From the day Col. Muammar Gadaffi opened fire on his protesters, the Libyan crisis has been an uncanny, almost-perfect example of the Responsibility to Protect (R2P) framework in action. Originating from major conflict areas of the 90s, R2P involves the role of the international community when a state’s responsibility to protect its population is not met. Where a state is unwilling or unable to protect civilians, it abrogates sovereign rights and responsibilities, which fall to the intervening states.
R2P consists of six criteria. Questions around the just war, prospect of success and proportionality criteria have been deferred to those African Scene contributors with expertise in strategic studies.
The intention of R2P should be to stop human suffering through multilateral operations supported by regional bodies and victims.
From my international law and BBC-watching perspective, I have focused on intention, last resort and authorization.
Last Resort: Military operations to implement the R2P framework must be an ultima ratio in that all non-military options must be explored first. Alternatively, there must be reasonable grounds to believe lesser measures will not be successful. This means intervening forces may use force as a measure of first instance, if they believe non-military options will be ineffective and, similar to Article 41, you can brush over last resort if needs be.
However, true to the last resort requirement of R2P, UNSC Res. 1970 (2011) in most aspects is an unremarkable Article 41 resolution including travel bans, asset freezes and a new sanctions committee. What makes this resolution shiny and new for me is the referral of the Libyan crisis to the prosecutor of International Criminal Court (ICC) for an investigation into crimes against humanity as well as the fact that the referral garnered unanimous support from states not party to the Rome Statute, whereas the Darfur referral was made without the vote of the United States and China and after years of conflict along with a commission of enquiry
There were concerns around the Libya ICC referral because, at the time, it seemed to allow the UNSC to wash its hands of R2P implementation. Nonetheless, the work of the ICC has been incorporated into a coordinated response to the Libyan crisis. UNSC Res. 1970 (2011) was intended to send a clear message of international justice to the Gadaffis, although clearly, the Libyan leader could not be bothered by a threat of referral to the ICC and the resolution may have had the opposite effect of what was intended, with violence against Libyan civilians escalating at this point.
Intention: The intention of R2P should be to stop human suffering through multilateral operations supported by regional bodies and victims. The problem arises when you consider whether Gadaffi is a legitimate military target or not. Ultimately, his ‘removal’ would secure the protection of civilians but it would look too much like a political move towards regime change.
Authorization: Any military action undertaken in the name of R2P need to be authorized by the UNSC as a collective decision-making body. UNSC Res. 1973 (2011) authorizes the use of ‘all necessary measures’ to protect civilians with the co-operation of the Arab League. ‘All necessary measures’ involve greater military force than the resolution-envisioned no-fly zone but does not extend to an occupation and it is generally understood that, in the initial stages and until there is a stalemate, there will be no boots on the ground.
The authorizing resolution has been criticized for being passed too late in the game. I think this is an unfair accusation because the UNSC machinery has only acted as fast in one other scenario – Afghanistan. I admit that intervention at a stage when the Libyan rebels were on the back foot looks bad, and perhaps intervention should have gone with the momentum, but in the implementation of a previously controversial framework, I believe it was necessary to prove lesser measures ineffective.
However neatly any situation may fit into the R2P criteria, the determining factors for intervention will always be authorization, political will and operational capacity. What makes the Libyan crisis unique is that none of these determining factors have been used as reasons not to intervene. The Libyan crisis has also done much to crystallize R2P as a norm – making it easier to implement in future. This leads us into the territory of selective intervention – intervention in the Ivory Coast, Yemen or Syria, or more generally, in a world where intervention in every case of civil unrest between a state and its population may not be sustainable.
Image by bwats2