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 Monday, 20 January, 2003, 14:26 GMT
Libya takes human rights role
Colonel Gaddafi and Nelson Mandela
African nations chose Libya for the human rights role
Libya has been elected chairman of the United Nations Human Rights Commission, despite opposition from the United States.

In a secret ballot, Libyan Ambassador Najat Al-Hajjaji was backed by 33 members, with three countries voting against and 17 members abstaining.

Human rights groups have been protesting at Libya assuming the chairmanship.

The job of the Commission, the UN's main human rights watchdog, is to receive complaints about abuses, but it has been widely condemned as toothless.

The United States called for a vote at the commission to signal its displeasure, but no other candidates emerged to challenge Libya.

"This is not a defeat for the United States, this is a defeat for the Human Rights Commission," said US ambassador Kevin Moley.

Najat Al-Hajjaji
Najat Al-Hajjaji: "If I make mistakes, please help me to correct them"

The BBC's world affairs correspondent Mark Doyle says the nomination of Libya to run the UN watchdog has highlighted what many see as a fundamental flaw in the way the UN has set the body up.

Countries with questionable human rights records find it convenient to sign up for membership of the Commission because it gives them a chance to block criticisms of themselves, he says.

While human rights groups have complained, Libya's chairing of the commission has been staunchly defended by the son of Libyan leader Colonel Muammar Gaddafi.

Seif al-Islam al-Gaddafi told the BBC recently: "The Middle East has a generally bad record on human rights and this is an opportunity to embarrass middle eastern governments into improving that record".

Human rights concerns

Seif Gaddafi runs an organisation called the Gaddafy International Foundation for Charitable Organisations which, he says, is independent of his father's government.

"We and other non-governmental organisations will work with the UN Commission to improve human rights in the region," he said.

Critics of the Libyan Government said it was not credible that Seif Gaddafi's foundation was independent of his father's administration.

Over the past three decades, Libya's human rights record has been appalling

Human Rights Watch

Human Rights Watch said: "Today hundreds of people remain arbitrarily detained, some for over a decade, and there are serious concerns about treatment in detention and the fairness of procedures in several ongoing high-profile trials before the Peoples' Courts".

Libya was nominated to run the UN Human Rights Commission by African nations.

Our correspondent says this was widely seen as part of the unofficial quid pro quo Libya had negotiated in return for financing the newly-created African Union, the successor to the Organisation of African Unity, which was formed last year.

Ignored

Amnesty International said that when it learnt Libya had been nominated to the Commission, it wrote to the government in Tripoli asking for permission for human rights investigators to do their work there, but had not received a reply.
Seif Al-Islam Al-Gaddafi
Seif Gaddafi: Defended the appointment

Amnesty added that it expected the chair of the Commission to lead by example, but that it was apparent from various reports it had written on Libya that human rights were not respected there.

Seif Gaddafi, who spoke to the BBC when Libya was first nominated for chairmanship of the commission, said that following his intervention with the Libyan Government, all political prisoners had been released - except for two categories.

The first group of remaining prisoners, Gaddafi said, was from the Libyan Fighting Group which he described as "fanatical, violent and headquartered in Afghanistan".

We have a better human rights record than our neighbours

Seif Gaddafi
The second group, he said, was from the Muslim Brotherhood - but he could not intervene in their case because it was before the Court of Appeal.

Human Rights Watch conceded that Libya had made "some positive commitments" since its nomination to the UN Commission.

These included indications that it would invite UN investigators and international human rights groups to visit Libya and review the role of the Peoples' Courts.

But the lobby group said Libya should put these initiatives into practice before taking over the chairmanship.

Seif Gaddafi said "We have a better human rights record than our neighbours. Sure, we are not Switzerland or Denmark; we are part of the Third World and part of the Middle East. But we are better than our neighbours".

  WATCH/LISTEN
  ON THIS STORY
  Dr Ali Triki, Libyan Minister on Network Africa
"The Africans believe that Libya will serve them"
 VOTE RESULTS
Should Libya chair the UN Human Rights Commission?

Yes
 44.12% 

No
 55.88% 

6437 Votes Cast

Results are indicative and may not reflect public opinion

See also:

05 Sep 02 | Africa
12 Jan 03 | Africa
07 Aug 02 | Middle East
30 Nov 02 | Country profiles
Links to more Africa stories are at the foot of the page.


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