France's President Francois Hollande today announced plans to increase the number of French troops in Mali, marking an escalation in France's intervention in its former colony.
Despite the socialist president's efforts to mark a break with a history of French meddling in Africa's affairs, Paris finds itself back in a familiar role in Africa.
Nearly two years ago, President Nicolas Sarkozy led international campaign to intervene in Libya to oust Muammar al-Qaddafi. He also ordered French forces to help U.N. peacekeepers take down Laurent Gbagbo, the former Ivoirian leader who refused to accept step down after losing his presidential election.
So, was France's intervention in Mali a return to its past or is it something different? "I don't think this is more of the same; I think this is part of an emerging model of intervention where counterterrorism is the core," said Bruce Jones, director of NYU's Center on Global Cooperation. He said the Mali operation bears more similarity with Somalia -- where U.S. forces target suspected terrorists while African troops provide security -- than it does with historical efforts to intervene to shore up African leaders.
Whatever the similarities, France's role in Africa was supposed to look different from this under Hollande.
In a recent visit to the continent, the French leader assured African audiences that the era of Franceafrique, a period marked by frequent French military intervention on behalf of Africa's post colonial autocrats, was done with.
"I didn't come to Africa to impose my way, or deliver a lesson on morality," Hollande told Senegal's parliament in October. "The era of Franceafrique is over. There is now a France and there is an Africa. And there is a partnership between France and Africa, based on relationships that are founded on respect," he added during the visit.
But others recalled that Sarkozy had initially vowed to end the era of Franceafrique, only to find himself responding to the French urge to act in Libya and Ivory Coast. That urge reflects the enduring influence of Africa’s traditional interventionists in French politics, and in the case of Mali, the fact that 6,000 French nationals live in Mali, most of them in Bamako.
“If we go back to when Sarkozy came into office and talked about the end of Franceafrique and surrounded himself with a new generation of French Africa advisors those guys lost out and within two years the old guard reasserted itself,” said Todd Moss, an expert on West Africa at the Center for Global Development. “I’m sure the old French guard is very, very powerful if they were able to maintain their influence under Sarkozy. I wouldn’t’ be surprised if it is strong under Hollande.”
But other diplomats say France’s calculation was simpler, noting that one of the Islamist factions fighting in Mali, Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, already holds eight French hostages captured in Mali and neighboring states.
“You can’t neglect the fact that the French have a large population in Bamako,” said one European diplomat. “The Islamists were moving towards those people, raising the threat that hundreds more could have been taken hostage. I’m sure the French government felt it had a responsibility to them.”
Still, Mali was supposed to be a model of that new relationship.
When separatist Tuareg fighters, backed by armed Islamist groups linked to al Qaeda, seized control of northern Mali last year, France vowed to keep its expeditionary forces in their barracks. They turned to regional leaders, backed by the United Nations, to help Mali's troubled army confront the Islamists.
Last month, France championed a U.N. Security Council resolution authorizing a European-backed, African-led force to train the Malian army and help it reconquer its northern territories. But the effort has been complicated by a number of factors, not least of which is the fact that Mali's army came to power by staging a military coup against the country's elected leader.
The planned force was plagued by delays, making it unlikely that it would even arrive in Mali until September or October, providing the rebels with a window of opportunity to strike. Last week, they seized it, and began marching towards the south, capturing the town of Konna, and threatening the strategic town of Mopti. Mali's U.S.-trained military collapsed.
France's U.N. envoy Gerard Araud on Monday told reporters outside the U.N. Security Council that France had reluctantly entered Mali.
"Our assessment was that they were totally able to take Bamako," he said. "So, we decided that what was at stake was the existence of the state of Mali and beyond Mali was the stability of all West Africa."
While France's military action has its critics inside France and beyond (former French Prime Minister Dominique de Villepin denounced it), the strike has drawn widespread diplomatic, if not military, support.
The Group of 8 political directors today issued a statement welcoming the French military action. Vitaly Churkin, Russia's U.N. envoy and a vocal critic of the Western interventions in Libya, said Monday that France's intervention -- which followed a request for assistance from the Malian government -- was perfectly legal and that its operation enjoyed unanimous support in the 15-nation Security Council.
U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, who had earlier cautioned that military intervention in Mali should be considered a last resort, backed the French move. The reaction from within the U.N. ranks could best be described as "quiet applause," said one senior U.N. official. "So many of us are so relieved, even though we don't know how this will end."
Jones said that the U.N.'s reticence about military action was driven primarily by concerns about "the limitations of their own capacity" to play a supporting role in an African-led war against Islamists in Mali. "I don't think the U.N. had any difficulty with having someone deal with al Qaeda in the Maghreb. They just didn't want to be in a position of doing it themselves. They were worried about taking on more than they could chew."
But having taken charge, France will be confronted with a new challenge: ensuring that its allies in the Malian army don't follow up any military victories by launching a revenge campaign against its enemies.
"There is no doubt that the human rights situation in Mali before the intervention was already catastrophic, with civilian populations suffering abuses at the hands of all the parties to the conflicts, whether Islamist groups, separatist rebels, as well as the Malian army itself," said Philippe Bolopion, the U.N. representative for Human Rights Watch. "But the risks and human rights challenges that come with military intervention are many. It's important that neither the French nor [African peacekeepers] empower "the Malian army] to commit more."
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Susan Rice, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations and reportedly the favorite to succeed Hillary Clinton, asked to have her name withdrawn for consideration as the America's new secretary of state, the culmination of months of political attacks by Republican lawmakers, and intense scrutiny of her wealth, blunt diplomatic style, and relationship with African leaders.
Rice, 48, appeared destined this fall to serve as America's next top diplomat as President Barack Obama's second-term leader of Foggy Bottom. But her prospects plummeted after a trio of Republican senators -- John McCain (R-AZ), Lindsey Graham (R-SC) and Kelly Ayotte (R-NH) -- mounted a sustained attack on Rice.
They suggested that Rice may have willfully misled the public in a series of Sunday morning talk show interviews in which she characterized the September 11 attack on Benghazi, which led to the death of Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens and three other U.S. nationals, as likely a spontaneous reaction to the broadcast of an anti-Islamic web video.
The account later proved untrue, and evidence soon emerged pointing to a more targeted strike on the U.S. consulate by Libyan Islamists linked to al Qaeda. But the GOP charges against her never stuck, because Rice's account was largely consistent with internal talking notes she had received from the Central Intelligence Agency and because she had left open the possibility that al Qaeda or one of its affiliates may have been involved in the attacks.
In November, Obama rallied to her defense, telling reporters at a White House press conference that Rice had "done exemplary work" at the United Nations. "If Sen. McCain and Sen. Graham and others want to go after somebody, they should go after me," Obama said with gusto. "For them to go after the U.N. ambassador who had nothing to do with Benghazi...to besmirch her reputation is outrageous."
But McCain never relented as opposition in the Republican camp widened, drawing in Senator Susan Collins (R-ME), which made it clear that Rice was headed for a contentious Senate nomination process. Rice, meanwhile, faced a flood of more critical coverage of her tenure as a young U.S. assistant secretary of state for African affairs in the 1990s, and her role in shielding a close African ally, Paul Kagame, from scrutiny at the U.N. for his government's alleged role in backing a brutal mutiny in the neighboring Democratic Republic of Congo.
"I am highly honored to be considered by you for appointment as Secretary of State," Rice wrote in a letter to the president. "I am fully confident that I could serve our country ably and effectively in that role. However, if nominated, I am now convinced that the confirmation process would be lengthy, disruptive and costly -- to you and to our most pressing national and international priorities. That trade-off is simply not worth it to our country."
Rice said in the letter that she looks forward to continuing to serve the president and the country as the U.S. ambassador to the U.N., though rumor has it that she might be going back to the White House or National Security Council.
President Obama issued a statement from the White House praising Rice as "an extraordinary capable, patriotic and passionate public servant" who has played an "indispensable role in advancing American interests" at the United Nations.
"While I deeply regret the unfair and misleading attacks on Susan Rice in recent weeks," said the statement, "her decision demonstrates the strength of her character, and an admiral commitment to rise above the politics of the moment to put our national interests first."
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President Barack Obama last night boasted about American leadership in toppling Libyan leader Muammar al-Qaddafi, reopening the debate about whether it was the United States or France and Britain that deserved credit for overthrowing Africa's longest ruling dictator.
"I and Americans took leadership in organizing an international coalition that made sure that we were able to -- without putting troops on the ground, at the cost of less than what we spent in two weeks in Iraq -- liberate a country that had been under the yoke of dictatorship for 40 years, got rid of a despot who had killed Americans," Obama said in the final presidential debate. "And as a consequence, despite this tragedy, you had tens of thousands of Libyans after the events in Benghazi marching and saying, ‘America's our friend.'"
"This is an example of -- of how we make choices, you know, when we went into Libya and we were able to immediately stop the massacre there because of the unique circumstances and the coalition that we had helped to organize, we also had to make sure that Muammar Qaddafi didn't stay there," he said. "Muammar Qaddafi had more American blood on his hands than any individual other than Osama bin Laden. And so we were going to make sure that we finished the job."
The American claim to having led the effort has always irritated the French and British, who first mounted a diplomatic campaign at the U.N. Security Council to impose a no-fly zone over Libya to prevent Qaddafi from using his aircraft to attack civilians. The United States initially refused to participate in that effort and the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, Susan Rice, repeatedly criticized the European initiative as feckless.
One top European diplomat denounced Washington's claims of leadership over the Libya campaign as "revisionist history." This morning, Washington Post columnist Richard Cohen weighed in, arguing that Obama's claims of having led the coalition in Libya was among the most dishonest claims of the entire foreign policy debate.
President Obama "strongly suggested that he had America take the lead in Libya, organizing the air campaign that brought down Moammar Gaddafi. In fact, the French took the lead and the United States followed, which gave rise the phrase "leading from behind" -- an indictable offense, if you ask me. Obama also suggested that Gaddafi was some sort of American enemy when actually Washington had cut a deal with the Libyan strongman and then-secretary of state Condoleezza Rice had met with him in 2008."
So what actually happened? I covered the diplomatic deliberations over the war against Libya. And while the United States initially provided little diplomatic support to their European allies' push for a no-fly zone ( and largely kept them in the dark about internal U.S. deliberations on the use of force), it ultimately took charge of the diplomatic effort at the U.N., and pursued a far more aggressive military approach than that advocated by the Europeans.
In March, 2011, pro-Qaddafi forces advanced on the rebel stronghold of Benghazi, preparing to deliver a decisive blow that could have crushed the nascent armed resistance and led to the slaughter of large numbers of civilians.
Britain and France, with the backing of Lebanon, labored in solitude behind the scenes in New York to rally support for a resolution that would have imposed a no-fly zone over Libya, but received virtually no support from the United States.
"The Americans haven't yet defined their position on Libya," the frustrated then French Foreign Minister Alain Juppe told a French parliamentary foreign affairs committee on March 15, 2011, two daysbefore the council acted. "Never mind that there's European impotence, but what about American power? What about Russian power? What's China's power over Libya?"
France's irritation stemmed from a perception that President Obama's national security team was hesitant to participate in an air operation to protect civilians. Even as the White House labored in internal discussions toward considering a military approach, Rice peppered her colleagues in the Security Council with so many questions and conditions -- we won't go in without the Arabs, for instance -- that some suspected she was trying to kill off the initiative.
Two days before the air campaign was ultimately authorized, France's U.N. ambassador, Gerard Araud, informed Rice that European governments would push for a vote on a resolution creating a no-fly zone, with or without America's support.
Rice, who lacked instructions from Washington to rally support for a military response, was not prepared to support her European allies, according to council diplomats. "You're not going to drag us into your shitty war," Rice snapped, according to an account by a senior council diplomat. Araud shot back: "We are not a subsidiary of the United States."
But the winds shifted after the Arab League threw its support behind the no-fly zone and the prospects of a mass killing in eastern Libya grew, placing the United States in the position of having to choose whether to back a military response, or step aside.
