How awful do events have to be in a country before they get attention?

Here’s a simple question: how bad do events have to get in a country before it appears on the mainstream political agenda in this country?

Is having the UN High Commissioner for Refugees estimate that up to half a million people have had to flee their homes as a result of violence enough?

Or is having the UN High Commissioner for Refugees double its estimate in the last few days to a million people having fled (out of a population of 22 million)?

Or is having credible reports of sexual violence, summary execution and people being burnt alive?

Or is the UN saying 400 people have been murdered since November?

Or is having the International Crisis Group warning of ethnic cleansing and mass atrocities if nothing is done to stop the situation getting even worse?

Or is having the rulers of neighbouring countries calling for international action?

Or is having the UN warn that recent events may well already amount to war crimes?

The answer, alas, is none of these. For that is the situation in the Ivory Coast. However, attention in the UK may finally, reluctantly and all too shamefully belatedly be drawn to the tragedies there for the UN Security Council has started considering what further action, if any, to take with a draft French/Nigerian motion being submitted yesterday

As a permanent member of the Security Council, Britain’s diplomats – even if not its politicians or public – can no longer simply continue neglecting the issue in the same way for Britain will have to decide whether to vote and whether to veto. That is, at last, one small piece of progress.

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  • Don’t expect the UK to be very welcoming to any asylum seekers from the Ivory Coast either. They’ll be disbelieved and told that they can relocate within the country.

  • Philip Young 27th Mar '11 - 6:43pm

    Minor factoid: Libya has the third largest oil supplies in Africa, and 80 per cent of it goes to Europe.

  • An excellent and very valid post. It frustrates me, why is the Ivory Coast not on the agenda?

    I’ve spent some time looking at the issue of oil in Libya and each source seems to either use a different methodology or there’s different ways of ranking them eg – Iraq and Canada (coal tar sands) and random others sometimes come up but other times they don’t. The FT and Photius seem to indicate that Libya produces 1.58 millions barrels per day (15th in the world) and they have 48 years worth of supply left. This makes them important enough given the value of oil combined with the collective neuroticism of the oil markets.

    What’s more, I believe that it is/was European (British/French) oil companies helping them to get their oil to market. If Qaddafi should follow through with his threat to ‘sell’ his oil elsewhere then European interests would be badly hurt. I believe oil is very much a factor for brave Western politicians when deciding to ‘protect’ civilians or not eg – Germany doesn’t have a significant financial interest in Libya so they’re not interested whereas France through Total does. There are also overt political reasons, however, thanks to Friedman et al, it always has to come down to financial viability.

    That’s why we’re moving towards a war of aggression (in controvension of any UN resolution) with Libya (because Qaddafi is its head of state and his army is Libya’s army) and not doing anything at all in the former French colony and French-speaking Ivory Coast/Cote d’Ivoire.

    It turns my stomach.

  • toryboysnevergrowup 28th Mar '11 - 11:10am

    Stephen W

    Well said. There was a time when you could expect all Liberal Democrats to behave as liberals and believe in the defence of universal human rights wherever they were breached, by whoever they were breached and for whatever purpose. See also the comments on David Thope’s post on liberal interventionism.

    Liberal interventionism doesn’t mean that war and or invasion are the only response and it doesn’t mean that you don’t have to think through the consequences of your actions or the steps needed to allow people to return to their own self determination. But it doesn’t mean sitting on your hands and doing nothing – or coming up with endless reasons or conspiracy theories for doing nothing, or determining your position by reference to what your enemies and allies are doing.

  • toryboysnevergrowup 28th Mar '11 - 11:12am

    The other thing that is perfectly clear from history is that the longer you take to deal with problems such as the Cote D’Ivoire is that the worse they become and the more difficult they become to deal with and more people suffer as a result.

  • Andrew Wimble 28th Mar '11 - 12:41pm

    Sadily what needs to happen seems to be that either oil supplies are put at risk or some link can be made to muslim terrorists, otherwise it seems that the west (or at least the USA and the UK) are simply not interested

  • toryboysnevergrowup 28th Mar '11 - 1:25pm


    Not true – look at Kosovo and Sierra Leone – or even futher back Poland.

  • toryboysnevergrowup 28th Mar '11 - 1:38pm


    There are also plenty of conflicts where the UN and the OAU have acted in the past.

