What’s going on in Libya? Good question.

The uprising in Libya follows on the heels of pro-democracy protests in Tunisia and Egypt. But the brutal and violent crackdown on protesters by the Libyan government differentiates this case from others.

Some of Libya’s UN diplomats have broken ranks and accused Gaddafi of genocide, and if not, of committing crimes against humanity that warrant an investigation by the ICC. To be sure, it is not genocide. (This does not diminish the severity or significance of the violence against civilians, but even a cursory reading of the Convention’s definition would demonstrate that this is not genocide.) But the head of the UN human rights commission has called for an investigation into the violence, which could result in some international pressure to hold accountable those who are responsible for ordering and organizing the violence. Keep in mind that Libya is not State Party to the ICC, so any investigation and indictment would have to come by way of referral from the UN Security Council.

And then there’s Gaddafi and his son. First, his son, Saif, made a televised statement the other day that rebuked the protesters, accused outsiders of interfering, and warned of civil war if the government fell. Turns out he also did a PhD at the London School of Economics, and wrote his dissertation on the role of civil society in democratization. Oops! Be careful what you wish for.

Second, Gaddafi is most certainly a nutty but not less dangerous dictator. His regime has been repressive and brutal and internationally he is a friend to many fellow dictators. He is also known for many bizarre things: traveling around with his own personal tent, his bevy of modelesque female bodyguards, and especially his long and non-sensical speeches at home and abroad.  Gaddafi’s speeches to the United Nations in the last few years have been gems. And his speech today was no exception.

While it’s important not to make light of the seriousness of the situation or undermine the call the end violence against civilians, Gaddafi’s antics have been a source of amusement and bewilderment in the international community in the past.

See this SNL video if you want a reprieve from the depressing state of international affairs.

UPDATE: Security Council refers Libya case to the ICC. This is also the first time the United States has voted in favor of UNSC resolution on the ICC.

UPDATE: The Telegraph has an interesting article on why the African mercenaries used by Gaddafi would be ‘immune from prosecution for war crimes.

Also, Kevin Jon Heller, who blogs at Opinio Juris, has two interesting posts on some of the caveats of the UNSC deferral to the ICC: “Can the Security Council define the limits of a “situation”? and “Can the Prosecutor decide not to investigate the Libya situation?”

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13 responses to “What’s going on in Libya? Good question.

  1. Kevin Rutherford February 24, 2011 at 11:58 am

    I found the recent developments in Libya quite concerning since I made a remark last week about how genocide seems to be going down. I find it abhorent that he would order his military to drop bombs and shoot from jets and helicopters at his own people. The fact that the military in the east has essentially traded sides also shows how people don’t agree with his outlandish ideas. An unconfirmed report that I have heard recently is that two men bailed out of their Su-22 aircraft instead of bombing civilians. Within the next few weeks, I feel like he will be overthrown but it will be an ugly event in all likelihood. Some people, like him, are deillusional and either believe that they will prevail in the end or just spurt out propaganda that they do not believe in. I feel as though he is an interesting case study of what not to do when in power if you want to remain an autocrat because he is starting to piss off the masses, and when you do that, bad things happen.

  2. cbilgrie February 24, 2011 at 4:51 pm

    Kevin makes a lot of good points and I am particularly interested to see if Gaddafi will be overthrown. While this is clearly necessary, I would not go so far as to say that angering the masses makes bad things happen. China for instance has angered huge amounts of its citizens in recent history, yet still remains in power because they have such a strong grip on power. North Korea in particular maintains a powerful hold on its country despite the fact that Kim Jong il is either mentally deranged or seriously messed up. But his powerful grip on the country has made it difficult for the people to attempt to overthrow him. While Gaddafi may have a less secure grip, if he controls the ammunitions and military, then it will not be an easy overthrow by any means.

  3. chrisumass February 25, 2011 at 6:19 pm

    Normally in instances like this I would say that the dictator would win out, since he’s crazy enough to beat back a revolution. However since there is a wave of pro-democracy protests spreading across the neighboring nations, Gaddafi is going to have a harder time putting down these protests. Many protestors will die but they will look to the other nations rising up and maintain their protests. The international community is also looking to what happens in the region due to the many protests occuring, putting pressure on the relations Gaddafi has with other dictators, making them back out of their support of him. Also seeing his diplomats not only turn against him but accuse him of heinous crimes shows that his power is deteriorating. Gaddafi’s power will crumble and hopefully democracy emerges from his collapse.

