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U.N. Criticized for Slow Response to Libya Unrest

United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon telephoned Libyan leader Colonel Moammar Qaddafi on Monday to “express deep concern at the escalating scale of violence.” But he and the United Nations as a whole has been criticized for being slow to condemn the brutal crackdown that began last week.

"Where is the United Nations? Qaddafi is committing crimes against humanity and there should be investigations launched immediately," decries Mohamed Eljahmi, a Libyan-American software engineer. He said he cannot fathom why "Secretary General Ban [Ki-moon] and the Human Rights Council are not forcibly condemning the Libyan dictator's atrocities against his own people."

Eljahmi's sentiments are shared by 70 human rights groups, including the National Endowment for Democracy, Physicians for Human Rights and U.N. Watch, which are calling for world powers to convene the U.N. Security Council and the Human Rights Council to protect Libyan civilians.

"The widespread atrocities committed by Libya against its own people are particularly odious actions and amount to war crimes," says the watchdog groups.

A Ban spokesperson used harsher words in a statement issued Monday evening, saying he was "outraged" at reports that Libyan forcers were firing on protesters.

"Such attacks against civilians, if confirmed, would constitute a serious violation of international humanitarian law and would be condemned by the Secretary-General in the strongest terms," the statement read.

And news broke Monday night that the Security Council planned to hold a closed-door meeting Tuesday morning on the situation in Libya.

U.N. Watch's Hillel Neuer helped pen an appeal by human rights organizations -- Urgent Appeal to World Leaders to Prevent Atrocities in Libya -- for concrete U.N. action to end the violence in Libya. The appeal calls for an international investigation into crimes against humanity and the suspension of Libya's Human Rights Council membership for “gross systematic violations of human rights.”

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton issued a statement Monday "strongly condemning the violence in Libya," adding that "the government of Libya has a responsibility to respect the universal right of the people, including the right to free expression and assembly. Now is the time to stop this unacceptable bloodshed."

U.N. Secretary-General Ban released a statement on Sunday about his concern over reports of bloodshed in Bahrain, Libya, Yemen and other countries. And during Monday’s telephone discussion with the Libyan dictator, Ban says he "reiterated his call for respect for basic freedoms and human rights, including peaceful assembly and information."

The U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay has condemned the response of Arab governments in the Middle East and North Africa as "excessively heavy-handed" and "illegal." Yet, there has been no action taken by the U.N. Human Rights Council.

Instead, so far the only Arab world-related action under discussion at the World Body is the Palestinians and other Muslims calling this week for an emergency session of the General Assembly to condemn Israel. Former U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. John Bolton says it is not surprising in the course of daily affairs of the United Nations for the General Assembly, the Security Council or the Human Rights Council to debate a resolution condemning Israel. 

Such was the case last week, when the Muslim world and allies forced through a Security Council vote on a resolution condemning Israel for "illegal" settlements in Palestinian Arab territory. Current U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Susan Rice vetoed the measure, which she said, “risks hardening the positions” of the Israelis and the Palestinians and “could encourage the parties to stay out of negotiations.” 

While all diplomatic energy was focused on punishing Israel, there was no debate of the central story in the Arab world, where forces loyal to Qaddafi were slaughtering protesters and violent crackdowns continued in Yemen and Bahrain. Even if U.N. members could agree on meeting on Libya, Bolton says, "It would not have any real-world impact."

"Libya should never have been allowed on the Human Rights Council and it certainly shouldn't have chaired the Security Council recently," say Mohamed Eljahmi, whose late brother Fathi, a leading Libyan dissident, died in 2009 in custody of Qaddafi's secret police. "Qaddafi used these high profile positions as a means to gain legitimacy and it emboldened his regime."

Read below for the appeal:

Urgent Appeal to Stop Atrocities in Libya
Sent by 70 NGOs to the US, EU, and UN, 21 February 2011

We, the undersigned non-governmental, human rights, and humanitarian organizations, urge you to mobilize the United Nations and the international community and take immediate action to halt the mass atrocities now being perpetrated by the Libyan government against its own people. The inexcusable silence cannot continue.

As you know, in the past several days, Colonel Moammar Gadhafi’s forces are estimated to have deliberately killed hundreds of peaceful protesters and innocent bystanders across the country. In the city of Benghazi alone, one doctor reported seeing at least 200 dead bodies. Witnesses report that a mixture of special commandos, foreign mercenaries and regime loyalists have attacked demonstrators with knives, assault rifles and heavy-caliber weapons.

