I welcome the opportunity to discuss the very serious situation in Libya. A concerted international effort is under way to ensure all necessary protection is extended to the Libyan people from the onslaughts of the Gadaffi government and to support those seeking greater democracy and freedom in that country. In the past three months, we have witnessed an unparalleled series of genuinely popular uprisings which are sweeping through many north African and Middle Eastern countries. We have been inspired by the sight of the young protestors in Tahrir Square in Cairo who, with courage and dignity, withstood violence and intense provocation from security forces loyal to former President Mubarak to insist on their right to assemble and protest peacefully for political and economic reforms in their country. We have similarly applauded the Tunisian people for their success in ridding themselves of the corrupt and repressive regime of their former President, Ben Ali.
These developments and the uprisings which have followed in other countries throughout the region such as Yemen, Bahrain and now Libya are historic in nature. They rightly bear comparison in many respects to the collapse of the former communist regimes in eastern Europe in the late 1980s. The general movement of protest against authoritarian and repressive regimes has been described as the “Arab Spring”. It behoves all of us who uphold democratic values to be supportive of those throughout the Middle East and North Africa seeking greater freedoms. In that regard, President Obama eloquently spoke for many in the international community in the comments he made following the downfall of President Mubarak. He identified the basic yearning for freedom which has motivated these movements and emphasised the need to side clearly with those who are seeking, as he put it “to bend the arc of history once more towards justice”.
The tragic events now unfolding in Libya need to be seen and understood against the backdrop of the Arab Spring. Like Tunisia and Egypt, Libya is experiencing a genuinely popular uprising against the deeply repressive and now violent rule of the Gadaffi regime. Just as in those other countries, the origins of the immediate crisis in Libya can be traced back over many years of violence, repression, injustice and misrule on the part of the regime. We need to go back specifically to the horrific massacre of more than 1,200 prisoners at the Abu Salim prison in Tripoli in 1996, an episode which for many years afterwards the Libyan regime sought to cover up and for which it refused to accept any responsibility.
Just as the name of Mohamed Bouazizi, the young Tunisian street trader who set himself on fire last December following severe harassment by the local police, will be forever associated with provoking the series of events that led eventually to the removal of President Ben Ali, so, too, is the name of Fathi Terbil, a young Benghazi lawyer, likely to be associated with the events now in train in Libya. It was Fathi’s arrest on 15 February which provoked the popular uprising in Benghazi, after he had bravely represented for two years the families campaigning for justice for their relatives murdered in Abu Salim prison. The violent reaction by the Gadaffi regime to the peaceful uprising which took place in Benghazi following Fathi’s arrest has now plunged Libya into the profound conflict we are witnessing. It has confronted the international community with the challenge of how to respond when the rulers of a country turn upon their people and flagrantly violate international obligations to provide security and protection for those over whom they have responsibility.
The response to date of the international community to the Libyan crisis has been swift, vigorous and clear. In particular, the United Nations Security Council reacted with unprecedented speed in unanimously adopting on 26 February resolution 1970 which implemented an immediate arms embargo, asset freeze and travel ban against Gadaffi and members of his family and regime. The historic significance of this decision, with its clear evoking of the principle of responsibility to protect, is one which needs to be fully appreciated and welcomed by all those concerned to promote and safeguard the central role of the United Nations in international affairs.
An equally important provision of resolution 1970 was the referral by the Security Council of the situation in Libya to the Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court to initiate an investigation in light of the clear evidence of the widespread and systematic attacks launched by the regime against the Libyan population. This, too, is an important development, one designed to ensure that Gadaffi and all of his associates suspected of ordering attacks on innocent civilians are properly held accountable for their actions. I urge the fullest co-operation and support from the international community for the ICC investigation. The UN General Assembly also moved rapidly at the time the initial crisis in Libya unfolded in late February to suspend Libya from its membership of the UN Human Rights Council. This was a move which Ireland fully supported and welcomed in a national statement delivered to the Human Rights Council in Geneva on 25 February.
