Global Policy Forum

Geoffrey Grenville-Wood


"Sanctions Against Libya Set a Questionable Precedent"

Bulletin of the UN Association of Canada (1993)

I believe that the Security Council, at the behest of the United States, the United Kingdom and France has acted improperly in passing eh sanctions resolution against Libya. The Security Council acted because it claimed there has been a threat to international peace and security. In such situations the Council may authorize the imposition of sanctions and, as we saw in the Gulf War, the taking of military action. Does the failure of Libya to hand over the alleged Pan Am Bombers constitute such a threat? In my view, this is a spurious and ill-founded claim by the Council.

Did France's refusal a few year ago to hand over to New Zealand their secret service agents who bombed the Greenpeace ship the "Rainbow Warrior" also constitute a threat to international peace and security? What if Libya had issued arrest warrants for the U.S. pilots whobombedthat country in 1986, killing over 40 persons, including Col. Gadafy's step daughter. What if Iran had demanded the handing over of the crew of the USs Vincennes, the ship that shot down the Iranian airbus currying more thna 200 civilians? Would the entirely predictable U.S. refusal have been a threat to international peace and security? Of course, in those three situations the question would hot have arisen because France and the United States have the power to prevent the passage of a resolution by the Security Council through the exercise of the veto. Also, the evidence connecting the two Libyans to the Pan Am Bombing is not so convincing as to assure a finding of guilt. My understanding is that the evidence is mainly circumstantial.

Today, the sanctions being imposed against Libya by the UN are setting a bad precedent. There is, at the very least, the appearance of a double standard. No one condones the actions of Libya in undertaking and supporting terrorist acts, but is it not true that others are equally guilty? Why has Libya been singled out? In the case of the Pan Am bombing, there is overwhelming evidence that Iran and Syria were also deeply involved.

The UN Security Council is in danger of becoming the plaything of a few Western powers, and thereby losing any legitimacy it may have gained since the ending of the Cold War. The extraordinary powers granted to the Council are only to be used in emergency situations where there are real and immediate threats to international peace and security. They should not be invoked at the drop of a hat or at the whim of a few. The United Nations is indeed at a crossroads. This latest episode of superpower manipulation and smaller power acquiescence will only serve to drive the UN down the wrong road. To protect our UN, we must object and we must protest this misuse of the powers of the Security Council.

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