FOREIGN AFFAIRS | 3/30/2011 12:00:00 AM
“We prevented Gadafi from performing a massacre of civilians”
Colombia voted in favor of intervention in Libya and will chair the United Nations’ Security Council in April, month that will be crucial for the crisis. These are the plans and proposals.
SEMANA: Why did Colombia vote for the use of force in Libya?
Néstor Osorio: Let's look at history. Unlike what had happened in Tunisia and Egypt, in Libya the protests were suppressed violently by Qaddafi, and that aroused the concern of the Security Council, which issued a statement asking Qaddafi to stop his actions against the civilian population. Eight days later, the repression continued and was aggravated, and that was when the first resolution (1970) was conceived. The Security Council decided to refer the situation to the International Criminal Court (ICC), which is important because countries like the United States, that is not a member of that court, agreed to go to that instance for the first time. It was also decided an arms embargo and the freezing of Qaddafi’s assets, in a list that included him and his children, his generals and his people. We also demanded a ceasefire. The use of the force was ruled out.
SEMANA: But it was approved later…
N.O.: We acted with calm, but we did consultations every day and we knew that many people was being killed in Libya . The Arab League, at a meeting in Cairo, issued a statement asking the Security Council to act. That moved many people, including the African Union, something that is not usual. Do not forget that at this time there are three African countries in the Security Council: South Africa, Gabon and Nigeria, that lined up immediately.
SEMANA: How was the Colombian vote decided?
N.O.: We analyzed the situation and the alternatives. I really wanted to refer the case to the ICC, with which we have a close relationship. The UK and France were in the same line. Libya is not part of the ICC, so that tribunal was unable to start an investigation by itself. It needed the Security Council's remit. Colombia's position was built up little by little, gradually.
SEMANA: The decision was taken in Bogotá or at the Embassy of the UN?
N.O.: I worked the issue with President Juan Manuel Santos and Foreign Minister, María Ángela Holguín, daily.
SEMANA: Were there consultations with other countries in Latin America?
N.O.: No. In the Security Council we represent the region, but at the end we are alone in this board in the world. Colombia could not participate in the intervention with planes, and we were always clear about that, but we insisted that it was necessary to ensure the protection of civilians, who were being attacked indiscriminately by a government that, precisely because of that fact, had lost its legitimacy . Do not forget that since the 2005 Millennium Summit at United Nations, the world is talking about the responsibility to protect civilians. That is the primary responsibility of any government, and when it fails it becomes the responsibility of the Security Council because it can affect the security and peace.
SEMANA: Did you consider the possibility of abstaining in the vote, as Brazil and four other countries did?
N.O.: No. The consideration was to condemn the attack on civilians and we worked on that basis.
SEMANA: The fact that the overthrown of Qaddafi is not a goal has sparked criticism in the sense that the intervention has no clear goals.
N.O.: This is like a domino. Stop the escalation of violence may force Qaddafi having to be removed from power. But the line of the Council is to protect civilians.
SEMANA: But if the mission is not concrete and has no clear goals, how can be known when the intervention ends?
N.O.: That is the most important question. If Qaddafi strengthens his attack against rebels and tries to gain control of the whole country, this can last for weeks and who knows how much more, because Libya has a history of tribal divisions, which are old and deep.
SEMANA: And what is the next step?
N.O.: For now, tight the sanctions, make sure that we have real control of the exclusion zone, a true arms embargo…
SEMANA: Could this turn into another trap with no exit, such as Iraq and Afghanistan?
N.O.: The fact that there has been no occupation, there has been no invasion troops, save us from that trap. But it is true that we are engaged in something that is not going to be solved within days.
SEMANA: Is Libyan’s unity at risk?
N.O.: We hope not. It is not about accepting or tolerating divisions like the one in Sudan. What is happening in the Arab world and the Middle East is a cry for democracy, a change order to replace years of dictatorships. Ideally, leaders who know how to institutionalize that will appear someday.
SEMANA: Why there has been such a drastic reaction against Qaddafi and, instead, there has been a cautious position in the case of Yemen, Bahrain, Syria and the Ivory Coast?
N.O.: The request for action in Libya from the Arab League is one of the reasons. But it is not the only one. There was an influence by the concerns generated by Gaddafi’s actions against civilians.
SEMANA: But there is a message for other dictators, right?
N.O.: The general lesson is that violent repressions of popular demonstrations, restrictions on Human Rights and freedom of speech and killing people are firmly rejected by the Security Council’s resolution.
SEMANA: Changing the subject a little, Colombia will preside the Security Council in April. What are your plans?
N.O.: It is a monthly rotating presidency, and every country is going in alphabetical order. The influence of the leader will consist on giving prominence to a theme or to a discussion. And that is what we will do with Haiti. The high point will be on April 6, when President Santos will chair the Council. For the rest, the agenda is normal, is determined in advance, not imposed by the presiding country.
SEMANA: Could it be weird to talk about Haiti when there is a huge crisis in the countries we just mentioned?
N.O.: Yes, but our representation of the region and the leadership of Colombia is also important . There is a group of friends of Haiti, which includes several Latin American countries, and former President Clinton is coming to do a report ... It is a way of putting Haiti on the global showcase, to seek if international aid is more effective.
SEMANA: Why is that important for Colombia?
N.O.: Because President Santos wants the country to stop being defensive and to participate actively to help in the management of global problems. And that is what one does in the Security Council.