Following the conversation between Rice and Araud, the United States held a high-level teleconference with Obama's top national security team, including Rice and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who had just met with Arab leaders, agreed to intervene. Rice, who had a deep skepticism about the European approach, mounted a far more aggressive campaign for a resolution authorizing air strikes against Libyan forces to prevent the slaughter of civilians. Within two days, Rice had secured narrow 10-5 vote in favor of military force, underscoring the tenuous international support, but sufficient to launch the air war, which ultimately helped the rebels over throw Qaddafi.
A senior administration official said that the off-color encounter with Araud didn't "ring a bell" with Rice. But the official defended Rice's handling of the Libya file. The British and French were unaware that at the time she was questioning the wisdom of their approach -- which she called a "naked no-fly zone" -- that she was arguing for far tougher action in the White House, and that she had discretely advised her staff weeks earlier to draft a resolution authorizing sweeping military powers, according to the senior U.S. diplomat. (The contents of the draft have never been published.)
"There were some colleagues who were supportive of action who quite frankly thought we were trying to poison this, that we were trying to up the ante so far that we blew it up," Rice told me last year. "But we were dead serious and we believed this couldn't be half hearted. It had to be for real if it was worth doing."
Fair enough. But the notion that the United States led the U.N. effort in Libya continues to grate on the nerves of some European diplomats who felt the Americans left their closest allies in the dark until the final decision to act.
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Three years ago, then Libyan leader Muammar al-Qaddafi stood at the U.N. General Assembly podium, held up a copy of the U.N. Charter, and declared he would not recognize its authority.
This afternoon, Mohammed Magarrief, the president of Libya's national assembly, affirmed his commitment to the charter and issued an apology to the membership for the crimes committed by Libya's former ruler.
"Three years ago, a despot who ruled my country for 42 years with oppression and an iron fist stood on this very rostrum and tore a copy of the charter of the United Nations," he said. "Today, I am standing on the very same rostrum affirming my country's support of the charter of the United Nations and our respect for it."
Dressed in a crisp Western business suit, Libya's new leader sought to present a starkly different image from Qaddafi, who was known for his often outlandish robes and designer sunglasses.
In contrast to the long, rambling anti-imperial rants that characterized his predecessor's U.N. speeches, Magarrief spoke from a prepared text, and remained on the podium for about 27 minutes, longer than 15 minutes allotted, but a far cry from Qaddafi's interminable monologues.
He sought to assure other countries that his government would seek to get along with the international community and abide by the rules of the road.
Qaddafi funneled weapons to insurgent groups throughout the continent, fueling conflicts from West Africa to Sudan, and he played a role in some of the most audacious acts of international terror, including the bombing of Pan Am Flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland, an attack that killed 243 passengers, 16 crew members, and 11 people on the ground.
"I stand before you today, before the entire world, to apologize for all the harm, all the crimes committed by that despot against so many innocents, to apologize for the extortion and terrorism he meted on so many states," Magarrief said.
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Libya's president Mohammed Magarief today contradicted American claims that the deadly attack on the U.S. consulate was a spontaneous reaction to an anti-Islamic film, telling NBC's Anne Curry in an interview broadcast this morning.
"It has nothing to do with this attack," said Magarief, noting that the assailants used rocket propelled grenades and mortar fire in the attack. "It's a preplanned act of terrorism against American citizens."
The remarks came more than one week after Susan Rice, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, argued that the attack, which killed four American nationals, including U.S. ambassador J. Christopher Stevens, had been triggered by popular anger from Libyan Muslims offended by the film.
"Our current best assessment, based on the information that we have at present, is that, in fact, what this began as, it was a spontaneous -- not a premeditated -- response to what had transpired in Cairo," Rice told ABC's "This Week." "We believe that folks in Benghazi, a small number of people came to the...consulate...to replicate that sort of challenge that was posed in Cairo. And then as that unfolded, it seems to have been hijacked, let us say, by some individual clusters of extremists who came with heavier weapons."
Rice's account has come under scrutiny in the following days as the administration's explanation for the attack evolved.
Republicans have criticized the account of the attack, suggesting that the Obama administration is seeking to mask the facts. They have seized on the fact that President Barack Obama has not characterized the attack as an act of terror, even though other senior administration officials have, including Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Matthew Olsen, the director of the National Counterterrorism Center.
"It is troubling that President Obama refuses to call the Libya attacks on the anniversary of 9/11 an act of terror," said Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus. "For weeks President Obama and his administration have failed to acknowledge the facts behind the Libya attack."
Asked to explain the discrepancy, Rice's office referred Turtle Bay to White House spokesman Jay Carney's reaction to the Libyan president claim that the U,S. consulate had been targeted in a pre-planned terror attack. "Over the course of the past two weeks, this administration has provided as much information as it has been able to."
"It continues to be the case that we provided information based on what we know -- not based on speculation but based on what we know -- acknowledging that we are continuing an investigation that will undoubtedly uncover more facts, and as more facts and more details emerge we will, when appropriate, provide them to you."
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President Barack Obama on Tuesday delivered an impassioned defense of the values of freedom of expression, explaining that the appearance on the Internet of a controversial film mocking the Prophet Mohammed did not justify the violent attacks on American embassies throughout the region. It was aimed at persuading the Arab Spring's new leaders that criticism against Islam, however offensive, should not be answered with violence or prohibitions on speech. It didn't work.
Egyptian President Mohamed Morsy, in his first speech to the U.N. General Assembly, said today that the "obscenities" contained in the film are "unacceptable" and that ‘we will not allow anyone to do this by word or deed." He proposed that the U.N. Security Council and the U.N. General Assembly consider steps to prevent similar religious offenses.
"There are limits to the freedom of expression especially if such freedom blasphemes the beliefs of nations and defames their figures," added Yemen's President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi.
Over the past day and a half, speaker after speaker, from Indonesia to Qatar to Pakistan to Yemen called for the need to pass international legislation limiting the freedom of expression if it insults the religious beliefs or leaders. "Today, I would like to seize this opportunity to call on the United Nations and those of wisdom and reason and those who have the power of decisions at the international level to write internationally agreed upon laws, procedures, and controls to prevent insulting religious and faiths under any pretext and at the same time keep the right of man to know and express his opinion," said Qatar's emir, Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa Al-Thani hours after Obama spoke.
Islamic countries have sought in the past to pursue the adoption of resolutions in the U.N. General Assembly and the Human Rights Council, and are likely to revive that effort in the months ahead. "A lot of these governments feel that they have to be seen doing something, even if it's a non-binding General Assembly resolution," said Bruce Jones, director of NYU's Center on International Cooperation. "It would mean precisely nothing, it would give you something to say without your domestic constituency, but it's a pretty poisonous thing."
The press for new international legislation over insults to religion marks a serious setback for American efforts to convince Islamic governments to curtail their quest to pass international blasphemy laws. It also underscored the challenges of addressing such a potentially divisive issue with a new generation of Middle East leaders whose politics are more deeply rooted in religion.
Last year, Washington marked a watershed moment in international negotiations over the issue when they convinced the Organization of the Islamic Conferences, and organization of Islamic governments, to drop a decade-long effort to adopt resolutions banning religious defamation.
"The U.N. membership finally overcame a battle that had dragged on for nearly a decade over whether insults to religion should be dealt with through bans on offensive speech," said Suzanne Nossel, president of Amnesty International, USA, who helped broker the deal when she was a senior official in the State Department. "It would be a huge step backward to devolve into opposing camps pitting concerns over freedom of expression against those of addressing religious intolerance. Offenses to religion can and must be addressed through more speech exposing such insults for what they are, not through prohibitions on speech."
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The United Nations marked the death of U.S. Ambassador John Christopher Stevens, Sean Smith, and two other American nationals in Benghazi, Libya, with the customary expressions of condolence invoked when a U.N. member state endures a national tragedy.
The U.N. Security Council duly condemned the "heinous" murder of the American diplomatic delegation. A "saddened" U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon offered his condolences to the United States government and the "bereaved Libyan and American families." And other council diplomats expressed their somber regrets at the untimely murder of colleagues.
But this time, the killing struck closer to home. U.N. Undersecretary General for Political Affairs Jeffrey Feltman, who served until recently as the U.S. assistant secretary of state for Near Eastern Affairs, was a close personal friend and colleague of Stevens at the U.S. State Department.
The U.N. Security Council had played a vital role in shielding Benghazi's residents from certain slaughter at the hands of Muammar al-Qaddafi's forces. In a rare, brief show of unity, the Security Council authorized NATO to use air power against Libyan forces, a move that until led to Qaddafi's overthrow.
The U.S. consulate in Benghazi and the U.S. embassy in Cairo both came under attack from mobs that had allegedly become enraged over the circulation on the Internet of an inflammatory film produced by a man in California who claimed in an interview with the Associated Press that he was an Israeli filmmaker. (The AP has raised questions about his true nationality) But U.S. officials said that the attack in Benghazi may have been planned by extremists inspired by al Qaeda, according to a report in the Washington Post.
After the attack, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton asked the question that was on the minds of many of the U.N.'s Western diplomats. "How could this happen in a country we helped liberate, in a city we helped save from destruction?" she said. "This question reflects just how complicated and, at times, how confounding the world can be."
Speaking outside the U.N. Security Council, Libya's U.N. ambassador Ibrahim Dabbashi conveyed his own government's condolences to the United States and the families of the dead, saying that Stevens had "been a real friend for the Libyan people."
Stevens, he added, "was with us during our fighting against the dictator Qaddafi and his forces. He was very brave in staying in Benghazi."
Dabbashi was at a lost to explain how the ambassador of a government that had supported Libya's liberation could become a target. "As you know, we have to state the reality: the authority of the government is still not covering the whole territory of Libya."
Dabbashi said his government would take "the necessary measures to contain those people ... and bring them to justice." He said that as many as 10 Libyan security forces were either injured or killed during the attack.
Inside the council, the mood was somber as Rosemary di Carlo, the U.S. deputy permanent representative, read out an account of the attack and requested support for a U.S.-drafted Security Council statement condemning the attack. Russia and other delegations that have frequently criticized U.S. backed initiatives on Libya were silent, according to a council diplomat. "Even the hardliners were subdued," the diplomat said. "I think nobody wanted to be in Rosemary's shoes, talking about the death of a colleague."
"The senselessness of if was striking," the official said. "This was not a war; these were people who had committed themselves to the well being of the Libyan people."
But the attack also raised concern among other diplomats about the future of their efforts in Libya, and the persistent diplomatic risks. In April, unidentified attackers targeted a convoy transporting the U.N.'s special representative, Ian Martin, with a roadside bomb. In June, armed groups attacked a British convoy carrying Britain's ambassador to Libya, Dominic Asquith. The British envoy was not armed, but two British bodyguards were injured.
For now, it remains unclear what impact, if any, Stevens' death will have on the future of the U.N. mission in Libya. "It is too soon to assess the implications for our future posture -- our policy has been to keep a low profile," said one senior U.N. official. Restoring stability in Libya, the official said, will depend on the effectiveness of the country's new prime minister, Mustafa Abu Shagour, who won by a slim margin in a vote today. "The events in Benghazi showed everybody that there are still a lot of challenges out there," said the council diplomat.
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Iran's foreign minister, Ali Akbar Salehi, has directly appealed to U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon for help in securing the release of more than 50 Iranian nationals seized in Syria and Libya over the past week, saying he feared many of them could be killed in Syria in the coming hours.
The request came just a day after three of 48 hostages captured Saturday by rebel forces in Damascus were reported killed during a government air attack on rebel positions. It is part of a broader diplomatic effort by Tehran to secure the hostages release.
Salehi today visited Turkey to press the government help rescue the Iranians while the Iranian government warned the United States, which has provided limited support to the rebels, that it would be held responsible for the fate of the Iranians. Iran's security chief, Saeed Jalili, meanwhile met with President Bashar al-Assad in Damascus, where he vowed Iran's support for the beleaguered Syrian leader.
