The International Criminal Court's commitment to investigate crimes against humanity in Libya is sending a strong message that the world's most powerful nations are increasingly willing to stand up for the world's most vulnerable people.
For only the second time in its history, the United Nations Security Council last week requested that the international prosecutors at The Hague intercede in an ongoing conflict. Many legal and investigative obstacles remain, but international politicians will appear intent on holding Muammar Gaddafi accountable for the murderous crackdown everyone can see on YouTube.
For decades, rich nations have tacitly accepted murder and repression as the price of global stability -- particularly in countries, like Libya, that produce commodities vital to economic growth. But even when a region produces little of global consequence, it has always been easier and cheaper for the great powers to ignore human rights violations than to intervene.
During Serbia's brutal four-year siege of my hometown Sarajevo, I saw firsthand how easy it is for men with tanks and guns to slaughter thousands of defenseless civilians with impunity. That experience is what inspired my ongoing work with the ICC to bring war criminals to justice.
Online social media tools like Facebook and YouTube make it harder than ever for tyrants and warlords to hide their crimes. It's also harder than ever for the rich and powerful nations of the world to ignore them. Thousands of Libyans with cell phone cameras tell the story in real time; the world does not have to wait for mass graves to be uncovered because it can see shaky, online video of the bodies before they are even buried.
The speed with which the world has acted on these images and condemned Gadhafi's actions in Libya is impressive, and provides hope. On Monday, the ICC's lead prosecutor said his investigators had already begun making inquiries. An investigation sends a strong message to dictators in other countries where people are agitating for freedom.
But as we have seen too many times before, an investigation does not always -- or even often -- yield the promised justice. The fact that indicted men like Ratko Mladic, who presided over the 1995 slaughter at Srebrenica, remain at large is a second crime that has many culprits. Those indicted must stand in the dock for justice to mean something.
The world stands at the edge of something new. Until recent events in Libya, peaceful resistance sparked political change across North Africa. It is now up to the rest of the world to embrace the spirit of that change, help the Libyan people achieve the liberty they deserve and no longer accept the death of innocents as the price of political stability.
Crimes against humanity are just that -- and it lessens all of our humanity when we ignore them.
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