Prashad highlights problems with U.N. Mandate of Responsibility to Protect

October 27, 2016

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — The Center for Global Studies hosted renowned scholar and journalist Vijay Prashad of Trinity College on Oct. 5. Prashad’s lecture, titled “Western Bombs, Eastern Societies: The Destruction of Nations and Responsibility to Protect,” was designed to inform the public of how Western intervention can dramatically harm countries in the Middle East, rather than help. Such was the effect of the United Nations mandate of Responsibility to Protect (R2P).

With more than 150 people in attendance, Prashad held the attention of each one while delving into the issues with R2P.

Prashad began by reminding the audience that Oct. 7 marked the 15th anniversary of the war with Afghanistan. He noted that during the height of the People's Democratic Party of Afghanistan’s rule, half of the civil servants were women. These ranged from teachers to doctors, and all in between. Once the U.S. intervention began, however, during the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, the social dynamic between men and women changed. The politician supported by the U.S., Saudi, and Pakistani governments, Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, had a different view of humanity. During the 1970s, Hekmatyar was a youth organizer for Jamaat-e-Islami and a radicalized Islamist who disagreed with the equal treatment of women. He was first made known for the terrible act of throwing acid onto women’s faces at Kabul University. As Prashad put it, “The United States has supported some of the creepiest figures in politics.” Fifteen years since the war in Afghanistan began, the Taliban is largely back in control of much of the country. “Afghanistan has been produced — it is not their fate to bear,” Prashad said to the enthralled audience.

In 1974, five years into Gaddafis’ rule, Libya’s main exports were scrap metal left over from World War II and esparto grass used to make paper. The surge in oil exports had not yet occurred. Those who conducted the coup against Libya’s king in order to establish Gaddafi’s regime were lower-ranking military officials who had the support of the common people and were more in touch with society. The coup took place without a shot being fired, and the people of Libya adored the new leadership. The future looked bright for Libya.

Today, Libya is a much different place. ISIS brigands guard the entry points into the country and while the NATO charge to enter Libya was performed in order to help civilians, the outcome has been exactly the opposite, according to Prashad.

Prashad then reminded the audience that people live in conflict zones, people with families — children, mothers and fathers. He asserts that too often, people not experiencing the conflict firsthand forget that people just like us are there and that too often we only discuss the wars and governments without giving thought to the innocents.

Much like the lack of remembrance of innocent lives, in the 1990s, an idea went around that human rights were becoming militarized. It was necessary to create guidelines as to what constitutes a human rights violation. Prashad said that another idea that had to be considered was how when Western allies commit outrageous human rights violations, they are not classified as a rogue state. The name of human rights and anti-terrorism has become synonymous with going in to a country to destroy an enemy of the West, rather than forging a peace agreement, while allies of the West can commit outrageous crimes with no repercussions.

George W. Bush’s regime took the militarization of human rights a step further when they decided to overthrow the government in control in Iraq, Prashad said. The United Nation’s Security Council refused to authorize this war and thousands of people across the world protested it. Prashad said the war proved to many that the United States cared little about the lives of those in other countries, especially in the East.

Prashad highlighted four main issues with Responsibility to Protect:

  • Who decides when civilians are in threat?
  • What evidence is there that civilians are in threat?
  • What is the proportionate response? Regime change?
  • There needs to be a post-intervention investigation that holds states accountable.

Using these issues with R2P, Prashad then connected them to the case of intervention in Libya:

  • The ambassadors had very limited knowledge on the issue and there were no Libyan ambassadors at the United Nations meeting.
  • The United States Secretary General said that press reports justified the invasion.
  • Libya has been operating without a central government and much of the country remains in chaos due to intervention.
  • No countries were held accountable for their actions while intervening.

According to Prashad, Libya has been left in ashes after the United States and other countries followed the U.N.’s Responsibility to Protect. Prashad summarized his argument by stating, quite simply, that R2P has become a synonym with violent and often hasty regime change.

Prashad's visit was co-sponsored by the Department of Asian Studies, the Department of Comparative Literature, the Weiss Chair of the Humanities, the Department of History, the School of International Affairs, and the Rock Ethics Institute. 

(Media Contacts)

Last Updated March 08, 2021