"By equating its repressive policies with the protection of human rights, Libya is sending a loud signal that it should not chair the United Nation's most important rights body," said Joanna Weschler, Human Rights Watch's U.N. representative. "The new African Union should avoid further embarrassment and drop plans to nominate Libya for this post."
London-based Asharq al-Awsat on August 14 quoted an official for the Libyan Foreign Ministry as defending Libya's nomination to head the Human Rights Commission and saying that Libya "is one of the nations that is experiencing a stable human rights environment, and the proof for that is the political and economic security and stability" provided by the country's people and laws.
U.N. human rights bodies have in recent years expressed serious concerns about human rights in Libya, including:
- extrajudicial and summary executions perpetrated by state agents;
- a high incidence of arbitrary arrest and long-term detention without trial;
- the systematic use of torture and other ill-treatment or punishment;
- imposition of the death penalty for offences that cannot be characterized as the most serious, including political and economic offences;
- lack of judicial independence;
- continuing inequality between women and men in such areas as inheritance, freedom of movement, nationality and divorce;
- numerous restrictions in law and practice on freedom of expression and, in particular, the right to express opposition or criticism of the government.
Human Rights Watch has called on the leadership of the newly constituted African Union to make sure that the government that will be leading the U.N. Commission on Human Rights, the world's chief human rights body, had a strong track record on human rights, was prepared to safeguard against any attempts to weaken the international human rights system, and was willing to cooperate with all U.N. human rights monitoring mechanisms. Libya should begin by issuing an open invitation to the U.N. human rights mechanisms to visit the country.
The nomination of Libya also damages the credibility of the New African Partnership for Development (Nepad)'s "peer review" mechanism - part of a vow by African governments to ensure their own respect for human rights as part of a bargain with the developing world for greater aid and investment.
"How can we trust Nepad's promises of 'peer review' when its first act is to nominate a confirmed human rights abuser such as Libya to head the United Nation's leading human rights body?" said Weschler.
It is Africa's turn to chair the 53-nation commission in 2003. Reports from the July meeting of the African Union indicated the intention to nominate Libya to this position. The formal election of the leadership of the Commission will take place in January 2003.
More Human Rights Watch analysis of this issue is available at: