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.
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“It’s an excellent signal that the council was able to react in real time to a situation,” US Ambassador Eileen Chamberlain Donahoe said.
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.
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
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
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
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
Sarkozy also wants to examine the possibility of suspending economic,
commercial and financial relations with Libya, a presidential statement
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.