All entries for October 2023

October 31, 2023

‘Responsibility To Protect’ in Libya: A Post–colonial and Feminist Analysis

R2P blog image

Photo: Libya celebrates one-year anniversary of anti-Gaddafi uprising. Copyright UN Photo/Iason Foounten

Written by: Sol Rodriguez

The UN intervention in Libya marked a turning point in history, and the future of R2P. Stated by the outcome of the World Summit in 2005, R2P recognizes that a state can lose its sovereignty in the case of ethnic cleansing, crimes against humanity, war crimes and genocide. If any of these crimes occur and the state fails to act, the International Community has the legitimacy to intervene. Under Pillar 3 of R2P, it can be through peaceful and diplomatic strategies, or through coercive and military options.

While R2P has acquired many supporters due to its humanitarian message, its military operation in Libya increased the scepticism surrounding its objectives and consequences. In fact, Libya is now used as a hard proof confirming old suspicious that R2P can be abused for political purposes.

The Arab Spring and the Reaction by the International Community

The conflict in Libya, which took place in 2011, is contextualized within the “Arab Spring”, a movement understood as a pro-democracy movement where civilians were protesting against autocratic governments while demanding greater freedom and democracy.

In Libya, demonstrations against the country’s leader Gaddafi rapidly turned violent and the UNSC reminded the leader of his duty to protect his population. Violence escalated, and Gaddafi was accused of human rights violations. Resolution 1970 was accepted unanimously on February 2011 but given the lack of success, Resolution 1973 was adopted on March, giving authorization to take all necessary measures to protect the population, including military force. While no country voted against it, countries including China, Russia and Germany voted with abstention.

A Postcolonial and Feminist Critique of R2P

It is argued that R2P seems to advocate for Western values, reinforcing a binary and unequal relationship between the West and the rest (Other). Western values are considered universal and wanted by everyone. The speeches of the West talked about “duty” and “peace”. Intervention is perceived as moral obligation, as cultural correctness. Nonetheless, it is argued that R2P languages hides a paternalistic discourse in which Western societies have the moral responsibility to civilize the “Other”.

Furthermore, R2P reproduces underlying colonial stereotypes. It rests on a “self VS other” dichotomy, constructing the identity of the West as heroic, the guarantors of universal values, and of the “Other” as either a victim or as an uncivilized barbarian. The conflict in Libya was explained in simplified terms based on racial stereotypes. Gaddafi and his loyalists were criminals VS the (white) benevolent saviours in the quest for helping the victims and fighting the (brown) perpetrators.

Moreover, the language employed in R2P reproduces gender stereotypes. It views women in essentialist terms, portraying them either as victims or as ideal peacebuilders. Libyan women were described as targets of Gaddafi's brutality that had to be rescue. Whereas they played a key role sparking the revolution and in the overthrow of Gaddafi's regime, in the international sphere they were stripped of their agency and their performance was barely acknowledged. Following that women are among the vulnerable population, the likelihood of deployment of military force is more likely to be used to protect them.[1]

Additionally, R2P language can be argued to entail a marginalization effect on other collectives since women are prioritized.[2] Other collectives might be overviewed since they are considered “vulnerable”.

Discourse Strategies Used to Justify a Military Response

- Oversimplified conflict: Libyans were described as all together against a dictator. The audience pictures Libyans as united country whose only desire is to have rights. Although the opposition shared the goal to remove Gaddafi from power, the group of the rebels consisted of different groups seeking influence over the future of the country.

- The construction of the threat: the International Community used the language of immediateness and demonised Gaddafi to justify the use of force, a measure that in “normal” situations is not approved. Regional support and a legal basis were required too, so that intervention was not seen as a unilateral move by the West.

