Read the statement
Mr Speaker, over three weeks ago, the people of Libya took to the streets in protest against Colonel Qadhafi and his regime, asking for new rights and freedoms. There were hopeful signs that a better future awaited them, and that like people elsewhere in the Middle East and North Africa they were taking their destiny into their own hands.
Mr Speaker, far from meeting those aspirations, Colonel Qadhafi has responded by attacking his own people. He has brought the full might of armed forces to bear on them, backed up by mercenaries. The world has watched as he has brutally crushed his own people.
On 23 February, the UN secretary general cited the reported nature and scale of attacks on civilians as, and I quote, “egregious violations of international and human rights law” and called on the government of Libya to meet its responsibility to protect its people. The Secretary General said later that more than 1,000 people had been killed and many more injured in Libya, amidst credible and consistent reports of arrests, detention and torture. Over the weekend of 26 and 27 February, at Britain’s instigation, the UN Security Council agreed Resolution 1970. This condemned Qadhafi’s actions. It imposed a travel ban and asset freezes on those at the top of his regime. It demanded an end to the violence, access for international human rights monitors and the lifting of restrictions on the media, and vitally it referred the situation in Libya to the International Criminal Court so that its leaders should face the justice they deserve.
Mr Speaker, in my statement to this House on 28 February I set out the steps that we would take to implement these measures. Our consistent approach has been to isolate the Qadhafi regime, deprive it of money, shrink its power and ensure that anyone responsibility for abuses in Libya will be held to account. I also told this House that I believe contingency planning should be done for different scenarios, including involving military assets, and that this should include plans for a no-fly zone.
Mr Speaker, intervening in another country’s affairs should not be undertaken save in quite exceptional circumstances. That is why we’ve always been clear that preparing for eventualities that might include the use of force, including a no-fly zone or other measures to stop humanitarian catastrophe, would require three steps and three tests to be met: demonstrable need, regional support and a clear legal basis.
First, demonstrable need. Qadhafi’s regime has ignored the demand of the UN Security Council Resolution 1970 that it stop the violence against the Libyan people. His forces have attacked peaceful protesters and are now preparing for a violent assault on a city, Benghazi, of a million people, that has a history dating back 2,500 years. They have begun air strikes in anticipation of what we expect to be a brutal attack using air, land and sea forces. Qadhafi has publicly promised that every home will be searched and that there will be no mercy and no pity shown. If we want any sense of what that might mean, we only have to look at what happened in Zawiya, where tanks and heavy weaponry were used to smash through a heavily populated town with heavy loss of life. And we don’t have to guess what happens when he has subdued a population: Human Rights Watch have catalogued the appalling human rights abuses that are being committed in Tripoli. Now the people of eastern Libya are faced with the same treatment. Mr Speaker, that is the demonstrable need.
Second, regional support. We’ve said there must be a clear wish from the people of Libya and the wider region for international action. It was the people of Libya, through their Transitional National Council, who were the first to call for protection from air attack through a no-fly zone. More recently, the Arab League have made the same demand. And, Mr Speaker, I would say this: it really has been remarkable how Arab leaders have come forward and condemned the actions of Qadhafi’s government. In recent days I’ve spoken with the leaders of Saudi Arabia, Qatar, the United Arab Emirates and Jordan, and a number of Arab nations have made clear that they are willing to participate themselves in enforcing this resolution. And this support goes far beyond the Arab world: last night all three African members of the UN Security Council voted in favour of the resolution.
Mr Speaker, the third and essential condition was that there should be a clear legal base. That is why, along with France, Lebanon and the United States, we worked hard to draft appropriate language which could command the support of the international community. Last night the UN Security Council agreed that resolution. Resolution 1973 demands the immediate establishment of a ceasefire and a complete end to violence and all attacks against and abuses of civilians. It establishes a ban on all flights in the airspace of Libya in order to help protect civilians, and it authorises member states to take, and I quote, “all necessary measures to enforce compliance with the ban”.
Crucially, it says this in Paragraph 4: it authorises member states acting nationally or through regional organisations or arrangements and acting in co-operation with the Secretary General to take all necessary measures to protect civilians and civilian-populated areas under threat of attack, including Benghazi. Mr Speaker, the resolution both authorises and sets the limits of our action. Specifically, it excludes an occupation force of any form on any part of Libyan territory, which was a clear agreement between all the sponsors of the resolution, including the UK and of course the Arab League. I absolutely believe that this is the right thing both to say and to do.
As our ambassador to the United Nations said, the central purpose of this resolution is to end the violence, protect civilians and allow the people of Libya to determine their own future, free from the brutality unleashed by the Qadhafi regime. The Libyan population wants the same rights and freedoms that people across the Middle East and North Africa are demanding and that are enshrined in the values of the United Nations Charter. Resolution 1973 puts the weight of the Security Council squarely behind the Libyan people in defence of those values, and our aims are entirely encapsulated by that resolution.
Mr Speaker, demonstrable need, regional support and a clear legal base, the three criteria, are now satisfied in full. Now that the UN Security Council has reached its decision there is a responsibility on its members to respond, and that is what Britain, with others, will now do. Mr Speaker, the Attorney General has been consulted and the Government is satisfied that there is a clear and unequivocal legal basis for the deployment of UK forces and military assets. He advised Cabinet this morning and his advice was read and discussed. The Security Council has adopted Resolution 1973 as a measure to maintain or restore international peace and security under Chapter VII of the United Nations Charter. The resolution specifically authorises notifying member states to use all necessary measures to enforce a no-fly zone and to protect civilians and civilian-populated areas, including Benghazi.
At Cabinet this morning, we agreed the UK will play its part. Our forces will join an international operation to enforce the resolution if Qadhafi fails to comply with its demand that he ends attacks on civilians. The Defence Secretary and I have now instructed the Chief of the Defence Staff to work urgently with our allies to put in place the appropriate military measures to enforce the resolution, including a no-fly zone, and I can tell the House that Britain will deploy Tornados and Typhoons as well as air-to-air refuelling and surveillance aircraft. Preparations to deploy these aircraft have already started, and in the coming hours they will move to air bases from where they can start to take the necessary action. The Government will table a substantive motion for debate next week, but I’m sure the House will accept that the situation requires us to move forward, on the basis of the Security Council resolution, immediately.
I’m sure that the whole House and all sides of the House call upon Colonel Qadhafii to respond immediately to the will of the international community and cease the violence against his own people. I spoke to President Obama last night and to President Sarkozy this morning. There will be a clear statement later today setting out what we now expect from Colonel Qadhafi.
We should never, Mr Speaker, prepare to or deploy British forces lightly or without careful thought. We have, I believe, in this case, given extremely careful thought to the situation that we have in hand. I think it is absolutely right that we played a leading role on the UN Security Council to secure permission for this action, and I believe it is absolutely right that we now work with allies to make sure that resolution is brought about. I know there will be many people in our country who will now want the questions answered about what we are doing and how we will go about it, and I intend to answer all those questions in the hours and days ahead and to work with our brave armed services to make sure that we do the right thing for the people of Libya, for the people of our country and for the world as a whole.