On 28th February 2011, the US Treasury Department announced that it had frozen at least $30 billion of Libyan government assets.[13] The European Union (EU) and other UN member states also imposed sanctions.[14]

On 17th March 2011, the UN Security Council passed resolution 1973 with 10-0 vote and five abstentions. The Resolution sanctioned the establishment of a no-fly zone, and authorized Member States, acting either alone or through regional organizations or arrangements, “to take all necessary measures to protect civilians under threat of attack in the country, including Benghazi.”[15] The resolution was in response to the claims of killings and mistreatment of civilians in parts of Libya by the Libyan government following the armed uprising. Meanwhile, Chapter VII of the UN Charter through Articles 39, 41 and 42 enables the Security Council to authorize military enforcement action to maintain or restore peace and security, only in cases where it finds a threat to international peace and security.[16]

Following the passage of the Resolution, the Western coalition spearheaded by the United States of America (US), France, the United Kingdom (UK), and NATO launched attacks targeting Libya’s air defense systems and commanding centers in order to enforce the no-fly zone.

On 27th June 2011, The ICC issued an arrest warrant for Gaddafi, his son Saif al-Islam Gaddafi, and Libya’s intelligence chief, Abdullah Senussi, for war crimes and crimes against humanity. The ICC ordered them to stand trial on charges of torturing, imprisonment, and killing of civilians, and rebels; and using cluster bombs, mortars and other heavy weapons in crowded urban areas.[17]

Meanwhile, there are reports and video footages showing Libyan rebels indiscriminately engaged in racist abuse, torture, and mass killings of black Africans, as well as black Libyans, accusing them of fighting for Gaddafi; and the ICC did not issue an arrest warrant to any member of the Rebels Transitional Council for atrocities committed.

4.2 North Atlantic Treaty Organization

The adoption of Resolution 1973 by UN Security Council, which imposed a ban on all flights in the airspace of Libya in order to help protect civilians, excluded flights evacuating foreign nationals, and any other flights not authorized to enforce the no-fly zone. Reference to all necessary means, and acting either alone or through regional organizations or arrangements, are the standard phrases used by UN Security Council to authorize military action by any member states; while NATO involvement in Libya stands as a regional organization.

On 27th March 2011, NATO officially took command of the military operations previously directed by the US, UK, and France. The NATO member governments claimed the support of the international community and an appeal from League of Arab States on the back of the UN resolutions. In a 2002 Prague summit communiqué, NATO agreed that allies must be able to field forces that move quickly to wherever they are needed, sustain operations over distance and time, and achieve their objectives. The communiqué marks the moment that NATO decided to assume responsibilities around the globe. “The allies made a commitment to build capabilities necessary to go out of area. They agreed to establish a NATO Response Force of 20,000 troops for rapid insertion into theater of operations.”[18]

NATO’s intervention in Libya was ostensibly to enforce UN resolutions, but a few days into the campaign, their actions showed the real objectives of their intervention. Firstly, the recognition of Libyan Rebels Transitional Council by the West as the legitimate representatives of Libyan people; and secondly, NATO’s bombing of Gaddafi’s residence made it crystal clear that West and NATO’s intervention would settle for nothing less than regime change; while regime change, and provision of military logistics to the rebels were not part of UN resolutions on Libya.

According to Egon Ramms, NATO’s involvement in Libya and its support to the rebels has played a decisive role in the rebel’s campaign to topple Gaddafi’s regime, and in the killing of Gaddafi on 20th October 2011.[19]

On 21st October 2011, NATO agreed that its operation was very close to completion and made a preliminary decision to end its operation in Libya on October 2011. [20]


Military intervention across state borders by group of states or regional organizations with the approval of the UN Security Council has many complexities. The UN Security Council is made up of five permanent members who have veto power; they are neither a neutral body nor are democratically elected. This actually makes the UN Security Council highly politicized, because they can be motivated by their national interest or by economic reasons, instead of taking decisions on humanitarian grounds.