The Syrian rebels confirmed that the three Iranians had been killed and threatened to kill the others unless Syrian authorities halted their air assault. "They were killed when the aircraft attacked. One of the houses they were in collapsed over their heads," rebel spokesman Moutassam al-Ahmad told Reuters. "We will kill the rest if the army does not stop its assault. They have one hour."
The Free Syrian Army maintains that the Iranians are members of Iran's Revolutionary Guards Corps who had been collecting intelligence on Syria's rebel movement. The Iranians have insisted that they were Shiite pilgrims traveling to Sayida Zeinab, a Muslim shrine outside of Damascus. They were abducted on their way to the airport in Damascus on Saturday, according to Salehi.
In a letter to Ban, Salehi said that seven members of the Iranian Red Crescent Society had also been abducted in Benghazi on July 31. He said they were in Libya at the invitation of the Libyan Red Cross when they were kidnapped.
But he expressed particular concern over the fate of the Syrian nationals in Damascus, saying "the hostage takers have threatened to kill the remaining captives in the coming hours."
"The government of the Islamic Republic of Iran calls for the immediate release of its abducted nationals and is of the view that using the hostages as human shields violates the international law and human rights of these innocent civilians," Salehi said. "I would like to seek the cooperation and the good offices of your excellency for securing the release of these hostages."
A spokesman for Ban said the U.N. was studying the letter and had not yet responded. But Farhan Haq, a spokesman for Ban, said that the U.N. Supervisory Mission in Syria is playing no role in the negotiations for the Iranian's release.
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As the late Col. Muammar al-Qaddafi's forces prepared to crush the Libyan uprising last summer in Benghazi, Britain, France, Qatar, the United Arab Emirates, the United States, and other allies moved quickly to reinforce the beleaguered rebel forces.
With military supplies, training, advice -- and of course the backing of NATO war planes -- this coalition of governments provided critical support to change the course of the conflict, ultimately leading to Qaddafi's downfall.
The U.N. Security Council's arms embargo was primarily intended to constrain Qaddafi's capacity to use its massive oil wealth to import new stocks of weapons and foreign mercenaries to help put down the rebellion. But it also placed restraints on the supply of weapons to the rebels, prompting the Security Council to later introduce an exemption -- providing significant cover for governments seeking to arm the rebels.
A new report by a U.N. panel of experts responsible for monitoring the arms embargo in Libya sought to itemize a list of military supplies -- everything from sandbags to shouldered propelled rockets -- that flowed into Libya after the U.N. Security Council imposed an arms embargo on Libya in February 2011. The list, however, is incomplete because NATO and some of the insurgents' chief military backers, including Qatar and the United Arab Emirates, have refused to provide a full account of their contributions.
The report identified numerous attempts by the Qaddafi regime "to secure arms deals and use mercenaries from neighboring countries," citing reports in the Globe and Mail about a July 2011 visit to Beijing by Libyan officials seeking to purchase military supplies from three Chinese arms manufacturers. (China denied that the talks led to any deals.) The panel also cited reports that much of Libya's military capacity had been reconstituted after 2004, following years of Western and U.N. sanctions, with the aid of Western European countries and ex-Soviet states (The panel also noted that is conducting an ongoing investigation into Qaddafi's use of mercenaries, adding that so far it had found "no conclusive evidence.")
But the 78-page report provides insights into how the international community combined diplomatic pressure, military airpower, and clandestine arms deliveries, to topple a regime. It would not be surprising if some of those countries considering backing the Syrian campaign to overthrow President Bashar al-Assad in Syria are drawing from the same playbook.
The United States
Though U.S. airpower proved decisive in crippling Qaddafi's defenses, the United States maintains that it provided only non-lethal military support to the rebels. The report notes that on February 6, the United States provided the panel with a list of its contributions, including 8,000 uniforms, 8,000 boots, 5,825 load-bearing vests, 2,850 bullet proof vests, 1,975 military helmets, and "items for defensive positions (sandbags, Hescos...)."
The Italian government notified the panel on February 14 that it supplied 10 military trainers, 10,000 uniforms, 5,400 helmets and 2,800 leather boots.
On February 9, the United Kingdom informed the panel that it supplies the rebels with 6,000 sets of body armor and no more than 20 military personnel. The British action, according to the report, was intended to "provide a military assistance team to the Libyan authorities for the purpose of providing operational assistance, training and mentoring on security issues, including reform of the armed services, counter-terrorism and counterinsurgency."
In April 2011, the French government notified the United Nations that it had sent a small team of military advisors to Libya to provide the National Transitional Council with "support and advice on ways to organize its internal structure, manage its resources and improve its communications." In June, it went further, notifying the UN that it had "airdropped self-defence weapons for the civilian populations that had been victims of attacks by Libyan armed forces." The panel's report contains no detailed list of these contributions as the French asked it to keep the details confidential.
The panel said that it has obtained information that several flights operating from Tirana, Albania, transported military materiel to Benghazi over a three day period in September, 2011. The case remains under investigation.
One of the more tantalizing revelations in the panel report is the suggestion that Darfuri rebel groups, including members of the Zaghawa tribe and fighters from the Justice and Equality Movement, may have backed Qaddafi's counterinsurgency campaign. The panel said that while it was not able to "definitely corroborate" numerous reports of the military role in the conflict, ‘the accumulative strength of intelligence gives substantial credibility to these findings." No to be outdone, Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir, extended overflight rights over Sudanese territory to NATO, according to senior U.N. diplomats, and allegedly supplied arms to the insurgents, according to the panel. The panel cited claims by the Benghazi rebel defense ministry that Sudan provided "small arms and light weapons such as rocket-propelled grenades," and transported other supplies to Bengazhi on two Ilyushin-76 aircraft. "According to media reports, on 26 October, the President of the Sudan, Omar Al-Bashir, gave a speech in Kasala in which he acknowledged weapons deliveries from the Sudan to Libya and that the weapons had reached revolutionaries in Misratah, Al-Jabal Al-Gharabi and Zawiya." The Sudanese government did not reply to the panel's request for information.
In March 2011, Qatar notified the United Nations that it would participate in NATO enforcement of the U.N.-authorized no-fly zone over Libya, contributing "a number of military aircraft, military transport aircraft and helicopters." Qatar categorically denied media reports that "it had supplied the revolutionaries with arms and ammunition," saying only that it had "sent a limited number of military personnel to provide military consultations to the revolutionaries, defend Libyan civilians and protect aid convoys." The only weapons and ammunition it had furnished was for the use of Qatari military advisors in self-defense.
But the Qatari contention had one big hole in it. In July, 2011, a Swiss television station discovered spent Swiss ammunition used by the Libyan revolutionaries. The Swiss ammo had been exported to the Qatar armed forces in 2009 by a Swiss arms company, FGS Frex, and made its way to Libya. Confronted by Swiss authorities, who noted that Qatar was prohibited from re-exporting the ammunition, the Qatari ambassador appeared to have confirmed its role in the supply of ammunition. "The ambassador of Qatar explained to the Swiss representatives that the ‘transfer of the aforementioned ammunition to the Libyan opposition was a misadventure in the course of his country's support of the NATO operation in Libya.' He reassured the State Secretariat for Economic Affairs that ‘Qatar took the appropriate measures to prevent similar errors in the future.'"
The United Arab Emirates
The panel provided few details about alleged arms transfers by the United Arab Emirates, partly because it is conducting an ongoing investigation into the matter, and partly because the Gulf state refused to provide the panel with a list of its contributions. On March 25, "the United Arab Emirates notified the [UN] Secretary General that it would participate, within the framework of the international coalition, by providing military aircraft. No notification was given regarding transfers of weapons or ammunition or provision of military personnel." The panel visited the UAE to inquire about its role in arming and advising the Libyan insurgents. The government insisted that it had acted in conformity with UN resolutions and under the umbrella of the NATO operation" to protect civilians. "They did not provide more precise information and said that NATO would be in a better position to answer those questions."
The North Atlantic Treaty Organization's role in Libya was decisive in crippling Qaddafi's military defenses and providing support for insurgent offensive operations. While its air campaign is not the subject of the panel's inquiry, the report notes that it wrote to NATO "asking it to provide a detailed list of military materiel, including weapons and ammunition, sent by Qatar and the United Arab Emirates or any other country that participated in the NATO operation and information regarding the number and roles of military personnel sent by those countries to Libya since the imposition of the embargo. While NATO acknowledged the receipt of the panel's request for information on 25 January 2012, no answer has been provided to date."
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A U.N. panel set up last year to enforce an arms embargo in Libya has opened an inquiry into allegations that France and Qatar armed Libyan rebels involved in the overthrow of Col. Muammar al-Qaddafi's government, according to confidential report by the panel.
The eight-member panel has made no ruling on whether the allies of the rebel Libyan government violated sanctions -- and it remains unclear whether the panel will in the future -- given that France and other allies in the Security Council can exercise considerable authority over the panel.
Still, the report sheds new light on how the anti-Qaddafi opposition was able to transform a collection of militias and tribal leaders into a fighting force capable of defeating the government's superior military forces. And it includes acknowledgments by France and Qatar that they supplied military advisers to the insurgents to help prevent government attacks on civilians.
The report, which has not been made public, was distributed to the 15 governments that sit on the U.N. Security Council, and includes a stamp of the recipient country on each page, a practice that is used to limit leaks. But Turtle Bay obtained excerpts of the report from sources with access to it.
The panels' s findings come as Libya is trying to rebuild its military capability. Ibrahim Dabbashi, Libya's deputy U.N. envoy, appealed to the Security Council earlier this month to lift the arms embargo, saying his government needs to buy new weapons to maintain security in the country and reinforce its borders.
The U.N. Security Council imposed an arms embargo, travel ban, and asset freeze on Libya on Feb. 26, 2011, in an effort to prevent Qaddafi from importing weapons to help him crush the popular uprising that ultimately led to his fall from power. They established a panel to enforce the sanctions.
On March 17, the Security Council, acting at the request of the United States, amended the embargo to permit some unspecified military support, providing flexibility to NATO forces enforcing a no-fly zone over Libya.
The role of foreign militaries in supporting the insurgents on the ground was an open secret during the conflict, but the legal basis for arming them was hotly debated.
At the time, the Security Council was sharply divided over whether the exemption applied to shipments of arms to the rebels. The United States and France argued that such shipments were permitted, particularly in instances where the weapons could be used to defend civilians from a government attack. But several other council members, including Brazil, China, India, South Africa, and Portugal -- which chairs the committee -- believed that it was not. Even Britain's Prime Minister David Cameron, a strong supporter of the Libyan intervention, questioned the legality of arming the rebels.
The panel has relied on a combination of news reports and interviews with Libyan insurgents and officials from the former regime.
It cites a July 2011 interview in Benghazi, in which Qaddafi's defense minister, and an arms expert in the Libyan Ministry of Defense, accused Qatar of channeling massive amounts of weapons into Libya. "The panel was clearly informed that several countries were supporting the opposition through deliveries of arms and ammunition including Qatar," reads the report. "According to the same sources, between the beginning of the uprising and the day of the interview, approximately 20 flights had delivered materiel from Qatar to the revolutionaries in Libya, including French anti-tank weapons launchers, MILANS."
"A number of media reports indicate that Qatar supported the armed opposition to [Qaddafi] from early on in the conflict by participating in the NATO air operations, as well as through the direct provision of a range of military materiel and military personnel," the report added.
The panel honed in on a July 2011 report in a Swiss television program that stocks of Swiss-made M-80 rifle ammunition was used by anti-Qaddafi forces in Libya. The ammunition had been sold to Qatar in 2009, but Swiss authorities told the sanctions committee that the ammunition had been exported to Qatar under the condition that it not be re-exported to another buyer.
"Swiss authorities have thoroughly looked into this case and have been in contact with the authorities of Qatar," Johann Aeschlimann, a spokesman for the Swiss mission to the United Nations, told Turtle Bay. "For Switzerland, the case is settled. Switzerland has informed the panel of experts of the Libya sanctions committee of the UN Security Council in detail about this case."
