The United Nations Security Council (UNSC) voted unanimously on Saturday night to impose an arms embargo, asset freeze and travel ban on Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi along with his family members and close aides.
Furthermore, the UNSC decided to refer the situation in Libya since February 15th to the prosecutor of the International Criminal Court (ICC) for investigation into possible crimes committed against civilians.
The Libyan uprising that began Feb. 15 has swept over nearly the entire eastern half of the country, snatching entire cities in that region out of the government’s grasp. Gaddafi and his backers continue to hold the capital Tripoli and have threatened to put down protests aggressively.
It is believed that at least 1,000 people were killed in the violent crackdown with multiple reports saying that Gaddafi utilized African mercenaries to quell the uprising.
Many videos have been posted on YouTube to what was claimed to be scenes of violence during the protests.
On Wednesday, the ICC prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo issued a statement saying he cannot investigate crimes in Libya unless the country’s authorities accept the court’s jurisdiction or the UNSC refers the situation to the court.
This week, Libya’s ambassador to the United Nations Mohammed Shalgham appealed to the UNSC to “save” his nation from the violent route orchestrated by Gaddafi’s regime.
“Please UN, save Libya,” Shalgham said in an emotional speech "I tell my brother Gaddafi, leave the Libyans alone.”
The former foreign minister who is a longtime friend of the Libyan leader had broken ranks with Gaddafi to join scores of diplomats worldwide.
On Saturday, U.S. president Barack Obama called on Gaddafi to quit saying that he has lost his legitimacy by using mass violence against his own people.
Obama’s statements came as the UNSC was locked in intense negotiations over the ICC referral clause in the draft text tabled by France and Britain.
Some countries including ICC members such as Gabon, Brazil and Portugal wanted a two-step approach allowing the UNSC to address the accountability issue at a later stage. India which is not a signatory to the court’s statute, was also supportive to this position.
China was the only country that voiced complete rejection to the ICC referral explained by some for fear of setting a precedent.
Diplomats say that a letter from the Libyan envoy to the UNSC president seen by Sudan Tribune supporting the referral helped soften opposition within the council.
A last minute compromise was reached on the text by making a preambular reference to Article 16 which allows the UNSC to freeze ICC investigations for a period of 12-months that can be renewed indefinitely.
All countries afterwards dropped their reservations but China said it will consult with Beijing for instructions on how to vote which turned out to be a yes.
This is the second time the UNSC makes an ICC referral with the first being in the situation of Darfur in March 2005. At the time China and the U.S. abstained from voting>
Sudan has slammed the resolution then, saying it is illegal because some of the council members are themselves not signatories to the Rome Statute.
The ICC has charged several people in connection with the Darfur case including Sudanese president Omer Hassan Al-Bashir.
Ironically, it was Libya that has been a staunch critic of Bashir’s indictment calling it a "tool of international terrorism". Gaddafi has lobbied the African Union (AU) successfully in July 2009 to adopt a resolution barring any country in the continent from apprehending Bashir even if they were under a legal obligation to do so.
Sudan has hailed the AU’s position as victory against the ICC and some countries that have signed up to the court such as Kenya and Chad have used it as an excuse to receive Bashir on its territory despite being required to apprehend him.
Libya also led efforts along with Eritrea, Djibouti and Senegal to have African countries withdraw en masse from the ICC in protest of Bashir’s arrest warrant but without success.
Today’s resolution deals a big political blow to Khartoum which has sought relentlessly to discredit the court particularly within Africa. Nigeria, South Africa and Gabon were sitting on the council today.
The African Union (AU) has asked the UNSC to freeze investigation into Bashir’s case but was met with resistance from Western members of the council.
The French-Libyan lawyer Hadi Shalluf described the council’s decision as "historical" because it referred the case without waiting for findings of an international commission of inquiry as it did with Darfur.
"This is a victory to people around the world a strong message to those in power who think they can commit crimes with impunity," Shalluf said.
Shalluf who was appointed by ICC judges as an ad-hoc defense counsel in preliminary proceedings in Darfur case said that today’s resolution "gives new push" to the Hague tribunal.
He noted that Gaddafi as a sitting head of state faces same arrest prospects as Bashir who has limited his travel since the warrant.
Human Rights Watch (HRW) also hailed today’s resolution.
“The Security Council has risen to the occasion and given notice to Gaddafi and his commanders that if they give, tolerate, or follow orders to fire on peaceful protesters, they may find themselves on trial in The Hague,” said Richard Dicker, director of the International Justice Program at Human Rights Watch.
“The Security Council action shows that justice awaits Libyan security commanders who unlawfully attack people to stay in power,” said Dicker. “It is the clearest possible directive to Gaddafi and his cohorts to end the killing.”