American allies and the United Nations also moved to isolate Libya diplomatically on Friday. A senior U.N. official said the world should intervene to stop the killings and bloodshed in Libya, and France and Britain called on the international organization to approve an arms embargo and sanctions. NATO said it was ready to help to evacuate refugees.
“In brazen and continuing breach of international law, the crackdown in Libya on peaceful demonstrations is escalating alarmingly with reported mass killings, arbitrary arrests, detention and torture of prisoners,” said Navi Pillay, the United Nations High Commissioner on Human Rights, at an emergency session of the United Nations Human Rights Council in Geneva.
The Human Rights Council voted unanimously on Friday to suspend Libya’s membership in the council, but not before a junior official of the Libyan mission took the floor to announce that he and his colleagues had resigned after deciding to side with the Libyan people.
The gesture drew a standing ovation from the crowded chamber and a congratulatory handshake from the United States ambassador, Eileen Donahoe.
“The continued participation of Libya in this forum undermines the core mission of the Council and its mandate and goals,” Ambassador Donahoe said during the session.
Earlier in the day, the French foreign minister, Michèle Alliot-Marie, told French radio that “we cannot make do with speeches anymore — we need to act.” France’s president, Nicolas Sarkozy, visiting Turkey, has asked the United Nations Security Council to meet Friday in special session to discuss Libya and the efforts of Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi to hold on to power. He called on Mr. Qaddafi to resign.
Ms. Pillay said that thousands of people may have been killed in Libya, and that while she would normally call for “independent investigators,” the situation there required “more state action and intervention for protection” of civilians.
But it was far from clear what effective steps the Security Council or the United Nations could take, short of military intervention, to stop the killings in Libya.
The United Nations Security Council will discuss a proposal backed by France and Britain for actions against Libyan leaders, including a possible arms embargo and financial sanctions. No definitive move was expected until next week, and sanctions are unlikely to have any quick impact.
Italy, which has deep investments in Libya, said on Friday that it also backed sanctions.
The European Union’s foreign policy chief, Catherine Ashton, has said the bloc should consider an arms embargo, travel restrictions and an asset freeze against Libya to try to halt the violence. Britain and Switzerland have frozen Colonel Qaddafi’s assets. But Ms. Ashton said she would wait for the Security Council’s decisions in order to coordinate any actions.
A “no-fly zone” over Libya, as some have suggested to prevent the use of military aircraft against demonstrators, would require a Security Council resolution first, diplomats said.
In Brussels, the NATO secretary general, Anders Fogh Rasmussen, called an emergency meeting on Libya after an earlier meeting Friday with NATO defense ministers in Hungary. Humanitarian assistance and the evacuation of foreign nations would be the priority, he said, adding that “NATO can act as an enabler and coordinator if and when member states will take action.”
But France said it saw no need for such a meeting. “France, which is already bringing the matter before the U.N. Security Council, does not see the need for a meeting of NATO’s council on Libya,” said the Foreign Ministry spokesman, Bernard Valero.
There was also discussion of bringing a case against Colonel Qaddafi and others in the International Criminal Court. The British prime minister, David Cameron, addressed Colonel Qaddafi in comments to reporters, saying, “The world is watching you, the world will hold you to account. International justice has a long reach and a long memory.”
Ms. Pillay said that “any official at any level ordering or carrying out atrocities and attacks can be held criminally responsible.”
Official figures say that there are fewer than 3,000 Europeans still stranded in Libya, but there were few voices in Europe calling for the European Union to provide shelter for any Libyans fleeing the violence.
The International Organization of Migration said Friday that total arrivals from Libya to Egypt, Tunisia and Niger had reached 40,000 to 50,000 people, and that many of the new ones were foreign workers. The organization asked for $11 million in further aid to deal with the migrants.
In Geneva, at the normally toothless Human Rights Council, France’s ambassador, Jean-Baptiste Mattei, denounced the “brutal, blind and revolting violence” against Libya’s people. “In the face of atrocities and massacres, France calls on the Council to adopt with broad support a resolution condemning massive and unacceptable violence being committed in Libya that could amount to crimes against humanity,” he said.
But Arab and African states had opposed suspending Libya’s membership from the 47-member Council, fearing it would set a precedent.
Helene Cooper reported from Washington and Steven Erlanger reported from Paris. Nick Cumming-Bruce contributed reporting from Geneva and