UN Rights Council to hold special session on Libya

“It’s an excellent signal that the council was able to react in real time to a situation,” US Ambassador says as violence spreads through country.

February 24, 2011 02:58
Unrest in Benghazi, Libya

Libyan flag over protests. (photo credit: AP)

For the first time in its five-year history, the UN Human Rights Council has called for a special session on Friday to slam one of its own members – Libya.

“It’s an excellent signal that the council was able to react in real time to a situation,” US Ambassador Eileen Chamberlain Donahoe said.

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In a strong stance against the violence that has engulfed Libya in the last eight days, at least 53 UN states signed their name to the call, including 31 nations who are not among the 47 members of the Human Rights Council.

Among the signatories were the US, Canada, Australia, the United Kingdom, France, Jordan, Qatar, Turkey and the “permanent observer mission of Palestine.”

A draft of the resolution to be debated on Friday condemns the “grave human rights violations,” which may have led to the death of more than 1,000 people in Libya, and it calls for an immediate UN investigation.

It slammed the “extrajudicial killings, arbitrary arrests, detention and torture of peaceful demonstrators, which if wide-spread and systematic, may amount to crimes against humanity.”

But the draft language does not condemn the Libyan government, which carried out the acts. Nor does the draft resolution recommend that the UN General Assembly vote to strip Libya of its council membership.

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The resolution was submitted on Wednesday by Hungary on behalf of the European Union.

Julie De Rivero, a spokeswoman for Human Rights Watch in Geneva, said that her organization was “happy” that the resolution called for a probe.

“It is what we wanted from the council. It is important to document what happened, identify who is responsible and if they have committed crimes against humanity.”

But Hillel Neuer, executive director of UN Watch, said that while he appreciated the EU’s efforts, the draft resolution must be strengthened by including a call to strip Libya of council membership and by condemning Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi and his government.

“First, the moral outrage of Libya’s membership on the world’s top human rights body must end immediately.

Even the Arab League ejected Libya. With bodies piling up on the streets of Libya, the EU and the international community must not stay silent on this pernicious moral hypocrisy,” Neuer said.

“Second, the EU must explain why its draft – breaking with council practice on condemnatory resolutions – studiously avoids naming the Libyan government or its leader as the perpetrators of the ongoing atrocities,” he said.

Diplomats are expected to hold a number of meetings to work on the draft’s language before Friday’s session.

There is some fear in Geneva that there might not be enough support within the council to pass a strong resolution against Libya, despite the many international voices, including that of UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay, who have condemned the country’s government.

It remains a possibility that the measure might not pass at all. African and Asian members of the Human Rights Council have in the past blocked criticism of abusive governments except when it has been directed at Israel, which has been the subject of six emergency meetings in five years.

The signature of several Muslim governments in support of the special session – including Jordan, Qatar and the Palestinian Authority – does indicate a crumbling of traditional bloc-support for the Gaddafi regime.

Independent of diplomatic efforts at the UN’s Human Rights Council in Geneva, there is a simultaneous push to sway the UN General Assembly to call for a vote to strip Libya of its council membership. Human Rights Watch, which has been advocating for such a measure, said that it was complicated because no member had ever been kicked off the council.

Separately, France and Germany threatened Libya with sanctions.

“The continuing brutal and bloody repression against the Libyan civilian population is revolting,” French President Nicolas Sarkozy said on Wednesday, raising the possibility of cutting all economic and business ties between the EU and Libya. “The international community cannot remain a spectator to these massive violations of human rights.”

France’s president proposed sanctions including barring those implicated in the crackdown from the EU and monitoring their financial transactions.

Sarkozy also wants to examine the possibility of suspending economic, commercial and financial relations with Libya, a presidential statement said.

Sarkozy’s proposal was a sharp turnaround from 2007, when he hosted Gaddafi for a pomp-filled visit to Paris, and the two countries agreed on deals for arms and nuclear reactors worth billions of euros – many of which never materialized.

Germany’s foreign minister said sanctions would be “inevitable” if the Libyan regime continues to put down protests so violently.

“There is a great deal of agreement with many partners in the European Union here,” Guido Westerwelle said. “If this violence continues, everyone in Europe will know that this cannot go unanswered.

“I cannot imagine that, given these terrible pictures, these terrible events in our immediate neighborhood, any other policy is possible in Europe,” he said.

In 2009, Libya’s major export customers were European: Italy received about 38 percent of its exports, Germany had 10%, and France and Spain had about 8% each, according to the CIA’s World Factbook.

That same year, Libya received nearly 19% of its total imports from Italy, followed by China at 10%, and Germany and Turkey at about 10% each, the CIA reported. France accounted for less than 6%.

AP contributed to this report.

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