How Libya’s Najat Al-Hajjaji used UN posts to shield Qaddafi’s crimes

Libyan diplomat Najat Al-Hajjaji — who in a cruel irony serves as a UN Human Rights Council investigator on human rights violations by mercenaries — acted as a loyal propagandist for the Qaddafi regime over decades, shielding its brutal crimes by portraying the dictator as a human rights champion.

According to this sympathetic biography (in French) by  Abdelaziz Barrouhi from January 2003, Al-Hajjaji began officially championing the Qaddafi regime as the Director of External Relations and Training for the state-controlled Jana news agency, a position she held from 1978 to 1991. Qaddafi, “with whom she has (distant) family ties,” then appointed her to represent Libya at the United Nations in Geneva: as Minister Plenipotentiary (1992-1998), deputy ambassador (1998-2000), and then, from October 2000, as Ambassador and Head of Mission.

“In the corridors of the Palais des Nations in Geneva, but also in New York and UN summits,” reports the biographer, “Najat al-Hajjaji defends, of course, the positions of his government, but at the same time working hard to promote women and protection of children.”

Here’s how Qaddafi thanked her when she won election in 2003 to the UN’s Commission on Human Rights:

January 22, 2003, Wednesday

Al-Qadhafi urges Libyan UN rights envoy to play good role

(Jana news agency, Tripoli, in Arabic 1144 gmt 22 Jan 03; Text of report by Libyan news agency Jana)

Tripoli, 22 January: The brother leader of the revolution Al-Qadhafi held a telephone contact today with sister Najat al-Hajjaji, the Great Jamahiriyah’s envoy at the UN Human Rights Commission in Geneva, during which he stressed to her the need for Libya to play the role entrusted to it to protect human rights in the world and to be at the good opinion the international community, which chose her for this international humanitarian task, had of her.

The brother leader urged the sister envoy of the Great Jamahiriyah, in view of being a Libyan woman assuming this international post, to present the true image of women in Libya to whom the great 1 September revolution had attached great attention.

At her opening speech to the commission, she portrayed Libya’s regime in glowing terms:

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.

Reporters Without Borders, which in 2003 led the opposition to Al-Hajjaji’s election, described her early tenure:

With Najat Al-Hajjaji, the Great Socialist People’s Libyan Arab Jamahiriya’s ambassador to the United Nations, as its chairperson, the 59th annual session of the UN commission on human rights could hardly have had a more inauspicious beginning. Contrary to custom, Col. Gaddafi’s protégée had refrained several times from holding a press conference since her appointment two months earlier. She finally met with journalists on the day of the session’s inauguration, on 17 March, but it was primarily to announce that she had proposed to the UN secretariat that Reporters Without Borders should be immediately suspended as a consultative member. This was because, during her opening address, Reporters Without Borders representatives had scattered leaflets in the Palais des Nations assembly hall denouncing Libya’s assumption of the chair.

Hajjaji’s performance at the press conference offered a clear demonstration – if any were needed – that a regime such as Col. Gaddafi’s is an imposter as chair of the commission. She expressed thanks for the questions but each time she said she was unable to reply or was not familiar with the relevant conventions, and passed the buck to the high commissioner. Asked if it would not be appropriate to require a minimum of respect for human rights from commission members, she argued that this would exclude many countries, including her own.  This “would not be democratic,” she added, keeping a straight face.


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