Posts Tagged ‘Libya’


This is a dangerous time to be a black African in Libya.

Writing at the Times’ Lede blog, Elizabeth Harris sums up the current human rights concern for Libya.

Black Africans generally are being held under suspicion as mercenaries and being targeted for reprisals. Abuses have included imprisonment with little or no evidence and violence like rape or, at one point, lynching (NYT).

Anyone who made a responsibility to protect grounded case for intervention in Libya should be concerned by these human rights violations. We certainly did not support intervention to trade one set of targets of state violence, peaceful Libyan protesters, for another, black Africans.

The human rights situation in Libya deserves the sustained attention of the international community. Reportedly, the Transitional National Council is cooperating with efforts to address these human rights violations,

Human rights advocates have decried what appears to be mistreatment of black African workers, and U.S. Ambassador Gene Cretz, speaking in Washington on Wednesday, admitted it’s a growing problem.

“We’ve seen fairly credible reports that there has been some mistreatment of African migrants,” Cretz told McClatchy. He said the U.S. was trying to work with rebel leaders to prevent abuse, which he blamed on young rebels who are confusing Africans who might have fought as mercenaries for Gadhafi with the hundreds of thousands of sub-Saharan Africans who were working in Libya when the rebels took over.

“We don’t think it’s a systematic or intentional problem on the part of the Libyan authorities,” Cretz said. “It’s something that’s happening at levels below that, which is of considerable concern to us.”

Cretz said the rebels’ National Transitional Council is working with the United Nations and other international relief organizations to ease the situation.

Long-term success in Libya requires concerted effort to ensure that the emerging Libyan regime is a better steward of the nation’s human rights obligations than its predecessor.

(This post emerges from a discussion at Flower & Thistle.)


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ICISS Report Cover

Those interested in rigorous analysis are absolutely correct in observing that the military success of Libyan rebels thus far is just one step in a much longer process. What happens next?

By human rights and democracy promoting lights, many potential missteps lay ahead. Whatever my preferences and the preferences of those conducting the intervention, ultimately the Libyan people must make a whole series of decisions about how they govern themselves. There is no guarantee they will answer the barrage of questions to the satisfaction of the powers doing the intervening. Also, the shape of the future does not rest entirely on the shoulders of the Libyan people. Having intervened, the international community has a suite of obligations going forward as well. These are wholly legitimate uncertainties to bring up in any sober assessment of the future of Libya.

And yet the outstanding uncertainties do not eclipse the recent accomplishment. A brutal leader and his odious regime have been ousted. The international community worked. Albeit slowly, and without every “i” dotted and every “t” crossed to everyone’s satisfaction. Did UN Security Council Resolution 1973’s authorization for the use of “all necessary measures… to protect civilians” mean NATO facilitating the removal of Qaddafi from power in this manner? Arguable perhaps. In any case, the new Libyan government is far less likely today to conduct the systematic gross human rights abuses that prompted intervention. A campaign of ruthless slaughter and reprisals against Libyan civilians protesting their government was on offer from the Qaddafi regime, particularly when Benghazi was threatened a few months ago. This posture, a state mobilizing its military to attack its own civilian population, is clearly contrary to core tenets of international human rights law. That threat posed by Qaddafi is decisively over.

In that sense, victory for the rebels is a victory for the international human rights regime and the responsibility to protect. The United States, NATO, and UN can all claim to have helped reach this important milestone. It is important to underscore the point that “the responsibility to protect” includes “the responsibility to rebuild.” Those envisioning humanitarian intervention’s operation in the international system did not lose sight of the important point that post-conflict reconstruction plays a key role in stabilizing societies. It is now for the same nations and institutions who mobilized to protect Libyan civilians to mobilize to help rebuild Libya. There are yet innumerable things that could go wrong. Even so, the Libyan people have a hard won opportunity to find a new way forward.

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At the Republican presidential candidates debate last week the shift away from current US military commitments was notable. US engagements in both Afghanistan and Libya received skeptical responses. This is a party that practically banged Democrats over the head with flagpoles. Republicans decried lack of patriotism, the taking of dangerous Democratic peacenik positions, and bludgeoned opponents with accusations: un-American, unpatriotic, opportunistic grandstanding against valiant American forces upholding our national interest. And now there is a field of Republican presidential candidates advocating cut and run – the very words used against Iraq war opponents.

