The empty seats of the Libyan delegation are pictured during a Special Session of the Human Rights Council at the United Nations in Geneva.

© 2011 Reuters

(Geneva) - The president of the UN Human Rights Council, Ambassador Sihasak Phuangketkeow of Thailand, should urgently carry out the council's timely decision to establish an independent international commission of inquiry into serious human rights violations in Libya, Human Rights Watch said today.

During a special session on Libya on February 25, 2011, the council adopted by consensus a resolution that strongly condemned "recent gross and systematic human rights violations committed in Libya, including indiscriminate armed attacks against civilians," and noted that some of the attacks "may amount to crimes against humanity." It called for the creation of an "independent, international commission of inquiry" into the current crisis in Libya. The resolution also stressed the need to hold to account those responsible for attacks.

"The Human Rights Council's strong unanimous action on Libya is especially significant given its past reluctance to take on some of the world's worst despots," said Peggy Hicks, global advocacy director at Human Rights Watch. "Countries now need to follow their words with action by imposing effective sanctions on Muammar Gaddafi and his cohorts."

The Human Rights Council also recommended that the UN General Assembly consider suspending Libya's membership rights in the council. The General Assembly is likely to take up this issue early next week. The council's founding resolution authorizes a two-thirds majority of the General Assembly to suspend the membership rights of any council member engaged in "gross and systematic violations of human rights." On February 24, 63 nongovernmental organizations from across the world submitted a petition calling upon the General Assembly to suspend Libya's membership rights.

"The General Assembly should waste no time in suspending Libya from the Human Rights Council," Hicks said. "The council's recommendation to the General Assembly and its finding that ‘gross and systematic violations' are occurring should make that vote almost automatic."