Next week, the United Nations Human Rights Commission begins its annual meeting in Geneva. The first order of business will be choosing a chairman. By tradition, the chairmanship of the fifty-three-nation commission rotates yearly among the U-N’s five major geographic regions. It is Africa’s turn this year, and members of the African regional group have indicated a preference for Libya.
The United States will vote against Libya and hopes that other countries will do so as well.
The reasons should be obvious. Libya’s record as an abuser of human rights is well known. These abuses include suppressing opposition to longtime dictator Moammar Gadhafi. Libyan security forces arbitrarily arrest and torture people. Political prisoners are held for years without charge. Libyans do not have the right to be secure in their homes or persons, or to own private property. And the Libyan government restricts freedom of speech, press, assembly, association, and religion.
In addition, Libya is a country under U-N sanctions because it has yet to fulfill the conditions imposed as a result of its involvement in the 1988 bombing of a U.S. airliner, Pan Am 103. Two-hundred seventy people died in that act of Libyan terrorism. As U.S. State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said, “We cannot reward such terrible conduct with a leadership position, in this case, in the foremost international human rights body.”
Some question whether the U-N Human Rights Commission will be able to fulfill its mandate to challenge human rights abusers around the world and ensure that the principles of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights are upheld. A significant number of the fifty-three commission members are themselves human rights abusers. Besides Libya, these countries include China, Cuba, Sudan, Syria, Vietnam, and Zimbabwe. Clearly, making one of those abusers chairman will raise serious questions about the commission.