Wednesday, February 23, 2011


By William Fisher

Major human rights groups and Middle East experts unanimously agreed today that the United Nations was not nearly tough enough in its condemnation of Libyan dictator Moammar El-Gadhafi, who is currently trying desperately to hang on to power by mobilizing his army, air force, and mercenary militias to attack Libyan citizens demanding an end to the strongman’s iron-fisted rule of 41 years.

Amnesty International (AI, Human Rights Watch (HRW)and Human Rights First (HRF) are among rights groups voicing strong opinions today. The Public Record has also talked with one of the nation’s most respected Middle East scholars, Samer Shehata, a professor of Arab Politics at George Univerisity.

Amnesty accused the international community of failing the people of Libya in their hour of greatest need as violence spirals and Colonel al-Gadhafi threatens to “cleanse Libya house by house”.

The organization said the response to the Libya crisis by the U.N. Security Council fell “shamefully below what was needed to stop the spiraling violence, and called for concrete action, including an immediate arms embargo and assets freeze.

The U.N. Security Council on Tuesday issued a statement calling for an end to the violence and urging Libya to act with restraint and respect human rights, but took no substantive measures.

AI also criticized the African Union, which has not convened its Peace and Security Council to address the human rights crisis in Libya.

“Colonel al-Gadhafi has publicly made clear his readiness to kill those who oppose him in order to stay in power,” said Salil Shetty, Amnesty International’s Secretary-General.

“This is unacceptable. Colonel al-Gadhafi and all those reporting to him need to know that they will be held personally accountable under international law for the crimes they commit.”

“His threats make the half-hearted response from the international community even more shocking. What Libyans need now is not mere words of concern but immediate, concrete action,” he said, adding:

“As a bare minimum, the Security Council must impose an immediate arms embargo against Libya and an asset freeze against al-Gadhafi and his key security and military advisers.”

AI’s call came as Colonel al-Gadhafi gave a speech in which he called protesters “cockroaches” and “rats,” and compared the situation to China, saying that national unity had been “more important than the people of Tiananmen Square."

AI also criticized the response of the African Union to the unfolding crisis, which has seen hundreds killed and persistent reports of mercenaries being brought in from African countries by the Libyan leader to violently suppress the protests against him.

“It is outrageous that the African Union Peace and Security Council has not even met to discuss the emergency taking place in one of its own member states,” said AI’s Shetty.

Amnesty called on the African Union to ensure that its member states, particularly those bordering Libya, are not complicit in human rights abuses in Libya.

The organization also urged the Arab League, which yesterday banned Libya from participation in its meetings, to act at once on its public commitments, in particular by launching an independent Arab investigative committee into the crisis in Libya.

In full, Amnesty International called on:

· The United Nations Security Council: to immediately impose an arms embargo on Libya preventing transfer of equipment and personnel, implement an asset freeze against Colonel al-Gadhafi and his senior military and security advisers and state unequivocally that crimes under international law in Libya will be investigated and punished.

· The African Union and its member states: to immediately investigate reports that armed elements are being transported from African countries to Libya, acting to secure the land borders into Libya and monitor suspicious flights.

· The U.N. General Assembly: to immediately suspend Libya from the 47-member UN Human Rights Council.

· The UN Human Rights Council: to deploy a fact-finding mission to Libya to make rapid recommendations on human rights abuses and whether a referral to the International Criminal Court is warranted.

· Libya and neighboring countries: to facilitate the safe departure of those who wish to leave Libya.

Prof. Samer Shehata, professor of Middle Eastern politics at Georgetown University, told The Public Record, “I agree fully with the idea of an asset freeze, arms embargo and the possibility of pursuing charges against those in Libya (including Qadhafi) of using military force against an unarmed civilian population. Using helicopter gunships, artillery and the report of military aircraft (and the reported ordering of Libyan naval ships to fire on Benghazi) constitute crimes against humanity.”

Shehata continued: “Qadhafi is a depraved, megalomaniacal dictator and he has been a disaster for Libya, the Arab world and Africa. He runs one of the most autocratic regimes in the world -- as a family concern -- and the sooner the Libyan people can be rid of him, the better off they will be.”

He added: “I would also hope that the Arab League and the African Union
will also pursue all possible measures against colonel Qadhafi and his criminal regime.”

Asked by The Public Record about a post-Qadhafi Libya, Shehata, who has recently returned from the Middle East, said Libya “is likely to be significantly more difficult than post-Mubarak Egypt and post Ben Ali Tunisia.”

He gave these reasons: “Unlike in Tunisia and Egypt, Qadhafi has systematically wiped out what existed of Libyan civil and political society; the Qadhafi regime did not allow any independent institutions to develop and he has been in power/in control much longer ... since 1969. Unlike in Tunisia and Egypt there are no known, established political parties, independent civil society groups, labor unions, syndicates, etc.”

He said Job One after Gadhafi will be to “establish order and security and agree on the basic rules of the game.”

“It's not a question of amending the constitution in Libya or bringing in a new cabinet. It's a question of writing a new constitution, creating new
institutions and forging a new form of politics,” he said.

Similar sentiments were voiced by Neil Hicks, International Policy Adviser for Human Rights First. He told The Public Record, “We do believe that the UN should have gone further than just condemnation and concern, and we hope that it will. We support the imposition of a no-fly zone, an arms embargo and targeted sanctions against Gadhafi and other implicated leaders.”

He added, “We fear that Libya, as a result of Gadhafi’s suffocating rule and divide and rule methods, faces a very messy post Gadhafi era, should one emerge.”
“Libya will require massive foreign assistance in terms of expertise and technical support – it has funds, of course. Ideally this should not be led by the West alone, but should involve the Arab League -- perhaps especially Egypt and Tunisia -- with strong backing from the EU and the US.”

He concluded: “It’s a daunting task, but the alternative -- Gadhafi hanging on grimly -- is even worse.

Fred Abrahams of Human Rights Watch told ThePublic Record, “If there is a post-Gadhafi Libya, it will be a huge mess."

He explained: "Libya has no constitution, no political parties, no free media, no civil society. It has been guided by the Green Book for forty years. This will require a radical olitical restructuring from scratch."

He said, "There are many options, and Libyans must decide for themselves. I could imagine that they would want to form a caretaker government with technocrats and also a constitutional commission to start drafting. These should pave the way for elections. All this will not be easy. And it’s also down the road, not clear what will happen in Tripoli."

Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East and North Africa director at Human Rights Watch, said in a statement, “Anyone, including Muammar Gadhafi, ordering or carrying out atrocities should know they will be held individually accountable for their actions, including unlawful killings of protesters.”

She said, “We fear the death toll will rise much higher unless Gadhafi ends his bloody attempts to suppress dissent. He should call his forces including mercenaries off immediately.”