In a severe blow to its credibility, the United Nations Human Rights Commission has elected Libya to chair this year’s annual session in Geneva. The Libyan government is one of the world’s worst human rights abusers and is also under U-N sanctions for involvement in international terrorism. For these reasons, the United States strongly opposed the choice.
The decision was the result of a secret-ballot election by the commission’s fifty-three members. The U.S. had called for the vote, the first since the commission was established in 1946. Until now, the commission had always made its choice by acclamation. The U.S. was joined by Canada in announcing its vote against Libya. Another country also cast a negative vote, while seventeen abstained.
Kevin Moley, U.S. representative to the U-N in Geneva, said the U.S. called for a vote “so that we could leave no doubt about our objection to Libya. . . . [w]e cannot have business as usual in what should be the world’s foremost international human rights body.”
In Libya, business as usual means serious human rights violations. Libyan dictator Moammar Gadhafi has detained political opponents for years without trial. Security forces torture and mistreat prisoners. The Libyan government restricts freedom of speech, press, assembly, association, and religion. In addition, Libya remains under U-N sanctions because it has not fulfilled the conditions imposed in response to 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.
“A country with this record,” said Ambassador Moley, “does not merit a leadership role in the [United Nations] system.”
Despite the vote on Libya, the U.S. will continue to speak out forcefully as a commission member. As Ambassador Moley said, “It is time to begin rebuilding the U-N Commission on Human Rights into a body that fulfils its original mandate to champion democracy, freedom, and the human rights of all people, bringing scrutiny to bear on the worst offenders.”