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UN breathes life into‘responsibility to protect’

Ramesh Thakur
The Star
21 March 2011

On March 17, Security Council Resolution 1973 authorized the use of “all necessary measures” short of an invasion and occupation of Libya “to protect civilians and civilian-populated areas” — the first UN-sanctioned combat operations since the 1991 Gulf War.

Resolution 1973 was passed by a 10-0 vote within 24 hours of being introduced, contrary to prevailing expectations that the moment for action had passed and the world once again had watched haplessly from the sidelines. An international military coalition has destroyed Libya’s air defence system, targeted tanks, established a naval blockade and is patrolling Libya’s skies to enforce the no-fly and no-drive zones.

The game-changer was the juxtaposition of R2P as a powerful new galvanizing norm; the mass defection of Libyan diplomats who joined the chorus of calls for prompt and effective action to protect Libyan civilians, oust Moammar Gadhafi and promote democratic reforms; and the request for a no-fly zone by the Arab League on March 12.

The key decision in Washington was made by President Barack Obama at a contentious meeting of top officials in the White House on March 15. The balance shifted in favour of military action when Hillary Clinton phoned in, influenced by what she was seeing and hearing in the region.

There are many risks and dangers. The military operations could prove inconclusive, inflaming the region still further. Obama’s pivot from non-intervention suggests that U.S. policy is reactive, not strategic. There are inconsistencies in the muted response to protests and uprisings in Bahrain and Saudi Arabia, where vital U.S. geopolitical and oil interests are directly engaged. (...)

(...)Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has been impressively firm and consistent on R2P, leading from the front. He noted that “Resolution 1973 affirms, clearly and unequivocally, the international community’s determination to fulfill its responsibility to protect civilians from violence perpetrated upon them by their own government.”

R2P is coming closer to being solidified as an actionable norm.

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