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Reader riposte: Gareth Evans and R2P

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COMMENTS

25 March 2011 10:07

Andrew Farran, a former diplomat, senior lecturer in international law at Monash University and Vice-President of the Australian Institute of International Affairs, writes:

A comment if I may, adding to that of Sam Roggeveen's on Gareth Evans' piece in The Age yesterday.

Gareth Evans states that there can only be one justification for military intervention in Libya: protecting the people being murdered by Gaddafi's.

While the Security Council's resolutions are a giant half-step to the further formulation and development of the 'responsibility to protect' (R2P) principle in international law, they could nonetheless have the perverse effect of increasing the long-term danger to civilians and others in Libya if their scope is observed too rigidly.

Mr Evans is emphatic in saying that the resolutions prescribe both the scope and the limits of what should be done and could 'hardly be clearer'. As is characteristic of UN prescriptions, they contain contradictions or incompatible elements by supposedly authorising 'all necessary measures' when the specific measures allowed will not suffice to achieve the objective. Moreover, nothing more changes the perception of an objective than the firing of the first shot.

Admittedly, many political and military compromises were necessary to get this far; and many lessons from 'boots on the ground' campaigns from the recent past have been learned and hopefully heeded. But the likely outcome of the measures to date will be a stalemate between the Gaddafi and the opposing (rebel) forces, which at worst may allow Gaddafi to edge back to a situation where the wider population is more imperiled than ever. The positives are that the UN operations may encourage defections from Gaddafi's forces and in due course, should he be toppled, provide a basis for his prosecution before the International Criminal Court.

While there is much to be said for the UN system and international law to develop their scope and effectiveness, there is also a danger that half measures, which even in their earliest stages have opened up a can of open-ended issues, may leave the international community in something more than a quandary.

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