U.N. Suspends Libya From Human Rights Council

03/02/2011 01:44 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

UNITED NATIONS (AP) -- The U.N. General Assembly suspended Libya from its top human rights body as governments worldwide pressured Muammar Gaddafi to halt the deadly crackdown on his people.

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The 192 U.N. member nations voted by consensus on the council's recommendation to suspend Libya's membership on the U.N's top human rights body for committing "gross and systematic violations of human rights." General Assembly President Joseph Deiss called for the vote and signaled its adoption by consensus by banging his wooden gavel.

The resolution sponsored by Arab and African states also expressed "deep concern" about the human rights situation in Libya.

It is the first time any country has been suspended from the 47-member council since it was formed in 2006. Based in Geneva, the council is charged with strengthening the promotion and protection of human rights around the globe.

Libya's suspension from the rights body comes after the U.N. Security Council and United States' imposition of sanctions on Muammar Gaddafi, his family and top associates, and the Arab League, the African Union and the Organization of Islamic Conference's condemnation of Libya's deadly attacks on civilians.

There have been no moves by the U.N. to create a no-fly zone, and the idea has been rejected by Russia, which has a veto-wielding permanent seat on the Security Council. But British Foreign Minister William Hague said Tuesday that his country and its allies could seek a no-fly zone without a U.N. mandate.

Canada announced on Tuesday it had frozen 2.3 billion Canadian dollars ($2.4 billion) in assets belonging to Gaddafi's regime. The government did not detail the assets.

Canada is also sending a warship to the Libyan coast, adding to an international military buildup in the region.

Tuesday's vote suspending Libya from the council does not permanently remove it from the body, but prevents it from participation until the General Assembly determines whether to restore the country to full status.

At a gathering of the U.N. Human Rights Council before last week's vote there, Libyan diplomats to the U.N. in Geneva were given a standing ovation as they announced they were renouncing Gaddafi's government. They, like Libyan diplomats to the U.N. in New York, have supported the U.N. moves against the government.

Libya's deputy U.N. ambassador Ibrahim Dabbashi said Tuesday that Gaddafi is trying to replace him and Ambassador Mohamed Shalgham because they have both called for an end to his regime. Although Dabbashi told The Associated Press that "certainly it will not be accepted by the United Nations," U.N. diplomats say it could be complicated because, from a legal and protocol standpoint, the Gaddafi government is still accredited to the United Nations.

In Washington, U.S. State Department lawyers are reviewing a Libyan government document that purports to fire Ambassador Ali Aujali as its envoy to Washington and replace him with a Gaddafi loyalist. U.S. officials said Tuesday that until the review is complete, the Obama administration will recognize Aujali, who has sided with Gaddafi opponents.

In other U.N. action, the 15-member Security Council slapped an arms embargo, a travel ban and assets freeze on Gaddafi, his family and top associates during an emergency weekend meeting. It also agreed to refer the case to the International Criminal Court at The Hague – a permanent war crimes tribunal – to investigate and prosecute possible crimes against humanity.

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon told the General Assembly before its Tuesday action the collective actions send a strong message that "that there is no impunity, that those who commit crimes against humanity will be punished."

Suspension of Libya from the rights council was cheered by the United States, which has imposed its own sanctions on the Gaddafi government.

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said: "The General Assembly today has made it clear that governments that turn their guns on their own people have no place on the Human Rights Council."

"The international community is speaking with one voice and our message is unmistakable: these violations of universal rights are unacceptable and will not be tolerated," she said in a statement released by the U.S. State Department.

Venezuelan Ambassador Jorge Valero expressed reservations about the vote, saying "a decision such as this one could only take place after a genuine investigation." Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez has said he would not condemn "my friend" Gaddafi.

Peggy Hicks, global advocacy director for Human Rights Watch, said the vote raises the question of how Libya got on the council in the first place.

Libya was among seven countries accused of human rights violations, including Angola and Malaysia, that won three-year council seats last year when running on uncontested regional slates.

