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Irwin Cotler, MP



Statement by the Hon. Irwin Cotler – Take-Note Debate on Libya

Posted on March 22, 2011

House of Commons – March 21st, 2011

Hon. Irwin Cotler (Mount Royal, Lib.):

Mr. Chair, I rise to speak both as the member for Mount Royal and as the opposition critic for human rights. My constituents in my constituency of Mount Royal have watched with great hope and anticipation the march for freedom in Egypt and Tunisia. At the same time they have been watching with increased apprehension and concern that which has been unfolding in Libya.

One month ago I wrote an op-ed in the National Post on the urgent need for the responsibility to protect or the responsibility to protect as it was unfolding with regard to the developing carnage in Libya at the time. At the time I wrote: “The threats and assaults on civilians in Libya continue to escalate. Moammar Gadhafi vows to exterminate the ‘greasy rats’ of civilians, who ‘deserve to die’”.

The news media reported at the time, and I wrote in the article: “–clusters of heavily armed men in Tripoli carrying out orders to kill Libyans that other police and military units, and jet fighter pilots, have refused”.

I said, in particular: “Opposition parties in Tunisia, Algeria and Morocco speak of the ‘genuine industry of extermination that has been unleashed. We must stand up to it…and do everything to stop this massacre’…reflecting the horror that resulted in Gadhafi’s own Ministers of Justice and of the Interior resigning, and diplomats vacating their posts”. These individuals included the deputy ambassador to the United Nations at the time.

I went on to say in the article: “U.S. President Obama — breaking a 10-day silence on the Libyan crisis — characterized the Libyan government’s assaults on its own people as ‘outrageous… and unacceptable,’ echoing similar language by Prime Minister Stephen Harper [and Leader of the Opposition Michael Ignatieff]. The European Union, the governments of the United Kingdom, France and Italy, and Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon had also condemned these attacks”.

The Assistant Deputy Chair: No names.

Hon. Irwin Cotler: Sorry, Mr. Chair.

Yet, interestingly enough, not one of the governmental leaders invoked the responsibility to protect doctrine at the time, where in a landmark declaration five years ago, the UN Security Council authorized international collective action “to protect [a state’s] population from genocide, ethnic cleansing, war crimes and crimes against humanity” if that state is unable or unwilling to protect its own citizens, or worse, as in the case of Libya, if that state is the author of such criminality.

As I wrote on February 26 in the National Post:

Accordingly, Canada as an original architect of the R2P Doctrine, should join the international community in undertaking the following action:

I set forth then a 10-point action plan which would include the following:

–UN condemnation of Libya’s widespread and systematic human rights violations…constitutive of crimes against humanity and warranting international intervention under the R2P Doctrine.

Putting Libyan authorities on notice that they will be held accountable for these criminal violations of human rights — including criminal prosecution–

Calling on the Libyan authorities to cease and desist from the blocking of access to the internet and all telecommunications networks–

Calling on NATO to establish a no-fly zone to put an end to the bombing of civilians.

Supporting selective sanctions targeting Libya’s petroleum sector, while implementing travel bans, asset freezes, and visa denials, of Libyan leaders.

Putting a complete arms embargo in place.

Suspending Libya from the UN Human Rights Council, a move I have been advocating for some time.

The article concluded as follows:

Strong condemnation — without effective action by the international community — would be a betrayal of the Libyan people and a repudiation of the R2P Doctrine. It is our responsibility to ensure this Doctrine is not yet another exercise in empty rhetoric, but an effective resolve to protect people and human rights.

Shortly thereafter, in response to Moammar Gadhafi’s continued assault on civilians in Libya, the United Nations Security Council adopted its unanimous and historic resolution 1973 in an unusual Saturday night session on February 26. It imposed an arms embargo on Libya, targeted financial sanctions, and travel bans against Gadhafi, his family members and senior regime officials, and referred the situation to the International Criminal Court for investigation and potential prosecution.

Canada then followed with its own sanctions regime pursuant to the Special Economic Measures Act, which was supported, as well, by all parties. In particular, in its statement condemning the violence, the UN Security Council, in its resolution 1970, at the time, included express reference to Libya’s responsibility to protect its own citizens from mass atrocities, marking the first time it had been explicitly invoked by the UN Security Council regarding the situation of mass atrocities in a specific country.

Several days later, on February 28, I co-authored a piece, Libya and the responsibility to protect, with Jared Genser, a brilliant lawyer in the United States, with whom I am now co-editing a book on mass atrocity and the responsibility to protect to the effect that while UN Security Council resolution 1970 was indeed a major step forward, much more needed to be done.

In particular, we advocated that, given the continuing carnage at the time, and this is at the end of February, the Security Council should adopt a new resolution extending recognition to the nation’s provisional government of a country authorizing a no-fly zone over Libya to preclude the bombing of civilians and permitting UN members to provide direct support to the provisional government.

