|Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York|
Secretary-General Tells Security Council Time to Consider Concrete Action
in Libya, as Loss of Time Means More Loss of Lives
Following are UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon’s remarks to the Security Council on peace and security in Africa, in New York today, 25 February:
Thank you for the opportunity to brief you this afternoon. Our agenda is the issue of peace and security in Africa. Before we discuss the deeply disturbing situation in Libya, let me quickly update you on developments elsewhere in Africa. We are all gravely concerned about the deteriorating security situation in Côte d’Ivoire, as perhaps you have seen in my statement earlier today. Clashes between security forces loyal to Mr. [Laurent] Gbagbo and armed groups opposing them have resulted in significant civilian fatalities in several areas of Abidjan. We are also receiving reports of renewed fighting in the west of the country.
Once again, I urge the security forces loyal to Mr. Gbagbo to stop the violence. The Government has a clear responsibility to protect its civilian population. Its armed forces must carry out those responsibilities professionally and impartially. I repeat my call of last Friday — my 18 February statement — to Mr. Gbagbo’s camp to end the ongoing military mobilization, as well as the attacks against the civilian population and the obstruction of our peacekeeping operation, UNOCI [United Nations Operation in Côte d'Ivoire].
I am very concerned that Côte d’Ivoire is on the brink of sliding back into civil war. Time is slipping away. If the African Union High-Level Panel does not move decisively to find a solution, all of their work could be overtaken by events. I note with special concern that Mr. Gbagbo’s forces continued to attack civilians and violate human rights even as the Panel made its recent visit. I understand that the Panel will meet again in Nouakchott, Mauritania, in the coming days. The Ivorian people and the international community are counting on them to find a peaceful way out of the crisis.
At the same time, UNOCI is striving to keep open channels of communication with both President [Alassane] Ouattara’s Government and Mr. Gbagbo’s camp. UNOCI also continues to monitor and investigate human rights violations and to conduct patrols to protect civilians.
As I have said before, Côte D’Ivoire is an important test for democracy throughout Africa. More than 20 elections scheduled throughout the continent this year. As elsewhere, the region’s leaders must listen to their people. They must respect fundamental human rights. And when it comes to democracy and free elections, the people’s will must prevail.
We meet at a critical moment, potentially a defining moment for the Arab world. Fundamental issues of peace and stability are at stake, most immediately at this moment in Libya.
Since my Under-Secretary-General for Political Affairs, B. Lynn Pascoe, briefed you earlier this week, there have been continuing reports of violence and the indiscriminate use of force. Estimates indicate that more than 1,000 people have been killed. The eastern part of the country is reported to be under the control of opposition elements, who have taken over arms and ammunition from weapon depots. There are daily clashes in at least three cities near Tripoli. The streets of the capital are largely deserted. People cannot leave their houses for fear of being shot by Government forces or militias. Colonel [Muammar] Qadhafi’s supporters are reportedly conducting house-by-house searches and arrests; according to some reports, they have even gone into hospitals to kill wounded opponents.
Today, clashes have broken out again, with high casualties reported. In their public statements, Colonel Qadhafi and members of his family continue to threaten citizens with civil war and the possibility of mass killing if the protests continue. There are other allegations of the killing of soldiers who refuse to fire upon their countrymen.
Let us speak frankly. These accounts — from the press, from human rights groups and from civilians on the ground — raise grave concerns about the nature and scale of the conflict. They include allegations of indiscriminate killings, arbitrary arrests, shooting of peaceful demonstrators, the detention and torture of the opposition and the use of foreign mercenaries. We are also hearing reports of women and children being among the victims, as well as reports of indiscriminate attacks on foreigners believed to be mercenaries. We know from the Red Crescent and the ICRC [International Committee of the Red Cross] that there are dangerous impediments to medical treatment and access of humanitarian workers. We do not have conclusive proof, but the reports appear to be credible and consistent.
I strongly believe that the first obligation of the international community is to do everything possible to ensure the immediate protection of civilians at demonstrable risk. Indeed, if further proof is required, it should be sought simultaneously with measures to afford protection.
Today the Human Rights Council convened a special session which was requested by nearly 50 United Nations Member States, both members and non-members of the Council. It is the first time that a member of the Human Rights Council is the subject of a special session.
