U.S. Could Come Under Scrutiny of the U.N. Rights Commission
New York Times
Monday 17 March 2003
The United Nations Commission on Human Rights, with Libya's ambassador as its chairman, is about to begin an unusual annual session that is likely to focus on the United States record and recent actions.
Commission participants said they might hold a "special sitting" to discuss accusations that the United States is violating rights in its handling of people accused of terrorism and in its counterterrorism measures. They also said that during the six-week session the commission could look at any action the United States took in Iraq.
The commission usually focuses on efforts to end trafficking in human beings, religious intolerance or racism, though the commission's agenda has often been shaped by politics.
"We see black clouds gathering in the sky of the region and this is ominous of a catastrophic war which will certainly violate all human rights and especially the right to life," said the Libyan ambassador, Najat al-Hajjaji, in her opening remarks today.
Sergio Vieira de Mello, the high commissioner for human rights, said he was watching the United States closely, especially its handling of prisoners held at Guant namo.
He noted that there were well-established rules against arbitrary detentions and indefinite imprisonment, and guarantees about the treatment of prisoners and trials. He said that those norms were under siege today, "and I urge you to address it squarely in the coming weeks."
The United States delegation sat quietly through the opening remarks. Jeane J. Kirkpatrick, the United States representative to the commission, will have her chance to speak on Tuesday.
At a news conference later, Ms. Hajjaji said she believed that the issue of Iraq would dominate deliberations. "I don't think the commission can ignore war, any kind of war," she said.
What the outcome of a special sitting on Iraq might be is unclear. The United States has never been formally censured by the human rights group and it is not likely that it will be this time. Many countries are reluctant to take such action, especially if they themselves could be censured in the future. Criticism at the session is more likely, especially over the handling of the prisoners at Guant namo.
Johannes Kyrle, Austria's secretary general for foreign affairs, said he believed that the human rights commission had an important complementary role to that of the United Nations Security Council in ensuring that the world strikes the right balance between security and human rights.
Much attention is expected to focus on the commission's chairwoman. The Libyan ambassador said she believed she could be neutral in the debate on Iraq and would act only on the wishes of commission members.
But at one point in the news conference, Ms. Hajjaji reacted sharply when asked about a looming war in Iraq, saying that if cities were attacked, "do you think they will be respecting human rights?"
Ms. Hajjaji's appointment drew criticism when it was made in January because Libya has been widely accused of human rights violations. Today, a group of protesters from a group called Reporters Without Borders sitting in the balcony unfurled a banner with the word "shame" and threw leaflets on delegates condemning the appointment. The protesters were removed by guards.
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