The UN, Obama Finally Act Against Qaddafi

The administration lags embarrassingly behind the United Nations -- and abandons leadership.

Both President Obama and the United Nations, particularly the Human Rights Council, deserve criticism for their delayed reaction to the brutality of the Qaddafi regime toward the people of Libya. Though the UN is certainly not known for its swift response to crimes against humanity, the relative indifference to the situation on the part of the leader of the free world, President Obama, is a surprising abandonment of leadership responsibility. The Obama administration has disgracefully chosen play second-string to the bureaucracy and indecision of the international community, which itself has only maneuvered to stop Qaddafi's maddness in the last few days.

One day after Libya's United Nations Ambassador Abdurrahman Shalgam pleaded to the United Nations Security Council to "save Libya" from dictator Col. Muammar Qaddafi's murderous regime, the Security Council listened. Shalgam, whom has been associated with Qaddafi since they both were involved in the coup d'état that toppled Libya's king in 1969, finally had enough. Reversing his earlier reluctance to directly criticize Qaddafi or call for him to step down, he told the Council on February 25th that Qaddafi's callous killings of unarmed civilians were on par with the brutalities of Hitler and Pol Pot. "Leave the Libyans alone" was his message to Qaddafi.  Sadly, the United States' UN Ambassador, Susan Rice, was not in the Security Council chamber to hear this historic speech. She was half way around the world in South Africa attending a UN panel discussion on global sustainability.

After some initial hesitancy, the Security Council passed a unanimous resolution on Saturday night, February 26th, imposing strong sanctions on Qaddafi and his close associates. The Security Council resolution also imposed an arms embargo, an international travel ban on sixteen Libyan leaders and a freeze on the assets of Qaddafi and members of his family. It did not, however, impose a no-fly zone over Libya.

In perhaps its most significant move, the Security Council resolution referred the Libyan regime to the International Criminal Court ("ICC") for an investigation into its "widespread and systematic attacks" against Libyan citizens protesting in the streets for more freedom. This was only the second time that the Security Council has referred a member state to the ICC. The previous case was Sudan.

The Security Council's decision to refer the Libyan regime to the ICC did not come easily. Brazil and Portugal were among the members of the Council who originally were hesitant to support the referral because of fears of reprisals against their citizens still remaining in Libya.  China also showed some initial reluctance. It took a follow-up letter to the Council from Libyan Ambassador Shalgam to overcome this resistance. He wrote:

With reference to the Draft Resolution on Libya before the Security Council, I have the honour  to confirm that the Libyan Delegation to the United Nations supports the measures proposed in the draft resolution to hold to account those responsible for the armed attacks against the Libyan Civilians, including trough [sic] the International Criminal Court.

After the Security Council resolution was approved, Ambassador Shalgam said it would "help put an end to this fascist regime."

Richard Dicker, Director of Human Rights Watch's international justice program, praised the Security Council for showing "leaders worldwide that it will not tolerate the vicious repression of peaceful protesters. Gaddafi’s henchmen are now on notice that if they give, tolerate or obey orders to fire on peaceful protesters they may find themselves in The Hague."

The UN Human Rights Council had met in emergency session on the same day that Libyan Ambassador Shalgam had pleaded to the Security Council for help. To its credit, the dysfunctional Human Rights Council got its act together long enough to pass a resolution condemning Qaddafi's violence against the anti-government protestors and recommending suspension of Libya from its seat on the Human Rights Council. However, two-thirds of voting and present countries in the General Assembly would have to vote to actually suspend or expel Libya from the human rights body.

For its part, the Obama administration was late in responding to the crisis. It showed no leadership at all in dealing with the crimes against humanity escalating day by day in Libya. Even its strongest denunciation of the situation in Libya to date has been oblique and lackluster.

More than a week went by before President Obama came before the television cameras to personally condemn the violence in Libya, which he did without mentioning Qaddafi's name even once. Contrast this timidity with Obama's frequent statements during the revolt in Egypt in which he took Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak to task. It was several more days before the Obama administration announced its own set of sanctions against the Libyan regime. Still there were no calls by President Obama for Qaddafi to step down until finally, on the same day that the Security Council passed its resolution, the White House reported on a telephone call between President Obama and Chancellor Merkel of Germany in which the President told Mrs. Merkel that Qaddafi "has lost the legitimacy to rule and needs to do what is right for his country by leaving now."

Obama's call for Qaddafi to leave came days after demands for Qaddafi to go by Libya's own UN delegation and by French President Nicolas Sarkozy. Why the president has been so reticent with a clear response to Qaddafi's obscene actions is infuriating puzzling.

Behind the scenes, meanwhile, the Obama administration maneuvered successfully to water down the Security Council resolution against Libya. It insisted on including the following paragraph excluding personnel from states which are not members of the International Criminal Court from ICC prosecution, presumably to avoid setting a precedent that could be used against the United States at some future time:

6. Decides that nationals, current or former officials or personnel from a State outside the  Libyan Arab Jamahiriya which is not a party to the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court shall be subject to the exclusive jurisdiction of that State for all alleged acts or omissions arising out of or related to operations in the Libyan Arab Jamahiriya established or authorized by the Council, unless such exclusive jurisdiction has been expressly waived by the State.

French Permanent Representative Gerard Araud confirmed to Inner City Press that the United States had demanded the exclusion, claiming that it was "a red line for the United States. It was a deal-breaker, and that's the reason we accepted this text to have the unanimity of the Council.”

By insisting on the exclusion in the Libya resolution, the Obama administration shielded mercenaries Qaddafi had imported from the non-ICC countries of Algeria, Tunisia and Ethiopia.

Nothing short of the rebels' capturing or killing Qaddafi and his loyalists will put an end to his reign of terror. But at least the United Nations for once acted against true evil. Hopefully, Ambassador Rice will be around the next time something as historic as this happens. But if more regime-sponsored bloodshed emerges in the ever-unstable Middle East, we should not expect the Obama administration to do very much at all.