UN Security Council Uses Weakest Option at its Disposal to Respond to Libyan Violence

February 23, 2011 - 6:38 AM

Libyan ambassador

Libyan ambassador to the U.N. Abdurrahman Mohamed Shalgham speaks to reporters after Security Council consultations on the situation in his country, in New York on February 22, 2011 (U.N. Photo by Eskind er Debebe)

(CNSNews.com) – The U.N. Security Council Tuesday issued a press statement condemning the Libyan regime’s violence against civilians – the weakest option available to it, short of saying nothing.

The U.S. and Security Council members’ envoys characterized the statement as a robust response to the crisis.

Brazilian ambassador Maria Luiza Viotti, who chairs the 15-member council this month, read the statement followiong hours of  closed-door consultations, calling it “a strong message.”

British ambassador Mark Lyall Grant described it as “extremely strong,” and U.S. deputy ambassador Rosemary DiCarlo said the international community had condemned the violence “in one clear and unified voice.”

“We hope today’s Security Council action will help bring an immediate end to this unacceptable situation,” DiCarlo added.

Human rights advocacy groups and others have called on the international community to take steps including sanctions, an embargo on oil revenues, a travel ban, an arms embargo – even enforcement of a no-fly zone to prevent the regime from using the air force against its citizens, or from flying in arms and mercenaries to use against protestors.

Earlier Tuesday, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton deferred to the Security Council when asked what the United States could do to stop the bloodshed, saying that “we’re going to have to work in concert with the international community.”

“Now, as always, the safety and well-being of Americans has to be our highest priority, and we are in touch with many Libyan officials directly and indirectly and with other governments in the region to try to influence what is going on inside Libya,” Clinton said in reply to the question during a press appearance with her Latvian counterpart.

“The Security Council, as you know, is meeting today to assess the situation and determine whether there are steps the international community can and should take,” she continued.

A “press statement,” which does not enter the council’s record but must be approved by all members, is the weakest response the U.N.’s top body can offer. A stronger option is a “presidential statement,” which does become part of the council’s record and is signed by the council’s president. There were 30 such statements last year.

Significantly stronger than a presidential statement is a resolution, which can either be non-binding or – if made under chapter 7 of the U.N. Charter which deals with threats to peace and security – legally binding.

However, resolutions typically take days, weeks or even months to negotiate, depending on the sensitivity of the issue under consideration and the strength of differences between veto-wielding permanent members. (A June 2009 resolution responding to North Korean nuclear test took 18 days to nail down; a resolution in June 2010 imposing further sanctions on Iran over its nuclear programs took months to negotiate. On the other hand, the Security Council on September 12, 2001 took just 42 minutes to discuss and vote unanimously on a resolution condemning al-Qaeda’s attack on America the previous day.)

The council generally settles for a press statement rather than a presidential statement in cases where permanent members raise objections to the stronger option.

China and Russia, which usually resist what they view as outside interference in the internal affairs of sovereign states, were reported by diplomats to have attempted to water down the text of Tuesday’s press statement.

Russia reportedly objected to a reference to an independent investigation into the crackdown; the final statement did not include any such reference.

Libya’s deputy ambassador to the U.N. Ibrahim Dabbashi, who has broken with the regime and accused it of genocide, welcomed the council statement but said it was “not strong enough.”

Human Rights Watch called the statement “a positive first step” but said that it “falls short of the firm action needed to prevent large-scale atrocities.”

“Libya’s deadly actions to date require a much stronger response from the Security Council if it is to live up to its often-repeated pledges to protect civilians,” it said in a statement.

The full Security Council press statement issued Tuesday follows:

The members of the Security Council expressed grave concern at the situation in Libya.  They condemned the violence and use of force against civilians, deplored the repression against peaceful demonstrators, and expressed deep regret at the deaths of hundreds of civilians. They called for an immediate end to the violence and for steps to address the legitimate demands of the population, including through national dialogue.

The members of the Security Council called on the Government of Libya to meet its responsibility to protect its population. They called upon the Libyan authorities to act with restraint, to respect human rights and international humanitarian law, and to allow immediate access for international human rights monitors and humanitarian agencies.

The members of the Security Council called for international humanitarian assistance to the people of Libya and expressed concern at the reports of shortages of medical supplies to treat the wounded.  They strongly urged the Libyan authorities to ensure the safe passage of humanitarian and medical supplies and humanitarian workers into the country.

The members of the Security Council underlined the need for the government of Libya to respect the freedom of peaceful assembly and of expression, including freedom of the press.  They called for the immediate lifting of restrictions on all forms of the media.

The members of the Security Council stressed the importance of accountability.  They underscored the need to hold to account those responsible for attacks, including by forces under their control, on civilians.

The members of the Security Council expressed deep concern about the safety of foreign nationals in Libya.  They urged the Libyan authorities and all relevant parties to ensure the safety of all foreign nationals and facilitate the departure of those wishing to leave the country. The members of the Security Council will continue to follow the situation closely.