  • Stephen W

    “The people who bring out this slur without a fragment of evidence should be utterly ashamed of themselves.”

    You haven’t really put forward an argument to suggest that it may be a slur, or further on call us a disgrace for having opinions, so I think your comment is over the top, pompous and illiberal.

    Anyway, just to flesh things out for you in simple terms because it seems you’re unaware:

    Afghanistan = terror/revenge for 9/11 and is strategically important for Pakistan, a Nuclear Power, and Iran, a massive oil producer, and long time enemy of the West. Consequently, in case you didn’t know, it was actually ‘Cruise Missile’ (Bill) Clinton who started on Afghanistan….. one of their precision weapons managed to bullseye a medicine factory.

    Kosovo = the CIA was already funding and resourcing the brutal Kosovar Liberation Army (KLA).

    Sierra Leonne = much much smaller military commitment and well thought through even though a platoon needed rescuing from the ‘West Side Boys’ by the SAS with one casualty.

    I do take your point over Iraq and could go into detail over this, however, Halliburton made a lot of money on the back of the occupation and oil supplies were once again secured for the West without the need for anymore pesky UN resolutions. Yes, I know the Chinese are involved too through CNPC but for Iraq to go from providing virtually nothing to lots of oil after the adventure there is relevant.

    I’ve only done this on a very basic level because I can’t be bothered to go into further detail but suggest you lay off calling people’s opinion a disgrace wrapped with slurs because it makes you sound as though you’re on the wrong site.

  • toryboysnevergrowup 28th Mar '11 - 3:05pm


    It is very revealing how in every case you feel that you need to make reference to the position/involvement of the US when oil clearly isn’t involved – could it be that you see the US as enemy number 1 and the compass by which you determine your own moral compass rather than little things like defending human rights?

    Of course in the case of Libya the US is taking a much more hands-off role.

  • A great post Mark. I don’t know enough about Ivory Coast to speculate as to why more attention hasn’t been paid to the tragedy unfolding there. I have personally pondered such inconsistencies in the reaction of the international community on many occassions; in particular from having a long standing and close interest in the plight of the Tamils in Sri Lanka. At the close of their civil war the UNHCR estimated that 20,000 civilians were killed in the bombing of the supposed ‘no-fire zone’ and yet not only was no action taken at the time to stop this bloodshed still no concerted action has taken place since to prosecute those accused of war crimes or crimes against humanity. The wikileaks cables appear to suggest that the Western governments knew about the slaughter and suspect the Sri Lankan leadership of complicity in the crimes and yet still no concerted efforts have been made to address these crimes.

    To my mind there were a variety of reasons as to why this tragedy was allowed to take place and it is not so easy as to pin-point one exclusive reason. Whilst I suspect that had there been oil in the area the international community may well have taken greater notice this can not be the only reason for a lack of interest. In fact the power play of India and China competing for strategic importance in the region scared off any who felt inclined to intervene and this combined with the ongoing ‘war on terror’ created a climate that gave carte blanche to regimes dealing with ‘terrorists’ and the communities from which they apparently come.

    As with the Sri Lankan Tamils there are probably a variety of factors at play In Ivory Coast – none of which in my opinion should be allowed to excuse the inconsistencies of the international community or encourage the rest of us to turn a blind eye to the sufferings of civilians swept up into such conflicts.

  • How awful do events have to be? Ask them in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

  • >Well said. There was a time when you could expect all Liberal Democrats to behave as liberals and believe in the defence of universal human rights wherever they were breached, by whoever they were breached and for whatever purpose.
    >See also the comments on David Thope’s post on liberal interventionism.

    Please do. But unlike Toryboy, read what’s actually written there, rather than what he imagines is written there.

  • toryboysnevergrowup 29th Mar '11 - 10:01am

    yes please do – i’ve left Cassie a few questions as to how she thinks liberals should deal with fascists and other totalitarians in practice. On the other hand you might just see the usual attack on pro US warmongering neocons which really won’t be interesting at all!

  • toryboysnevergrowup 29th Mar '11 - 10:04am

    Perhaps one way of dealing with problems such as the Cote D’Ivoire and the general ineffectiveness of the UN (which is the body most of us would like to deal with such problems) is to use the circumstances in which the veto can be applied in the Security Council.

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