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Human rights groups: Violence in Libya must stop

By the CNN Wire Staff
  • U.N. Human Rights Council recommends an inquiry into allegations of abuse
  • U.N. Secretary-General estimates more than 1,000 people killed in unrest
  • Libyan ambassador: "It's not a crime to say, 'I want to be free' "

(CNN) -- Human rights groups continued to call for an end to the violence in Libya on Friday as fears of an escalating humanitarian crisis came to light amid ongoing violent clashes between Moammar Gadhafi's security forces and anti-regime protesters.

"Although reports are still patchy and hard to verify, one thing is painfully clear: In brazen and continuing breach of international law, the crackdown in Libya of peaceful demonstrations is escalating alarmingly with reported mass killings, arbitrary arrests, detention and torture of protesters," said Navi Pillay, the United Nations high commissioner for human


The U.N. Human Rights Council accordingly recommended setting up an inquiry to investigate the allegations of abuse and asked the General Assembly to consider suspending Libya from the council (Libya is currently a member of the council), U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said.

The call for suspension was echoed by 63 nongovernmental organizations worldwide, according to Human Rights Watch.

"Libya lost any claim to sit at the Human Rights Council once it became clear that Moammar Gadhafi's vow to 'cleanse Libya house by house' was no mere threat," said Peggy Hicks, global advocacy director at Human Rights Watch. "Suspending Libya is critical for the General Assembly's credibility as well as that of the Human Rights Council."

Several people were wounded Friday amid reports of sniper and artillery fire in Tripoli, said Mohammed Ali Abdallah of the National Front for the Salvation of Libya, which opposes Gadhafi's regime. He based his account on reports that he received from witnesses, he said.

Ibrahim Dabbashi, Libya's deputy ambassador to the United Nations, has said the death toll from the unrest could be as high as 800. U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon put the estimate at more than 1,000.

"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," Ban said. "Colonel Gadhafi'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."

The U.N. Security Council met Friday to discuss a proposed draft resolution that would impose new sanctions on Libya in an effort to curb the crisis. They include an arms embargo, asset freeze and a travel ban. The resolution would also refer Libya to the International Criminal Court.

The legally binding resolution is backed by the possible threat of force but approval of such measures could be stalled by Russia and China, both unlikely to support military intervention.

However, Russian President Dmitry Medvedev moved in lock-step with the United States and European allies Friday in warning Libyan leaders that they will be held accountable for any human rights abuses.

"Russia condemns the use of force against civilians sanctioned by the country's leadership," Medvedev said in a statement. "We resolutely call on Libya's current authorities and all responsible political figures in the country to show restraint in order to prevent further deterioration of the situation and deaths of civilians. Such acts, if they continue, will be qualified as crimes with all the ensuing consequences under international law."

A Russian Foreign Ministry spokesman said Thursday that Russia was not considering backing sanctions because they would be "ineffective," but Medvedev's strong statement of condemnation could be a signal that Russia will consider supporting sanctions in the draft U.N. Security Council proposal.

A vote on the proposal could come as early as Saturday. The Security Council is expected to resume talks on the draft resolution at 11 a.m.

Before the council's closed-door meeting Friday, Ban addressed the General Assembly with a direct plea: "The violence must stop."

"It is time for the Security Council to consider concrete action," he said. "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."

Amnesty International also called on the Security Council to refer Libya to the International Criminal Court and impose an arms embargo.

"This should act as a wake-up call to those issuing the orders and those who carry them out: Your crimes will not go unpunished," said Salil Shetty, Amnesty International's secretary-general.

The humanitarian group Doctors Without Borders expressed similar concern, noting that many of its medical teams have been unable to enter Libya. Only one team has been able to cross into the country since the unrest began.

"Absolute priority must now be given to doctors and medical supplies, in order to provide urgently needed medical care and help to existing health facilities struggling to cope with the influx of wounded people," said Arjan Hehenkamp, the group's director of operations.

And the calls for an end to the crisis weren't limited to rights groups. The Libyan ambassador to the United Nations addressed reporters following an emotional speech to the General Assembly, saying "When a government shoots ... citizens because they are saying no, it cannot continue."

"It's just because they are saying they want to be free," Ambassador Abdurrahman Mohamed Shalgham said. "It's not a crime to say, 'I want to be free.' "

CNN's Paula Newton contributed to this report.