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UN Human Rights Commission's Annual Meeting Underway in Geneva

The annual meeting of the has opened in Geneva, overshadowed by concerns of war breaking out in Iraq.

The 53-nation U.N. Human Rights Commission annually reviews and condemns rights violations worldwide, but it also does not shy away from debating major news developments, which is why Iraq and possible war there is expected to dominate the proceedings of the Commission.

Human Rights High Commissioner Sergio Vieira de Mello opened the six-week-long session with a warning that too many countries are pursuing policies out of fear, thinking their security will be increased. He told the delegates that true security must be based on proven human rights principles.

"Our fragile world needs guidance," said Sergio Vieira de Mello. "Will we, in the course of this session of the Commission, give that guidance? Or will we let the chaos outside these walls come within? We are all about to be tested."

Mr. Vieira de Mello warned governments against using anti-terrorism measures that limit basic human rights. He also renewed a call for civilians to be protected during conflicts.

The Commission itself has come under fire from rights activists in recent weeks, since Libya was elected in January to chair the proceedings.

The group Reporters Without Borders called the move a sick joke, saying the credibility of the Commission was in question because of Libya's poor rights record.

Though the Libyan diplomat who will chair the Commission, Najat Al-Hajjaji, has pledged to be an impartial overseer of the hearings, her impartiality is already is being questioned. Her opening speech to the Commission contained implicit criticism of the United States for its policy on Iraq and of Israel for its treatment of the Palestinians.

Ms. Hajjaji said she feared a catastrophic war in Iraq that will destroy everything and violate all human rights, especially the right to life. With respect to the Palestinians, she said they are still being humiliated, killed, maimed, and deprived of their right to self-determination.

Many of the delegates at the Commission are calling for a special debate if war on Iraq starts. Although Iraq is not a member of the Commission, the group of non-aligned states and Arab countries are pressing for discussions on Iraq.

U.N. Human Rights Commissioner Serigo Vieira de Mello said he is very worried if war should take place, especially without U.N. backing. He said if that happened, the Commission's atmosphere could be poisoned.