Libya's Conduct in UN Security Council Makes Waves

By Patrick Goodenough | July 7, 2008 | 8:18 PM EDT

( - Four months after Libya assumed a seat on the U.N. Security Council, its conduct in the global organization's top decision-making body continues to stoke controversy.

A day after Libya's deputy envoy compared Israel's actions in the Gaza Strip to those of the Nazis -- sparking a walkout by several ambassadors -- Ibrahim Dabbashi went a step further Thursday, telling reporters that Israel's policies were in fact "worse" than those of the Nazis in their concentration camps.

Israel was bombing Gaza "daily," he claimed, something that never happened in the concentration camps.

Nazi Germany held millions of prisoners in camps in Germany and other territories occupied during World War II, and in a systematic attempt to wipe out Europe's Jewry exterminated some six million. Millions of other victims were killed or died of starvation, disease or other causes.

On Wednesday, U.S. deputy ambassador Alejandro Wolff and other Western envoys walked out of a closed council meeting after Dabbashi first made the remarks equating Gaza with the Nazi camps.

Wolff later told reporters the Libyan's comments were "historically incorrect and morally outrageous."

The council was considering a statement on the situation in Gaza, to which Israel has restricted access since the Islamist group Hamas seized control of the territory last June. Terrorists have launched thousands of rockets at Israeli towns from the strip as well as other attacks against Israeli soldiers and civilians nearby, drawing retaliatory military strikes.

Dabbashi's comments prompted Israel's U.N. ambassador, Dan Gillerman, to question's Libya's credentials to serve on the council, which comprises five permanent members and 10 temporary members without veto powers.

It's not the first time Gillerman has done so since Libya's two-year term began in January.

"This is what happens when the Security Council is infiltrated by terrorists," the Israeli envoy said on March 6, after Libya refused to support a council statement condemning an Arab gunman's killing of eight Israeli seminary students in Jerusalem earlier that day.

Dabbashi at the time had refused to go along with the statement unless it was "balanced" by condemnation of Israeli actions in Gaza. He responded to Gillerman's attack by saying, "We don't need a certificate of good conduct from the Israeli terrorist regime or its representative here."

The previous weekend, Libya had objected to the use in a council statement of the word "terrorism" to describe rocket attacks launched against Israel from Gaza. In January, it blocked moves to adopt a council statement criticizing Sudan for actions in Darfur.

Libya's election to the council by General Assembly vote last October came two months after it was chosen to chair a body preparing for a major U.N. conference on racism, planned for next year.

The government of Muammar Gadaffi has come a long way since it was targeted for U.N. sanctions over the 1988 bombing of Pan Am Flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland, which cost 270 lives.

In 2003, Gadaffi renounced support for terrorism and agreed to abandon his non-conventional weapons programs. The move initiated a gradual improvement in relations with the U.S. and three years later Washington dropped Libya from its list of terror-sponsoring nations and restored diplomatic ties.

But Libya's international rehabilitation has not been all smooth sailing.

Lawmakers led by Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D-N.J.) are continuing efforts to block funds for a new U.S. Embassy in Tripoli until Libya finalizes a compensation settlement for American families of victims of Lockerbie, the 1986 bombing of a Berlin discotheque, and other terror attacks.

Human rights groups also continue to point to Libya's dismal human rights record, particularly its treatment of dissidents and restrictions on political activity and press freedom.

In annual assessments by the democracy watchdog Freedom House, Libya has rated the lowest possible scores for political rights and civil liberties every year since 1972.

At the U.N., Libya last year voted against five key human rights-related resolutions before the General Assembly, according to voting records compiled by the Democracy Coalition Project. The resolutions dealt with Iran, Burma, North Korea, Belarus and a death penalty moratorium (Other U.N. states to vote against all five were China, North Korea, Egypt, Iran, Malaysia, Burma, Oman, Sudan, Syria and Zimbabwe.)

In a recent op-ed published in the New York Daily News, Gillerman argued that clear and enforceable standards were needed for Security Council membership. He noted that the U.N. Charter calls for members to be selected with "due regard" to their contribution "to the maintenance of international peace and security and to the other purposes of the organization."

A spokeswoman for U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon declined to comment, calling Gillerman's argument "a personal opinion from one representative of a member state."

Earlier this year reports emerged that Iran was aiming for a council seat in 2010, when one of two seats earmarked for Asia, and currently held by Vietnam, becomes vacant.

In response, the top Republican on the U.S. House Foreign Affairs Committee, Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.), said that if Iran were to obtain a seat, it would reinforce "the urgency of undertaking either wholesale U.N. reform or developing an alternative to the corrupt U.N. system."

The last time Iran was a member of the council was in 1955-56, more than two decades before the Islamic revolution.

Make media inquiries or request an interview about this article.

Subscribe to the free daily E-Brief.

Send a Letter to the Editor about this article.

Patrick Goodenough
Patrick Goodenough
Spencer Journalism Fellow