Wed, Aug 01, 2007 - Page 6 News List

Groups unhappy at Libya heading anti-racism body

POOR RECORD Rights groups said that Libya, which is still to answer to allegations of torture from six foreign medics, was not qualified to head the UN committee


Libya is set to take charge of a UN anti-racism committee in a move condemned by human rights groups that say the north African country's rights record disqualifies it from the post.

Libya takes over on the heels of torture allegations put forward by foreign medics recently released from the country who said they were forced into admitting they infected hundreds of children with the AIDS virus.

The 20-nation UN committee will be tasked with preparing a new international conference against racism for 2009.

The new conference will evaluate steps taken since the last conference on racism, xenophobia and intolerance held in Durban, South Africa, in 2001.

Initial meetings of the Libya-led commission will occur between Aug. 27 and Aug. 31 in Geneva, with two other gatherings to be held later this year and next year.

Members chose Libya by consensus to head the group in June. Armenia had sought the post but pulled out at the last minute.

Antoine Madelin of the International Federation of Human Rights Leagues said Libya's nomination was "not good news."

"Libya is not known for its respect for human rights, including respect for conventions against racism," Madelin said. "There is persecution of black minorities who come to work in Libya."

Global rights group Amnesty International in its report this year saccused Libya of ill treatment of foreigners.

"Foreigners arrested on suspicion of being irregular migrants reportedly often suffered abuse in detention, such as beatings, and were collectively deported without access to a lawyer or an assessment of their individual cases," it said.

The case of the foreign medics detained in Libya sparked widespread criticism.

Held in Libya since 1999, the five Bulgarian nurses and one Palestinian doctor with Bulgarian citizenship were sentenced to death after being convicted of deliberately infecting 438 Libyan children with the AIDS-causing HIV virus.

The six were sentenced to death in 2004 on the basis of confessions by the doctor and two of the nurses who later retracted their statements, saying they had been extracted under torture.

Last week, Libya allowed them to return to Bulgaria, where they had been due to serve life terms in prison. Instead Bulgarian President Georgy Parvanov pardoned all six.

The controversy surrounding Libya's designation as head of the committee may sound all too familiar to some.

In 2003, Libya's nomination as head of the UN Human Rights Commission provoked ire from human rights groups and bolstered arguments to scuttle the commission. It has since been replaced by the Human Rights Council.

The 2001 Durban conference was marred by controversy as well.

"There was a politicization of that conference that mainly involved two issues: the Israeli-Arab conflict and post-colonial debt," Madelin said.

"At the [nongovernmental organization] forum and on the Internet site, there were racist comments against Jews -- caricatures of Jews that would have been used at the time of World War II," Madelin said.

A UN representative said that the UN had been harshly criticized by the US and Israel at the time for allowing the situation to boil over.

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