When looking at Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi, most point out his eccentricities: his killing team of hand-picked virgin bodyguards, his fear of flying over water, his obsession with a "voluptuous blond" Ukrainian nurse, and his refusal to climb more than 35 steps at a time. But, eccentricity turns to irony with the Gadhafi International Prize for Human Rights – an annual award founded by and named after a man who is not exactly known for his respect for the greater good.
According to its website, the prize is awarded to one of the "international personalities, bodies or organizations that ha[s] distinctively contributed to rendering an outstanding human service and has achieved great actions in defending human rights, protecting the causes of freedom and supporting peace everywhere in the world.” The website does not seem to have been updated since 2005, but it documents the prize’s aims:
- Supporting peaceful struggle for realizing freedom of Man and for the enjoyment of his rights.
Last year, the prize was given to a man with a similarly suspect attitude towards human rights: Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey, a country that has bid for membership into the European Union and its predecessor, the European Economic Community, since 1959. Time and time again, Turkey has been denied because of, among other things, human rights violations.
Before Erdogan, Daniel Ortega, the current president of Nicaragua, took the cake, winning the Gadhafi Prize in 2009. Ortega was accused by his adopted stepdaughter of systematic sexual abuse from 1979, when she was only 11 years old, to 1990. Apparently, that’s what Gadhafi calls “outstanding human service.” The case did not go through Nicaraguan courts, because as a member of Parliament, Ortega has immunity to prosecution.
The prize was established in 1988, and its first recipient was Nelson Mandela – not a choice many would argue with. Gadhafi got off on the right foot, but since then, recipients have included Fidel Castro and Roger Garaudy, a French philosopher and author who has denied the Holocaust in his book The Founding Myths of Modern Israel. He called the Holocaust "the myth of the six million." Gadhafi called him "Europe's greatest philosopher since Plato and Aristotle."
The website claims that a Gadhafi Institute for Human Rights and Liberties is affiliated with the prize, but a quick Internet search shows no mention of the institute.
An “International Peoples Committee,” chaired by the freedom-fighter Ahmed Ben Bella, overseas the prize. Ben Bella was also a recipient of the prize in 2005. In addition to international acclaim, the award includes $250,000 – in cash.
As Tom Kuntz noted in this New York Times piece, the United Nations Human Rights Council produced a draft report on Libya in January, only weeks before the unrest brought to light Gadhafi’s many human rights violations. The report included praise of Libya's protection of human rights from Algeria, Qatar, Syria, North Korea (North Korea?!), Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, Tunisia, Venezuela, Cuba, Eygpt, Iran and Myanmar. Well, if North Korea and Iran approve…
All sarcasm aside, how did the U.N. allow countries with, at best, shaky human rights records to judge Libya’s human rights status? The U.N. General Assembly suspended Libya from the Human Rights Council in light of recent events, but what about other members of the Council - countries that are perhaps not under the microscope of the international press, but still commit grave human rights violations? Why are they assessing the human rights situations of the 192 member states? When an individual or an organization brings a complaint of a human rights violation to the council, do you really want Cuba or Pakistan weighing in?
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