Canada’s  government should lobby its NATO allies to hold a full investigation into allegations of civilian deaths during its yearlong bombing campaign in support of Libyan rebel’s successful toppling of the  Gaddafi clan and the corrupt regime that kept them in power for over 40 years.

This may be a tad hypocritical of me.  You see, I supported the humanitarian intervention in that country, back when it seemed evident that Gaddafi would stop at nothing in order to quell the legitimate protests of his people (including preparing to carry out a civilian blood bath in the city of Benghazi!). Most Libyans still agree that the military strikes, as damaging  as they may have been, were justified on the grounds that they saved more innocent lives than they killed. Even a spokesman for Human Rights Watch (one of the non-governmental organizations calling for an investigation into the alleged war crimes) admits that the number of casualties (72 people) is relatively small, for a military operation of this size.

Presumably, this is why the Libyan government (such as it is) has yet to appeal to NATO for an inquiry into the deaths.
But the international human rights lawyer in me says that we have an obligation, moral and legal, to get to the bottom of this matter, and to do it now, so the victims of these errant bombs, if they can be established, may receive compensation and some measure of justice in this tragic affair.

First the legal case: international humanitarian law ( which used to known as the laws of war, during a less politically correct by gone era) clearly hold States responsible for their actions during wartime. Among other things, civilian deaths, even if accidental, are strictly forbidden (see Geneva Conventions, for more info). Especially if, as is claimed by the NGOs, they were caused by air strikes on targets with no military or strategic value.

It’s clear that, despite pressure from the international human rights community (Amnesty International, HRW, etc.), NATO is determined to drag its feet on this question. As a result, NATO flack Oana Lungescu made a slightly contradictory statement the other day, which attempted to nip the case against NATO in the bud, by claiming that, on the one hand, no civilians had been killed by NATO.

On the other hand, she then implied that even if they had, it was impossible to avoid such tragedies entirely in a complex military campaign and that , in any case, all “targets struck by NATO were legitimate targets.” This sounds an awful lot like hedging one’s bets, to my mind. Incidentally, as the author of the HRW report, Fred Abrahams, pointed out, NATO’s has no such qualms about investigating and compensating alleged civilian casualties in Afghanistan.

Above all, there is a powerful moral argument for a NATO investigation into this. If NATO wants to maintain the moral high ground and continue to claim that they only use military force with the utmost regard for minimizing collateral damage (for lack of a better term), then they should show more accountability to the people of Libya, in this case. There is no better way, that I can think of, for the new government and its allies to demonstrate a commitment to the principle of the rule of law and, in so doing, help heal the national wounds that continue to divide Libya and distance themselves from the criminality of the ancien régime.

Over the last few days western countries have started to enforce a UN mandated no-fly zone over the skies of Libya. French jets fired on Libyan tanks, while over a hundred cruise missiles were launched from British and American warships in the Mediterranean.

The offensive was started almost immediately after an emergency summit in France was attended by 22 nations and organizations including: France, the UK, Germany, Italy, Canada, Spain and of course the US. In order to have support from the Arab community Morocco, Qatar, Jordan, Iraq and the UAE were invited as well. Of course all five Arab nations are major US allies.

The loosely termed “no-fly zone” resolution that was passed by the United Nations Security Council effectively gives permission for international forces to do anything it chooses in Libya short of occupying the country. That slack wording of the resolution was evident right from the first salvo, when bombs started dropping on rolling tanks.

Gaddafi is not the only tyrant that deserves attention

Whenever a population rises up to topple an oppressive regime, the western democracies can’t help but show their support for the people, myself included. However, when the protests turn into an internal armed conflict or civil war, it gets a little more complicated. If an armed uprising started up in the United States or Canada for any reason you can bet it would not be tolerated and it would be put down quickly, democracy be damned.

The American government claims the military action in Libya is not intended to bring about regime change, but is a humanitarian mission to protect rebels and civilians from Gaddafi forces. I find it ironic that many of the rebels in eastern Libya that the coalition is trying to protect are anti-American extremists that have fought Americans in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The Arab League did take part in the French summit and supported a no-fly zone in Libya as well, but it has already cried foul about the extent of the operation in only the first couple of days (they later retracted these statements). Western powers say they have the backing of the Arab world, but with only their traditional allies behind them the prospect that anti-American and anti-western sentiment will rise is a real concern.

