What ever happened to the responsibility to protect?

In Libya, a tyrant turned his guns on his own people. The U.N. Security Council invoked the “responsibility to protect” and endorsed international military intervention to save the Libyan people from an imminent massacre.

In Syria, a tyrant has turned his guns on his own people. The U.N. Security Council is struggling to even formally condemn the actions that have left 1,400 people dead, according to human-rights groups, and led to some 4,000 Syrian refugees crossing the border into Turkey.

So whatever happened to R2P, as the doctrine has become known? R2P found its way into the history books in September 2005 when a world summit at the U.N. General Assembly declared that the international community should be ready to intervene if leaders are “manifestly failing to protect their populations from genocide, war crimes, ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity.”

However, the same declaration set conditions for military intervention under Chapter VII of the U.N. charter. It said that such collective action should be taken on a case-by-case basis “and in cooperation with relevant regional organizations as appropriate.”

In the case of Libya, as the U.S. and British foreign ministers have pointed out, the Arab League appealed to the UN Security Council to establish a “no fly” zone over the country. In the case of Syria, no such request has been forthcoming from a divided League, which may well fear that such a measure would be the first step toward regime change in Damascus, not to mention a recipe for civil war and regional instability. Such fears are also held by Russia and China, both veto-holding powers on the UN Security Council, which believe that U.N. resolution 1973 on Libya has been stretched beyond its mandate in that direction in order to topple Moammar Gadhafi.

Also in the case of Libya, the Libyan opposition was appealing for help to the international community. The brave Syrian opposition, which continues to risk death in the face of Bashar al-Assad’s crackdown, has not appealed for outside help in achieving his overthrow, which is now a clear demand.

So don’t count on the U.N. this time to do the right thing on Syria. The Security Council members stuck their neck out on Libya, but now their heads are firmly buried in the sand. And the Obama administration, which has not co-sponsored the draft U.N. resolution, is once again “leading from behind.”

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