoP) for more information on this recently assumed new principle in international relations:

Recognizing the failure to adequately respond to the most heinous crimes known to humankind, world leaders made a historic commitment to protect populations from genocide, war crimes, ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity at the United Nations (UN) 2005 World Summit. This commitment, entitled the Responsibility to Protect, stipulates that:

1. The State carries the primary responsibility for the protection of populations from genocide, war crimes, crimes against humanity and ethnic cleansing.

2. The international community has a responsibility to assist States in fulfilling this responsibility.

3. The international community should use appropriate diplomatic, humanitarian and other peaceful means to protect populations from these crimes. If a State fails to protect its populations or is in fact the perpetrator of crimes, the international community must be prepared to take stronger measures, including the collective use of force through the UN Security Council.

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