/ 18 March 2011

Democracies must be bold

Democracies Must Be Bold

Since the horrific violence began in Libya, the United Kingdom has condemned the actions of the Gaddafi regime. In recent days our concern has intensified alongside the international pressure on Muammar Gaddafi and those around him.

The regime is launching military counterattacks against opposition forces. There are credible reports of the use of helicopter gunships against civilians by government forces, serious attacks against the cities of Zawiyah and Misurata, with wounded people shot in the head, neck and chest, supplies of food, fuel and medicines all but cut off, and disturbing reports of hostage-taking in Tripoli.

Gaddafi continues to try to intimidate, even as his authority is contested in large swaths of the country where tribes have withdrawn their support.

Our position is clear: Colonel Gaddafi must put an immediate stop to the use of armed force against civilians and hand over power, without delay, to a government that recognises the aspirations of the Libyan people and is more representative and accountable.

We are working with partners across the world to isolate the regime and ensure that anyone responsible for abuses or contemplating further crimes knows that there will be a day of reckoning. Last week the chief prosecutor of the International Criminal Court announced his investigation into alleged crimes in Libya, following referral by the United Nations Security Council. We welcome this swift action and will do all we can to assist. It follows the landmark decision by the UN General Assembly, following referral by the UN Human Rights Council, to suspend Libya’s membership of the council.

European Union sanctions on Libya also came into full force last Thursday. These were agreed very quickly and go beyond the sanctions imposed by the UN. They include an arms embargo on Libya and an assets freeze and visa ban on Gaddafi and 25 of his associates.

These are strong foundations on which we can build. In addition, we are making contingency plans for all eventualities in Libya. The North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (Nato) has been tasked to work on a range of options, including the possible establishment of a no-fly zone, the evacuation of civilians, international humanitarian assistance and support for the international arms embargo. There will be further Nato meetings this week.

At the UN Security Council, we are working closely with partners on a contingency basis on elements for a resolution on a no-fly zone, making clear the need for regional support, a clear trigger for such a resolution and an appropriate legal basis.

Humanitarian situation
Finally, it is crucial that we continue to address the developing humanitarian situation. The UK has flown in blankets for 38 000 people, tents for more than 10 000 people and flights to repatriate more than 6 000 stranded Egyptians and more than 500 Bangladeshis.

This remains primarily a logistical emergency. But it is essential that international agencies are provided with unfettered access to help prevent a humanitarian crisis from developing. With our support, the UN’s emergency coordinator, Baroness Valerie Amos, convened a special meeting in Geneva to call for unfettered humanitarian access.

It is time for democratic nations to be bold and ambitious and to show that although we will not seek to dictate how other countries should run their affairs, we will be the lasting friend of those who put in place the building blocks of strong civil society, economic openness and political freedom. We must give every incentive to countries in the region to make decisions that bring freedom and prosperity. Within the EU, we called for Europe to set out a programme to bring down trade barriers, to set clearer conditions for the help it provides and to marshal its resources to act as a magnet for positive change in the region.

Events in Egypt and Tunisia have been historic and we should welcome the progress made, including the announcement of a national referendum on constitutional reform in Egypt and of a date for elections in Tunisia. But the resignations of the prime ministers of both governments show that significant challenges remain. The UK will continue to call for governments across the region to respect human rights, including the right to peaceful protest, to avoid the use of force and to respond to legitimate aspirations for greater political openness and economic reform.

South Africa has an important role to play in these world-changing events. As a member of the African Union Peace and Security Council, the UN Security Council and the G20, South Africa is respected globally as a nation that makes great sacrifices for democracy. The ending of apartheid less than 20 years ago offers hope to other nations facing their own struggles. That is why the UK continues to place such a great emphasis upon its interaction with South Africa’s leaders throughout these events.

If change and development can be achieved peacefully in the Middle East, it will be the greatest advance in world affairs since Central and Eastern Europe changed so dramatically 20 years ago. If not, it could mark the start of even greater instability emanating from the region.

It is vital for both the people of these countries and the rest of the world that the international community plays a coherent and ambitious role in supporting their aspirations.

Dr Nicola Brewer is the British High Commissioner to the Republic of South Africa