COMMISSION ON HUMAN RIGHTS ELECTS CHAIRPERSON AND BUREAU FOR FIFTY-NINTH SESSION
Najat Al-Hajjaji of Libya Elected Chairperson by Secret Ballot
of 33 in Favor and 3 Opposed, with 17 Abstentions
The Commission on Human Rights -- meeting this morning under a new procedure two months in advance of its annual six-week session -- elected Najat Al-Hajjaji of the Libyan Arab Jamahiriya as Chairperson for 2003, along with three Vice-Chairpersons and a Rapporteur.
Ms. Al-Hajjaji was elected by a secret ballot of 33 in favour and 3 opposed, with 17 abstaining among the Commission's 53 member countries.
The vote, requested by the United States, was unusual -- Chairpersons are usually elected by acclamation.
In an address following the ballot, Ms. Al-Hajjaji said among other things that the Commission must send a message that it would deal with human rights in all countries, and not just some of them; that it would take into account in its activities the world's many different religious, cultural and historical backgrounds; and that among its tasks was to affirm the universality, indivisibility, and complementarity of human rights
Selection of the Commission's Bureau in mid-January follows on a Commission decision last year and was spurred in part by 1994 and 1997 recommendations of the Economic and Social Council. The procedure is intended to enable the Commission to work more efficiently by having the Bureau in place well before the annual session begins.
Elected Vice-Chairpersons without a vote were Prasad Kariyawasam of Sri Lanka, Jorge Voto-Bernales of Peru, and Mike Smith of Australia. Chosen Rapporteur, also without a vote, was Branko Socanac of Croatia.
In a brief address before the vote, outgoing Chairman Krzysztof Jakubowski said among other things that the Commission, while it had its imperfections, constituted "a sort of human rights global parliament" and its dignity had been and should remain the basis of its approach to its work.
High Commissioner for Human Rights Sergio Vieira de Mello, also speaking briefly, reviewed his recent mission to the Democratic Republic of the Congo and to Angola, lauded the Commission's new procedure for early election of a Bureau, and said it was important for the Commission to demonstrate that it could manage with wisdom, speed and restraint its procedural business so as to create the best possible spirit and conditions for addressing and resolving the many substantive issues on its agenda.
The Commission's rules of procedure allow only a secret ballot to be requested to contest a nomination for Chairperson. Explanations of vote are not allowed afterward as they are for public ballots.
The fifty-ninth session of the Commission on Human Rights will take place from 17 March through 25 April.
Statement of Outgoing Chairperson
KRZYSZTOF JAKUBOWSKI, outgoing Chairperson, said the innovation of electing the bureau early in the year was an important step for improving the efficiency and impact of the Commission's annual session. What was at stake now was the vision of the Charter of the United Nations of a world of peace and justice, grounded in respect for human rights and in economic and social progress; the Commission had always maintained the message that gross human rights violations could not be tolerated -- by whomsoever committed. It had stood up for economic and social rights, for equality and dignity worldwide. Its proceedings must be effective, dignified, equitable and statesmanlike.
There had been many stories in the media about today's events, Mr. Jakubowski said. Whatever the outcome, he earnestly appealed for all to maintain intact the dignity of the Commission. At the end of the day, all must be able to go forward working together for the protection of human rights. The membership of the Commission must never lose sight of this sacred duty.
He was sure that others hoped as he did that this would be a business-like affair. He very much hoped that requests for the floor would be kept to an absolute minimum. He also appealed to everyone present to give the new Chairperson the benefit of a cooperative and dignified start. The Commission had its imperfections, without a doubt, but its sessions also constituted a sort of human rights global parliament. The dignity of the Commission had been and should remain the basis of its approach to its work.
Address of High Commissioner for Human Rights
SERGIO VIEIRA DE MELLO, High Commissioner for Human Rights, said today was an important one -- it would lay the groundwork both in form and tone for the fifty-ninth session of the Commission.
As everyone knew, he had returned just yesterday from a mission to the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Angola. In order to attend today's meteing, he had regretfully not carried out a planned visit to Burundi. The Democratic Republic of the Congo was facing a unique situation where it could make a choice between continuing a disastrous conflict ripe with extensive human rights violations, misery, and the pillage of natural resources, or could follow the path of peace opening the way for reconciliation, an end to impunity, and the reconstruction of democratic institutions. It was vital for all parties to the conflict, including neighboring countries, to implement without delay the wide-ranging and inclusive peace agreement concluded in Pretoria last 17 December.
In Angola, he had witnessed the immediate dividends resulting from the end of hostilities between the Government and UNITA, Mr. Vieira de Mello said; millions of displaced persons and demobilized combatants had finally returned to their homes and had begun to resume normal live. The country was in the course of establishing an electoral process that would launch the foundations for a new democratic life. The country still had to be rebuilt, and he had assured the Government and Angolan civil society of the will of the United Nations to help with the development of a culture, political system, and institutions propitious for human rights.
For all the impressive work that had taken place within the human rights community in Geneva, he remained concerned by the ignorance in the world at large as to what was done here, the High Commissioner said; it was important for this Geneva community to open up to those on the outside -- it was their rights, after all, that the human rights community was working to develop and safeguard. Today offered a unique opportunity for the Commission to demonstrate that it could manage with wisdom, speed and restraint its procedural business so as to create the best possible spirit and conditions for addressing and resolving the many substantive issues on its agenda. He thanked the outgoing Chairman and his colleagues in the Bureau for guiding the Commission with considerable skill and determination through a year which had not been an easy one.
Statement of Incoming Chairperson
NAJAT AL-HAJJAJI, new Chairperson of the Commission, said today's meeting two months before the normal opening of the Commission's annual session was an important innovation; it would enable the Bureau to get down to work in an efficient and organized manner. Her country was African, and it had an Islamic culture; it had been the site of great historical empires -- Egyptian, Phoenician, and Greek, as well as Islamic. Monuments from that past remained. Women played a major role in life and Government in Libya, and the country took its inspiration from the principles of the United Nations. She would make every effort to be open to new ideas and initiatives.
The Commission's agenda was a heavy one, and she would need the full participation and cooperation of everyone -- members, observer countries, non-governmental organizations and the Secretariat. The task of all was to affirm the universality, indivisibility, and complementarity of human rights, to give the Commission credibility, and to send a clear message to all those who were watching the Commission and awaiting the results of its work. The message must be that the Commission would deal with human rights in all countries, and not just some of them, and that it would take into account in its activities the world's many differences and its many different religious, cultural and historical backgrounds.
Statement on request for a vote
SIPHO GEORGE NENE (South Africa) said the call for a vote on the Chairperson nominee placed the Commission and the African Group in particular in a very difficult and unenviable position. It was regrettable that the U.S. delegation had opted for the extreme method of demonstrating its non-endorsement of the African Group's candidate. Since the decision to propose Ambassador Al-Hajjaji had been taken by the highest political organ of the African Union, the group had no choice but to respond to the political challenge posed by the subjection of the election to a vote. For 46 years the tried and tested practice of the unanimous election of the Chair of the Commission had contributed positively in setting a solid foundation for the proceedings of the Commission. This reliable practice had been violated today. It was the Group's hope that this unfortunate act would not be emulated in the future. The right of regional groups to present candidates of their choice should be respected.
Great efforts had been made to persuade the U.S. to use other available methods of expressing its displeasure. Members of the Commission were urged to demonstrate their confidence in the tried and tested methods of the past by voting for the African candidate with a resounding majority.
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