The Global Citizen: Civilian Protection
The world's eyes, most recently focused on such hot spots as Libya and Cote D'Ivoire, turned back to Sudan this weekend as forces from the northern part of the country captured a key town in the disputed Abyei region on May 21st. The United Nations Security Council (UNSC) has called for the northern forces to pull out immediately, a call which the government of Sudan has rejected.
Sudanese President Bashir-currently charged with war crimes by the International Criminal Court (ICC), but yet to be arrested-claimed that the South attacked Northern Sudanese troops who were part of a UN peacekeeping convoy on May 19th while they were withdrawing from the region, and the North responded in self-defense. South Sudan's Sudan People's Liberation Army (SPLA) denied this charge and accused the North of taking a step towards "full-scale war."
On March 17th the United Nations Security Council passed a resolution authorizing UN members "to take all necessary measures... to protect civilians and civilian populated areas under threat of attack" in Libya. I was giving a speech in the United Arab Emirates at the time and had a ring side seat to the very positive Arab response to the "no fly zone".
I wonder what they are thinking now that a peaceful protest movement has morphed into a civil war. Thousands of civilians have been killed, about 300,000 displaced, and according to the UN, 750,000 have fled the country. Muammar el-Qaddafi's forces have pounded the city of Misurata while NATO warplanes continue to strike targets in the capital city of Tripoli. But lost amidst this flame and fury is the simple concept that the Libyan population should be protected.
When governments are willing to use tanks, helicopters, artillery and automatic weapons to brutally silence peaceful dissent - as is in Libya, Syria, Yemen and Bahrain - the ability to deploy overwhelming ground forces could be the only means to actually protect civilians while driving repressive dictators to step down. Unfortunately, such a force does not exist. Today no nation or coalition today has the capability, desire or credibility to successfully put boots on the ground in Libya. There is even less political will to respond to the atrocities underway in Syria.
Prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo of the International Criminal Court (ICC) has requested arrest warrants for Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi as well as his son Saif Al-Islam Gaddafi and Abdullah Al-Sanousi. This follows the Court's investigation into the situation in Libya since attacks on civilians began there in February.
The ICC began investigating potential crimes against humanity in Libya in March 2011, days after the situation in that country was referred to the Court by the United Nations Security Council. In his statement today, Prosecutor Ocampo noted that "The evidence shows that Muammar Gaddafi, personally, ordered attacks on unarmed Libyan civilians. His forces attacked Libyan civilians in their homes and in the public space, repressed demonstrations with live ammunition, used heavy artillery against participants in funeral processions, and placed snipers to kill those leaving mosques after the prayers. The evidence shows that such persecution is still ongoing, as I speak today, in the areas under Gaddafi control....(m)ost of the victims are Libyans, but the widespread and systematic attacks against them are affecting the international community as a whole. The crimes are crimes against humanity."
The International Criminal Court (ICC) announced this week that it has uncovered proof that the Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi's forces have committed crimes against humanity in attacking civilians, and ICC Prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo has said that he will seek arrest warrants for up to five people.
The situation in Libya was referred to the Court for investigation in February by a unanimous vote of the U.N. Security Council. The ICC launched its investigation shortly thereafter. Prosecutor Ocampo is expected to brief the U.N. Security Council on the results of his investigation on May 4, and his recommendations for indictments should be received by ICC judges within the next few weeks.
Prosecutor Ocampo said that "We have strong evidence on the beginning of the conflict, the shooting of civilians," adding that the murder of unarmed civilians would be considered a crime against humanity. "Also, we have strong evidence of the crime of persecution,” including "massive arrests and torture of people, and some forced disappearances ... (for) talking to journalists or going to demonstrations."
Last night I was watching television when the news broke of Osama bin Laden's death. Needless to say that was not what I expected to hear. Just the day before news had broke that Col. Qaddafi's son had been killed at his compound in Libya - and I assumed that the momentous breaking report would have something to do with more news coming out of the UN backed mission in Libya. Citizens for Global Solutions has been advocating for the protection of civilians in Libya, not the overthrow of Col. Qaddafi, but we understand that in order for this story to end something will need to change in Libya. But I digress from the point - Osama bin Laden is dead - and this is a cause for what, celebration?
