- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 18, 2003

GENEVA Libya began its leadership of the world's top human rights body yesterday by criticizing Israel as the U.N. agency began annual meetings overshadowed by an expected war against Iraq.
The body has always had trouble completing its work in six weeks, and many governments were calling for a special debate if war starts in Iraq.
"We are all about to be tested," U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Sergio Vieira de Mello said. "Our fragile world needs guidance. Will we … give that guidance, or will we let the chaos outside these walls come in?"
He said the meeting must not forget other major human rights issues, including the AIDS epidemic, the situation in Israel and the Palestinian territories, and the right to democracy and the rule of law.
Libya was appointed in January to head this year's meeting of the Human Rights Commission despite opposition from the United States, which said it was horrified that a country with such a poor human rights record could lead the body that censures rights abusers.
Libya is known for using torture, secret trials and summary executions to crush dissent.
Libyan Ambassador Najat Al-Hajjaji told the opening session that she hoped to represent all members of the 53-country commission and its observer states.
She later added that the Palestinian people are "still being humiliated, killed, maimed and deprived of [the] right to self-determination."
Miss Al-Hajjaji denied that the statement compromised her neutrality as chairman, pointing out that the commission backs the Palestinians' right to self-determination every year.
The press freedom group Reporters Without Borders was suspended from the commission's advisory body after six members tossed leaflets during Miss Al-Hajjaji's speech denouncing the Libyan appointment as "a sick joke."
"What credibility can such a body have when led by the representative of a county where human rights are abused every day," the leaflets said.
Miss Al-Hajjaji said the meeting wasn't the place for the group to express its views. Reporters Without Borders said it didn't mind being suspended.
"We had already said we wouldn't participate in this masquerade," Reporters Without Borders General Secretary Robert Menard said. "The ambassador can say what she wants, it has no importance. The United Nations has lost the last of its credibility."
The commission studies abuses of human rights ranging from torture and killings to the failure of governments to ensure adequate food, housing and education for their people.
The State Department says 19 of the 53 nations on the commission have poor human rights records. Among them are Libya, Zimbabwe, Sudan, Syria, Saudi Arabia, Congo and Vietnam.
Miss Al-Hajjaji said that "some countries have taken coercive measures violating the rights of migrants and refugees and minorities, and even the rights of those who seek visas."

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