Many newspapers over the past few weeks have reported on Libya’s hostile measures against Switzerland and its citizens. Few, though, have noted the irony of it all, a part of which relates to the United Nations.
The conflict began after Hannibal, the youngest son of Libyan dictator Col. Muammar Qaddafi, and his wife Aline were arrested by Geneva police in their luxury hotel, which is situated next to the UN human rights office. Two of their servants, a Moroccan man and a Tunisian woman, had complained of being beaten with a belt and coat hanger, causing hotel staff to call in the authorities. (The desert despot’s 32-year-old son has a long record of violent run-ins with the law across European capitals.)
The couple were charged with assault. Hannibal spent two evenings in detention while his wife, who came to Geneva to give birth, was transferred to a maternity unit. Released on $500,000 bail, they flew back to Libya escorted by doctors from Geneva’s main hospital.
Retaliation was swift. Aisha Qadaffi, sister of the accused, warned that her country would respond on the principle of “an eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth.” The Brother Leader and Guide of the Revolution halted all oil shipments to the Helvetic confederation. Swiss companies in Libya, including Nestlé, were shut down or padlocked, and diplomats sent packing. Two Swiss nationals were seized as hostages. “Spontaneous” demonstrations against the Swiss aggressor erupted in the capital.
The outrage has ebbed, but the crisis remains. Today’s Tribune de Geneve reports that Foreign Minster Micheline Calmy-Rey may head on a special mission to Libya. Which bring us to the irony of it all.
Of all Western democracies, the current Swiss government must be the last to ever have imagined being targeted by mad Middle East dictators, who have always felt so at home at Geneva’s hotels, boutiques and banks — so much so, that their spoiled progeny jet over to have their babies born there.
Some say Foreign Minister Calmy-Rey stumbled in her early handling of the current crisis. No wonder. She must have been in a state of shock.
After all, was it not she who, to seal a $28 billion gas deal, recently visited with Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, at a time when no other self-respecting democratic leader would do the same? Did she not go the extra mile to pose smilingly with the world’s most dangerous fomentor of racist hatred, even donning the Islamic headscarf, for added measure? Did she not keep silent over the brutal human rights situation in Iran, despite being asked to speak out by Shirin Ebadi, the renowned women’s rights advocate?
But it’s more.
The current Swiss government has always profited from special ties with Qaddafi – the extent to which the current episode has highlighted as never before. It turns out that half of Switzerland’s oil comes from Libya. That Libyan company Tamoil owns one of Switzerland’s two oil refineries and runs 320 filling stations in the country. The Libyans also threatened to withdraw their assets from Swiss banks. And how much is that? Some $6 billion.
But it’s more, more than just oil, investments and trade. It’s political and moral support. In the past year, Calmy-Rey and her diplomats worldwide waged a massive campaign to elect her Geneva friend Jean Ziegler — the 1989 co-founder of the “Muammar Qaddafi Human Rights Prize” — as a senior adviser to the UN Human Rights Council. When the vote was won, Swiss UN ambassador Blaise Godet literally embraced his colleague from Cuba’s Castro regime, Ziegler’s other favorite government, thereby revealing another unholy alliance.
This week in Geneva the council’s advisors feted Ziegler at their inaugural session, while choosing as their chair the Cuban Alfonso Martinez — whose long record on a predecessor UN body included killing a resolution for the Kurdish victims gassed by Saddam in Halabja. When the current stand-off was ignited in July, Swiss newspaper Le Matin suggested Ziegler as a natural mediator. “I think Qaddafi appreciates me as a writer and intellectual, because he reads my books which are translated into Arabic in Cairo,” Ziegler told the newspaper. “There is a relationship of mutual respect and listening between us,” said Ziegler, from his place of vacation in Calabria, Italy.
However, the newspaper noted, “the sociologist categorically refuses to comment on the current crisis between Switzerland and Libya.” Nor did Ziegler ever say a word — or lift a finger – over all the years that the Bulgarian nurses and Palestinian doctor were cruelly held hostage in Libyan jails.
Durban II: Libya Pledges to Confront “New Form of Racism Related to Maids”
Perhaps the greatest unspoken irony is that of Libya’s role. The country currently chairs the planning of the April 2009 Durban Review Conference, the UN’s next world conference against racism and intolerance. In advance of an African preparatory session later this month, Libya has just submitted a UN questionnaire on its policies and practices.
Here we learn that the sixth principle of Qaddafi’s Green Charter “defines Libya’s society of non-discrimination.” And that the penal code “does not discriminate between local or foreign workers in Libya.” And that Article 420 prohibits “all forms of slavery” and “forced labor.” Finally, “Libya does not only not practice racism but we combat the practice of regimes against the African people.” How? By confronting — get this — a “new form of racism related to house helpers (maids).” No less.
Yes, over the next year the world shall look to the Guide of the Revolution to guide us all on how to treat foreigners, how to practice tolerance, and — as its most shining example — how to treat house helpers and maids.
Meanwhile, in Libya, the mother of the abused Moroccan servant has been thrown into jail, and his brother forced into hiding.
Eventually, a deal will be struck, Calmy-Rey will kowtow before Qaddafi, the criminal case will be closed. Hannibal will then be free to return to his beloved Lake Geneva playground.
As Libya’s leading expert on how to address what it calls a new form of racism — how to treat house helpers — why not have Hannibal Qaddafi take the place of the current Libyan represenative and personally head the UN’s Durban II process? More than anyone, he will appreciate the job’s diplomatic immunity.