23 February 2011

Libya: Obama Says U.S. Preparing Response to Violence

Photo: allAfrica.com
Cheerful and serious by turns, hundreds of people marched outside the White House in Washington D.C. as violence mounted in Libya.

President Obama says it is imperative that the world speak "with one voice" to condemn the suppression of peaceful demonstrators in Libya and to support their universal rights, and adds that the administration is preparing "a full range of options" that the United States can take unilaterally and multilaterally in response to the ongoing violence.

Speaking at the White House February 23, Obama said the Libyan government has a responsibility to refrain from violence, allow humanitarian assistance to reach those in need and respect the rights of the Libyan people.

"It must be held accountable for its failure to meet those responsibilities and face the cost of continued violations of human rights," he said.

"I have also asked my administration to prepare the full range of options that we have to respond to this crisis. This includes those actions we may take and those we will coordinate with our allies and partners, or those that we'll carry out through multilateral institutions," the president said.

Obama said Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton will be meeting with her counterparts on the U.N. Human Rights Council in Geneva on February 28, and Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs William Burns will continue to hold discussions in the region on Libya and other areas of unrest in the Middle East and North Africa.

According to press reports, after a week of protests, as many as 300 people have been killed in recent clashes between anti-government protesters and security forces loyal to Libyan leader Muammar Qadhafi.

Obama said the bloodshed, threats and orders to shoot peaceful protesters in Libya are outrageous and unacceptable. "These actions violate international norms and every standard of common decency," he said.

The United States strongly supports the universal rights of Libyans and all people to enjoy the freedoms of peaceful assembly, free speech and the ability to determine their own destiny, Obama said.

"These are human rights. They are not negotiable. They must be respected in every country and they cannot be denied through violence or suppression," Obama said.

"The change that is taking place across the region is being driven by the people of the region. This change doesn't represent the work of the United States or any foreign power. It represents the aspirations of people who are seeking a better life," he said.

The most basic human aspirations are driving the current unrest in the Middle East and North Africa, Obama said. Throughout the current time of transition, the United States will continue to stand up for freedom, justice and "the dignity of all people," he added.

Secretary Clinton said February 23 that "this is now the moment for the international community to act together" in response to the situation in Libya.

"Everything will be on the table. We will look at all the possible options to try to bring an end to the violence, to try to influence the government," she said.

State Department spokesman Philip J. Crowley told reporters February 23 that the Obama administration is considering "a full range of tools and options," including "sanctions that could be imposed, either bilaterally or multilaterally," as well as the possibility of freezing the financial assets of Libyan leaders in response to the violence.

Asked why the Obama administration has not yet taken action in response to the violence, Crowley said that many of the steps that the United States is contemplating will "require some preparation," such as legal and executive orders, and will need to have "a standard of due diligence" in order to have support.

Crowley also said that it is not up to the United States or any other power to "dictate who should rule or not rule a particular country."

"Who leads Libya is a matter between the government and the Libyan people," he said. The Obama administration is continuing to encourage political, social and economic reform in Libya and other countries in the Middle East, to allow all people in the region the ability to participate in a free, fair and transparent political process.

"They are the ones who ultimately will make the decisions as to ... who are their rulers, who are their legislators and what the policies of their country should be," he said.


The United Nations Security Council discussed the situation in Libya on February 22 and issued a presidential statement that condemns the use of violence against Libyan civilians and urges the Libyan government to immediately take steps to "address the legitimate demands of the population, including through national dialogue."

The Libyan government has a responsibility to protect its population, the Security Council said and called on authorities to "act with restraint, to respect human rights and international humanitarian law and to allow immediate access for international human rights monitors and humanitarian agencies," including ensuring the safe passage of humanitarian and medical supplies, as well as humanitarian workers, to help address reported shortages in Libya.

Libya must also "respect the freedom of peaceful assembly and of expression, including freedom of the press," the Security Council said, as it called for "the immediate lifting of restrictions on all forms of the media."

The Security Council statement also stressed "the importance of accountability," with the "need to hold to account those responsible for attacks, including by forces under their control, on civilians."

Ambassador Rosemary DiCarlo, the deputy U.S. representative to the United Nations, expressed strong U.S. support for the Security Council statement. In remarks after the statement was issued, she said she hopes that it "will help bring an immediate end to this unacceptable situation."

"The international community has said in one clear and unified voice that it condemns the violence against civilians in Libya, that the violence must cease immediately and that the government of Libya must exercise restraint and protect the rights of its people," DiCarlo said, adding that the United States will continue to "stand up in support of the legitimate aspirations and universal rights of people everywhere."

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