The Qatari government denied supplying any weapons or ammunition to the insurgents, saying it did not know how the Swiss ammunition found its way into Libya. In a Feb. 12, 2012, letter Qatar informed the panel that it "sent a limited number of military personnel to provide military consultations to the revolutionaries, defend Libyan civilians and protect aid convoys and that it supplied those Qatari military personnel with limited army and ammunition for the purpose of self defense," according to the panel report. But Qatar "categorically denies the information reported by some media that it supplied the revolutionaries with arms and ammunition."
"If some of the afore-mentioned ammunition found its way to some Libyan revolutionaries, the Qatari government has no explanation other than the conditions of fierce fighting taking place in most of the Libyan territory, which could have lead to exceptional consequences that are difficult to assess."
On June 30, 2011, France informed the U.N. secretary general that it had "airdropped self-defense weapons for the civilian population that had been victims of attacks by Libyan armed forces," according to the panel. "In the absence of any other operational means of protecting these populations under threat."
On July 20, the panel asked France to provide them with "detailed information" on the arms drops, including "the exact types and quantities of weapons, serial/lot numbers, marking details of the different items and the dates and location(s) of the deliveries." According to the report, France provided some details, including the period and location of the airdrops, as well as "a list of humanitarian and military materiel." They asked the panel to keep the information confidential.
"France notified its actions as requested by the resolution and actively cooperates with the panel," Brieuc Pont, a spokesman for the French mission to the United Nations told Turtle Bay.Follow me on Twitter @columlynch
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The Arab League's decision to suspend Syria's membership in the group and to threaten possible sanctions against one of its own has not only altered the political landscape in the Middle East.
It has shaken up the Security Council and placed Syria's most important ally, Russia, under increasing pressure to reconsider its implacable opposition to pressure in the U.N. Security Council.
Early last month, a European resolution condemning Syria for a bloody crackdown on protesters that has led to the killing of more than 3,500 people was quickly quashed.
China and Russia vetoed the resolution, citing concern that the West was using the Security Council to press for regime change in Syria.
Brazil, India, South Africa, and Lebanon also abstained, expressing bitterness over the West's use of a resolution mandating the use of force to protect civilians to topple the government of Muammar al-Qaddafi.
But it's one thing to stand up to the world's big Western power, whose periodic resort to the use of military force to solve problems is resented by the broader U.N. membership, and quite another to go up against a regional political group like the Arab League.
The Arab League took the unusual step of suspending Syria from the organization over the weekend as punishment for its repression of anti-government protesters, and said that it would take the matter up with the United Nations if Syria fails to restrain its security forces. Political and economic sanctions, the League threatened, could be imposed.
China -- which has traditionally been reluctant to clash with regional groups -- called on Syria to take heed of the Arab's League statement.
"What is pressing now is to implement the Arab League's initiative appropriately and earnestly," Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Liu Weimin said, according to AFP. "China once again urges the Syrian government and all relevant parties to cease violence, launch an inclusive and balanced political process and make unremitting efforts to realize the Arab League's initiative."
The chief obstacle to a Security Council condemnation of Syria is Russia, which maintains close military ties with Bashar al-Assad's government. Indeed, Russia still maintains a naval base in the Syrian port of Tartus.
Russia's Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov today sharply criticized the Arab League decision, and blamed the West for seeking to incite government opposition groups to press for the overthrow of President Bashar Al Assad.
"We believe it is wrong to suspend Syria's membership of the Arab League," Reuters quoted Lavrov telling the state-run RIA news agency while en route to the Pacific Rim Summit in Hawaii. "Those who made this decision have lost a very important opportunity to shift the situation into a more transparent channel."
"There continues to be incitement of radical opponents [of Assad's government] to take a firm course for regime change and rejected any invitations to dialogue," Interfax news agency reported Lavrov saying, according to Reuters.
Until now, Russia's U.N. envoy Vitaly Churkin has insisted that Moscow is not "siding with the Assad regime" but that it fears the confrontational approach being pursued by the United States and its European partners will drive the country into civil war.
"To claim ... that our veto was against the Arab Spring -- well, that's a cute phrase -- but not a very serious one because ... we do not see the Arab Spring as something that should lead to civil war and this is in our view where this is going," Churkin said last month.
U.S. and Europeans diplomats have dismissed Russia's claim that they intend to use the Security Council to pursue the overthrow of the Assad regime. They say that no one is calling for a resolution that would authorize the use of force against Damascus.
But they believe that the Arab League's tough stance now raises new prospects of passing a resolution that would condemn Syria and possibly impose sanctions on the regime if it fails to halt its crackdown.
A Western diplomat whose government supported the U.N. resolution condemning Syria] said that Arab League action "exceeded" anyone's expectation but that it was not very clear on specifics.
"It's not quite clear what they meant yet," the diplomat said.
European members of the Security Council are awaiting a second meeting by the Arab League on Wednesday in hopes that it will provide a clear call for action by the U.N. Security Council.
The Arab League, diplomats said, must take the lead in the council if it is to have any chance of overcoming Russian opposition.
"This has to come from the Arabs," said a Western diplomat. "The last thing we want to do is to contaminate this with Western hands."
"But the Arabs will have to be nimble," the official added, "This must be making the Russians feel uncomfortable, but they are pretty thick skinned and un-embarrassable."
Another potential obstacle is that the Security Council's lone Arab government, Lebanon, includes a faction in the government, Hezbollah, that is a close political and military ally of Syria. And Damascus wields enormous influence in Beirut, making it highly unlikely that Lebanon will press a tough line in the council.
But Lebanon loses its seat on the Security Council on Dec. 31, to be replaced by Morocco, a North African government which maintains close ties with France and the United States. While diplomats believe Morocco will be far more amenable to a tougher approach, they are keen to begin pressing sooner for action, possibly later this week. "Nobody is in the mood for waiting around for the Moroccans to get here."
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Last week, the U.N. Security Council adopted a resolution that, at first glance, appeared to add to the council's ongoing effort to combat the spread of deadly weapons.
Introduced at the request of Russia, and later backed by the United States, China, Britain, and France, the resolution calls for an inquiry into the fate of portable surface-to-air missiles, called MANPADS, and other deadly weapons used in the recent struggle to overthrow Libyan leader Muammar al-Qaddafi.
But the resolution included a novel technical provision that could end up complicating the U.N.'s effort to raise public concern about the proliferation of these weapons.
At the insistence of China and Russia, the council resolution instructed a U.N. Security Council sanctions committee, with the help of a U.N. Panel of Experts, to assess the threat posed by the spread of such weapons and to report their findings to the Security Council. In essence, the measure would place the council's independent experts on Libya more firmly under the control of the Security Council's members.
What that means is that the U.N. sanctions committee, which is made up of the council's 15 governments, will decide what is reported, not the independent arms experts that typically investigate illicit weapons transfers. And each council member -- including China, Russia, and the United States -- will have the authority to block any disagreeable finding that comes to light in the course of the investigations.
For years, the U.N. Security Council has sought to rely on Panels of Experts to carry out sensitive and independent investigations into illicit arms trafficking from Angola to Iran to North Korea. The United States and its Western allies have typically fought to protect their independence, fending off attempts by Russia and China to rein them in. (However, the George W. Bush administration once led an effort to place an independent panel on al Qaeda under the Security Council's political control after it reported the U.S.-led war on terror was failing to halt the terrorist groups' activities.)
But the Libya resolution breaks the pattern, essentially providing the Security Council's members with greater scope to influence the findings of the expert panels.
Some observers believe the inclusion of the new provision sets a troubling precedent that not only undercuts the independence of the Libya panel, but that could potentially become a feature of future expert panels, thereby weakening one of the council's most powerful tools for independent investigation and for drawing attention to violations.
A Security Council diplomat from a government that co-sponsored the resolution conceded that the provision would "make reporting more complicated" but that Western powers granted the concession to the Russians because they believed it would bolster their efforts to stem the spread of such weapons to terrorist organizations in the region. The "Russians were tackling a problem that is a real problem," said the diplomat.
The move comes as China and Russia have been stepping up their efforts to block the publication of sensitive reports by U.N. investigators on a range of fronts.
In recent weeks, China and Russia took the unusual step of formally requesting the director general of the International Atomic Energy Agency, Yukiya Amano, stop the release of an upcoming report on Iran's nuclear program that reportedly implicates a Russian scientist in providing nuclear advice to the Iranians. Amano rejected the request.
China, meanwhile, has mounted a series challenges to U.N. Security Council expert panels that have documented the presence of Chinese ammunition in countries ranging from Sudan to Ivory Coast -- in violation of U.N. arms embargoes (though Chinese companies have not been directly implicated in embargo-busting activities there). China has also sought to block the release of reports from U.N. sanctions panels probing the Iranian and North Korean nuclear programs.
Germany, which had one of its nationals driven off an expert panel after uncovering evidence of Chinese ammunition in Darfur, Sudan, has stood alone in raising concern about the development. In its explanation of the vote, Germany's U.N. ambassador Peter Wittig said that "as a matter of principle, independent Panels of Experts should report directly to the council."
"Most of the Panels of Experts established
by this council," he added, "report directly to
this council. In order to preserve their independence, Panels of Experts should not be requested to report through committees. The independent expertise of the panels should be [provided] directly to the decision-makers in the council -- without being subject to pre-examination by subsidiary organs. Germany would have preferred a reporting mechanism ... which would have allowed the Panel of Experts to report directly to the council."
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So, what does Susan Rice, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, really think of the so-called doctrine "leading from behind."
"That's just a whacked out phrase," Rice told Turtle Bay after the Security Council voted on Oct. 27 to end the U.N.-sanctioned military mission in Libya.
In a lengthy exclusive interview, Rice joined a chorus of U.S. officials, from President Barack Obama on down, who have sought to distance the administration from the slogan, which has been used by supporters and critics alike to credit or discredit the U.S. role in toppling Col. Muammar al-Qaddafi's government. White House officials and Rice's own aides have recoiled at its very utterance.
Seven months after the U.N. Security Council voted to authorize the use of military force, a decision that in hindsight appears to have been decisive in toppling Qaddafi, Rice is making the case that the former Libyan's leader downfall was the product of U.S. diplomatic leadership, Libyan resistance, and United Nations legitimacy. "We led this thing," she said. "We put teeth in this mandate."
But it didn't always seem that way.
Back in March, as pro-Qaddafi forces advanced on Benghazi, preparing to deliver a decisive blow that could have crushed the nascent armed resistance, Britain and France, with the backing of Lebanon, labored in solitude behind the scenes in New York to rally support for a resolution that would have imposed a no-fly zone over Libya.
"The Americans haven't yet defined their position on Libya," the frustrated French Foreign Minister, Alain Juppe, told a French parliamentary foreign affairs committee days before the council acted. "Never mind that there's European impotence, but what about American power? What about Russian power? What's China's power over Libya?"
In Washington, the United States appeared divided over the wisdom of committing American military assets to the anti-Qaddafi campaign.
Rice, who lacked instructions from Washington to rally support for a military response, was not prepared to support her European allies, according to council diplomats.
But the winds shifted after the Arab League threw its support behind the no-fly zone and the prospects of a mass killing in eastern Libya grew, placing the United States in the position of having to chose whether to back a military response, or step aside.
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Libya's U.N. ambassador Ibrahim Dabbashi denied allegations that Libyan militia members attempted to murder Col. Muammar al-Qaddafi's former intelligence chief and U.N. envoy, Abuzed Omar Dorda, by tossing him off a second story building last week.
"We have credible information that when he learned that Qaddafi had been killed he tried to commit suicide and he jumped from the second floor and his hip was broken," Dabbashi said in his interview with Turtle Bay.
