The UN falsely claims that nothing can be done to stop the world’s most misogynistic regime from being allowed to head a UN human rights committee that selects experts. In 2003, that’s the same line they tried to push in defense of electing Qaddafi’s Libyan regime — except the American government showed then that in fact it could challenge the system and call a vote. Sadly, Europe refused to join the US (only Canada and Guatemala did), and the rest is history.
COMMISSION ON HUMAN RIGHTS ELECTS CHAIRPERSON AND BUREAU FOR FIFTY-NINTH SESSION
Najat Al-Hajjaji of Libya Elected Chairperson by Secret Ballot of 33 in Favor and 3 Opposed, with 17 Abstentions
The Commission on Human Rights — meeting this morning under a new procedure two months in advance of its annual six-week session — elected Najat Al-Hajjaji of the Libyan Arab Jamahiriya as Chairperson for 2003, along with three Vice-Chairpersons and a Rapporteur.
Ms. Al-Hajjaji was elected by a secret ballot of 33 in favour and 3 opposed, with 17 abstaining among the Commission’s 53 member countries.
The vote, requested by the United States, was unusual — Chairpersons are usually elected by acclamation.
In an address following the ballot, Ms. Al-Hajjaji said among other things that the Commission must send a message that it would deal with human rights in all countries, and not just some of them; that it would take into account in its activities the world’s many different religious, cultural and historical backgrounds; and that among its tasks was to affirm the universality, indivisibility, and complementarity of human rights.
Selection of the Commission’s Bureau in mid-January follows on a Commission decision last year and was spurred in part by 1994 and 1997 recommendations of the Economic and Social Council. The procedure is intended to enable the Commission to work more efficiently by having the Bureau in place well before the annual session begins.
Elected Vice-Chairpersons without a vote were Prasad Kariyawasam of Sri Lanka, Jorge Voto-Bernales of Peru, and Mike Smith of Australia. Chosen Rapporteur, also without a vote, was Branko Socanac of Croatia.
In a brief address before the vote, outgoing Chairman Krzysztof Jakubowski said among other things that the Commission, while it had its imperfections, constituted “a sort of human rights global parliament” and its dignity had been and should remain the basis of its approach to its work.
High Commissioner for Human Rights Sergio Vieira de Mello, also speaking briefly, reviewed his recent mission to the Democratic Republic of the Congo and to Angola, lauded the Commission’s new procedure for early election of a Bureau, and said it was important for the Commission to demonstrate that it could manage with wisdom, speed and restraint its procedural business so as to create the best possible spirit and conditions for addressing and resolving the many substantive issues on its agenda.
The Commission’s rules of procedure allow only a secret ballot to be requested to contest a nomination for Chairperson. Explanations of vote are not allowed afterward as they are for public ballots.
The fifty-ninth session of the Commission on Human Rights will take place from 17 March through 25 April.
Statement of Outgoing Chairperson
KRZYSZTOF JAKUBOWSKI, outgoing Chairperson, said the innovation of electing the bureau early in the year was an important step for improving the efficiency and impact of the Commission’s annual session. What was at stake now was the vision of the Charter of the United Nations of a world of peace and justice, grounded in respect for human rights and in economic and social progress; the Commission had always maintained the message that gross human rights violations could not be tolerated — by whomsoever committed. It had stood up for economic and social rights, for equality and dignity worldwide. Its proceedings must be effective, dignified, equitable and statesmanlike.
There had been many stories in the media about today’s events, Mr. Jakubowski said. Whatever the outcome, he earnestly appealed for all to maintain intact the dignity of the Commission. At the end of the day, all must be able to go forward working together for the protection of human rights. The membership of the Commission must never lose sight of this sacred duty.
He was sure that others hoped as he did that this would be a business-like affair. He very much hoped that requests for the floor would be kept to an absolute minimum. He also appealed to everyone present to give the new Chairperson the benefit of a cooperative and dignified start. The Commission had its imperfections, without a doubt, but its sessions also constituted a sort of human rights global parliament. The dignity of the Commission had been and should remain the basis of its approach to its work.
Address of High Commissioner for Human Rights
SERGIO VIEIRA DE MELLO, High Commissioner for Human Rights, said today was an important one — it would lay the groundwork both in form and tone for the fifty-ninth session of the Commission.
As everyone knew, he had returned just yesterday from a mission to the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Angola. In order to attend today’s meteing, he had regretfully not carried out a planned visit to Burundi. The Democratic Republic of the Congo was facing a unique situation where it could make a choice between continuing a disastrous conflict ripe with extensive human rights violations, misery, and the pillage of natural resources, or could follow the path of peace opening the way for reconciliation, an end to impunity, and the reconstruction of democratic institutions. It was vital for all parties to the conflict, including neighboring countries, to implement without delay the wide-ranging and inclusive peace agreement concluded in Pretoria last 17 December.
In Angola, he had witnessed the immediate dividends resulting from the end of hostilities between the Government and UNITA, Mr. Vieira de Mello said; millions of displaced persons and demobilized combatants had finally returned to their homes and had begun to resume normal live. The country was in the course of establishing an electoral process that would launch the foundations for a new democratic life. The country still had to be rebuilt, and he had assured the Government and Angolan civil society of the will of the United Nations to help with the development of a culture, political system, and institutions propitious for human rights.
For all the impressive work that had taken place within the human rights community in Geneva, he remained concerned by the ignorance in the world at large as to what was done here, the High Commissioner said; it was important for this Geneva community to open up to those on the outside — it was their rights, after all, that the human rights community was working to develop and safeguard. Today offered a unique opportunity for the Commission to demonstrate that it could manage with wisdom, speed and restraint its procedural business so as to create the best possible spirit and conditions for addressing and resolving the many substantive issues on its agenda. He thanked the outgoing Chairman and his colleagues in the Bureau for guiding the Commission with considerable skill and determination through a year which had not been an easy one.
Statement of Incoming Chairperson
NAJAT AL-HAJJAJI, new Chairperson of the Commission, said today’s meeting two months before the normal opening of the Commission’s annual session was an important innovation; it would enable the Bureau to get down to work in an efficient and organized manner. Her country was African, and it had an Islamic culture; it had been the site of great historical empires — Egyptian, Phoenician, and Greek, as well as Islamic. Monuments from that past remained. Women played a major role in life and Government in Libya, and the country took its inspiration from the principles of the United Nations. She would make every effort to be open to new ideas and initiatives.
The Commission’s agenda was a heavy one, and she would need the full participation and cooperation of everyone — members, observer countries, non-governmental organizations and the Secretariat. The task of all was to affirm the universality, indivisibility, and complementarity of human rights, to give the Commission credibility, and to send a clear message to all those who were watching the Commission and awaiting the results of its work. The message must be that the Commission would deal with human rights in all countries, and not just some of them, and that it would take into account in its activities the world’s many differences and its many different religious, cultural and historical backgrounds.
Statement on request for a vote
SIPHO GEORGE NENE (South Africa) said the call for a vote on the Chairperson nominee placed the Commission and the African Group in particular in a very difficult and unenviable position. It was regrettable that the U.S. delegation had opted for the extreme method of demonstrating its non-endorsement of the African Group’s candidate. Since the decision to propose Ambassador Al-Hajjaji had been taken by the highest political organ of the African Union, the group had no choice but to respond to the political challenge posed by the subjection of the election to a vote. For 46 years the tried and tested practice of the unanimous election of the Chair of the Commission had contributed positively in setting a solid foundation for the proceedings of the Commission. This reliable practice had been violated today. It was the Group’s hope that this unfortunate act would not be emulated in the future. The right of regional groups to present candidates of their choice should be respected.
Great efforts had been made to persuade the U.S. to use other available methods of expressing its displeasure. Members of the Commission were urged to demonstrate their confidence in the tried and tested methods of the past by voting for the African candidate with a resounding majority.
REACTIONS TO ELECTION OF LIBYA AS CHAIR OF UN HUMAN RIGHTS COMMISSION
New York Times
Payoff for Colonel Qaddafi
Jan. 23, 2003
The line between farce and tragedy can be blurry. This was certainly true earlier this week when Libya was selected chairman of the United Nations Commission on Human Rights. It was an act of such absurdity that it may finally force some serious thinking about reforming the commission. If such change does not occur, that body, which advertises itself as the central world forum on human rights, will pass from a state of confusion to one of utter irrelevance.
Libya’s ascent from human rights pariah to chairman of the board has been a tawdry one, involving cynical trade-offs. Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi, the Libyan leader, has used his oil wealth to finance a new body of African fellowship called the African Union. In exchange, he wanted his country to be selected by fellow Africans as their next nominee to be chairman of the rights commission. In the regional rotation of chairmanship, it was Africa’s turn to select. A number of African countries are striving to protect human rights, which makes the selection of Libya for this position especially egregious.
