Satisfaction over Libya intervention is misplaced

21 June 2012

Satisfaction over Libya intervention is misplaced

The government is inappropriately optimistic; the Gadaffi clan has been driven out, but NATO left behind a country in chaos.

Harry van Bommel is a Member of Parliament for the SP

Harry van BommelIn the final evaluation of the NATO mission 'Unified Protector' in Libya, the government shows itself to be very satisfied over the result of the military intervention. According to the Ministers of Defence and of Foreign Affairs the operation 'succeeded in achieving the stated goals’. Take a critical look at the stated goals and the results achieved, however, and you will be forced to conclude that the government’s optimism is misplaced. The Gaddafi clan may indeed have been driven out, but NATO left behind a country in chaos.

UN Security Council Resolution 1973, which legitimised armed action against Libya, called emphatically for a 'complete end to violence and all attacks against, and abuses of, civilians'. The large numbers of victims of the civil war in Libya – according to the National Transitional Council some 30,000 dead and 50,000 wounded, with many civilians in both groups – makes it immediately clear that NATO turned out to be unable to prevent or put an end to large-scale bloodshed. Resolution 1973 was seen as the first application of the 'responsibility to protect' principle. With regard to this aim, NATO did not succeed.

A second objection relates to the fact that NATO, in protecting civilians in Libya, did so selectively. Civilians were certainly protected from attacks by the Gaddafi regime, but those who were victims of attacks by the rebels could not count on NATO’s aid, as what happened in Tawargha illustrates. Rebels accused the people of Tawargha of being loyal to Gaddafi and completely cleared the town. Now, Tawargha is a ghost town. NATO did not act. Wasn’t Resolution 1973 applicable in this case?

Not only did NATO fail to act against the rebels, but a number of NATO member states supplied the insurgents with arms, trade which conflicted with Resolution 1973’s intent. These arms deliveries contributed, directly or indirectly, to rebel violence against civilians. Armed militias are still fighting each other in Libya, to the extent that there is talk of civil war. The only difference with Iraq and Afghanistan is the absence of foreign soldiers on the ground. Following the rapid air war, the Libyans are now expected to sort things out.

Lastly, NATO attacks have themselves led to civilian deaths. NATO’s handling of this has certainly not been pretty. First they forcefully denied that innocent people had died through their actions. Now they can no longer deny it, they refuse to hold a serious enquiry into the incidents. This attitude shows little respect for those who have lost friends and loved ones. From such a serious organisation as NATO you should be able to expect the taking of responsibility for its own deeds. We’re still waiting.

At the end of the evaluation the report goes into developments since the fall of the Gaddafi regime. Here, the minister once more exhibits more optimism than is justified by the facts. On a number of points there has been progress, but also here there are many things missing from the ‘gradual improvement’ that the minister purports to see.

With Gaddafi’s fall any central authority in Libya vanished. The new, heavily armed leaders of Libya are holding around 8,000 people in some sixty prisons where torture is taking place. Prisoners are being extra-judicially executed by former rebels. Every week militias clash with each other or with the Transitional National Council forces, with deadly consequences. Recently dozens lost their lives in battles in the south of the country. Libyan weapons are turning up in many other countries, including Nigeria, Somalia, Iran, Algeria and Egypt, fuelling growing tensions. Indirectly the war in Libya even led to the disintegration of the Malian state and the resulting coup, this in a country recently noted for its democracy. Finally, Libyan regions are declaring semi-autonomy and calling for a boycott of the first free elections since Gaddafi’s fall, which are scheduled for July.

So it’s no coincidence that the chapter on Libya in Amnesty International’s annual report covering last year is almost twice as long as that of the year before. Prior to last year only the human rights abuses of Gaddafi’s regime had to be enumerated. In 2011, to these had to be added those of the new powers in Libya. I hope passionately that next year AI’s annual report will need to devote far fewer words to its Libya chapter. After decades of gruesome dictatorship under Gaddafi, the Libyan people have every right to expect this.

This article first appeared in Dutch on 12 June 2012 on the website Joop.nl

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