The Responsibility to Protect (R2P or RtoP) is a worldwide agreement with political foundations that was sanctioned by the contracting parties to the United Nations at the 2005 World Summit. The purpose of R2P is to ensure that the world intervenes to protect countries against genocide, crimes against humanity, war crimes and ethnic cleansing. The fundamental premise of the Responsibility to Protect is that sovereignty is made up of a duty to safeguard entire populations from the threat of mass atrocity crimes and contravention of human rights. The fundamental premise of the R2P doctrine is built upon the recognition of the standards and principles of international law and in particular, the basic principles of law that govern autonomy, harmony and security, human rights, and armed engagement. Not only does the Responsibility to Protect dictate a framework for carrying out measures that have previously been laid out, it also facilitates interventions to prevent the occurrence of atrocities, and protect civilians in the event these events take place. The power to utilize the use of force within the structure of the Responsibility to Protect is in the hands of the United Nations Security Council and is deliberated a measure of last resort.
NATO Intervention in Libya under The Responsibility to Protect
The principle of responsibility to protect (R2P) holds that in the event that a sovereign state is unable to avert massacres to its civilians, foreign governments may step in to assist them mitigate the situation. Supports of the doctrine argue that it is a highly useful and necessary measure that saves lives and enables nations to uphold their sovereignty despite the external intervention (Stahn, 2007). Skeptics on the other hand consider the R2P doctrine as a tool that has mainly been misused excessively to satisfy selfish interests of intervening countries (Chandler, 2004). In addition, opposition to the doctrine calls it a guise for the imposing of imperialism and possibly as an inducement to kill (since even if war crimes are not impending, a cunning mercenary may try to carry one out against their people to solicit external intervention).
The Libyan crisis caught the attention of the international community and served as an example for the judicious and decisive response to implement the Responsibility to protect following the clear and present danger that faced Libyan civilians in the form of armed conflict. The armed conflict in Libya threatened to commit mass atrocities on civilians. Unrest in Libya began in February 2011 when civilians initiated a series of political protests that called for an end to the reign of Muammar Gaddafi who had ruled Libya for 41 years. The Gaddafi government responded using lethal force on protesters. The result was that protestors found themselves the targets of mass atrocities perpetrated by the government armed forces. Following reports of the atrocities committed against civilians by the government, the international community and regional and sub-regional bodies instituted economic, political, and military measures that were aimed at safeguarding Libyans from the mass violations of human rights directed at them.
The protests started in the capital Tripoli and within a few weeks were replicated in other regions across the country such as Benghazi. Benghazi soon became the stronghold of the opposition. The army was dispatched to Benghazi and acted with shocking brutality to quell the unrest. From his statements, Gaddafi made it explicitly clear that his forces would continue carrying out massive human rights infringements by stating that Benghazi residents would face the full force of the army who would show no mercy to the rebels.
Gaddafis cruel objective was clear in his potent speech broadcasted on 22 February 2011, when he used language reminiscent of the genocide in Rwanda and stated that he would rather die a martyr than step down. Gaddafi called on his supporters to attack the protesting cockroaches and cleanse Libya house by house until protestors surrendered.
Faced with Gaddafis imminent intention to massacre the citys population, it was clear that international action in response to the Libyan governments manifest failure to uphold its Responsibility to Protect was needed to halt ongoing crimes and prevent a bloodbath. Civil society, regional and international actors saw the warning signs of mass atrocities. Rather than stand by and risk failing to act while more civilians had been subject to mass violence, these actors urgently took action to prevent these heinous crimes.
Benghazi was home to the first scenes of unrest that marked the beginning of the Libyan civil war. Following two days of protests against the Gaddafi government in the city of Benghazi, security officers allied to Colonel Gaddafi opened fire on the protesters killing 14 and injuring scores in the process. Events of the following day have been described differently from different sources. It is not clear what provoked the shooting that led to the death of 24 protestors on their way to the burial of some of those killed in the initial shooting (Hill, 2011). Reports from the military suggested that protesters passing near the Katiba compound attacked the facility, pelting it with stones prompting soldiers to retaliate with live fire. The uprisings in Tunisia and Egypt had inspired activists to call for a day of rage on February 17 (BBC, 2011). However, the protests in Benghazi started on February 15. The protests were sparked by the arrest of human rights lawyer Fathy Terbil (BBC, 2011). Citizens took to the streets in anger at the authorities responsible. Terbil had been representing the families of thousands of inmates who were slaughtered by the regime at Abu Salim prison in Tripoli in 1996 (Hill, 2011). The protests against the arrest of Fathy Terbil quickly escalated into protests against the Gaddafi regime.
