U.N. Challenged to Take Stand on Libya


Guardian

Breaking with tradition, the United States plans to demand a vote when the U.N. Human Rights Commission chooses a new chairman Monday, determined to show its opposition to the country in line for the position - Libya - and force other nations to take a stand.

Libya is unfit for the prominent post because it has an ``atrocious'' human rights record, said Richard Grenell, spokesman for U.S. Ambassador John Negroponte.

He noted Libya remains under suspended U.N. sanctions stemming from the 1988 bombing of Pan Am Flight 103 over Scotland. Libya is also on the State Department list of countries that support terrorism.

``We should not reward them with a leadership post, especially on human rights,'' he said.

Canada was expected to side with Washington but diplomats said some European members were planning to abstain, worried that too many votes against Libya would poison the atmosphere on the 53-member commission.

It may well be the first time the panel votes on the matter. Usually the chair is chosen by acclamation. While some countries prefer a secret ballot, Grenell said the United States will demand a public vote.

``We want countries to stand up and be counted on whether they will support Libya in the chair. We want to rebuild the credibility of the U.N. Commission on Human Rights because it sorely needs it,'' he said.

Human rights advocates also voiced outrage at Libya's unopposed candidacy.

``Libya's election poses a real test for the commission,'' said Joanna Weschler, the U.N. representative for Human Rights Watch. ``Repressive governments must not be allowed to hijack the U.N. human rights system.''

It's unclear what will happen in the unlikely event Libya is voted down during the meeting Monday in Geneva.

Libya was nominated by African countries, who now hold the presidency of the commission, a rotating position that normally comes with the privilege of picking the chair.

A key position, the chair oversees the commission's annual meeting, set to begin in March. Last year's chair was Poland.

The panel makes recommendations on the protection and promotion of human rights. High on this year's agenda is how the war on terrorism has affected human rights.

In the three decades since Moammar Gadhafi came to power, Libya's human rights record has been appalling, Human Rights Watch said in a statement Friday.

``It has included the abduction, forced disappearance or assassination of political opponents; torture and mistreatment of detainees; and long-term detention without charge or trial or after grossly unfair trails.''

The group said Libya's nomination points out a major flaw of the commission, that there are no criteria members must meet before they are allowed to join.

``This is an opportunity to take a good hard look at the rules that govern the commission,'' said Rory Mungoven, Human Rights Watch director of global advocacy.

Under those rules, the United States suffered an embarrassing defeat when it was excluded from the commission for last year's annual meeting for the first time since its inception in 1947.

The United States accepted observer status and will be back as a full member for this year's meeting.

Libya's U.N. Mission did not return telephone calls or E-mails seeking comment. But in recent months Gadhafi has appeared eager to shake off his pariah image.

Human Rights Watch noted that since its nomination by the African Union, Libya has indicated it would invite international human rights groups, including U.N. investigators, to visit.

Libya also has announced several amnesties for prisoners and declared its intention to review the role of its Peoples' Courts, which allow people with no background in law to be judges.