Confronting Mass Atrocities in Libya

This morning two emails landed in my inbox from groups with a long history of confronting mass atrocities like what is now happening in Libya. The first is from Sam Bell of the Genocide Intervention Network/Save Darfur Coalition. He writes:

“The United States, the United Nations, the Arab League and the African Union must endorse and – where able – undertake decisive action to stop what could constitute crimes against humanity perpetrated by the Qaddafi regime.  If world leaders do not impose swift, severe consequences on the Qaddafi government other leaders might be tempted to employ the ‘Libya option.’”

“The UN General Assembly, including all the world’s governments, affirmed the ‘Responsibility to Protect’ doctrine in 2005. A commitment to that doctrine should compel the international community to stop what could constitute crimes against humanity taking place in Libya. Specifically, the UN Security Council should authorize the following actions:

-Freezing assets of top Libyan officials and the Qaddafi family;

– Referral of the situation in Libya to the Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court;

– Creation of a mandatory Libya Recovery Fund into which all revenues from Libyan oil exports would be paid;

– Establishment of a no-fly zone by willing countries, with the express aim of preventing continued operation of Libyan military aircraft if attacks against civilians continue.”

Next, from the International Crisis Group:

For members of the world community, many of whom long condoned authoritarian regimes in the Arab world and only fully backed the Tunisian and Egyptian uprisings once the outcome had become clear, Libya presents a critical test. So far, the Libyan regime has offered its people no prospect beyond submission, civil war or a blood bath; its actions have condemned it in the eyes of its own people and of the world.

Many have already denounced the violent acts, but actions must now follow words. Crisis Group recommends the following urgent steps:

-Imposing targeted sanctions against Muammar Qaddafi and family members as well as others involved in the repression, including an immediate assets freeze;

-Offering safe haven to Libyan aircraft pilots and other security personnel who refuse to carry out illegal regime orders to attack civilians;

-Cancelling all ongoing contracts and cooperation for the supply of military equipment and training to Libyan security forces;

-Imposing an international embargo to prevent the sale and delivery of any military equipment or support to Libyan security forces while refraining from any commercial sanctions that could harm civilians;

-In light of the intensity of the violence and its likely regional effects, the United Nations Security Council should:

1)  strongly condemn Libya’s resort to state violence against civilians and call on the Libyan government and security forces to immediately halt all such attacks and restore access for humanitarian flights to Libyan air space;

2) call on member states to take the above-mentioned actions;

3) establish an international commission of inquiry into alleged crimes against humanity in Libya since 1 February 2011, tasking it to investigate the conduct of the Libyan government and all its varied security forces, as well as allegations concerning the involvement of foreign mercenaries. The body should provide recommendations on steps to be taken by national and international authorities to ensure accountability for any crime;

4) plan the establishment of a no-fly zone under Chapter VII if aircraft attacks against civilians continue.

The big difference between the two is that the ICG calls for the Security Council to create a “Commission of Inquiry” into rights abuses in Libya. (Presumably, the commission would find that, indeed, there were gross and systematic abuses, and that those abuses should be punished by the International Criminal Court. Libya is not a member, so giving jurisdiction to the ICC requires a Security Council referral. ) The GI-Net/Save Darfur proposal cuts right to the chase — that is, a Security Council referral to the ICC.

I would also be interested in learning more about the viability of this Libya recovery fund that Sam Bell refers to.   Presumably, the idea is to create some sort of escrow account for Libyan oil exports. I like the idea, I just wonder how workable it is. Has anything like this been attempted before?

The bottom line, though, is that the rights groups are coalescing around the idea that there must be some immediate action taken to stop the ongoing abuses–and that to deter future similar abuses, the international community needs to enforce some sort of accountability mechanism for individuals responsible for the slaughter.  If Qaddafi is able to suppress this rebellion using overwhelming violence and mass slaughter, then other countries (Algeria, Morocco, Yemen…whatever is next) might very well follow his lead.

UPDATE: Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman (And Barack Obama’s foreign policy alter-ego) John Kerry lists four “concrete steps” that the United States can take on Libya.

“The Qadhafi government’s use of deadly force against its own people should mean the end of the regime itself.  It’s beyond despicable, and I hope we are witnessing its last hours in power.  Libyans should have the opportunity to choose leaders who respect their basic rights.”

“The question now is what can be done to send that message clearly and effectively. While it’s true that America has less influence in Tripoli than elsewhere in the region, we’re not without options, particularly in partnership with the broader international community. World leaders must together put Colonel Qadhafi on notice that his cowardly actions will have consequences.

“First, while Qadhafi himself is irredeemable, his senior military commanders need to know that their acquiescence in atrocities could open them to future international war crimes charges.

“Second, all American and international oil companies should immediately cease operations in Libya until violence against civilians ceases. The Obama administration also should consider re-imposing U.S. sanctions that were lifted during the Bush era.

“Third, United Nations leadership is on the line.  Libya’s mission to the UN bravely condemned their own government. Now UN action is critical.  Today’s emergency session of the Security Council should condemn the violence and explore temporary sanctions, including an arms embargo and protection for Libyan civilian centers. The United Nations should immediately remove Libya from the Human Rights Commission, appoint a special rapporteur on human rights conditions in Libya, and authorize the distribution of emergency humanitarian supplies.

“Fourth, the Arab League and African Union have an opportunity to create a new precedent in response to the crisis in Libya. American credibility was on the line with a key ally in Egypt, and President Obama acted with determination. Today, the world is watching how the region’s leaders will respond to Libya. The Arab League can demonstrate that after the popular uprisings across the region, the old rules of impunity no longer stand. And the African Union can vigorously investigate reports that African mercenaries are involved in the atrocities in Libya.

“These are concrete steps that must be taken now and in the days ahead to show that the world will respond with actions not just words when a regime wields reprehensible violence against its own people.”

For the record, Libya is not actually on the UN Human Rights Commission because there is no such thing as the UN Human Rights Commission. Presumably, he means the Human Rights Council.  But I agree with the sentiment.