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Libya intervention shows shift in thinking about mass atrocities
The Washington Post
Michael Abramowitz
1 April 2011
Michael Abramowitz directs the Committee on Conscience at the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum, which co-convened the USGenocide Prevention Task Force.
(…) Whether or not one agrees with the decision to use military force in Libya, the action by President Obama and other world leaders over the past two weeks — and the president’s explanation Monday night — reveal a substantial shift in thinking over the past two decades about preventing mass atrocities. (…)
(…)The decision to act in Libya followed reflection in the international community about the failures to prevent genocide in the 1990s. Over the past 20 years, new policies and mechanisms by civil society and governments that strengthen our collective capacity to prevent and respond to genocide include the creation of an office of genocide prevention at the United Nations; a new International Criminal Court in The Hague to try perpetrators of the most heinous human rights abuses; the adoption of a doctrine of “Responsibility to protect” at the United Nations (invoked in Libya); and steps by individual governments to strengthen their ability to detect and react to potential genocide.  (…)
(…) Libya is not the only place in the world where mass atrocities are possible. The all-too-many places where civilians are threatened with state-sponsored violence include Sudan, Burma and Ivory Coast, where hundreds of people were murdered in the aftermath of last fall’s elections and a civil war reignited. Each is a unique case, and a cookie-cutter approach will not work.
The larger point is that prevention of mass atrocities is beginning to factor much more heavily into the decisions of world leaders, as we saw in 2008 in post-election Kenya and last fall in Sudan, where the United States and other countries launched an intensive diplomatic campaign to avert widespread violence associated with the January referendum on southern independence. What’s needed is a wider range of more effective tools to prevent and respond to emerging cases, so that even if the situation does not require consideration of military intervention, it still receives the attention of the international community.
Ultimately, there is no one reliable response to heading off mass atrocities. Military action is a last resort. In Libya, it may have forestalled the massacre of thousands. But it is not the only tool available. This situation challenges us to further improve our abilities to identify potential cases and try to prevent them before force is considered. (…)
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