All the principles the U.N. rights commission claims to stand for — free elections, free expression, fair trials — are absent in Libya. Unfortunately, the selection of Libya fits a pattern at the commission over the past few years. Countries like Syria, Cuba, Algeria and China have taken up membership slots and subverted the commission’s purpose. Instead of investigating human rights abuse, the commission has been turning itself into a support group for abusers.
This can change. The group Human Rights Watch has suggested that for a country to gain a seat on the commission it must have ratified the main human rights treaties, provided reports on its compliance with conventions, issued a standing invitation to United Nations investigators and not have been condemned recently by the commission.
The new United Nations high commissioner for human rights, Sergio Vieira de Mello, supports this effort. He must answer to the commission but doesn’t control it. Nonetheless, he will be judged in part by how seriously the commission can be taken. He should try to get the membership rules changed and help steer a once-respectable international forum back to its rightful place.
A Mother’s Plea: Backbone on Libya
The New York Times, January 26, 2003
To the Editor:
As the mother of a son on Pan Am Flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland, blown out of the skies by Libyan terrorists, I applaud your editorial (“Payoff for Colonel Qaddafi,” Jan. 23) criticizing the selection of Libya as chairman of the United Nations Commission on Human Rights.
It is important for the world to understand the depth of Libya’s violations of human rights, starting with terrorist bombings that deprived so many innocents not only of their human rights, but also their lives.
It is a disgrace that a rogue terrorist state was elected to the chairmanship of a human rights commission, and that America had so few friends to stand with it in opposition.
If America’s moral compass were working, the United States delegation would have called the election a sham and walked out in protest. We seem to have big voices when it comes to Iraq but wimpy whispers when it comes to Libya.
KATHLEEN R. FLYNN
Montville, N.J., Jan. 23, 2003
Libyan Wrong for U.N. Job
Los Angeles Times, January 20, 2003
It sounds like a punch line but unfortunately it isn’t. As of today, Najat Hajjaji, who represents Moammar Kadafi’s Libya, is chairwoman of the United Nations Human Rights Commission.
What makes this possible is the U.N. regional rotation system for leadership of the commission that leaves the choice purely to nations in each region.
Last year it was Europe’s turn, and its delegates to the commission unremarkably chose Poland. This year, African members chose Libya.
Perhaps Libya’s contact with the U.N. body will improve human rights for Libyans. But in the future, the United Nations should add a requirement that the commission leader’s nation possess a decent record of respecting human rights. A rotation system is not necessarily bad, but it is insufficient.
Kadafi, who prefers to be known as “the Brotherly Leader and Guide of the Revolution,” has ruthlessly ruled Libya since 1969. The country’s political system is based on a book written by Kadafi that explicitly rejects parliamentary democracy and political parties.
Even if “Libya has taken significant steps to mend its international image,” as the latest State Department report on Libya states, the country isn’t qualified to monitor human rights abuses worldwide.
The United Nations itself in the mid-1990s accused Libyan security forces of executing people considered opponents of the regime. Just last year, Libyan courts were ordering amputations as punishment for such crimes as robbery.
It was only two years ago that a Scottish appeals court upheld the life sentence of a Libyan agent found guilty of placing a bomb aboard a Pan Am plane that crashed over Lockerbie, Scotland, in 1988, killing 270 people.
This month, 86 Libyans accused of Islamic extremism in Libya face a retrial after a first court handed down two death sentences and scores of life sentences. The accused are professionals and university students charged with belonging to an Islamic group that Amnesty International says does not advocate violence.
Even though her colleagues praise her intelligence and professionalism, Hajjaji is the wrong person for the job because she represents a country whose record on human rights is seriously flawed. The United Nations owes it to the commission’s other members to reassess its method of choosing leaders.
Take back the U.N.; Democratic nations must form an independent caucus
The Washington Times, January 29, 2003
By Nancy E. Soderberg
Just as the United Nations is preparing to face two important tests of its relevance – how it will deal with crises in Iraq and North Korea – one of its key bodies just voted itself into irrelevancy. On Jan. 20, the 53-nation Human Rights Commission elected Libya its 2003 chairman. Libya is a country still under U.N. sanction for terrorism, with a human- rights record that Human Rights Watch calls “appalling,” and which will use its new position to block the committee from taking any meaningful action. What’s wrong with the United Nations?
Since the end of the Cold War, the member-states of the United Nations have let the body’s repressive regimes hold much of the United Nations hostage to their agenda. Undemocratic regimes win positions on key U.N. bodies and then block any criticism of their actions or those of their dictatorial colleagues. The Human Rights Commission, now chaired by Libya, for instance, also includes Algeria, China, Cuba, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, Syria and Zimbabwe. Not coincidentally, repressive regimes avoid censure.
Similarly, at the General Assembly, of the 59 resolutions on which roll-call votes were taken during the 2001 session, nearly half dealt with Israel, while the General Assembly remained silent on the actions of many ruthless, undemocratic regimes. Finally, while the U.S. managed to keep Sudan off the Security Council in 2000, Syria was nominated the following year and is now ensconced on the Council for two years.
At the United Nations, five regional groups control nominations to various U.N. bodies. A recent bipartisan task force, Enhancing U.S. Leadership at the United Nations, cosponsored by Freedom House and the Council on Foreign Relations, found that the United Nations’ regional group structure “tends disproportionately to benefit regimes that are less than open and democratic.” In fact, Iraq currently leads the Asia group.
In addition, the 64-member non-aligned movement [NAM], a Cold War holdover created to serve as a counter-weight to the East and West blocs, clings to an anachronistic 1960s mentality. NAM members cooperate on substantive and procedural votes – and often follow the lead of the group’s undemocratic regimes. The result is that the NAM regularly impedes U.N. actions, advancing the interests of the group’s few dictatorships to the disadvantage of the group’s many democracies.
The task force report calls for a new strategy to advance the interests of the United States at the United Nations. The report recommends the creation of a coalition of democratic U.N. members that would join together to support three key goals: bolstering democracy and democratic principles; advancing human rights; and fighting terrorism. This “democracy caucus” could counter the small but effective group of regimes that often thwart U.S. interests.
The U.S. war on terrorism would be won much faster, and Iraq would have been disarmed more effectively, if all U.N. member-states shared these basic principles: respect for democracy, human rights and the rule of law. Today, although 63 percent of the 191 governments represented at the United Nations are electoral democracies and 45 percent are labeled as “liberal democracies,” they make no effort to bond together to promote their shared principles. As U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan has noted, only “when the United Nations can truly call itself a community of democracies [will] the charter’s noble ideals of protecting human rights and promoting ‘social progress in larger freedoms’ ” be achievable.
To help achieve that goal, a “democracy caucus” at the United Nations should actively oppose the candidacies of nations that fail to support democracy and human rights, while promoting those of countries that sustain democracy and human rights. It is up to the democracies of the world to take back the United Nations. With strong and visionary leadership, these democracies can ensure the United Nations meets today’s challenges.
Nancy E. Soderberg is a member of the Independent Task Force on Enhancing U.S. Leadership at the United Nations. She served as an ambassador to the United Nations 1997-2001.
If you’re looking for human rights abuses, you can’t find many better places than Libya. It is to human rights what tornadoes are to trailer homes. The human rights group Freedom House ranks it as one of the nine most repressive countries on the planet, among such company as Iraq and North Korea.
Human Rights Watch says Libya’s record has been “appalling,” based on the government’s habit of assassinating political opponents, imprisoning people without charge, arresting dissidents and torturing prisoners. For those with long memories, there is also the minor matter of its involvement in the 1988 bombing of Pan Am flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland–an act of terrorism that took 270 lives.
With a record like that, you might guess Libya would be Public Enemy No. 1 at the United Nations Commission on Human Rights. And you’d be close: As of Monday, Libya is now in charge of the United Nations Commission on Human Rights–elected by competent diplomats. There were 33 nations voting for Moammar Gadhafi’s regime, three (including the U.S.) voting against, and 17 abstaining. It’s as if Charles Manson were put in charge of the LAPD homicide division.
The UN doesn’t consciously go out of its way to make itself a laughingstock. And the vote took place despite a campaign by the Bush administration and various human rights groups to block the nomination. So how does something so preposterous come to pass?
It seems that the commission has a practice of rotating the chair’s job among different regions, and this is Africa’s turn to be in charge. Though there are several countries on that continent with good records on human rights, the African nations chose to nominate Libyan ambassador Najat Al-Hajjaji for the presidency.
Why they would do that is no real mystery. Gadhafi has been using his oil wealth to buy influence with the African Union, doing things like sending troops to save the government of the Central African Republic, offering training to soldiers in Mozambique and providing money to the embattled dictatorship of Zimbabwe. His strategy appears to be working.
The UNCHR has also been hijacked by repressive governments that don’t like the world body poking its snout into matters like freedom and democracy. “They’re dedicated to protecting themselves from scrutiny rather than upholding human rights,” Rory Mungoven, advocacy director of Human Rights Watch, said last year, after the commission turned a blind eye to abuses in Russia, China, Iran and Zimbabwe. Gadhafi can be trusted not to rock that boat.