For instance, a similar uprising has been going on for more than 10 months now in Syria, where thousands of people were killed by government forces; and the UN Security Council as well as the international community and NATO are yet to intervene. The plights of the civilian population in Yemen and Bahrain, where various lethal weapons are used to quell anti-government protests have failed to attract international attention and intervention.

Another interesting thing in this double standard approach is; how can we say an arms embargo was imposed on Libya when weapons of different kinds were being supplied to the Libyan rebels by UN member states? Thus, NATO’s military intervention that ought to have protected civilians and civilian populated areas did more harm than good; their bombardment resulted in killing large number of unarmed civilians, as well as Gaddafi’s son and his three grandchildren.

Judging NATO by their actions, it is obvious that NATO involvement in Libya was actually in support of the Libyan rebels. Therefore, when states are motivated by their national interest rather than a pure humanitarian motive, there will be selectivity in terms of intervention.


[1] R. O. Keohane, 2002: Power and Governance in a partially Globalized World, New York, US: Routledge, p. 273

[2] R. Norton-Taylor and N. Hopkins, Libya warned smugglers are looting Gaddafi’s guns, retrieved on (6/02/2012) from http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2011/sep/02/west-warns-smugglers-looting-libya-arms

[3] The Libyan protests, retrieved on (03/12/2011) from http://totallycoolpix.com/2011/02/the-libyan-protests/

[4] K. Roth. “Was the Iraq War a Humanitarian Intervention?” Journal of Military Ethics, vol. 5, Is. 2, pp.84-92, 2006

[5] C. Chang, 2011: Ethical foreign policy?: US humanitarian interventions, Burlington, US: Ashgate Publishing, p.11

[6] C. Reed and D. Ryall, 2007: The price of peace: just war in the twenty-first century, Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, p.110

[7] M. Finnemore, 2004: The purpose of intervention: changing beliefs about the use of force, Ithaca NY, US: Cornell University Press, p.53

[8] J. Trent and M. Rahman, 2007: Modernizing the United Nations system: civil society’s role in moving from international relations to global governance, Leverkusen, Germany: Barbara Budrich, p.144

[9] Eric Heinze, 2009: Waging humanitarian war: the ethics, law and politics of humanitarian intervention, Albany, US: SUNY Press, p.26

[10] L. Brock, H. Holm, G. Sorenson and M. Stohl, 2012: Fragile States, Malden MA, US: Polity, p.117

[11] Security Council 6491 Meeting, retrieved on (10/01/2012) from http://www.un.org/News/Press/docs/2011/sc10187.doc.htm

[12] Libya: Security Council Imposes Sanctions on Authorities in Bid to stem Violent Repression, retrieved on (10/01/2012), from http://allafrica.com/stories/201102270008.html

[13] US freezes $30 billion of Libyan assets, retrieved on (10/01/2012) from http://money.cnn.com/2011/02/28/news/international/gadhafi_libya_assets_frozen/index.htm

[14] Developments in Libya: an overview of the EU’s response, retrieved on (10/01/2012) from http://www.eeas.europa.eu/top_stories/2011/040311_en.htm

[15] Security Council 6498 Meeting, retrieved on (09/01/2012) from http://www.un.org/News/Press/docs/2011/sc10200.doc.htm

[16] Charter of United Nations, retrieved on (09/01/2012) from http://www.un.org/en/documents/charter/chapter7.shtml

[17] UN News Centre, retrieved on (10/01/2012) from http://www.un.org/apps/news/story.asp?NewsID=38855

[18] M. I. Clausson, 2006: NATO: status, relations and decision-making, New York, US: Nova Publishers, p.5

[19] NATO has ‘played a decisive role’ in Libya, retrieved on (1/02/2012) from http://www.dw-world.de/dw/article/0,,15346089,00.html

[20] NATO and Libya- Operation Unified Protector, retrieved on (13/01/2012) from http://www.nato.int/cps/en/natolive/topics_71652.htm