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Libya: the UN and the war
Britain’s participation in the US-led war on Libya, which began on 19 March, followed the passing of United Nations security council resolution 1973, which calls for an end to attacks on civilians in Libya and authorizes member states to “take all necessary measures” to protect civilians and end the “gross and systematic violation of human rights” perpetrated by colonel Muammar Gaddafi.
The resolution also calls for the implementation of a no-fly zone except for humanitarian flights, with a provision allowing for flights by member states to enter the region in order to enforce the resolution.
The UN resolution does not call for Gaddafi’s removal. However, US secretary of state Hillary Clinton said in response to the resolution and the Libyan government’s initial declaration of a ceasefire that the “final result of any negotiations would have to be the decision of Gaddafi to leave.” After the passing of the resolution, British prime minister David Cameron also looked ahead, saying: “It is almost impossible to envisage a future for Libya that includes him. Gaddafi must go, he has no legitimacy.” Before the resolution was passed, on 11 March, US president Barack Obama agreed: “Let me be as clear as I can about the desired outcome from our perspective, and that is that Gaddafi step down.”
While the resolution does not explicitly allow ground attacks, it does allow member states to take measures to protect civilian areas, and specifically mentions Benghazi.
One problem is that the UN resolution does not make it clear what actions are “necessary” in protecting civilians or establishing a no-fly zone. While the Arab League had called for a no-fly zone, the head of the league, Amr Moussa, criticised the first waves of western bombing by saying: “What is happening in Libya differs from the aim of imposing a no-fly zone, and what we want is the protection of civilians and not the bombardment of more civilians.”
The UN resolution excludes “a foreign occupation force of any form on any part of Libyan territory”.