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Wednesday, 21 August, 2002, 07:16 GMT 08:16 UK
Ministers urged to object to Libya role
Muammar Gadaffi, Libyan leader
Gaddafi has backed the IRA in the past
UK ministers are being urged to protest against the decision to put Libya's Muammar Gaddafi at the head of a human rights commission.

Libya has been nominated to chair the United Nations Commission on Human Rights despite claims of internal repression under Colonel Gaddafi.


The commission will only be further discredited with Libya in the chair

Caroline Spelman
Conservative MP
The Conservatives are pressing for the UK government to lobby for the decision to be overturned, despite new efforts to improve British relations with Tripoli.

It is Africa's turn to chair the commission and the African Union has now confirmed Libya should take the lead role when the annual session begins next year.

The Foreign Office says the rules do not allow other nations to make their nominations for the role.

This month, Mike O'Brien became the first UK minister to visit Libya since 1983.

'Strong line needed'

Diplomatic relations were broken off by the UK in 1984 after the murder of WPC Yvonne Fletcher but were resumed when Libya handed over the Lockerbie bomb suspects.

Shadow international development secretary Caroline Spelman said her party cautiously welcomed moves towards better relations.

Foreign Office Minister Mike O'Brien
Mike O'Brien made an historic visit to Libya this summer
"However, it would be wrong if these diplomatic manoeuvres prevented Britain from taking a strong line against Libya's record of abusing fundamental human rights," she said.

Ms Spelman has written to her counterpart, Clare Short, to campaign against handing control of the commission to Libya.

In her letter, she says: "The Commission on Human Rights is the UN's main human rights forum, but it has become dominated by the most serious human rights abusing countries in the world.

Zimbabwe support

"The commission will only be further discredited with Libya in the chair."

Shadow foreign secretary Michael Ancram has written to his counterpart, Jack Straw, expressing similar concern.


We do hope that Libya will use this high profile role to take steps to improve its human rights record

Foreign Office spokeswoman
Mr Ancram also highlighted Colonel Gaddafi's support for Robert Mugabe, whose policies the Tories say are wreaking havoc in Zimbabwe.

Libyan officials were "masters of violation of human rights", Mr Ancram told BBC Radio 4's Today programme.

"It does seem Alice in Wonderland stuff, it's like making a criminal a chief constable."

Campaign group Human Rights Watch is also objecting to Libya's new role.

Rory Mungoven, the group's global advocacy director, said: "Libya's long record of human rights abuses clearly does not merit such a reward."

Mr Mungoven described the development as a real setback for African leaders' stated new commitment to human rights.

The group says the Libyan government has detained its opponents for years without trial, stopped other political parties being started and "muzzled the press".

Rights opportunity

A Foreign Office spokeswoman told BBC News Online that respect for human rights was needed for Libya's continued re-entry into the international community.

"We do hope that Libya will use this high profile role to take steps to improve its human rights record," said the spokeswoman.

Jose Diaz, from the office of UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Mary Robinson, told Today the UN could not interfere with nominations.

The formal election of Libya to the chair will not happen until the start of the commission's meeting.

"We will have to see how it will actually turn out," said Mr Diaz.

The UK government thought it important that there was continued British involvement with the commission and its work in promoting human rights, she added.

Each year, the Commission on Human Rights, set up in 1948, meets for six weeks in Geneva.

More than 3,000 delegates from UN member states, as well as from other organisations, are involved in framing new resolutions designed to combat human rights abuses.

See also:

07 Aug 02 | Politics
07 Aug 02 | Middle East
24 Jun 02 | Middle East
25 Apr 02 | Scotland
16 Apr 02 | Scotland
20 Feb 02 | Middle East
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