The United Nations Human Rights Council today strongly condemned the recent violence in Libya and ordered an international inquiry into alleged abuses, while also recommending that the country’s membership in the UN’s top human rights body be suspended.
In a resolution adopted unanimously at the end of a special session held in Geneva, the 47-member Council called on the Libyan Government to meet its responsibility to protect its population, immediately end all human rights violations, stop any attacks against civilians, and respect the popular will, aspirations and demands of its people.
Members of the Council are elected by the General Assembly, which has the right to suspend the membership of a country that has persistently committed gross and systematic violations of human rights during its term of membership. The process of suspension requires a two-thirds majority vote by the 192-member Assembly.
Addressing the opening of the session, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay urged action to help end the violence in Libya and to hold perpetrators of atrocities accountable, warning that the crackdown on protesters is getting worse.
“More needs to be done. I encourage all international actors to take necessary measures to stop the bloodshed,” she stated, adding that, according to some sources, thousands may have been killed or injured over the past week.
“Although reports are still patchy and hard to verify, one thing is painfully clear: in brazen and continuing breach of international law, the crackdown in Libya of peaceful demonstrations is escalating alarmingly with reported mass killings, arbitrary arrests, detention and torture of protestors.”
Tanks, helicopters and military aircraft have reportedly been used indiscriminately to attack the protestors, she added.
“The Libyan leader must stop the violence now,” the High Commissioner stressed, pointing out that Libya is a member of the Human Rights Council and pledged to respect human rights, and is also a State party to various international human rights treaties.
She also recalled that under international law, “any official, at any level, ordering or carrying out atrocities and attacks can be held criminally accountable and that widespread and systematic attacks against the civilian population may amount to crimes against humanity.”
A statement delivered on behalf of all of the Council’s independent human rights experts endorsed the High Commissioner’s call for an international inquiry into the violence, stressing that the international community should “act without delay” to protect civilians from serious human rights violations.
Witnesses in and out of Libya consistently describe horrifying scenes, Ms. Pillay told delegates. Libyan forces are firing at protestors and bystanders, sealing off neighbourhoods and shooting from rooftops. They also block ambulances so that the injured and dead are left on the streets.
Reports from hospitals indicate that most of the victims have been shot in the head, chest or neck, suggesting arbitrary and summary executions, she said. Doctors relate that they are struggling to cope and are running out of blood supplies and medicines to treat the wounded. “Images of unverifiable origin appear to portray the digging of mass graves in Tripoli,” she added.
According to several accounts, killings have also been carried out by foreign fighters who were and reportedly continue to be brought into the country and equipped with small arms and light weapons by the Government to suppress the protests.
In this connection, the High Commissioner’s Office has received reports that some Libyans are turning on refugees and migrants from other African countries, suspecting them of being mercenaries fighting for the Libyan Government.
Ms. Pillay stressed that the safety of all foreign nationals be ensured and that the freedom of movement of those wishing to leave the country be fully respected and protected.
“Libyan authorities must allow the safe passage of humanitarian and medical supplies and humanitarian workers into the country. They must also ensure that the legitimate demands of the protestors are addressed and the fundamental human rights of the population are fully respected and promoted,” she said.
Ms. Pillay also voiced her concern for the safety and well-being of refugees crossing into neighbouring countries, particularly Tunisia, Egypt, Italy and Malta, and urged Libya’s neighbours to open their borders and ensure that refugees fleeing the violence are welcomed and treated humanely.
The UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) today commended the “humanitarian spirit” shown by the Tunisian and Egyptian Governments in welcoming and caring for people fleeing Libya.
“We call upon the international community to provide substantial humanitarian support for these two countries,” Melissa Fleming, UNHCR’s spokesperson in Geneva, told reporters. She added that the agency is concerned that Libyans farther away from the border areas and in the capital, Tripoli, are being prevented from fleeing.
The Tunisian Government has declared that its borders are open for all nationalities attempting to flee the ongoing violence in Libya, and reported that some 22,000 people have fled the violence in Libya and crossed over into Tunisia.
The Egyptian Government has told UNHCR that Libyans are welcome and that it is ready to care for all injured and sick people who need to cross the border. A UNHCR team is starting work at the Egyptian border today.
“We hope that all those who need to cross the border will be allowed to do so in a non-discriminatory manner,” said Ms. Fleming.
Meanwhile, a team from the UN World Food Programme (WFP) is on the Libyan-Egyptian border to asses the food needs of those fleeing Libya. The agency said it is ready to dispatch high energy biscuits and provide food assistance to Libyans when the security situation improves.