Libya one year on, and the debate over NATO intervention in Syria

It is just over a year since the start of the Libyan uprising, and four months since the overthrow of Gaddafi, but concerns are growing that lingering divisions between factions could tear it apart, with more than 500 militias still operating throughout the country.

On Tuesday [Feb 21st], Democracy Now! spoke briefly with co-author of last week’s Amnesty International report, Carsten Jürgensen, who told them of the widespread human rights abuses that continue to be committed in Libya:

Horrific images of people who have been tortured and abused, people who have been tortured very recently when we saw them, in some cases only hours before. In fact, my colleagues saw detainees being beaten in a courtyard of a prison. And people have shown us, you know, obvious traces of torture, being whipped, or people also told us they have been subjected to electric shocks. People have been beaten by all sorts of objects.

They also spoke to Vijay Prashad, chair in South Asian History and Professor of International Studies at Trinity College in Hartford, Connecticut, asking both for his thoughts about Libya and, in light of that, what action should now be taken in Syria. Here is part of his answer:

The uprising, it seems to me, within a month of breaking out in February, had gained immense momentum. And at its highest point, it was at the time when NATO decided to intervene. There was a conversion of an uprising, an internal civil war, into a NATO intervention. By May, there were already concerns from Amnesty International that there were maybe atrocities by NATO, by rebel forces and by Gaddafi’s troops, that it was a very dangerous soup of violence in Libya. This, Amnesty said in May of last year…

In October, Amnesty did another very important report suggesting that if human rights is going to be used as a lubricant for intervention, one has to be very careful to continue to investigate the violence. One has to not only document violence, but also see that the perpetrators are prosecuted. And one has to bring a society to some kind of closure. This is what Amnesty began to say in October. Those were very prescient words from Amnesty, because, indeed, what Amnesty had proposed has not happened since October.

Russia recently requested that the UN Security Council investigate the deaths of civilians (estimated to be as many as 30,000) during the NATO bombing campaign of Libya. In response, US Ambassador Susan Rice accused the Russians of deliberately trying to distract attention from the situation in Syria. Prashad told Democracy Now! :

The real question is, why won’t NATO allow an evaluation of the Libyan war? What if we discover that the number of civilian casualties, the bombing in places like Marjah, the bombing in places in the center of Tripoli, had indeed cost the lives of a very large number of civilians? What is the harm of NATO coming under an evaluation? It will demonstrate, for instance, the actual commitment to human rights and to responsibility to protect civilians that the United States purports to support. So, the fact that they are not allowing an evaluation causes concern around the world. It means, perhaps, that the bombing campaigns are not going to protect civilians. They might, in fact, exacerbate the danger to civilians. […]

[There] are serious questions about the truncating of a human rights process towards war making rather than towards peace making. So I don’t see this as a distraction; I see this as the fundamental question.

And it is precisely why the Russians and the Chinese are loathe to give another open-ended resolution to allow NATO to continue war making in Syria. They have said quite clearly that unless the resolution says this is not going to invoke Chapter 7, Article 42, of the U.N. Charter—in other words, the right to make war or to preserve the principles of the United Nations—unless it says specifically that this resolution is not under Chapter 7, we cannot sign on to it. So, I think there are some serious issues at stake. This veto by the Russians and the Chinese is not disgusting or a distraction. It’s about the principles involved here and whether this is just about a power grab by the West or a genuine concern for the people of Libya and Syria.

Click here to watch the video or read a full transcript on the Democracy Now! website.

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Filed under analysis & opinion, China, Libya, Russia, Syria

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