The Responsibility to Protect Libyans

The international community is poised to impose sanctions on Muammar Qaddafi's regime in response to the carnage it has unleashed against ordinary Libyans. But the "responsibility to protect," a principle that the UN General Assembly embraced unanimously in 2005, authorizes – if not requires – that military options be considered as well.

ABU DHABI Sovereignty is not a license to kill. No state can abdicate the responsibility to protect its own people from crimes against humanity, let alone justify perpetrating such crimes itself. When a state manifestly fails in that protection, it is the wider international community’s responsibility to provide it by taking “collective, timely, and decisive” action through the Security Council under Chapter VII of the United Nations Charter.

This is the “responsibility to protect” principle, as embraced unanimously by the World Summit of heads of state and government sitting as the UN General Assembly in 2005,  and endorsed subsequently by the Security Council. There is no clearer case for its application than in Libya today.

Colonel Muammar Qaddafi’s forces, on the ground and from the sky, have massacred hundreds – perhaps over a thousand – of Libyans protesting, at first peacefully, against the excesses of his regime. A bigger bloodbath seems inescapable if he does not step down. The need for “collective, timely, and decisive” action is overwhelming.

To continue reading, please log in or enter your email address.

To read this article from our archive, please log in or register now. After entering your email, you'll have access to two free articles from our archive every month. For unlimited access to Project Syndicate, subscribe now.


By proceeding, you agree to our Terms of Service and Privacy Policy, which describes the personal data we collect and how we use it.

Log in;

Cookies and Privacy

We use cookies to improve your experience on our website. To find out more, read our updated cookie policy and privacy policy.