- Rape-as-a-weapon narrative: The claim of systematic sexual violence by Gaddafi´s with a political aim rests mainly on three rather thin and disputatious stories: Eman al-Obeidi´s story, Viagra was said to be distributed, and a Libyan psychologist announced that she identified over 200 victims of rape. Although there were doubts about the allegations and investigations were still in place, this did not stop the International Community to use the rape-as-a-tool narrative to demand a military operation. After the intervention, the ICC published a report in which they classified the sexual claims as speculative. Rather than being used as a tool with a political objective, rape occurred due to the lack of control and security at the time and was committed by all parties.


Intervention in Libya was a moral imperative that seemed to align with the security interests of the West. That is, although intervention was justified in humanitarian terms, critics have argued that a regime change was the ultimate goal pursued. Now, a decade after R2P implementation, the country is ruled by conflict and chaos. Not only does establishing a stable democracy seem to be impossible due to disputes and disagreements between rival factions after Gaddafi´s death, but also, they are currently facing the flood caused by Storm Daniel. The head of the World Meteorological Organization stated that the impact of such storm was much greater given the divided country.

Author Bio:

Sol Rodriguez is an undergraduate student in Philosophy, Politics and Economics at the University of Warwick. This blog is part of the URSS scheme run by Warwick. The latter sponsors students to conduct their own research project working with an academic during the summer.

[1] Carpenter.R 2012. Innocent Women and Children: Gender, Norms, and the Protection of Civilians. Burlington, VT: Ashgate; Enloe, C. 2000. Maneuvers: The International Politics of Militarizing Women´s Lives Berkeley: University of California Press

[2] Kolmasova, S. and Krulisova, K. 2019. Legitimizing Military Action through ‘Rape-as-a-Weapon’ Discourse in Libya: Critical Feminist Analysis, Politics & Gender. Cambridge University Press, 15(1), pp. 130–150. doi: 10.1017/S1743923X18000326.

October 09, 2023

Conflicting Narratives on Development and Environment in Argentina

lithium exploitation in Argentina

Source: Photo credits ‘no-al-litio’: Ramiro Barreiro,

Conflicting Narratives on Development and Environment in Argentina. What can we learn from lithium exploitation in Argentina?

Written by Mariana Paterlini

Argentina is an unequal country where the gap between the rich and the poor keeps widening, while its economy still depends on large-scale agriculture for export. However, since the 90s, and influenced by the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund, mining has emerged as a potential source of economic growth. Furthermore, in the last ten years, the Northwest region has gained visibility as part of the "lithium triangle". Along with Bolivia and Chile, this area concentrates 85% of the world's reserves of this crucial metal for the energy transition. Simultaneously, the consolidation of different actors questioning the benefits and negative impacts of the dominant development model has increased over the last twenty years, giving rise to a national scenario populated by environmental conflicts.

Lithium is often presented as a critical mineral in the transition to renewable energy. Currently, governments in the North promote its exploration and, in line with their international environmental commitments, link it to sustainable mining contributing to decarbonisation. Thus, it reproduces a Modernity discourse that conceives the environment and its resources as commodities ready to serve the human economic organisation. However, its extraction implies intensive water use that alters soil conditions and negatively impacts the ecosystem, thus an exploitation of the environment. Furthermore, this practice often violates the rights of local communities. Specifically, indigenous peoples who have remained marginalised since colonial times.

This research, conducted as the dissertation to finish an International Development MA at the University of Warwick, examined cultural products related to lithium exploitation circulating in national media, guided by a transdisciplinary theoretical framework that merges postcolonial development studies, political ecology, and sociology of culture, through discourse analysis. This approach made it possible to engage with how diverse actors conceptualise their relationships with the environment differently and consider Argentina's position in relation to the current centres of economic power. Then, five development narratives were identified while observing the relation of each model with the environment, the reproduction of colonialism each one entails and their efforts towards an ideal of emancipation for the country.

Here culture is thought of as a historical process anchored in common sense, habits, and beliefs which materialise the social relations of inequality between different groups involved. Therefore, exploring the cultural dynamics in the case of lithium exploitation makes it possible to decentre the hegemonic development narrative and expand the political imagination presenting alternative possibilities at stake.

