The world must give every incentive to countries in the Middle East and North Africa to make decisions that bring about freedom and prosperity. Libya is no exception, writes Dominic Jermey, the British ambassador to the UAE.
Defending Libya's aspirations is in the world's interest
Since the horrific violence began in Libya, the United Kingdom has condemned the actions of the Qaddafi regime. In recent days our concern has intensified alongside the international pressure on Col Muammar Qaddafi and those around him.
The regime is launching military counterattacks against opposition forces. There are credible reports of the use of helicopter gunships against civilians by government forces; serious attacks against the cities of Zawiya and Misrata; supplies of food, fuel and medicines all but cut off; and disturbing reports of hostage taking in Tripoli. Qaddafi continues to try and intimidate, even as his authority is contested in large swathes of the country where tribes have withdrawn their support.
Britain's position is clear: Col Qaddafi must put an immediate stop to the use of armed force against civilians and hand over power without delay to a government which recognises the aspirations of the Libyan people and is more representative and accountable.
We are working with partners across the world to isolate the regime and to ensure that anyone responsible for abuses knows that there will be a day of reckoning. The action of the international community is unprecedented.
Last week, the chief prosecutor of the International Criminal Court announced his investigation into alleged crimes in Libya, following a referral by the UN Security Council. We welcome this swift action and will do all we can to assist. It follows the landmark decision by the UN General Assembly, following a referral by the UN Human Rights Council to suspend Libya's membership on the council.
European Union sanctions on Libya also came into full force last week. This was the quickest ever delivery of an EU sanctions package, and goes beyond the sanctions imposed by the UN. It includes an arms embargo on Libya and an assets freeze and visa ban on Qaddafi and 25 of his associates. These are strong foundations on which we can build.
In addition we are making contingency plans for all eventualities in Libya. Nato has been tasked to work on a range of options, including the possible establishment of a no-fly zone, the evacuation of civilians, international humanitarian assistance and support to the international arms embargo. There will be further Nato meetings this week.
At the UN Security Council, we are working closely with partners on elements of a resolution on a no-fly zone, making clear the need for regional support, a clear trigger for such a resolution and an appropriate legal basis.
Finally it is crucial that we continue to address the developing humanitarian situation. The UK has flown in blankets for 38,000 people, tents for over 10,000 people, and flights to repatriate stranded Egyptians and Bangladeshis. But it is essential that international agencies are provided with unfettered access to help prevent a humanitarian crisis from developing.
It is critical that the EU presses not only for further action in response to the situation in Libya, but also that the EU change radically its thinking about its neighbourhood. It is time for European nations to be bold and ambitious and to show that while Europe will not seek to dictate how these countries should run their affairs, we will always be the lasting friend of those who put in place the building blocks of strong civil societies, economic openness and political freedom.
We must give every incentive to countries in the region to make decisions that bring freedom and prosperity. At the council we will call for Europe to set out a programme to bring down trade barriers to set clearer conditions for the help it provides, and to marshal its resources to act as a magnet for positive change in the region.
Events in Egypt and Tunisia have been historic and we should welcome the progress made, including the announcement of a national referendum on constitutional reform in Egypt and of a date for elections in Tunisia. But the resignations of the prime ministers of both governments show that significant challenges remain. The UK will continue to call for governments across the region to respect human rights, including the right to peaceful protest, to avoid the use of force and to respond to legitimate aspirations for greater political openness and economic reform.
If change and development can be achieved peacefully in the Middle East it will be the greatest advance in world affairs since Central and Eastern Europe changed so dramatically 20 years ago and many of their countries entered the EU. If not, it could mark the start of even greater instability emanating from the region. It is vital for both the people of these countries, and the rest of the world, that the international community plays a coherent and ambitious role in supporting their aspirations.
Dominic Jermey is the British Ambassador to the United Arab Emirates