Turtle Bay first reported on Friday that Dorda's relatives claimed that his jailers had tried to murder the 71-year-old former Libyan official by tossing him off the second floor of a building where he was being held in detention. Dorda's son-in-law, Adel Khalifa Dorda, appealed to U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon and U.N. Security Council President U. Joy Ogwu to intervene with the Libyan government to ensure Dorda is not killed.
The incident comes at a time of mounting international concern over reports of abuses of Libyan loyalists in the final push to overthrow the Qaddafi regime. The U.N.'s special representative to Libya, Ian Martin, told the U.N. Security Council that "Muammar and Mutassim Qaddafi were mistreated and killed in circumstances which require investigation, and there are other disturbing reports that killings amounting to war crimes were committed on both sides in the final battle for Sirte."
Martin also expressed concern in a closed door meeting with Security Council members about the mistreatment of Qaddafi loyalists in detention. On Friday, a top U.N. official said that Martin had instructed his staff to look into the case. But it was unclear anyone had.
Dabbashi said that no one from the United Nations or any other organization has raised concerns with him about the fate of Dorda. But he said the Libyan government is committed to ensuring Dorda's protection because "he has been involved in the killing of the Libyan people and it's very important to keep him alive and bring him to court."
Dorda's brother, Dr. Abdalah Dorda, who was allowed to visit his brother at the Libyan Mitiga military hospital in Tripoli on Friday, said that no one from the United Nations had visited his brother there. In a telephone interview on Saturday with Turtle Bay, Dorda called on the Libyan authorities to guarantee his brother's protection, saying he remained under the control of the militiamen he claimed had mistreated him last week.
But Dorda provided a different account of the incident than his nephew, Adel Khalifa, had presented to the U.N. secretary general last week. He said that his brother had actually jumped from the second story himself, but that he did so only after having been threatened by his jailers. He said that he had fractured his foot and the socket in his hip and that his "medical condition is not good."
"He jumped out of the window to save his life," he said. "I think they pushed him to do something, saying they would do something bad. Maybe they threatened to kill him or do something and then he preferred to jump than stay." (For a more detailed account of the incident, see this report Mary Beth Sheridan and I wrote for the Washington Post.)
Dorda said his brother had received no visits from the United Nations or other international groups, but that he planned to urge the International Committee of the Red Cross to monitor his brother's treatment. Dorda said his brother was able to speak but that he "was still under stress" because the same group of fighters that had captured him and held him in custody was responsible for his protection at the hospital. "I fear that they may kill him."
"We need to put him directly under supervision of the official government, this is a VIP, and ex minister, he is not an ordinary man."
Dorda was a well-known figure in U.N. circles in the late 1990s and early 2000s. And he played a role in helping Qaddafi mend ties with Britain and the United States, paving the way for the ultimate lifting of U.N. sanctions against Libya for its role in the 1988 terrorist bombing of Pan Am Flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland, which killed 270 people, mostly Americans. In Feb. 2000, the U.S. State Department authorized a visa for Dorda to travel to Washington, making him the first senior Libyan official to visit Washington since the two countries broke off diplomatic relations two decades earlier.
While U.S. officials declined to meet with the Libyan ambassador, Dorda addressed senior U.S. foreign policy experts at Georgetown University and the Woodrow Wilson Center on his nation's desire to improve relations with the United States.
"This is the first time I have been permitted to come" to Washington, Dorda told me in an interview at the time, which was published in the Washington Post. "Many times I have been invited, but unfortunately I couldn't get permission."
Dorda went on to become the chief of the Qaddafi government's foreign intelligence agency. But his standing at the U.N. and Washington fell along with Qaddafi's. Early this year, the U.S. Treasury Department and the U.N. Security Council imposed freezes on Dorda's financial assets.
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The U.N. Security Council voted unanimously yesterday to end the NATO-led no-fly zone over Libya, marking the conclusion of a controversial military conflict that deeply divided the 15-nation security body, but ended with the collapse of one of the world's most reviled dictatorships.
Yesterday's action came one week after Africa's longest ruling leader, Col. Muammar al-Qaddafi, was killed in the custody of militia fighting under the banner of the National Transitional Council. The Security Council decided to terminate by Oct. 31 a U.N. mandate which has permitted foreign forces to enforce a no-fly zone and to use military force to protect civilians during the past seven months.
Following the vote, U.S. ambassador Susan Rice hailed the council's role in halting Qaddafi's crackdown on civilians and unmitigated success.
"For the United Nations Security Council, this closes what I think history will judge to be a proud chapter in the Security Council's history," she told reporters. The council, she added, "acted promptly and effectively to prevent mass slaughter in Benghazi and other parts of the east, and to effectively protect civilians over the course of the last many months."
The council's decision ended months of acrimonious debate. China, Brazil, Russia, and India -- who joined Germany in abstaining on the vote authorizing the use of force -- had sharply criticized the NATO-led military coalition, saying its role in aiding the rebel campaign exceeded the Security Council mandate to use force only for the protection of civilians.
In the end, however, those governments gave their approval to a resolution that welcomed the "positive developments in Libya which will improve the prospects for a democratic, peaceful and prosperous future" for the North African country.
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A relative of Libya's former U.N. ambassador and intelligence chief Abuzed Omar Dorda appealed to U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon and the U.N. Security Council president today to intercede with Libyan authorities to protect the detained former Libyan diplomat, saying he had been the target of an assassination attempt by his jailers.
Dorda had been a high-ranking official in Qaddafi's government, playing a role during his years at the United Nations in negotiating the deal that ended U.N. sanctions on Libya imposed after the 1988 bombing of Pan Am Flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland, and paving the way to a financial payout to relatives of the victims.
Dorda went on to become the director of Libya's external security organization. Earlier this year, the United States and the U.N. Security Council imposed a freeze on Dorda's financial assets and those of several other members of Qaddafi's inner circle.
Libyan authorities arrested Dorda about two months ago, Adel Khalifa Dorda, who is Dorda's son in law, wrote in a pair of letters to Ban and Security Council's Nigerian president, U. Joy Ogwu. Adel sent a copy of the letters to Turtle Bay after receiving my email through a mutual source.
"Most of you may have known and dealt with Mr. Dorda during his tenure as PR of Libya," the email read. "We kindly request your help in dealing with this issue so that we can spare his life and guarantee his safety. This is a humanitarian issue. On behalf of myself and his family, we appreciate any effort you put and thank you in advance."
A spokesman for Ban and Security Council diplomats could not confirm tonight whether the letter had actually been delivered to the U.N. chief or the Security Council president.
"Mr. Dorda survived a murder attempt last night, 25 October, 2011, at the hands of his guards in the building where he was arrested," he wrote on behalf of the Dorda family. "He was thrown off the second floor leading to several broken bones and other serious injuries."
Adel said "authorities were forced to move Dorda to Maitiga hospital in Tripoli where as of now he is being held under extremely poor conditions. Dorda is not receiving the proper treatment duly and legally accorded a political prisoner, let alone that required under the terms of human rights and other international treaties."
Adel insisted that his father in law had never played any role in committing atrocities, saying he "had arranged his own surrender" in Libya because "he was confident he had not participated in any murders or arbitrary arrests. He was only serving his country in different positions and [was] very active in international diplomacy."
The request for help came hours after U.N. Special Representative for Libya Ian Martin expressed concern to the Security Council that Qaddafi and his son, Muatassim, had been mistreated and killed in a troubling circumstances that required investigation and cited other reports that forces on both sides engaged in war crimes during the final battle in Sirte. Martin privately told Security Council members that he was seriously concerned about the treatment of detainees.
Full text of the letter below.
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His Excellency Mr. Ban Ki Moon
United Nations, NY
I am writing to bring to your attention an issue we deem important not only because it relates to a member of our family but as a human rights issue that concerns a former Permanent Representative to the United Nations who contributed to solving many human rights issues and guaranteeing these rights to many in his country and the world.
The case in question concerns Mr. Abuzed Omar Dorda, the former PR of Libya to the UN during the nineties. As you may know, Mr. Dorda has been arrested by the new Libyan Authorities for two months. He had arranged his own surrender as he was confident he had not participated in any murders or arbitrary arrests. He was only serving his country in different positions and very active in international diplomacy. He had a major role in solving many of the problems between the international community and Libya, most important of which was the Lockerbie issue. Many Permanent Representatives and UN officials who worked and dealt with him would attest to his responsible and genuine personality and efforts.
Mr. Dorda survived a murder attempt last night, 25October, 2011, at the hands of his guards in the building where he was arrested. He was thrown off the second floor leading to several broken bones and other serious injuries. Authorities were forced to move Dorda to Maitiga hospital in Tripoli where as of now he is being held under extremely poor conditions. Dorda is not receiving the proper treatment duly and legally accorded a political prisoner, let alone that required under the terms of human rights and other international treaties.
On behalf of his family I kindly ask you to interfere directly as the Secretary General of the United Nations which he has long served, or through other humanitarian organizations, to guarantee his safety, security and freedom so he can get the proper treatment.
Adel Khalifa Dorda
26 October 2011
The U.N.'s chief human rights agency today said there is a need for an investigation into the death of Col. Muammar al-Qaddafi, citing the broadcast of "disturbing" video of the bloodied late Libyan leader alive during what appears to be his final hours of life.
The videos, which were reportedly captured on cell phones from anti-Qaddafi forces, challenges the official claim by the National Transitional Council (NTC) that Qaddafi was killed in crossfire. They show the former Libyan leader, drenched in blood but clearly alive, being abused by armed men.
"On the issue of Qaddafi's death yesterday, the circumstances are unclear -- there seem to be four or five different versions of how he died," Rupert Colville, the spokesman for the U.N. High Commission for Human Rights, told reporters in Geneva today. "As you are aware, there are at least two cell-phone videos, one showing him alive and one showing him dead. Taken together, these videos are very disturbing. We believe there is a need for an investigation and more details are needed to ascertain whether he was killed in the fighting or after his capture."
Colville said that an existing independent commission of inquiry for Libya, established earlier this year by the U.N. Human Rights Council, "is very likely to look into this. Other forms of investigation might also be considered."
"A key aspect enabling closure on the legacy of Qaddafi's
42-year despotic rule, and on the bloody conflict this year, will be to ensure
that justice is done," Colville said. "The thousands of victims who suffered
loss of life, disappearance, torture, and other serious human rights violations
since the conflict broke out in February 2011, as well as those who suffered
human rights violations throughout Qaddafi's long rule, have the right to know
the truth, to see the culture of impunity brought to an end, and to receive
"In order to turn the page on the legacy of decades of systematic violations of human rights, it will be essential for alleged perpetrators to be brought before trials, which adhere to international standards for fair trial, and for victims to see that accountability has been achieved," he added.
The announcement came one day after the U.N.'s special representative for Libya, Ian Martin, told reporters in a tele-press conference from Tripoli that the U.N. mission in Libya would not look into the case. Martin said that his mission will concentrate its efforts on helping to manage the country's delicate political transition, and that and "investigative responsibilities" for serious crimes would rest with the International Criminal Court (ICC) or the Human Rights Council commission of inquiry. There are "not issues for my mission," he said.
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U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon praised Libya's victorious new rulers for their "steadfastedness and courage" during a prolonged NATO-backed military campaign that culminated in today's killing of Col. Muammar al-Qaddafi, but he encouraged Libyans to show mercy on those who supported the Libyan dictator's rule.
"At this historic moment I call upon the people of Libya to come together, as they can only realize the promise of the future through national unity and reconciliation," Ban said in a statement. "I pay tribute to the Libyan people for their steadfastness and courage through all the pain they endured. I convey the condolences of the United Nations to the families of those who gave their lives in a struggle for freedom. This is the time for healing and rebuilding, and not for revenge.
The remarks follow reports that anti-Qaddafi fighters have abused and killed captured Qaddafi loyalists as well as foreign migrants they suspect of serving as mercenaries for Gaddafi. The U.N.'s special representative in Libya, Ian Martin, confirmed that "there have been significant abuses" committed by anti-Qaddafi forces in the final assault on Sirte, but that he was confident that the leadership of the National Transitional Council (NTC) was committed to halting such conduct.
