February 23, 2011 / 4:27 PM / 8 years ago

Split UN rights council may scupper Libya inquiry

* Council to meet Friday, little support from Africa, Asia

* Draft resolution seeks United Nations investigation

By Robert Evans

GENEVA, Feb 23 (Reuters) - The U.N. Human Rights Council will hold an urgent session on Libya this Friday at the request of Western and Latin American nations, who are pushing for an international investigation into the killings of protesters.

But with a majority of Asian and African nations — backed by Russia, China and Cuba — declining to support a draft resolution, diplomats said it was likely to be heavily watered down and perhaps not passed at all at the emergency meeting.

A text tabled at the 47-nation Council condemns “extremely grave” rights violations as forces loyal to Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi moved to crush a revolt against his 41-year rule over the past week.

One activist group, U.N. Watch, immediately dismissed the draft for failing to single-out Gaddafi or his security forces directly or demand Libya’s expulsion from the Council, to which it was elected by African countries last year.

Another group, the International Humanist and Ethical Union, said the five-year-old body, set up to defend and promote human rights around the world, was now facing “after many failures, a final test of its relevance and credibility”.

The European Union gathered signatures to the draft from only 21 Council members — the United States, European countries and five Latin American nations including Argentina and Brazil.

BREAK IN BLOC

The only sign of a break in the normally solid bloc of Islamic, African and Asian states which — with Russian, Chinese and Cuban support — effectively controls the Council came with Jordan, Qatar, Senegal and the Maldives backing the draft.

But diplomats said this would not be enough to prevent the majority — who work to shield each other from public criticism on their rights performance — from blocking any meaningful action by the Council.

Echoing an appeal on Tuesday from U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay, the draft would have the Council establish “an independent, impartial and credible U.N.-led international investigation” into rights violations in Libya.

But its wording fell far short of the bluntness of the statement from Pillay, who condemned “the callousness with which the Libyan authorities and their hired guns” were firing on peaceful protesters.

It nowhere named Gaddafi, who in a televised speech on Tuesday vowed he would stay put, root out the “rats” as he dubbed protesters and have them executed, nor directly implicated his security forces in the violence.

Diplomats said the text was the result of a compromise aimed at winning over some bloc members alarmed at Gaddafi’s behaviour and perhaps getting it through the Council.

A similar effort by Western countries in the U.N. Security Council in New York on Tuesday ran up against Russian and Chinese reluctance to condemn the Libyan leader outright and simply called for an end to violence. (Editing by Louise Ireland and Laura MacInnis)

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