Libya Slips Into Civil War, as Democratic Uprisings Rock the Middle East
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But the statement was merely a Security Council press release, lacking the enforcement power of an actual resolution, and falls even below the status of a formal “presidential statement” that indicates Council unanimity. There was no decision, for example, on what should be the obvious starting points of international responsibility: freezing all assets of Qaddafy and his family, imposing an immediate end on all weapons sales and a halt to any weapons or security goods currently in the pipeline to Libya, and referring the Libyan regime’s violence to the International Criminal Court for immediate investigation and prosecution.
In his speech, President Obama said he had “asked my administration to prepare the full range of options that we have to respond to this crisis. This includes those actions we may take and those we will coordinate with our allies and partners, or those that we’ll carry out through multilateral institutions.” His care in distinguishing between what the United States would insist on doing on its own, as opposed to actions taken with allies or in multilateral venues such as the United Nations, may be an indication why there was no stronger Security Council response: that the U.S. wants to maintain control of the response to Libya, not leave it in UN hands.
If the Council had decided, for instance, to hold Libyan officials and soldiers directly accountable for alleged war crimes against a civilian population by referring the issue immediately to the International Criminal Court, what kind of a precedent would that set, and what other political leaders or soldiers responsible for civilian deaths might face that same method of accountability — in Afghanistan or Pakistan, for instance? If the Council had passed a resolution stating that top officials of all governments and corporations who provided weapons to the Libyan regime should be held accountable for how those weapons are being used, what precedent would that set for the powerful weapons-exporting governments and corporations now arming military forces and thus enabling the barrage of human rights violations and war crimes in places such as Sri Lanka or the DRC, or perhaps Israel?
The UN Security Council should reconvene now to pass a binding, enforceable resolution. It should demand an immediate halt to the attacks, call for immediate access for international humanitarian and human rights workers, and refer the issue to the International Court of Justice to initiate on an emergency basis a full investigation and prosecution of those responsible. It should make clear that not only top decision-makers but all soldiers and mercenaries carrying out illegal orders will be held accountable for their actions in the ICC. The resolution should require that governments and corporations with ties to the Libyan regime — especially those in Europe and the U.S. — immediately sever all military ties, cancel all military contracts, and withdraw any military equipment that may be in the pipeline, with criminal liability for those who may have enabled the illegal acts already underway in Libya.
Next Steps for the United States
There has been a growing demand, in the United States from powerful neo-conservative war-mongers and from some of the most progressive members of Congress, to establish a no-fly zone in Libya. The call has also come from former Libyan officials who have defected from the regime. But at the moment that would be a mistake. There have been no reports of air strikes since Feb. 21; the regime’s current assaults are using land-based heavy weapons. While it is certainly possible a desperate Qaddafy could lash out once again by trying to send his warplanes aloft to attack his own people, it isn’t clear he has loyal pilots left to answer his call. The discussion of a no-fly zone in the Security Council would almost certainly become the sole means of responding to the Libyan crisis – even though it would likely provide little protection against the actual threats facing the Libyan people, especially in and around the capitol – and would serve as a distraction from other actions that might actually help.