GENEVA, March 10 – U.N. rights chief Navi Pillay today rejected growing calls to fire Ms. Najat Al-Hajjaji, a long-time representative of the Qaddafi regime, from her post as the UN Human Rights Council’s investigator on human rights violations by mercenaries, which many see as a cruel irony.
Objections to the Libyan’s U.N. position originated last week in Morocco’s Au Fait, and spread to Switzerland, Al-Hajjaji’s adopted home, in the Tribune de Geneve, 20minutes, and the Tages Anzeiger, as well as America’s Fox News and other newspapers and blogs.
However, Pillay, the U.N.’s High Commissioner for Human Rights, speaking about Al-Hajjaji today in a discussion forum held on the sidelines of the council’s current session, said, “It is unfair to single her out.”
Pillay described the objections to Al-Hajjaji’s continued tenure — raised by UN Watch, other human rights groups and Libyan victims — as an “attack” on the former Libyan ambassador, which “should be taken seriously.” The U.N. commissioner said that Al-Hajjaji was reportedly “inside Libya” and that “her life may be at risk.” Her office declined, however, to provide any concrete information to support the claim, which was contradicted by Libyan human rights defenders, who expressed greater concern for the regime’s victims.
Pillay’s decision to back the high-level Qaddafi confidante surprised Hillel Neuer, executive director of UN Watch, the Geneva-based human rights group which on Monday called for Al-Hajjaji’s ouster, and which led the cross-regional campaign of 80 rights groups that successfully suspended Libya from the 47-nation council last week.
“Every day that Ms. Al-Hajjaji stays on the U.N. Human Rights Council is a cruel insult to the victims of Qaddafi’s murderous regime, and damages the U.N. and the cause of human rights,” said Neuer.
“At a time when Qaddafi is using mercenaries to kill his own people, it is an outrage that one of his chief propagandists wears a U.N. crown as a global judge of human rights, and, even more morally obscene, as a supposed defender of victims of mercenaries,” said Neuer.
Since 2005, Ms. Al-Hajjaji has served on the council’s 5-person “Working Group on the use of mercenaries as a means of violating human rights.” Click here for UN website, listing Al-Hajjaji at bottom.
“For over three decades, Al-Hajjaji whitewashed the crimes of the Qaddafi regime as a senior propagandist for the dictator’s news agency, and as his representative to U.N. human rights bodies,” said Neuer. In 2003, human rights groups universally condemned her election as Chair of the UN Commission on Human Rights. Al-Hajjaji’s tenure was widely seen as the last straw in the decline of its credibility, with Kofi Annan saying soon afterward that member states had joined to shield their records of abuse.
According to this sympathetic biography (in French) by Abdelaziz Barrouhi from January 2003, Al-Hajjaji began officially championing the Qaddafi regime as the Director of External Relations and Training for the state-controlled Jana news agency, a position she held from 1978 to 1991. Qaddafi, “with whom she has (distant) family ties,” then appointed her to represent Libya at the United Nations in Geneva: as Minister Plenipotentiary (1992-1998), deputy ambassador (1998-2000), and then, from October 2000, as Ambassador and Head of Mission.
In April 2009, when the Al-Hajjaji chaired the planning committee of the UN’s World Conference on Racism, she silenced testimony by a victim of the Qaddafi regime, who was brutally tortured together with five Bulgarian nurses under trumped-up charges of infecting Benghazi children with HIV. (Click here for video.)
On Monday, UN Watch sent letters to UN chief Ban Ki-moon, Pillay, and UNHRC president Sihasak Phuangketkeow, demanding they expel Al-Hajjaji from the Human Rights Council. Letters were also sent to U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and EU foreign minister Catherine Ashton.
The council, which is now in session, has the power to trigger an urgent debate and immediately adopt a resolution removing Al-Hajjaji from her post.
Under their council mandate, Al-Hajjaji and the other monitors are tasked with “facing current and emergent threats posed by mercenaries or mercenary-related activities,” and to monitor their “impact on human rights, particularly on the right of peoples to self-determination.”
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The Campaign to Remove Qaddafi from the UN Human Rights Council
- Nine months after shamefully electing the Qaddafi regime to its Human Rights Council, the UN last week reversed itself and suspended Libya’s membership. Click here for details
- From the moment the Libyan regime declared its candidacy last year, UN Watch initiated the opposition to Qaddafi sitting as a world judge of human rights. Click here for chronology of UN Watch’s tireless campaign.
- In September, when the Libyan regime took its seat, UN Watch launched the campaign for Libya’s suspension from the Geneva-based Council, becoming the first voice to do so. We were supported by 27 human rights groups, a number that surpassed 80 in our renewed NGO appeal of nine days ago.