The Libyan ambassador to the United Nations made an impassioned appeal Friday to the U.N. Security Council, calling on the U.N.’s most powerful body to adopt a strong resolution and "save Libya." His speech ended with him embracing his deputy, who had defected from Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi's camp earlier this week, and both men sobbing as the U.N. Secretary-General and other ambassadors came over to embrace them and shake their hands.
It was not immediately clear that Ambassador Abd al-rahman Shalgham was going to change his position and take the side of the Libyan people, but as his emotional speech to the council took shape, it became clear he no longer supported Gadhafi, a man he has called a friend since childhood.
Shalgham refuted Gadhafi’s claims that anti-government protesters are taking to the streets because they are on drugs, saying "a mountain" of pills would not have been enough for all the people who have taken to the streets of Benghazi. Through an interpreter, he addressed the council about Gadhafi.
"Today I listen to him telling his people either I rule over you or I kill you, I destroy you. Don’t be afraid, Libya is united, Libya will remain united. Libya will be a progressive state. But I tell my brother Gadhafi, leave the Libyans alone," said Shalgham.
He went on to recall his time as a non-permanent member of the Security Council representing Libya during 2008 and 2009. He said at that time he had condemned Israel's killing of children in the Gaza Strip, and now he regretted having to condemn the killing of children in his own country.
"Please United Nations save Libya! No to bloodshed! No to killing of innocents! We want a decisive, a rapid and a courageous resolution from you."
After his remarks, Shalgham and his deputy, Ibrahim Dabbashi, who broke ranks with the regime on Monday, embraced and both men began to cry. Other ambassadors came over and hugged them, and U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, who was in the chamber to brief the council, also vigorously shook Ambassador Shalgham’s hand.
Speaking to reporters afterward, the Secretary-General summed up the feeling inside the chamber. "We have witnessed an extraordinary scene in the U.N. Security Council; a truly historic moment. The Libyan ambassador delivered an impassioned plea for our help."
During his briefing, Ban again condemned the violence and told the council that now is the time for decisive action. He urged the council to consider all measures available and recounted some that are being considered in a draft Security Council resolution circulated to members on Friday.
Those measures include a travel ban and asset freeze targeting Gadhafi, his sons and daughter, and 13 senior government officials, as well as a comprehensive arms embargo and a referral of the Libyan situation to the International Criminal Court at The Hague. The council plans to meet in a special session Saturday to discuss the sanctions and possibly vote on the resolution.
The Secretary-General also welcomed the adoption of a resolution in the U.N. Human Rights Council in Geneva earlier in the day, which condemned the violence and called for the establishment of an independent, international investigation into possible crimes against humanity during the crackdown. The Human Rights Council also recommended that Libya be suspended from that body.
Ban said the president of the U.N. General Assembly said it would take up the issue of Libya’s suspension early next week. Two-thirds of the General Assembly would have to vote to suspend Libya from the council for it to take effect.
The Secretary-General also said he would be traveling to Washington on Monday to discuss the Libyan situation with President Barack Obama.