There's nothing like a good bit of spring cleaning. So when the General Assembly of the United Nations suspended Libya from the Human Rights Council on March 1, there was a distinct sense of a fresh start. You could almost smell it in the air. Hope at last for the oppressed of the world.
In your dreams. Here is a small sample of some of the world's foulest tyrannies that remain enthroned on the international community's foulest institution: China - ranked "not free" by Freedom House; genocidal rulers of Tibet; millions in labour camps; Amnesty International records a minimum of 7,000 death sentences in 2009 alone. Saudi Arabia - also "not free" according to FH; amputates people's hands and feet; carries out public beheadings; women banned from driving cars but may fly planes as long as they are driven to the airport by a man! Cuba - "not free" according to Freedom House; has executed or otherwise murdered 15-17,000 people since the Castro dictatorship came to power; millions forced into exile. Got it?
Now it is good that Libya is no longer on the UNHRC. The question is, what's so different about the human rights situation now from previously? Let's not forget that, in 2003, Libya was even elected to chair the Council's predecessor, the UN's Commission on Human Rights, by a vote of 33 in favour to just three opposed. Gaddafi was still having people's tongues pulled out in his torture chambers, and there is no evidence that the nature of the regime's approach to human rights has changed one iota from that day to this. What has changed, of course, is that 24/7 television coverage has made it impossible to avoid seeing Gaddafi's hired mercenaries gunning people down in the streets. The UNHRC didn't eject Libya over concern about human rights. They ejected Libya because
it had become an embarrassment and, crucially, because no one could hold Israel responsible for what was going on.
According to Hillel Neuer, Executive Director of UN Watch, 70 per cent of the resolutions adopted by the Council since its inception have been on Israel: "All have been one-sided condemnations that grant impunity to Hamas and Hizbollah, and to their state sponsor, Iran," he told the Committee on Foreign Affairs of the US House of Representatives in January.
But if you thought that was the end of Libya's connection with the UNHRC, you'd be wrong. It transpires that the Office of the UN's High Commissioner for Human Rights has a working group "on the use of mercenaries as a means of violating human rights and impeding the exercise of the right of peoples to self-determination." One of the representatives on that five member working group is a Libyan lady called Najat Al-Hajjaji. You couldn't make it up…