  4. myongha February 27, 2011 at 2:32 am

    Late on Saturday, the UN Security Council approved sanctions against Libya. The sanction includes an asset freeze on Gaddafi, travel ban on his whole family, and arms embargo. Most importantly, the UN Council agreed to refer the Gaddafi’s violent regime on protesters to the International Criminal Court. The Council members are planning on investigating the possibility of crimes of humanity. Now that major countries have agreed upon acting collectively against Gaddafi’s massacre, it is only a matter of time before his regime gets demolished. In fact, a fair number of government officials and military commanders have already turned their back on Gaddafi. The ICC needs to bring not only Gaddafi but everyone that is responsible for crimes against humanity to justice.

  5. alaael February 27, 2011 at 3:05 pm

    In light of Qaddafi’s brutal suppression of the recent rebellion/revolution in Libya, the UN Security Council has finally referred Libya for investigation by the ICC, which is to report back to the UN in two months. Although Libya does not allow foreign journalists inside the country and has cut off communications, there have been widespread reports and videos of violence perpetrated by either the military, which has largely disintegrated, or African mercenaries.
    It is now up to the ICC to decide what to do about Libya. However, if they do recommend a trial and the Security Council approves, there may be more shocking facts that come out to light if Qaddafi and his sons are ever apprehended. It is no secret that Qaddafi has been a brutal dictator since he assumed power and it is equally well known that he is either senile or simply megalomaniac. Yet many western countries – particularly Britain and Italy – developed close ties with Qaddafi’s murderous regime after he renounced all weapons of mass destruction in 2004. This culminated in multi-billion dollar oil deals and – disgustingly – the release of the mastermind behind the Lockerbie bombing in controversial circumstances from Scotland. If it turns out European leaders colluded with this monster, expect wide repercussions.

    http://www.hrw.org/en/news/2011/02/27/un-security-council-refers-libya-icc

    • umassastick February 28, 2011 at 11:00 pm

      On this last bit about European powers colluding with Gaddafi.. I’m not sure the repercussions would be all that significant. To be sure they should be, but I would think any kind of cooperation between the parties above and beyond oil deals would be completely hidden by the Western countries and their leaders. With that being said, I do find it a little odd that this is the first time the international community is taking an interest in Libya given that supposedly everyone is aware of the brutal regime Gaddafi has been running. Perhaps if I knew about the background of this situation a bit more, I would better understand how no one could intervene if the situation has been that bad, but I just find it weird that Libya has kind of been off the radar until now. On another note, I think we are all relieved that the international community has indeed decided to take action against Gaddafi, however, and I for one hope more severe punishment is placed upon Gaddafi and others responsible for committing the crimes in Libya than just sanctions which have proven ineffective in other cases.

  6. ayingling February 27, 2011 at 8:45 pm

    I think the international community is stepping in the right direction in pressuring Gaddafi and helping remove him from power. With the number of government officials and military commanders having already turned their back on Gaddafi, The U.N. Security Council’s sanctions on Libya and the unanimous decision to refer Libya to the International Criminal Court will hopefully send a strong message to those still supporting the government that the international community will not tolerate the violence against the protesters. The United States efforts to aid opposition groups and to support a provisional government will make a difference as well. Although Gaddafi is so delusional about his power and leadership, I think the demands from the international community will speed up the time till he is out of power.

  7. mara.m February 27, 2011 at 9:45 pm

    It’s so interesting to see the similarities between Egypt and Libya in regards to communication being blocked; internet being shut down (both governments did not want images of the harsh treatment of protesters being leaked to the internet and reporters), and cell phones being barred from making calls. Libya’s rebellion is no doubt much more violent than Egypt’s uprisings, and its somewhat relieving to hear that the Security Council referred Libya to the ICC, but I do not think Gaddafi will go down without a fight. The fact that he is blaming the uprisings on Al-Qaeda and drugs means he is in serious denial and probably thinks he has done nothing wrong; he sees his violent repressions of the uprisings as completely justified and that he is doing what is necessary to keep the peace. What he doesn’t seem to understand however, is how insane and stupid he sounds: al-Qaeda is no longer an “organized” terrorist group, but a bunch of smaller factions of terrorists around the world, who seem to identify with bin Laden and al-Zawahiri. My only concern is that the ICC will take too long and Gaddafi will hide out in another country (assuming he gets out of Tripoli) or find some medical excuses to prolong the case.

