Libya was elected today by secret ballot to head the top United Nations human rights panel - a break from nearly 50 years of tradition in which chairpersons are elected by acclamation.
During the selection of its officers for 2003, Ambassador Najat Al-Hajjaji was elected Chairperson of the Geneva-based Commission on Human Rights by a secret ballot of 33 countries in favour, with three opposed and 17 abstentions.
According to a Commission spokesman, the procedure - invoked today by the United States - can be requested to contest a nomination for the panel's chairperson. Explanations of vote are not allowed, as they are following public ballots.
Upon her election, Ambassador Al-Hajjaji said the Commission must affirm the universality, indivisibility and complementarity of human rights, and that it must send a clear message that it will deal with human rights in all countries - not just some of them - taking into account the different religious, cultural and historical backgrounds in the world.
The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Sergio Vieira de Mello, just back from his recent mission to the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Angola, lauded the new procedure for early election of a Bureau, saying 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 procedural meeting took place this morning under a new rule intended to enable it to work more efficiently by having its Bureau in place well before the annual session begins. The panel's fifty-ninth session is scheduled for 17 March to 25 April.
Elected Vice-Chairpersons without a vote were Prasad Kariyawasam of Sri Lanka, Jorge Voto-Bernales of Peru, and Mike Smith of Australia. Chosen as Rapporteur, also without a vote, was Branko Socanac of Croatia.