The political crisis in Libya has reached a point where the African Union and the rest of the world have to intervene to stop further human rights violations, the killing of innocent citizens and the use of fighter aircraft against non-combatants.
Over the past two weeks, it has been hard to verify the accuracy of claims by Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi’s side and counter-claims by the anti-Gaddafi forces, but reports from those fleeing the conflict have painted a grim picture.
Several analysts have suggested in this newspaper and elsewhere that the UN Security Council should authorise immediately a no-fly-zone over Libya, thereby preventing the pro-Gaddafi forces from using fighter planes against their opponents.
Such a measure would reduce casualties, especially among unarmed and innocent civilians.
It would also be consistent with the 2005 UN General Assembly resolution on the responsibility to protect, and much of the international community is likely to support it.
However, for a no-fly-zone to make a huge difference to the situation in the country, it would involve plans to disable Libya’s anti-aircraft equipment and the readiness to shoot down Gaddafi’s fighter planes should they fail to comply with the no-fly-zone requirements.
This would amount to a declaration of war against Gaddafi’s forces.
So, unless the UN Security Council is willing to authorise war against a member state, it would have to weigh very carefully the declaration of a no-fly-zone.
If the no-fly-zone facilitated the departure of Gaddafi and his replacement by another autocratic leader, it would have achieved very little.
The no-fly-zone ought to be predicated on broader political, social and economic programmes.
Therefore, the world would need to regard the no-fly-zone as just the beginning of the UN Security Council involvement in the Libyan conflict, and that it could, in turn, lead to greater UN participation in the reconstruction of Libya.
Unless the declaration of a no-fly-zone was an integral part of global efforts to re-shape and reconstruct a democratic post-Gaddafi Libya, it would be like issuing a blank cheque.
While I would support democratic forces that stand up to a despotic leader like Gaddafi, so far I have seen nothing to suggest that those challenging Gaddafi’s rule would establish a better government.
It should be remembered that Gaddafi grew up under the autocratic rule of King Idris, whom he overthrew in September 1969, but he did not replace the monarchy with a democratic government.
He declared Libya a republic and renamed it the Jamahiriya, based on his Green Book, in 1977.
Despite this, he has been describing himself in recent years as the king of African kings.
The majority of the Libyan people have not lived in democratic societies, and while those contesting Gaddafi’s legitimacy may be right, they have not demonstrated that they have the capacity to establish a transparent and accountable government.
The declaration of a no-fly-zone over Libya should be part of well conceived plans to bequeath the country an open, accountable and responsive government.
Such a measure ought to be preceded by careful and elaborate negotiations with the anti-Gaddafi side about the establishment of a universally acceptable post-Gaddafi regime.