Ludo De Brabander
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Responsibility to protect

In a very selective reading of the recent trans-Atlantic history former High Representative of the EU Javier Solana affirmed that “defence of values as democracy, human rights, freedom and the rule of law” have marked NATO's policy. According the official European Security Strategy(2003) Europe has to be “prepared to take its part of responsibility for a better and safer world”.

Barely some decades after the terrible colonial practices the European Union cherishes this universal messianism through which we think that 'our moral and political superiority' gives us the right for military operations anywhere in the world. The actual NATO-operation in Libya is situated within the framework of the 'responsibility to protect' (R2P) principle. This concept was agreed upon during the UN summit on development, security and human rights in 2005. It says that the international community through the UN has the responsibility to “implement the necessary diplomatic, humanitarian and other peaceful means in order to protect the peoples against genocide, war crimes, ethnical cleansing and crimes against humanity”. Sovereignty of countries cannot be an absolute concept in case of heavy violations of human rights. The text of this summit is particular vague when it comes to 'military intervention', as it is not explicitly mentioned.

Many countries of the global south feel suspicious about it as R2P-practices tend to give an image of strong over weak. One can simply not imagine to apply R2P in case of US aggression against a third country or in case of human rights violations against Roma or asylum-seekers in the EU. There is actually nobody capable of protecting Afghan or Pakistani citizens against the bombardments of NATO and US. The brutal consequence of the international power relations is that R2P cannot be but a selective concept. The examples are abundant. Now there is action against Libya but not against the repressive regime of Saudi Arabia. 'Our' regimes and dictators are exempt of R2P.

It is remarkable that in the non-military aspects the big defenders of R2P excel in absence. According to UN figures 1 billion people are threatened with starvation while the UN Food Program is receiving less support as the money is used to save the banks. UNICEF reported that each day 16,000 children die for lack of food or medicine. Is this not a strong violation of human rights? Many of these deaths could have been avoided if R2P wasn't primarily understood as a military approach. The West dedicates billions to the modernization of its armies and to its intervention capacities, while humanitarian programs lack funding. Our support of R2P is full of hypocrisy. Whether we like it or not, international politics are not driven by humanitarian concerns, but by interests. When the EU claims it wants to protect civilians, it is at the same time one of the big arms supplier to the human rights violators. Who can believe its discourse? Neither the neo-liberal trade policies nor the agricultural policies can be categorized as very humanitarian, can they?

Qadhafi was a friend of the West from 2003-2004 till early 2011, but the colonel was in that period the same dictator he now is or he was before. The difference hides in the good (trade) relations. He helped the EU with oil supplies, with control of migrants, and with containing the militant Islam. Since half February Libya falls under the R2P principle. Qadhafi had indeed chosen to violently repress the protesters against his regime. This is of course not acceptable, but the way the international community is reacting is not better at all. No diplomatic efforts to make Qadhafi change his attitude were undertaken. A no-fly-zone was installed in the name of protecting civilians that rapidly grew into a bombing campaign which always causes innocent civilian victims. Don't these deaths fall in the category of war crime? And what about the many victims – now and in the future – of the toxic and other ammunition used by the US: anti-tank weapons with depleted uranium, cluster-bombs? According to the Belgian law cluster ammunition must not even be produced, used or sold for its inhumane characteristics. Yet, our country participates in a military mission which uses these weapons. Our allies, the Libyan rebels, feel encouraged by the NATO bombardments so they are less opting for a political solution. The rebellion started as a real popular uprising, but in the meantime former Qadhafi officials have taken the lead of this revolution. The popular uprising evolved in an ongoing civil war. Moreover, the deployment of western ground troops could lead to a new Iraq or Afghanistan.

It is more than high time for a thorough reflection over the one-sided military translation of R2P.

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