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Condemnation grows over Libyan attacks

Over 233 people are believed to have died in the Libyan protests so far Keystone

International condemnation of the bloody crackdown against anti-government protestors in Libya is mounting while some warn of possible crimes against humanity.

This content was published on February 22, 2011 - 22:03
swissinfo.ch

Following a closed session on Tuesday to discuss the violence, the UN Security Council condemned the crackdown on anti-government protesters and demanded that violence against civilians end immediately.



The 15-member council called for an "immediate end to the violence and for steps to address the legitimate demands of the population, including through national dialogue".

In another emergency session, the Arab League suspended Libya’s participation in its council meetings, saying it condemned the “crimes against the current peaceful popular protests and demonstrations”.

Meanwhile, Libyan leader Moammar Gaddafi refused to bow to calls from his own diplomats, soldiers and the protesters clamouring in the streets for an end to his four decades at the helm.

In an angry speech on state television, he vowed to fight protesters demanding his ouster, saying he would stay in the country and die “a martyr".

In Geneva, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay on Tuesday condemned grave human rights violations being committed by Libyan authorities and called for an international investigation into Libya's reported “widespread and systematic” attacks and use of machine guns, snipers and military planes against civilians.

“When you have civilians without any protection and they are attacked using this kind of force, using airplanes and air attacks, this may amount to crimes against humanity, as the protestors are peaceful,” Frej Fenniche, chief of the Middle East and North Africa section at the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, told swissinfo.ch.

“In addition, you have the statement by Saif-Al Islam, who clearly declared his intention to attack these people.”

Gaddafi’s son appeared on national television on Sunday evening in an attempt both to threaten and calm people, saying the army would enforce security at any price to put down the revolt.

Defections

Earlier, witnesses streaming across the Libyan border into Egypt said Gaddafi was using tanks, warplanes and mercenaries in an effort to stamp out the growing rebellion.

Human Rights Watch says that so far at least 233 people have been killed. Opposition groups put the figure much higher but independent verification is impossible.

Fenniche added that there had also been arbitrary detentions, disappearances and cases of torture.

“Many human rights defenders and journalists have been arrested. We don't know if they are alive or not," he told reporters at a news briefing in Geneva.

As the fighting has intensified across Libya, cracks appeared among Gaddafi supporters. Numerous ambassadors at key embassies around the world and other government officials have defected in protest, urging Gaddafi to step down; a group of army officers called on soldiers to "join the people". Two pilots flew their warplanes to nearby Malta.

The country's ambassador to India, who resigned over the crackdown, said African mercenaries were being employed by Gaddafi. "They are from Africa, and speak French and other languages," Ali al-Essawi told Reuters.

Libya's deputy ambassador to the UN, Ibrahim al-Dabashi appealed for international intervention, starting with a no-fly zone over the country, to help stop "a real genocide".

Duty of international community

Lord David Owen, a former British foreign minister, echoed his words, telling the Arab news station Al Jazeera that it was "quite unacceptable" for the international community to "sit back and watch the Libyan air force shooting at people in the streets", and that the UN Security Council should use its powers under Article 7 of the UN charter to impose a no-fly zone as soon as possible.

The UN Security Council meanwhile held informal consultations in New York on Tuesday to discuss the crisis following a request by Dabbashi.

Pierre Hazan, a political scientist at Geneva University, said in theory the International Criminal Court (ICC) could also launch an investigation into the Libyan violence.

“The Security Council can also take a number of measures. It can impose sanctions and refer the case to the ICC, which would have a much stronger effect,” Hazan told swissinfo.ch, adding that this occurred in the case of Darfur.

NGOs speak out

Pillay supports the Geneva-based UN Human Rights Council holding an emergency session on the situation in Libya, as demanded by many human rights groups, but the decision is up to its member states, said Fenniche.

Switzerland also backs holding a special session on Libya, but it would need the support of 16 members of the Council, a foreign ministry spokeswoman told swissinfo.ch.

At the same time over 70 NGOs say Libya should be kicked out of the UN Human Rights Council due to the “massacres” committed by its authorities.

Under article eight of the resolution creating the council in March 2006, the UN General Assembly can, with a two-thirds majority, suspend a member that commits flagrant and systematic human rights violations. Libya was elected to the 47-member body last year.

Swiss reaction

Swiss Foreign Minister Micheline Calmy-Rey has called on the Libyan leadership to respect the basic rights of the people.

In a written statement she said she was "deeply concerned” at the acts of violence against demonstrators in North Africa and the Middle East.

The ministry is in permanent contact with the Swiss embassy in Tripoli, she said. But it is hard to get reliable independent information.  

There are 46 Swiss citizens registered at the embassy, most of them dual nationals. So far there have been no reports of any Swiss citizens in difficulties as a result of the protests.

The ministry advises people not to travel to Libya and for Swiss currently in Libya to try to leave the country “where possible and safe” on flights organised by other countries.

Several European countries sent planes to Libya to evacuate their nationals but Switzerland does not plan such an operation for the moment. Such a scenario is not excluded if there is a serious deterioration in the security situation, the foreign ministry said.

The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) called on Libyan authorities to respect human life and apply international standards in using force to try to restore law and order.

The ICRC is in close contact with the Libyan Red Crescent Society, which has provided blood supplies for several hospitals in Benghazi. It has offered the society direct support and hopes to be able to assess the situation on the ground as soon as possible.

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