  8. jennaumass February 27, 2011 at 11:53 pm

    What a turn of events! It is one thing to claim that a case against Libya is probable but the fact that the Security Council has taken action is quite refreshing. In addition to the Security Council, the U.S role in supporting the ICC resolution could symbolize a change of heart towards the ICC and a stronger relationship in the Hague. In my opinion, U.S support for action against the government of Libya is due to national interest to maintain control over Muslim nations and to avoid extreme leadership (reducing terror threats). Gaddifi is most certainly an odd ball and hopefully the Security Council’s referral in conjunction with intense international pressure will cause Gaddifi to step down. After his outburst at the UN and shifting blame to al-Qaeda, Gaddifi’s actions and comments suggest regime change won’t be easy or peaceful for Libya.

  9. ehsaunde February 28, 2011 at 5:30 pm

    I’ve been reading all the replies to this blog and following the news on Libya but I’m not sure what to say about it. Obviously what is going on is a perfect example of the government having too much power over people that clearly want more freedom. I don’t know how a leader could just ignore his people to such extremes, but I guess this is a perfect example of the government not needing approval of the people to get things done. Libya is so rich in oil that the population is basically just living within the borders, not really contributing to the success of the economy. Most other countries depend on the people for support and prosperity but this is one of the exceptions that prospers by its own resources, which are owned by the government. I think the US needs to intervene and do something, I’m just not sure what can be done to change the ways of such a dictator like Gaddafi. The thesis topic that Gaddafi’s son chose is even more interesting. Was it all a bunch of falsified opinions or does his son really believe in democracy? This might explain why he refuses to take his fathers spot but I do not see how Gaddafi himself would even put up with his son if their views varied so drastically.

  10. ehsaunde February 28, 2011 at 5:33 pm

    By the way, some how my link didn’t show up, but check out this YouTube channel, very interesting stories about Libya.

    http://www.youtube.com/user/itnnews

  11. julespc March 2, 2011 at 12:06 am

    I see three positive outcomes from this uprising along with a couple negatives. Firstly, it shows some awareness and participation from the US within the security council, as well as taking action instead of remaining neutral when dilemmas face the ICC. Secondly, the security councils resolution was proposed in a timely manner, and unlike previous resolutions during times of conflict, challenging Gaddafi in the midst of the conflict shows the readiness of the ICC and will likely give the citizens of Libya confidence that the international community is watching and hopefully ready to react. Another positive is how the masses are not backing down from intimidation and violence. Of course, this comes with a price to pay. Violence, death, repression, relocation, and all the other perils that are present during an uprising. But in the end, this is how real democracy is created. The work of the “people” creates real government represented by the people. Unfortunately this model of democracy has almost gone extinct, and it is good to see that people still believe that it is possible.

  12. lniederp March 2, 2011 at 8:34 pm

    Gerard Prunier, one of the preeminent scholars on East African history, begins his latest book “Africa’s Word War” by noting that “In 1885, at the heyday of European imperialism, Africa was a continent apart. It had no nation-states, no caliphate, and no empire…It was continent of clans, of segmentary tribes and of a few sacred monarchies…Boundaries did exist, but not in the European sense…African borders (were) porous membranes which proto-nations were breathing, and the colonial borders that superseded them were of the pre-1914 cast-iron variety.” I use this quote to bring attention to the point that the idea of nation-states was imposed onto Africa by European Colonization and did not originate organically. What Africa consisted of, were tribes, a collection of tribes, whose mass migrations over centuries of time, led to differentiation between groups — and eventually ethnicities.

    The borders in Africa do not mean much beyond their sovereign and legal definitions, it is a person’s tribe and ethnicity that defines identity. A researcher in Uganda, who was writing a dissertation on Acholi identity (the major tribe in Northern Uganda), told me out of 250 interviews he had conducted, only two people identified themselves as “Ugandan” over the “Acholi” option.

    I raise this point because Libya is also a tribal country, and while following the conflict it is important to note tribal differentiation that are alluded to in news reports. Because to understand African conflict is to understand tribal differences, and how these differences were heightened during periods of colonization.

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