The United States is joining human rights groups in expressing concern that Libya is being advanced by African countries to chair the U.N. Commission on Human Rights for 2003.

Officials here say the United States is consulting with other governments to try to head off the prospect that Libya, a country on the U.S. list of state supporters of terrorism, will chair the U.N. rights commission next year.

The chairmanship of the 53-member commission rotates yearly among the U.N.'s five major geographical regions and it is Africa's turn to choose who will replace the current chair, Poland.

Libya has been nominated by the African regional group at the U.N. and the decision was endorsed at last month's inaugural meeting in Durban of the African Union, the successor to the Organization of African Unity.

In a talk with reporters here, State Department spokesman Philip Reeker pointed to the department's latest global report on human rights practices, which accused the Libyan government of "numerous, serious" rights abuses.

Mr. Reeker said the United States is engaged in diplomatic contacts on the issue and said there are better ways to decide the chairmanship than the current rotation:

"We're concerned about the issue and we're looking into the matter with other U.N. delegations," he said. "And I think broadly, I can say we believe that substantive qualifications for participation in the U.N. Commission on Human Rights, rather than some rotational scheme or vote-trading, should determine nominations and elections."

The New York-based advocacy group Human Rights Watch has urged African governments to drop the Libya nomination, calling the Muammar Gadhafi government a "particularly inappropriate and dangerous" choice for the influential position.

The group's executive director, Kenneth Roth, wrote the presidents of South Africa, Nigeria and Senegal, key members of the New Partnership for African Development (NEPAD) saying that Libya has in the past sought to obstruct the commission's work, and as chairman would seriously damage the agency.

Mr. Roth urged the three leaders to prevent Libya from becoming the chair and to promote another African state with a strong track record on human rights.

Libya last week hit back at the Human Rights Watch comments, which it said were erroneous. A spokesman in Tripoli said Libya is a place where human rights are respected and said the proof is in the country's economic and political stability.