Libya's long fall from favour in the UN

Tuesday's UN General Assembly consensus decision to suspend Libya from the 47-nation rights body highlighted the country's plummet and marked the second unprecedented action by the global community within days.

NEW YORK // Two years ago, Libya was flying high in world affairs with an impressive diplomatic portfolio including a seat on the UN Security Council, presidency of the world body's General Assembly and chairmanship of the African Union.

This week, the regime of Libya's leader Muammar Qaddafi, received its latest rebuke from the international community by becoming the first country ever to be kicked off the UN's Human Rights Council.

Tuesday's UN General Assembly consensus decision to suspend Libya from the 47-nation rights body highlighted the country's plummet from favour and marked the second unprecedented action by the global community within days.

On Saturday, the Security Council made history when all 15 members voted to refer Libya's crackdown on demonstrators to the International Criminal Court (ICC), as well as slapping sanctions on Col Qaddafi and his cabal.

Libya's ejection from the rights council orchestrated by Lebanon, and co-sponsored by Qatar, Gabon and others, reflected Libya's ostracism by even long-standing allies in the Arab League and the African Union.

"This is a harsh rebuke - but one that Libya's leaders have brought down upon themselves," said the United States envoy to the UN, Susan Rice. "When the only way a leader can cling to power is by grossly and systematically violating his own people's human rights, he has lost any legitimacy to rule."

Col Qaddafi's Libya has had a chequered relationship with the global community since the Bedouin farmer's son led a military coup in 1969 and expelled foreigners as part of the Islamic socialist revolution espoused in his trademark manifesto, The Green Book.

Support for foreign terror and rebel groups put Col Qaddafi at odds with world powers, particularly the US, and links to bombing a passenger jet over Lockerbie, Scotland, in 1988, cemented Libya's reputation as a global pariah.

But Col Qaddafi's decision to turn over the Lockerbie bombers and halt an unconventional weapons programme led to Libya's gradual rehabilitation in world affairs and the lifting of UN sanctions against Tripoli in 2003.

Libya won a rotating seat on the UN Security Council for 2008 and 2009 and, in February of 2009, Col Qaddafi was elected chairman of the African Union - highlighting the eccentric leader's shifting focus from Arab to African politics.

In June of the same year, Ali Abdussalam Treki, Libya's minister for African affairs, was elected president of the UN General Assembly - a ceremonial post that showed a Libyan was an acceptable figurehead for all 192 UN members.

Libya's rehabilitation continued in August with the release of the Lockerbie bomber Abdel Basset al Megrahi from a Scottish jail on grounds of clemency, despite outrage in the US, home to two thirds of the blast's 270 victims.

Col Qaddafi was in a triumphant mood when he made his first speech at UN headquarters the next month, breaching protocol and strutting around the General Assembly chamber to embrace and chat with fellow leaders.

Wearing flowing mud-brown robes, Col Qaddafi even upstaged Barack Obama, the US president, during his first UN visit, delivering a garbled one-hour-and-35-minute speech in which he re-named the Security Council the "Terror Council".

Ejection from the Human Rights Council completed Libya's fall from grace, with Col Qaddafi's brutal repression of a popular uprising to his 41-year rule proving too much for even non-interventionist states like Russia and China to stomach.

To win the three-year stint on the UN's rights council, Libyan diplomats had to negotiate their way through the regional African grouping and convince 155 countries to vote for them in the 192-member General Assembly in May last year.

Gérard Araud, France's envoy to the UN, said the diplomatic backlash against Libya is pivotal in world affairs by showing unanimity of purpose in which diplomats from all countries - including Libya's own rebel foreign missions - have censured Tripoli.

"I think it's quite historical because you have a group of very different countries with very different ideological leanings and belongings, but all of them decided they wanted to suspend Libya," he said. "It's not going to change the situation on the ground ... but we are sending a message to the dictators, they are not entitled to shoot at their own people."