NATO mission in Libya ending, despite ongoing attacks on civilians

Anti-Gaddafi rebels rejecting foreign intervention in the early days of the civil war

The hypocrisy of the seven-month U.S./NATO mission in Libya is being laid bare by the announcement to end the mission in spite of ongoing attacks against civilians — in this case civilians who are considered loyal to the Gaddafi regime.

As Human Rights Watch reported on Sunday,

Militias from the city of Misrata are terrorizing the displaced residents of the nearby town of Tawergha, accusing them of having committed atrocities with Gaddafi forces in Misrata, Human Rights Watch said today. The entire town of 30,000 people is abandoned – some of it ransacked and burned – and Misrata brigade commanders say the residents of Tawergha should never return.

Human Rights Watch interviewed dozens of Tawerghans across the country, including 26 people in detention in and around Misrata and 35 displaced people staying in Tripoli, Heisha, and Hun. They gave credible accounts of some Misrata militias shooting unarmed Tawerghans, and of arbitrary arrests and beatings of Tawerghan detainees, in a few cases leading to death.

Despite these abuses against civilians, NATO’s mission ends tonight at one minute to midnight local time, following a unanimous vote in the UN Security Council on Thursday to lift the no-fly zone and terminate the mandate for NATO’s mission in the North African country.

Voice of America, the official external broadcast of the U.S. government, reported last week that the mandate was expiring amid sharp Security Council divisions “over NATO intervention in a civil war that went on much longer than Western nations had expected.”

The Security Council had authorized NATO seven months ago “to enforce a no-fly zone and take ‘all necessary measures’ to protect Libyan civilians from government forces as then-leader Moammar Gadhafi moved to crush a growing uprising against his rule,” VoA reported.

This, however, is not entirely true.

The Security Council resolution purportedly authorizing NATO’s intervention did not, as Voice of America claims, specify anywhere that it was intended to “protect Libyan civilians from government forces.” The language instead authorized Member States,

to protect civilians and civilian populated areas under threat of attack in the Libyan Arab Jamahiriya, including Benghazi, while excluding a foreign occupation force of any form on any part of Libyan territory, and requests the Member States concerned to inform the Secretary-General immediately of the measures they take pursuant to the authorization conferred by this paragraph which shall be immediately reported to the Security Council; …

Decides to establish a ban on all flights in the airspace of the Libyan Arab Jamahiriya in order to help protect civilians;

Despite the call “to protect civilians and civilian populated areas under threat of attack,” now that civilians are coming under attack by the forces that NATO has supported for the past seven months, the civilians are apparently on their own.

This behavior follows a pattern in which the U.S. and NATO allies from the onset of the Libyan civil war construed their authority to intervene in Libya as synonymous with authority to overthrow Gaddafi.

In a joint op-ed, U.S. President Barack Obama, French President Nicolas Sarkozy and UK Prime Minister David Cameron wrote,

[S]o long as Qaddafi is in power, NATO must maintain its operations so that civilians remain protected and the pressure on the regime builds. Then a genuine transition from dictatorship to an inclusive constitutional process can really begin, led by a new generation of leaders. In order for that transition to succeed, Qaddafi must go and go for good.

Further, although they were mandated to “protect civilians” from the earliest days of the conflict, they dismissed any reports of civilian casualties on the part of NATO bombing as simply propaganda from the pro-Gaddafi side, and unilaterally declared that Gaddafi must be overthrown in order to “protect civilians.”

Now that it is becoming increasingly clear that the side that NATO has been supporting in this civil war is perhaps just as guilty of carrying out atrocities against civilians, there is relative silence from the Western powers.

The latest reports from Human Rights Watch come just a week after the human rights group found 53 decomposing bodies outside of a hotel in Sirte, the last Gaddafi stronghold to fall to the rebel forces. The victims, all apparent Gaddafi supporters, had been bound and summarily executed the previous week.

The State Department urged an investigation, but the point appeared to be lost that these sorts of human rights violations may be the direct result of an intervention launched arguably in violation of the resolution that purportedly authorized it.

The Arab League, which had tentatively lent support to Resolution 1973, promptly objected to the bombing campaign, the day after it began. “What is happening in Libya differs from the aim of imposing a no-fly zone, and what we want is the protection of civilians and not the bombardment of more civilians,” said Arab League Secretary General Amr Moussa on March 20.

In abstaining from the Security Council resolution authorizing the “no-fly zone” back in March, the Brazilian ambassador explained her government’s rationale: “We are not convinced that the use of force as provided for in operative paragraph 4 of the present resolution will lead to the realization of our common objective — the immediate end of violence and the protection of civilians,” said Maria Luiza Riberio Viotti.

The ambassador added that Brazil was also concerned that the measures approved might have the unintended effect of exacerbating the current tensions on the ground and “causing more harm than good to the very same civilians we are committed to protecting.”

Perhaps next time the U.S. is clamoring for intervention in a foreign land, these voices of reason will be listened to rather than ignored.

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