UN Security Council hits Qaddafi with sanctions, war crimes investigations

The unanimous Security Council decision increases international pressure on Col. Muammar Qaddafi's regime in Libya as President Obama calls for Qaddafi to leave power immediately.

Mary Altaffer/AP
British Ambassador to the United Nations Mark Lyall Grant and American Ambassador Susan Rice vote during a Security Council vote on Saturday at UN headquarters. The UN Security Council me to consider sanctions against Libya, but members disagreed over a proposal to refer Muammar Qaddafi to an international war crimes tribunal.

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The United Nations Security Council voted Saturday to impose sanctions against Libyan leaders, including dictator Col. Muammar Qaddafi, and to refer them to the International Criminal Court for investigation of possible war crimes against civilians during the uprising in Libya. The UN sanctions came the same day as President Obama for the first time publicly called for Mr. Qaddafi to step down.

The New York Times reports that the Security Council's unanimous decision marked only the second time that the body voted to refer a UN member state to the ICC. The sanctions freeze the assets of and forbid travel by sixteen Libyan leaders, including Qaddafi and several members of his family. They also place an arms embargo on Libya and forbid any UN member state from transporting mercenaries to Libya. The sanctions compound the restrictions on Qaddafi, who had already seen Switzerland freeze his assets in Swiss banks on Thursday.

The Times notes that while the sanctions will likely take time to have effect, they indicate the breadth of international condemnation against the Libyan regime's violence against its protesting citizens. Susan E. Rice, the US Ambassador to the UN, called the Security Council's decision "a clear warning to the Libyan government that it must stop the killing."

Radio Free Europe calls the UN decision "remarkable" for two reasons. First, RFE notes that both China and Russia "have thrown their full support behind" the sanctions, despite both nations having a history of being reluctant to support Security Council action against what they consider domestic affairs of sovereign states. Second, it is the first time that the US has supported a referral to the International Criminal Court, an organization of which it is not a member. Similarly, China and Russia, both non-members of the ICC, supported the referral.

RFE adds that the wheels are in motion for further sanctions against Libya, both in the UN and elsewhere. UN Secretary-General Ban Ki Moon is set to meet with President Obama this week to discuss further UN and US measures against Libya -- which could include a no-fly zone over Libya that many have called for -- while the UN General Assembly will consider a vote to remove Libya from its seat on the UN Human Rights Council. Also, the European Union issued a statement supporting the UN measures and announcing its own sanctions are in the works.

The UN decision comes down the same day that Mr. Obama issued the first public statement by a US official calling for Qaddafi's ouster. The Associated Press reports that, in a statement summarizing a telephone conversation between Obama and German Chancellor Angela Merkel, Obama called for Qaddafi to step down and be held accountable for his regime's violence against Libyan citizens. "The president stated that when a leader's only means of staying in power is to use mass violence against his own people, he has lost the legitimacy to rule and needs to do what is right for his country by leaving now," the statement said.

The statement, which also announced US sanctions against Libya, comes after criticism of the Obama administration for not coming out more forcefully against the Libyan dictator's brutal crackdown. But The Washington Post reports that the White House's timing of the announcement was carefully made, to ensure the safety of American citizens in Libya.

The US Embassy and other diplomatic posts in Tripoli, reopened only five years ago, comprise a series of lightly protected compounds and trailers. The guards there were Libyan, not the US Marines posted outside most embassies. And an armed and angry Libyan opposition was approaching the city from the east, as hundreds of Americans awaited evacuation across rough seas.

Administration officials said the diplomats in Tripoli told them that, in the words of one official, "certain kinds of messaging from the American government could endanger the security of American citizens." There were fears that Americans could be taken hostage.

The White House's relative silence also belied the "feverish diplomatic work and a head-versus-heart debate" going on behind the scenes, writes the Post. The administration planned a broad strategy to address the violence in Libya, rallying the strong UN sanctions and working to prevent a repeat of past international response to mass killings.

"Certainly, if we were sniping at one another or revealing divergent interests, Qaddafi would likely take that as a green light," said [Samantha Power, the National Security Council's senior director for multilateral affairs and human rights], who cited divisions at the United Nations and between the United States and European allies in confronting genocide in Rwanda and Bosnia.

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