I welcome the strong stand taken by the Human Rights Council today to establish an independent international committee of inquiry, and I pledge my full support. I also note that the Human Rights Council recommended that the General Assembly consider suspending Libya from the Human Rights Council.
In this regard, I would like to underscore the statement of the High Commissioner to the Human Rights Council Ms. [Navi] Pillay. As she reminded Member States, when a State is manifestly failing to protect its population from serious international crimes, the international community has the responsibility to step in and take protective action in a collective, timely and decisive manner.
Let me also point out that there are also serious indications of a growing crisis of refugees and displaced persons. UNHCR [Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees] staff along the Tunisia/Libya border have reported a steady flow of people fleeing the country since 22 February. Some 22,000 have fled to Tunisia and a reported 15,000 to Egypt. However, they fear that much larger numbers of residents and migrant workers are in fact trapped and unable to leave for safety. Many of those crossing the border have reported to UNHCR officials that the journey was “terrifying”. There are widespread reports of refugees being harassed and threatened with guns and knives.
It is crucial for humanitarian agencies to have access to the border regions. It is also important for the neighbouring states, including Europe, to keep their borders open to people fleeing Libya. We anticipate the situation to worsen, as the World Food Programme is concerned about Libya’s food supplies.
We have seen strong statements from many international leaders and international organizations. Among them: the League of Arab States; the European Union; and the African Union. They have called for an immediate end to the violence and condemned what appear to be gross violations of human rights.
In my conversations with leaders of the region and the world — and in my public and private statements — I have spoken out, bluntly and repeatedly.
The violence must stop. Those responsible for so brutally shedding the blood of innocents must be punished. Fundamental human rights must be respected.
My Special Advisers on the Prevention of Genocide and the Responsibility to protect have reminded the national authorities in Libya, as well as in other countries facing large-scale popular protests, that the Heads of State and Government at the 2005 World Summit pledged to protect populations by preventing genocide, war crimes, ethnic cleansing, and crimes against humanity, as well as their incitement.
The challenge for us now is how to provide real protection and do all we can to halt the ongoing violence. As you look to your next steps, I urge you to consider a wide range of options for action. Some of the proposals being considered by you include: the imposition of trade and financial sanctions, including targeted measures against the leadership such as a ban on travel and the freezing of financial assets. Some Member States call for a comprehensive arms embargo. Others draw our attention to the clear and egregious violations of human rights taking place in Libya and urge the Security Council to take effective action to ensure real accountability.
It is time for the Security Council to consider concrete action. The hours and the days ahead will be decisive for Libyans and their country, with equally important implications for the wider region. The statements and actions of the Security Council are eagerly awaited and will be closely followed throughout the region. Whatever your course, let us be mindful of the urgency of the moment. In these circumstances, the loss of time means more loss of lives. On Monday, I will travel to Washington [D.C.] to discuss these and other matters with President [Barack] Obama.
Allow me to touch on two other developments regarding peace and security on the continent. First, with respect to the situation in Darfur, the AU [African Union]-United Nations Joint Chief Mediator continues to engage the Government of Sudan and the two leading rebel factions, the Justice and Equality Movement and the Liberation and Justice Movement, in Doha. The parties are currently reviewing a draft agreement. It is essential for the international community to step up its engagement and help the parties reach an inclusive and comprehensive peace.
I am also concerned about continued hostilities between the Government and the tactical alliance of rebel groups in Northern Darfur, which has reportedly displaced large numbers of civilians. UNAMID [African Union-United Nations Hybrid Operation in Darfur] is dispatching patrols to verify these reports and has increased its presence to protect civilians in the area, as well as provide water and food to those who have been displaced.
Finally, I have been meeting today with the President of the Republic of Equatorial Guinea, Obiang Nguema Mbasogo, and the President of the Gabonese Republic, Ali Bongo Ondimba. At our invitation the two leaders have come together at the United Nations in an effort to resolve the long-standing border dispute between the two countries. I am pleased to report that the two leaders have reiterated their commitment to submit the dispute to the International Court of Justice and to make every effort to conclude the mediation as soon as possible. I want to underscore that they will have the full support of the United Nations as they work together to find a solution. This is an important demonstration of statesmanship, on both sides.
* *** *For information media • not an official record