The commission is accustomed to looking bad, having gotten lots of unfavorable publicity for excluding the U.S. from membership back in 2001 (though it relented last year). But putting Libya in charge of a body that regarded the U.S. as unfit for membership is bound to reduce its credibility from slim to none.
The UNCHR could be a powerful tool for exposing human rights violations and shaming governments into ending them. But right now, it’s more intent on shaming itself.
Election of Libyan ambassador makes mockery of U.N.
Jan. 22, 2003
The notion that Libya would be chosen to head the United Nation’s Human Rights Commission this year would be laughable were it not an unfortunate fact. The vote this week was a living example of a fox being named to guard the chicken coop.
Libya’s leader, Col. Moammar Gadhafi, is not known for his warm support of human rights. He is known for the arrest and torture of hundreds of dissidents and for stamping out all attempts to establish a free press or human rights organizations in his country.
Gadhafi remains one of the world’s most powerful rogue leaders. He was behind the 1988 bombing of Pan Am Flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland, which killed 270 people, many of them American. He has a history of supporting terror all over Africa.
Troubling is the knowledge that all African nations in the 53-member U.N. Human Rights Commission voted for Libyan Ambassador Najat Al-Hajjaji to head the body.
Breaking with the half-century U.N. tradition of acceptance by acclamation, the United States, Canada and Guatemala voted against the Libyan. Seventeen European nations predictably abstained from voting.
Realistically, the world cannot expect Ambassador Al-Hajjaji to stray from Gadhafi’s dictates, which will undoubtedly be entirely based on political considerations, or to pursue any honest course of action regarding human rights. It certainly can’t expect a push to investigate human rights violations in Libya.
Countries such as Algeria, Burundi, China, Cuba, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Indonesia, Kenya, Libya, Malaysia, Nigeria, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, Syria, Togo and Vietnam — all known for their questionable human rights records — command a significant voting block. No wonder suggestions that human rights records be used as criteria for membership on the commission have fallen on deaf ears.
WRONG ROLE FOR LIBYA
AT PRESENT there is but one candidate to chair the UN Human Rights Commission for the coming year, and that is Libya. If the ramifications for Libyans and the cause of human rights around the world were not as serious as they are, the looming chairmanship of Moammar Khadafy’s repressive regime would be a sick joke.
Sad to say, it is characteristic of the failings of the Human Rights Commission that the UN’s Africa regional group, whose turn it was to provide the commission with a leader, nominated Libya for the job without proposing other contenders. Too often in the past, the governments chosen to lead the commission have used their position to protect or advance their narrowly conceived national interests.
The willingness of the Africa regional group to overlook Libya‘s egregious record as a state that abuses the human rights of its citizens is not a unique example of the Human Rights Commission‘s penchant for failing to enforce demanding standards. A telling parallel is underlined in the report for the year 2003 by the group Human Rights Watch.
The report chastizes the European Union for its avoidance of a resolution condemning China’s human rights violations during the past year. “In the case of China,” the report notes, “key European governments have shown far more interest in building economic ties than in promoting human rights – even though the one need not preclude the other.”
This background is crucial to understand the folly of Libya‘s nomination. There is a deeply rooted conflict between the disinterested work of human rights campaigners and the inevitably mixed motives of nation-states when they take it upon themselves to judge each other’s human rights records.
The case against Khadafy’s regime is as stark as it could be. A letter that the human rights organization Freedom House has sent to the UN ambassadors of countries on the Human Rights Commission points out that “the United Nations itself has voiced concern over Libya‘s human rights practices, including extrajudicial and summary executions perpetrated by state agents, arbitrary arrest and long-term detention without trial, systematic use of torture and other ill-treatment or punishment, imposition of the death penalty for ‘political and economic offenses,’ and numerous restrictions on freedom of expression.”
Libya‘s candidacy to chair the Human Rights Commission, unfortunately, reflects a pattern that is all too common – a maneuvering by countries that violate human rights to secure positions on the commission so they can protect their reputations and those of similar regimes.
It should be the responsibility of democracies such as those here and in Europe to improve their own imperfect records on human rights and unite in preventing Khadafy from making the very notion of a UN Human Rights Commission seem a farce.
Disgraceful choice; Libya is unfit to lead U.N. rights panel
The San Diego Union-Tribune, January 29, 2003,
The credibility of the United Nations Commission on Human Rights has taken a deserved beating in recent years.
Allowing some of the world’s most notorious abusers of human rights — Cuba, China, Syria, Sudan, Vietnam, Zimbabwe — membership on the commission has served to blunt the international body’s vital focus. Then there was the insulting vote in 2001 that temporarily expelled the United States, a founding member of the United Nations, from membership on the Human Rights Commission.
Now, sagging credibility and bizarre outrage have turned to absolute disgrace. A commission that bills itself as the world’s foremost forum on human rights has given its chairman’s post to a harsh dictatorship. Cynical politics, petro-dollars and a tyrant’s ambition have made Libya, of all countries, the chairman of the U.N. Human Rights Commission for 2003.
Never mind that Libya has been a president-for-life dictatorship since Col. Moammar Gadhafi seized power in 1969. Never mind that Gadhafi rules without benefit of political parties, free elections or the granting of basic civil or political rights to the Libyan people. Never mind that political dissidents have been routinely imprisoned in Libya for more than three decades, that torture in custody is common, that Libya holds hundreds of political prisoners today and that many Libyan dissidents have been executed.
And never mind, either, that Gadhafi was for nearly 30 years a paymaster of global terrorism. Gadhafi has all but admitted sponsoring the bombing of Pan Am Flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland, in 1988, killing 270 innocent people.
No matter. His handpicked representative, Najat Hajjaji, is the commission’s new chairwoman.
How this travesty happened exposes the tawdry politics that so often tarnish efforts to implement the United Nations’ noble ideals. Gadhafi has been using his oil wealth to buy the allegiance of African states organized as the African Union. The Human Rights Commission’s chairmanship is rotated by regions. It was Africa’s turn, and Gadhafi’s payoffs bought Hajjaji’s appointment.
Most of the commission’s members are democracies. But only three, including the United States, summoned enough principle to vote against Libya. All seven members of the European Union abstained.
It’s true the unpredictable Gadhafi is steering Libya out of its pariah-nation status and into better relations with the West. The U.S. State Department offers restrained praise for Gadhafi’s help in opposing al-Qaeda and sharing what Libya knows of Osama bin Laden’s terrorist network.
That said, Libya is still a repressive violator of basic human rights. It doesn’t come close to deserving the Human Rights Commission’s chairmanship.
Pratfalls like this are squandering the United Nations’ value as a human rights exemplar. To reclaim it, the U.N.’s commission needs wholesale reforms to set membership standards and preclude leadership posts for chronic human rights abusers.
Libya’s Pick an Insult to Human Rights Cause
The Detroit News, January 27, 2003
The United Nations now has Libya as head of its Human Rights Commission. But making Libya the watchdog of human rights abuses is as laughable as making Enron the watchdog of corporate malfeasance.
The United States lost the battle to defeat Libya’s bid this time. It managed to convince only two other countries — Canada and Guatemala — to go along with it. Seventeen countries — including Great Britain — abstained and 33 backed Libya.
But there are steps the United States can — and should — take to prevent such an obscene outcome in future.
Libya’s human rights abuses under Muammar Khadafy are legion: Khadafy masterminded the 1988 bombing of Pan Am Flight 103 over Scotland, which claimed 270 lives.
Khadafy has not allowed a free election since he seized power in 1969 and has ruthlessly and systematically suppressed his political opponents. Arrests, detentions and executions of dissidents are commonplace.
Khadafy has forced Libyan courts to implement a strict version of Islamic law, requiring them to prescribe extreme punishments for minor crimes. Freedom of movement and expression are extremely restricted — especially for women.
All of this has earned Libya top honors in the shame list of human rights groups such as Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch. And the United Nations itself sanctioned Libya for its appalling human rights record in the mid-1990s.
This experience should have been sufficient grounds to kick Libya out of the human rights commission a long time ago. Instead, the United Nations has made Libya its head.
This will hurt the commission’s ability to champion the cause of human rights, of course. But it also will undermine the United Nations’ moral authority to influence the conduct of world affairs in general.
An entity that hands a key office to a rogue regime can hardly stop the free world from acting against another rogue regime such as Iraq. This is unfortunate, given that the United Nations is the only forum available to the world for cross-country deliberations.
America can prevent the United Nations from marginalizing itself by insisting that in the future it disqualify any regime that has been cited for human rights abuses from heading any U.N. agency. Had this rule been in place, Khadafy would not have been able to bribe African nations, whose turn it was to appoint the chief of the human rights commission, to pick Libya.
For the next few months, the world will have to watch Khadafi take center stage on the question of human rights. This is an insulting spectacle that America should try and spare the world from in the future.
