UNITED NATIONS – The U.N. Human Rights Council adopted a European-drafted resolution condemning Moammar Gaddafi‘s government for its bloody crackdown on demonstrators and establishing a U.N. commission of inquiry to probe possible war crimes by Libyan authorities.
The meeting Friday marked the Geneva-based council’s first emergency session to address serious human rights violations by one of its own members. It also provided the first clear sign that the popular uprisings in the Middle East are forcing governments to rethink their traditional alliances with autocratic governments such as Libya’s that are facing existential threats to their rule.
In a sign of the changing times, the Libyan mission to the United Nations in Geneva broke ranks with the government in Tripoli. In an emotional speech before the council, a Libyan diplomat, Adel Shaltut, made it clear that his mission supported the demonstrators.
With other members standing at attention, the Libyan envoy called for a minute of silence “in honor of the revolution of 17 February.”
“The will of people is invincible. Our ancestors fought against the Italian fascist invaders. We are the grandchildren of these heroes. A new chapter is being written in blood,” Shaltut said to applause. “Victory to the heroic people of Libya! I wish to emphasize that we at the Libyan mission serve at the will of the Libyan people; we are their representatives.”
Diplomats said the European sponsors of the resolution had more than 20 co-sponsors, including the United States, Mexico, Jordan, Israel and the Palestinian Authority’s observer mission. European governments, meanwhile, are planning to convene a session of the U.N. General Assembly next week to consider a measure to suspend Libya’s membership in the Human Rights Council.
“This is a unique example of unity of purpose, cutting across regional and political boundaries,” Suzanne Nossel, the U.S. deputy assistant secretary of state for international organizations, said in an e-mail from Geneva. “The Libyan’s comments added a human dimension, reminding delegates that real lives are at stake.”
Before the vote, Eileen Donahoe, the U.S. ambassador to U.N. Human Rights Council, said in a statement that Libya has a “responsibility to protect its population.”
By convening this session on an urgent basis this week, the international community is sending a strong, unified and clear message that the Libyan government’s violations of human rights are clearly contrary to international norms and must end.”
A draft statement – which was obtained by The Washington Post but which was still subject to final negotiations – “strongly condemns the recent gross systematic human rights violations committed in Libya . . . some of which may amount to crimes against humanity.” It also “strongly calls upon the government of Libya to meet its responsibility to protect its population” and “immediately put an end to all human rights violations.”
The statement also demands “an independent, international commission of inquiry . . . to investigate all alleged violations of international human rights law in Libya in connection with the ongoing protests in the country.”
The commission would be instructed to identify, where possible, “those responsible” for the crimes and “make recommendations, in particular, on accountability measures, all with a view to ensuring that those individuals responsible are held accountable.”
While the draft statement does not identify a chief investigator, it calls on the U.N. high commissioner for human rights, Navi Pillay, and the U.N. secretariat to provide administrative support to the team.
The draft statement reflects the international anxiety over the plight of foreign nationals, including U.S. citizens, urging the Libyan authorities to “ensure the safety of all civilians, including citizens of third countries” and to “facilitate the departure of those foreign nationals wishing to leave the country.”
The Geneva debate comes just days after the U.N. Security Council issued a nonbinding statement condemning Libya’s violent crackdown on Libyan protesters. The United States,Britain, France, Germany and other governments are now in negotiations over a binding Chapter 7 resolution that would condemn Libya’s conduct and consider imposing unspecified sanctions on the regime.
In a Security Council session Thursday morning, Britain’s U.N. ambassador, Mark Lyall Grant, appealed to his council partners to consider applying greater pressure on Gaddafi’s government, a council diplomat said. China and Russia said they wanted to first hear more credible information on events on the ground from the U.N. secretariat before considering next steps. But they did not block further action on the matter.