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Diplomacy in Action

Remarks to the Media Following UN Security Council Consultations on Libya

Susan E. Rice
U.S. Permanent Representative to the United Nations, U.S. Mission to the United Nations
New York City
November 28, 2011


(As Delivered)

Ambassador Rice: Good evening everyone. As you know from Special Representative Martin, we’ve been discussing Libya at length in the Council this evening. I had the opportunity to share with my Council colleagues a report of my own trip to Libya last week, to Tripoli and Benghazi, where I had the opportunity to meet with senior leadership including Chairman Jalil, the newly-installed Prime Minister al-Keeb, other members of the TNC, civil society groups, activists, women, the UNSMIL leadership itself, and also to visit, in Tripoli, two very important sites. One was the site of a major massacre committed by Qadhafi forces on the eve of their retreat from Tripoli, where over 100 people were killed by grenades and bullets and then their bodies burnt to death in a small warehouse no larger than the consultations room in which we were meeting.

I met with both individuals who escaped that massacre and family members of victims, or believed victims, who are desperately looking to account for their loved ones and desperate for DNA confirmation of whether their loved ones are among those whose ashes I had the misfortune of seeing.

I also visited a facility on the outskirts of Tripoli, which is, I guess for lack of a better word, a safe area, or almost a shanty-town in which African migrant workers are gathered for safety and security. It was not a detention camp, but there were nonetheless 600 to 1000 African migrant workers with whom I had the opportunity to spend over an hour. Many who were from Nigeria, Ghana, Mali, other parts of West Africa, who had congregated there as a place of comparative safety. They were not detained in that they were able to depart to try to seek work in Tripoli and come back there for shelter. But they were living in squalor and in genuine fear of what would happen to them in the future; whether they would be able to go home, as about half of them wanted to, or stay, which the other half wanted to, and be able to resume working legally and peacefully. But they were also complaining of being harassed and roughed up and mugged, essentially, as they would come back from work and make their way to the shelter and whatever small amount of money they may have earned on a daily basis might have been taken along with their watches or their cell phones.

So I underscored the seriousness of this challenge and urged that each of us, as individual nations, bilaterally, UNSMIL as part of its efforts, and of course first and foremost, the Libyan government, take this problem seriously and address it with urgency.

I also described the enormously positive reception that we received from the Libyan people, who were overwhelmingly exuberant and excited about their future, palpably relieved to be free of 42 years of Qadhafi rule, and determined to ensure that the fruits of their revolution are realized.

The Security Council was lauded universally for passing Resolution 1973, which the people of Benghazi, in particular, literally thought had saved their lives. And so the amount of--the outpouring of gratitude and warmth that I received and I felt, and that I think is attributable to the actions of the broader Council, was something quite extraordinary.

And finally, I wanted to observe and share with you my observation that in Tripoli, where we were moving around extensively, I was very much conscious of the fact that, despite the allegations that we’ve heard from some--that bombing was indiscriminate, that civilian facilities were hit--we saw absolutely no evidence of that. We saw very few facilities that had actually been bombed. Qadhafi’s principle compound and a few of the main military barracks were the only places where we saw evidence of airstrikes and, on the contrary, it looked incredibly precise and well-targeted.

So let me stop there and take a few questions.

Reporter: On Libya, the diplomat Shalgam has said, he’s complained, that he’s said that Qatar has, even since the end of the conflict, been funding parties in Libya, the Islamists, he said. He made this complaint publicly. I think Ian Martin has gone to Qatar and the UAE to speak to both of them.

What does, either in your visit, or overall as the U.S., do you think that there are still countries other than Libya sort-of interfering in the process in Libya? What do you make of what Mr. Shalgham said?

Ambassador Rice: Well I’ve heard those concerns expressed, and I think the most important point is that all friends and supporters of the new Libya need to come together in support of the authority of the new Libyan government. And to channel all of our support and assistance, consistent with their needs and desires.

There are many different challenges that the new Libyan government is facing. How to deal with the militias; security; informing and incorporating all elements of Libyan society into an inclusive government structure; proceeding with an election process in which all feel they have a stake. And so, I think, clearly the message I received from Libyan interlocutors was gratitude for U.S. and international support but a strong assertion of their sovereign need and desire to chart their own future and the request and expectation that their partners all support their agenda.

Reporter: Given the Arab League action over the weekend and given the horrific report that came out today detailing these human rights abuses in Syria, how important is it now for the Security Council to match what the Arab League has done? And secondly, how would you counsel those that argue that it was the fact that the Security Council didn’t do anything that enabled the Arab League to take ownership and, in the end, it revealed to be the right choice?

Ambassador Rice: Well, beginning with your first question, the broad point, the United States has long held the view, and I’ve said so many times publicly, that it’s past time for the Security Council to take much more decisive action with respect to Syria. We were more than disappointed that the effort of a couple of months ago to pass a very mild resolution of condemnation was vetoed by two permanent members and others who were unable to support it.

So we think it is past time. Now, with the Arab League having acted, and it becoming increasingly clear, even for those who would rather deny it, that the Asad regime has participated in outrageous and, now, well-documented atrocities, that the patience of its neighbors as well as a larger international community has evaporated. We think it’s time to revisit the question of what might be possible here in New York. We welcomed the General Assembly’s resolution last week – yeah, last week – and we certainly will be talking to partners in the Council and outside the Council as to what appropriate next steps may be.

Reporter: How about the Congo elections? There have been a lot of reports of ballots not being delivered, of polling places being burned. There’s been some question of the UN’s objectivity. I wonder do you think it’s been up to standards given how much the UN -- its presence there. What does the U.S. think of the conduct of the Congolese elections?

Ambassador Rice: Well obviously we’re concerned by reports of violence and indeed some deaths today in various parts of the country. We’re concerned about reported anomalies in the conduct of the election, which we hope will prove to be relatively isolated. But I think it’s important for everyone to remember that this election was conducted by the Congolese at their insistence. It was not, like the prior election, one that was in effect organized and orchestrated by the United Nations. The United Nations does not have a central role either in the conduct of the election or even the certification of these elections. That said, we think it’s very important for the Congolese to respect the processes that have been provided by the electoral authorities, to refrain from violence, and we hope that when the situation clarifies that the disturbing reports we’ve heard today will prove to be the exception rather than the rule. But we need to wait and see. 

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