Another blow to U.N. credibility
St. Petersburg Times (Florida), February 2, 2003, EDITORIAL
Over the United States’ objections, member governments of the United Nations Commission on Human Rights have chosen Libya as their new leader. The decision leaves the commission’s work with about as much credibility as O.J.’s search for the real killer.
Libya should be answering to the Commission on Human Rights, not leading it. Since Col. Moammar Gadhafi took power in 1969, Libya’s regime has faced repeated accusations of abducting, torturing and killing. International investigators determined that Libya was responsible for the 1988 bombing of a passenger plane over Lockerbie, Scotland, which killed 270 people. And although Gadhafi has made some overtures of support for Washington’s war against terrorism, his own record is one of support for extremist groups.
That record did not prevent African nations, which controlled the nomination through a revolving process, from supporting Libya, which will now preside over the commission’s next review of human rights around the globe. Only three countries, including the United States and Canada, opposed Libya.
Allowing rogue nations such as Libya to participate in the work of the United Nations can be a way of encouraging them to behave in more civilized ways. But membership in the world body is one thing; leadership of the Commission on Human Rights is quite another. In rewarding Libya, dozens of nations have revealed the depths of their double-standard on matters of human rights. And in the process, they have sabotaged the United Nations’ credibility at a moment in history when a serious institution of international justice could play an important role.
Libyan win is human rights loss
The Australian, January 22, 2003, LEADER
A MORE extraordinary election than Libya as chair of the United Nations Human Rights Commission would be hard to imagine. If even half the accusations of Libyan complicity in acts of terror and persecution of dissidents are true, the whole process of their election to so sensitive a position in the world body is extraordinary. Such an election can only bring the commission itself into disrepute. It is hard to believe that anyone could take such a body seriously when its chairman represents such a rogue state as Libya. The Human Rights Commission is comprised of 53 countries, and 33 of them supported Libya’s election. Needless to say, the vote, conducted by secret ballot, was not unanimous although Libya was the only nomination. Seventeen countries abstained, and three, most notably the US and Canada, voted against.
Of course, the problem is compounded by the rotation system which gives the chair of the commission to a country from one of five global regions. It was Africa’s turn, and South Africa, despite its bitter experiences under the apartheid system, idiosyncratically proposed Libya. It is true, such elections need to be colour blind if the world body is to keep to its own charter, but any nation elevated to the chair should have a respectable record on human rights. This election not only shows how birds of a feather stick together but sets a dangerous precedent of another kind of blindness: tolerance of tyrannical regimes. So it is ironical to say the least that in Libya the decision was greeted with enthusiasm by an official who said that “Libya has a clean sheet with regard to human rights”. Such a boast from a country complicit in the appalling Lockerbie disaster is obscene. Clearly this did not concern some of Libya’s supporters, including such paragons of human rights as Cuba, the Sudan and Algeria where the imprisonment of dissidents is a matter of state.
Hassuna al-Swash, a Libyan Foreign Ministry spokesman, made the audacious statement that “It is a shining victory which gives back their rights to the oppressed peoples.” Africa, sadly enough, has so many remaining examples of “oppressed peoples” suffering under dictatorial regimes that it could use a UN Commission for Human Rights that worked to alert the rest of the world to their plight and not just condone tyranny.
EDITORIAL: LIBYA WRONG PICK FOR RIGHTS BODY
Voice of America News, January 16, 2003
Next week, the United Nations Human Rights Commission begins its annual meeting in Geneva. The first order of business will be choosing a chairman. By tradition, the chairmanship of the fifty-three-nation commission rotates yearly among the UN’s five major geographic regions. It is Africa’s turn this year, and members of the African regional group have indicated a preference for Libya.
The United States will vote against Libya and hopes that other countries will do so as well.
The reasons should be obvious. Libya‘s record as an abuser of human rights is well known. These abuses include suppressing opposition to longtime dictator Moammar Gadhafi. Libyan security forces arbitrarily arrest and torture people. Political prisoners are held for years without charge. Libyans do not have the right to be secure in their homes or persons, or to own private property. And the Libyan government restricts freedom of speech, press, assembly, association, and religion.
In addition, Libya is a country under U-N sanctions because it has yet to fulfill the conditions imposed as a result of its involvement in the 1988 bombing of a U.S. airliner, Pan Am 103. Two-hundred seventy people died in that act of Libyan terrorism. As U.S. State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said, “We cannot reward such terrible conduct with a leadership position, in this case, in the foremost international human rights body.”
Some question whether the UN Human Rights Commission will be able to fulfill its mandate to challenge human rights abusers around the world and ensure that the principles of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights are upheld. A significant number of the fifty-three commission members are themselves human rights abusers. Besides Libya, these countries include China, Cuba, Sudan, Syria, Vietnam, and Zimbabwe. Clearly, making one of those abusers chairman will raise serious questions about the commission.
Libya, human rights and us
Sydney Morning Herald (Australia), January 24, 2003
It was quite a short press release from the Foreign Minister, Alexander Downer. Just a few paragraphs on Tuesday to announce that Australia had become a vice-chair of the United Nations Human Rights Commission. No mention of the country that had taken the chair. Perhaps Mr Downer hoped that if nothing was said, no-one would notice that it was Libya. That’s right, Libya. Lockerbie Libya. The same Libya of which America’s Human Rights Watch organisation recently wrote: “Libya not only has a long record of human rights abuse, but has routinely failed to co-operate with the [Human Rights] commission and has sought to obstruct them from doing their work.” That was in a letter asking South Africa’s President, Thabo Mbeki, to use his influence to oppose Libya’s election, it being the African nations’ turn to fill the top job.
However, Libya has been elected on the vote of 33 of the commission’s 53 members. Australia abstained from the secret ballot, as did most of the European nations. Just three countries voted against Libya. From their public statements, it may be assumed they included the United States and Canada. Full marks to them. Otherwise the vote is a reminder of how readily the tribalism and factional loyalties that rule the UN can produce outcomes that fly utterly in the face of both sense and morality. (And this is the organisation we rely on to provide guidance on Iraq.)
As its abstention may indicate, Australia is not entirely at ease with this triumph of realpolitik. With diplomatic understatement, Mr Downer describes Libya’s accession as disappointing and not good for the commission’s credibility. But presumably a foreign minister has to be philosophical about a commission of which Libya was already a vice-chair and whose members include at least a dozen chronic human rights abusers. (Another candidate for the African bloc vote was Zimbabwe.) And Mr Downer likes to think that having Australia as vice-chair will help move the commission from noisy and partisan public criticism towards quiet and effective diplomacy in pursuit of its declared aim of promoting and protecting human rights.
Though it may seem quixotic, Australia’s mission should be to make membership of the commission conditional on countries meeting certain basic standards of human rights, ratifying international human rights treaties and admitting UN inspectors. That would disqualify Libya for one.
Libya decision dishonors U.N.
State-Times/Morning Advocate (Baton Rouge, Louisiana), January 25, 2003,
The sound you hear from the direction of Hyde Park, N.Y., is Eleanor Roosevelt spinning in her grave.
She has been insulted by the United Nations’ decision to award Libya the chair of the Commission on Human Rights.
In the wake of her great husband’s death in 1945, she took on the assignment of U.S. delegate to the United Nations, at the request of President Truman. There, she did the great work of her life, promoting values of human rights and freedom of conscience.
So far has the United Nations retreated from the days when the former first lady called for a new world order based on fundamental human rights.
Libya is a sponsor of terrorist organizations worldwide, and its agents have been directly involved in mass homicides, including the bombings of two airliners – one over Scotland, one in Africa.
Any number of brutal civil wars in Africa are raging today because of direct Libyan sponsorship. Libyan troops are harbingers of trouble everywhere in sub-Saharan Africa. Saddam Hussein’s Iraq has a better chance of graduating from the U.S. State Department’s list of terrorism sponsors than does Libya.
Freedom of conscience does not exist in any form in Libya. For more than 30 years, dictator Moammar Khadafy’s rule has been absolute.
The Libyan government assumed the chair of the Geneva-based commission on a vote of 33-3. Only a handful of states objected, including the United States and Canada. In the majority, were such wretched examples of human rights violators as Vietnam, Saudi Arabia, China, Syria, Sudan and Zimbabwe.
The courageous Europeans, who have lost lives directly to Libyan terrorist agents, merely abstained. These countries ought to be ashamed.
“This is a defeat for the Human Rights Commission,” said a U.S. diplomat, Kevin Moley.
He’s right, but it is more than that.
Coming as the United Nations is debating vital questions of war and peace with Iraq, which has defied U.N. resolutions for years, the Human Rights Commission action undermines the credibility of states opposing military enforcement of Iraq sanctions.
The commission vote on Libya shows that the United Nations is willing to back any tinhorn dictator, no matter how reprehensible his actions or how much state sponsorship of terrorism undermines world peace.
