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Delegates to UN Human Rights Panel Criticize Choice of Libya to Lead Commission - 2003-03-18

The United States and other countries have strongly criticized the choice of Libya to lead the U.N. Human Rights Commission.

Rights advocates were expecting to hear U.S. condemnation of Iraq, Iran, and China for alleged abuses, but Ms. Kirkpatrick neither criticized any country nor gave any indication of specific U.S. priorities for the human-rights commission hearings, which lasts six-weeks.

In her speech, Ms. Kirkpatrick, urged the commission to keep constantly in mind the suffering and the aspiration of victims of rights abuses.

"It is clear that human rights must be protected by the rule of law or they will be trampled by despots," Ms. Kirkpatrick said. "Once it was believed that respect for the rule of law could exist only in homogenous societies, but we know now that it can thrive in diversity."

Though Ms. Kirkpatrick did not mention specific countries in her remarks, other diplomats in the U.S. delegation say discussions of the human-rights situations in Cuba, Iraq, North Korea, Zimbabwe, and Sudan figure high on the U.S. agenda.

In a speech before Ms. Kirkpatrick spoke, the head of the Organization of the Islamic Conference, Abdelouahed Belkeziz, expressed concerns about war in Iraq.

Mr. Belkeziz warned that a war could lead to a human catastrophe in the Middle East with thousands killed, wounded, and displaced. He said the Organization of Islamic Countries rejects the use of military action in Iraq because, as he put it, it undermines U.N. authority and is a return to jungle justice.

The U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees, Ruud Lubbers, told the Commission that the U.N. refugee agency stands ready to assist Iraqis fleeing conflict, but wants to see any large scale relief operation paid for through the Iraqi Oil for Food Program. Otherwise, he said, U.N. programs to help refugees in Afghanistan and Africa could suffer.