Speedy, Decisive International Action to Protect Civilians in Libya is Vital – UN

NEW YORK–(ENEWSPF)–24 March 2011 – A week after the Security Council authorized “all necessary measures” to protect civilians in Libya from Colonel Muammar Al-Qadhafi’s forces, speedy and decisive action by the world community remains crucial amid serious concerns of human rights abuses, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said today.

“The international community has acted together to avert a potential larger-scale crisis. I expect the international community to continue to exercise full diligence in avoiding civilian casualties and collateral damage,” he told the 15-member body in a briefing requested by the resolution at the start of consultations on the air and missile strikes launched by several countries to enforce a no-fly zone and hit pro-Qadhafi forces besieging civilians in cities.

“Given the critical situation on the ground, it is imperative that we continue to act with speed and decision. The resolution places great responsibilities on the UN system. I assure you that we will work closely with Member States and regional organizations to coordinate a common, effective and timely response,” he said, citing the resolutions goal of stopping “the brutal campaign of violence by the Libyan regime against its own people.”

In a later encounter with journalists he stressed that the resolution was not aiming for regime change but to protect civilians “because Colonel Qadhafi has been killing his own people.” Among the “serious concerns” he cited were “arrests, disappearances, threats and incitement, including by Colonel Qadhafi on national television.”

Mr. Ban told the Council that although the Libyan authorities have repeatedly claimed to have instituted a ceasefire, there has been no evidence that that is the case.

“To the contrary, fierce battles have continued in or around the cities of Ajdabiya, Misratah and Zitan, among others. In short, there is no evidence that Libyan authorities have taken steps to carry out their obligations under Resolutions 1970 or 1973,” he said, referring to last week’s resolution and an earlier one calling for a ceasefire and full protection of civilians.

“We continue to have serious concerns… about the protection of civilians, abuses of human rights and violations of international humanitarian law, and the access of civilian populations to basic commodities and services in areas currently under siege.”

He detailed the recent visit to the North African country by Special Envoy for Libya Abdel Elah Al Khatib. In Tripoli, the capital, Libyan Foreign Minister Musa Kusa told Mr. Khatib the Government had been forced to act by perceived threats from Al-Qaida and Islamist terrorists, adding that it offered amnesty to rebels who laid down their arms and rebel forces should also be required to abide by any ceasefire.

In Tobruk, eastern Libya, Mr. Khatib met with the armed opposition, who reiterated their call for a ceasefire and lifting the siege by Government forces on some cities in rebel hands. “They also expressed deep concern about the hardships inflicted on the Libyan people and demanded an end to the use of tanks and heavy weaponry targeting civilians,” Mr. Ban said.

Yesterday Mr. Ban discussed with African Union Commission Chairperson Jean Ping cooperation between the UN and the regional organization on Libya, and tomorrow, Mr. Khatib will go to Addis Ababa for an AU meeting which representatives of both the Libyan Government and the opposition will attend in a bid to reach a ceasefire and political solution.

“My Special Envoy’s mission [to Libya] was too brief to reach definitive conclusions about the human rights situation, but they found many worrying signs, including threats and incitement against the armed opposition,” Mr. Ban said.

“Colonel Qadhafi’s threats were aired repeatedly on national television. Journalists continue to be arrested. Foreign reporters in Tripoli told the UN mission about the population’s general state of fear, tight control by the security services, and instances of arrest and disappearances.”

He noted that some 336,000 people have left or fled Libya since the beginning of the crisis, which began five weeks ago as mass protests by civilians seeking an end to Mr. Qadhafi’s 41-year rule, and there are also contingency plans to deal with possible new waves of migrants and refugees of up to 200,000 to 250,000. Meanwhile, the $160 million flash appeal to deal with the exodus and other aspects of the crisis is 63 per cent funded.

Mr. Ban, who was speaking to the Council on his return from a visit to Egypt and Tunisia, where largely peaceful mass protests led to the ousters of entrenched leaders in those countries before the eruption of violence in Libya, said that he was setting up an expert panel, as requested by the resolution, to monitor implementation of sanctions, which include an arms embargo and assets freeze on Libyan Government officials.

As also requested by the resolution, he noted that so far the United Kingdom, France, United States, Denmark, Canada, Italy, Qatar, Belgium, Norway, Spain and the United Arab Emirates have sent letters confirming their participation in the actions to protect Libyan civilians. The North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) has also informed him of its decision to begin an alliance operation in support of the arms embargo.

In his encounter with journalists Mr. Ban described the sense of national pride he found everywhere he went in Egypt and Tunisia. “In the streets and at the highest levels of government, people were speaking the language of democracy, openness, freedom and human rights,” he said.

“The events in Egypt and Tunisia and across the Arab world represent the greatest opportunity for the evolution of democracy and human rights in a generation. It is vital that these transitions succeed,” he added, pledging to mobilize international aid, with special emphasis on socio-economic development.

“Egypt and Tunisia have achieved dramatic change with lightning speed. But now they are caught between spiralling expectations and reduced economic means. These emerging democracies need jobs, especially for the region’s highly educated young people, who are so optimistic about their future. They need to see the dividend of democracy.”

Also today, Mr. Ban discussed the situation in Libya, as well as in Yemen and Bahrain, with Moroccan Foreign Minister Tahib El Fassi Fihri in a meeting at UN Headquarters.