Critiquing Humanitarian intervention in Libya

In 2011, Libya became one of the countries that were quickly impacted by the Arab Spring. Yet, it has been going through a different path than its neighbours Egypt and Tunisia that have largely succeeded in their revolutions. As a result of the dire humanitarian situation in Libya in 2011, the UN Security Council decided to implement multilateral humanitarian military intervention.

Before the application of humanitarian intervention, one has to make detailed calculations and evaluation of the necessity of intervention. The legality of humanitarian intervention is a complex question: does sovereignty rule out intervention in order not to breach territorial integrity? Or does the international community have the responsibility to avoid gross and systematic human rights violations? Regarding sovereignty, “the legal rub of humanitarian intervention is the United Nations Charter, the foundational document of international law whose core principles are sovereignty and non-intervention” (Cronogue, 129).

The implementation of humanitarian intervention in Libya was arguably based on the prominent model of: the Responsibility to Protect (R2P) doctrine. It is argued that “the concept of R2P consists of three elements: the responsibility to prevent a population from suffering serious harm, the responsibility to react if such harm occurs, and the responsibility to rebuild after an intervention” (Gowers, 597). The R2P implies a collective international responsibility “exercisable by the Security Council authorizing military intervention as a last resort, in the event of genocide and other large-scale killing, ethnic cleansing and serious violations of humanitarian law which sovereign governments have proved powerless or unwilling to prevent” (Background Information on the Responsibility to protect, United Nations). “President Barack Obama—along with NATO—claimed that military action was necessary in order to prevent a bloodbath in Benghazi, where Qaddafi’s forces had surrounded a defenseless population” (Gillin, Libya Is Yet Another Reason to Be Wary of Humanitarian Interventions). However, the intervention implied the overthrowing of the leader Qaddafi who targeted civilian protesters, yet, the overthrowing of a government is not legally justified under international law, but is rather considered political. The timing was ideal to exercise humanitarian intervention as “leaders in the Middle East were still reeling from the Arab Spring” (Patrick, Libya and the future of Humanitarian intervention). The Libyan case was illustrated as “a textbook illustration justifying R2P principles, but its implementation also demonstrated the need for legitimacy criteria to guide decisions on authorizing and overseeing international military intervention” (Thakur, 61).

Libya has been perceived as a “failed” state that lacks the ability to protect its own citizens. Since Libya is considered as a “failed” state, the responsibility is seen to be extended to the international community. Although, the use of force in “failed” states is very debatable, humanitarian intervention seems to have been the first option in Libya. Therefore, the Security Council issued Resolution 1970 (2011), which underscored “the gross and systematic violation of human rights, including the repression of peaceful demonstrators, expressing deep concern at the deaths of civilians, and rejecting unequivocally the incitement to hostility and violence against the civilian population made from the highest level of the Libyan government” (Resolution 1970). It is also added in the Resolution 1970 that “the widespread and systematic attacks currently taking place in the Libyan Arab Jamahiriya against the civilian population may amount to crimes against humanity” (Resolution 1970). The Resolution stressed the significant responsibility of the Libyan authorities to protect and respect its population. The Security Council accompanied Resolution 1970 with the Resolution 1973 that permitted Member States to legitimately take “all necessary measures” in carrying out humanitarian intervention in protecting civilians (Resolution 1973).

Humanitarian interventions are very expensive and their consequences cannot be predicted.  However, humanitarian intervention is a significant instrument that is “claimed” to protect people and punish perpetrators of human rights violations. Humanitarian intervention does not seem to be a “pure tool” that aims to really save lives as it is highlighted that “the United States will remain selective about humanitarian intervention, because it must balance the goal of preventing suffering with other interests and commitments” (Patrick, ‘Libya and the future of Humanitarian intervention’). Actually, the United States always used the arguments of establishing democracy and eliminating human rights violations as a basis for humanitarian intervention. In the case of Libya, it seems that economic interests, more specifically oil reserves were the real interests of the United States. This intervention is reminiscent of the Iraq war in 2003. Moreover, the geographical location of Libya makes it strategically beneficial in the sense that it allows access to Africa.

The United Nations has justified multilateral, UN-authorized humanitarian intervention according to Article 39 of the UN Charter, which states that “the Security Council shall determine the existence of any threat to the peace, breach of the peace, or act of aggression and shall make recommendations, or decide what measures shall be taken in accordance with Articles 41 and 42, to maintain or restore international peace and security”. Because this Article is broad and vague, the UN Charter does not contain any clear conditions for collective action. Nonetheless, it has been argued that humanitarian intervention goes against Article 2 (4) of the UN Charter, which stipulates that: “All Members shall refrain in their international relations from the threat or use of force against the territorial integrity or political independence of any state, or in any other manner inconsistent with the Purposes of the United Nations”. Furthermore, the UN Charter underlines in Article 2 (7) that: “nothing contained in the present Charter shall authorize the United Nations to intervene in matters which are essentially within the domestic jurisdiction of any state or shall require the Members to submit such matters to settlement under the present Charter”. However, when the situation reaches a perceived “high peak”, the Security Council gives itself the power to employ the humanitarian intervention with the use of Article 39.

The humanitarian intervention in Libya did in fact create a new “failed state”. The humanitarian intervention strategy was actually proven in the Libyan case as a total failure. The presence of a two rival governments makes the position of the country weaker. The existence and role of the militias including some Islamist extremists and ISIS over the country weakens the economic situation due to the constant contest over oil revenues. The creation of these Islamist extremists was the outcome of the continuous sustainment by the West aiming to succeed in the process of regime change. Security cannot be established due to absence of an army and an undrafted constitution. The intervention did not imply any kind of a process of active rebuilding aiming to put Libya on its feet. It is questionable whether the Libyan intervention was really an intervention to protect the population or rather another strategy to remove a political leader who constantly went against the West on the political, social and economic levels. The NATO intervention has succeeded in showing that it was a failure due to the presence of violence after the action. This could be seen with the increased number of deaths and human rights violations. R2P in the Libyan case did not include any kind of protection but rather a kind of violence and humiliation of civilians. Violence has spread all over the country. Saving lives is simply a justification to attack one nation’s territory and breach its sovereignty.

Humanitarian interventions are simply “lies”. They can never be trusted due to the constant hidden goals. Humanitarian interventions cannot function because they produce more negative consequences than good ones and this could clearly be seen in the Libyan case as mentioned above. There is no “pure” behavior of a humanitarian intervention. One has to mention the tremendous influence and control of the United States (U.S) over NATO’s actions. The U.S under NATO’s umbrella looks for its own benefits by trying to act as the “saviors”. Moreover, the humanitarian intervention does not offer any solutions. In other words, the intervention does not try to solve the causes of the conflict or deal with its consequences. If humanitarian intervention in Libya was really “pure”, then the employment of military action was not required. The fact that the use of force was included in the intervention breaches the whole aim and purpose of intervention as it continuously violates human rights.

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