Sunday, February 20, 2011

For a strong EU condemnation of the murder in Libya

During the Tiananmen Square massacre in China in early June 1989, the Chinese army charged into a group of 100,000 protesters gathered in the center of Beijing - between 400 and 3000 protesters were killed, according to different statistics. Others estimate that more than 3000 protesters lost their lives.
The European Community issued a statement on June 6th (not available) and strongly condemned the "brutal repression taking place in China" at the European Council meeting on 26./27. June 1989 in Madrid:
"The European Council requests the Chinese authorities to respect human rights and to take into account the hopes for freedom and democracy deeply felt by the population [...] In the present circumstances, the European Council thinks it necessary to adopt the following measures:
  • raising of the issue of human rights in China in the appropriate international fora; asking for the admittance of independent observers to attend the trials and to visit the prisons
  • interruption by the Member States of the Community of military cooperation and an embargo on trade in arms with China
  • suspension of bilateral ministerial and high level contacts
  • postponement by the Community and its Member States of new cooperation projects,
  • reduction of programs of cultural, scientific and technical cooperation to only those activities that might maintain a meaning in the present circumstances"
  • During the last few days, more than 100 protesters have died in Libya, maybe even more than 200. Allegedly, snipers fired into the crowd, intentionally killing individual demonstrators. A tank intentionally crushed two demonstrators to death in their car. Facebook and Twitter have been blocked, international reporters are forbidden to report from Libya. Onlookers fear the worst.

    For the European Union, Libya has an important role as a watchdog. Gaddafi makes sure that the number of migrants flowing into the EU remains low. Esther Saoub, German correspondent in Cairo, believes that the EU will remain silent for some time in view of the protests in Libya: "Should the courageous demonstrators, who have these days dared to raise their voice, hope for support from Europe, their hope is probably in vain. Of course, Muammar Al Gaddafi is not popular with anybody in Europe save his friend Silvio Berlusconi, but since when are door guards ever popular? Still, nobody would have the idea to organize entry into an elite disco through grassroots democracy. Why should the EU be the first to have this idea?" (My translation)

    Given the situation, the EU should be as courageous towards Libya as it has been towards China in 1989. So far, nothing has been issued by the High Representative yet, neither on the pages of the EEAS, nor via Twitter. There is nothing that excuses the intentional murder of citizens, and there is nothing that excuses a cowardly EU statement on this murder. After the events in Egypt and the sudden love of EU politicians for human rights once Mubarak had fallen, everything but a strong condemnation of the murder in Libya would be hypocrisy. And it would show how much less important human rights are to us today than they were in 1989. Be courageous, Cathy Ashton.

    Update (20/02/11, 6:25 p.m.): Cathy Ashton has just issued two statements. One on the elections in Uganda, one on women's shelters in Afghanistan...
    Update (21/02/11, 12:30 a.m.): The declaration on Libya is out. "Extremely concerned", "We condemn the repression against peaceful demonstrators", "immediately refrain from further use of violence", "human rights [...] must be respected and protected", "immediately cease the blocking of public access to the internet and mobile phone networks", "legitimate aspirations and demands of the people for reform" - it's about as courageous as the Tiananmen declaration. An international conference on North Africa is to follow. Will economic sanctions be employed?
    Update (21/02/11, 9.30 a.m.): Also read reactions to Ashton's declaration here and here.
    Update (22/02/11, 8.34 p.m.): EU suspends negotiations on EU-Libya Framework Agreement. 


    1. André—I'm a dedicated reader of your blog. Nonetheless, you have just committed a crime against English and simultaneously created a new country; I'm sure you'll consider the former less of a problem than the latter.

      First, a flow cannot "remain low". As you know from your physics classes: a flow is either strong or weak. The only low-flow X that exists is for X=toilet; but this does not refer to the strength of the flow, but rather to the placement of the water reservoir.

      Second, the name of the country that is bordering the Mediterranean Sea, Algeria, Chad, Egypt, Niger, Sudan, and Tunisia is not called Lybia, but Libya. I am sure that this is just a matter of transposition from Arabic. Nonetheless, it is a mistake that you might wish to correct.

      Warm regards,


    2. Dear Anonymous,

      thank you very much for your reaction and your corrections. Sometimes the English language suffers, with all those non-natives who use it :). I like proper use of language and I'm happy to transform my text from international English into real English.

      Thanks again,

    3. I completely agree with you on this one. The EU should have the courage to stand up to Gaddafi, who has been menacing his own people for decades.
      And yet, he has often managed to blackmail Europe to get what he wants, as in the case of the Lockerbie bomber who was released from prison, and Libya's response to the arrest of Gaddafi's son in Switzerland.

      However, the Council's response to the Tiananmen massacre seems more of a symbolic gesture to me than anything else. This is not to say that symbolic gestures don't matter, but I doubt that they make much of an impression abroad.

    4. hello Koen, I agree that the arms embargo is more of symbolic nature, but China still sees it as a pretty nasty issue that it cannot acquire any weapons from the EU. I am missing concrete steps in the EU statement. Maybe we should give it more time - the Tiananmen statement came roughly 20 days after the beginning of the military intervention (not counting the prompt official statement on June 6th which I cannot find online). It came late, but it certainly made an impact. China is still talking about it today.