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Wednesday, 21 August, 2002, 15:12 GMT 16:12 UK
Libyan human rights role worries US
Muammar Gaddafi, Libyan leader
US says Gaddafi has a poor human rights record
The United States has voiced its concerns over the possibility that Libya could chair the United Nations Human Rights Commission next year.

The US is highlighting Libya's poor human rights record now, after the African Union made Libya its choice to chair the commission when Africa's turn comes round in 2003, according to a US State Department spokesman.

Phil Reeker said the US will discuss the issue with other UN delegations.

The UN commission is chaired on a rotational basis. At the inaugural African Union summit in Durban at the beginning of July, Libya was nominated to take up the role.

The US-based Human Rights Watch pressure group and the British opposition Conservative Party have both expressed their opposition to Libya chairing the commission.

'Dictatorship'

Mr Reeker told journalists on Tuesday that should Africa pick Libya for the post, "that's of concern to us because of our concerns about Libya's record on human rights".

The next annual session of the UN Human Rights Commission is not until 2003 and no formal appointment to the chairmanship will be made before the commission's meeting.

Mandela greets Gaddafi
Gaddafi got a warm welcome in Durban

"We believe that substantive qualifications for participation in the UN Commission on Human Rights, rather than some rotational scheme or vote-trading, should determine nominations and elections," Mr Reeker said.

The State Department's most recent human rights report, published in March, refers to Colonel Gaddafi's government as a dictatorship.

It says that Libya has "a multilayered, pervasive surveillance system that monitors and controls the activities of individuals. The various security forces committed numerous serious human rights abuses."

The United States is now expected to work behind the scenes at the UN to try to prevent Libya taking up the chair of the commission, Reuters news agency.

In this it is supported by Human Rights Watch.

'Alarm bells'

Human Rights Watch says the African Union's choice of Libya for the commission post, "undercuts their new commitment to promote human rights and good governance".

In a press release on 9 August, the pressure group's global advocacy director, Rory Mungoven, said that Libya has a poor human rights record and its nomination by the African Union "should really ring alarm bells".

The group has written to Presidents Mbeki, Obasanjo and Wade of South Africa, Nigeria and Senegal respectively to ensure that Libya's nomination is withdrawn.

The opposition British Conservative Party has urged the Foreign office in London to protest against Africa's nomination of Libya.

Britain has been improving relations with Libya and in early August a Foreign Office Minister, Mike O'Brien, met Colonel Gaddafi in Libya.

A Foreign Office spokeswoman told BBC News Online that respect for human rights was necessary for Libya's re-entry into the international community but it was hoped that Libya would "use this high profile role to take steps to improve its human rights record".

See also:

10 Aug 02 | From Our Own Correspondent
07 Aug 02 | Middle East
11 Jul 02 | Africa
09 Jul 02 | Africa
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