GENEVA, March 1, 2011– UN Watch, which has led the opposition by rights groups and victims to Libya’s presence on the UN Human Rights Council for the past year, said this afternoon’s vote by the General Assembly — which unanimously suspended the Qaddafi regime — was “better late than never.”
“The election of Libya to the world’s top human rights body last May was a shameful act that bolstered Qaddafi’s regime, demoralized his victims, and stained the reputation of the United Nations,” said Hillel Neuer, executive director of the Geneva-based human rights group.
“The 155 UN member states who just last year decided to make Qaddafi a world judge on human rights—and the others who stood by silently—should now ask forgiveness from all the men and women who were victimized by four decades of extrajudicial killings, brutality, torture, international terrorism, enforced disappearances, arbitrary arrests, and oppression,” said Neuer, who is an international lawyer representing victims of Libyan torture in a complaint before an international tribunal. “This includes the families of the 1,200 detainees killed in Abu Salim Prison in June 1996, and of the 270 victims of the bombing of Pan Am flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland in 1988.”
Neuer noted that other gross and systematic violators of human rights continue to sit on the council, including China, Cuba, and Saudi Arabia. “We call on UN member states to turn over a new leaf in the next elections. The practice of disguising the enemies of human rights as arbiters of international justice must stop.”
Key facts on today’s vote:
- The resolution to suspend Libya was adopted unanimously by the UN General Assembly plenary in New York this afternoon. Click here for the text of the resolution.
- According to the criteria set forth in UNGA Resolution 60/251, which created the Human Rights Council in 2006, countries are supposed to be elected based on their record on the promotion and protection of human rights. Under the rules, a member that commits gross and systematic violations of human rights can be suspended by a two-thirds vote of the GA. Friday’s special session of the Human Rights Council recommended that the GA suspend Libya.
- Although China, Cuba, Venezuela, Nicaragua and others were known to be opposed to today’s resolution, they chose not to stand with Qaddafi while he openly incites to the killing of civilians and commits atrocities. Until last week, the Qaddafi regime had benefited from guaranteed protection by the UN’s dominant voting blocs: the Non-Aligned Movement, the African Group, the Organization of the Islamic Conference and the Arab League. Additionally, no Western state spoke out when Qaddafi was elected to the council in May. Oil, business deals, and strategic considerations were among the factors.
- Today’s resolution immediately suspends Libya’s voting rights at the 47-nation UNHRC in Geneva. Apart from sending a message to the Qaddafi regime—and attempting to salvage the UNHRC’s reputation—the suspension has real implications for the current March session. It could tilt the balance in favor of Western democracies on two fiercely-contested resolutions. The US and the EU were hoping for the first time to defeat the annual UNHRC resolution on “defamation of religion,” which particularly prohibits criticism of Islam. As Hillary Clinton announced yesterday, they also hope for the first time at the UNHRC to pass a resolution that would condemn Iran’s violations and create a special investigator. The absence of Libya could make the difference on both votes.
- Today’s resolution has no precedent. It is the first time in the council’s history that an attempt was made to trigger the Article 8 suspension provision. The 53-nation Commission on Human Rights, the council’s predecessor body, contained no such provision.
- The opposition to Libya’s membership was initiated by UN Watch prior to the May 2010 election, with the support of international human rights groups and victims of the regime. See chronology below.
Chronology: The NGO Campaign to Remove Libya From the UN Human Rights Council
- May 2010: UN Watch leads 37 NGOs in a protest on the eve of Libya’s election to the UNHRC, with a widely covered media event at UN Headquarters in New York, and a mass email campaign. Countries are urged to oppose Qaddafi’s candidacy. Instead, in a secret ballot, the UN elects Libya by a landslide of 155 out of 192 UNGA votes. UN Watch warns on Swiss TV that Qaddafi’s government is a “murderous and racist regime.” Not a single country speaks out against Libya’s candidacy or election.
- September 2010: Libya takes its seat at the council. UN Watch launches a global campaign, supported by 30 NGOs, and victims of Libyan abuses, to remove the Qaddafi regime. To confront the Libyans in the plenary UN Watch brings Bob Monetti, whose 20-year-old son was murdered in Libya’s 1988 bombing of Pan Am flight 103; Mohamed Eljahmi, brother of slain dissident Fathi Eljahmi; Kristyana Valcheva, one of the five Bulgarian nurses who were framed, imprisoned and tortured for eight years on false charges of poisoning children with HIV; and Ashraf El-Hajouj, the Palestinian doctor framed and tortured together with the nurses. The Libyans and their allied regimes rudely interrupt the speakers. The incident and the victims’ appeal to remove Libya is widely covered by dedicated stories in Voice of America and Agence France Presse, and by a cover story in Sweden’s Neo magazine. “The HRC grants legitimacy to ‘murderous’ Gadaffi regime,” reported Radio Netherlands on UN Watch’s campaign. Yet the UN council and its member states stay silent.
- November 2010: When Libya’s abysmal human rights record is addressed under the council’s universal review procedure, UN Watch renews its call for the Qaddafi regime to be removed. The appeal is reported by Germany’s DPA, Swissinfo and elsewhere. Yet the UN council and its member states stay silent.
- February 21, 2011: Working closely with Libyan dissident Mohamed Eljahmi — who sounds the alarm on massive atrocities being committed by the Qaddafi regime — UN Watch spearheads an international appeal by 70 human rights groups to remove Libya. The plea for UN action is covered around the world. Three days later, the EU requests a special session of the Human Rights Council, but fails to contest Libya’s council membership.
- February 25, 2011: The EU amends its draft, and the UN Human Rights Council votes to recommend Libya be suspended from its membership.
UN Watch has been the leading voice at the United Nations challenging Libyan human rights abuses for many years. To see videos, click here.