Candidates for membership are proposed by regional groups, which often submit only enough candidates to fill their seats. By failing to provide competitive options, such uncontested candidate nations are virtually assured approval – despite their human rights records.

"It's time for the General Assembly to take seriously the standards it set for membership on the Human Rights Council, and apply them to countries seeking to join the body in the future," Hicks said.

Israeli Ambassador Meron Reuben said after the vote was a "wake-up call" about how Human Rights Council members are chosen. "Libya under its current notorious regime should never have been elected to sit as a member in the Human Rights Council," he said.

In Geneva earlier Tuesday, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov ruled out the idea of creating a no-fly zone over Libya, saying such a move would be "superfluous" and that the international community should instead focus on full use of U.N. Security Council sanctions.

Leaders in the U.S., Europe and Australia have suggested the military tactic – used successfully in Iraq and Bosnia – to prevent Gaddafi from bombing his own people.

Hague told BBC television on Tuesday that while "ideally" such an action would be sanctioned by a Security Council resolution, it wasn't essential. The no-fly zones operated over Saddam Hussein's Iraq by the U.S. and Britain did not receive such U.N. approval, while the one over Bosnia did.

Russian NATO ambassador Dmitry Rogozin cautioned against moving militarily against Libya without U.N. authorization.

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Edith M. Lederer at the United Nations, Matthew Lee in Washington, and John Heilprin in Geneva contributed to this report.

03/11/2011 6:31 PM EST

U.S. Extends Sanctions On Libya

Reports the AP:

The Obama administration extended its Libya sanctions to more Gadhafi family members and close advisers on Thursday, blacklisting business with the Libyan leader's wife, four of his children and his chief of military intelligence.

The Treasury Department froze the assets of nine Libyans in all as part of the strategy to peel off Moammar Gadhafi's closest advisers while punishing those who remain loyal to the regime even as it commits human rights violations.

The sanctions come on top of those previously announced by the administration, which accounted for $32 billion in Libyan government assets blocked in the United States.

03/11/2011 5:33 PM EST

Sarkozy Calls For Air Strikes If Gaddafi Attacks Civilians

French President Nicolas Sarkozy has called for airstrikes against Gaddafi forces if the leader attacks civilians. According to the Guardian:

Nicolas Sarkozy has called for targeted air strikes against Muammar Gaddafi's regime if his forces use chemical weapons or launch air strikes against civilians.

As the EU foreign policy chief, Lady Ashton, warned that a no-fly zone could risk civilian lives in Libya, the French president told an emergency EU summit in Brussels that air strikes may soon be justified.

"The strikes would be solely of a defensive nature if Mr Gaddafi makes use of chemical weapons or air strikes against non-violent protesters," Sarkozy said. The French president qualified his remarks by saying he had many reservations about military intervention in Libya "because Arab revolutions belong to Arabs".

03/11/2011 5:06 PM EST

Dutch Helicopter Crew Freed

A Dutch helicopter crew taken captive in Libya has been freed and sent to Greece. The BBC is reporting:

The two men and one woman arrived in Athens on a Greek military transport plane hours after a son of Muammar Gaddafi announced their release.

Saif al-Islam Gaddafi said Libya would hold on to the crew's Lynx helicopter.

The woman pilot, Yvonne Niersman, took part in a mission last year to free a German ship from Somali pirates.

Ms Niersman and her fellow crew members were captured in Libya after flying in from the Dutch warship Tromp, anchored off the coast.

Read the entire report here.

03/11/2011 4:43 PM EST

McCain Praises Moroccan King

Senator John McCain praised Morocco's King Mohammed VI for his pledge to introduce democratic reforms. According to the AFP:

"This new reform agenda builds on the king's long-standing commitment to lead Morocco to a future of reform and modernization, and it could ensure that the Kingdom of Morocco will continue to stand as a positive example to governments across the Middle East and North Africa," said McCain.

03/11/2011 3:40 PM EST

Gaddafi Offers Amnesty To Rebels

Reuters is reporting that Gaddafi is now offering to offer amnesty to those rebels who lay own arms.

