UN Security Council members yesterday were mulling ways to punish Libyan leader Muammar Qaddafi, his family and his cohorts after the Libyan ambassador to the UN beseeched them to help halt the deadly attacks that his once-close comrade has unleashed on anti-government protesters.
“I hope that within hours, not days, they can do something tangible, effective to stop what they are doing there — Qaddafi and his sons — against our people,” Libyan Ambassador to the UN Mohamed Shalgham said after addressing the council on Friday.
With UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon urging concrete action to protect civilians, the council agreed to meet urgently again yesterday. Up for consideration are an arms embargo against the government and a travel ban and asset freeze against Qaddafi, his relatives and key members of his government.
The draft sanctions resolution circulated by France, Britain, Germany and the US also would refer the violent crackdown in Libya to the International Criminal Court so it can investigate possible crimes against humanity.
Ban said some estimates indicate more than 1,000 people had been killed in less than two weeks since the protests broke out, and that many people could not leave their homes for fear of being shot.
“In these circumstances, the loss of time means more loss of lives,” Ban said.
Council members were visibly moved by the speech by Shalgham, who only on Tuesday had praised Qaddafi as “my friend” and refused to join other diplomats at Libya’s UN mission in demanding that the strongman step down.
“They are asking for their freedom. They are asking for their rights,” Shalgham told the council “They did not throw a single stone and they were killed. I tell my brother Qaddafi: ‘Leave the Libyans alone.’”
After his speech, the ambassador was embraced by his tearful deputy, Ibrahim Dabbashi, who had led the mutiny against Qaddafi at the UN headquarters. As Dabbashi wept, he was also embraced by many ambassadors and the secretary-general.
Earlier on Friday, US President Barack Obama’s administration announced that Washington was freezing all assets in the US held by the Libyan government, Qaddafi and four of his children and abandoning the US embassy in Tripoli.
The shift in tactics after a week of caution came immediately after the US ensured that Americans were safely on their way out of the blood-soaked North African country by air and by sea.
“By any measure, Muammar Qaddafi’s government has violated international norms and common decency and must be held accountable,” Obama said in a statement on Friday night announcing the sanctions, which he said were designed to target Qaddafi’s government and protect the assets of Libya’s people from being looted by the regime.
Obama condemned “the Libyan government’s continued violation of human rights, brutalization of its people and outrageous threats.”
The White House had held back while US citizens were still in Libya, despite criticism at home and abroad that its response was insufficiently forceful. That changed quickly on Friday after successful evacuations of embassy personnel and other US citizens on a chartered airplane and a ferry to Malta.
The US put an immediate freeze on all assets of the Libyan government held in US banks and other US institutions.
The sanctions also apply to assets held by Qaddafi, himself, and three sons — heir apparent Seif al-Islam, Khamis and Muatassim — and a daughter, Aisha. The order directs the US secretaries of state and treasury to identify other individuals who are senior officials of the Libyan government, children of Qaddafi and others involved in the violence.