By Thalif Deen
HAVANA TIMES, Feb. 28 (IPS) — Besieged Libyan leader Muammar el-Gaddafi, who has incurred the wrath of his own people and drawn punitive strictures from the international community, is now under attack by a coalition of over 200 Arab non-governmental organizations (NGOs), including a group of intellectuals from across the Middle East.
In a letter to world leaders, the coalition is calling for “immediate contingency plans for international intervention, under regional Arab leadership”.
Such an intervention is necessary, it says, in order “to provide protection for civilians on the ground and to enable the rapid imposition of a U.N. Mandated ‘No-Fly Zone’ over Libya to protect civilians from further atrocities.”
The proposal for a ‘No-Fly Zone’ is currently under discussion both in Washington DC and in European capitals, and by extension at the U.N. Security Council.
And it is likely to be seriously considered if there are renewed military attacks on civilians by Libyan air force helicopters or jet fighters, as happened last week.
With Italy suspending its 2008 treaty with Libya, the United States and its allies in the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) will now be permitted to use air and naval bases in Italy for any proposed military action against Tripoli.
Referring to Libya, Italy’s Foreign Minister Franco Frattini was quoted as saying: “We signed the friendship treaty with a state, but that state no longer exists. So the treaty cannot be applied.”
The NGO coalition from 18 countries, including groups from Egypt, Libya, Qatar, Morocco, Yemen, Syria, Algeria and Saudi Arabia, warns that “we may be witnessing the calm before the storm.”
“The window of opportunity to prevent further atrocities from occurring is closing fast,” it says.
“The people of Libya need you to act quickly and decisively,” says the letter, which is also addressed to the United Nations Security Council, the European Union, the African Union and the League of Arab States.
The coalition includes the Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies, the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights, the Arab Program for Human Rights Activists, the Permanent Peace Movement and the Arab Human Rights Fund.
The NGO appeal comes ahead of a scheduled meeting of the 192-member General Assembly, which is expected to vote for the expulsion of Libya from the Geneva-based Human Rights Council, the U.N.’s premier human rights body.
Libya was elected to the HRC by members of the General Assembly two years ago.
Asked about the chances of a two-thirds majority, which is needed for the adoption of the resolution, a U.N. diplomat told IPS the prospects were “very good”.
He predicted the resolution, which will go before the General Assembly later this week, “may even be adopted by consensus”.
The only opposition could come from two of Libya’s closest allies: Iran and Venezuela.
“But they will only come out looking bad defending Gaddafi,” the diplomat said.
On Saturday, the 15-member Security Council adopted a unanimous resolution imposing military and economic sanctions on Libya. The Council also urged the International Criminal Court (ICC) to pursue charges of war crimes against Gaddafi, members of his family, and 16 of his political and military advisers.
“Words of condemnation will do nothing to stop Gadaffi from committing further barbaric atrocities to enable him to cling to power,” says Haggag Nayel of the Arab Program for Human Rights Activists.
“The U.N., the EU and the Arab League must demonstrate that there are deterrents they are prepared to use to stop any further slaughter of innocent civilians,” Nayel added.
The signatories to the letter also include Egyptian novelist Ahdaf Soweif; Hani Shukrallah of the newspaper Al Ahram; Omar Al Qattan, Palestinian filmmaker and philanthropist; Laila Sharaf, a Jordanian senator; Nagib Sawiris of Orascom Telecom; and Paul Salem of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace in Lebanon.
“The international community is finally heading in the right direction but needs to go much further much faster,” says the appeal.
“Targeted sanctions are needed as part of a package alongside stronger measures that could provide real protection to civilians right now,” it adds.
“We appeal to you as leaders who have the power to bring an end to this horror. Your failure to do so would be a lasting stain on the responsibilities of world leadership and on humanity itself,” the statement concludes.