Our Responsibility to Protect Libya & Syria : A change in thinking about military intervention

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In 2011, people in various Arab states started protesting against the oppressive dictatorial regimes in their country. On 17 December 2010 Tunisian Mohammed Bouazizi sets himself on fire because he became a victim of the dishonest and corrupt regime in Tunisia. This act served as a catalyst and all over Tunisia people started protesting. It did not take long before protests also started in other Arab states like Egypt, Libya and Syria. The latter two states are the research subjects in this thesis. In February 2011 the Libyans started protesting against the oppressing regime of Colonel Muammar Gaddafi. The peaceful protests were violently beaten down by government troops. Gaddafi’s words, threatening to destroy all the protesters in Benghazi, made the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) decide to adopt Resolution 1973 and install a no-fly zone above Libya in order to protect the Libyan civilians. The resolution was based on an important principle called the Responsibility to Protect (R2P). This principle is adopted by the United Nations (UN) member states at the 2005 World Summit Outcome. In this document is stated that all UN member states unanimously accept their responsibility to protect their own populations from genocide, war crimes, ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity. If a state fails to meet these obligations then the international community, through the UN, has the responsibility to help protect populations from these four crimes. It is of importance to mention that a military intervention approved by the UN to protect citizens in danger is also a possibility within R2P. This happened in Libya in 2011, when a NATO-led military intervention ensured that government troops could not kill peaceful citizens in Benghazi, and in other parts of Libya. After months of fighting between government troops and rebels Gaddafi was killed in October 2011. His death also marked the end of his regime. Although the military intervention prevented a massacre in Libya there was also harsh criticism about the way the UNSC and NATO implemented the intervention. Some states argued that the intervention had gone beyond protecting civilians alone, according to them NATO functioned as the air force of the rebels and violated the sovereignty of Libya by causing regime change. Also in Syria peaceful civilians started protesting against the Syrian government. Just like in Libya they were violently beaten down and still people are killed every day. The international community condemns the violence, but due to disagreement in the UNSC, no real action is taken. The conflicts in Libya and Syria and the international decision-making regarding these conflicts is the central theme of this research. The fact that the international community reacted different to these situations shapes the central question of this research: Why was there an international military intervention in Libya and not in Syria? This main question is supported and further specified by the following hypothesis: The non-intervention in Syria can be explained by a change in thinking about military interventions that emerged after the military intervention in Libya.
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