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Libya Wins Leadership of Rights Panel Despite U.S. Opposition
By BARRY JAMES,
International Herald Tribune
PARIS, Jan. 20 - The United Nations Commission on Human Rights, meeting in Geneva, elected Libya to its chairmanship today after the United States demanded and lost a vote.
The United States insisted on a vote, which was the first since the commission was formed in 1946. The chairmanship is usually decided by consensus. It was apparently a move to embarrass Libya's supporters.
But 33 countries voted for Libya. Only three - the United States, Canada and, reports said, Guatemala - voted no. Seventeen countries abstained, including seven members of the European Union. Diplomats said they did not want to offend African nations, whose turn it is under a rotating system to select the new leader.
The vote means Libya will preside over the meeting, from March 17 to April 25, at which the commission will survey the human rights situation around the world.
Libya has been accused of abducting and torturing opponents of its government. It has openly supported violent organizations like the Irish Republican Army, and it is held responsible for the 1988 bombing of a Pan Am jet over Lockerbie, Scotland, in which 270 people died.
The Libyan leader, Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi, has assiduously courted African nations with cash and political influence. He was a driving force behind the formation of the new African Union, even paying off some of the debts of the old Organization of African Unity, its predecessor.
Libya, still not fully free from United Nations penalties that were imposed because of the Lockerbie bombing, was the only country nominated by the African bloc.
The United States insisted on a vote, the State Department spokesman Richard A. Boucher said, because Libya's "terrible conduct" should not be rewarded.
The United States has just rejoined the commission after losing its seat in 2001 in a secret vote of member countries.
The American ambassador to the United Nations in Geneva, Kevin Moley, said he was "deeply disappointed" by the outcome. "A country with this record does not merit a leadership role," he said.
Human rights advocates said the election of a country that has not had a free election since Colonel Qaddafi seized power in 1969 put the credibility of the rights panel at stake.
Earlier, in a statement, Human Rights Watch said Libya's rights record over three decades had been "appalling." Amnesty International also has expressed concern that about 150 opponents of the government who are facing trial in Libya later this month will not receive a fair hearing.
The Libyan representative to the Human Rights Commission, Najat al-Hajjaji, said in a speech after her election that she would rely on the body's collective wisdom and that she would avoid "as far as possible" making decisions on a personal basis.
Larry Cirignano, Esq.
PO Box 70695
Washington, DC 20024