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World Grapples For Response In Libya

  • RFE/RL

A man stands in front of burnt vehicles outside a state security building in Tobruk, east of Libya.

A man stands in front of burnt vehicles outside a state security building in Tobruk, east of Libya.

The international call is intensifying for action against the regime of Libyan leader Muammar Qaddafi, whose crackdown on antigovernment protesters in recent days has killed hundreds of people.

The UN Security Council held unofficial talks today on the upheaval in the north African country and may order a formal emergency meeting within the next two days.

Diplomats who spoke to news agency on condition of anonymity after the private discussions said there was agreement among the council’s 15 members to discuss further options, including imposing sanctions on Tripoli, after earlier calls to end violence went unheeded.

In Washington, State Department spokesman Philip Crowley said the United States had thrown its weight behind a proposal to remove Libya from the UN Human Rights Council.

"The Libyan government has violated the rights of its people [and] taking this step continues the increased isolation that the Libyan government is facing," he said.

The administration of U.S. President Barack Obama is dispatching Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to Geneva on February 27 for a meeting of the Council, where she is expected to push for the measure and a coordinated international response.

In Council discussions today, the prospect of expelling Libya was strongly resisted by Arab and some Islamic states such as Pakistan, as well as by Russia and Cuba.

Under UN rules, the full General Assembly can suspend a council member that commits gross violations of human rights, but there is no provision for outright expulsion.

U.S. officials say Washington would also support and an independent inquiry into the Libyan government’s alleged human rights violations.

Obama is expected to call British Prime Minister David Cameron and French President Nicolas Sarkozy today to coordinate steps designed to halt the crackdown.

Meanwhile, Switzerland has ordered an immediate freeze on assets in the country belonging to Qaddafi and his entourage.

Coordinated Condemnation

The growing momentum in response to the situation comes after Obama called on the world to unite to hold the Qaddafi government accountable.

In his televised response to the unrest on February 23, he promised to deploy a "full range of options" to halt "outrageous" attacks on protesters.

"The suffering and bloodshed is outrageous, and it is unacceptable," Obama said. "So are threats and orders to shoot peaceful protesters and further punish the people of Libya. These actions violate international norms, and every standard of common decency. This violence must stop."

Some in Washington have criticized Obama for not speaking out sooner against Qaddafi's crackdown.

But U.S. officials say they have tempered their response to ensure that thousands of U.S. citizens in Libya can be safely evacuated.

Other world leaders have made similar calls for a similar call for a unified response to events in Libya, including UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon and German President Christian Wolff.

"The pictures from Libya are absolutely shocking, unbearable," said Wolff. "There must be an end to the violence against the population, which is being terrorized by Qaddafi. This is state terrorism and obviously the act of someone who can be called a psychopath. I believe that under such circumstances, the world must stand together."

The Arab League barred Libya from attending meetings of the bloc until it ends its violent crackdown on protesters, which it said involved violations of human rights and international laws.

The Libyan government's use of excessive force against civilians was also strongly criticized by Ekmeleddin Ihsanoglu, the secretary general of the Organization of the Islamic Conference, an umbrella organization representing 57 Muslim nations.

Indonesia, the world's most populous Muslim nation, demanded the United Nations take action to restore security and prevent a spike in oil prices.

Sanctions Next?

Nevertheless, differences remain among countries over how to proceed, some driven by concern not to jeopardize the safety of thousands of foreigners caught up in an increasingly unstable situation.

Over a dozen countries, including Russia, China, and Ukraine, have sent planes in to help their citizens escape Libya.

After a meeting of EU ambassadors on February 23, the bloc did not announce sanctions. But it did suspend a framework trade agreement with Tripoli, and the body’s foreign policy chief, Catherine Ashton, said the EU stood "ready to take further measures."

Diplomats said sanctions could include an assets freeze, a travel ban, an arms embargo, and the legal pursuit of those involved in violent repression.

Today, Qaddafi's portrait was removed from the interior walls of the Justus Lipsius, the building that houses the EU Council.

The British government has already revoked arms export licenses to Libya, but an agreement on a package of sanctions could take weeks.

Some governments, including Italy, warn of economic consequences if sanctions are imposed.

Sanctions are also opposed by Turkey, whose prime minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, told AFP news agency that such measures would "punish the people" rather than the government.

Libya has had sanctions imposed on it for a decade when it was regarded as a pariah state by the United States and other Western countries, before they were lifted in 2003.

In an interview with RFE/RL, Andrew Stroehlein, communications director for the International Crisis Group, called for countries to follow Switzerland’s example and impose an immediate assets freeze.

"There's no reason that targeted sanctions against Qaddafi and his family could not be enacted by individual countries or, say, on the European Union level, really right away," he said. "In terms of asset freeze, these things can happen quite quickly. That is a matter, really, of days."

Another proposal gaining some traction was for the United Nations to declare a no-fly zone over Libya to prevent it using warplanes to hit protesters.

There have also been calls to establish an international commission of inquiry into alleged crimes against humanity in Libya.

The French Foreign Ministry said, "All possible actions must be examined, including getting international justice involved," in apparent reference to the International Criminal Court in The Hague.

Given that Libya was not a signatory to the Rome Statute establishing the court, the Libyan authorities would have to accept its jurisdiction. In the absence of such step, the UN Security Council can decide to refer the situation to the court.

with agency material