UN Answers Libyans' Cry for Freedom With Global Protection
March 21 (Bloomberg) -- The cheering on the streets of Benghazi when the United Nations approved military action against Libyan leader Muammar Qaddafi signaled something critics have long doubted: that the UN can play a vital role in an exploding crisis.
The Obama administration and its European allies said they wouldn't have begun armed intervention without the legality conferred by the UN Security Council, and the resolution adopted by a 10-to-0 vote with 5 abstentions puts Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon in the middle of its implementation.
"This is 21st century intervention, an extraordinary step that pushes the envelope for the UN," Jeff Laurenti, UN analyst at the New York-based Century Foundation research group, said in an interview. Intervening in an internal conflict such as Libya "goes beyond previous non-aggression measures such the steps taken against Iraq after the invasion of Kuwait in 1990."
The UN action on Libya contrasts with its failure to intervene in the 1994 genocide in Rwanda, and the difference drew praise from those who have previously criticized the world body for its response to human-rights abuses, including Kenneth Roth, executive director of the New York-based Human Rights.
"The Security Council has defied expectations and risen to the occasion by making clear that all options are on the table to prevent mass atrocities," Roth said in a statement. It now needs to deal as decisively with other crises, such as halting "mass atrocities" in Ivory Coast, Myanmar and Sri Lanka, he said.
Libya is a "relatively easy case of a brutal dictator with few friends," Roth said.
President Barack Obama's decision to work through the UN also contrasted with then-President George W. Bush's move to sidestep the Security Council when he invaded Iraq in 2003. Then, the U.S. withdrew a draft resolution to authorize military force against Saddam Hussein when it became clear it wouldn't pass and began the invasion two days later -- eight years ago this week.
Adopting two Libya sanctions resolutions in three weeks, the first approved unanimously after some behind-the-scenes differences, shows the Security Council's ability to act even with some internal discord. China and Russia refrained from casting vetoes that would have reflected their objections. Aspiring permanent members Brazil, Germany and India expressed their concerns by abstaining instead of voting against.
"The UN has gone through decades when the international community has experienced gross violations of civilian populations," Ban said in an interview March 19 in Paris, where he was briefed on the allied attacks. "Sometimes the UN was not able to take proper measures because of the divisions of member states. I am encouraged that the member states and the Security Council have shown their leadership."
Ban arrived last night in Cairo from Paris and went straight to a meeting with Egyptian Foreign Minister Nabil El- Arabi. He met today with Amr Moussa, general secretary of the Arab League, who said the group remains committed to the no-fly zone in Libya.
Ban said the UN "stands ready to help protect civilians and promote reform." He condemned violence against demonstrators in Yemen and cited rising violence in Bahrain. "You cannot hold back demands for democracy and reform," he said.
The secretary general was forced to drop plans to walk through Tahrir Square -- scene of massive demonstrations last month that toppled President Hosni Mubarak -- before flying to Tunis. Ban was turned back after he left the press conference and was surrounded by a group of about 40 pro-Qaddafi demonstrators chanting "Down, Down USA!" and waving their fists at the secretary general.
The Security Council has scheduled talks on the allied military action for 3 p.m. today in New York, at the request of Qaddafi's foreign minister, Musa Kousa. In a March 19 letter to the Security Council Kousa asks for "an emergency meeting in order to halt this aggression, which is not aimed at protecting civilians, as is purported, but rather to strike civilian sites, economic facilities and sites belonging" to Libya's army.
In addition to invoking Chapter 7 of the UN Charter, which authorizes military action to force compliance with UN demands, the no-fly resolution in seven instances either tells governments to report to Ban on their military action, or gives him a vital role in other enforcement tools. He must report to the Security Council weekly on its implementation.
The no-fly resolution also marks the first implementation of the 2005 global agreement on the "responsibility to protect," a doctrine that says collective action is justified when a government commits acts of genocide or other atrocities against its people. Bush and 170 other world leaders reached the accord at a UN summit in New York.
"Since that controversial principle was introduced, it has been endorsed in general and hesitant terms," Bruce Jones, senior fellow at the Washington-based Brookings Institution said in an e-mail. "Libya was the first time it's been forcefully invoked in respect of a specific crisis."
The resolution, adopted after Obama last week decided to back a no-fly zone, also shows his administration's commitment to the UN and ability to work closely with Ban.
Bush was publicly antagonistic during his first term, particularly after former Secretary-General Kofi Annan declared the Iraq war to be illegal because it wasn't explicitly authorized by the Security Council.
Ban's relationship with Bush was "not a harmonious one" at first, Ban said in an interview in January at Bloomberg News headquarters in New York. That changed gradually in Bush's second term, he said, as the U.S. sought UN help imposing sanctions to block Iran's nuclear ambitions and to end the conflict in the Darfur region of Sudan.
Obama Embraces UN
Obama has embraced the UN system in a way Bush never did. The U.S. joined the Geneva-based Human Rights Council, supported a General Assembly declaration urging the decriminalization of homosexuality and gave government funds to a UN agency that offers abortion counseling. Obama also backed a treaty to regulate the trade in conventional weapons and agreed to strengthen the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.
"The U.S. has taken very strong leadership and a determined, principled position," Ban said of the administration's role in getting the no-fly resolution adopted.
An Italian government official, who requested anonymity because he wasn't authorized to be identified in public statements, credited the combination of Obama's leadership and Ban's characteristic behind-the-scenes diplomacy for overcoming concerns of Brazil, China, Germany, India and Russia to get the no-fly resolution passed.
"The solicitude by Washington for the Security Council" shows the Obama administration has "learned to play with others in the global sandbox," Laurenti said.
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