The memory of Eleanor Roosevelt deserves better.
UN LACKS MORAL FIBER TO BACK US
The Boston Globe, January 23, 2003
By Jeff Jacoby
THE AMERICAN DELEGATE PUT A BRAVE FACE ON IT.
“This is not a defeat for the United States,” US Ambassador Kevin Moley said after Libya was elected to the chairmanship of the United Nations’ highest human rights panel on Monday. “This is a defeat for the Human Rights Commission.”
The vote was 33 to 3, with only Canada and (reportedly) Guatemala joining the United States in voting no. Seventeen countries, mostly European, abstained.
The ambassador’s sentiments were understandable. Of course it is preposterous to think of Moammar Khadafy’s brutal regime – which tortures dissidents, imprisons citizens without charge, and prohibits freedom of speech, assembly, and religion – as a champion of liberty and due process. Everyone knows that Libya, architect of the 1988 bombing of Pan Am Flight 103 that killed 270 victims over Lockerbie, Scotland, is a foe, not a friend, of human rights.
Nevertheless, the ambassador was wrong. The choice of one of the world’s most repressive tyrannies to head the UN’s main human rights panel was not in any sense a defeat for the commission. Nor was it an embarrassment to the UN. On the contrary, it was a textbook illustration of the way the UN works.
Despite its name, the United Nations is not a fraternity of peoples. It is an association of governments, and it makes no distinction between those that rule with the consent of the governed and those that rule through force and fear. Inside the UN, a bloody despotism is every inch the equal of a liberal democracy. A government that respects human dignity has exactly the same vote as a government that tramples it. And while lip service is routinely paid to the high principles of the UN Charter, those principles are irrelevant to the UN’s decisions and deliberations.
If the Human Rights Commission were really concerned with human rights, the accession of a ghoulish regime like Libya’s to the chair would indeed be a scandal. But the commission’s true purposes are to give Third World bullies a venue for grandstanding, to harangue Western democracies, to ensure that the world’s cruelest rulers escape condemnation, and, of course, to bash Israel. There’s nothing in that agenda to disqualify Libya. Or, for that matter, Vietnam, Saudi Arabia, China, Syria, Sudan, or Zimbabwe – each a notorious human-rights violator and each a commission member in good standing.
The lopsided vote for Libya, including all those cowardly European abstentions, speaks volumes about the UN’s character. It has become a monument to sanctimony and cynicism. It is a place where dishonesty and injustice are routine – where atrocious governments get away with appalling behavior because better governments lack the courage to face them down. The United Nations is a moral wasteland, and it is folly to treat its imprimatur as a benchmark of legitimacy.
Providence Journal-Bulletin (Rhode Island)
January 24, 2003
Here’s a multiple-choice question for our social-studies class. The head of the United Nations Human Rights Commission is from a) Canada, b) Italy, c) Libya, or d) Thailand? If you chose c) Libya — go to the head of the class. But no laughing.
Yes, the chairwoman of the U.N. Human Rights Commission is Ambassador Najat Hajjaji; and by all accounts she is smart and diligent, both prerequisites for a difficult and sensitive job. But wouldn’t it make sense for the commission to be led by the representative of a country a little less notorious for its abuse of human rights?
The State Department asserts that Libya “has taken significant steps to mend its international image,” for which it is to be commended. But it is still a military dictatorship, ruled since 1969 by the very bizarre Col. Moammar Gadhafy, with a long history of domestic human-rights abuses and sponsorship of terrorism abroad. As recently as the mid-1990s, the U.N. itself accused Libyan security forces of executing purported foes of Colonel Gadhafy’s regime, and just two years ago a Scottish appeals court upheld the life sentence imposed on a Libyan agent who had planted a bomb on a Pan Am airliner over Scotland in 1988, killing 270.
Of course, this does not mean that the Libyan regime cannot improve, and there is evidence that it is working on its lamentable record. Indeed, leadership of the U.N. commission might prove beneficial to the human rights of ordinary Libyans. But there ought to be at least some minimal requirement that the chairman’s post be occupied by the representative of a government with a better human-rights record than Libya has posted thus far.
The problem is that the chairmanship rotates among regions, and for its turn the African members chose Libya. There is nothing wrong with a rotating chairmanship, and there are good reasons to spread responsibility across the globe. But the African members of the United Nations have done themselves and the reputation of the U.N. no good by putting Ambassador Hajjaji in a position that is, at best, incongruous — except perhaps in the sometimes Orwellian world of the United Nations.
U.N. human rights travesty
The Post and Courier (Charleston, SC), January 23, 2003 T
The U.N. Human Rights Commission has never been an effective watchdog, but the choice of a Libyan diplomat to head the commission is a new low in human rights hypocrisy. The election by an overwhelming majority of a “yes woman” for Libya’s murderous dictator Moammar Gadhafi strips away the last shred of credibility from the commission.
For years now, nations that routinely and deliberately violate human rights have been ganging up to prevent public exposure and avoid condemnation. The 33 votes that Libyan ambassador Najat Al-Hajjaji received from the 53-member body is part of a process that two years ago resulted in the expulsion of the United States from the commission after half a century of membership. The United States was reseated last year, but at the same time, three nations that are synonymous with abuse of human rights — Zimbabwe, Ukraine and China — were elected. They joined Algeria, Bahrain, Congo, Libya, Sudan, Russia, Syria, Togo, Uganda and Vietnam to form a bloc of nations committed to the defense of the illegal methods of repression that they employ to persecute dissidents and minorities.
Last April, the U.S.-based Human Rights Watch predicted that the 15 new members elected to the commission would weaken it. That prediction came true when only the United States and Canada openly — with, reportedly, Guatemala — voted against Libyan Ambassador Najat Al-Hajjaji in the secret ballot. To their shame, European nations and other Western democracies were among the 17 abstentions. They justified their failure to oppose rewarding Libya for abusing human rights with the chairmanship of the human rights commission by arguing that the candidacy of Ms. Al-Hajjaji was proposed by the African Union and had been preceded by the release of hundreds of political prisoners by Gadhafi.
Human Rights Watch described Libya’s human rights record as “appalling.” According to the human rights organization, the Gadhafi regime routinely employs “the abduction, forced disappearance or assassination of political opponents; torture and mistreatment of detainees; and long-term detention without charge or trial or after grossly unfair trials.”
Despite the release of some prisoners, which prompted Gadhafi to claim that there were “no political prisoners left” in his country, human rights monitors remain extremely concerned about the plight of dissidents.
It is worth recalling that former Irish President Mary Robinson, who was U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights for five years, gave up the post in April last year because of the frustration of seeing the commission fail to live up to its charter. She warned of looming threats to weaken the commission’s role in defending individual liberty. Her pessimism about the future of the commission was not misplaced.
Sunday Herald Sun (Melbourne, Australia)
January 26, 2003,
UN must be joking
IN a parody of Winston Churchill’s famous tribute to Battle of Britain pilots, it was once said of the United Nations that never have so many done so little for so much. Now the globe’s often lethargic, often confused, often impotent bureaucracy for peace and justice has plunged to a farcical low water mark in its history by appointing Libya the guardian of human rights.
It is hypocrisy rampant.
Libya’s envoy Najat al-Hajjaji is now chairwoman of the UN’s Human Rights Commission because most Western nations were too cowardly to stand alongside the United States in opposing the African bloc’s bewildering support for a country that has led the world in torture and terrorism and turned denial of free speech into an art form.
At an acrimonious meeting in Geneva last Monday, only three of 53 member countries voted against Libya’s nomination as watchdog-in-chief of human decency — Canada and Guatemala joined the US.
African, Asian and Arab states are believed to have voted en masse for Libya, while most Western nations abstained (it was a secret ballot but Australia is thought to have been one of the abstainers). In a case of politics and diplomacy gone haywire, Europe and most of the Western allies ran scared of alienating Africa and upsetting the wider developing world.
The alarming result is that Colonel Muammar Gaddafi’s rogue state now has a platform from which to lecture the world on human rights.
It is so preposterous as to be Monty Pythonesque, Libya being a country in which dissidents are crushed with chilling ruthlessness, where bullets instead of ballots determine political outcomes.
This is the country whose fingerprints were all over the bombing of the Pan Am airliner which fell on Lockerbie, killing 270 people. Human Rights Watch claims long-term detention without trial, extrajudicial and summary executions by state agents, imposition of the death sentence for political offences, and bans on free movement are the hallmarks of Gaddafi’s dictatorship.
It means the UN’s Human Rights Commission now has a world champion violator of human rights calling the shots. So much for its credibility, so much for its authority. So much for the UN’s commitment to fighting terrorism.
