February 24, 2011 / 8:46 PM / 9 years ago

West pushes plan to remove Libya from UN rights body

* U.N. Council holds emergency session on Friday

* EU, U.S. and Latin Americans want Gaddafi condemned

* Developing countries resisting, say premature

By Robert Evans

GENEVA, Feb 24 (Reuters) - Western and Latin American countries on Thursday pushed to have Libya’s membership of the U.N. Human Rights Council put under challenge when the body holds an emergency meeting on Friday.

But the effort — which falls short of demanding the strife-torn North African country’s suspension from the 47-member council — was strongly resisted by Arab and some Islamic states such as Pakistan as well as by Russia and Cuba.

A revised draft resolution to be put before the council, in much tougher terms than one tabled on Wednesday by the European Union, recommends that the U.N. General Assembly consider suspending Libya from the council.

The draft also condemns “ongoing and systematic violations of human rights by the Libyan authorities” — a reference to what witnesses say have been indiscriminate attacks on civilians and protesters by the forces of leader Muammar Gaddafi.

In Washington, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said the United States — also a member of the council and signatory to the Geneva draft text — supported expelling Libya from the 5-year-old rights body.

But under U.N. rules, only the General Assembly can suspend a council member that commits gross violations of human rights. There is no provision for outright expulsion.

Libya has been swept by protests over the past week that have developed into an uprising against Gaddafi’s 41-year-rule and left at least the east of the major oil producing country in the hands of rebels.

GENERAL ASSEMBLY

Only the General Assembly, where developing countries of the so-called non-aligned movement (NAM) hold a clear majority, can appoint members to the rights council, or suspend them — something it has never done.

Libya became a member of the African group in the council last year, with the support of most NAM members.

In the body, NAM countries — with the exception of Latin American democracies such as Argentina, Chile and Mexico — generally work to shield each other from criticism, which they regard as interference in their internal affairs.

That stance was reflected in what diplomats said were “very difficult negotiations” over the resolution text on Thursday, with Pakistan saying it could create a precedent that could be used in the future against other council members.

The diplomats said the EU resolution, originally drafted by Britain, had been toughened by other countries strongly critical of Gaddafi’s behaviour — and especially by Mexico which had argued for inclusion of the “suspension” references.

It was opposed outright by Saudi Arabia, Algeria and Angola, with Nigeria and China expressing reservations. Diplomats said Russia — whose prime minister, Vladimir Putin, on Thursday warned the West against meddling — also opposing the expulsion move.

But Western diplomats and rights activist groups such as Amnesty International said they believed that a strong resolution would be passed on Friday, despite resistance from members of the bloc which usually commands a majority.

British philosopher Anthony Grayling, who sometimes represents the International Humanist and Ethical Union at the Council, told Reuters the council “will show it is morally bankrupt and useless” if it could not act firmly on Libya. (Editing by Stephanie Nebehay)

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