Urgent UN session on Libya pushes for 'full accountability' for violence

AFP , Wednesday 23 Feb 2011

UN Human Rights council to discuss a draft resolution in a special session on Libya, which is, ironically, a member of the council

The UN Human Rights Council will hold a special session on Friday to discuss the violence in Libya, a UN official said Wednesday, amid a global outcry and moves to set up a probe into suspected crimes against humanity.

"We received the request for a special session this morning, filed by the European Union," Alessandro Marra, an official at the UN human rights office told AFP.

The request was signed by 47 United Nations member states from all regions of the world as well as the Palestinian Authority and marked the first time that a sitting member of the council will be subjected to a special session, he added.

The meeting and debate is due to begin at 10.00 am (0900 GMT) in Geneva on Friday.

UN human rights experts on Tuesday accused Libya of "engaging in a massacre of its own people" while the High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay, warned that widespread and systematic attacks against civilians "may amount to crimes against humanity."

The 47-member council can hold special sessions at the request of one-third of its member states to urgently examine breaking human rights crises and seek action.

French ambassador Jean-Baptiste Mattei said that although the request was spearheaded by European countries, it had "broad transregional support."

"It should allow the council to react to the very serious human rights violations in Libya," he added.

A draft resolution being discussed for the session would seek to "strongly condemn the... extremely grave human rights violations committed in Libya, including extrajudicial killings, arbitrary arrests, detention and torture of peaceful demonstrators, which if widespread and systematic, may amount to crimes against humanity," according to a text seen by AFP.

Using strong wording by diplomatic standards, it sought to set up a UN-led international investigation to "ensure full accountability."

The draft also called on Libyan authorities to immediately halt the crisis and seek a peaceful solution for political reform.

Julie de Rivero, Geneva advocacy director for campaign group Human Rights Watch (HRW), said a probe was likely to have added weight because of the breadth and strength of international concern about the turmoil in Libya.

"I think it will be weighty because there is more or less unanimous concern about the violence that has taken place."

"It would be significant and would help establish whether crimes against humanity have taken place," she told AFP.

Libya's government said 300 people, including 111 soldiers, had been killed in the protests against the Gaddafi  regime.

Some human rights groups fear the civilian toll in Libya is higher after security forces opened fire on demonstrators and resorted to air attacks.

In a defiant speech on Tuesday, Libyan strongman Moamer Gaddafi  vowed to remain as leader and die a martyr in the land of his ancestors.

Members of the Human Rights Council are elected by the UN General Assembly and are required to "uphold the highest standards in the promotion and protection of human rights" under its rules.

Libya was controversially elected to a three year term last year.

Rivero said HRW was actively lobbying the General Assembly in New York to have Libya removed from the council. That would take a vote by a two-thirds majority in the General Assembly.

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