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US Waging Campaign to Block Libyan Chairmanship of UN Human Rights Group - 2003-01-13

The United States is waging a diplomatic fight to deny Libya the chairmanship of the U.N. Commission on Human Rights. U.S. officials say the government of Muammar Gadhafi is a major abuser of human rights, and that putting it in charge of the commission would undermine the credibility of the U.N. agency. The chairmanship of the 53-member Human Rights Commission rotates among the world's five major geographical regions, and Libya was nominated by the U.N.'s Africa group last year, despite criticism from the United States and human rights groups.

Libya is due to be formally elected at a commission meeting in Geneva, January 20. But State Department spokesman Richard Boucher says the United States is campaigning against Libya, because of its record of human rights abuses and its role in the downing of a U.S. jetliner in 1988, for which it remains under U.N. sanctions.

"Libya's record as an abuser of human rights is well-known. It is also a country under U.N. sanctions, because it has yet to fulfill the conditions related to the bombing of Pan Am [flight] 103.

"We cannot reward such terrible conduct with a leadership position, in this case in the foremost international human rights body. In the past, selection of the chair of the commission has always been handled by acclamation. This year, the United States intends to call for a vote."

U.S. officials hope the exposure of a public vote will discourage some governments from supporting Libya.

The United States is also making direct diplomatic appeals to other member countries of the commission, but a senior official here said the Bush administration is not optimistic that Libya's election can be blocked.

On Monday, the U.S. group, Freedom House, which promotes democracy world-wide, also urged countries to oppose Libya's chairmanship.

In a letter to democratic countries on the U.N. commission, Freedom House said Libya has been cited by the United Nations itself for serious rights abuses, including arbitrary arrests, torture and summary executions.

It said putting Libya in charge of the rights agency would undermine the U.N.'s moral authority, and send a message to other rights violators that they are, quote, "in the clear."

The New York-based group Human Rights Watch has been urging the African group at the United Nations to reconsider its choice of Libya for the chairmanship, saying it violates commitments by key African leaders to promote human rights and good governance.