There are too many questions that still remain unanswered. What is the end goal of the military action? With Gaddafi unable to use aircrafts (and tanks apparently) the war on the ground between the Libyan military and rebel forces will most certainly result in a stalemate. Also what gives President Obama or Prime Minister Harper the right to enter into a military conflict without first going through Congress or the House of Commons? Is that democracy?

7 CF-18's will take part in operation "Odyssey Dawn"

Most importantly, if we are there to protect the citizens trying to overthrow an autocratic regime, why aren’t we doing the same to protect the citizens of Bahrain, Yemen or the Ivory Coast? Last Friday 52 protesters were gunned down and hundreds were injured in the Yemeni capital of Sanaa by pro-government forces. At least six people were reported dead and hundreds injured after security forces in Bahrain drove pro-democracy protesters out of the Pearl Roundabout in the capital, Manama using tanks and helicopters. So what makes Tripoli so special, 2% of the world’s oil?

I’m tired of western powers pretending to express concern over human rights and civilian lives, but only when it suits them. We continually bomb who we choose at the drop of a hat, such as Libya and Kosovo, and condemn without action the behavior of others like Yemen but say nothing when thousands of policemen from Saudi Arabia go into Bahrain to help quash the same type of uprising. Does anyone else see the hypocrisy?

Following the revolutions to oust Mubarak and Ben Ali, the world has turned its focus on the country sandwiched right between Egypt and Tunisia. On the 15th of February, only four days after the resignation of Mubarak, an uprising began in the western Libyan city of Benghazi.

At the onset of the uprising, Libya’s ruler of 41 years Muammar Gaddafi stayed uncharacteristically silent, to the point that many of his own followers believed he had fled the country. Unfortunately for everyone this wasn’t the case.

By the 21st of February violence had erupted as Gaddafi ordered a crackdown on the protests. By this time the protesters had reached the capital of Tripoli. Mad Muammar sent in the army and air force to bomb the protesters. Although casualty numbers are impossible to verify, estimates of the dead range from one thousand to three thousand lives.

Saif al-Islam Muammar Al-Gaddafi, the eldest son of Gaddafi, went on state television to warn all the dissidents of the dire consequences of their actions. He claimed if the uprising was successful “15 Islamic fundamentalist emirates” would take control of the country, he said this presumably to gain favor with western nations. He also mentioned that “mistakes had been made” in dealing with the protests.

The following day Muammar Gaddafi himself went on state television to deny rumors that he fled the country saying “I want to show that I’m in Tripoli and not in Venezuela. Do not believe the channels belonging to stray dogs.” Soon after, two Libyan Air Force colonels flew their jets to Malta refusing orders to bomb civilians.

Protesters in Benghazi, February 25, 2011

Since Gaddafi’s first public address he has gone on television repeatedly sounding more desperate and crazy by the day. On the 22nd, he said he will hunt opponents of his regime, purging them “house by house” and “inch by inch”. He vowed to “fight until his last drop of blood” and “die as a martyr”.   A Libyan diplomat who recently defected said this speech was “a code to start genocide” against the Libyan people.

Gaddafi has also threatened to blow up his country’s oil pipelines should his regime fall, saying “It’s either me or chaos.” This sent oil prices soaring over the $100/barrel mark in the last week, even though Libya only produces 2% of the world’s oil.

On the 24th he told state television that al-Qaeda was responsible for the uprising in his country and claimed al-Qaeda had been drugging the youth with hallucinogenic drugs. On top of that he compared himself to Queen Elizabeth of England saying only he had the “moral authority” over his country.

Madman Muammar is now more desperate than ever as his opposition presently controls most of the country including the three largest cities outside of Tripoli. He is now said to be held up in his bunker in Tripoli with loyalists in the army and armed mercenaries surrounding him, ready to be unleashed on the public in a last ditch effort to cling to power.

Over the past few days, the US, the UN and the EU have all put sanctions on the Gaddafi Regime and family in response to the violent crackdown on his people. They are trying to freeze the oil driven Gaddafi fortune, which some estimate to be as much as 92 billion dollars.

With no real American ties to the regime it was easy for Secretary of State Hilary Clinton to pledge assistance to the Libyan opposition over the weekend, although it is not known what kind of assistance she was referring to (my guess is to protect the oil fields!).

Libya Sandwiched between two revolutions

No one really knows for sure whether or not Gaddafi will survive this third African revolution in a month and a half. The only thing that is known is that Libya, like Egypt and Tunisia will never be the same again.