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Rebukes to Libya mount as UN kicks it off Human Rights Council

UN General Assembly rarely castigates one of its own, even in the face of egregious acts. Ousting Libya from the Human Rights Council follows other UN actions to respond to the crisis.

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“The chorus of responses on Libya begs the question why abuses elsewhere go unchallenged by these same UN institutions,” said Peggy Hicks, global advocacy director for Human Rights Watch. “The action on Libya should be a model for stronger engagement by UN bodies before a full-fledged human rights crisis develops,” she said in a statement after Tuesday’s vote.

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The General Assembly acted as the international community turned its attention to the refugee crisis building up along Libya’s borders. The UN’s refugee affairs agency, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, reported Tuesday that 140,000 people have fled Libya into neighboring Egypt and Tunisia. At the same time, tens of thousands more Libyans are piling up at the borders in an attempt to flee, as reports of state-sponsored violence flow out of the country and as worries spread of a descent into civil conflict.

In testimony before the House Foreign Affairs Committee Tuesday, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said the US Agency for International Development (USAID) is directing US assistance to Libya’s refugees, while US military assets in the region are repositioning to help with humanitarian efforts.

The US is also discussing with allies and partners the implementation of a no-fly zone over Libya, Secretary Clinton said. But she cautioned that such a move entails a number of problems. US military officials have said setting up an effective no-fly zone would require taking out Libya’s air defense systems.

But a no-fly zone is winning support among some in Congress. After Sens. John McCain (R) of Arizona and Joe Lieberman (I) of Connecticut on Monday called for the international community to establish such a zone, Sen. Robert Menendez (D) of New Jersey announced a resolution Tuesday that calls on the US to press for a no-fly zone and to redouble its outreach efforts to Libya’s opposition figures.

The no-fly proposal was already being rained on by Russia, which would have to go along with the idea if it is to be approved by the Security Council.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said Tuesday a no-fly zone would be “superfluous,” and he suggested instead that the international community focus on implementing the sanctions that the Security Council imposed on Libya on Saturday.

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