03/11/2011 3:28 PM EST

2 Protesters Killed In Tunisia

The AP reports:

Tunisia's Interior Ministry says a new eruption of violence between police and protesters has killed two people and injured 20.

The ministry says on its Facebook page that police fired tear gas and demonstrators threw stones and gasoline bombs.

The statement says two protesters were killed in the incident in Metlaoui, a mining town in the center of the Mediterranean country.

The violence comes as Tunisia's interim government is trying to restore stability after deadly protests that drove out longtime leader Zine El Abidine Ben Ali in January. That prompted uprisings around the Arab world.

03/11/2011 2:39 PM EST

Berlusconi Says Hardline With Gaddafi A Mistake

Berlusconi is saying that the West may have made a mistake by taking a hardline against Gaddafi, which may have backed the Libyan leader into a corner. Reports Reuters:

The hardline stance taken by major powers against Muammar Gaddafi may have backed the Libyan leader into a corner and prevented a quiet exit, Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi said on Friday. Speaking after a special meeting of EU leaders, Berlusconi, one of Gaddafi's closest friends in Europe until the current upheaval, said the chances of persuading him to give up power voluntarily now appeared to have disappeared.

"Once someone put forward the idea of bringing Gaddafi before the International Criminal Court, I think the idea of staying in power became entrenched with him and I don't think anyone can make him change his mind," he told reporters.

Read the entire report here.

03/11/2011 2:16 PM EST

Who Are The Libyan Rebels?

The AP is reporting that the rebels fighting Gaddafi forces are amateurs, but deeply committed to the cause:

Moammar Gadhafi has ruled Libya since long before the 25-year-old was born, and he hates the dictator enough to risk his life by fighting for the ragtag rebel force battling government troops along a desolate highway on the North African country's Mediterranean coast.

"I will fight forever. I will die or win, like Omar Mukhtar," said Salem, invoking the legendary Libyan hero who fought Italian occupiers in the 1930s, was ultimately executed, and has become a symbol for the new revolutionaries.

The front-line force trying to advance toward Gadhafi's stronghold in the capital Tripoli is surprisingly small. Not counting supporters who bolster them in the towns along their path, it is estimated at 1,500 at most — Libyans from all walks of life, from students and coffeeshop owners to businessmen who picked up whatever weapons they could and joined the fight. No one seems to know their full size, and they could be picking up new members all the time.

Its ramshackle nature explains the dramatic lurches the fighting has taken. Last week, they took control over a stretch of Mediterranean coastal land that included major oil installations in the ports of Brega and Ras Lanouf. They charged enthusiastically further west, reaching within a few dozen miles of Gadhafi's hometown of Sirte, a bastion of support for the leader of 41 years.

03/11/2011 1:03 PM EST

Gaddafi Forces Show Signs Of Victory

Reports the AP:

Moammar Gadhafi's regime has gained momentum with the capture of a key city near Tripoli after days of fierce fighting with rebels.

The battle for Zawiya has emerged as a key test in the government's ability to maintain its hold on the Libyan capital and surrounding areas.

The government had claimed victory on Wednesday, but the rebels who are seeking to oust Gadhafi said fighting was ongoing.

An Associated Press reporter, who was escorted with other journalists into the city on Friday, says the main square that had been the center of resistance is clearly in government control.

03/11/2011 12:47 PM EST

Obama On Libya

Obama noted all of the sanctions and property seizures that have already been implemented against Gaddafi, saying, "Across the board, we are tightening the noose on Gaddafi." He says that NATO is discussing potential military actions in Libya, including a no-fly zone, and will meet on Tuesday. He said that a position will be created for a liaison to speak with Libyan opposition groups. He said that the international community had moved quickly to isolate Gaddafi.

Obama said that no options have been taken off the table so far. In response to a question about whether it would ever be acceptable to the U.S. for Gaddafi to stay in power, Obama stated that "it is in the U.S.' interest and the interest of the Libyan people for Gaddafi to leave." He added, however, that when making a decision to engage militarily, he would weigh the "costs and benefits."

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