Protecting Civilians in Libya

The Post was wrong when it described NATO’s authority in Libya, based on U.N. Resolution 1973, as “protecting civilians from government forces” [“Obama asks Libya’s neighbors to arrest fugitive loyalists,” news story, Sept. 7]. The resolution’s mandate is “to protect civilians and civilian populated areas under threat of attack in the Libyan Arab Jamahiriya, including Benghazi, while excluding a foreign occupation force of any form on any part of Libyan territory.” Putting aside the resulting problems of civilian casualties and the threat to legitimacy and independence of the Libyan opposition movement, those words are supposed to mean protection of all civilians threatened by any military force anywhere in Libya.

The rebels say that they want to negotiate, but their forces are surrounding Bani Walid and amassing near Sirte and Sabha. Will the United States and NATO protect the civilians in those cities threatened by rebel assault? Or does the U.N.’s commitment to “protect civilians” apply selectively, to those civilians threatened by Moammar Gaddafi’s dictatorship and not those imperiled by U.S./NATO-backed rebels?

The writer is Middle East and United Nations specialist at the Institute for Policy Studies.