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The Libyan Tragedy: lessons for the western left

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6. What option do "we' have during a violent crisis, such as that in Libya?

First, forget the royal / imperial "we'. It is precisely imperial culture that encourages us to believe we can judge the world and determine the fate of other peoples.  


Second read the first article of the twin covenants of the International Bill of Rights, which was lifted directly from the UN's "Declaration on Decolonisation' (1960): "All peoples have the right to self-determination. By virtue of that right they freely determine their political status and freely pursue their economic, social and cultural development.'


Next, get clear why colonisation and imperialism were declared to be at the root of the worst of all human rights violations.


Virtually all the imperial and colonial powers (Australia, Belgium, Dominican Republic, France, Portugal, Spain, Union of South Africa, United Kingdom, United States of America) abstained when the Declaration of Decolonisation was first put. Six years later self-determination came the founding principle of both the international covenants on human rights (the ICCPR and the ICESCR). The UN now refers to self-determination the "essential condition' for the guarantee and promotion of all other rights, standing "apart from and before all the other rights' in the Covenants. Nevertheless, in western discussions on "human rights', the principle is ignored.


Educated people in developing countries understand that Libya - like Afghanistan and Iraq and other neo-colonies - will have to go through a renewed process of decolonisation. And that is the real tragedy of Afghanistan, Iraq and Libya.


The neo-imperial theory of "the responsibility to protect' attempts to rewrite the international order and to lend a gloss to brutal interventions. Yet imperial interventions never assist "human rights'. The Timor case of 1999 did nothing to undermine this principle of non-intervention (15). But after Afghanistan and Iraq we, the left in the imperial cultures, should have known better.




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Tim Anderson is an academic and social activist based in Sydney, Australia
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