Thursday, February 24, 2011

Gaddafi - how to translate tough talk into timely action

< Pic source Getty

Obama spoke yesterday about Libya. He said that Gaddafi's violence was unacceptable, violating norms and decency, and called for actions from the US' allies, partners and international institutions.

Obama failed to say that Gaddafi's actions were criminal, and he failed to mention the UN by name. This is regrettable.

Ban Ki Moon in the same clip, threatened legal action later.

Tough words, but no action.

What is needed is pressure for Gaddafi to leave Libya immediately and go into retirement in Venezuela with his family.

To do this it is necessary to appeal to his own self-interest. Like all dictators, self interest has become his dominant motif. Words of condemnation run off his back. Likewise, threats of legal action in the future alone do not affect him. If anything, they make the situation worse, since they leave him with no escape. He becomes a cornered rat, desperate and ready to lash out.

The situation needs a careful combination of stick and carrot. The stick is the threat of international action if he stays, and the carrot is the attraction of comfortable retirement if he goes. He needs an escape route. Although it is emotionally pleasing to see his family denied escape in Lebanon and Malta, it would be better to allow them to leave, setting a precedent for Gaddafi to follow.

This combination of incentive and disincentive needs to be played out in real time, so that he sees one piece of his foreign based financial assets lost to his control each hour or day that he stays.

While the talking and deliberating is going on, the UN should be putting in place the hardware to do the really difficult and risky stuff like enforcing a No Fly Zone over Libya. They should also be trawling over his accounts and assets. In the UK, his family has properties in London and holdings in the Portman Group. In the case of a common criminal, these assets could be seized. Why not for a state criminal.

Gaddafi and the Libya Investment Authority have huge assets abroad, some in Asian banks where transparency is more difficult even than in the UK. His personal and LIA assets are conflated. All the more reason therefore to start investigations now.

There is a sound basis for action. The UN's Responsibility to Protect sets an outline for the UN to override state sovereignty  with humanitarian intervention. War crimes are specifically mentioned, and there is a prima facie case that this is what Gaddafi is doing.

The problem is that each and every crisis of this kind is treated by the international community as a one-off, unexpected event, and the response is ad hoc, and leads to a flurry of realpolitik in the UNSC, with members feverishly calculating, "Does he have oil? Is he our trading partner? What advantage can we get out of this? Could this rebound on me?" This politicking takes time when time costs lives. The UN has passed the matter to the Human Rights Council to consider - a council of which, amazingly, Libya is still a member.

R2P was meant to improve and clarify the response to humanitarian crises caused by governments that attack their own people. It is a praiseworthy principle, but is short on specifics.

What is needed is a tariff of restrictions that come in on a quasi-automatic basis in response to specific actions. The default should be that if a ruler starts using lethal force against his people, the accounts of himself, his family and his ruling elite should start to be frozen, under the agreement that the process will stop if he leaves the country.

One reason that account blocking is not used is the reluctance of the banks to interfere with accounts held. This requires a trial of strength of humanitarian concern against the ongoing power of the banks to carry on in their own sweet way.

The process need not prejudice any legal process that the post-revolutionary government may take to recover embezzled assets, nor any legal process to try him for war crimes. It is an immediate set response to defined actions.

In the long term, it would be better that we should have an ongoing, continuous process in place in the UN to prevent the development of dictatorship in the first place. The Global Index of Human Rights is designed to do exactly this. Within the Report there is a section designed to address arising situations such as we have in Libya - Appendix 4 - Dealing with Dictators.

The logic is that humanitarian catastrophes of the type now occurring in Libya must be a priority for the UN. That is its core function, the reason that it was set up in and in response to WW2. The UN needs an effective set of disincentives to come into play immediately that things start to go wrong, a clear default path for action, in order to avoid the timewasting inherent in the current political and legal process.

1 comment:

muebles rivas said...

This won't really have effect, I think so.