On Monday, April 18, Citizens for Global Solutions ran a full page advertisement in the New York Times that calls for three essential actions for the U.N. to take in Libya. We are reaching out to Americans because we now live in a new age where the international community has accepted its responsibility to protect. But you can’t protect babies from 30,000 feet nor should this be the job of the U.S. and its allies alone. The United Nations must have the support and tools that it needs to get these jobs done:
- Deployment of U.N. Peacekeepers On the Ground to Protect Libyan Civilians;
- Provision of Food, Water, Medicine and Shelter for Displaced People in Libya;
- U.N. Sponsored Elections to Bring Democracy and a Legitimate Government.
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These goals are in line with the Opinion Editorial written by President Obama, UK Prime Minister Cameron, and French President Sarkozy. In a joint editorial published in the Times, they declared:
The United Nations and its members should help the Libyan people as they rebuild where Qaddafi has destroyed — to repair homes and hospitals, to restore basic utilities, and to assist Libyans as they develop the institutions to underpin a prosperous and open society.
Today 64% of Americans supports a standing peacekeeping force led by the United Nations. Such a force would have the strength and legitimacy to halt the fighting in Libya without having to rely on NATO ground forces. While a standing U.N. peacekeeping force does not yet exist, this is the moment for the international community to establish it. This force could integrate within its ranks all those Libyans who desire peace, the protections of civilians and a legitimate government within their nation.
Sixteen U.N. peacekeeping operations are currently deployed worldwide, involving nearly 100,000 troops and police from about 120 countries. Peacekeeping has proven to be one of the most effective tools available to the U.N. to assist countries navigating the difficult path from conflict to peace. U.N. peacekeepers provide security and the political and peace building support to help countries make the difficult, early transition from conflict to peace.
Historically, peacekeeping missions have done vital work in helping countries torn by conflict create conditions for lasting peace. For example, the U.N. mission to East Timor in the early 2000s helped the country recover from a bloody Civil War and transition successfully to a relatively stable democracy. In Côte D’Ivoire, the U.N. peacekeeping mission has done similar work, helping to remove the brutal dictator, Laurent Gbagbo, put an end to the 2nd Ivorian Civil War in the past decade, and facilitate the peaceful transition to democracy.
In Haiti, U.N. peacekeepers helped in the recovery following the 2010 earthquake by restoring a secure and stable environment and by facilitating a legitimate election, the results of which are soon to be officially released. Now U.N. peacekeepers are looking to continue aiding people as Haiti looks to rebuild its economy and transition to democracy.
In Sudan, U.N. peacekeepers have worked to enforce the 2005 Comprehensive Peace Agreement signed by the government of Sudan and the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement/Army. U.N. peacekeepers there have provided much needed humanitarian aid to the Sudanese people and helped oversee the election on the referendum to make Southern Sudan an independent state.
The United Nations refugee agency has warned that a lack of funding could undermine its ongoing efforts to provide humanitarian assistance to tens of thousands of people displaced by the unrest in Libya, saying it has so far received slightly over half of the funding it requested for the operation.
On April 1, U.N. High Commissioner António Guterres said it was “essential that humanitarian access is provided to all people in need throughout Libya.” Speaking specifically on the coastal city of the coastal city Misrata, Guterres said, “This is a situation where life-saving humanitarian access should be guaranteed.” According to the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), since mid-February more than 320,000 Libyans have fled to neighboring countries to escape the violence in Libya.
The UNHCR, along with the World Food Programme, UNICEF and other U.N. entities, have been able to supply some aid to the Libyan people, but the work is difficult. In late March a World Food Programme convoy delivered 5,000 blankets and 5,000 sleeping mats to the people of Benghazi, the Libyan opposition’s stronghold. However, the UNHCR reported “shortages of medical supplies and basic commodities” in the city.
In the cities of Tobruk and Benghazi in eastern Libya local authorities have identified at least 35,000 displaced people, mostly from Ajdabiyya and Brega. U.N. sources believe the actual number is likely to be around 100,000, since the population of Ajdabiyya is 120,000 and most people are thought to have left. While a few thousand have crossed into Egypt, the majority are displaced in Benghazi and Tobruk.
The U.N.’s Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) released a fact sheet on April 15 reporting that at least 250 people including 20 children have been killed since hostilities began in Misrata. The report also stated that “Humanitarian needs are increasing amidst the ongoing heavy fighting inside the city of Misurata [Misrata]”; “There are reports of shortages of medical supplies, food and water”; and “the water supply to Misrata City has been cut off.” International medical organizations including the World Health Organization and Doctors without Borders have provided some medical assistance to the people of Misrata, as have other U.N. entities such as the World Food Programme and UNICEF. However, additional aid is desperately needed. A more concerted effort by the U.N. in coordination with individual nations and NGOs is essential to adequately address the humanitarian needs in Libya.
In their editorial, Obama, Cameron, and Sarkozy stated, “it will be the people of Libya, not the U.N., who choose their new constitution, elect their new leaders, and write the next chapter in their history.” They are exactly right, but without the United Nations the people of Libya will never get the chance. The end result in Libya, as demanded by the Libyan people, must be a democracy with free and fair elections, government accountability, and rule of law. We ask the U.N. to take it upon itself to call for such elections and oversee the election process when fighting lessens and Muammar Gaddafi has been dethroned.
On April 14, the U.N. called on Somalia’s transitional government to hold democratic elections before the end of its term in August. A U.N. sponsored conference of Somali officials, the European Union, and the African Union has agreed that elections must take place within the next four months. Somalia has not had a legitimate, stable government in over 20 years. Thanks to the efforts of the U.N., E.U., and A.U., upcoming elections could help with Somalia’s transition to peaceful, stable democracy. And this is just one of many examples of successful U.N. sponsored elections.
Once democratic elections are held in Libya, the nation can finally move forward and look to a future where leaders are accountable to the people and human rights atrocities, like those committed by the Gaddafi regime, no longer have a place in Libyan society.
Citizens for Global Solutions believes that these three actions are necessary to ensure that we are living up to our ideals as Americans, as citizens of the world, and as human beings. The world has already shown the commitment to the responsibility to protect — the responsibility the global community has to step in when the government of a nation cannot or will not protect its people. If the three actions outlined above are taken, we believe that Libyan lives will be saved and the future of the country hopeful.
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Don Kraus is the chief executive officer of Citizens for Global Solutions.