I am Peter Rundlet with Humanity United. And I am pleased to welcome you all here, and thank you all for coming for what I believe will be a fascinating and timely discussion on Libya and the responsibility to protect.
Before I get started, though, I’d like to take a second to thank our partners, starting with the Brookings Institution, which is providing the venue and working with us on the experts, the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum, and the U.S. Institute for Peace.
As many of you may know, Humanity United is a young foundation dedicated to building peace and advancing human freedom. We have a deep commitment to strengthening the collective capacity of civil society and government to help prevent and respond mass atrocity crimes.
In fact, in the past, we have come together with some of these same partners to work on the Genocide Prevention Task Force in 2008, which was co-chaired by former Secretary Madeleine Albright and Bill Cohen, and whose recommendations have really started to take hold in some government policy right now in key areas.
Among other activities, Humanity United provides support to a variety of institutions and projects intended to meaningfully advance this new norm of the responsibility to protect. And we’re very much hoping that the conversation today will help us understand whether this intervention in Libya has provided extraordinary new forward momentum for the responsibility to protect, or whether the current approach by NATO will result in some observable retreat from acting on the norm.
Now, as you know, exactly three months ago tomorrow, the U.N. Security Council passed Resolution 1973, which authorized member states to “take all necessary measures” to protect civilians and civilian populations in Libya. Three days later, on March 19th, President Obama authorized the use of U.S. military assets in support of the international coalition committed to enforcing Resolution 1973, and he explicitly referenced the responsibility to protect the civilian people of Libya.
Now, not long after this, of course, on March 30th, the U.N. Security Council passed Resolution 1975, which also invoked the responsibility to protect and demanded the immediate end to violence against civilians in Côte d'Ivoire. This resulted in military action by the French and by U.N. peacekeepers, and eventually led to the arrest of the recalcitrant former president Laurent Gbagbo.
Two weeks after initially authorizing U.S. military assets, President Obama felt it was important to address the nation on the U.S. involvement in the NATO intervention. With respect to Libya, this is what the president had to say, “We were faced with the prospect of violence on a horrific scale. We had a unique ability to stop that violence, an international mandate for action, a broad coalition prepared to join us, the support of Arab countries, and a plea for help from the Libyan people themselves. To brush aside America’s responsibility as a leader and, more profoundly, our responsibilities to our fellow human beings under such circumstances would have been a betrayal of who we are.”
Almost immediately after engaging, however, we were in deeper than we had anticipated, and many observers worried that the Security Council mandate had been stretched beyond the breaking point. Three months later, Gaddafi’s regime’s still holding on, and the path to a peaceful end state is not yet clear.
So where does this leave us in Libya? And what are the implications for U.S. policy? And more importantly for today’s discussion, what are the implications for the durability of the responsibility to protect norm? That is why we have brought in the experts we have here today.
Before I introduce our outstanding panel, however, I want to take note of the people in the audience, because we’ve had a chance to look at the list of people who are here, and we’ve got a fantastic, rich group of individuals. And we’re looking forward to a really robust question-and-answer session in the second half of the session today.
Without further ado, our panel, starting with our moderator, Mike Abramowitz, the Director of the Committee on Conscience, which conducts the genocide prevention efforts of the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum. Many of you may know Mike from his tenure as a reporter and editor at The Washington Post, where from 1985 to 2009, he covered the conflicts in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Sudan. And he’s reported on a variety of subjects, including local and national politics, foreign policy, healthcare, and business, among others. Mr. Abramowitz was the national editor of The Washington Post for six years, and he was The Post’s White House correspondent from 2006 to 2009.
Starting from this end, Manal Omar serves as the Director of Programs under the Center for Post-Conflict Peace and Stability Operations at the U.S. Institute for Peace. Previously, she was Regional Program Manager for the Middle East for Oxfam -- Great Britain, where she responded to humanitarian crises in the Palestinian territories and Lebanon. She has worked for Women for Women International as Regional Coordinator for Afghanistan, Iraq, and Sudan. And she has also worked for UNESCO and the World Bank. In 2007, Islamic Magazine named her one of ten young visionaries shaping Islam in America.
We are also pleased to have Ambassador Rich Williamson, currently Nonresident Senior Fellow for Foreign Policy here at the Brookings Institution. Ambassador Williamson has served in a number of senior governmental and diplomatic posts, including serving as ambassador to the United Nations and, most recently, as President Bush’s Special Envoy to Sudan from 2007 to 2009. His work at Brookings focuses on human rights, multilateral diplomacy, nuclear nonproliferation, and post-conflict reconstruction.
Last, but not least, is Sarah Sewall. Dr. Sewall teaches at the Harvard Kennedy School of Government, and she is the Founder and Faculty Director of the Mass Atrocity Response Operations Project. Dr. Sewall directed the Obama Transition’s National Security Agency Review in 2008. And during the Clinton Administration, she served as the first Deputy Assistant Security for Defense for Peacekeeping and Humanitarian Assistance. Dr. Sewall is currently on the Pentagon’s Defense Policy Board. And from 1983 to 1996, she served as Senior Foreign Policy Advisor to Senate Majority Leader George Mitchell.
At the end of our time together, I think the question will be -- to quote Stephen Colbert -- is this a great panel at the Brookings or the greatest panel at Brookings? I hope you all join me in welcoming our panel. I’ll turn this over to Mike Abramowitz. (Applause)