Snipers are shooting peaceful protesters. Artillery and helicopter gunships have been used against crowds of demonstrators. Thugs armed with hammers and swords attacked families in their homes. Hospital officials report numerous victims shot in the head and chest, and one struck on the head by an anti-aircraft missile. Tanks are reported to be on the streets and crushing innocent bystanders. Witnesses report that mercenaries are shooting indiscriminately from helicopters and from the top of roofs. Women and children were seen jumping off Giuliana Bridge in Benghazi to escape. Many of them were killed by the impact of hitting the water, while others were drowned. The Libyan regime is seeking to hide all of these crimes by shutting off contact with the outside world. Foreign journalists have been refused entry. Internet and phone lines have been cut or disrupted.

There is no question here about intent. The government media has published open threats, promising that demonstrators would meet a “violent and thunderous response.”
Accordingly, the government of Libya is committing gross and systematic violations of the right to life as guaranteed by the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. Citizens seeking to exercise their rights to freedom of expression and freedom of assembly are being massacred by the government.

Moreover, the government of Libya is committing crimes against humanity, as defined by the Explanatory Memorandum to the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court. The Libyan government’s mass killing of innocent civilians amount to particularly odious offences which constitute a serious attack on human dignity. As confirmed by numerous oral and video testimonies gathered by human rights organizations and news agencies, the Libyan government’s assault on its civilian population are not isolated or sporadic events. Rather, these actions constitute a widespread and systematic policy and practice of atrocities, intentionally committed, including murder, political persecution and other inhumane acts which reach the threshold of crimes against humanity.

Responsibility to Protect
Under the 2005 World Summit Outcome Document, you have a clear and unambiguous responsibility to protect the people of Libya. The international community, through the United Nations, has the responsibility to use appropriate diplomatic, humanitarian and other peaceful means, in accordance with Chapters VI and VIII of the Charter, to help to protect the Libyan population. Because the Libyan national authorities are manifestly failing to protect their population from crimes against humanity, should peaceful means be inadequate, member states are obliged to take collective action, in a timely and decisive manner, through the Security Council, in accordance with the UN Charter, including Chapter VII.

In addition, we urge you to convene an emergency Special Session of the UN Human Rights Council, whose members have a duty, under UNGA Resolution 60/251, to address situations of gross and systematic violations of violations of human rights. The session should:

• Call for the General Assembly to suspend Libya’s Council membership, pursuant to Article 8 of Resolution 60/251, which applies to member states that commit gross and systematic violations of human rights.
• Strongly condemn, and demand an immediate end to, Libya’s massacre of its own citizens.
• Dispatch immediately an international mission of independent experts to collect relevant facts and document violations of international human rights law and crimes against humanity, in order to end the impunity of the Libyan government. The mission should include an independent medical investigation into the deaths, and an investigation of the unlawful interference by the Libyan government with the access to and treatment of wounded.
• Call on the UN High Commissioner of Human Rights and the Council’s relevant Special Procedures to closely monitor the situation and take action as needed.
• Call on the Council to remain seized of the matter and address the Libyan situation at its upcoming 16th regular session in March.

Member states and high officials of the United Nations have a responsibility to protect the people of Libya from what are preventable crimes. We urge you to use all available measures and levers to end atrocities throughout the country.

We urge you to send a clear message that, collectively, the international community, the Security Council and the Human Rights Council will not be bystanders to these mass atrocities. The credibility of the United Nations -- and many innocent lives -- are at stake.

