Yes. Now Let's Hope It's Not Too Late.
By Roméo Dallaire with Jeffrey Bernstein
By employing genocidal threats to "cleanse Libya house by house," Col. Muammar al-Qaddafi forced the world community's hand in taking strong action to protect the human rights of all Libyans. The Responsibility to Protect (R2P) doctrine -- which requires the U.N. Security Council to take action when a country fails to protect its citizens and was unanimously adopted by all countries of the U.N. General Assembly in 2005 -- has clearly and unequivocally laid the problem of Libya at our feet. That Qaddafi committed crimes against humanity was never in question; indeed he was almost universally condemned for his maniacal acts and statements. So the real question is, why wasn't R2P unanimously invoked by world leaders?
The failure to invoke R2P early -- while Gaddafi was calling protesters "cockroaches" and threatening mass, door-to-door atrocities, such as those I witnessed in Rwanda -- represents a colossal missed opportunity to project the potential power of this still-developing norm. The arms embargo and targeted sanctions slapped on Qaddafi's regime and cronies in late February, as well as the referral of the situation to the International Criminal Court, demonstrated the Security Council's attention and resolve -- timeliness that was absent during Rwanda and Darfur. But once it became clear these measures were insufficient to deter Qaddafi's advance on the regime's opponents and guarantee civilian protection, the implementation of the now-approved no-fly zone and other more coercive measures should have been seriously expedited. Furthermore, invoking R2P would have sent a critical signal to Libyans and other besieged populations the world community approves of their democratic efforts -- and is willing to intervene, if necessary, when their human rights are so threatened.
There are, to be sure, some positive signs that Resolution 1973 is codifying a truly international norm. The BRIC countries on the U.N. Security Council (plus Germany) all abstained from voting -- but given their very real economic interests in the region, they could have voted against. The fact that they didn't is an important victory for R2P's proponents. When the stakes are as high as they are in Libya, when there is clear evidence that civilians are being preyed upon, the usual skeptics will back down for fear of being on the wrong side of public opinion and history.
Still, as we have learned tragically from past failures to respond in a timely fashion, domestic groundswell is instrumental to garnering international support to prevent mass atrocities. The world community's response to Libya has been lightning-fast when compared with past, snail-paced efforts -- laudable, no doubt, but inadequate, still. We must be quicker and more efficient in mobilizing if we are to deter leaders from even considering the use of deadly violence to cling to power. As cheers rain upon the streets of Benghazi from Libyans confident that their pleas for support have been answered, we from our Western perch can only remain hopeful that our promises have not been too little, delivered too late.
Lt. Gen Roméo Dallaire was force commander of the U.N. peacekeeping mission for Rwanda in 1994. He is currently a senator in the Canadian Parliament and co-director of the Will to Intervene project at the Montreal Institute for Genocide and Human Rights Studies. Jeffrey Bernstein is project officer for genocide prevention to Lt. Gen Dallaire.
For the rest of the conversation, click here.