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Libya Selection as UN Human Rights Chair Condemned by US House - 2003-02-12

The U.S. House of Representatives has approved a resolution condemning the selection last month of Libya to chair the United Nations Commission on Human Rights. The vote was 402 to 6.

Lawmakers in Congress have been angered by two recent developments. On January 20, Libya was appointed to the rotating chairmanship of the U.N. Human Rights Commission. At the same time, Iraq is scheduled to chair the U.N. Conference on Disarmament later this year in Geneva. Both countries are assuming the chairmanships under U.N. rules, but many congressional lawmakers are outraged, saying the developments further erode the credibility of the United Nations.

The House "concurrent" resolution, condemns the selection of Libya, and supports the Bush administration's unsuccessful attempt to challenge it. A concurrent resolution is not legislation and is not sent to the president for signature, but is used to express the views or sentiments of either the House or Senate.

In debate on the House floor, Republican Congresswoman Marilyn Musgrave of Florida called the election of Libya to the commission shameful. "It is shameful and it defies logic for Libya to sit in judgment of any nation on the critical issue of human rights. Libya is widely known to be a sponsor of international terrorism, and an abuser of the most basic human rights," she says. "The American people will never forget that the Libyan terrorists were the ones who hijacked Pan Am Flight 103 and murdered hundreds of innocent passengers."

The resolution is sharply critical of U.N. members that supported the Libyan candidacy, particularly African, Asian and Islamic countries, saying Congress will "hold those countries accountable."

Republican Henry Hyde is chairman of the House International Relations Committee. "I would also call on the president to resist any effort now to lift U.N. sanctions against Libya until that country publicly accepts responsibility for the Pan Am 103 bombing, provides appropriate compensation to the victims, and is otherwise in full compliance with all the requirements of U.N. sanctions," said Mr. Hyde.

Some House Republicans, citing the Libya example, have renewed calls for the United States to withdraw from participation in U.N. bodies such as the human rights commission.

The resolution calls for the United States to renew efforts at the United Nations to ensure that known human rights violators, or countries that support terrorism, will not be elected to U.N. leadership positions.

"It [Libya's election as chairman] shows contempt for the mission and work of the commission, and it only serves to empower and embolden pariah states who are increasing their presence on the commission, and manipulating its agenda in order to legitimize their unacceptable practices," says Florida Republican Congresswoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen.

Democratic Congressman Tom Lantos, a senior member of the House International Relations Committee, called the Libya and Iraq examples "twin outrages." However, he said that while many lawmakers might cite both as reason for the United States to withdraw from such U.N. agencies, the United Nations remains, in his words, "a reality, and to some extent, a necessity."