by Jose Ramos-Horta
Nobel Peace Prize Laureate and President of Timor-Leste

While I have welcomed the United Nations Security Council Res. 1973 on the imposition of a no-fly zone in Libya as a means to protect civilians, I have advised our friends to avoid being pulled into a complex political crisis and entangled with one side of a conflict about which very little is known.

At the same time, I must express my dismay at the very liberal interpretation of UNSC Res. 1973. It was not meant to endorse an armed faction in a civil war. The bombing of the regime’s compound and killing of family members of Libya’s ruler is completely outside the substance of Res. 1973.

I am further puzzled and worried that the UN seems to have sub-contracted a regional military organization – NATO – to undertake offensive military actions on its behalf. If NATO has been sub-contracted by the UN to enforce UNSC Res. 1973, I beg to ask, what is the UN role in NATO’s operational decision-making?

We all agree on the illegitimacy of the Gaddafi’s regime. Its appalling human rights record, past involvement in international terrorism and financing of wars in Africa spanning a period of at least three decades have long been documented. Libya has been made to pay a heavy price for Muammar Gaddafi’s irresponsible behavior. Yet the West extended an olive branch to the regime and re-engaged it once it abandoned support for international terrorism and its nuclear weapons ambitions. From pariah status Gaddafi moved center stage as he was courted by the powers that be, even naming him Chairman of the African Union in 2009.

On the domestic front, nothing had changed. The regime continued to crack down on dissent, real and imaginary.

How should the UN address the situation? Instead of bombing, the UN Security Council could more actively search for a political settlement of the conflict. The regime has offered to negotiate and agreed to a cease-fire. This should be explored instead of being ignored.

At the height of the violence in Timor-Leste following the UN-sponsored “Popular Consultation” of August 30 1999, a UNSC delegation was dispatched to Timor-Leste; the high profile and pro-active mission proved to be decisive in paving the way for an end to the violence.

Similarly I believe that the UNSC should send a high-level delegation to Libya, comprising representatives of the P5 and non-permanent members with the goal to

–       Reviewing the situation on the ground in all its aspects, political, security and social and humanitarian

–       Meeting all parties

–       Securing an immediate verifiable cease-fire

–       Securing the deployment of UN military liaison officers comprising officers from the Arab League and African Union to monitor the cease-fire

–       Securing enhanced unhindered humanitarian access by UN Agencies and Non-Governmental Organizations to all conflict parts of Libya

–       And exploring a road map for a step-by-step political calendar leading to free and democratic elections.

Only the highest UN body dedicated to guarantee peace in the world has the credibility to compel all parties, the regime and its opponents, to moderate their respective stances, agree to a halt in violence and to engage in protracted negotiations leading to a new political order in Libya.

I am as horrified by cluster bombs being used on one’s own citizens as anyone. And I applaud the moral and political leadership shown by Presidents Barack Obama and Nicholas Sarkozy in regards to the situation in Libya. However the US, deeply engaged and bleeding in Iraq and Afghanistan, should resist being entangled in another war.

The humanitarian arguments for intervention are powerful and persuasive. But unfortunately the US cannot and should not directly intervene everywhere there is a man-made humanitarian catastrophe.

There is a limit to how external forces may influence the course of events in any given country and the constraints in the case of Syria are even more acute. Hence greater prudence is necessary.

There is no substitute for active dialogue by all sides and again I believe only a high-powered UNSC mission will have the credibility to compel all sides to moderate their stances and come to a round-table for serious dialogue.

Hence the UNSC should consider dispatching a high-level mission to Syria to look into the situation on the ground, engage all sides in active dialogue on a road map towards free and democratic elections.

The failure by the UNSC to pass a mild resolution or an even more moderate “chairman’s statement” on the situation in Syria reinforces my conviction that a UNSC mission mandated to prod all parties into patient and constructive dialogue is the best option.

Finally, the crisis in the Middle East, on-going conflicts in the Central Africa and South Asia regions expose the dangers and immorality of uncontrolled weapons exports. That the Libyan regime was able to acquire an extraordinary arsenal of weapons over a period of decades or that small Gulf countries with populations of less than a million possess tanks, attack helicopters and even fighter planes are perplexing to say the least.

While the powers that be are right in passing judgments on the behavior of the regimes that are using weapons to quell unarmed popular uprisings, they should critically ask themselves if it is not time to put an end to the indiscriminate exports of weapons to developing regions of the world for the purpose of profits.

The world would be safer for all if weapons producing countries would explore other less immoral means to accumulate wealth.