- The Washington Times - Monday, September 9, 2002

The sky's not falling
It is doubtful the foreign ministers and world leaders will notice, but they will have a newly restored General Assembly chamber in which to deliver their speeches this week.
U.N. officials have just completed a 3-month renovation to the hall, which has been showing its age. For the past year, diplomats have orated at their own peril under a net strung up to catch falling ceiling tiles. The $5 million renovation replaced the original tiles and updated heating, air-conditioning, ventilation and lighting systems.
"The old lighting system was obsolete, expensive to maintain and generated a lot of heat, affecting the environmental controls of the hall," said U.N. spokesman Fred Eckhard. The new theatrical lighting produces less heat and four times as much light using about a third of the energy, he added.
U.N. officials have been reluctant to undertake major repairs on the 53-year-old Secretariat and other buildings in the complex because they are anticipating a three- to four-year gutting and renovation that could cost upwards of $1 billion.

Robinson leaving loudly
Embattled Human Rights High Commissioner Mary Robinson last week blasted the U.S.-led war on terrorism, saying "suddenly, the T-word is used all the time" as an excuse to violate civil rights.
"Everything is justified by that T-word," Mrs. Robinson told the Associated Press in Geneva. "I hope that countries will put human rights back on the agenda, because it tended to slip after September 11."
Mrs. Robinson a strong advocate of human rights who has stood up to powerful governments over their treatment of minorities, prisoners and women leaves her post on Wednesday after five often tumultuous years.
The former president of Ireland has repeatedly criticized the Bush administration's handling of suspected al Qaeda members and its secret detentions of suspected terrorists.
"The world needs leadership in human rights, and the United States could give great leadership. It's not giving it at the moment, unfortunately," she said.
Human rights groups which praised Mrs. Robinson's unshakable advocacy of the oppressed even as they cringed at her sometimes shrill tone and the fights she picked with powerful governments are mostly sad to see her go.
She will be replaced by Sergio Vieira de Mello, a Brazilian who has served in a variety of U.N. posts during the past two decades. Mr. de Mello who has worked with the High Commissioner for Refugees and who ran the transitional government in East Timor is considered more of an organization man who is less willing to rock the boat.

Junior should know
In a novel defense of its contentious nomination to head the U.N. Human Rights Commission, Moammar Gadhafi's son said last week that Libya's dismal record actually makes it an ideal defender of human rights.
"We can work with this commission to enhance the situation of human rights in the Middle East," Seif al-Islam Gadhafi told the British Broadcasting Corp. "We have a bad record regarding human rights in this region in general not just Libya, but in all the Third [World] countries, and in particular in the Middle East."
Leadership of U.N. commissions rotates through the regions of the world, and it's Africa's turn to take the human rights chair. At the inaugural meeting of the African Union in the spring, delegates nominated oil-rich Libya, a generous patron of the new organization.
Human rights advocates and Western governments have raised a spirited, but apparently unsuccessful, protest. They say the totalitarian government's well-documented record of oppression and treatment of political dissenters disqualifies it from leading the United Nations' main human rights monitoring body.
For years, the worst offenders largely ignored the commission, even denying visas to their rapporteurs. But about eight years ago, some of those government got wise to the game and decided to beat it by joining it.
Under U.N. rules, Africa will determine the next chairman. The larger U.N. Economic and Social Council will get to vote only if Africa cannot unite behind a consensus candidate.
Betsy Pisik can be reached by e-mail at [email protected]

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