The 192 U.N. member nations suspended Libya on Tuesday from the U.N. Human Rights Council in the latest international effort to halt the Gadhafi regime’s violent crackdown on protesters.
The General Assembly voted by consensus on the council’s recommendation to suspend Libya’s membership on the U.N’s top human rights body for committing “gross and systematic violations of human rights.” General Assembly President Joseph Deiss called for the vote and signalled its adoption by consensus by banging his wooden gavel.
The resolution sponsored by Arab and African states also expressed “deep concern” about the human rights situation in Libya.
It is the first time any country has been suspended from the 47-member council since it was formed in 2006. Based in Geneva, the council is charged with strengthening the promotion and protection of human rights around the globe.
Libya’s suspension from the rights body comes after the U.N. Security Council and United States’ imposition of sanctions on Moammar Gadhafi, his family and top associates, and the Arab League, the African Union and the Organization of Islamic Conference’s condemnation of Libya’s deadly attacks on civilians.
There have been no moves by the U.N. to create a no-fly zone, and the idea has been rejected by Russia. But British Foreign Minister William Hague said Tuesday that his country and its allies could seek a no-fly zone without a U.N. mandate.
Tuesday’s vote suspending Libya from the council does not permanently remove it from the body, but prevents it from participation until the General Assembly determines whether to restore the country to full status.
At a gathering of the U.N. Human Rights Council before last week’s vote there, Libyan diplomats to the U.N. in Geneva were given a standing ovation as they announced they were renouncing Gadhafi’s government. They, like Libyan diplomats to the U.N. in New York, have supported the U.N. moves against the government.
In other U.N. action, the 15-member Security Council slapped an arms embargo, a travel ban and assets freeze on Gadhafi, his family and top associates during an emergency weekend meeting. It also agreed to refer the case to the International Criminal Court at The Hague — a permanent war crimes tribunal — to investigate and prosecute possible crimes against humanity.
U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon told the General Assembly before its Tuesday action the collective acts send a strong message that “that there is no impunity, that those who commit crimes against humanity will be punished.”
Libyan authorities must end the violence and respect the human rights and aspirations of their people, said Ban. “The transition to a new democratic system of governance should start now,” he said.
Suspension of Libya from the rights council was heartily supported by the United States, which has imposed its own sanctions on the Gadhafi government.
U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said: “The General Assembly today has made it clear that governments that turn their guns on their own people have no place on the Human Rights Council.”
“The international community is speaking with one voice and our message is unmistakable: these violations of universal rights are unacceptable and will not be tolerated,” she said in a statement released by the U.S. State Department.
Venezuelan Ambassador Jorge Valero expressed reservations about the vote, saying “a decision such as this one could only take place after a genuine investigation.” Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez has said he would not condemn “my friend” Gadhafi.
Peggy Hicks, global advocacy director for Human Rights Watch, said the vote raises the question of how Libya got on the council in the first place.
Libya was among seven countries accused of human rights violations, including Angola and Malaysia, that won three-year council seats last year when running on uncontested regional slates.
Candidates for membership are proposed by regional groups, which often submit only enough candidates to fill their seats. By failing to provide competitive options, such uncontested candidate nations are virtually assured approval — despite their human rights records.
“It’s time for the General Assembly to take seriously the standards it set for membership on the Human Rights Council, and apply them to countries seeking to join the body in the future,” Hicks said.
Israeli Ambassador Meron Reuben said after the vote was a “wake-up call” about how Human Rights Council members are chosen. “Libya under its current notorious regime should never have been elected to sit as a member in the Human Rights Council,” he said.
In Geneva earlier Tuesday, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov ruled out the idea of creating a no-fly zone over Libya, saying such a move would be “superfluous” should instead focus on full use of U.N. Security Council sanctions.
Leaders in the U.S., Europe and Australia have suggested the military tactic — used successfully in Iraq and Bosnia — to prevent Gadhafi from bombing his own people. But Russia’s consent is required as a veto-wielding Security Council permanent member.
However, said Britain and its allies could seek to impose a no-fly zone in Libya without a U.N. mandate.
Hague told BBC television on Tuesday that while “ideally” such an action would be sanctioned by a Security Council resolution, it wasn’t essential. The no-fly zones operated over Saddam Hussein’s Iraq by the U.S. and Britain did not receive such U.N. approval, while the one over Bosnia did.
Russian NATO ambassador Dmitry Rogozin cautioned against moving militarily against Libya without U.N. authorization.
“If someone in Washington is seeking a blitzkrieg in Libya, it is a serious mistake because any use of military force outside the NATO responsibility zone will be considered a violation of international law,” Rogozin told Russia’s Interfax news agency in Brussels.
John Heilprin contributed to this report from Geneva.