Sincerely,
1. Hillel C. Neuer, United Nations Watch, Switzerland
2. Dr. Sliman Bouchuiguir, Libyan League for Human Rights, Switzerland
3. Mary Kay Stratis, Victims of Pan Am Flight 103, Inc., USA
4. Carl Gershman, President, The National Endowment for Democracy, USA
5. Yang Jianli, Initiatives for China, USA - Former prisoner of conscience and survivor of Tiananmen Square massacre
6. Yang Kuanxing, YIbao - Chinese writer, original signatory to Charter 08, the manifesto calling for political reform in China
7. Matteo Mecacci, MP, Nonviolent Radical Party, Italy
8. Frank Donaghue, Physicians for Human Rights, USA
9. Nazanin Afshin-Jam, President and Co Founder of Stop Child Executions, Canada
10. Bhawani Shanker Kusum, Gram Bharati Samiti, India
11. G. Jasper Cummeh, III, Actions for Genuine Democratic Alternatives, Liberia
12. Michel Monod, International Fellowship of Reconciliation, Switzerland
13. Esohe Aghatise, Associazione Iroko Onlus, Italy
14. Harris O. Schoenberg, UN Reform Advocates, USA
15. Myrna Lachenal, World Federation for Mental Health, Switzerland
16. Nguyên Lê Nhân Quyên, Vietnamese League for Human Rights, Switzerland
17. Sylvia G. Iriondo, Mothers and Women against Repression (M.A.R. Por Cuba), USA
18. David Littman, World Union for Progressive Judaism, Switzerland
19. Barrister Festus Okoye, Executive Director, Human Rights Monitor, Nigeria
20. Theodor Rathgeber, Forum Human Rights, Germany
21. Derik Uya Alfred, Kwoto Cultural Center, Juba – Southern Sudan
22. Carlos E Tinoco, Consorcio Desarrollo y Justicia, A.C., Venezuela
23. Abdurashid Abdulle Abikar, Center for Youth and Democracy, Somalia
24. Dr. Vanee Meisinger, Pan Pacific and South East Asia Women’s Association, Thailand
25. Simone Abel, René Cassin, United Kingdom
26. Dr. Francois Ullmann, Ingenieurs du Monde, Switzerland
27. Sr Catherine Waters, Catholic International Education Office, USA
28. Gibreil Hamid, Darfur Peace and Development Centre, Switzerland
29. Nino Sergi, INTERSOS – Humanitarian Aid Organization, Italy
30. Daniel Feng, Foundation for China in the 21st Century
31. Ann Buwalda, Executive Director, Jubilee Campaign, USA
32. Leo Igwe, Nigerian Humanist Movement, Nigeria
33. Chandika Gautam, Member, Nepal International Consumers Union, Nepal
34. Zohra Yusuf, Council Member, Human Rights Commission of Pakistan, Pakistan
35. Sekou Doumbia, Femmes & Droits Humains, Mali
36. Cyrille Rolande Bechon, Executive Directror, Nouveaux Droits de l'Homme, Cameroon
37. Dr Frene Ginwala, Former Speaker, South Africa’s First democratically elected National Assembly
38. Valnora Edwin, National Coordinator, Campaign for Good Governance, Sierra Leone
39. Patrick Mpedzisi, African Democracy Forum, South Africa
40. Phil ya Nangoloh, NamRights, Namibia
41. Jaime Vintimilla, Centro Sobre Derecho y Sociedad (CIDES), Ecuador
42. Tilder Kumichii Ndichia, Gender Empowerment and Development, Cameroon
43. Amina Bouayach, Moroccan Organisation for Human Rights, Morocco
44. Abdullahi Mohamoud Nur, CEPID-Horn Africa, Somalia
45. Delly Mawazo Sesete, Resarch Center on Environment, Democracy & Human Rights, DR Congo
46. Joseph Rahall, Green Scenery, Sierra Leone
47. Arnold Djuma, Solidarité pour la Promotion Sociale et la Paix, Rwanda
48. Panayote Dimitras, Greek Helsinki Monitor, Greece
49. Carlos E. Ponce, Latina American and Caribbean Network for Democracy, Venezuela
50. Fr. Paul Lansu, Pax Christi International, Belgium
51. Tharsika Pakeerathan, Swiss Council of Eelam Tamils, Switzerland
52. Ibrahima Niang, Commission des Droits Humains du Mouvement Citoyen, Senegal
53. Virginia Swain, Center for Global Community and World Law, USA
54. Dr Yael Danieli, International Society for Traumatic Stress Studies, USA
55. Savita Gokhale, Loksadhana, India
56. Hasan Dheeree, Biland Awdal Organization, Somalia
57. Pacifique Nininahazwe, Forum pour le Renforcement de la Société Civile, Burundi
58. Derik Uya Alfred, Kwoto Cultural Center, Southern Sudan
59. Michel Golubnichy, International Association of Peace Foundations, Russia
60. Edward Ladu Terso, Multi Media Training Center, South Sudan
61. Hafiz Mohammed, Justice Africa Sudan, Sudan
62. Sammy Eppel, B'nai B’rith Human Rights Commission, Venezuela
63. Jack Jeffery, International Humanist and Ethical Union, United Kingdom
64. Duy Hoang, Viet Tan, Vietnam
65. Promotion de la Democratie et Protection des Droits Humains, DR Congo
66. Radwan A. Masmoudi, Center for the Study of Islam & Democracy, USA
67. María José Zamora Solórzano, Movimiento por Nicaragua, Nicaragua
68. John Suarez, Cuban Democratic Directorate, USA
69. Mohamed Abdul Malek, Libya Watch, United Kingdom
70. Journalists Union of Russia, Russia