On Monday, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton will travel to Geneva, Switzerland, to attend the opening of the 16th session of the United Nations Human Rights Council. Her objective: try to coordinate efforts with other nations to address the situation in Libya.
But at the Human Rights Council, Libya is more than a topic of discussion — it’s a member. Moammar Gaddafi’s tyrannical regime was elected to a council seat last May with the support of 155 of the 192 U.N. member states.
Libya’s membership on the council stands as sad tribute to the utter lack of seriousness that elections for membership on the U.N.’s premier human-rights body receive from the member states. Other members in good standing include noted human-rights abusers such as China, Cuba, Russia, and Saudi Arabia. Bahrain, now experiencing unrest of its own, is also a member. These nations have used their position to repeatedly undermine the council’s stated agenda.
Having the council condemn Libya for its actions would be useful, but a stronger signal would be for the U.N. General Assembly to suspend Libya from the Human Rights Council. The U.N. General Assembly resolution creating the Human Rights Council states that “the General Assembly, by a two-thirds majority of the members present and voting, may suspend the rights of membership in the Council of a member of the Council that commits gross and systematic violations of human rights.”
The General Assembly has never exercised its ability to suspend a member. The widespread condemnation of Libya (even the Arab League has suspended the Libyan government) presents a perfect opportunity for the General Assembly to demonstrate a willingness to hold council members to at least a minimal standard of conduct. Condemning Libya while allowing it to remain a member of the council will only underscore that the council and the U.N. are deeply unserious about promoting and protecting human rights.
The Obama administration argued that the U.S. should seek a seat on the Human Rights Council because it would wield more influence in the U.N. over human-rights issues as a member of the council. Here is their opportunity to test that theory and, perhaps, start a long overdue effort to adopt real standards for Human Rights Council membership.
— Brett Schaefer is Jay Kingham Fellow in International Regulatory Affairs in the Heritage Foundation’s Thatcher Center for Freedom.