U.N. Security Council slaps sanctions on Libya

Image: U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Rice raises her hand as she votes on a resolution during a Security Council meeting at U.N. headquarters in New York
U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Susan Rice votes for a resolution imposing sanctions on the Libyan regime.Joshua Lott / Reuters
/ Source: NBC, msnbc.com and news services

The U.N. Security Council Saturday unanimously imposed travel bans and asset freezes on Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi, members of his family and inner circle amid continuing attacks on anti-government protesters.

The council imposed an asset freeze on Gadhafi, his four sons and one daughter and a travel ban on the whole family along with 10 other close associates. The council also backed an arms embargo.

The resolution adopted by the 15-nation body also called for the immediate referral of the deadly crackdown on demonstrators in Libya to the International Criminal Court in The Hague for investigation and possible prosecution of anyone responsible for killing civilians.

The council said its actions were aimed at "deploring the gross and systematic violation of human rights, including the repression of peaceful demonstrators." And members expressed concern about civilian deaths, "rejecting unequivocally the incitement to hostility and violence against the civilian population made from the highest level of the Libyan government."

Libya's deputy U.N. ambassador, Ibrahim Dabbashi — one of the first Libyan diplomats to denounce Gadhafi and defect — said Gadhafi's government no longer has any credibility. "This resolution will be a signal in order to put an end to hisfascist regime which is still which is still in existence in Tripoli," he said.

Dabbashi added: "This is a leader who loves nobody but himself and he is prepared to take all necessary steps in order to continue this repression against his own people."

"When atrocities are committed against innocents, the international community must act with one voice — and tonight it has," said Susan Rice, U.S. ambassador to the U.N.

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon congratulated council members for the unified vote. Earlier in the day, it appeared some countries would not sign on because of concerns about the war crimes investigation.

"The text sends a strong message that gross violations of basic human rights will not be tolerated, and that those responsible for grave crimes will be held accountable," said Ban. "I hope the message is heard, and heeded, by the regime in Libya."

Richard Dicker, director of Human Rights Watch's international justice program, said the council action "sends a powerful signal on behalf of justice for the people of Libya and all others victimized by mass force and violence."

The uprising that began Feb. 15 has swept over nearly the entire eastern half of the country, breaking cities there out of his regime's hold. Gadhafi and his backers continue to hold the capital Tripoli and have threatened to put down protests aggressively.

There have been reports that Gadhafi's government forces have been firing indiscriminately on peaceful protesters and that as many as 1,000 people have died.

The day was consumed mainly with haggling behind closed doors over language that would refer Libya's violent crackdown on protesters to the International Criminal Court, or ICC, at the Hague.

All 15 nations on the council ultimately approved referring the case to the permanent war crimes tribunal.

Council members did not consider imposing a no-fly zone over Libya, and no U.N.-sanctioned military action was planned. NATO also has ruled out any intervention in Libya.

The Libyan mission to the U.N., run by diplomats who have renounced Gadhafi, told the council in a letter that it supported measures "to hold to account those responsible for the armed attacks against the Libyan civilians, including through the International Criminal Court."

An uprising in Libya ousts dictator Moammar Gadhafi.

The letter was signed by Ambassador Mohamed Shalgham, a former longtime Gadhafi supporter who had a dramatic change of heart after the crackdown worsened. Shalgham pleaded with the council on Friday to move quickly to halt the bloodshed in his country.

Earlier Saturday, in Ankara, Turkey's Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan urged the council not to impose sanctions, warning that the Libyan people, not Gadhafi's government, would suffer most.

Also Saturday, U.S. President Barack Obama said in a telephone conversation with German Chancellor Angela Merkel that Gadhafi needs to do what's right for his country by "leaving now."

The White House on Friday announced sweeping new sanctions and temporarily abandoned its embassy in Tripoli as a final flight carrying American citizens left the embattled capital. The U.S. put an immediate freeze on all assets of the Libyan government held in American banks and other U.S. institutions. The sanctions also freeze assets held by Gadhafi and four of his children.

"Gadhafi has lost the confidence of his people and he should go without further bloodshed and violence," Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said. "The Libyan people deserve a government that is responsive to their aspirations and that protects their universally recognized human rights."

Britain and Canada, meanwhile, temporarily suspended operations at their embassies in Tripoli and evacuated their diplomatic staff.

Gadhafi is no stranger to international isolation.

U.N. sanctions were slapped on his country after suspected Libyan agents planted a bomb that blew up Pan Am Flight 103 over the Scottish town of Lockerbie in 1988, killing 270 people, mostly Americans.

Libya accepted responsibility for the bombing in 2003 and pledged to end efforts to develop weapons of mass destruction. The U.S. and Libya in 2009 exchanged ambassadors for the first time in 35 years, after Libya paid about $2.7 billion in compensation to the families of the Lockerbie victims.

In Geneva on Friday, the U.N. Human Rights Council called for an investigation into possible crimes against humanity in Libya and recommended Libya's suspension from membership of the world body's top human rights body.

Talk of possible military action by foreign governments remained vague, however. It was unclear how long Gadhafi, with some thousands of loyalists — including his tribesmen and military units commanded by his sons — might hold out against rebel forces comprised of youthful gunmen and mutinous soldiers.

London-based Algerian lawyer Saad Djebbar, who knows a large number of Gadhafi's top officials, says that for Gadhafi staying in power had become impossible. "It's about staying alive."

"(Gadhafi's) time is over," he added. "But how much damage he will cause before leaving is the question."