Six months of courage and determination by the Libyans, abetted by a UN resolution offering protection against a murderous government, followed by NATO airplanes – and another despot is on his way out. While there will continue to be unfolding and unexpected twists in the Libyan story, the main plot is clear: Moammar Gadhafi and his regime have been overturned by a combination of powerful, popular democratic forces within Libya and a willingness by certain members of the international community to respond to the UN call for intervention to protect the brave civilians on the ground.
This heralds a further significant step in bolstering the emerging norm of how international justice trumps sovereignty. It further establishes the principle of international protection of civilians at risk, an idea first promoted by Canada during its Security Council tenure of 1999-2000, which resulted in the protocol of the “responsibility to protect” (R2P), emerging from a Canadian-sponsored international commission after the Kosovo conflict, which ultimately gained approval at the UN Leaders Summit in 2005.
While these developments in Libya can be seen as decisive alterations to the international framework of law and accountability, it’s no time to be complacent. Indeed the application of R2P has just begun. Essential to the principle is the third crucial element of assisting in efforts to rebuild Libya on democratic, stable foundations – a difficult exercise. As we’ve learned from Afghanistan, you may be able to temporarily provide political security and stability, but building institutions is a more complicated and challenging enterprise, especially in places where they haven’t existed.
Further, national treasuries in Europe and the United States are sorely depleted and the dominant theology of deficit-balancing does not lead to generous outpourings of aid. At UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon’s urging, a meeting of interested parties, including the African Union (AU) and the Arab League, will be held this week in order to determine the path ahead for Libya. The UN is the obvious choice to co-ordinate this response, but there is a need for further action. It is clear that actors other than the U.S. and Europe will have to take on many of the development and diplomatic tasks required for a transition from authoritarian ways to a more open and fair society. There is a limited amount of time available to meet what are likely to be high expectations. Libyans do have access to oil resources, but rebuilding needs skills and capacity in a variety of economic, social and governance tasks.
Equally there is the appetite for justice. As I have stated before, Col. Gadhafi must be brought to the International Criminal Court, as have other tyrants such as Slobodan Milosevic and Charles Taylor. There must be a due process to examine his crimes and bring closure to the excesses of his rule. Every effort should be made to ensure he is not captured and killed, though the temptation will be strong. In a similar vein, reconciliation should take precedence over retribution or retaliation. Peace will be brought about by establishing good faith in the rule of law, despite the emotional demands brought about by months of conflict.
Despite denials, there are rumours that South Africa – a prominent member of the AU as well as a non-permanent member of the UN Security Council – remains in negotiations with Col. Gadhafi regarding his passage out of Libya. That should be a priority diplomatic path to follow, as long as it is clear that this is just a way station en route to The Hague and the ICC, or a joint tribunal in Libya itself. As a signatory of the Rome Statute and an example of democratic transition, South Africa is in a good position to take the lead with the support of like-minded countries like Canada.
We are seriously engaged in a resetting of the international order toward a more humane, just world. It calls for immediate and appropriate action as called for in R2P. Then, the next serious step is to find the means to end the tyrant Bashar al-Assad’s bloodshed in Syria.
Lloyd Axworthy is a former foreign affairs minister in the Chrétien government.