|Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York|
United Nations Response to Violence against Civilians in Libya Sends Strong Message
There Is 'No Impunity’ for Crimes against Humanity, Secretary-General Says
Following are UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon’s remarks to the General Assembly on Libya, today, 1 March, in New York:
I welcome this opportunity to brief the General Assembly on the latest developments in Libya.
We meet today on a crisis marked by ongoing violence, amid a growing humanitarian emergency and a political situation that could quickly deteriorate further.
Meeting in emergency session over the weekend, the Security Council acted with unanimity and decisiveness. I welcome, as well, the strong statements from many international leaders and organizations — the League of Arab States, the African Union, the Organization of the Islamic Conference and the European Union.
The world has spoken with one voice: we demand an immediate end to the violence against civilians and full respect for their fundamental human rights, including those of peaceful assembly and free speech.
I welcome, as well, the recommendation of the Human Rights Council to suspend Libya’s membership so long as the violence continues. And I fully support the Council’s decision to urgently dispatch an independent international commission of inquiry to investigate alleged violations of international human rights in Libya.
In this spirit, I also commend the Security Council’s decision to refer the situation in Libya to the International Criminal Court.
Together, these actions send a strong and important message — a message of great consequence within the region and beyond: that there is no impunity, that those who commit crimes against humanity will be punished, that fundamental principles of justice and accountability shall prevail.
Today, I urge the General Assembly to act decisively as well.
The latest reports from the ground are sobering. I am gravely concerned at the continued loss of life, the ongoing repression of the population and the clear incitement to violence against the civilian population by Colonel [Muammar Al‑]Qadhafi and his supporters.
Arms depots and arsenals have reportedly been opened to gangs who terrorize communities. There are reports that Government forces have fired indiscriminately on peaceful protesters and bombed military bases in the east of the country. In the west, there are reports of ongoing and serious clashes between Government forces and armed opponents.
The death toll from nearly two weeks of violence is unknown but is likely to exceed 1,000, as I reported to the Security Council on Friday. Thousands have been injured. Credible and consistent reports include allegations of extra-judicial killings, arbitrary arrests, detention and torture.
While more members of the military are reportedly abandoning the regime and joining the demonstrations, Colonel Qadhafi and his supporters appear to be holding a tight grip on western parts of the country, chiefly in Tripoli and neighbouring areas.
According to some accounts, the Government is also deploying forces along the Tunisian border. Armed protesters have taken control of several cities near Tripoli, including Zawiyah and Misrata.
However, violent clashes are reported in and around Zawiyah, where Libyan tanks and armoured cars attempting to break into the city have been repelled by opposition fighters. Government forces are reportedly mounting or preparing attacks on Misrata.
Opposition forces in the east appear to be organizing themselves for possible attacks. In the eastern city of Benghazi, a transitional national council has been established, led by the former Justice Minister.
There are serious indications of a growing crisis of refugees and displaced persons.
The violence could disrupt distribution networks and lead to food shortages.
The main humanitarian concerns at the moment relate to the west of the country, where access and information are extremely limited.
Civilians continue to flee. UNHCR [Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees] is present at the Tunisian and Egyptian borders, where more than 110,000 people have crossed so far and thousands more arrive by the hour. UNHCR is particularly concerned that thousands of refugees and other foreigners may be trapped in Libya.
In addition, the International Organization for Migration estimates that there are 1.5 million irregular migrant workers in the country, mostly from Africa and Asia. Significant efforts are underway to facilitate the return of these stranded migrants to their home countries.
UNHCR has appealed to all neighbouring governments in North Africa and Europe to maintain open land, air and sea borders for people fleeing the country. As I told the Security Council last week, it is essential that all those seeking to leave Libya be allowed to do so, without discrimination and irrespective of their nationality.
All international United Nations staff were evacuated two days ago. Our operations will continue from a secondary location, posing a major challenge to the coordination of international humanitarian assistance.
In these difficult and unpredictable circumstances, it is critical that the international community remain united.
In Washington yesterday, I held in-depth consultations with President [Barack] Obama of the United States, and will have similar conversations with other world and regional leaders over the coming days.
Our collective challenge will be to provide real protection for the people of Libya — first, to halt the violence and, second, to deal with the growing humanitarian emergency.
The arms embargo, travel ban and assets freeze imposed by Security Council resolution 1970 (2011) must be swiftly and effectively enforced.
We need concrete action on the ground to provide humanitarian and medical assistance. Time is of the essence. Thousands of lives are at stake.
In the days ahead, United Nations assessment teams will deploy to organize our humanitarian response, working on the ground where they can in the eastern and western regions of Libya.
In the coming days, I will also bring together the heads of United Nations humanitarian agencies and programmes, as well as other international and regional groups, including in particular the League of Arab States, the African Union, [and] the Organization of the Islamic Conference.
As I say, our most immediate priority must be providing urgent humanitarian relief — food, water, sanitation and shelter to the thousands on both sides of the Tunisian and Egyptian borders.
We must also find ways to expedite the return home of the many guest workers and foreign nationals who find themselves stranded and vulnerable.
Within the week, I am planning to appoint a Special Envoy, who will work closely with regional Governments and the international community to coordinate our rapid and effective response.
From the beginning of the crisis, I have called on the Libyan leadership to hear and heed our strong collective call — to end the violence and to respect human rights and the legitimate aspirations of the Libyan people.
The transition to a new democratic system of governance should start now.
The winds of change are sweeping the Middle East and North Africa. From Tunisia to Egypt, Bahrain to Yemen and beyond, the region’s people are demanding new rights and new freedoms.
The international community must stand firm.
The United Nations Charter is very clear: it is our collective duty to stand for human rights, social progress and better standards of life in larger freedom.
Equally important: for much of their history, the societies of this region have been victim to outside interference in their daily lives and culture.
Today, as they strive to create a new future, it is imperative that the international community recognize that change must come from within.
Above all, this means local ownership and local leadership, consistent with popular aspirations for dignity and justice.
In this great and noble quest, the United Nations stands ready to assist in every way possible, should the people of the region and their Governments request our help. Beyond immediate humanitarian needs, this could take many forms, from technical support in organizing elections to drafting new constitutions.
And let us remember that, ultimately, the answer to many of the region’s most pressing challenges is economic and social development. This is where the United Nations and its international partners can help most of all: in education, women’s empowerment, social and economic advancement, job creation and youth opportunities.
My Under-Secretary-General for Political Affairs, Mr. [B. Lynn] Pascoe, was in Egypt last weekend and conveyed this message to the authorities and the various stakeholders he met.
The same is true in Tunisia, to which I have sent a mission this week to explore the possible assistance that the United Nations could provide.
In my talks with the region’s leaders, in every country, I have consistently urged restraint, open and inclusive dialogue and, above all, respect for the people’s aspirations in their fullest expression.
* *** *For information media • not an official record