Senators John McCain and Lindsey Graham were having none of it on Sunday morning. The senators went so far as to violate Ronald Reagan’s Eleventh Commandment, “Thou shalt not speak ill of any fellow Republican”. Far from Margaret Thatcher’s gentle, “Don’t go wobbly on me, George”, both Senators broke out the I-word for the positions the Republicans candidates took. The senators mentioned isolationism repeatedly and warned against that impulse in foreign policy thinking. The senators didn’t denounce the Republican field in the strong language that’d been wielded against the Democrats over Iraq, but in their own way they made their displeasure known. Graham mentioned the Carter administration, for Republicans not meant to be a favorable comparison.

Given the forceful way Republicans made their case during the Bush presidency, it is only fitting that these Republican candidates confront pushback for their positions on Libya and Afghanistan. In a particularly stinging quote, Danielle Pletka of the American Enterprise Institute told the Politico,

Romney has proven himself a little bit of a weathervane and I guess he senses that positioning himself in this place is good for his campaign — attempting to appease Ron Paul’s constituents without actually being Ron Paul.

Excluding those voicing concerns about the cut and run strategy, several of the candidates appear to be wobbly weathervanes indeed.

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Voting "Present" is not good enough Glenn Greenwald excoriates the Obama administration for not getting congressional authorization for the US intervention in Libya, highlighting the War Power’s Resolution’s timeline giving the president sixty days to get congressional assent. Yesterday, Obama’s sixty days on Libya without congressional approval were up. Overall, Greenwald characterizes the situation as akin to a power grab and a troubling expansion of the “imperial presidency” – a continuation and cementing of some of the worst impulses of the Bush administration in expanding executive power unreviewed.

There is a lot to be said for the argument Greenwald advances. Like Greenwald and the two Washington Post op-ed writers he highlights, I find the Obama administration excuses for avoiding congressional approval feeble. NATO taking the lead should not mean Congress is sidelined from officially expressing a position on Libya, especially given the huge US role in NATO and ongoing US role in the Libya intervention. The other excuse, America stop bombing for a day to reset the 60 day clock, is a silly nonsense unworthy any who advance it.

Given the Constitution gives the Congress the responsibility for declaring war, we should have a strong presumption in favor of officially articulated Presidential-Congressional cooperation in warmaking. Both keys should be turned as a matter of law and good public policy. Congress handing its key to the president to decide on war alone is an invitation to trouble. I favor the Libya intervention, but the president should have to make his case to members of Congress and the American public. I buy the idea that the exigencies of the circumstance required swift action, but consultations with Congress should have run on a parallel track with similar urgency. Just as a set of precommitments underpin the responsibility to protect in international law, the power to make war is underpinned by a set of precommitments; the Constitution represents a precommitment to certain relations between the branches of government. Being a decision of such great magnitude, committing the nation to war requires more than silly legal games to attempt to reset a clock on having Congress speak on the matter. Both the letter and the spirit of the framework the Constitution establishes matter.

I differ from Greenwald in that I attribute more responsibility for the present circumstance – underscrutinized military intervention – to Congress than the Obama administration (though the Obama administration deserves its rightful share of the responsibility). Unfortunately, Congress collectively has not decided to express a view on Libya. Yes, individual members of Congress have come out for or against intervention, and also, various members have asked to be given an opportunity to vote on the matter. But as a collective body Congress, a coequal branch of government, has left its constitutionally apportioned responsibility unfulfilled. In this case most irresponsibly, Congress has been a quiet coequal.

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"Eleanor Roosevelt and United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights in Spanish text." (via Wikipedia)

Proponents of the responsibility to protect (R2P) have confronted the meaning and consequences of the post-World War II body of international legal texts for the international system. They find consequences for both states’ conduct towards each other and states’ conduct towards their residents; the chief consequence being circumscribing state sovereignty. Critics of R2P have not grappled with these same texts; they have not explained why this international human rights project was undertaken. What were the aims and purposes of establishing these institutions, codifying these principles on human dignity (and common humanity)? Were all those politicians, diplomats, lawyers, and activists simply wasting their time composing the laws of war, the Nuremberg Principles, the Charter of the United Nations, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and the core international human rights conventions?

Should the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights just shut up shop now, what does the Vienna Declaration and Program for Action mean anyway? All the treaty-monitoring bodies cease making general recommendations and reviewing states’ reports? Were all the participants from non-Western states merely puppets of the humanitarian interventionist, R2P advancing, neo-imperialists? What are we to make of more than six decades of explicit international human rights law? Is it a nullity? What are the consequences of the proposition that everyone has human rights for international affairs? I have not read opponents of R2P tackle these issues. Answering these questions does not inevitably lead to supporting intervention in Libya, but I would find their objections more weighty if non-interventionists attempted an answer rather than crying national interest, neo-imperialism, imperfect information, or state sovereignty.