An atrocious act in Geneva; Libya as chair of U.N. human-rights panel
The Washington Times, January 22, 2003
By Helle Dale
With everybody’s eyes focused on Iraq, it has pretty much escaped notice that the U.N. Human Rights Commission in Geneva has made another really egregious misstep. On Monday, the 53-member commission chose Libya – yes, Moammar Gadhafi’s Libya – as the chairman of the Human Rights Commission for 2003. This has to be the biggest joke since, well, last year, when Sudan was made a member of the commission while the United States was voted out. A fine moment for human rights it was indeed, and so is this.
At New Year 2003, the United States made it back onto the commission, just in time to raise objections to the developments in the chairmanship about to take place. Before long, the U.S. government was committing an act of unheard-of tactlessness, according to U.N. standards at least; it objected officially to the choice of Libya for the chairmanship and demanded a secret ballot. It is the first time this has happened since 1947, when the commission was founded.
Unfortunately, the ballot resulted in a 33-vote majority for Libya with three countries voting no and 17 abstaining. Given that the chairmanship is normally chosen by acclamation, the U.S. objection is bound to cause a lot of ruffled protocol feathers. We can live with hurt feelings, however. Taking a stand on principle in defense of human rights is certainly worth it.
There is no doubt that this courageous move could expose the Bush administration to criticism at the United Nations at a time when cooperation on Iraq and arms inspections within the U.N. Security Council is of great importance. Don’t be surprised if we hear more complaints about “American unilateralism.”
But how could the choice possibly fall on Libya in the first place, a nasty dictatorship and as unlikely a human-rights champion as ever there was? The fact is that chairmanship of the commission is not settled on the merit of the case, but is chosen on a rotating basis among the world’s five regions.
This summer in Durban, the African Group amazingly voted to make Libya its candidate. In this, Libya may have been rewarded for bankrolling various African causes with its oil wealth. Now, no one objects to Africa taking its due turn at the helm, but couldn’t the Africans have come up with a more suitable candidate?
The chairmanship has now devolved paradoxically enough to a country that is under U.N. sanctions for international terrorism. Libya has not accepted responsibility or paid reparations for the terrorist explosion in 1988 of Pan Am flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland, by two Libyan nationals with ties to the government of Moammar Gadhafi. It will make complete a travesty of the commission’s work.
“Libya’s record as an abuser of human rights is well-known,” said State Department spokesman Richard Boucher on Jan. 13. “It is also a country under U.N. sanctions because it has yet to fulfill the conditions related to the bombing of Pan Am 103. We cannot reward such terrible conduct with a leadership position, in this case in the foremost human rights body.”
Only Canada was outspoken in joining the objections raised by the United States. “We attach the highest of importance to the commission on human rights. We believe its integrity is extremely important,” Canadian Foreign Minister Bill Graham said last week. “We do not believe that Libya as chair at this time would be appropriate in these circumstance.” That is a massive understatement.
The group to which both Canada and the United States belong is known as the WEOG, Western Europe and Others Group. Western Europe, however, was not too keen to register opposition. No one wanted to affront the Africans by opposing Libya, and no one wanted to lose his own place in line for the chairmanship, which rotates in such a neat and orderly fashion. Why rock the boat? Rather than vote no, European countries decided to abstain.
Particularly at a time when the United Nations, and the larger U.N. system, ought to be concerned about their credibility and ability to handle serious international issues, the Commission on Human Rights could hardly have made a worse choice than Libya. [Iraq might be one.]
It would seem reasonable, even imperative, for the commission only to include countries with a solid and proven track record as defenders of human rights. How to achieve that ought to be the Bush administrations next order of business.
The UN gives hypocrisy a bad name
The Jerusalem Post, January 28, 2003 T
If it were not so profoundly sad, it would qualify as the joke of the millennium: Libya has been elected as chairman of the United Nations Commission on Human Rights.
The procedure, of course, was perfectly legal. The chairmanship rotates every year from one global region to the other. This year it was Africa’s turn to nominate the chairman, and it nominated Libya. Only the United States and Canada voted against. To their everlasting shame, seven European countries abstained.
This is a revealing commentary on the moral bankruptcy of the UN. And it comes at an especially delicate time for the organization, which has been challenged by President George W. Bush to show that it takes its own mandatory decisions about Iraq seriously. If not, it may end up in the same ignominious situation as the League of Nations, which proved so impotent in the 1930s when confronted with the aggressive policies of Nazi Germany and Fascist Italy. To have Libya elected just now to chair the UN body responsible for human rights does not add to the legitimacy of the world body.
Libya is a totalitarian, fundamentalist tyranny. Its leader, Muammar Gaddafi, combines erratic behavior with extremist policies, supporting dictators around the globe. He heads one of the world’s most oppressive regimes, where there is no pretense of any sort of elections. Under his rule, Libya has supported terrorist organizations everywhere – from the IRA to various extremist Palestinian groups. It is still under UN sanctions for its role in the downing of the PanAm flight over Lockerbie.
OVER THE decades, the position of the UN as a symbol of the ideas of a peaceful world community has been steadily eroded. It proved utterly unable to stop the wars in the Balkans; and in at least one case – Srebrenica – a Dutch UN peace-keeping force stood by and witnessed the worst massacre in post-1945 Europe, when Bosnian Serbs murdered around 6,000 defenseless Muslim men. A Dutch commission of inquiry subsequently revealed that the UN Dutch battalion was, in fact, implicit in war crimes.
In Rwanda, once the genocide started, the UN official responsible for peace-keeping operations ordered the evacuation of UN forces from the country, and thus left the field open to the bloodiest genocidal massacre since World War II. That UN official’s name was Kofi Annan.
It is a depressing record, which the UN is trying – probably in vain – to rescue by appearing in the Iraq crisis as the voice of international legitimacy. But at a time when UN inspections in Iraq seem to be like sending the Salvation Army to clear out a band of gangsters, raising Libya to head the Commission on Human Rights may go down in the annals of history as the epitome of the failure of an organization which started life after 1945 with so much hope.
Organizations usually don’t die – and certainly there is too much raison d’etat to make sure that the UN will continue to hobble on. But it will be a mere shadow of what it should – and could – be.
It gives hypocrisy a bad name.
Gadhafi’s chairmanship defies reason
Chicago Tribune, January 24, 2003
By Georgie Anne Geyer
Of all the strange things happening in the world today, one of the strangest was the election this week of Libya–yes, Moammar Gadhafi’s bizarre and berserk revolutionary desert kingdom–to the chairmanship of the United Nations Commission on Human Rights in Geneva.
Given Libya’s record on human rights, one has to wonder who comes next? Today, Gadhafi–tomorrow, Saddam Hussein? Or Slobodan Milosevic, released from The Hague to head the world organization? Or perhaps we can bring Uganda’s Idi Amin out of mothballs, from his place of exile in Saudi Arabia.
The U.S. tried to block the appointment by insisting on a vote within the commission, which would have made it the first time since the 1946 formation of the body that the chairmanship had not gone from chairman to heir apparent.
But the U.S. badly lost that prospective vote, which would have been specifically against Gadhafi and his policies. In fact, 33 countries voted for Libya, while the U.S. was backed only by Canada and Guatemala, and 17 countries abstained, including seven members of the European Union who apparently did not want to offend African nations.
Two elements of this saga particularly engrossed me: 1) few of the articles about the new chairmanship detail what horrors Gadhafi has wrought, particularly in West Africa, and 2) there is a way that such travesties of international justice and common sense can be fought, if the United States were to embrace it.
Take the first point. The articles dealing with the new Libyan chairmanship almost all mentioned Gadhafi’s terrorist past. They all mentioned his support of the Irish Republican Army and his apparent responsibility for the 1988 bombing of the Pan Am jet over Lockerbie, Scotland, in which 270 people died. They mentioned that he had been a cash camel for many African states and for the new African Union.
But the most horrendous of Gadhafi’s “accomplishments” were not mentioned in a single article, at least among the many that I saw. His “great revolutionary accomplishment” can be seen in the savage and murderous takeover of virtually all of Western Africa–Sierra Leone, Liberia, potentially Guinea and, today, even the once-exemplary Ivory Coast. Few realize that the murderous leaders of these countries all were trained and inspired in some of Gadhafi’s early revolutionary camps.
When the modest but workable formerly British colonial state of Sierra Leone on the west horn of Africa began to fall to ancient, ruthless savagery in 1991, I wondered, “Why? What happened? Where did these crazy boys, stoned on drugs, often wearing women’s wigs and designer sunglasses, and often forced to kill their parents in order to disembody themselves from society, actually come from?”
We knew that a wild-eyed, hirsute leader and former army corporal named Foday Sankoh had formed the Revolutionary United Front that year. With the mad obedience of his young rebels, he began his campaign of chopping off limbs of the poor people of the country. (This was probably done to drive people out of the diamond mining areas, which Sankoh lusted after.)
But there was another rebel leader like Sankoh, right next door in Liberia. His name was Charles Taylor, and he was an rapacious, American-educated warlord and mass-murderer as brutal as Sankoh. His revolution came earlier, in 1989, and laid down the pattern.
