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Australian to Chair UN Human Rights Commission - 2004-01-19

The United Nations Human Rights Commission has named Australian Ambassador Mike Smith as its chairman for the coming year.

The 53 Commission members chose Ambassador Smith by consensus.

The appointment was in contrast to last year, when the United States strongly objected to the nomination of Libya's Ambassador and called for a vote on her candidacy. Ambassador Najat Al-Hajjaji won the vote and winds up her one year term in March.

The United States at the time cited Libya's role in the 1988 bombing of a U.S. jetliner over Lockerbie, Scotland that killed 270 people. It also described Libya as a well-known abuser of human rights.

The chairmanship of the U.N. commission rotates annually among countries in the world's five major geographic regions.

Twice a year, the commission hears testimony on human rights issues ranging from executions to toxic waste.