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"Obama with his Nobel Peace Prize Medal and Diploma at the Award Ceremony in Oslo, Norway" (Norwegian Nobel Institute, 2009)

Russian legislator Vladimir Zhirinovsky and Bolivian President Evo Morales have called for the Norwegian Nobel Institute to revoke Barack Obama’s 2009 Nobel Peace Prize. Someone tweeted that, “Barack Obama has now fired more cruise missiles than all other Nobel Peace prize winners combined.” As far as I’m aware, the Nobel Institute does not accept attempts to return prizes, rejections of prizes, or allow for the recall of prizes. But should Operation Odyssey Dawn cast a shadow over Obama’s Nobel Peace Prize?


A notional takeback might include 1984 Peace laureate Desmond Tutu. On the BBC World Service’s Focus on Africa Tutu chastised African leaders for being insufficiently robust in their response to events in Libya. Tutu went further, endorsing the responsibility to protect (R2P), the principle that undergirds international action against states that fail to protect their residents from gross human rights violations. R2P establishes the construct of international respect for sovereignty as contingent upon states conforming to minimum human rights standards.

A notional tackback might also include the United Nations, 2001 recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize. UN Security Council resolutions 1970 and 1973 addressing Libya reference R2P. Resolution 1970 recalls “the Libyan authorities’ responsibility to protect its population”; resolution 1973 repeats this language and reaffirms “that parties to armed conflicts bear the primary responsibility to take all feasible steps to ensure the protection of civilians”. In addition to the UN Security Council, the UN General Assembly included R2P in the 2005 World Summit Outcome document, later reaffirmed by the Assembly in 2009. Had UN organs not adopted R2P the International Commission on Intervention and State Sovereignty’s 2001 report would be just another tome collecting dust in law school libraries and international relation scholars’ offices.

UN General Assembly hall

The UN Charter establishes a tension between respecting state sovereignty and human rights. Under UN auspices the Universal Declaration of Human Rights was drafted and affirmed, along with its nine core international human rights regime treaty progeny and the related Genocide Convention. This constitutes the environment in which sovereignty is now embedded and R2P emerged. State sovereignty is losing its preeminence; it can no longer be relied upon to shield gross human rights violations from international scrutiny and action.

That action is where the UN and Obama enter the frame. Presenting his report In Larger Freedom to the General Assembly, then-Secretary-General Kofi Annan said that,

This hall has heard enough high-sounding declarations to last us for some decades to come. We all know what the problems are and we all know what we have promised to achieve. What is needed now is not more declarations or promises, but action – action to fulfil the promises already made.

Upholding and enforcing the post-World War II commitments of the international system is part of that action. Those that pursue gross human rights violations are rightly targets of intervention. Far from constituting “a violation, an assault, an aggression” as Evo Morales claimed, humanitarian intervention and R2P reinforce human security.

Far from an affront to peace, R2P is a clarification of principles laid out in the UN Charter’s Preamble,

We the peoples of the United Nations determined

  • to save succeeding generations from the scourge of war, which twice in our lifetime has brought untold sorrow to mankind, and
  • to reaffirm faith in fundamental human rights, in the dignity and worth of the human person, in the equal rights of men and women and of nations large and small, and
  • to establish conditions under which justice and respect for the obligations arising from treaties and other sources of international law can be maintained, and
  • to promote social progress and better standards of life in larger freedom,

And for these ends

  • to practice tolerance and live together in peace with one another as good neighbours, and
  • to unite our strength to maintain international peace and security, and
  • to ensure, by the acceptance of principles and the institution of methods, that armed force shall not be used, save in the common interest, and
  • to employ international machinery for the promotion of the economic and social advancement of all peoples,

Have resolved to combine our efforts to accomplish these aims

Accordingly, our respective Governments, through representatives assembled in the city of San Francisco, who have exhibited their full powers found to be in good and due form, have agreed to the present Charter of the United Nations and do hereby establish an international organization to be known as the United Nations.

"Edward Reilly Stettinius, Jr., Secretary of State, Chairman of the delegation from the United States, signing the UN Charter at a ceremony held at the Veterans' War Memorial Building on 26 June 1945. At left is President Harry S. Truman." (UN Photo)

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Heads of state aren’t to be ignored like the overzealous advocates for Jesus with megaphones in Times Square. When these street preachers announce the end times are nigh, we’re pretty safe in going about our regularly scheduled business. Holding high office however, means announcing forthcoming “house by house, village by village” “cleansing” has the weight of state power. Why should we not take a head of state at their word when they make such speeches? Particularly when they already have a dubious human rights record – senior regime officials promising “rivers of blood” does not inspire confidence. What more does the international community need to prompt decisive action, is the UN Security Council to wait for monogrammed invitations to watch the systematic slaughter?

