GENEVA — The UN Human Rights Council unanimously called Friday for Libya to be suspended from the body and for a probe into violations by the regime, in a dramatic session which witnessed the defection of Tripoli's envoy.
In a resolution adopted by consensus, the 47 member UN body decided to "urgently dispatch an independent, international commission of inquiry... to investigate all alleged violations of international human rights law in Libya."
It also "recommends to the United Nations General Assembly, in view of the gross and systematic violations of human rights by the Libyan authorities," to consider suspending the country from the Human Rights Council.
Libya was elected in May 2010 to the council after obtaining 155 votes in a secret ballot from the 192-state General Assembly.
However, Moamer Kadhafi's regime's move to dispatch its army and air force to fire on civilians prompted the council's special session in condemnation of what it believed could "also amount to crimes against humanity."
Libya's envoy at the UN in Geneva used the occasion to make a dramatic and emotional public announcement of his defection, as even Cuba, a traditional Kadhafi ally, decided not to oppose the condemnation.
"We in the Libyan mission have categorically decided to serve as representatives of the Libyan people and their free will," the diplomat told the council, speaking in Arabic.
"We only represent the Libyan people, we will serve as their representative in this august body and in other international fora. Thank you," he added, to applause from the Human Rights Council.
He asked not to be named out of fear of reprisals.
The Libyan seat had remained empty through the morning of Friday's debate as envoys across the world spoke out against the deadly repression in Libya.
But the diplomat appeared at the start of the afternoon session, asking for a moment's silence, then reading from the Koran "in honour of the memory of the martyrs of 17 February."
The UN rights chief had opened the session decrying the regime's "callous disregard" for Libyans.
Navi Pillay, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, earlier warned the council that thousands may have been killed or injured in the violence in Libya.
"In brazen and continuing breach of international law, the crackdown in Libya of peaceful demonstrations is escalating alarmingly with reported mass killings, arbitrary arrests, detention and torture of protestors," she said.
"According to some sources, thousands may have been killed or injured," she told envoys packed into the council chamber.
Calling on Kadhafi to stop the violent repression, she said: "Today's brutal and shocking situation is the direct outcome of a callous disregard for the rights and freedom of Libyans that has marked the almost four-decade-long grip on power by the current rule."
Her comments came as world leaders studied punitive measures against Kadhafi ahead of a UN Security Council meeting on Friday to discuss the crisis.
Speaking during the special sitting, US ambassador Eileen Donahoe charged that "the continued participation of Libya in this forum undermines the core mission of the council and its mandate and goals."
Members of the Human Rights Council are elected by the UN General Assembly for three years and are required to "uphold the highest standards in the promotion and protection of human rights" under its rules.
The country could be suspended from the council if two-thirds of UN member states meeting in the General Assembly in New York were to approve the move.
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