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Humanitarian Wars and Their NGO Foot-SoldiersTags War and Foreign PolicyOther Schools of Thought
In February, 2011, Soliman Bouchuiguir told a lie. It was a big one. As the head of the Libyan League for Human Rights, Bouchuiguir initiated a petition that was eventually signed by 70 non-governmental organizations (NGOs) demanding that the US, EU, and UN “mobilize the United Nations and the international community and take immediate action to halt the mass atrocities now being perpetrated by the Libyan government against its own people.”
The petition invoked the “Responsibility to Protect” doctrine, a 2005 UN policy shift away from respect for national sovereignty toward green-lighting “humanitarian intervention,” including with military force, anywhere human rights are suspected of being violated.
Bouchuiguir’s petition was designed to tick all the necessary boxes of the R2P criteria. It reported that Libyan leader Gaddafi was deliberately killing peaceful protestors and innocent bystanders. He was using snipers to fire on Libyans at random, using helicopter gunships and fighter jets to attack, and even firing artillery shells into the crowd. The petition was where we first saw the oft-repeated line that the Gaddafi regime was employing foreign mercenaries against his own people.
Speaking in support of his petition before the UN Human Rights Council a few days later, Bouchuiguir claimed that Gaddafi had already killed 6,000 of his own people and was determined to kill many more. Based on his testimony and the petition signed by the 70 NGOs, Libya was suspended from membership in the UN Human Rights Council. On the strength of that suspension the issue was moved along rapidly to the UN Security Council, where teeth would soon be put into the campaign for military intervention.
What is behind this human rights NGO? The Libyan League for Human Rights is a member of the International Federation for Human Rights, which as an organization took up and added the weight of its large membership to Bouchuiguir’s petition. It should not be much of a shock to learn that the International Federation for Human Rights relies heavily on governmental sources for funding. Governmental funding of NGOs has been an increasingly effective tool for mobilizing popular support for governmental policies. A land or resource grab is hardly as compelling to the masses as a claimed human rights crisis when a foreign intervention is planned.
Given this, it should be no surprise that the US government, through its own well-funded “democracy-promotion” NGO, the National Endowment for Democracy (NED), is a major supporter of the International Federation for Human Rights. In fact, NED's long-serving president, Carl Gershman, was one of the first signatories to Bouchuiguir’s Libya regime-change petition.
In the powerful film, Lies Behind the Humanitarian War in Libya,” filmmaker Julien Teil asks Bouchuiguir whether it was difficult to gather 70 NGOs behind his petition. He replies, “to tell the truth it’s not very difficult at all, cause all NGOs are acquainted.” That is key: the NGOs are all under the umbrella of US and other government-funded organizations like the International Federation for Human Rights. The seeming diversity of 70 signatures is in fact a Potemkin Village, masking the true uniformity of opinion and sponsors.
Why is the story of Bouchuiguir’s petition turning into a UN Human Rights Council action turning into a UN Security Council action turning into a NATO war on Libya so important? His claims were all lies. They were all made up, as he himself admits in the Teil documentary.
Asked months later by Teil how his claims of the number of deaths, rapes, wounded, and missing could be documented, Bouchuiguir replied, “there is no way.” He added that he got the numbers he used from the Libyan rebels themselves, a fact which was never pointed out when the numbers were first cited. The UN Security Council took up his claims, passing the fateful UNSC Resolution 1973 authorizing force against Libya, without investigating them. Pressed one last time in the film for evidence of his claims, Bouchuiguir answered finally, “there is no evidence!”
For his efforts, Bouchuiguir was made Libyan ambassador to Switzerland once the NATO invasion was over and the rebel government was put in place. The international community gathered its NGOs together and moved on to the next target: Syria. Close to 99 percent of the mainstream media articles on Syria rely on a single source, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights. It is a one-man operation in London run by Rami Abdulrahman, whose day job is running a small clothing shop. Once again, one man and an NGO have been able to ignite international opinion in favor of “humanitarian” intervention. It would do us well to more closely examine the role of the NGOs in promoting international conflict, particularly the governments behind them.