A unanimous precedent

We had a feeling last fall that the U.S. Ambassador to the Human Rights Council had not come to Geneva for a walk-on part. In fact, she made that pretty clear in our second edition, November / December.

With the Libyan situation, observers noted the changes taking place within an institution that once resembled the deathward of difficult cases. Never in the memory of diplomats has the Human Rights Council experienced such drama as during the session of February 25, 2011 devoted to Libya. By agreeing, for once, to act in an emergency situation at the request of both Member and non-member States, the council showed courage.

As usual, the eternally helpless stood out –China, Cuba, Pakistan, Russia, to name only the most skillful at inaction. The Chinese delegate, Wang Qun, expressed his hopes that social stability and normal life would resume as quickly as possible in Libya. He insisted that a domestic solution be found, that it would be unreasonable to set a precedent by suspending a Council member. Cuba expressed the same revulsion. The Russian delegate, Valery Loschinin, insisted: “In any case, this issue (suspension) does not constitute a precedent.” Italy and Cyprus also did their part to avoid suspension.

At this 15th special session, UN High Commissioner of Human Rights Navi Pillay opened the debate. Over 33 delegates from States or groups of States spoke, as well as 15 delegates from observer countries. One hundred statements followed.

The highlight of this first special session was the arrival, in the afternoon, of the Second Secretary of the Libyan Mission. The Libyan delegate’s chair had remained empty all morning. “We at the Libyan Mission have decided unequivocally to represent the people as a whole,” said the Second Secretary, dissociating himself from Colonel Gadhafi and adding his name to the list of defecting Libyan diplomats.

In the late afternoon of Friday, February 25, 2011, the adoption of the resolution by which the Human Rights Council recommends that the UN General Assembly, “in view of the gross and systematic violations of human rights by the Libyan authorities, consider the suspension of the rights of Libya to sit on the Council” is truly the first adult action of this institution. It is almost as if Secretary of State Hillary Clinton had decided to make the trip to Geneva on February 28 in order to give the event an historic seal. The appearance of Joseph Deiss, President of the United Nations General Assembly, at the same time and for the same reason, is no less symbolic.

It will also be the first special session dedicated to human rights in a Council Member State.