When I first read about these guys, I made some revealing discoveries. What made Sankoh and Taylor brothers under the skin was that both had attended the same school, a Libyan secret-service camp known as al-Mathabh al-Thauriya al-Alamiya, or the World Revolutionary Headquarters. It was in Gadhafi’s salad days of the ’70s and ’80s a kind of finishing university for guerrillas from all over Africa. From there, they moved out to their own countries.
Today, Foday Sankoh, who is nearly mad, is in prison in the country he destroyed; Charles Taylor is still in power in a ravaged Liberia; and guerrillas inspired by the two of them and egged on by divisions between Muslims and Christians, whose hatreds these men fanned, are tearing the once prosperous and idyllic Ivory Coast apart.
Now take the second point. One of the major problems at the UN, exemplified by this human rights chairmanship, is that it has a system of regional blocs, with members rarely overruling a region’s nominee for a top post. It is a system of horse-trading, not bad in general political terms except that in the UN, it often ends up bringing a Gadhafi, who was the choice of the African bloc because of his financial largesse, to positions of absurd public importance.
In fact, studies of voting patterns in the commission show that from 1995 to 2000, most of the world’s most repressive states, including Belarus, North Korea, Laos, Syria, Turkmenistan, Vietnam, Libya and Cuba, all avoided any censure at all. In fact, a recent bipartisan task force of the Council on Foreign Relations and Freedom House found that the United States is “routinely outmatched and outsmarted in the UN by a small but skillful group of repressive regimes.”
But it does not have to be that way. The task force calls for a new American strategy toward the UN, in effect “building a democratic coalition of UN members, to better advance American interests and values with three key goals in mind: building support for democracy and democratic principles throughout the world, advancing human rights and fighting terrorism.”
You may be thinking, “Yes, but isn’t that what the United States has been doing in the UN anyway?” The simple answer is no. To the contrary, the U.S. not only has not engaged actively in changing the UN, but has continued to treat the UN as at worst the enemy, and at best a tool to get what Washington wants.
Despite the presence at the UN of a superb American diplomat, Ambassador John Negroponte, there is still no real effort to transform the world body through the formation of an active and engaged democratic bloc.
But it could be done. Moammar and the mummery of the Human Rights Commission do not need to insult all our humanity.
Daily Mail, January 30, 2003
SOMETIMES, reality can overtake the wildest flights of satire.
First, the UN solemnly elects Libya, run by the demented Muammar Gaddafi (he of Lockerbie, the murder of Yvonne Fletcher and the torture of his own people) to head the Human Rights Commission.
Then that same UN allows Saddam’s Iraq to take over as chairman of wait for it a conference on disarmament.
Just as well King Herod is no longer around. Wouldn’t the UN immediately put him in charge of infant welfare?
Libya hails election to chair of top UN rights body
Agence France Presse — January 20, 2003
TRIPOLI, Jan 20 — Libya hailed as a “shining victory” its election Monday as chairman of the UN Human Rights Commission against stiff opposition from the United States.
“It is a shining victory which gives back their rights to the oppressed peoples,” foreign ministry spokesman Hassuna al-Shawush told AFP.
He said Libya’s election by a clear majority after a vote demanded by Washington shows “historic world recognition that Libya has a clean sheet with regard to human rights.”
Libyan ambassador Najat Al-Hajjaji was supported in a secret ballot by 33 members of the 53-nation UN Human Rights Commission, while three countries voted against and 17 abstained.
Shawush thanked “friendly countries which supported right and rejected pressures, above all Arab, Islamic and European countries, and particularly France, Italy and Britain.”
This year it was Africa’s turn to put forward the commission’s chairman, and Shawush added, “Today is Africa’s day.”
Reacting to the countries that voted against, Libyan leader Moamer Kadhafi’s son, Seif al-Islam, said in a statement that their human rights records were also tainted.
“The records of the United States and Canada contain many holes and human rights violations and their position (towards Libya), is motivated by political considerations,” Seif said in a message to Canadian Foreign Minister Bill Graham obtained by AFP.
He argued that US human rights practices were no better than Libya’s, notably since the September 11, 2001 attacks on New York and Washington.
Being chairman of the rights body imposes on Libya “additional responsibilities and moral duties,” he said.
Breaking the tradition of agreeing on appointments by consensus, the United States had called for a vote to highlight its opposition to the nomination. Washington views Libya as a rogue state which backs terrorism and has a dismal human rights record.
Libya, the sole candidate, was proposed by South Africa on behalf of the African group. Pretoria’s ambassador described the vote called by Washington as “regrettable”, stressing that the traditional method was “tried and tested”.
The New York-based group Human Rights Watch said Friday that “over the past three decades, Libyas human rights record has been appalling,” and added that such governments should not be allowed to “hijack the UN human rights system.”
Richard Boucher, Spokesman U.S. Department of State
Daily Press Briefing Index Wednesday, January 22, 2003 12:45 p.m.
QUESTION: Do you have something to say about Libya’s election to the chairmanship of the UN Human Rights Commission? And do you have any ways of countering whatever they may try to do?
MR. BOUCHER: As you know, on January 20th, Libya was elected by secret ballot. There were 33 countries in favor of Libya’s chairmanship of the UN Human Rights Commission, there were 3 opposed, and there were 17 abstentions.
The United States took the unprecedented step of calling for a vote and we voted against Libya. In our view, for the first time, an unacceptable candidate faced a real challenge and members were asked to face their responsibilities. I would refer you to Ambassador Moley’s statement to the press on Monday. He said, in part, “We took the steps necessary to ensure that there would be a vote on this matter, so that we could leave no doubt about our objection to Libya. Calling for a vote was an unprecedented and historic action…But we cannot have business as usual in what should be the world’s foremost international human rights body.”
As far as what we do next, we continue to look to the members of the Human Rights Commission to live up to their responsibility. We are, indeed, disappointed that Libya will take over this body, but I think we’ve made it clear that Libya, nor any other future candidate, can expect automatic approval of the world. And the members of this body, of the UN Human Rights Commission, need to examine their role, need to examine their conscience. They need to act on that to make sure that the Commission is effective. And we’ll continue to call on members to fulfill that destiny.
QUESTION: Richard, on this — what do you — even if you’re — even if all the people who abstained had voted with you, you still would have lost. But — correct? Thirty-three beats 20, doesn’t it?
MR. BOUCHER: I don’t know that that’s the point.
QUESTION: No. I’m — what I’m — well —
MR. BOUCHER: But go on.
QUESTION: Well, it’s the point for my question, which is, do you have anything to say to these 17 countries that obviously weren’t wholeheartedly in favor of Libya, but neither would they come out and take a stand against it?
MR. BOUCHER: I think we would say, in particular to those who voted for Libya, that this is the Human Rights Commission and that we find it unconscionable that people could find it possible to vote for a serious human rights offender like Libya to chair the Human Rights Commission.
QUESTION: For those who abstained?
MR. BOUCHER: I will reserve any comment on those who abstained since they appear to have reserved their comments. We certainly believe that nations who examined the situation closely and nations who stopped to think about the implications of this would have voted against Libya’s candidacy.
QUESTION: So you’re suggesting that those who abstained did not examine this very closely?
MR. BOUCHER: As I said, whatever their reasons, we don’t think they are justified.
MEPS SAY HUMAN RIGHTS BODY ENFEEBLED BY LIBYAN CHAIR.
European Report, February 1, 2003
European Parliament warns that United Nations Commission on Human Rights’ election of Libya to chair commission is a risk
The European Parliament has warned that the United Nations Commission on Human Rights risks seeing its role weakened thanks to the election of Libya to chair the commission this year. In a resolution adopted in Brussels on January 29, MEPs said the choice of Libya, a country with well documented human rights violations, would turn the UN Commission into a joke.
House condemns selection of Libya to head U.N. Commission on Human Rights
The Associated Press, February 11, 2003
WASHINGTON — The House condemned the selection of Libya, “a gross violator of human rights and state sponsor of terrorism,” to chair the U.N. Commission on Human Rights.
Voting 402-6, the House passed a resolution Tuesday that expressed dismay with the European Union, whose members abstained from the Jan. 20 vote to name Libyan ambassador Najat Al-Hajjaji as commission chairwoman.
US Congress Resolution
S. CON. RES. 13
Condemning the selection of Libya to chair the United Nations
Commission on Human Rights, and for other purposes.
IN THE SENATE OF THE UNITED STATES
March 5, 2003
Mr. Lautenberg (for himself, Mr. Smith, Mr. Kennedy, Mrs. Feinstein,
Mr. Corzine, and Mr. Schumer) submitted the following concurrent
resolution; which was ordered held at the desk
March 6, 2003
Considered, amended, and agreed to
Condemning the selection of Libya to chair the United Nations
Commission on Human Rights, and for other purposes.
