Capitol Hill ( – Libya, still led by Muammar Gaddafi, the man once widely considered a top sponsor of international terrorism, will be nominated to chair the United Nations’ Commission on Human Rights for the commission’s 2003 session. The U.S. State Department is opposed to the move, having labeled Libya’s record on human rights, “poor,” and stating that Libya continues, “to commit numerous serious abuses.”

The African continental members of the U.N. commission plan to nominate Libya to chair the panel, according to statements by the Libyan government.

“Libya is a country where the respect of human rights is enshrined,” the Libyan Foreign Ministry said in a statement. “The security, political stability and economic prosperity enjoyed by Libya are the proof of its respect of human rights.”

Africa is next in the rotation to chair the commission. The African regional group – composed of Kenya, Libya, Nigeria, Senegal, and South Africa – announced its intention to nominate Libya for the position at the inaugural summit of the new African Union.

State Department spokeswoman Brooke Summers told that the U.S. government is “concerned” about the planned nomination, and is “looking into the matter.”

“We believe that substantive qualifications for participation in the U.N. Commission on Human Rights, rather than rotational schemes or vote trading, should determine nomination and election,” she said.

In its “2001 Country Reports on Human Rights: Libya,” the State Department criticized the Libyan government’s security forces for torturing prisoners during interrogations and as punishment. “Prison conditions are poor. Security forces arbitrarily arrest and detain persons, and many prisoners are held incommunicado,” the report stated.

“The [Libyan] Government prohibits the establishment of independent human rights organizations. Violence against women is a problem… female genital mutilation (FGM) is practiced in remote areas of the country. The Government discriminates against and represses tribal groups,” according to the state department report.

An international human rights watchdog group is also criticizing plans to nominate Libya to head the U.N. panel.

“Countries with dreadful rights records should never be in charge of chairing the Commission on Human Rights,” said Rory Mungoven, global advocacy director for Human Rights Watch. “Libya’s long record of human rights abuses clearly does not merit such a reward.”

Human Rights Watch accused Libya of detaining government opponents without charge or trial, prohibiting political parties and independent non-governmental groups, and “muzzling” the press. The group believes the Libyan government has also been responsible for torturing, kidnapping, and assassinating its political opponents abroad.

The Libyan Foreign Ministry responded that African leaders chose the country out of “respect for Libya and its leader Muammar Gaddafi,” and because of Libya’s work to “foster peace and economic development.”

“These are facts acknowledged unanimously by Africa when it decided to nominate Libya to chair the United Nations’ human rights commission,” the foreign ministry said. “Africa… spoke loudly and would not back down despite the lies and deceptions.”

Joanna Weschler, U.N. representative for Human Rights Watch, said Libya’s own defense of its nomination is incriminating.

“By equating its repressive policies with the protection of human rights, Libya is sending a loud signal that it should not chair the United Nations’ most important rights body,” she said. “The new African Union should avoid further embarrassment and drop plans to nominate Libya for this post.”

All 53 governments represented on the commission must endorse Libya’s nomination at an election in January 2003. The body will begin its annual session the following March.

This ran on the CNS wire on August 26, 2002