While Omanis, Bahrainis, Iraqis and Yemenis are taking their calls for reform to the streets, Libya has presented an exceptional case of reported human rights violations, significant loss of human life, and an eccentric leader that vows to fight ‘till the last drop of blood.’
Politicians have described the events that unfolded in the past weeks as ‘outrageous’ and ‘unacceptable,’ whereas the International Criminal Court’s prosecutor said in an official statement they may ‘constitute crimes against humanity.’
Whether this will end with Libyan President Muammar Qaddafi tried in an international court for crimes committed against his own people, or brutally suppressing the populist uprising largely depends on the international community’s next step.
In recent days, Qaddafi’s loyalist forces have been making advances against towns which once openly revolted against the 42-year rule of the Libyan leader.
Thousands of civilians have been killed and more injured in clashes, while tens of thousands are flooding into neighboring countries seeking refuge.
Qaddafi has vowed to ally with Al-Qaeda – who he previously accused of backing the revolutionaries – in a holy war against the West if foreign forces land on Libyan soil.
Nabil Fahmy, the Dean of the School of Global Affairs and Public Policy, said the situation in Libya has certainly become an international concern, namely because of the ‘unacceptable’ human rights violations taking place.
While the former Egyptian ambassador to the United States describes himself as a traditionalist to the principle of non-intervention, he claimed that “state sovereignty does not license inhumane practices against a State’s own people.”
Many echo Fahmy’s claim that the focus of the international community has moved from a classic understanding of state sovereignty to human rights. According to Fahmy, actions of this gravity never remain within borders in today’s world.
Charles Davidson, an international law professor, said that Qaddafi’s actions are a clear violation of international law and norms.
“These crimes against humanity, these crimes against his own people, are so damaging to the Libyans that the international community is more willing to disregard traditional notions of sovereignty,” he said.
While many law experts have labeled Qaddafi’s actions as crimes against humanity, others, like political science junior Hatem Zayed, believe these actions constitute genocide. It was less than two weeks ago that Libya’s deputy ambassador to the UN, Ibrahim Dabbashi, urged the international community to forcibly stop what he called “a real genocide.”
For many, an indication that the international community should take further action in the case of Libya is that the conflict has spilled over to other countries. According to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), an estimated 80,000 people have crossed into Tunisia and another 69,000 into Egypt to escape the violence in Libya.
UNHCR, the International Committee of the Red Cross, and the Egyptian Red Crescent are among other organizations that set up transit camps along the borders to aid the thousands of refugees and asylum-seekers.
Two weeks ago, the Security Council (UNSC) voted unanimously to impose sanctions, including an arms embargo, and travel bans on Qaddafi, his family and his inner circle of advisors.
The council also froze their assets and referred the case to the International Criminal Court, which had in 2009 issued an arrest warrant for Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir for similar alleged crimes committed in Darfur.
While Fahmy was critical of an international community that dictates which forms of governance countries should have, citing cultural and geopolitical differences, he added that leaders should always respect human rights.
“I accept that if a country violates human rights, it should be held accountable and not necessarily by other countries, but by the United Nations.”
Although Fahmy noted that the United Nations “is not perfect,” it can often serve as “an objective body of the international community.” He added that leaders’ willingness to act in the situation in Libya could be traced to the Security Council’s failure to prevent the Rwandan Genocide in 1994.
“There have been cases in the past and there will be cases in the future of failure,” he said.
He emphasizes the need for reforms within the structure of UNSC towards a more democratic system, criticizing the current structural imperfection as potentially allowing “the powerful to use intervention at the expense of the weak.”
However, for Davidson, the situation in Libya might soon become another case where the international community refrained from military intervention.
“It’s very chaotic, and situations that are chaotic on the ground are not the environment where the international community feels most comfortable going in,” he explained.
One of the unexpected turn-of-events was China voting ‘yes’ to pass the UNSC resolution condemning and taking nonmilitary action against the Libyan government. China, which has often upheld the principle of state sovereignty in its traditional meaning, had condoned this form of international intervention.
Fahmy believes that China, in the face of an international community determined to act, was left with little choice under such pressure.
“We live in a transparent world, and the political price of appearing to redress human rights violations is very high,” he said. “Respecting international law is a responsibility of being a member of the international community.”
While leaders in the UNSC and Arab League consider the possibility of a no-fly zone, many have expressed worry over the outcome of military intervention.
“The difference between what happened in Iraq and what would happen in Libya is that Libyans don’t want Qaddafi to stay in power,” Zayed said.
However, Muneer Betelmal, an AUCian from Benghazi, said that he does not want foreign forces to land in Libya, fearing that “once they are in, it will be hard to get them out.
The US, one of the most vocal countries condemning Qaddafi’s actions, was the first to impose unilateral sanctions before meeting with UNSC to discuss the situation. Davidson commented that he does not view the US as motivated by oil interests, but a concern for being “on the right side of history.”