x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 27 July 2017

Diplomats talk sanctions for Qaddafi

Pressure mounts on Libya's leader Muammar Qaddafi with the West debating sanctions in an effort to halt the violence.

NEW YORK // Pressure mounted on Libya's leader Muammar Qaddafi last night as diplomats negotiated sanctions against his inner circle and the country's UN ambassador staged a high-profile defection in the Security Council.

Western envoys said they expected the council to adopt a resolution as early as today, halting arms sales, placing travel bans and asset freezes on Col Qaddafi and about 20 officials and relatives and referring atrocities to the International Criminal Court (ICC).

UN-backed military intervention has been ruled out and plans to impose a no-fly-zone against Libya's air force, which is accused of using jets and helicopters against protestors, was "too hard to implement", a western envoy said.

Negotiations were overshadowed by what diplomats called a "truly historic moment", when Libya's ambassador to the UN, Abdurrahman Mohamed Shalgham, publically rebelled against Col Qaddafi's regime in the Manhattan-based chamber.

In a seven-minute Security Council speech, Mr Shalgham turned on the Libyan leader he had called a comrade and one-time school friend only days before, comparing Col Qaddafi's disregard for human to life to that of Adolf Hitler.

Mr Shalgham, the latest Libyan diplomat to rebel against Tripoli, told reporters afterwards that the 15-nation body must act quickly to stop the "bloodshed and firing on innocent civilians" before railing on Col Qaddafi's brutality.

"You cannot be a leader, a king or a president while you're killing your people just because they say they want to be free," said Mr Shalgham, whose council address received applause and embraces from fellow diplomats in the council chamber.

The high-profile defection took place against a backdrop of bloodshed in the North African country, where 2,000 people are said to have been killed as Col Qaddafi struggles to quash a popular uprising against his 41-year rule.

A draft resolution from Britain and France was circulated among Security Council members yesterday, saying that attacks against Libyan civilians may be "crimes against humanity" and warrant prosecution by the ICC.

Council members have only ever agreed to refer one case to the world's permanent war crimes tribunal, which is based in The Hague, leading to a controversial indictment against Sudanese president Omar al Bashir for atrocities in Darfur.

Gerard Araud, France's UN ambassador, said the ICC referral is a "sensitive topic" for some council members and it remained unclear whether the move would be supported by Russia, China and African nations on the council, which have opposed war crimes probes.

"Very often we are told that it is the West which is pressing for human rights and ... interference in internal affairs," said Mr Araud. "But we have seen that there is an international community, the world is changing and ... and the Security Council has to be at this rendezvous of history."

Plans for a no-fly zone, which would empower foreign jets to shoot down defiant Libyan aircraft, had been dropped because they are "very difficult operations to manage", added Mr Araud, citing council experience from the Yugoslav conflict.

UN secretary general, Ban Ki-moon, told council members of "clear and egregious" human rights violations in Libya that have forced some 22,000 people to flee to Tunisia and a reported 15,000 more to Egypt, and called for urgent action by the UN body. Sanctions experts were due to meet today and Western diplomats expected the council to adopt the draft resolution this afternoon.

Discussions in New York followed those at the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva, where envoys adopted a resolution by consensus condemning violence by Libyan forces against protesters and launching an investigation into atrocities.

The 47-nation body also called on the UN General Assembly to consider suspending Libya's membership of the UN rights council. The General Assembly is due to discuss the issue early next week. It would require a two-thirds majority of the 192-nation chamber to pass.

jreinl@thenational.ae