UNITED NATIONS â€“ The U.N. Security Council moved as a powerful bloc Saturday to try to halt Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi’s deadly crackdown on protesters, slapping sanctions on him, his children and top associates.
Voting 15-0 after daylong discussions interrupted with breaks to consult with capitals back home, the council imposed an arms embargo and urged U.N. member countries to freeze the assets of Gadhafi, four of his sons and a daughter. The council also backed a travel ban on the Gadhafi family and close associates, including leaders of the revolutionary committees accused of much of the violence against opponents.
Council members additionally agreed to refer the Gadhafi regime’s deadly crackdown on people protesting his rule to a permanent war crimes tribunal for an investigation of possible crimes against humanity.
The council said its actions were aimed at “deploring the gross and systematic violation of human rights, including the repression of peaceful demonstrators.” And members expressed concern about civilian deaths, “rejecting unequivocally the incitement to hostility and violence against the civilian population made from the highest level of the Libyan government.”
U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon congratulated council members for the unified vote, saying it “sends a strong message that gross violations of basic human rights will not be tolerated.”
“I hope the message is heard, and heeded, by the regime in Libya,” Ban said.
British Ambassador Mark Lyall Grant called the vote “a powerful expression of the deep concern, indeed the anger, of the international community.” U.S. Ambassador Susan Rice said it was “a very powerful message to the leadership of Libya that this heinous killing must stop and that individuals will be held personally accountable.”
French Ambassador Gerard Araud said the unanimous referral of the case to the tribunal signaled a new commitment by the international community to its responsibility to protect citizens. “A wind of liberty and change is sweeping throughout the Arab world and I think the Security Council succeeded in responding to this new era of international relations,” he said.
Top EU diplomat Catherine Ashton said the European Union “fully endorses this resolution and will implement the restrictive measures as a matter of urgency.” Ashton noted that the EU had already started work on its own sanctions, and formal adoption is expected soon.
The sanctions were welcomed by Libya’s deputy U.N. ambassador, Ibrahim Dabbashi, whose entire mission is among Libyan diplomats around the world who have renounced Gadhafi.
Dabbashi said the council vote will engender “moral support for our people who are resisting” and could help defeat “this fascist regime still in existence in Tripoli.” He called on the Libyan armed forces to abandon Gadhafi and throw their support to the protesters.
Richard Dicker, director of Human Rights Watch’s international justice program, was impressed by the council’s unanimous vote and said the action “sends a powerful signal on behalf of justice for the people of Libya and all others victimized by mass force and violence.”
The Libyan uprising that began Feb. 15 has swept over nearly the entire eastern half of the country, snatching entire cities in that region out of the government’s grasp. Gadhafi and his backers continue to hold the capital Tripoli and have threatened to put down protests aggressively.
There have been reports that Gadhafi’s government forces have been firing indiscriminately on peaceful protesters and that as many as 1,000 people have died.
Council members did not consider imposing a no-fly zone over Libya, and no U.N.-sanctioned military action was planned. NATO also has ruled out any intervention in Libya.
Indian Ambassador Hardeep Singh Puri noted his country is not an ICC member, and would have “preferred a calibrated and gradual approach,” but decided to accept the referral because other council members believed it would help end the violence in Libya.
There had been doubts that China, a permanent council member with veto power, would join the vote if the referral to the tribunal was included. But Chinese Ambassador Li Baodong said his country was concerned about the large number of Chinese citizens who work in Libya.
Earlier on Saturday, U.S. President Barack Obama said in a telephone conversation with German Chancellor Angela Merkel that Gadhafi needs to do what’s right for his country by “leaving now.”
The White House on Friday announced sweeping new sanctions and temporarily abandoned its embassy in Tripoli as a final flight carrying American citizens left the embattled capital. The U.S. put an immediate freeze on all assets of the Libyan government held in American banks and other U.S. institutions. The sanctions also freeze assets held by Gadhafi and four of his children.
Britain and Canada, meanwhile, temporarily suspended operations at their embassies in Tripoli and evacuated their diplomatic staff.
Gadhafi is no stranger to international isolation.
U.N. sanctions were slapped on his country after suspected Libyan agents planted a bomb that blew up Pan Am Flight 103 over the Scottish town of Lockerbie in 1988, killing 270 people, mostly Americans.
Libya accepted responsibility for the bombing in 2003 and pledged to end efforts to develop weapons of mass destruction. The U.S. and Libya in 2009 exchanged ambassadors for the first time in 35 years, after Libya paid about $2.7 billion in compensation to the families of the Lockerbie victims.
In Geneva on Friday, the U.N. Human Rights Council called for an investigation into possible crimes against humanity in Libya and recommended Libya’s suspension from membership of the world body’s top human rights body.