Last month, Amnesty International accused anti-Qaddafi's forces of killing loyalists of the former Libyan rulers as well as foreign migrants suspected of serving as mercenaries. "Dozens of suspected al-Gaddafi loyalists have been killed. Hundreds, especially foreign migrants accused of being mercenaries, are being held prisoner by forces loyal to the NTC," Colm O'Gorman, executive director of Amnesty International Ireland, said in a Sept. 13 statement. "Those responsible for the dreadful repression of the past under Colonel al-Gaddafi must face justice. But the NTC has to be held to the same standards and must do more to avoid a vicious cycle of revenge attacks."
Speaking by teleconference to U.N. reporters, Martin said that while Qaddafi's death would remove a key source of insecurity from the country, he cautioned that the transition to a more democratic government would not be easy.
Martin expressed concern about the proliferation of weapons in Libya during the conflict, and the prospects of public disorder following Qaddafi's downfall. "Although the chemical weapons and nuclear material appear to be secured, there's very serious concern that other weaponry has gone missing."
Martin said the U.N. would play a "significant role" in helping the new government prepare for the political transition, which will include support for elections, the promotion of human rights and law and order, the drafting new constitution, and establishment of a judicial system.
But he said that the Libyans would take the lead in determining their own political future.
"It's the people of Libya who have made their revolution -- it's the Libyan people, with youth and women very much to the fore, who will lead," Martin said. No one should underestimate, in this moment of celebration in Libya, how great are the challenges that lie ahead."
Martin said the United Nations and the NTC would resist any calls for political amnesty for individuals responsible for mass atrocities in Libya. And he ruled out the prospect that his mission would play any role in establishing the facts surrounding Col. Qaddafi's death.
"The United Nations has a very clear position that excludes consideration for amnesty for those who committed war crimes, or the most serious human rights violations, and that's in line with the approach the NTC has announced."
Martin also said that despite public concerns about the humanitarian impact of the conflict in Libya, an initial assessment by U.N. humanitarian workers has shown evidence that Libyans have done a better job of addressing their basic needs.
"What they have found is a very considerable coping mechanism on the part of the Libyans themselves and we don't believe that the need for international assistance will be a major or prolonged" endeavor.
The U.N. Security Council, which authorized the use of military force in Libya to constrain Qaddafi's forces and protect civilians, had no immediate plans to meet to reconsider the necessity of NATO continuing its military role. One council diplomat said the coalition partners need to first consult with the NTC to see whether it sees a continued need for NATO's war planes.
Susan Rice, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, did not address the future of the NATO effort. But she, too, echoed the note of caution: "the death of Col. Muammar Qadhafi after forty-two years of iron rule does not alone guarantee a safer, more democratic and prosperous Libya. The Libyan people will face great challenges in the days ahead. As they do, the United States will stand with them."
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The British government has introduced a proposal before the U.N. Security Council to lift economic sanctions on Libya's main oil companies and to permit Libyan banks and financial institutions to use frozen assets to restart the country's oil industry and banking sector, to fund humanitarian programs, and to pay for fuel and electricity.
A confidential British draft resolution, which is backed by the United States and the council's other European powers, would end an asset freeze and other financial sanctions imposed on the Libyan National Oil Corporation and Zueitina Oil Company when they were under the control of Muammar al-Qaddafi. It would permit the Central Bank of Libya, the Libyan Foreign Bank, the Libyan Investment Authority, and the Libya Africa Investment Portfolio to release billions of dollars in funds, subject to U.N. approval.
The draft would also establish a new U.N. mission in Libya to help a post-Qaddafi government restore law and order in the country, reboot its economy, aid Libya's new leaders in forming an interim government, draft a new constitution, and prepare for free and fair elections at some unspecified date. The mission, which would include hundreds of personnel, would be protected by a combination of Libyan security forces and private contractors, according to diplomats.
The draft would place the Security Council squarely behind a new transitional government, saying the U.N. security body "looks forward to the establishment of an interim government of Libya." But it would also put Libya's National Transitional Council on notice that it needs to ensure the protection of Libyan human rights, reconcile with supporters of the regime, restore government services, and allocate Libya's billions of dollars in oil wealth in a transparent and accountable manner.
The British initiative, which is still subject to negotiations in the 15-nation council, would also modify a Security Council arms embargo, allowing for the import of arms, training, and financial assistance "intended solely for security or disarmament assistance to the Libyan authorities." It would also allow the supply of "small arms, light weapons and related material for the purpose of protecting United Nations, humanitarian and diplomatic personnel," subject to approval by the U.N. Security Council.
The draft puts off any decision on NATO's military role, saying that the council will keep the coalition military role, including its enforcement of a no-fly zone, "under continuous review and underlines its readiness, as appropriate and when circumstances permit, to lift those measures."
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The Obama administration moved today to shore up the finances of a post-Qaddafi government, proposing that the U.N. Security Council free up $1.5 billion in frozen assets in the United States to help stabilize Libya and pay the salaries of those in a new transitional government. The move is likely to be followed by Britain, Qatar, and other governments backing the anti-Qaddafi opposition.
But they are discovering that the unraveling of Muammar al-Qaddafi's regime has not made doing business in the council any easier.
While China and Russia have agreed to permit the United States to release the money, the South African delegation stepped in to put on the brakes.
South Africa supported the Security Council decision earlier this year to authorize a military operation in Libya to protect civilians, but since then, it has become one of the coalition's sharpest critics, arguing that the United States and European powers went beyond the U.N. mandate and took sides in the country's civil war. It has put a hold on the funds in the U.N.'s Libya sanctions committee, which works by consensus, expressing concern that the funds will grant legitimacy to the anti-Qaddafi rebels.
"We are all agreed to the direness of the humanitarian situation in Libya, and we all want to help," South Africa's U.N. ambassador, Baso Sangqu, told reporters after the council met to consider the U.S. proposal. But he voiced concern that "when you release this money to entities that are aligned to one party of the conflict, you could be in one way or the other recognizing that entity" as the legal authority in Libya.
Sangqu indicated that South Africa might reconsider its position if the U.N. resolution explicitly made it clear that the council was not granting any recognition to the rebels. But he said it was important for the African Union to form an agreed position before he could move forward.
The United States, which first made its request to the Libya sanctions committee to unfreeze the funds on Aug. 8, maintains that it has given South Africa ample time to make up its mind. In an effort to overcome South African objections, the United States has called for a meeting tomorrow at 3:00 p.m. to vote on a resolution, which would require only nine votes to pass.
The U.S. proposal is broken into three parts, according to the U.S. draft resolution. About $500 million would cover some of the costs of a U.N. humanitarian appeal and would be used to fund humanitarian agencies operating in Libya.
Another $500 million would go to opposition-selected contractors that supply fuel, which is in short supply, for electrical plants, desalinization plants, and hospitals.
And the remaining $500 million would be placed in the so-called Temporary Financing Mechanism, which was established by members of the Libya Contact Group, to pay for salaries of social workers, teachers, and health-care workers by a future Libyan government. Of that, $100 million would be used to subsidize the purchase of food, electricity, and other humanitarian goods.
Hours before the meeting, South Africa agreed to partially lift its hold on the U.S. proposal, freeing up about $500 million to fund humanitarian relief efforts in Libya. It continued to object to the release of an additional $1 billion for fuel and salaries.
But the United States rejected the compromise, saying that the proposal was part of a nonnegotiable package that is needed to meet the Libyans' humanitarian needs.
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U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Susan E. Rice told CNN's Wolf Blitzer today that the Libyan people will have to decide whether to try Muammar al-Qaddafi themselves for crimes against his people, or surrender him to face justice before the International Criminal Court (ICC).
"This is something that must be decided not by the United States or any other government, but by the people of Libya and by the interim transitional government that we expect will soon be constituted," Rice said. "These are all choices that the Libyan people will ultimately have to make for them."
Not so fast. A statement issued today by ICC prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo said that any decision on where Qaddafi and two of his associates will be tried must be made by the Hague-based court's judges, not the Libyan people.
The U.N. Security Council adopted a resolution in late February granting the ICC authority to prosecute top Libyan officials for their role in a bloody government crackdown on protesters. The court's judges issued an arrest warrant in June for Qaddafi, his son Saif al-Islam, and his intelligence chief Abdullah Senussi on charges of committing crimes against humanity.
The ICC prosecutor's performance with regards to the Libya conflict has so far been bumpy. On Monday, Moreno-Ocampo announced that he had been informed that rebel forces had arrested Saif al-Islam. Today, his spokesman acknowledged that the prosecutor had only heard this information from a secondhand source, which turned out to be wrong.
With the prospects of Qaddafi's capture growing by the hour, the country's rebel leaders have expressed an interest in prosecuting the three Libyan leaders themselves. Ibrahim Dabbashi, Libya's former deputy U.N. ambassador and a representative for the opposition, told reporters in New York that the Libyan opposition would like to try Qaddafi for war crimes inside Libya, but that they are in talks with the ICC on how to proceed.
But legal scholars and court advocates say the decision is not up to the Libyan people.
Richard Dicker, a court advocate at Human Rights Watch, said that the U.N. Security Council "took the matter out of the hands of the Libyan people." That decision, he said, reflected a judgment that the Libyan judicial system, undermined by four decades of autocratic rule, did not have the capacity to conduct a fair trial of the three accused men.
Dicker recalled that Libya's Transitional National Council (TNC) pledged in a letter to the ICC prosecutor to cooperate with his investigation, and surrender Qaddafi and the two others to the court.
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You wouldn't have noticed it if you weren't a trained student of U.N. press statements.
But Ban Ki moon's statement Thursday on the human rights situation in Libya included a slight shift in phrasing that appeared to mark a new willingness to challenge NATO's conduct in the campaign against Muammar al-Qaddafi's government.
In the past, the U.N. has routinely responded to reports of civilian casualties by urging "both sides" in the conflict -- meaning Qaddafi's forces and the Benghazi-based opposition -- to show restraint in order to avoid the killing of innocent civilians.
But on Thursday, Ban's office issued a statement for the first time urging "all sides" to show restraint. That raised the possibility that Ban was shifting his stance on Libya, reflecting mounting concern about the human cost of NATO's six-month long air campaign.
The change comes at a sensitive time for NATO. The Libyan government accused allied coalition striking a series of farm buildings with precision-guided missiles near the town of Zlitan, killing more than 80 civilians. NATO insists the farm buildings were being used as staging areas for Qaddafi's forces. A preliminary investigation by Human Rights Watch, which visited the site and interviewed relatives of the alleged victims, suggested that some civilians had probably killed by the strike. But they have not yet been able to determine the number of dead or establish whether the site was a legitimate military target.
"Establishing what happened in a case like this is challenging given the controlled environment in government-held areas in Libya," said Tom Malinowski, the director of the rights group's Washington, D.C. office. "But we will be bringing our findings to NATO in the coming days, hear their side of the story, and if possible draw some conclusions."[*See note below]
More generally, "there is a broad sense that NATO has been very careful in Libya, and that NATO and the alliance have steadily improved its performance in avoiding civilian casualties from the 1990s on," Malinowski told Turtle Bay. "That isn't to say they haven't done anything that we would take issue with, once we have all the facts, but we don't have all the facts now."
For months, Ban has lent firm support to the coalition operation in Libya.
When Irina Bokova, the head of UNESCO, "deplored" NATO's recent decision to bomb Al-Jamahiriya, the state television station - saying "media outlets should not be targeted in military actions" -- Ban stood up for the coalition.
Asked if the U.N. chief supported Bokova stance, a U.N. spokesman, Farhan Haq, said Ban believes Resolution 1973, which authorized the use of force in Libya, has been used properly in order to protect civilians in Libya. The U.N. coalition members also defended the strike, saying that the broadcast facility had been used to incite violence against civilians.
