Colonel Muammar Gaddafi is a criminal, responsible for the deaths of 500 unarmed Libyan citizens, gunned down by mercenaries from Chad and Darfur.
In Egypt and Tusisia, the revolutionaries could take care of their own revolution, secure in their numbers and desperate courage. In Libya, this is not so certain. We are hearing anguished vices and tweets from those in Tripoli, asking for the world to help them.
In 2005, the UN adopted the policy of Responsibility to Protect at a World Summit, designed to deal with exactly this kind of problem. You'll find the relevant paragraphs at 138, 139. The key line:
...we are prepared to take collective action, in a timely and decisive manner, through the Security Council, in accordance with the Charter, including Chapter VII, on a case-by-case basis and in cooperation with relevant regional organizations as appropriate, should peaceful means be inadequate and national authorities are manifestly failing to protect their populations from genocide, war crimes, ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity.
Chapter VII of the UN Charter lays out the UN capability of taking military action.
Article 41 specifies non-violent actions that the UN can take.
Article 42 specifies that if non-violent action is inadequate (clearly the case with Gaddafi)
[UN] may take such action by air, sea, or land forces as may be necessary to maintain or restore international peace and security. Such action may include demonstrations, blockade, and other operations by air, sea, or land forces of Members of the United Nations.
So this, in theory, is where the UN should be considering.
David Owen has called for an interdiction of Libyan airspace. This would at least have the virtue of making it impossible for Gaddafi to fly more mercenaries in. It would also set a clear precendent for other dictators who would understand that using live rounds on unarmed citizens is not an option for them, and could lead to their immediate downfall.
However, any military action has immense drawbacks. A no-fly zone would involve UN aircraft coming into conflict with Libya's fighters. Some UN fighters could be brought down by Libyan ground to air missiles.
There is also the thought that the regime will be able to paint the revolutionaries as agents of Western powers, as Libya being invaded. The action could prove counter-productive.
In any case, the UNSC, which is meeting today, as we speak, is highly unlikely to come to any conclusion, useful or otherwise, not least for the reason that any ruler on the UNSC voting to get rid of an unethical ruler would find himself in exactly the same position as a turkey asked to vote for midwinter festivities..
My feeling is that the Libyan people will sort this out themselves, albeit, sadly, with yet more suffering, long before the UN or anyone else comes up with anything useful.
So, assuming that the UNSC comes up with nothing useful, there is need for further work on how the UN, and the international community responds.
Instead of an ad hoc political process, we need automatic penalties that are triggered by specified actions.
For instance, any regime that uses lethal force against unarmed citizens should immediately, automatically, have its financial accounts frozen, and business dealings should be suspended.
There are other measures that should be brought in to prevent and discourage the slide towards dictatorship. Paul Kagame is one dictator on such a path, and sadly, it looks as if he is not alone.
And as ever, the Global Human Rights Index, a Green Party initiative, would be an instrument that would provide continuous downward pressure on human rights abuses worldwide.