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UN rights chief urges international protection for Middle East protesters

UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay [official profile] on Monday condemned the response by Middle Eastern governments to peaceful protests, urging the international community to take a strong stance against violence in Libya. In Pillay's opening statement to the Sixteenth Session of the Human Rights Council (UNHRC) [official website] she urged the body and the international community [video] to remain vigilant against Libya because the danger of violence against protesters still exists. The UNHRC took the unprecedented step [JURIST report] of sanctioning Libya last week by unanimously recommending its suspension. Pillay said:

Let me reiterate, that the illegal and excessively heavy-handed response of a number governments is unacceptable. Repression of peaceful expression of dissent is also intolerable. I remind all those concerned that widespread and systematic attacks against the civilian population may amount to crimes under international law. Attacks must be independently investigated and those responsible for them must be held to account.
She praised the sanctions against Libya passed last week as a providing the international community with a "solid platform for action." She further stated that "the rights of the protesters must be upheld. The asylum seekers, migrants, and other foreign nationals fleeing the violence must be protected." She urged that international community to allow the popular uprisings to take root and to protect human rights rather than simply favoring stability in the region.

Last week, Pillay called on the Libyan government to stop the violence directed at protesters [JURIST report] within that nation. Pillay's statement, directed at Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi [BBC profile], reminded the UNHRC of the repeated calls by numerous nations for Gaddafi to renounce the use of violence. The situation in Libya escalated last week over days of continued protests and violent suppression by security forces. Chief Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court (ICC) [official website] Luis Moreno-Ocampo [official profile] said that the ICC cannot investigate possible crimes in Libya [JURIST report] because the country is not a party to the Rome Statute [materials]. The statement came after Pillay said earlier that the Libyan government's response to recent protests may amount to crimes against humanity [JURIST report]. The protests began after protests throughout the Middle East and North Africa [BBC backgrounder], resulting in the resignations of Tunisian president Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali and Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak [JURIST reports]. Protesters have demanded Gaddafi's resignation and government reform.

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Paper Chase is JURIST's real-time legal news service, powered by a team of 30 law student reporters and editors led by law professor Bernard Hibbitts at the University of Pittsburgh School of Law. As an educational service, Paper Chase is dedicated to presenting important legal news and materials rapidly, objectively and intelligibly in an accessible format.

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