Human Rights Watch applauds the initiative to hold this special session in response to the ongoing crisis in Libya. Situations such as this are litmus tests of the HRC's relevance, and the council today should take whatever steps it can to address the serious human rights violations occurring in that country. In particular, Human Rights Watch strongly supports the proposal that the HRC "urgently dispatch an independent, international commission of inquiry...to investigate all alleged violations of international human rights law in Libya in connection with the ongoing protests."
Because Libyan authorities restrict the ability of human rights organizations and journalists to document the ongoing violence, no one knows how many people have died as a result of attacks by Libyan security forces on protestors in the past week. By speaking directly with those who are receiving the dead at hospitals in Tripoli and Benghazi, Human Rights Watch has compiled a toll of more than 300 deaths, but that number may be only a fraction of the number killed, given the difficulties in documenting the deaths on the ground. We have spoken with those who have witnessed the carnage firsthand. They described random shootings by government forces that were roaming the streets in Tripoli. One protestor described how people who were going to pick up bodies were also being shot. We have spoken with witnesses to the use of live ammunition by security forces, including machine gun fire against protestors in Benghazi, Baid, Ajdabija, and Derna. We have a team now in eastern Libya, and their investigations are ongoing.
Three days ago, in a terrifying address that portends further violence, Colonel Gaddafi threatened to "cleanse Libya house by house." As we meet today, Human Rights Watch has received information from multiple sources concerning a government assault on the western town of Zawiyah, which appears to have resulted in more deaths, but the numbers remain unclear.
Given the grave violations of human rights that have already occurred and the substantial risk that the violence in Libya will escalate further, it is essential that the Human Rights Council convey in the strongest terms possible that the brutality being perpetrated by Libyan forces must end. The council should make clear that Colonel Gaddafi and all those responsible for serious abuses will be held accountable. The HRC should also follow the lead of the League of Arab States and recommend that the General Assembly suspend Libya's membership in this institution, as urged by a cross-regional group of 63 nongovernmental organizations including Human Rights Watch.