On the first day of protests, anti-Gaddafi protesters clashed with regime supporters on Jamal Abdel Nasser Street, a main thoroughfare that runs through the center of town toward the Mediterranean Sea. The two sides were caught up in a rock-throwing contest. At one point during the riot, a teenage boy clamored up a post bearing a portrait of Gaddafi and took it down (News Limited, 2011). The crowd reacted with delight at the gesture, an indication of the nature of their discontent. The police were quick to respond and with force at that too. Officers from the main security headquarters flooded the area firing hot water cannons at the protestors. The response may have triggered the outrage that sparked off the continued protests. On February 16, there was a heavy security presence in Benghazi (News Limited, 2011). However, on the following day initially marked as the day of rage, a crowd of thousands of people including lawyers and judges gathered in the square outside the city's main courthouse at the water's edge. The unusual display of indignation from the public prompted a deadly response from local security forces that had almost no experience of domestic crowd control. According to witness reports, police quickly opened fire with live ammunition, killing at least six people in the initial response. Meanwhile, protests sprang up in the cities of Baida and Tobruk, to the east, and the day closed with at least 24 people dead, according to a Human Rights Watch estimate.
The protests were initially slated to be peaceful. However, the police report being provoked to open fire on rioting protesters. After the massacre, two police officers accused of orchestrating the shootings were hanged by the opposition protesters. The protests in the city rose to an intensity that overwhelmed the police and military officers. They were forced to withdraw from the city. However, some army men, sympathizing with the protesters, joined them in the cause. Their first mission was to take control of a local state owned radio station. Some of the police and riot control units in Bayda did not improve the situation for the pro-Gaddafi movement. According to unconfirmed reports, some of the police and military units in Bayda joined the protesters.
The Katiba compound is formally known as the Al-Fadhil bin Omar barracks. Behind the high walls of the compound, an army brigade lies awaiting orders from the military heads. The Katiba is large, and well stocked with military equipment. It is located in the middle of Benghazi and is a vast compound that stood out like a medieval fortress. A long boulevard runs from the courthouse to the citys main cemetery and is popular with funeral processions. The military barracks was a dreaded place for it represented the tyranny that hurt locals considered to be dissenters. The Katiba stood out as a symbol of the regime and was to later house the last forces opposed to the revolutionaries. Brutal memories were associated with the Katiba. If one was taken to the Katiba, it was likely they would never be seen again. The Katiba was the preferred venue for torture of dissenters and others perceived to be malcontents. Torture was apparently a preferred method by the regime to keep the population under control. The torture cells were below ground, but not low enough that screams of the victims could be hidden from the outside world. The methods were so inhumane that men and women would confess to 'just about anything' to stop the torture.
Having received reinforcements from Bayda and Derna, opposition fighters unleashed a spirited assault on the Katiba compound. The last attack on the compound led to the death of 42 people. Hours later, after a grueling battle, the opposition managed to take control of the compound. However, later in the afternoon, a contingent of Special Forces squad called the "Thunderbolt" arrived, led by Libyan Interior Minister Abdul Fatah Younis. From their base on the city outskirts, the troops launched an offensive on the Katiba compound armed with machine guns and driving trucks mounted with anti-aircraft guns. They soon arrived at the opposite side of the Katiba compound followed by two tanks under Younis's command. Younis however changed sides and declared his support for the opposition. He then granted safe passage to Gaddafi's loyalists out of the city. However, during their exit, Gaddafi's troops executed soldiers who had refused to open fire on the opposition protesters. The fighting in Benghazi and Bayda led to the deaths of at least 130 opposition fighters. The fighting in Benghazi climaxed and ended on the morning of 20 February 2011. The previous 24 hours of fighting had resulted in the deaths of another 30 people (News Limited, 2011). On Sunday night, at around 9:30, the Katiba battle ended. Gaddafi loyalists and mercenaries had been killed or captured, or had melted into the countryside or fled back to Tripoli. Opposition forces had won battle to free Benghazi, now they would have to figure out how to govern.
Benghazians still marvel at their own courage in taking on the regime. Failure would almost certainly have meant execution, years in one of Gaddafi's brutal prisons or exile. Yet otherwise ordinary people inspired each other to take the risk, not for an ideological cause or over some ethnic divide but to enjoy the basic freedoms few have ever known.
Middle-aged men said they stood against Gaddafi because they couldn't bear the thought of their children growing up to face a future devoid of hope. Younger people spoke of a realisation that they could either seize the moment or resign themselves to a half-existence under the tutelage of the next generation of Gaddafis. Even a few weeks later when the regime's tanks were at the gates of Benghazi and the revolution looked as if it might be lost, expressions of regret...
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