The five development narratives identified through this exercise -orthodox extractivism, extractivism with industrialisation, green new deal (GND), degrowth, and community autonomism-shape heterogeneous ways of materialising human relations with nature. Moreover, they entail fields of possibilities and practices with which different groups can identify and between which relations of opposition or articulation are established, considering the power disputes across them. Therefore, based on the frequency of circulation, the actors legitimising the narratives and the media outlet in which they circulate, orthodox extractivism and extractivism with industrialisation are residual narratives, GND is the dominant one, and degrowth and community autonomism are the emergent.

Regarding the environment, whereas residual models assimilate it as natural resources intended to be exploited intensively (lithium appears as a commodity that brings in foreign currency, referred to as the "new oil", "white gold", or a "hidden treasure", allowing local communities to leave their "primitive" original state), the dominant model frames this exploitation within environmental standards that remain unclear (lithium appears as key for an energy transition, and refer as part of a "sustainable mining" linked to accountability and efficiency). In contrast, the emergent narratives understand the environment as the co-creation of a relationship between the biophysical and its inhabitants, entailing caring relationships (indigenous peoples expose how their identities and culture disappear if their ecosystem dies). Connected to this arises the question of its management. While the residual and the dominant narratives discuss it in terms of strategic resources that provincial or national governments may administer, the emerging models stress recognising the legitimate participation of indigenous communities and organised civil society in the debate.

Regarding emancipation, orthodox extractivism is the only narrative that does not envision emancipation and reproduces colonial relations between the North and the South, assimilating development to economic growth. On the other hand, extractivism with industrialisation, GND, degrowth and community autonomism include an emancipatory aspect. Nonetheless, their understanding of emancipation differs; the two former links it to improving Argentina's position in the global market, neglecting power inequalities within the country, and understanding economic growth as the basis of development. The latter consider emancipation from a bottom-up perspective, undervaluing economic growth as the basis of development and connecting it to a shift in the relationship with the environment.

Finally, in the residual and dominant narratives, it is possible to trace persistence of the Modernity discourse with nuances, reproducing the marginalisation of local communities and focusing on the country's position within global dynamics. In this way, they neglect the differentiated impact these dynamics have in different sectors, particularly the negative consequences on already marginalised communities. On the other hand, the emergent models openly challenge this discourse, emphasising the reinforcement of local aspects to reverse the undesired effects of the current global ones.

This study showed that although emergent narratives usually appear on critical and alternative media outlets, they circulate in mainstream media to a lesser extent. Therefore, it made it possible to think that new futures, engaged with alternative development models, can be shaped by the massification of some unusual alliances already occurring in this arena. Thus, it might be relevant to delve deeper into the strategies for consolidating these unusual alliances while generating evidence to identify whether they effectively contribute to counteracting the reproduction of inequality.

Whilst the hegemonic development discourse aims to improve Argentina's position in the global system, it reproduces mechanisms that exacerbate the differentiated impact of this development model on different sectors of the population, producing environmental damages and more inequality. This analysis sought to deepen understanding of this situation and demonstrate alternative ways forward. The final goal remains on the side of hope and advocates for the plural construction of a development model intersected by the values of social justice, in which the motto of the Sustainable Development Goals becomes a reality: leaving no one behind.

Author Bio

Mariana Paterlini has recently graduated with an MA in International Development at the University of Warwick. She is a human rights activist whose practice has focused on feminism, gender rights, economic, social, and cultural rights and, more recently, the right to the future. Her master's dissertation addressed continuities and ruptures traceable in the narratives circulating in the public debate on development and the environment in Argentina. She was a Chevening scholar, and this piece was made possible by funding from the Chevening Scholarships, the UK government's global scholarship programme, funded by the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO).


The Warwick Interdisciplinary Research Centre for International Development addresses urgent problems of inequality and social, political and economic change on a global level.

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