To seasoned U.N. watchers, Thursday's statement seemed a shift in stance, perhaps calculated to give Ban's special envoy, Abdel-Elah Al-Khatib, greater credibility with Tripoli as he pursues a mediation role in Libya, according to U.N. diplomats.
Whatever the intent, coalition diplomats took note of the wording and raised objections with Ban's office. They were assured that there was no shift in policy. In response, Ban's office today climbed down, issuing another statement saying that while Ban "has consistently called for restraint and caution to avoid" harming civilians "he of course recognizes and appreciates NATO's efforts to avoid civilian casualties."
One council diplomat said that Ban has "been clear that he appreciates NATO's role in protecting civilians. We don't believe the intent [of the statement] was to criticize NATO." The diplomat also noted that Ban's office said the phrasing was a "miscommunication" due to the fact that the secretary general is traveling overseas. However, despite the U.N.'s climb down this morning they did not retract the phrase.
And another U.N. source suggested the change in language was not accidental, saying each word and comma of the secretary general's statement are carefully considered.
Guess we'll have to wait and see what he says next.
[*Note: an earlier version quoted Malinowski saying "nothing screamed out military installations"]. The Human Rights Watch team investigating the case believes it was premature to make definitive claims about the site.
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As the U.N. Security Council huddled behind closed doors last week to consider a statement condemning Syria for the violent repression of protesters, India's U.N. ambassador, Hardeep Singh Puri, offered up an unexpected argument: The Syrian government had also been a victim, he said, citing the deaths of Syrian security forces.
For months, India, Brazil and South Africa -- collectively known as IBSA -- had helped stall a push by the council's European governments to use the full force of the Security Council to pressure Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to end the crackdown that has led to more than 2,000 deaths. They have joined China and Russia in making the case that a sharp increase in international pressure on Syria will only exacerbate the violence.
Brazil's U.N. envoy, Maria Luiza Ribeiro Viotti, has led the group's diplomatic efforts on the council, putting forward a series of amendments aimed at softening a tougher European-backed resolution censoring Syria. At one stage, she pressed her British negotiating partner to drop a provision calling on Syria to permit press freedom. South Africa's U.N. ambassador, Baso Sanqu, joined ranks with Brazil and India to argue that the West had squandered the council's trust by overreaching in Libya.
The reluctance of IBSA's members to confront Syria's comes as other key players in the region, including Turkey, Jordan, and Saudi Arabia, have begun to take a harder line on Damascus. Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu traveled to Damascus on Tuesday to deliver a tough message to the Syrian leader to stop the killing immediately. Turkey is at "the end of its patience," Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan said.
In the end, Brazil, India, and South Africa agreed on August 3 to support a substantially weaker council statement condemning Syria's conduct, but only after Damascus ordered tanks into the town of Hama, killing more than 100 civilians. The IBSA governments sent three top level envoys on a joint mission to Damascus, where they held meetings today with President Assad. They issued a statement noting Syria's pledge to implement political reforms, called on government forces and protesters to show restraint, and urged the Syrian leadership to comply with last week's Security Council statement.
But in New York, IBSA's diplomatic strategy has been marked by efforts to shield Syria and restrain the United States and its European partners. They argue that the council's Western powers have been too ready to impose sanctions or use force to resolve crises, and have devoted too little to diplomacy. One frustrated Western diplomat quipped that the group's acronym, scrambled, spells BIAS, a reflection of the group's pro-Syrian slant during talks.
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Judges from the International Criminal Court on Monday issued a warrant for the arrest of Libyan President Moammar Gaddafi, his son and a top military intelligence chief, calling for them to to stand trial for crimes against humanity in connection with a violent crackdown on anti-government protesters earlier this year.
The three-judge pre-trial chamber ruled that ICC Prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo had established "reasonable grounds" to charge Gaddafi, his son Saif al-Islam and Abdullah Al-Senussi, the chief of military intelligence, with the murder and persecution of hundreds of Libyan civilians since the government began suppressing public protests on Feb. 15.
In issuing the ruling, Judge Sanji Mmasenono Monageng said there was sufficient evidence to believe that the three Libyans "have committed the crimes alleged by the prosecutor" and that "their arrest appears necessary" to ensure they appear before the Hague-based court and to prevent them from continuing further crimes against the Libyan population.
She said the court's registrar would seek the cooperation of Libya and other governments in securing the three men's surrender.
Gaddafi has made it clear he does not recognize the authority of the International Criminal Court, and it remains highly unlikely that his own government would surrender him or members of his inner circle. Please read the entire story here at the Washington Post.
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During a visit to Washington last week, French Foreign Minister Alain Juppé sounded determined to force a divided U.N. Security Council to vote on a resolution condemning Syria's crackdown on anti-government protesters, saying the need to show resolve in the face of Syrian repression was worth the risk of provoking a likely Russian veto.
Following a meeting with U.S. Secretary of State Hillary R. Clinton, Juppé told reporters in Washington that he believed that Russia might back down if the allies could muster a significant majority -- say, 11 yes votes in the 15-nation council -- raising the political costs of obstruction.
On Tuesday morning, Juppé offered his strongest hint that France and its Western allies, including the United States, may be preparing to back down and withdraw the text. In response to questions from the French National Assembly, Juppé acknowledged that Western powers have been unable to overcome misgivings about a resolution on Syria from key council members, including the BRICS members Brazil, Russia, India and China, and South Africa. Lebanon, the council's lone Arab country, is expected to vote against the resolution.
The United States had initially cautioned its European partners against forcing a showdown in the council that would simply highly its deep divisions over Syria, providing a political boost to President Bashar al-Assad's government. But Britain, France, and other European governments argued it would be unconscionable for the council to remain silent in the face of mounting atrocities in Syria.
The BRICS have countered that the United States and its European allies overstepped the Security Council's mandate, contained in resolution 1973, authorizing the use of force to protect civilians in Libya. They say that the Western coalition has effectively entered a civil war on behalf of the rebels and that their true aim is the overthrow of Moammar al-Qaddafi's regime.
"We strongly believe that the resolution is being abused for regime change, political assassinations and foreign military occupation," South African President Jacob Zuma told the South African parliament this week.
The Europeans believe they have secured nine votes, the bare minimum required for adoptioin of the Syria resolution in the Security Council. But they have held out hope that they could convince the Russians to back down if they could only secure another couple of votes, thereby isolating Moscow and Beijing, which is expected to back the Russian position. But a week of diplomatic outreach has failed to turn a single vote.
"At the Security Council -- despite all the efforts that we're making, in particular with the British and the Americans -- we still haven't achieved our goal," Juppé said. "Indeed, China and Russia are threatening -- on the grounds of principle -- to exercise their right of veto. We will take the risk of putting a draft resolution condemning the Syrian regime to a vote if we reach a sufficient majority. Currently, we probably have nine votes at the Security Council. We still need to persuade South Africa, India and Brazil; we're working on this every day. I think that if we were able to achieve 11 votes, we would put this draft resolution to a vote and everyone would have to assume their responsibilities; we'd then see if China and Russia would go so far as to veto the resolution."
European governments have directed their lobbying efforts at Brazil and South Africa in the hopes that they could somehow peel them away from the Russian camp. French ambassador Gerard Araud pressed Brazil this week to reconsider its stance in a newspaper interview in the Brazilian paper O Estado De Sao Paolo. "The Security Council's credibility and that of its members is at stake, as it is their mandate is to protect international peace and security," Araud said. "We've been discsuing this text for two weeks. In that time 400 people, including women and children, have died, sometimes under torture. Let's be clear: Inaction on the part of the Security Council is not an option. We must all rally together and we're counting on Brazil."
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Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fl), chair of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, today dismissed a U.S.-backed European effort to adopt a U.N. resolution condemning Syria's bloody crackdown on protesters as a meaningless gesture, saying "it is not enough to pass non-binding measures wagging a finger at Damascus."
The Florida Republican said the United Nations must "impose strong sanctions on Damascus" in response to its "nuclear intransigence, its gross human rights abuses, its longstanding development of unconventional and ballistic missile capabilities, and its support for violent extremists."
"A non-binding measure will fail to compel the regime to change its behavior," she added. "Responsible nations must develop, implement, and enforce stronger sanctions, in the Security Council and beyond, in order to meet this goal."
It is true that a European draft Security Council resolution, backed by the United States, contains no specific threat to punish Syria with sanctions or military force, though it does call on states to prevent Syria from trading in weapons. But is it the toothless initiative she claims it is?
U.S. officials say that they have focused on imposing unilateral sanctions on Syria because the prospects for concerted U.N. action on that front is dim, given resistance from several council members: China, Russia, Lebanon, India, South Africa, and Brazil.
These governments see the European initiative to condemn Syria less as a feckless exercise than a potentially sinister first step in process that may exacerbate political tensions in the Middle East or lead to possible foreign intervention in Syria. Russia and China may be prepared to exercise their veto power to stop it.
"It could be misunderstood by destructive opposition forces in Syria who, as you know, declare they want regime change in Damascus," Russia's U.N. ambassador Vitaly I. Churkin told Russian state television this week.
The reason that Moscow and Beijing are so alarmed about the draft is that experience at the United Nations demonstrates that once the Security Council makes a demand of a country, it frequently comes back to demand more if it is ignored.
On February 22, a week after Muammar al-Qaddafi ordered a bloody crackdown on Libyan demonstrators, the council adopted a "non-binding" presidential statement condemning Tripoli's action and demanding that it stop. Qaddafi ignored it.
Within a month, the Security Council had issued two legally binding, Chapter 7 enforcement resolutions imposing sanctions on Libya, launching an International Criminal Court prosecution, and authorizing military action against Qaddafi's forces. Clearly, the threshold for action is considerably higher in Syria, which still can count on support at the United Nations from Arab governments. But events on the ground, including fresh reports of government repression and the flight of Syrians into Turkey, could change governments' calculations.
Wide-ranging Security Council sanctions against Iran and North Korea also began with relatively mild non-binding statements demanding that Tehran and Pyongyang halt the development of their ballistic missile and nuclear programs. For the moment, the Security Council has yet to act on the International Atomic Energy Agency's determination that Syria was secretly developing a clandestine nuclear reactor before Israeli destroyed it in a September 2007 airstrike.
But U.S. and European governments will likely address Syria's nuclear ambitions after they finish the current push to censor their alleged political repression of civilians.
The draft resolution currently under consideration condemns Syria's "systematic violation" of human rights, "demands" an immediate end to the violence, and "unfettered" access to U.N. rights monitors and aid workers. It also calls on Syria to lift the siege on anti-government towns, implement democratic reforms, and cooperate with the U.N.
In some sense, the most important are a pair of provisions at the end of the draft that require the U.N. secretary-general to report on Syria's compliance with the council's demands within two weeks, and then again every month after, ensuring that the Security Council will have frequent opportunities to ratchet up the pressure. The council will, as they say in U.N. parlance, "remain actively seized of the matter."
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France and Britain will press for the passage of a U.N. Security Council vote on a mild, but legally-binding, resolution condemning Syria for its bloody repression of anti-government protesters, and demanding Damascus show restraint and provide access to U.N. humanitarian aid workers, according to U.N. diplomats.
The decision sets the council's Western powers on possible collision course with China and especially Russia. Moscow has signaled it may be prepared to veto a Security Council resolution on Syria, diplomats say. The standoff is coming to a head as Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's crackdown on demonstrators entered its ninth week with little sign of an end to the violence. The Syrian uprising represents the greatest threat to the Assad dynasty's control over the country since it came to power in a 1963 military coup.
French President Nicolas Sarkozy and British Prime Minister David Cameron will make one last effort at a G-8 Summit in Deauville, France, Thursday and Friday, to persuade Russian President Dmitry Medvedev not to veto the resolution, according to council diplomats. Diplomats are confident that China will not veto the resolution if Russia doesn't.
After weeks of behind the scenes lobbying, Britain and France say they are confident that they have secured the minimum nine votes required for passage of the resolution in the 15-nation council. They are hoping to increase that number. But they said they intend to press for a vote later this week even if Russia threatens to block the vote.
