The United Nations Security Council tonight approved strong sanctions against the Libyan regime and its leader, Muammar el-Qaddafi, just hours after President Obama called for Qaddafi to step down.
The sanctions, the toughest imposed against Libya in more than 20 years, include a travel ban on Qadaffi and four members of his family, an international asset freeze, and penalties on companies that start new businesses with the country. Separately, the U.N. referred to the International Criminal Court allegations that Qaddafi and his army engaged in atrocities against Libyan citizens.
According to a statement, the Council condemned Libya for its "gross and systematic violation of human rights, including the repression of peaceful demonstrators" and accused the "the highest level of the Libyan government" of incitement."
Susan Rice, the U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations, said that "[w]hen atrocities are committed against innocents, the international community must act with one voice — and tonight it has." Earlier, U.S. officials had tried to tamp down expectations that a package of sanctions could be agreed to without days of debate. But tonight's decision reflected the anger at Libya's open disdain for the restraint insisted upon by world leaders.
Earlier today, the White House e-mailed reporters a summary of a conversation President Obama had with German Chancellor Angela Merkel. It included this justification for Obama's contention that Qaddafi had to leave power: "When a leader's only means of staying in power is to use mass violence against his own people, he has lost the legitimacy to rule and needs to do what is right for his country by leaving now."
Obama sharpened his rhetoric a day after the U.S. imposed unilateral sanctions of its own, intimated that Qaddafi had lost the respect of his people, and ordered intelligence agencies to begin collecting evidence of the regime's atrocities. Obama had been criticized as being slow to respond to the humanitarian dimension of Libya's uprisings, but U.S. officials have said that he did not want to endanger Americans who might remain in the country.
It is not clear yet what effect the sanction could be having on Qaddafi. What is clear is that his four-decade-old regime appears to be teetering on the brink of violent dissolution. Other media reports, including amateur videos posted on the Internet, have shown violent crackdowns against the Libyan people. It is believed Qaddafi has hired mercenaries to carry out the raids against the citizens of Tripoli, in the west of the country. The eastern part of the country, including the country’s second largest city, Benghazi, has been free of Qaddafi’s control for days.