News: On January 20, there will be a one-day meeting of the UN Commission on Human Rights (CHR) to select a new chairman. By UN tradition, the chairmanship of the CHR rotates among the five regional groups. Also by tradition, the country nominated by that regional group is approved for the chairmanship by acclamation of the 53 member body. This year is Africa’s turn, and they have chosen Libya. The United States has announced that it will protest by calling for a vote.
Analysis: The United States appears to be the only member of the upcoming CHR not to silently acquiescence to the nomination of a repressive dictatorship to head the Human Rights Commission. Displaying “arrogant unilateralism” and utter disrespect for protocol, the US has decided to break a hallowed UN tradition in order to protest a Libyan chairmanship.
While unprecedented, the US decision to call for a vote is consistent with the UN’s Rules of Procedure: “All elections shall be held by secret ballot, unless, in the absence of any objection, the commission decides to proceed without taking a ballot on an agreed candidate or state.” Yet even a secret ballot may not embolden member-states to object to a state which reportedly countenances slavery and slave-trading within its borders. Libya, or one of its many friends on the CHR, may table a motion to unblind the vote after the fact. If there are more votes for Libya than there are self-respecting countries, perhaps the US will move to unblind the results? And then we might see who voted to bestow the honor of chairing the CHR to a government that denies its citizens any political and civil rights.
A Libyan intelligence agent was convicted in 2001 for the terror attack on Pan Am 103, murdering 271 people including citizens of the following CHR member-states: Argentina, Australia, Belgium, Canada, France, Germany, Great Britain, India, Ireland, Japan, Poland, South Africa, and Sweden. Will any of these countries publicly object to Libya’s candidacy to lead the human rights debate? In 1996 a French court indicted six Libyans with ties to the government (including Qaddafi’s brother-in-law) for the bombing of a French airliner that killed 171 people. Does the Quai d’Orsay have no opinion about the propriety of Libya heading the CHR?
The African group has the right to choose their nominee without interference, but not without criticism. In voting for Libya, some members will argue that they do so out of respect for the African choice. If the African Group had chosen Sudan or Congo – two of the worst human rights disaster areas of the last decades and both members of the Commission – could any diplomat make the same argument with a straight face?
Voting together, a “democracy caucus” of CHR members from Western and Eastern Europe, Latin America (minus Cuba), plus the US, Australia, Canada, Japan, and South Korea could defeat the nomination of Libya. It won’t happen, but the citizens and media of these countries ought to be asking why not.