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 Our responsibility to protect Libyan civilians

Matthew Bondy

18 March 2011

It’s a fight til death in what’s left of Moammar Gadhafi’s Libya.

The authoritarian petro-state, a former Italian colony and one of North Africa’s stronger economies, has collapsed beyond repair. The ongoing violence between Gadhafi’s butchers and the free Libyans bravely resisting them will yield a one-sided triumph; reconciliation is now inconceivable, by the rebels’ own admission.

Libya’s is a struggle without a clear strategic interest at stake for major western powers. The root of the struggle is not terrorism in the contemporary sense, nor Libya’s invasion by another state. The source of the fight is internal; the great risk and reward belongs to Libyans.

So what is the role of the international community?

The nations of the world determined, during the 2005 World Summit and in subsequent endorsements by the United Nations, to protect innocent populations from crimes against humanity, genocide, war crimes and ethnic cleansing.

The framework for delivering this protection was engineered in large measure by Canadians, and is known as the Responsibility to protect.

R2P, the doctrine’s common moniker, calls for decisive intervention in states whose national governments perpetrate — or fail to prevent — any of the four specified mass-atrocity crimes against their citizens. (…)

(…) President Barack Obama, who won the oval office partly due to his strong opposition to his predecessor’s global military expeditions, approaches global conflict with caution and a commitment to the rules-based system of international law. Having robust legal justification prior to taking action is a primary consideration for the Obama foreign policy team.

It would follow that the Obama administration would engage the globally recognized and UN-blessed Responsibility to protect doctrine to convene a coalition of the willing, ideally under United Nations’ auspices, to put an end to the crimes against humanity Moammar Gadhafi is daily perpetrating against Libyan civilians.

Such an initiative already enjoys broad international and regional support. Most member states of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization have endorsed international action in principle, and regional bodies — including the Gulf Co-operation Council and the Arab League — are on board with a no-fly zone at the least.(…)

(…)If the U.S. won’t convene a coalition to protect Libyans from their despot — by diplomacy if at all possible — Canada should work with other partners like Britain and France to build a broad, representative and regionally supported coalition, and give it a mandate to intervene on behalf of the Libyan people and their universal human rights.

As a principal engineer of the Responsibility to protect doctrine and a consistent steward of liberal values around the world, Canada should bring her voice, influence and, if need be, might, to the defence of free Libyans.

R2P is our doctrine. Let’s use it. 

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