On Twitter, Britain's Foreign Minister William Hague wrote today that the "rising death toll in Syria is worrying and unacceptable." He said Britain "is calling for more international pressure on Syrian authorities, including at [the] UN."
France's Foreign Minister Alain Juppe said recently that the "threat of a Russian veto" looms over the council deliberations on Syria but that prospects for a majority of supporters for council action is improving.
The United States had been initially reluctant to support the European initiative on the grounds that a blocked resolution would strengthen the Syrian government's hand by showing the council is politically divided.
But American diplomats have assured their European counterparts that they will support the push for a resolution. Bosnia, Colombia, Gabon, Germany, Nigeria, and Portugal have also assured the Europeans they will vote in favor of the resolution.
The Security Council's Western powers have already encountered stiff resistance from China, Russia and Lebanon to criticizing Syria in the Security Council. Last month, the three countries helped block a French and British initiative to adopt a non-binding council statement condemning Syria's conduct.
Russia is concerned that once the council weighs in on the Syrian crisis it will be only a matter of time before the council's Western powers begin to demand tougher action, including sanctions and possibly even the use of force. Moscow has already expressed concern that the West exceeded its mandate to protect civilians in Libya by taking sides in the country's civil war. The United States and its coalition allies maintain that they are faithfully implementing their mandate to protection civilians. And none of the Western powers have threatened the use of force against Damascus.
Brazil, India, and South Africa have also voiced concern about a new resolution, though New Dehli has indicated to some colleagues that it would be prepared to support a modest resolution that criticizes Syria's conduct. Human Rights Watch, meanwhile, appealed to South Africa to rally behind the resolution.
"South Africa has said behind closed doors in the Security Council that they would not support Security Council action on Syria because they feel NATO abused the mandate the council gave it on libya," said Philippe Bolopion, Human Rights Watch's U.N. representative, who is visiting South Africa. "Wwhat we are teling them is do not punish Syrian civialins for what NATO is doing in Libya."
He also challenged the U.S. rationale for not pressing more aggressively for action on Syria. "The argument that a Russian veto would somehow expose the divisions of the Security Council cuts both ways," he said. "You could also argue that the complete silence is emboldening the Syrian regime."
As the Europeans sought to build greater support for the resolution the International Atomic Energy Agency issued a statement today saying that it was "very likely" that a Syrian facility bombed by Israeli war planes in 2007 was "very likely" a nuclear reactor.
U.N. diplomats said the Europeans were unlikely to immediately raise concerns about the development in the Security Council, saying they fear it might complicate ongoing efforts to secure adoption of its resolution condemning Syria for its bloody crackdown.
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The White House today announced it would impose unilateral sanctions against Syria, signaling its desire to ratchet up pressure on President Bashar al Assad to halt his crackdown on protesters.
The U.S. action drew rare praise from foreign policy conservatives, including Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, chairwoman of the House Foreign Relations Committee, who said the move "should mark the end of the failed policy of engagement and accommodation with Damascus."
But at the United Nations, the American delegation has been hesitant to press for an equally hard-line approach, fearing an aggressive push to penalize Syria in the U.N. Security Council might provoke a Russian or Chinese veto.
In late April, Chinese, Russian, Lebanese and other diplomats effectively blocked an effort by the Europeans to push through a mild, non-binding, Security Council statement condemning Syria's violent crackdown on mostly unarmed protesters.
The United States is concerned that another failed push for Security Council action on Syria would give comfort to President Assad, exposing the deep international rift over the right approach to restraining Syria.
In the absence of an American push, Britain and France have taken the lead in seeking a tougher approach. In recent days, the two European powers have sounded out other Security Council members about the prospects for the adoption of a resolution that would condemn Syria and urge it to halt further violence.
Britain and France are confident that they can muster the minimum nine votes required to adopt a modest resolution that would condemn Syria, ask it to show restraint, and encourage political reform. Britain and France also believe it may be worth risking a Russian or Chinese veto, and exposing them as defenders of a brutal Middle East regime that is resistant to democratic change sweeping the region. "There is a real risk that the council, by failing to act, is sending the signal that what Assad is doing is within the bounds of international tolerance," said one council diplomat. "We need to change that."
The United Nations maintains that more than 850 people have been killed in Syria in recent months, most of them civilian targets of a bloody government crackdown. The U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay, has charged Assad with ignoring a recent call for restraint by the U.N. Human Rights Council, which condemned Syria's conduct
While the U.S. worries that forcing a losing vote may play to Assad's advantage, they are likely to support Britain and France if they decide to move ahead with a vote on a resolution, according to diplomats.
The deadlock over Syria contrasts starkly with the council's response to a Libyan crackdown on protesters in February. In a remarkable show of unity, the 15-nation council voted unanimously on February 26 to impose sanctions on President Moammar Qadaffi's regime, and authorize an investigation by the International Criminal Court prosecutor into allegations that the regime committed crimes against humanity. On Monday, the court's chief prosecutor, Luis Moreno Ocampo, requested arrest warrants for President Qaddafi, his son Saif, and his intelligence chief, Abdullah Senoussi.
But the unity has frayed since the council passed a subsequent resolution authorizing military action to protect civilians by a vote of only 10-0, with five abstentions. Since, then China, India, Russia, and other council members have accused the United States, Britain and France of exceeding the authority granted by the council to protect civilians by taking sides in a civil war.
The effort to squeeze Syria has also been complicated by the role of the council's lone Arab state Lebanon, which lead previous efforts at the United Nations to condemn Libya and to address allegations of government repression in Yemen. But Lebanon is unwilling to back any measures against Syria, which exerts enormous influence over Lebanese affairs. And there is no sign that other Arab governments will challenge Lebanon's approach.
The current dispute over Syria "is the hang over from Libya," one council diplomat told Turtle Bay. "China and Russia feel a bit betrayed because the coalition went further than what was in the resolution. It diminished the possibility of replicating the Libya model in Yemen and Syria," where Russia and China have blocked action.
"There is a negative vibe post-Libya in the council," the diplomat said. "you did this in Libya and now you're going to pay for it. It's a pity. There is this political game of power in the council while people are being hurt on the ground."
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There are "reasonable grounds" to charge Col. Muammar al-Qaddafi's security forces with having committed war crimes and crimes against humanity during a bloody, two-and-a-half- month long crackdown on Libyan protesters, according to the chief prosecutor for the International Criminal Court (ICC).
The prosecutor, Argentine lawyer Luis Moreno-Ocampo, claimed in a report to the U.N. Security Council that his investigators have established preliminary but "credible" estimates that at least 500 to 700 civilians have been shot to death by government forces. He said he intends "in the next weeks" to submit his first application for arrest warrants against officials "most responsible for crimes against humanity" in Libya since Feb. 15, 2001. The abuses, he noted, are ongoing.
The prosecutor's office "will select for prosecution those who bear the highest responsibility, including those who ordered, incited, financed, or otherwise planned the commission of alleged crimes," the report states. The report also raises concerns that anti-government mobs or armed opposition forces may have engaged in "the unlawful arrest mistreatment and killings of sub-Saharan Africans perceived to be mercenaries. Reportedly angry mobs of protesters assaulted Sub-Saharan African in Benghazi and other cities and killed dozens of them."
The Security Council voted unanimously on Feb. 26 to authorize the international court to conduct an investigation into alleged excesses by Qaddafi's forces since Feb. 15, when they launched a brutal crackdown on Libyan demonstrators demanding democratic reforms. It is the second time since the court's inception that the 15-nation council has voted to trigger an ICC probe. In March, 2005, the council also backed an investigation into war crimes by the Sudanese government in Darfur. The court has since issued an arrest warrant against Sudan's leader, Omar Hassan al-Bashir, for allegedly committing genocide.
Under the terms of the Rome Statute, the treaty that established the ICC, Libya should be given the first chance to investigate allegations of war crimes and crimes against humanity. But the report states that government initiatives, including the establishment of a national commission by Qaddafi's son, Saif al-Islam al-Qaddafi, to investigate reports of abuses, have been inadequate.
The report raises the prospect that Colonel Qaddafi and members of his family and inner circle may yet be charged committing war crimes. If so, it would be the second time the court has charged a sitting head of state with such crimes.
"The shooting at peaceful protestors was systematic, following the same modus operandi in multiple locations and executed through Security Forces," the report states. "The persecution appears to be also systematic and implemented in different cities. War crimes are apparently committed as a matter of policy."
The death toll has been hard to determine in Libya because of widely divergent estimates on both sides of the country's conflict. As of March 15, Qaddafi estimated that only 150 to 200 people had died during the conflict, half of them members of the government security forces. The Libyan Interim National Council claims that up to 10,000 have died, and that more than 50,000 have been injured, according to the report.
The prosecutor's report states that it has been difficult to determine the precise number of victims because bodies have been removed from the streets and doctors have been prohibited from documenting "the number of dead and injured in the hospitals after the violent clashes began."
The prosecutor said his investigation will begin with an examination of a brutal February clampdown in Benghazi, where civilian demonstrators protested the arrest of two locals, Fatih Terbil and Farag Sharany, who were demanding justice for victims of the governments' bloody 1996 massacre of inmates at the Abu Salim prison.
"On 17 February, 2001, thousands of demonstrators congregated in the square around the high court of Benghazi, protesting such arrests and calling for political and economic freedom," according to the report. "Security forces entered the square and reportedly fired live ammunition into the crowd, killing numerous demonstrators. This was the beginning of a series of similar incidents in different cities across Libya which appears to demonstrate a consistent pattern of Security Forces firing live ammunition at civilians."
The prosecutor's report also cited allegations that government forces committed war crimes, including through the blocking of humanitarian supplies and through the use of "imprecise weaponry such as cluster munitions, multiple rocket launchers and mortars, and other forms of heavy weaponry, in crowded urban areas."
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Susan E. Rice, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, told the U.N. Security Council today that there is another good reason to confront Libyan forces. Moammar Qaddafi has reportedly been passing out tablets of Viagra to his front line troops to help them rape women.
Rice made the allegation in a closed-door meeting of the Security Council after facing criticism from council members that the Western-backed coalition has effectively sided with Libya's rebels in the country's ongoing civil war. China, Russia, India and other have expressed concern that the NATO-backed military coalition has exceeded its mandate to protect civilians, and had become a party to the country's conflict.
Rice countered that it is "ridiculous" to describe the conflict in Libya as an ordinary civil war, or to draw moral equivalence between Qaddafi's forces and the rebels. She said the opposition only took up arms after Qaddafi's forces opened fire on peaceful demonstrators.
She also cited reports of Qaddafi's forces shooting at mosques, targeting children and "issuing Viagra to his soldiers so they go out and rape," according to an account by a U.N. diplomat present in the room.
U.N. council diplomats said that Rice provided no evidence to support her claim, which appeared earlier this week in the British tabloid, the Daily Mail. Human rights advocates say the allegation first surfaced publicly last month when a doctor in Ajdabiya, Suleiman Refadi, claimed in an interview with Al Jazeera English that Qaddafi's force's had received packets of Viagra and condoms as part of a campaign of sexual violence. "I have seen Viagra, I have seen condoms," Refadi told Al Jazeera.
Human Rights Watch had interviewed the same doctor previously, and determined that he had no direct evidence to support the claims, and they were not able to identify victims and witnesses in Adjabiya who confirmed such reports. Though they also had no evidence to refute the claims.
Fred Abrahams, a special advisor for Human Rights Watch, said the organization takes reports of sexual attacks seriously, and "we are actively investigating" allegations of the use of sexual violence by Qaddafi's forces in the conflict. "We have a few credible cases of gender based violence and rape, but the evidence is not there at this point to suggest it is of a systematic nature, or an official policy. On Viagra and condom distribution we have nothing so far. It's not to dismiss it, but we do not have" the evidence.Follow me on Twitter @columlynch
Longtime Washington Post correspondent Colum Lynch reports on all things United Nations for Turtle Bay.