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International Intervention & Support to the Libyan Opposition is A Moral Imperative

IDEA Viewpoint

March 11, 2011

Ghelawdewos Araia

Since Muammar Gaddafi seized state power in 1969 through military coup d��tat, he has done more harm to the Libyan people and other Africans than benefit them. It is true that his government invested billions of dollars in the 1970s for development projects such as education, health, and housing, but the populist Gaddafi soon turned to a dictator and began squandering billions of dollars earned from oil for military buildup, including weapons of mass destruction. Moreover, drunk with oil money, he wanted to test his muscle by invading neighboring countries like Chad; intervening in other countries domestic affairs such as Niger; and providing material support to anti-Ethiopia insurgents. He also had a miserable diplomatic relationship with both the Arab and African nations until American planes hit him during the Reagan Administration, and after which he subsequently sought a revitalized relation with the Organization of African Unity (now African Unity).  

On top of his contributions to destabilizing some African nations, Gaddafi has also established a dynastic government for himself and for his seven sons and one daughter who virtually run the state and own the national wealth of Libya. Simply put, the personal rule of Gaddafi literally turned Libya into a private dominion of the Gaddafi family. It is due to this unconscionable reality that the Libyan people rose up against the political order, and however ill organized and sporadic their movement is they have at least managed to establish a government at Benghazi.

Now, the international community has a moral obligation to support the Libyan opposition. France, to its credit, has recognized the newly formed government in eastern Libya. Other Great Powers including the US are hesitant to intervene but it could only be a matter of time to end their cautionary stance, and they may follow France�s footsteps soon.

Why should the International Community intervene on behalf of the Libyan opposition? The answer could be �why not�, but I first like to delve into the parameters of international law and global diplomacy and discuss rather why nations should extend moral and political support to the Libyan opposition.

First and foremost, the Libyan opposition aspires to establish a democratic system in Libya by ending the four-decade old tyranny, and as such they must be supported. Secondly, who would not like to end tyranny except the few parasitic benefactors? Who would not like to witness a democratic system in lieu of a dictatorship except for the very few blood-sucking officials who benefit from an autocracy they support and wish to sustain?

It is in light of the above questions and by simply entertaining the simple and yet profound answers that the global community must support the Libyan opposition unequivocally. It is understandable that the state and its domestic body politic have been considered sacrosanct since Westphalia, and international law, for the most part, observes and respects the sanctity of the internal affairs of respective nations; venerates the sovereignty and territorial integrity of all nation-states, unless the latter belong to the bygone colonial era.

However, individual nations presided over by tyrants have many times violated international norms such as human rights and basic constitutional rights jealously guarded by democratic societies and taken for granted by the citizenry. These tyrannical regimes have even committed genocide against their own people and as a result they have invited unilateral and/or multilateral interventions.

Intervention is a delicate matter. On the one hand, it may create precedent especially for the Great Powers to intervene, and on the other if the world watches while anti-people governments perpetrate crimes and untold atrocities, humanity as a whole would become accomplice in injustices that could have otherwise been prevented. Prevention is the best medicine, but due to lack of decisiveness on the part of international agencies like the Security Council or governments of the major powers, the world has witnessed now Pol Pot�s crime against humanity; Rwanda�s genocide; Darfur�s massacre, and Somalia�s carnage, just to mention few. In some instances, however, the international community or regional forces should be commended for taking necessary action to stop fratricidal killings and civil wars such as in Sierra Leone, Liberia, and Kosovo, although their interventions came too late.   

It is indeed a major dilemma when it comes to the conceptualization and practical application of intervention, but a reasonable assessment of a prevailing political situation could enable us determine whether intervention is worth it vis-�-vis egregious human rights violations. The case of Libya, for instance, demands that intervention is necessary in order to rid of a murderous regime, help democratic forces install a government that could respect human rights and serve their interests, and also facilitate peace building and stability in the region.

A modicum of intervention, short of total occupation of a sovereign country, by unilateral or multilateral forces thus is justifiable. In what way can the global community intervene and extend support to the Libyan opposition? The answer is simple. Either the Security Council must mandate UN forces to intervene or the US/NATO forces must decide in favor of �no fly zone� and militarily equip the Benghazi Libyan forces. This would shift the balance of power between the Gaddafi government troops that have now a distinct advantage of aerial and ground attack power and the opposition that have antiquated weapons at their disposal. Apparently, we have now a crucial contest of military power between the Gaddafi forces and the fighting spirit of the opposition, but at the end of the day guns determine the outcome of wars. 

Once the Libyan opposition gathers momentum with the help of the international community and manages to have an upper hand in the combat zones, there is no doubt that it could easily mobilize the Libyan people against Gaddafi. The jittery, tittering, and fledgling regime would then succumb to the power of the people. If the international community fails to extend support to the Libyan opposition, however, the Gaddafi forces could prevail at least temporarily. The world should not wait till Gaddafi recaptures the whole of Libya again. After all, civil war is going on in Libya and under such circumstances �permissible use of force� is justifiable under international law.

The UN Security Council and the Great Powers should not hesitate to intervene, not only because of real politic considerations but also because of moral imperatives; and in order to justify their intervention they can invoke many previous UN Security Council resolutions such as Resolution 688 in relation to Iraq�s crime against the Kurdish civilians; Resolution 713 in relation to the Yugoslav civil war; and Resolution 814 by which an embargo was imposed on Haiti etc.

On top of the above resolutions, the UN Security Council and the Great Powers could also invoke international law and UN Charter articles. For instance, �Responsibilities for Injuries to Aliens� (US vs. Mexico, 1926) could be invoked against Gaddafi because the Libyan police have cooperated (were accomplice for the most part) with street hooligans in Tripoli and other cities who physically attacked and mistreated refugees (e.g. some Ethiopian and Eritrean refugees were attacked with knives). When we have absence of rule of law of such magnitude and when the government itself is an accomplice, delinquent, and does not take proper action against criminals, intervention should be justified.

By the same token, Article 55 (c) of the UN Charter, which is completely trampled over by the rogue regime in Libya, also could be a reason for intervention. The Article clearly states:     

�Universal respect for, and observance of human rights and fundamental freedoms for all without distinction as to race, sex, language, or religion.�

The world cannot afford to standby and wait for the outcome of the civil war in Libya. It must support the Libyan democratic forces, and time is of the essence.

All Rights Reserved. Copyright � IDEA, Inc. 2011. Dr. Ghelawdewos Araia can be contacted for educational and constructive feedback via dr.garaia@africanidea.org