Since the onset of the crisis and the clear call contained in resolution 1970 for the violence on all sides to end and for the Libyan authorities to respond to the legitimate demands of its citizens, the response of Colonel Gadaffi and his regime has been characteristically violent and contemptuous of the international community. He has turned the considerable firepower of his armed forces on his people and has engaged in heavy bombardments of civilian populations in towns such as Zawiya, Misratah and Adjabiya. He has refused to facilitate access for humanitarian agencies and actors in western Libya. He has also curtailed media access, arrested journalists and attempted to prevent the true picture of what is taking place in Libya from emerging.
Officials from my Department have met with concerned members of the Libyan-Irish community in Ireland and have heard harrowing accounts of the violence inflicted by Gadaffi’s forces since the current crisis erupted. In particular, there appears little doubt that widespread killing, amounting to a massacre, took place when pro-Gadaffi forces captured the town of Zawiya some weeks ago. In the past day or two, there have been reports of young children blown up in a car as a result of the regime’s bombardment of the town of Misratah. I take this opportunity to publicly acknowledge the bravery and humanity of those Libyan-Irish medical professionals who either chose to return to Libya or to stay there while visiting in order to work in hospitals and tend to those wounded and killed.
The complete disregard of the Gadaffi regime for the views of the international community and its failure to comply with the clear obligations imposed in resolution 1970 led inevitably to pressure for more decisive and effective action against the regime. A particularly significant development was the clear call by the Arab League, meeting in Cairo on 12 March, for a no-fly zone to be established by the UN Security Council and for safe havens to be created within Libya. The Arab League was not alone in making this call, with such a move also supported by the Gulf Co-operation Council and the Secretary General of the Organisation of Islamic Conferences. There can be no doubt therefore about the strong regional support which exists for concerted international action to halt the violence and to protect the civilian population in Libya. This clear regional support, coupled with the threat posed by pro-Gadaffi forces moving steadily towards Benghazi, led to the adoption last Thursday of resolution 1973 by the UN Security Council. resolution 1973 demands an immediate and complete ceasefire and authorises all necessary measures to protect civilians and civilian-populated areas, including the establishment of a no-fly zone. It also further strengthens the arms embargo, asset freeze and travel ban provided for under resolution 1970. In calling for an immediate ceasefire and a complete end to violence and all attacks against civilians, resolution 1973 stresses the need for efforts to be intensified so as to find a solution to the crisis which responds to the legitimate demands of the Libyan people.
I outlined last Tuesday in the Dáil my position on resolution 1973 and its implementation. Ireland welcomes the adoption of this resolution which is clearly intended to halt the violence being waged by the Gadaffi regime against the Libyan people and to ensure civilian protection. I have also urged that any military actions taken in pursuit of resolution 1973 should be in full conformity with its terms and be proportionate, targeted and avoid civilian casualties.
The people of Libya deserve an agreed and democratic future. However, the regime of Colonel Gadaffi has neither the agreement nor the democratic endorsement of the Libyan people. Colonel Gadaffi should order an immediate and genuine cessation of his military offensive. He and his family should surrender power and allow the Libyan people to determine their own shared future peacefully.
It is important to note that resolution 1973 has already been effective in achieving a number of its key humanitarian objectives. Gadaffi’s air defence systems within Libya have been largely neutralised, thus allowing the effective creation of a no-fly zone over the country and the immediate threat posed to Benghazi and its population has been averted. The goal of any further actions taken in implementation of resolution 1973 must be to maintain this no-fly zone and to prevent further attacks by Gadaffi’s forces upon civilian populations and targets.
I refer to those bravely opposing the Gadaffi regime. We are keen to see an orderly transition to democracy and the rule of law in Libya. Earlier this week, I stated in the Dáil that I welcome the emergence of the Transitional National Council, TNC, based in Benghazi as an important political interlocutor and representative of the Libyan people. I encourage all others within Libya who are committed to helping to transform it into a constitutional state based on the rule of law. France has taken the step of recognising the TNC as the legitimate Government of Libya. Ireland’s long-standing position has been to recognise States not Governments. Nonetheless, political contacts with the TNC and other actors supporting the process of democratic change in Libya are important. These should be clearly distinguished from any formal recognition. I would be pleased to meet with any envoys of the TNC should they visit Ireland.
