A rare victory for Human Rights

  • post Type / Humanists International News
  • Date / 25 February 2011
On 25 February 2011, at a hastily called special session, the United Nations Human Rights Council unanimously adopted a resolution to seek the suspension on Libya from membership of the Council and to send a team to Libya to investigate and report back on the human rights situation in that vast and unhappy country where the government of Muammar Gaddafi has been using military force against his own unarmed civilian population, killing hundreds.
The outcome of the special session was by no means a foregone conclusion. There had been opposition (or at the very least, lack of support) from many states, especially those whose own human rights records would bear closer scrutiny: Russia, China, Cuba and Pakistan among them, and the wording of the resolution had been hotly debated over the past several days. 
In favour of a strong resolution, however, were the European and North and South American member states, and a handful of the so-called non-aligned.
In the debate itself IHEU along with 11 other NGOs called for the suspension of Libya from the Council since anything less would again raise the severest doubts of the ability of the world’s leading human rights body to deal effectively with even the most flagrant abuses of human rights.
The mood of the meeting was helped considerably when, at the beginning of the afternoon session, the Libyan delegate made a statement renouncing his delegation’s support for the Gaddafi regime, telling the Council that they now represented the “aspirations of the Libyan people”.
So, in the end, good sense prevailed, the resolution was adopted without a vote and the Council was once again hauled back from the brink of self-destruction.
Here is the IHEU statement on Libya delivered by IHEU representative Roy Brown:

International Humanist and Ethical Union

UN HUMAN RIGHTS COUNCIL: 15th Special Session (25 February 2011)

Situation of human rights in the Libyan Arab Jamahiriya

Speaker: IHEU Representative, Roy W Brown

The illegal use of force by Libya

Mr President:

Recent events in North Africa and the Middle East have horrified decent people throughout the world. The use of armed force against peaceful demonstrations is reminiscent of the dictatorships of the 1930s and 1940s.

It was to prevent a repeat of such “barbarous acts which have outraged the conscience of mankind” that the UN created the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) and International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR).  Yet we are now seeing states violating international law and killing their citizens with utter contempt for their human rights.

What should give us particular cause for concern, Mr President, is that this Council has such States, including Libya, among its membership.

The criterion for membership in the Human Rights Council is a state’s “contribution … to the promotion and protection of human rights”, and members must pledge to uphold international standards of human rights.

In light of Libya’s flagrant violation of its citizens’ human rights, we call upon the Council to seek the expulsion of Libya from membership1 until such time as it has pledged itself to honour its obligations under international law. And we ask the Council to urgently consider the most appropriate measures to be taken against any Member State that continues to act in total disregard for the human rights of its citizens.

The Council should be in no doubt, Mr President, that it is faced, yet again, with a test of its ability to deal effectively with the most appalling abuse of human rights.

For the sake of its future reputation and effectiveness, Mr President – and the very future of universal human rights – the Council must now take firm and effective action against Libya.

Thank you, sir.

Note: 1. The Council itself has no power to suspend a member state but must ask the General Assembly to do so.

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