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Fri 25 Feb 2011 04:46 PM

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UN rights boss demands action to halt Libya crimes

Navi Pillay denounces atrocities, says thousands may have been killed or injured

UN rights boss demands action to halt Libya crimes
UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay looks on during a Human Rights Council special session on the crisis in Libya on February 25 (Getty Images)
UN rights boss demands action to halt Libya crimes
UN rights boss demands action to halt Libya crimes
Members of Libyas Internal Security Forces wave the old national flag as they parade in Tobruk on February 24 as residents of Libyas dissident-held east vowed to march on Tripoli (Getty Images)
UN rights boss demands action to halt Libya crimes
Gaddafi, Libya leader
UN rights boss demands action to halt Libya crimes
UN rights boss demands action to halt Libya crimes

The UN human rights chief called on Friday for international intervention in Libya to stop mass killings and bloodshed that may amount to crimes against humanity.

Navi Pillay, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, said thousands of people may have been killed or injured in the mounting violence against anti-government protesters, many by shots to the head or chest.

When a state fails to prevent heinous crimes being committed against its population, the international community has a duty to step in to take action swiftly, she said.

"I always call for independent investigations as a start, but I think in this particular situation, there's need for more state action and intervention for protection (of civilians)," Pillay told Reuters Television.

She spoke later at an emergency session of the UN Human Rights Council, held in Geneva to examine the crisis in the North African country, whose leader Muammar Gaddafi is trying to crush largescale protests against his rule.

"In brazen and continuing breach of international law, the crackdown in Libya on peaceful demonstrations is escalating alarmingly with reported mass killings, arbitrary arrests, detention and torture of protesters," Pillay told the forum.

"Tanks, helicopters and military aircraft have reportedly been used indiscriminately to attack the protesters," she said.

Under international law, any official ordering or carrying out atrocities and attacks can be held criminally accountable, according to Pillay, a former UN war crimes judge.

Western powers including the US and France are pushing to have Libya's membership of the 47-member forum challenged at the special session. Such a move would require approval by two-thirds of the UN General Assembly.

The powers have submitted a draft resolution, expected to be put to a vote later in the day, which condemns gross rights violations in Libya and calls for an international inquiry into crimes.

Hungarian ambassador Andras Dekany, speaking for the European Union which has seven members on the Council, declared: "The Human Rights Council cannot remain silent in the face of shocking events such as those taking place in Libya."

France's ambassador Jean-Baptiste Mattei denounced the "brutal, blind and revolting violence" against Libya's people.

"In the face of atrocities and massacres, France calls on the Council to adopt with broad support a resolution condemning massive and unacceptable violence being committed in Libya that could amount to crimes against humanity," Mattei said.

Arab and African states oppose suspending Libya's membership, fearing it will set a precedent, diplomats say.

Iraq's delegation, speaking for Arab countries, took a strong stand against the bloodshed and urged Libyan authorities to launch a national dialogue to respect the "legitimate demands of the Libyan people".

"We denounce acts of violence against civilians, especially the use of foreign mercenaries, live ammunition and artillery being directed against protesters in serious violation of human rights and international humanitarian law," Iraq's envoy said.

Pakistan, speaking on behalf of the Organisation of the Islamic Conference (OIC), which links Muslim countries worldwide, said the Libyan people's demands must be heard.

"It is a time of awakening, it is a time for reckoning," Pakistan's ambassador Zamir Akram said. "No longer will they be denied their rights. Justice and the rule of law must prevail."

No Libyan delegation was present at the one-day talks.

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