UN suspends Libya from rights council

AP News
Posted: Mar 02, 2011 10:47 AM
UN suspends Libya from rights council

The U.N. General Assembly suspended Libya from its top human rights body as governments worldwide pressured Moammar Gadhafi to halt the deadly crackdown on his people.

The 192 U.N. member nations voted by consensus on the council's recommendation to suspend Libya's membership on the U.N's top human rights body for committing "gross and systematic violations of human rights." General Assembly President Joseph Deiss called for the vote and signaled its adoption by consensus by banging his wooden gavel.

The resolution sponsored by Arab and African states also expressed "deep concern" about the human rights situation in Libya.

It is the first time any country has been suspended from the 47-member council since it was formed in 2006. Based in Geneva, the council is charged with strengthening the promotion and protection of human rights around the globe.

Libya's suspension from the rights body comes after the U.N. Security Council and United States' imposition of sanctions on Moammar Gadhafi, his family and top associates, and the Arab League, the African Union and the Organization of Islamic Conference's condemnation of Libya's deadly attacks on civilians.

There have been no moves by the U.N. to create a no-fly zone, and the idea has been rejected by Russia, which has a veto-wielding permanent seat on the Security Council. But British Foreign Minister William Hague said Tuesday that his country and its allies could seek a no-fly zone without a U.N. mandate.

While NATO countries are mulling the idea of such a zone to prevent Gadhafi's forces from carrying out air strikes against opponents, Germany warned Wednesday against playing into charges that the West is meddling in Arab affairs. "I would advise that we conduct the debate ... about military options with all the appropriate caution and reserve," Germany's Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle said Wednesday in Berlin.

Canada announced on Tuesday it had frozen 2.3 billion Canadian dollars ($2.4 billion) in assets belonging to Gadhafi's regime. The government did not detail the assets.

Canada is also sending a warship to the Libyan coast, adding to an international military buildup in the region.

Tuesday's vote suspending Libya from the council does not permanently remove it from the body, but prevents it from participation until the General Assembly determines whether to restore the country to full status.

At a gathering of the U.N. Human Rights Council before last week's vote there, Libyan diplomats to the U.N. in Geneva were given a standing ovation as they announced they were renouncing Gadhafi's government. They, like Libyan diplomats to the U.N. in New York, have supported the U.N. moves against the government.

Libya's deputy U.N. ambassador Ibrahim Dabbashi said Tuesday that Gadhafi is trying to replace him and Ambassador Mohamed Shalgham because they have both called for an end to his regime. Although Dabbashi told The Associated Press that "certainly it will not be accepted by the United Nations," U.N. diplomats say it could be complicated because, from a legal and protocol standpoint, the Gadhafi government is still accredited to the United Nations.

In Washington, U.S. State Department lawyers are reviewing a Libyan government document that purports to fire Ambassador Ali Aujali as its envoy to Washington and replace him with a Gadhafi loyalist. U.S. officials said Tuesday that until the review is complete, the Obama administration will recognize Aujali, who has sided with Gadhafi opponents.

In other U.N. action, the 15-member Security Council slapped an arms embargo, a travel ban and assets freeze on Gadhafi, his family and top associates during an emergency weekend meeting. It also agreed to refer the case to the International Criminal Court at The Hague _ a permanent war crimes tribunal _ to investigate and prosecute possible crimes against humanity.

In an unprecedentedly swift reaction, prosecutors at the tribunal known as the ICC said Wednesday they will open a formal investigation into possible crimes against humanity in Libya.

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon told the General Assembly before its Tuesday action the collective actions send a strong message that "that there is no impunity, that those who commit crimes against humanity will be punished."

Ban said that within a week he would appoint a special envoy to work closely with regional governments and the international community to coordinate our rapid and effective response.

Suspension of Libya from the rights council was cheered by the United States, which has imposed its own sanctions on the Gadhafi government.

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said: "The General Assembly today has made it clear that governments that turn their guns on their own people have no place on the Human Rights Council."

"The international community is speaking with one voice and our message is unmistakable: these violations of universal rights are unacceptable and will not be tolerated," she said in a statement released by the U.S. State Department.

Venezuelan Ambassador Jorge Valero expressed reservations about the vote, saying "a decision such as this one could only take place after a genuine investigation." Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez has said he would not condemn "my friend" Gadhafi.

Peggy Hicks, global advocacy director for Human Rights Watch, said the vote raises the question of how Libya got on the council in the first place.

Libya was among seven countries accused of human rights violations, including Angola and Malaysia, that won three-year council seats last year when running on uncontested regional slates.

Candidates for membership are proposed by regional groups, which often submit only enough candidates to fill their seats. By failing to provide competitive options, such uncontested candidate nations are virtually assured approval _ despite their human rights records.

"It's time for the General Assembly to take seriously the standards it set for membership on the Human Rights Council, and apply them to countries seeking to join the body in the future," Hicks said.

Israeli Ambassador Meron Reuben said after the vote was a "wake-up call" about how Human Rights Council members are chosen. "Libya under its current notorious regime should never have been elected to sit as a member in the Human Rights Council," he said.


Mike Corder at The Hague, Slobodon Lekic in Brussels, Edith M. Lederer at the United Nations, and Matthew Lee in Washington contributed to this report.