1 March 2011 – The General Assembly today suspended Libya from the United Nations Human Rights Council for “gross and systematic” human rights violations because of President Muammar Al-Qadhafi’s violent repression of peaceful protesters demanding his ouster.
The vote by the 192-member Assembly, for which a two-thirds majority was required, followed a request last Friday from the Geneva-based Council itself that it suspend the North African country – one of the top UN right’s body’s 47 elected members – and was passed by acclamation.
It was the latest measure taken against Mr. Qadhafi’s regime by the UN, where the Security Council has already imposed sanctions and requested that the International Criminal Court investigate it for possible crimes against humanity. Only Venezuela expressed reservations about Tuesday’s suspension on the grounds that an investigation was needed first – but it did not stand in the way of the vote.
Terming the Qadhafi regime’s actions “flagrant human rights violations,” the President of the General Assembly, Joseph Deiss, warned that there can be no security or development without respect for rights.
“The credibility of the international community, the United Nations General Assembly, the Security Council and the Human Rights Council is at stake in ensuring that these rights are respected and that human rights violations are punished,” he told the representatives gathered in the hall before the vote.
“Today it is up to us, the General Assembly, to do our part. We must show unity and resolve in our determination to promote the fundamental values of the [UN] Charter,” Mr. Deiss added. “This is our duty to all the men and women who are hoping and struggling to have their rights respected and who, today, are running the greatest risks. Their hopes must not be dashed.”
Also addressing the Assembly before the vote, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon voiced grave concern at the continued loss of life, “the ongoing repression of the population and the clear incitement to violence against the civilian population by Colonel Qadhafi and his supporters.”
Mr. Ban said the actions taken by the various UN bodies send a strong and important message – “a message of great consequence within the region and beyond: that there is no impunity, that those who commit crimes against humanity will be punished, that fundamental principles of justice and accountability shall prevail.”
The Human Rights Council was established in 2006 to replace the UN Commission on Human Rights, which had been considered ineffective. The 47 countries that make up the Council’s membership are elected by secret majority vote of the General Assembly based on geographical distribution, and serve for three years, with no more than two consecutive terms. Libya was elected last year with its term scheduled to end in 2013.
Mr. Ban warned of a crisis marked by on-going violence, a growing humanitarian emergency and a political situation that could quickly deteriorate further. He cited reports that government had opened arms depots and arsenals “to gangs who terrorize communities” and that its forces had fired indiscriminately on peaceful protesters.
The Secretary-General stated that the international community must recognize that any changes to societies in the region “must come from within.”
“Above all, this means local ownership and local leadership, consistent with popular aspirations for dignity and justice,” Mr. Ban said. “In this great and noble quest, the United Nations stands ready to assist in every way possible, should the people of the region and their governments request our help.”
He noted that while the death toll from nearly two weeks of violence in Libya is unknown, it is likely to exceed 1,000, with thousands injured. “Credible and consistent reports include allegations of extra-judicial killings, arbitrary arrests, detention and torture,” the Secretary-General said.
Citing a growing crisis of refugees and displaced persons, with nearly 150,000 people already fleeing to Tunisia and Egypt, he warned that the violence could disrupt distribution networks and lead to food shortages.
“In these difficult and unpredictable circumstances, it is critical that the international community remain united,” he said, citing his meeting yesterday in Washington, D.C., with United States President Barack Obama, and talks he plans to hold with other world and regional leaders in the coming days.
“Our collective challenge will be to provide real protection for the people of Libya – first, to halt the violence and, second, to deal with the growing humanitarian emergency,” Mr. Ban said. “The arms embargo, travel ban and assets freeze imposed by Security Council resolution 1970 [on Saturday] must be swiftly and effectively enforced. We need concrete action on the ground to provide humanitarian and medical assistance. Time is of the essence. Thousands of lives are at risk.”
In the coming days, UN assessment teams will deploy to organize the humanitarian response, working on the ground where they can in the eastern and western regions of Libya, Mr. ban said, adding that he would bring together the heads of UN humanitarian agencies and international and regional groups including the Arab League, the African Union and the Organization of Islamic Conference to consolidate the response, for which he plans to appoint a Special Envoy.
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