UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay [official profile] said Tuesday that the Libyan government's response to recent protests may amount to crimes against humanity [press release]. Pillay cited the use of machine guns, snipers and military planes against protesters, calling for an independent investigation. She also urged an immediate end to the serious human rights violations, denouncing the "callousness" of the Gaddafi government:
The state has an obligation to protect the rights to life, liberty and security. ... Protection of civilians should always be the paramount consideration in maintaining order and the rule of law. The authorities should immediately cease such illegal acts of violence against demonstrators. Widespread and systematic attacks against the civilian population may amount to crimes against humanity.Pillay indicated support for efforts led by the UK to call an emergency session of the UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC) [official website] on Libya, but the decision rests with the UNHRC, of which Libya is a member.
The situation in Libya has escalated over days of continued protests and violent suppression by security forces. On Monday, Saif al-Islam, son of Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi [BBC profile], announced in a televised address [video] following several days of protests that the Libyan government is considering adopting a constitution [JURIST report] and allowing greater freedoms. The protests began last week following those that have occurred 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 since the start of protests in Benghazi, Libya's second city, which was reported to be largely under the control of demonstrators [UKPA report] following the retreat of police and military forces and reported defections by military personnel over the weekend. On Thursday, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon [official profile] called for an end to violence against protesters [JURIST report] in Bahrain and elsewhere, referencing recent attempts to quell protests sweeping across the Middle East and North Africa.