Fallout for Libyan Diplomats (and a Simple Solution)

by Brett D. Schaefer

The Libyan crisis has raised a fascinating diplomatic quandary. Both the United States and the United Nations have received faxed letters from Libyan foreign minister Musa Kusa informing them that Ali Aujali, Libya’s top representative in Washington, and Mohamed Shalgham and Ibrahim Dabbashi, Libya’s top diplomats in Turtle Bay, should no longer be recognized as representing the Libyan government. (These individuals have turned on the Qaddafi regime.)

Thus far the State Department and the U.N. have responded with the international-relations equivalent of plugging your ears while chanting “Na, na, na, can’t hear you.”

According to the State Department, “We received the fax but we have not been able to verify its authenticity. Normally the fax is followed by a diplomatic note, which has not occurred.” State’s attempts to contact Kusa for verification have, apparently, failed. But this effort raises the basic question of why the U.S. is even wrestling with how to verify communications from a government whose leader President Obama says has “lost legitimacy.” Why doesn’t the administration neatly resolve this issue — and send an unmistakable diplomatic message — by formally breaking diplomatic relations and refusing to recognize the Libyan government?

As for the U.N., a spokesman there stated, “We have formally received the request from the Government of Libya and are studying it. That’s where we stand. While that happens, the existing officials remain in their current positions.” According to an anonymous U.N. secretariat official, “Even though we’d have to hold our nose, the principle [that recognized governments have the right to assign their representatives to the organization] is bigger than this one case.”

It is interesting that the U.N. would point to principles to justify such an action. After all, the Security Council recently passed a resolution expressing

grave concern at the situation in the Libyan Arab Jamahiriya and condemning the violence and use of force against civilians . . . the gross and systematic violation of human rights, including the repression of peaceful demonstrators, expressing deep concern at the deaths of civilians, and rejecting unequivocally the incitement to hostility and violence against the civilian population made from the highest level of the Libyan government.

The statement of the Security Council clearly indicates that Libya is not acting consistently with the principles of the U.N.

Luckily the U.N. Charter provides recourse for when a member state violates the U.N. Charter. Chapter II, Article 5 states:

A Member of the United Nations against which preventive or enforcement action has been taken by the Security Council may be suspended from the exercise of the rights and privileges of membership by the General Assembly upon the recommendation of the Security Council. The exercise of these rights and privileges may be restored by the Security Council.

Article 6 states:

A Member of the United Nations which has persistently violated the Principles contained in the present Charter may be expelled from the Organization by the General Assembly upon the recommendation of the Security Council.

If Libya is expelled or suspended, the U.N. would not have to act on the instructions of Libyan government because it would have no rights or privileges in the organization. Diplomatic problem solved.

It would also, perhaps, rekindle a long-ignored sense of responsibility in the U.N., which has never expelled a member state despite some truly monstrous behavior over the past six decades. The General Assembly has already taken the unprecedented step of suspending Libya from the Human Rights Council. Would be too much to ask the U.N. to actually observe and enforce its founding principles by suspending Libya’s “rights and privileges of membership” or expelling Libya until it has a government prepared to abide by those principles?

— Brett Schaefer is the Jay Kingham Fellow in International Regulatory Affairs at the Heritage Foundation.

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