Why ‘responsibility to protect’ is proving irresponsible.
Who will protect Libyans now? One of the darkest and most shameful chapters in Western military intervention continues to play out in spades in Libya. The latest news comes from Benghazi where one of the (literally hundreds) of murderous militias opened fire on peaceful, white-flag-bearing protesters (protesting militias), killing at least 20 and wounding over 130. And they didn’t use just small arms — it was rocket propelled grenades, machine guns and even an anti-aircraft gun. It was, even for a horribly violent context, a disgusting slaughter of innocents.
But we hear nothing from the international choir, led here by Lloyd Axworthy, which sang the “responsibility to protect” (R2P) hymn at the top of their lungs two years ago. The R2P, established by the UN in 2005, has lofty principles but in practice has been used as an excuse for any brutal assault on sovereign nations that serves the capitalist interests of the first world. Responsibility to protect states that sovereignty is not a right, but rests on the responsibility of governments to protect their populations. It is triggered by evidence of any one of four “mass atrocity” crimes: war crimes, genocide, crimes against humanity and ethnic cleansing.
None of these, of course, prevailed at the time of the Security Council’s vote in favour of establishing a “no fly” zone to protect civilians from Gadhafi’s fighter jets. But China and Russia abstained because of Western promises of going no further. That, of course, was a Big Lie as the real purpose soon revealed itself and regime change became the end game. When the country could have managed a ceasefire, NATO and Canada declared that could only happen if Gadhafi was gone in complete violation of Resolution 1973. And Canada happened to choose this particular conflict to invest heavily in — both morally and in material support. Stephen Harper made a huge show of our bombing efforts (over 1000 sorties) and boasted that Canada was “punching above its weight.”
Reckless and cynical
What is so infuriating in the history of this hideous “mission” is the complete lack of remorse or shame at what has been “accomplished.” Just like Iraq and Afghanistan, there are no regrets: Imperialism — especially “humanitarian imperialism” — will never admit to its crimes. But it can’t deny the facts, and for citizens attracted to the notion of “responsibility to protect,” the facts are important so that the next time this convenient principle is trotted out there will be more skepticism.
The key facts? There was no “mass rape” ordered by Gadhafi, a claim repeated many times by Hillary Clinton (and eventually refuted by Amnesty International, the UN and even the U.S. Army). There was no bombing of protesters (a fact admitted to by the CIA’s Robert Gates). There was no plan for a “massacre” in Benghazi. Gadhafi offered amnesty to any insurgents who laid down their arms — in contrast the “no mercy” theme played by the Western powers. All of these facts are to be found in Slouching Towards Sirte: NATO’s War on Libya and Africa by Maximilian Forte. →