Whereas on January 20, 2003, Libya, a gross violator of human rights and State
sponsor of terrorism, was elected to chair the United Nations Commission
on Human Rights (the “Commission”), a body charged with the
responsibility of promoting universal respect for human rights and
fundamental freedoms for all;
Whereas according to the rotation system that governs the selection of the
Executive Board of the Commission, 2003 was designated as the year for
the Africa Group to chair the Commission, and the Africa Group selected
Libya as its candidate;
Whereas South Africa’s Democratic Alliance spokeswoman, Dene Smuts, was quoted
by the British Broadcasting Corporation as saying that the Government of
South Africa’s decision to support the election of Libya was an insult
to human rights and that African countries “should have supported a
candidate of whom all Africans could be proud”;
Whereas Amnesty International has repeatedly documented that the human rights
situation in Libya continues to seriously deteriorate, with systematic
occurrences of gross human rights violations, including the
extrajudicial execution of government opponents and the routine torture,
and occasional resulting death, of political detainees during
Whereas Human Rights Watch recently declared that “[o]ver the past three
decades, Libya’s human rights record has been appalling” and that
“Libya has been a closed country for United Nations and nongovernmental
human rights investigators”;
Whereas Human Rights Watch further asserted that “Libya’s election poses a real
test for the Commission,” observing that “[r]epressive governments
must not be allowed to hijack the United Nations human rights system”;
Whereas the Lawyers Committee for Human Rights urged that “the Government of
Libya should not be entrusted by the United Nations to lead its
international effort to promote human rights around the world”;
Whereas Freedom House declared that “[a] country [such as Libya] with such a
gross record of human rights abuses should not direct the proceedings of
the United Nation’s main human rights monitoring body” because it would
“undermine the United Nation’s moral authority and send a strong and
clear message to fellow rights violators that they are in the clear”;
Whereas on November 13, 2001, a German court convicted a Libyan national for the
1986 bombing of the La Belle disco club in Berlin which killed two
United States servicemen, and the court further declared that there was
clear evidence of responsibility of the Government of Libya for the
Whereas Libya was responsible for the December 21, 1988, explosion of Pan
American World Airways Flight 103 (“Pan Am Flight 103”) en route from
London to New York City that crashed in Lockerbie, Scotland, killing 259
passengers and crew and 11 other people on the ground;
Whereas a French court convicted 6 Libyan government officials in absentia for
the bombing of UTA Flight 772 over Niger in 1989;
Whereas, in response to Libya’s complicity in international terrorism, United
Nations Security Council Resolution 748 of March 31, 1992, imposed an
arms and air embargo on Libya and established a United Nations Security
Council sanctions committee to address measures against Libya;
Whereas United Nations Security Council Resolution 883 of November 11, 1993,
tightened sanctions on Libya, including the freezing of Libyan funds and
financial resources in other countries, and banned the provision to
Libya of equipment for oil refining and transportation;
Whereas United Nations Security Council Resolution 1192 of August 27, 1998,
reaffirmed that the measures set forth in previous resolutions remain in
effect and binding on all Member States, and further expressed the
intention of the United Nations to consider additional measures if the
individuals charged in connection with the bombings of Pan Am Flight 103
and UTA Flight 772 had not promptly arrived or appeared for trial on
those charges in accordance with paragraph (8) of that Resolution;
Whereas in January 2001, a three-judge Scottish court sitting in the Netherlands
found Libyan Abdel Basset al-Megrahi guilty of the bombing of Pan Am
Flight 103, sentenced him to life imprisonment, and said the court
accepted evidence that he was a member of Libya’s Jamahariya Security
Organization, and in March 2002, a five-judge Scottish appeals court
sitting in the Netherlands upheld the conviction;
Whereas United Nations Security Council Resolutions 731, 748, 883, and 1192
demanded that the Government of Libya provide appropriate compensation
to the families of the victims, accept responsibility for the actions of
Libyan officials in the bombing of Pan Am Flight 103, provide a full
accounting of its involvement in that terrorist act, and cease all
support for terrorism;
Whereas Libya remains on the Department of State’s list of state-sponsors of
Whereas the United States found the selection of Libya to chair the Commission
to be an affront to international human rights efforts and, in
particular, to victims of Libya’s repression and Libyan-sponsored
terrorism, and therefore broke with precedent and called for a recorded
vote among Commission members on Libya’s chairmanship;
Whereas Canada and one other country joined the United States in voting against
Libya, with 17 countries abstaining from the recorded vote among
Commission members on Libya’s chairmanship of the Commission;
Whereas the common position of the members of the European Union was to abstain
from the recorded vote on the selection of Libya as chair of the
Whereas 33 countries ignored Libya’s record on human rights and status as a
country subject to United Nations sanctions for the terrorist bombing of
Pan Am Flight 103 and voted for Libya to lead the Commission;
Whereas the majority of the countries that voted for Libya are recipients of
United States foreign aid;
Whereas the selection of Libya to chair the Commission is only the most recent
example of a malaise plaguing the Commission that has called into
question the Commission’s credibility as the membership ranks of the
Commission have swelled in recent years with countries that have a
history of egregious human rights violations;
Whereas the challenge by the United States to the selection of Libya is part of
a broader effort to reform the Commission, reclaim it from the
oppressors, and ensure that it fulfills its mandate;
Whereas on January 20, 2003, Ambassador Kevin Moley, United States Permanent
Representative to the United Nations and Other International
Organizations in Geneva, emphasized that the United States “seek[s] to
actively engage and strengthen the moral authority of the Commission on
Human Rights, so that it once again proves itself a forceful advocate
for those in need of having their human rights protected” and that
“[w]e are convinced that the best way for the Commission to ensure the
ideals of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights over the long-term
is to have a membership comprised of countries with strong human rights
records at home”;
Whereas a majority of the 53 member states of the Commission are participants in
the Community of Democracies and signed the Community of Democracies
Statement on Terrorism (the “Statement on Terrorism”) on November 12,
2002, at the Second Ministerial Conference of the Community of
Democracies held in Seoul, South Korea (the “Seoul Ministerial”),
calling upon democratic nations to work together to uphold the
principles of democracy, freedom, good governance, and accountability in
Whereas the Seoul Ministerial participants declared in the Statement on
Terrorism that they “strongly denounced terrorism as a grave threat to
democratic societies and the values they embrace[,]…reaffirmed that
terrorism constitutes a threat to international peace and security as
well as to humanity in general and indeed to the very foundation on
which democracies are built[,]” and stated that “[t]he most recent
terrorist attacks confirm that international cooperation against
terrorism will remain a long-term effort and requires a sustained
Whereas the United Nations sanctions against Libya, though suspended, remain in
Whereas Libya’s continued status as an international outlaw nation and its
continued unwillingness to accept responsibility for its terrorist
actions provide ample justification for barring Libya from consideration
as a candidate for membership in the United Nations Security Council or
any other United Nations entity or affiliated agency: Now, therefore, be
Resolved by the Senate (the House of Representatives concurring),
(1) strongly condemns the selection of Libya to chair the
United Nations Commission on Human Rights (the “Commission”);
(2) commends the President for the principled position of
the United States in objecting to and calling for a vote on
Libya’s chairmanship of the Commission;
(3) commends countries that joined the United States in
objecting to Libya’s selection as chair of the Commission;
(4) expresses its dismay at the European Union countries’
common position of abstention on the critical vote over Libya’s
(5) expresses its shock and dismay over the support
provided to Libya in its efforts to lead the Commission;
(6) highlights its grave concern over the continuing
efforts of countries violating human rights and terrorist
countries to use international fora–
(A) to legitimize their regimes; and
(B) to continue to act with impunity;
(7) calls on the President to raise United States
objections to such efforts during bilateral and multilateral
discussions and to direct pertinent members of the President’s
Cabinet to do the same;
(8) calls on countries at various stages of democratization
(A) demonstrate their commitment to human rights,
democracy, peace and security; and
(B) support efforts to reform the Commission;
(9) calls on the President to instruct the Secretary of
State to consult with the appropriate congressional committees,
within 60 calendar days after the adoption of this resolution,
regarding the priorities and strategy of the United States for
the 59th session of the Commission on Human Rights and its
strategy and proposals for reform of the Commission;
(10) objects to the continued suspension of United Nations
sanctions against Libya until the Government of Libya–
(A) publicly accepts responsibility for the bombing
of Pan American World Airways Flight 103;
(B) provides appropriate compensation to the
victims of the bombing; and
(C) fully complies with all of the other
requirements of the United Nations sanctions imposed as
a result of Libya’s orchestration of the terrorist
attack on Pan American World Airways Flight 103; and
(11) calls on the Secretary of State to engage Member
States of the United Nations to support efforts to ensure that
states that are gross violators of human rights, sponsors of
terrorist activities, or subjects of United Nations sanctions
are not elected to–
(A) leadership positions in the United Nations
General Assembly; or
(B) membership or leadership positions on the
United Nations Commission on Human Rights, the United
Nations Security Council, or any other United Nations
entity or affiliate.