What to Expect at the Human Rights Council Special Meeting On Libya

Secretary Clinton will lead the US Delegation to the Human Rights Council session on Libya. As an indication of the importance to which the Obama administration is attaching this meeting, this will be the first time that a sitting Secretary of State has appeared at the Human Rights Council.  As I noted yesterday, that isn’t the only thing out of the ordinary about this emergency session of the Council–it has attracted a very broad and diverse coalition of supporters (including Israel and Palestine).

So what is on the table?  An early draft resolution that I obtained was a very sharply worded condemnation of the human rights abuses and killings in Libya and called on Libyan forces to desist. The main “action point” was the creation of a independent panel to investigate alleged crimes against humanity and human rights abuses.  Such an action would be significant for the fact that the panel would likely recommend the Security Council give the International Criminal Court jurisdiction in Libya. (Libya is not a member of the court, so any ICC action on Libya requires a vote of the Security Council).

A section “action point” that was not included in my draft, but was apparently inserted this morning by the European Union is a recommendation to boot Libya from the council. Such a move requires the vote of two-thirds of the General Assembly.  Given the broad range of support that this Human Rights Council has already garnered, that seems to be a likely outcome.

So, that’s what’s likely to happen in Geneva tomorrow. But as Elana Berger of the Global Centre for the Responsibility to Protect told me earlier today, it would be a big mistake for the Obama administration and other members of the Security Council to let this Human Rights Council meeting be the culmination of the UN’s involvement on Libya. Rather, the real focus of international efforts at the UN has to be the Security Council.

Tuesday’s Security Council statement was a step forward, but not a leap.  If the international community really wants to show that it is serious about stopping the violence in Libya–and importantly, deterring future violence elsewhere–it needs to declare the situation a threat to international peace and security and spell out consequences for those perpetrating the violence.  The Human Rights Council session will be politically helpful in the sense that it will show that the world is united against the Qadaffi regime. But beyond that (useful) demonstration, there’s not much else it can do.