Left debates Libya: SEARCH Foundation -- `Support "no-fly" UN resolution for Libyan democratic rebellion'

Libya rebels ride a captured Gaddafi tank in Benghazi March 19, 2011. Photo by Goran Tomasevic.

The following statement was released by the Australian SEARCH Foundation. The foundation was set up as a not-for-profit company in 1990 to preserve and draw on the resources of the Communist Party of Australia (CPA), and its archives. The CPA was the most significant socialist party in Australia between its formation in 1920 and 1991, when it ceased operating. The foundation "decided to initiate political activity itself, to encourage practical unity on the Left towards democracy, social justice and environmental sustainability, and to reach out to people coming from other traditions who share these goals". Links International Journal of Socialist Renewal is posting this as contribution to the left debate around Western intervention in Libya.

[For more left views on Libya, click HERE.]

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By the SEARCH Foundation Committee

March 28, 2011 -- The SEARCH Foundation Committee supports the UN Security Council decision to call for a "no-fly" zone and other measures to protect civilians in the civil conflict going on in Libya. This issue was discussed at the committee’s meeting on March 19, 2011, soon after the UN decision was made. The committee criticised the UN Security Council for not making similar decision to protect peaceful democratic protesters in Bahrain and Yemen or the Palestinian people in Gaza and the West Bank.

The committee’s main consideration regarding Libya was the imminent assault on the second largest city, Benghazi, by Gaddafi government forces. It has a population of 800,000. The Gaddafi forces had already fired on unarmed civilians in Benghazi, Tripoli and other cities in previous weeks.

The committee strongly supports the broad democratic uprising across North Africa and the Middle East, and recognised that the National Transitional Council in Libya, based in Benghazi, had for two weeks been calling for a no-fly zone to protect their people in the mounting military conflict between them and the Gaddafi regime.

The National Transitional Council emerged a few days after the great events of February 17 and won very broad support from workers, intellectuals and managers, judges and soldiers, for its commitment to the unity of Libya, its denunciation of tribalism, and desire to create a liberal democratic state. It declared Tripoli to be its capital.

Gaddafi decided to fight his own people rather than recognise their legitimate call for democratic freedoms, and negotiate with them for a transition without bloodshed, which had to a large extent been achieved in Tunisia and Egypt, both of which border Libya. Many more civilians were shot down in Benghazi than Mubarak killed in large cities such as Cairo and Port Said.

It would have been far better if the Egyptian and Tunisian people had been able to provide timely assistance to the Libyan democratic movement, than for them to have to rely on US and European military support. However, as long as the National Transitional Council keeps foreign military forces out of the Libyan territory, and the military forces implementing the UN decision respect the sovereignty of the Libyan people, then the military action under the UN Security Council decision is justified and should be supported.

It is the Gaddafi government which has employed foreign military forces, mainly mercenaries recruited in Chad and Nigeria, but also including hundreds from Mugabe’s Zimbabwe. The French, the British, US and the Russians armed Gaddafi’s forces when they knew he was a dictator, and now their arms industries will profit from destroying these same weapons. And there are lucrative new arms contracts in the offing as regimes change in the region. The UN Security Council should extend its weapons sanctions on Gaddafi to stop a region-wide arms race.

There are many voices in the international solidarity movement raised against the US military role in the "no fly zone" operation of the last five days, not the least in the US anti-war movement. No one can seriously believe that US or NATO country motives are limited to defending human rights. After the crime of the invasion of Iraq, how could you?

Clearly oil supplies to Europe from Libya, and the lack of oil exports from Bahrain, Yemen and Palestine are factors behind the hypocrisy that is so obvious in this crisis. As well, there are imperial interests of the USA, Saudi Arabia and Israel at work in Bahrain, Yemen and Palestine, that are not the same in Libya, where there are no US military bases.

But no issue should be judged purely by which side the US is on. The first point of reference must be the rights of the people, and in this case the defence of the Libyan people’s right to life itself and to democratic struggle. Australians faced a similar moment in Timor-Leste in September 1999, when we demanded military intervention to stop a slaughter by the vengeful Indonesian military after the people voted resoundingly for independence.

The situation in Libya is very dangerous. The UN "no fly" policy can’t determine the course of military or political events on the ground. There could well be a long stalemate between the Gaddafi forces and the popular democratic movement. The "rebel" military forces, such as they are, cannot match Gaddafi’s army at this stage and it is quite possible that the US and NATO forces may try to intervene beyond the no-fly mandate. This must be strongly opposed. Neighbouring Arab countries should ensure that the democratic forces have stronger political support and adequate military equipment.