We concluded that as UN Security Council Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon put it, “loss of time means more loss of lives”, that the Security Council must do more, that it was our collective responsibility to ensure that R to P was an effective approach to protect people and human rights.

Following the publication of that article on February 28, the situation continued to deteriorate. Gadhafi escalated his attacks on civilians, both in the air and through mobile columns equipped with heavy weapons on the ground. His forces captured key cities, such as Ras Lanuf and Zawiya and were marching toward Benghazi, all the while killing civilians in their wake and threatening to show no mercy, destroying all who would oppose him.

Accordingly, in interviews and talks last week, I reiterated once again the urgency of establishing a no-fly zone, now supported, importantly and symbolically, by the Arab League, by the league of Islamic states and others. I called for a no-drive zone, as recommended by Professor Zelikow and others to interdict Gadhafi’s mobile columns on the ground. I called again for meetings with, if not in recognition of, the provisional Libyan national council, and in particular support for the training and provision of arms support for the rebels so as to level the military encounters. I reiterated the need for enhanced humanitarian and medical assistance to Libyan civilians, as well as once again warning Libyan leaders that they would be tried for their war crimes and crimes against humanity, while encouraging further defections and desertions from Libyan military and political leadership.

Finally and belatedly, amidst the anguished appeals, as we recall them, late last week from Benghazi and elsewhere by Libyan rebels and civilians for urgent action and assistance, the UN Security Council adopted its resolution 1973 on March 17, authorizing international military action against the Libyan government, including a no-fly zone to protect the Libyan people, while tightening economic and financial sanctions along with calls for a cease fire, diplomatic initiatives and movements toward self-determination for the Libyan people.

At this point, the international action authorized by the UN Security Council appears to be working. The no-fly zone has not only been established but enforced. A no-drive zone has effectively been implemented. Rebel forces on the cusp of desperation days ago now appear exhilarated and emboldened by the United Nations response. The international action is not a unilateral one by the United States or one in the absence of UN Security Council resolution, but has been undertaken pursuant to two UN Security Council resolutions, the first invoking, importantly, the R to P doctrine, together with targeted sanctions, and the second a no-fly zone and accompanying initiatives.

Hon. John Baird (Leader of the Government in the House of Commons, CPC):

Mr. Chair, I have a comment. I want to commend the member on an excellent speech.

Hon. Irwin Cotler:

Mr. Chair, I want to thank my hon. colleague for his remarks and for allowing me to conclude those remarks that time did not permit. I hope he still feels the same way after I make these concluding remarks.

The situation in Libya is a test case of our commitment to the R to P doctrine and of our responsibility to protect the Libyan people. I am pleased to join colleagues from all parties here this evening in support of both UN Security Council resolutions, in support of the multilateral character of that support that has been engendered, be it from the Arab League, or the European Union, or the African Union in supporting our Canadian troops that are now being engaged abroad and, in particular, in supporting the Libyan people and their right and ability to choose their course and future freely.

Mr. Paul Szabo (Mississauga South, Lib.):

Mr. Chair, I the intervention of the hon. member was excellent. He had one line regarding the more time that went by, the more lives that would be lost. This is an inevitable result in Libya, particularly considering the character of Mr. Gadhafi.

Could the member indicate whether the United Nations first move is a full chess game, in its actions so far under resolution 1973. That is because we have seen this before. I think there are some parallels with the Iraq situation and Saddam Hussein. In fact, the only way to have dealt with that situation was to get the head of the snake. Could the member indicate whether this has the elements that may very well indicate that this is the first step of a much bigger forum?

Hon. Irwin Cotler:

Mr. Chair, this has been an historic moment because we have had two UN Security Council resolutions. I might add that the first, UN Security Council resolution 1970 at the end of February, was adopted more quickly with more specificity than any other UN Security Council resolution to date, with its express invocation of the responsibility to protect doctrine at the time and its imposition of a sanctions regime and calling on Gadhafi and those with him to cease and desist from their atrocities. Also, what was of particular of importance was the express invocation of the R to P doctrine. We had not had that before. We have it now in UN Security Council resolution 1970. There was some implication of this in Kenya, but never in the manner in which it was done now.

Specifically, UN Security Council resolution 1973 has now authorized all necessary measures with respect to the protection of the Libyan people with specific reference to the implementation of a no-fly zone. As events unfold, I believe we may see the need for another UN Security Council resolution, as events become clearer on the ground, one that would be in support of the political development in Libya in terms of our debate here in Parliament and the manner in which we can come together again.

I would hope, in particular, that the multilateral character of this intervention continues, as one that has been authorized by the UN Security Council, one that has been supported from the European Union to the Arab League and the African Union, one that has Canada joining together with the international community in that regard and one that is moving towards two things: the invocation of the responsibility to protect doctrine to protect civilians; and our protection, in particular, of the civilians on the ground.

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