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An update on Labour's position on the situation in Libya from Jim Murphy MP, Labour's Shadow Defence Secretary:

After last night’s vote on supporting the UN resolution on Libya I wanted to set out our Party's position. 

The vote in the House of Commons was 557 to 13 and I know that MPs on both sides of the debate came to their decision after great care and reflection. During the almost seven hours of debate there was real passion, enquiry and concern, but the overwhelming sense was of a responsibility to protect the Libyan people from their own government’s actions.   

No one could have been anything other than stunned by the ferocity of Gaddafi's attacks on his own people. We all shuddered at the sight of tanks surrounding the city of Benghazi, a city of 700,000 people, and Gaddafi threatening the population with "no mercy, and no pity”. As internationalists we have both the responsibility and the opportunity to help enforce international law and save innocents from slaughter. 

During the debate Ed Miliband set out Labour's position eloquently when he said that “the three key criteria for action exist: it is a just cause with a feasible mission and has international support. We are acting to protect the Libyan people, to save lives and to prevent the Gaddafi regime from committing serious crimes against humanity.” 

We have a responsibility to act.  There is clear evidence that Colonel Gaddafi has been brutalising his own people in response to their demands for democratic change. We know that many will ask ‘Why Libya and not other countries?’ It is a fair challenge, but our belief is that just because you can’t do the right thing everywhere doesn’t mean we shouldn’t do the right thing anywhere. The international community through the UN has made a very clear and robust commitment. 

Inaction would have undermined the cause of freedom not just for the hundreds of thousands of people who have risen up against Gaddafi in Libya, but in other countries where people are also fighting for change. 

Labour will support the Government where possible, but we will also scrutinise. There are four principal areas Ed Miliband, Shadow Foreign Secretary Douglas Alexander, myself and the Shadow Cabinet will focus on: 

  •  The legal basis of UN Resolution 1973 is clear: “to ensure the protection of civilians”. It is worrying, therefore, that the Defence Secretary Liam Fox is at odds with the Chief of Defence Staff in claiming that Colonel Gaddafi could be a target for military action.  The Libyan people must decide the future of their country, and our own Government has to speak with one voice on the issue.  
  • It is crucial that we have regional and Arab support to achieve the goals of the UN. We will continue to press the Government to ensure the broad coalition of support behind the action the international community is taking is sustained, and in particular that the pledges of assistance from Arab nations materialise. 
  • Resolution 1973 prohibits a “foreign occupation force of any form on any part of Libyan territory”.  The Government must be precise on their interpretation of a ‘foreign occupation force’ and clear about the role UK Armed Forces will play in days and weeks to come. 
  • The Government has been clear about why this conflict has started; it now needs to be needs to be clearer about how it will end. This is an enormously difficult issue and there is not currently a sense of certainty about Libya's future, except that Gaddafi should no longer terrorise his own people. The Government and the international community should set out the objectives of the operation and how they will be achieved, including a plan to rebuild the country after the conflict.   

There will be relief in the streets of Benghazi that the international community has acted, but there will also be anxiety in Britain, particularly in the homes of Service families.  Our thoughts should be with all British Forces around the world, including the more than 10,000 Britons in Afghanistan. Those undertaking courageous acts in the sky above Libya and in the Mediterranean should be given all the support they need because their bravery is what enables the UN resolution to be enforced and the Libyan people to be protected.

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