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The Responsibility to Protect Libyans

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.

The Security Council, after moving with painful caution the first few days of the crisis, has now both invoked the responsibility to protect principle and – in an historic first – agreed on a substantial package of measures to implement it: an arms embargo, asset freeze, travel bans, and, importantly, reference of the situation to the International Criminal Court.