Tuesday, February 22, 2011

The Situation in Libya

Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and the United Nations human rights chief have both called on the Libyan authorities to immediately end their violent crackdown on protesters, and the Security Council is meeting today to discuss the situation in the North African nation.  In a statement issued by his spokesperson on Monday, Mr. Ban said he was “outraged” at press reports that the Libyan authorities have been firing at demonstrators from war planes and helicopters.  Mr. Ban, who had a 40-minute telephone conversation with Muammar Qaddafi yesterday, said he urged the Libyan leader to stop the violence and strongly underlined the importance of respecting human rights and heeding the aspirations and calls of the demonstrators.

UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay today called for an immediate cessation of the “grave” rights violations committed by the Libyan authorities and urged an independent investigation into the violent suppression of protests.  “The callousness with which Libyan authorities and their hired guns are reportedly shooting live rounds of ammunition at peaceful protestors is unconscionable. I am extremely worried that lives are being lost even as I speak,” she stated in a news release.  “The international community must unite in condemnation of such acts and make unequivocal commitments to ensure justice is rendered to the thousands of victims of this repression.”

Citing the reported use of machine guns, snipers and military planes against demonstrators, Ms. Pillay said such extremely serious allegations of acts committed in brazen defiance of international law must not go without a full and independent investigation. 

“Protection of civilians should always be the paramount consideration in maintaining order and the rule of law. The authorities should immediately cease such illegal acts of violence against demonstrators. Widespread and systematic attacks against the civilian population may amount to crimes against humanity,” she stated.

Meanwhile, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) said today that it has become increasingly concerned about dangers for civilians and especially for asylum-seekers and refugees in Libya as many may inadvertently be caught up in this violence.

“We have no access at this time to the refugee community. Over the past months we have been trying to regularize our presence in Libya, and this has constrained our work,” Melissa Fleming, UNHCR’s spokesperson in Geneva, told a news conference.  “Some of the reports we are getting from third-party sources are very worrying. A journalist has passed information to us from Somalis in Tripoli who say they are being hunted on suspicion of being mercenaries. He says they feel trapped and are frightened to go out, even though there is little or no food at home,” she said.

Prior to the current unrest, UNHCR had registered over 8,000 refugees in Libya and a further 3,000 asylum-seekers having pending cases. The agency is asking all countries to recognize the humanitarian needs at this time of all people fleeing targeted violence, threats, and other human rights abuses in Libya.

(Adapted from a UN Press Release)

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