- The Washington Times - Tuesday, January 21, 2003

GENEVA The United Nations' human rights watchdog elected a Libyan diplomat yesterday as this year's president, overriding objections from the United States that the country's "horrible" record disqualifies it for such a post.
Riding on a wave of African solidarity, Libyan Ambassador Najat Al-Hajjaji received votes from 33 countries in her bid to lead the 53-member U.N. Human Rights Commission for its annual session starting in March.
The United States and two other nations voted against her, and 17 abstained.
"It is especially sad today when America celebrates the birthday of Martin Luther King, a champion of human rights, that a nation which flaunts human rights abuses would be elected chair," U.S. Ambassador Kevin E. Moley told reporters.
"It is not appropriate for a nation under U.N. sanctions, a nation with the horrible human rights record that Libya has, to be chairman of this commission."
To oppose the nomination, the United States had to break with the half-century-old U.N. tradition of sharing such jobs on a rotating basis among regional groups. Whereas previously each group's choice was accepted by acclamation, the United States insisted yesterday on a vote.
"It is regrettable that the United States opted for this method," said South African Ambassador Sipho George Nene. "The previous, reliable practice has been violated."
The African Union put forward the Libyan choice as one of its first decisions last year.
Mrs. Al-Hajjaji said the United States set a "bad precedent" because it undermines respect for the regional groupings and worsens world divisions by labeling countries as "bad guys or good guys."
"I don't think there is any country free of human rights violations," she said.
In a gesture of reconciliation, the African group accepted the Libyan ambassador's appeal and withdrew a demand for a tit-for-tat vote on a nomination of a member of the Western group to another post on the commission.
"I will be in a position to cooperate with all the members of the commission," Mrs. Al-Hajjaji told reporters later. "I will be the chair of all participants here."
Yaakov Levy, Israeli ambassador to U.N. offices in Geneva, said the selection marked a "descent to a new low in the credibility of the work of the Human Rights Commission."
Although the ballot was secret, the United States immediately told reporters that it had voted against Mrs. Al-Hajjaji. Canada had signaled that it would join the United States.
Although European nations were dismayed at the nomination, they chose to abstain. Diplomats said this was because Europe didn't want to alienate African and other developing countries, and undermine the commission's work.

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