UNITED NATIONS (AP) — Armed with tough Security Council sanctions, the U.N. and many nations began moving to isolate Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi from the international community in hopes of halting his deadly crackdown on protesters.
The council voted 15-0 late Saturday to impose 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 regime opponents.
Council members additionally agreed to refer the Gadhafi regime's deadly crackdown on people protesting his rule to a permanent war crimes tribunal, the International Criminal Court in The Hague, for an investigation of possible crimes against humanity. The ICC's Chief Prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo was instructed to report back to the council in two months on his investigation.
U.S. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, who had pushed the council to take urgent action, was due in Washington on Monday to discuss with President Barack Obama other possible measures that could be taken against the Libyan government.
"In the days ahead, we will look for similarly decisive steps from the U.N. General Assembly and the international community as a whole," Ban told the council late Saturday, commending members for taking "decisive action."
"Today's measures are tough," the U.N. chief said. "In the coming days, if needed, even bolder action may become necessary."
The 192-member U.N. General Assembly is meeting Tuesday to vote on a U.N. Human Rights Council recommendation to suspend Libya from the world organization's top human rights body.
The Security Council's unanimous vote after a long day of deliberations was welcomed by rights groups that had complained that the body charged with overseeing the world's peace and security was moving too slowly.
"With this decision, the Security Council has upheld its responsibility to protect the people of Libya from the violence unleashed against them by their own government, by taking steps to ensure that those responsible will be brought to account," said a joint statement from international human rights groups.
The Security Council "rose to the occasion and showed leaders worldwide that it will not tolerate the vicious repression of peaceful protesters," said Richard Dicker, director of Human Rights Watch's international justice program. "Gaddafi's henchmen are now on notice that if they give, tolerate or obey orders to fire on peaceful protesters they may find themselves in The Hague."
In an interview Sunday from Tripoli with ABC's "This Week" host Christiane Amanpour, Saif al-Islam Gadhafi, one of the Libyan leader's sons and a top adviser, said the U.N. economic sanctions were worthless because "we don't have money outside."
"We are a very modest family and everybody knows that. And we are laughing when they say you have money in Europe or Switzerland or something," he said. "C'mon, it's a joke."
The council agreed to set up a committee to monitor the sanctions, and impose additional ones on any other people and groups believed to be committing serious human rights abuses against Libyan citizens.
French Ambassador Gerard Araud said the unanimous referral of the case to the ICC 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.
With its vote, the council gave the ICC jurisdiction over crimes committed in Libya after February 15, the day of the first protests in the eastern city of Benghazi.
When established at The Hague in 2002, the tribunal was seen as the most significant reform in international humanitarian and human rights law. It is empowered to investigate and prosecute war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide.
Top EU diplomat Catherine Ashton said late Saturday that the European Union "fully endorses" the Security Council's action and noted that the EU was working on its own sanctions.
President Barack Obama on Saturday called on Gadhafi to leave power immediately, saying he has lost the legitimacy to rule with his violent crackdown on his own people. A day earlier, the U.S. announced sanctions on Libya and temporarily abandoned its embassy in Tripoli. The sanctions include an immediate freeze on all assets of the Libyan government held in American banks and other U.S. institutions as well as a freeze assets held by Gadhafi and four of his children.
The tougher tone set the stage for Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton's trip Sunday to Geneva, where she will confer with foreign policy chiefs from Russia, the European Union and other global powers on how to drive home the message to a Libyan government determined to cling to power and crush opposition to Gadhafi's rule.
Britain and Canada have temporarily suspended operations at their embassies in Tripoli and evacuated their diplomatic staff.
On Sunday, Italy effectively suspended a 2008 friendship treaty with Libya that includes a nonaggression clause, removing a possible obstacle to Rome taking part in any peacekeeping operations in its former colony, or allowing use of its military bases.
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.
Italy's Foreign Minister Franco Frattini welcomed the Security Council's decision on sanctions, but said imposing a no-fly zone over Libya remains an "important" option. He added that further reflection was needed as such an option would significantly escalate the level of the international community's intervention.
The U.N. vote was 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 action 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.
The Libyan uprising 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.
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. The sanctions were lifted in 2003 after Libya accepted responsibility for the bombing and pledged to compensate the families of the Lockerbie victims.
© Copyright 2013 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.