The situation in Libya and the international actions taken in pursuit of the UN-mandated operation will be a major topic for discussion at today’s meeting of the European Council in Brussels. The EU’s role and response in respect of the Libya crisis has been firm and decisive. Ireland fully supported the declaration issued by the extraordinary European Council convened by President Van Rompuy on 11 March that called on Gadaffi to relinquish power and to stand aside to enable an orderly transition to democracy in Libya, in conformity with the legitimate demands of the Libyan people. The 11 March declaration paved the way for adoption of UN resolution No. 1973, in making clear EU member states’ willingness to consider all necessary measures to protect the civilian population, provided there was a demonstrable need, a clear legal basis and support from the region.
The situation in Libya was also extensively discussed at the General Affairs and External Relations Council in Brussels earlier this week, which the Minister of State at the Department of Foreign Affairs, Deputy Creighton, attended. The Council agreed conclusions which condemn the continued violence and ongoing violations of human rights by the Libyan regime against its own people. Ireland strongly supports the Council conclusions, which also express satisfaction at the adoption of resolution No. 1973 and make clear that the EU will support actions provided for by resolution No. 1973 necessary to protect civilians and civilian populated areas under attack.
The Council adopted further sanctions against the Libyan leadership and a further round of EU sanctions is expected to be agreed by the European Council today. The full range of sanctions imposed in resolutions Nos. 1970 and 1973 have been, or are now in the process of being, implemented at EU and national level, along with additional restrictive measures aimed at cutting off the flow of funds and misappropriated proceeds to the Gadaffi regime, including any misappropriation of oil and gas revenues.
Two other important dimensions to the EU’s role arise. EU contacts have been especially important in maintaining strong regional support from the Arab world, as well as from the African Union, for the concerted international response to the Libya crisis. In this regard, I acknowledge the role played by Prime Minister Cameron and President Sarkozy in convening last Saturday’s important summit meeting in Paris to consider the practical implementation of resolution No. 1973. It is clear that the closest co-operation with the region and with African leaders must be pursued with great urgency in the period ahead.
The EU’s response to the humanitarian crisis arising from the conflict in Libya has also been important, with upwards of €30 million in humanitarian assistance being made available. Ireland has also provided substantial assistance. A further contribution of €250,000 announced today brings total Irish Aid contributions to date to €650,000. This includes €250,000 in funding to help the International Organization for Migration transport migrants leaving Libya back to their own home countries as well as stocks of blankets and tents from Irish Aid’s pre-positioned stocks in Brindisi in response to a specific appeal from the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. The humanitarian situation remains difficult. The principal problem continues to be access for humanitarian agencies in western Libya. Without such access, it is difficult to form any reasonable estimate of the true extent of humanitarian needs in western Libya, though these are likely to be considerable. The EU has made clear that it is willing to make use of all available instruments, including support under the common security and defence policy, CSDP, to assist the ongoing humanitarian operations and in response to a specific request from the UN.
The crisis which the international community has had to confront in Libya during recent weeks is both a profound and complex one, without any easy answers. However, I believe that the response to date, crystallised in the two Security Council resolutions adopted on 26 February and 17 March, has been swift, generous and effective. It is a response motivated overwhelmingly by humanitarian considerations and aimed at bringing the violence to an end and ensuring that the brave people of Libya are not left defenceless in the face of the aggressive and reprehensible attacks of their own Government.
It is not accurate to characterise the international response to this crisis to date as amounting to an attempt to achieve regime change. The international community seeks an immediate ceasefire, an end to all violence and attacks against the civilian population of Libya and a political solution to the crisis which responds to the legitimate demands of the Libyan people.
It is clear there will be no place for Colonel Gadaffi in the political leadership of Libya. The people of Libya must be given an opportunity to fashion a freer, more democratic and prosperous future for their country. Colonel Gadaffi and his family must be made to realise this, to accept that the game is up and to leave the political stage. No one is under any illusion that this will be an easy political objective to achieve. However, it is one which the European Union and the international community are determined to help to bring about. It is the least we should continue to strive for given all that the Libyan people have endured in the past 42 years.