The situation in Libya has brought the spotlight to the challenge of preventing mass violence against civilians. Lawrence Woocher, senior program officer for the Center for Conflict Analysis and Prevention discusses the current developments in Libya and talks about USIP's Genocide Prevention Task Force.

March 4, 2011

The situation in Libya has brought the spotlight to the challenge of preventing mass violence against civilians. Lawrence Woocher, senior program officer for the Center for Conflict Analysis and Prevention discusses the current developments in Libya and talks about USIP's Genocide Prevention Task Force which USIP co-sponsored, along with the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum and the American Academy of Diplomacy.

How has the task force influenced the U.S. government’s thinking?

One of the task force’s major recommendations was for the President and other senior officials to demonstrate that preventing genocide and mass atrocities is a priority for the United States, including by speaking out publicly on the issue. Vice President Joe Biden gave a speech last week at the Holocaust Museum in which he articulated a  “four-fold” approach to genocide prevention by the Obama administration, which closely tracked themes from the task force: (1) “recognize early indicators of potential atrocities, and respond accordingly,” (2) “develop and implement strategies to prevent atrocities before they occur,” (3) “enhance the training and enrich the doctrine that guide our foreign service officers and our military personnel in their work to identify potential and confront actual atrocities,” and, (4) “work with our international partners to coordinate our efforts.” The Vice President also reported the creation of “the first ever White House position to coordinate policies on preventing, identifying and responding to mass atrocities in genocide,” directly following one of the Genocide Prevention Task Force’s recommendations.

Back to Top

 

How should this approach inform U.S. action towards Libya?

A general policy framework like the one Biden described can’t dictate actions in any particular case. But it does provide some hints. While the crisis in Libya may not have been foreseen, by now there is no doubt about the acute risk of massive violence against civilians. Although current options may be unattractive, past experience suggests that future options will become even riskier and more costly if violence is allowed to fester. The Genocide Prevention Task Force emphasized the need to consider a wide range of measures, including those focused on decision makers (e.g., targeted sanctions against Qadaffi), lower level potential perpetrators (e.g., incentives for Libyan soldiers to defect), potential victims (e.g., emergency humanitarian assistance), and influential third parties (e.g., engaging with neighboring governments to enforce an arms embargo). Lastly, while emphasizing the importance of concerted action with international partners, Biden said “sometimes that requires us being somewhat forceful.” This comment is particularly interesting in light of debate about a possible “no-fly zone” in Libya, which President Barack Obama acknowledged the United States is considering despite lack of broad international support.

Back to Top

Explore Further

 

Related Publications

What’s Next for Libya’s Protracted Conflict?

What’s Next for Libya’s Protracted Conflict?

Tuesday, June 14, 2022

By: Thomas M. Hill

This week in Cairo, the United Nations will host the final round of scheduled talks between representatives from Libya’s two opposing governments: the House of Representatives (HoR) based in the eastern city of Tobruk and the High Council of State (HCS) based in the western city of Tripoli. The talks which began in April are intended to yield a “solid constitutional basis and electoral framework” for ending the country’s longstanding political stalemate.

Type: Analysis and Commentary

Conflict Analysis & PreventionPeace Processes

The New U.S. Plan to Stabilize Conflicts: The Case of Libya

The New U.S. Plan to Stabilize Conflicts: The Case of Libya

Wednesday, April 6, 2022

By: Dr. Elie Abouaoun;  Thomas M. Hill

Almost 11 years after ousting the dictatorship of Muammar Qaddafi, Libya remains a largely ungoverned land divided among warlord-led factions that fight with support from rival foreign countries. Libya’s instability resonates widely, permitting the trafficking of weapons to the Sahel and migrants to Europe. Repeated peace efforts have failed to help Libyans form a unified national government, yet Libyans continue to show the capacity to overcome communal divisions and build peace at local levels. That demonstrated capacity offers an opportunity that can be expanded by the U.S. government’s decision, under its Global Fragility Strategy, to direct a new peacebuilding effort toward Libya.

Type: Analysis and Commentary

Fragility & Resilience

Elie Abouaoun on Libya’s Elections

Elie Abouaoun on Libya’s Elections

Friday, December 17, 2021

By: Dr. Elie Abouaoun

With the vote likely to be postponed, USIP’s Elie Abouaoun says frustrations are high over Libya’s political and economic stagnation as the international community tries to “generate a new political agreement … just to make sure the elections can happen without a major outbreak of violence.”

Type: Podcast

Democracy & Governance

Young and Angry in Fezzan: Achieving Stability in Southern Libya through Greater Economic Opportunity

Young and Angry in Fezzan: Achieving Stability in Southern Libya through Greater Economic Opportunity

Monday, November 22, 2021

By: Mary Fitzgerald;  Nate Wilson

The Fezzan region of Libya is home both to the country’s largest oil field, making it key to Libya’s oil-based economy, and to some of its direst poverty. Young people have borne the brunt of the region’s chronic development challenges, making them vulnerable to recruitment by armed groups and criminal networks. This report focuses on the grievances of Fezzan’s youth and explores how peacebuilding efforts can channel their needs and aspirations into larger conversations about the region’s long-term political and economic development.

Type: Peaceworks

Mediation, Negotiation & Dialogue

View All Publications