In his article Why attack Libya and not Syria?, CNN's Alan Silverleib lays out the many political reasons the United States and international community intervened in Libya but refrained from intervention in Syria, including:
- Libya happened first
- A large portion of Libya was controlled by the rebels and not Moammar Gaddafi
- There was international will to intervene in Libya, while there is no consensus on Syria
- The Arab League supported multilateral action in Libya but not in Syria
- Arab leaders are generally closer to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad than they were to Libyan leader Gaddafi
- Israel content with Assad at the moment sees upheaval of Syrian leadership as risky
These are all sound political reasons not to intervene in Syria and probably designates military action in Syria impractical imprudent. But what about the Syrian people? What about the over 400 innocent Syrian civilians who have been killed since protest started in March? I think it's important that we examine precisely what the responsibility to protect demands from the international community. Maybe Syria is a case in which RtoP requires us to take action but real world political consequences make such action impossible.
In the coming weeks, we must keep a close eye on the policy of the United States government in Yemen, another Arab country experiencing mass protests and calls for change. Demonstrations, inspired by the Jasmine Revolution in Tunisia, have protested the presidency of Ali Abdullah Saleh, Yemen's leader for the past 33 years.
Mr. Saleh responded to the protests with both violent crackdowns and attempts at appeasement. On March 18, government forces fired on people who had just finished praying, killing 50 and injuring 100. The violence continued in April, and over 100 people have been killed in total since March. Because of the spike in government-sanctioned killings, many high profile officials in Yemen's government have resigned and left the country.
Mr. Saleh has attempted to offer various compromises to protesters and to the Joint Meetings Parties, Yemen's opposition coalition. His offer to not seek reelection in 2012 was soundly rejected by his opponents. The Joint Meetings Parties proposed an agreement in which Mr. Saleh would step down at the end of 2011, but protestors rejected the plan, demanding Mr. Saleh to step down immediately.
On Monday, April 18, Citizens for Global Solutions ran a full page advertisement in the New York Times that calls for three essential actions for the U.N. to take in Libya. We are reaching out to Americans because we now live in a new age where the international community has accepted its responsibility to protect. But you can’t protect babies from 30,000 feet nor should this be the job of the U.S. and its allies alone. The United Nations must have the support and tools that it needs to get these jobs done:
- Deployment of U.N. Peacekeepers On the Ground to Protect Libyan Civilians;
- Provision of Food, Water, Medicine and Shelter for Displaced People in Libya;
- U.N. Sponsored Elections to Bring Democracy and a Legitimate Government.
Military actions taken by the U.S. and NATO in Libya and France and the UN in Cote D'Ivoire have seemingly ushered in a new era of international engagement and intervention to protect civilians from bloody conflict. One result of this sweeping shift in policy is the many questions that will indubitably ensue: When do we use military force and when do we refrain from intervention? In cases where we don't intervene, how strongly do we support those fighting for freedom? In some cases should we stand with those in power?
These are questions currently being asked right now of the situation in Bahrain, where a desperate king is attempting to hold onto power in a volatile region. Bahrain is a Muslim country with a Shiite majority. Although Shiites make up 70% of the overall population, they have very little power in a country controlled by a Sunni Monarchy and business elite. According to New York Times reporter Nicholas D. Kristof, Bahrain "is something like an apartheid state." Kristoff has spent time in Bahrain over the past few months and has seen that Sunni neighborhoods are consistently nicer than Shiite neighborhoods. In addition, Shiites are prohibited from joining the police force.
One thing I've heard a lot lately is the question: If we're using military force in Libya, why aren't intervening in other places? Why not Côte D'Ivoire for example? Well the answer is not simple or conclusive, but there are key differences between Libya and Côte D'Ivoire which can help to explain why action was necessary in Libya but not Côte D'Ivoire.
First, the conflict in Côte D'Ivoire is much more than a dictator trying to hold onto power against the will of his people. The Ivorian Civil War ('02-'04) and the ongoing violence of the past decade stems primarily from religious and geographic cleavages in the country. The north is primarily Muslim while the south is mostly Christian. For years, southerners, spurred on by Laurent Gbagbo's government, have considered northerners to be "foreigners". In the 2010 elections, many northerners were simply taken off lists of registered voters before the elections. The ethnic and religious dimensions of this conflict make it much more complicated than Libya and make resolution of the conflict that much more difficult.
Second, both sides seem to have committed mass atrocities. On April 2, between 300 and 1000 people were killed in the town of Douékoué where the militias of Mr. Gbagbo and Mr. Ouattara clashed. According to the UN, more than 100 people were killed by Mr. Gbagbo's fighters, while about 200 were killed by forces loyal to Mr. Ouattara.
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