The Colonel’s Chamberlain has been commanded by
His Excellency to invite
the United Nations Security Council
to witness crimes against humanity in commemoration of
His Excellencies’ fourth decade in power.

Thinking through goals, outcomes, and possible exits is all to the good. But it is possible to overstate the amount of control we have over these by mere planning, that thinking through scenarios gives a false sense of confidence in our abilities. Those warning of uncertainty are correct as far as that point goes as attaching probabilities does not add to the certainty. These are estimations offered by people with experience and expertise, yes, but not Delphic pronouncements on the future. We gain a sense of the possibilities, and a possibly false, sense of control over these possibilities.

Confronted with the challenge of those opposed to military intervention in Libya, do you have reservations? Do you have doubts? Do you have uncertainties about an endeavor to use violence with a foreseeable consequence of both civilian and coalition deaths? The critic in me must answer: yes, yes, and yes. The campaigner in me must answer no, no, and no.

Do you have doubts? First the yeses of the critic. Military action means innocents will die, this is not a fact to be overlooked by anyone. Discussions of war must confront the horror of this fact. Sending the armed forces to fight, die, and kill, is not to be relished, celebrated, or approached with glee. War critics are entitled to the point that wars often mean old men sending young men into battle, and in an all volunteer armed services a small proportion of the population must bear a disproportionate share of the burden. In undergrad a professor put it starkly, would Iraq mean something different if every man in this room knew after graduation he faced the draft? The other what if questions are also wholly legitimate, what happens if a pilot is captured, what if no-fly, no-drive, and no-sail zones are insufficient, what about a stalemate, what happens if this drags on for months, years, or longer?

Even more forceful challenges offered by Freddie, they’re bringing back all the classics,

I can tell you the reasons for not intervening in any of these, of course, and for getting out of Iraq and Afghanistan. Because democracy through military occupation is an absurd contradiction in terms. Because we cannot touch the world outside our borders without killing innocent people. Because we are not the world’s authority figure. Because goddamn it, we are not nearly strong or smart or capable or moral or competent enough to succeed in such attempts, as has been proven time and time again.

As critic, I can doubt, and I can do so publicly.

"President Lyndon B. Johnson listens to tape sent by Captain Charles Robb from Vietnam, 07/31/1968" (Jack E. Kightlinger/LBJ Library)

As campaigner, do I have doubts? The answer must be no. I must have my certainty. What may be a strength in the public pronouncements of an analyst may be a weakness in a leader. That is, admissions of uncertainty are intellectually honest, but they may be bad leadership. Who will follow the uncertain trumpet? (I usually don’t go in for Biblical references, but having mentioned Jesus in the first sentence I might as well go for broke.) The President of the United States cannot (or at least need not) overvalue public angst and anguish about deciding to commit American forces to battle. Can a President doubt? Can a President do so publicly?

As campaigner I must highlight to the justice of the cause, the fundamental immorality of standing by while atrocities are committed. In this guise not only do I possess certainty, I wield it as a weapon. I become righteousness personified, as insistent as the street preacher with the megaphone. Thus opponents are targeted with the nastiest ad hominem: unserious, un-American, cowardly, heartless, the abusive rhetoric is all too easy in the midst of campaigning. (Some imagine their righteousness gives them license, for the most part I disagree, and (hopefully) avoid this scorched earth line.) As campaigner, the past must be another country, past inadequacies, past failures, past deals with the devil must be set aside – I must have perpetually clean hands to campaign. As campaigner I am in the moment, the now-ness of the atrocities takes precedence over all else. (Earlier I ridiculed libertarians for seeing sunrise this morning as heralding the beginning of the world anew – I’m willing to own up to the contradiction here, as campaigner I must see the world as New and Now.)

Marc Lynch’s analysis and posts exemplify the duel between analyst and campaigner, Lynch as analyst in The U.N.’s High Stakes Gamble in Libya and Lynch as campaigner in Intervening in the Libyan tragedy. While Lynch has concluded on his reservations, I come down on the side continuing to support humanitarian intervention and the responsibility to protect in general, and intervention in Libya in particular (My guest post over at LOoG here).

If you have the seven or eight minutes, two scenes I’ve been thinking about lately from Doubt,

I have my certainty!

I have doubts.

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