UN Charter & R2P in Libyan Crisis

Described as President Obama’s first war albeit he has inherited two prolonged wars, in Afghanistan and Iraq, the Libyan intervention has invited more challenges than resolving them including the protection of civilians, which forms the core objective of UN Security Council resolution 1973 adopted on March 17, 2011. No sooner than the expression of euphoria by the proponents of the doctrine of Responsibility To Protect (R2P) believing that teeth provided by the above resolution for the international community to enforce no-fly zone in Libya endorses the controversial concept, crack appears among permanent members of the Security Council on the proportionality of action of the UN-authorized coalition forces. The Russian Foreign Minister has demonstrated displeasure before the visiting U.S. Secretary of Defense saying that ongoing air campaign against the Libyan targets is seemingly directed towards the regime change, a secret agenda pursued by some western countries, but outside the mandate of the UN resolution.

When the International Commission on Intervention and State Sovereignty, co-chaired by Gareth Evans and Mohamed Sahnoun produced a report in 2001 pleading for making states accountable for their failure to protect their own citizens, the concept of R2P has initiated a debate which still remains contested. The obvious reason for this is the pretext the doctrine provides to embrace military action against any sovereign state accusing the latter of internal abuse. While there may be some merit in contending that states should be reprimanded for failing to save lives of its population, however, the most liberal interpretation of a situation warranting use of force as in Libya has indeed paved the way for more complicated negotiations in future.

The latest attempt to resolve the controversy associated with R2P was undertaken in 2005 during UN Summit. The 2005 World Summit Outcome has recognized state responsibility to the protection of citizens and (emphasis needed) simultaneously outlined specific situations that may justify military action against a state if it commits genocide, war crimes, ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity. This UN endeavor was also seen as a fitting response of those who were responsible for causing the Kosovo disaster when a regional security alliance like NATO led a military campaign against the former Yugoslavia in the name of protecting Kosovars without UN authorization. The disastrous military action took place in 1999 when NATO bombing of Belgrade even damaged the Chinese embassy leading to further criticism of that misadventure.

The UN Security Council Resolution 1973 has backed the use of all necessary measures to enforce no-fly zone over Libya but question has been raised by some authorities in international law whether that decision is in adherence to the provisions of the UN Charter. Most significantly among them is Michael W. Doyle, Professor of International Affairs, Law and Political Science at Columbia University. He has argued that the Libyan case does not constitute an example of international threat as required by the UN Charter. Internal abuses by states do not qualify as international threats and thus authorizing the military action in Libya does not conform to the provision of Chapter VII, where an exception to the principle of non-interference in domestic affairs is provided for.

The abstentions from Brazil, China, Germany, India and the Russian Federation in the council vote on March 17 exhibit understandable reluctance among members of UN Security Council, both permanent and non-permanent, to embrace the doctrine of R2P owing to its inconsistency with the Charter of the United Nations, which enjoys universal acceptance.

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