- The Washington Times - Monday, January 20, 2003

GENEVA, Switzerland, Jan. 20 (UPI) — The U.N. Human Rights Commission Monday elected Libya's ambassador, Najat al Hajjaji, its new chairwoman, inflicting a setback for the United States which had strongly opposed the North African nation.

"The United States is deeply disappointed that the members of the United Nations Commission on Human Rights have elected Libya, a known human rights abuser and a country under U.N. sanctions," said U.S. ambassador Kevin Moley in a statement following the vote.

Libya has been accused by the United States of involvement in the bombing of Pan Am Flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland, in 1988, and has been allegedly linked to other terrorist acts.

In an unusual procedure for selecting the head of the commission, an election by secret ballot was held at the demand of the United States. Selection is usually made by acclamation of commission members.

The office goes by rotation to each of the world region's as recognized by the United Nations. This year it was the African region's turn, and its nominee, al Hajjaji, was elected by 33 votes in favor, three opposed, and 17 abstentions.

Envoy's from African, Arab and Islamic nations, which backed Libya, lauded the result.

South African Ambassador Sipho George Nene said it was regrettable the United States had opted for an extreme method to demonstrate its non-endorsement of the group's candidate. Libya, he added, had been chosen at the highest political level by the African Union.

Mohamed Dembri, Algeria's ambassador, told United Press International: "From my point of view, it's a good solution because we have to respect the rules of procedure. Presidency is by regional rotation."

It was the first time since the establishment of the commission under American leadership in 1947, that secret balloting was used in voting.

This year the United States returned to the commission after being humiliatingly voted off it in 2001.

After the vote, Moley told reporters the United States knew, by the composition of the commission, it did not have the votes to prevail. Nevertheless, he stressed, it was important someone stood up and made sure there was a vote.

It was not a defeat for the United States; it was a defeat for the Human Rights Commission, Moley claimed.

"The selection as chairperson of a country, which has ordered the downing of passenger airlines and the bombing of a discotheque in Europe marks a low in the cynical manipulation of U.N. bodies by parties who preach human rights to others but refrain from practicing them at home," said Israel's ambassador, Yaakov Levy.

Similarly, Joanna Weschler, Human Rights Watch U.N. representative said: "Libya's election poses a real test for the commission. Repressive governments must not be allowed to hijack the U.N. human rights system."

Some, however, took the middle road. "There has been damage, but the damage has been controlled," an Asian ambassador, who declined to be identified, told UPI.

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