Libya Hijacks the U.N.
The election of Libya -- ruled by Col. Moammar Gadhafi, the dictator best known for his country's links to the 1988 bombing of Pan Am Flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland -- will deal a major blow to the credibility of the U.N. system. In recent years, Libya has jailed and tortured hundreds of peaceful political dissenters. Political trials are held in camera. It is a country that has well documented links to international terrorism. It was for this reason that President Bush recently renewed an economic embargo.
What can possibly explain the fact that Libya stands on the verge of chairing the U.N. Commission on Human Rights? Under the U.N. system of regional blocs, members rarely overrule a region's nominee for a top post. States frequently trade favors and rarely apply objective criteria to the selection process.
So this time it is Africa's turn to chair the commission and, because Gadhafi has been helping bankroll the fledgling African Union, that body has made Libya its choice. More surprisingly, while more than three-fifths of the members of the rights commission are democracies, they do not represent a cohesive bloc and appear at the moment unwilling to challenge the status quo.
A recent study of voting patterns at the Human Rights commission found that from 1995 to 2000 most of the world's most repressive states, including Belarus, China, North Korea, Laos, Pakistan, Syria, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Vietnam and Libya, successfully avoided any censure.
If Libya takes over the leadership of the commission today, the action will embolden dictators like Zimbabwe's Robert Mugabe, whom Gadhafi has staunchly defended, as well as Hugo Chavez, who has proposed Libya as an arbiter for Venezuela's mounting strike and protest movement. The U.N. deserves better.
Secretary General Kofi Annan has been making efforts on behalf of human rights. And the U.N. Development Program last year issued a report that emphasized the links between democracy, transparency and human development, and a report focused on the democracy deficit in the Arab world. Yet such efforts are being undermined by the business-as-usual attitude of member states, including a large number of established democracies. The member states of the European Union will likely abstain in today's vote.
The U.S. State Department has wisely decided to challenge Libya's election and call for an open vote. This first step, in challenging tyrannies, should be followed up with the establishment of a democracy caucus at the U.N. If such a course is taken, the lamentable recent record of the U.N. Commission on Human Rights will be reversed. And the selection of Libya to serve as its head will have become a wake-up call to democracies that it is time to work together to ensure the U.N. reflects the values of its charter.
Adrian Karatnycky is the President of Freedom House.
Freedom House is an independent watchdog organization that supports democratic change, monitors the status of freedom around the world, and advocates for democracy and human rights.