ANTI-RACISM COMMITTEE CONCLUDES CONSIDERATION OF REPORT OF ARMENIA
13 March 1998
13 March 1998
Experts Call for Effective Steps to Stop Second Genocide in the Making in Rwanda
The Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination this morning concluded its consideration of a report presented by Armenia and recommended that the Government keep statistics on racially motivated crimes and report to the Committee on such crimes brought before the courts.
In response to questions raised earlier, Mr. Ashot MeliK-Shahnazarian, Head of the Department of the International of the Organizations of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Armenia, said that all Azerbaijanis had left Armenia peacefully and of their own volition. Azerbaijan, on the other hand, had followed a blatant policy of discrimination against Armenians living there and had forced them to leave the country.
As one of 150 States parties to the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination, Armenia is required to submit a report to the Committee on measures taken to implement the provisions of the treaty.
In concluding remarks, Mr. Luis Valencia Rodriguez, the Committee member from Ecuador, serving as rapporteur on Armenia, thanked the delegation for its detailed report and the wide-ranging and frank answers given to the questions raised. He recommended that Armenia keep statistics of racially motivated crimes, and report to the Committee on cases of such crimes brought before the courts. More information was needed on, among other things, the political, education, and employment situation of minority groups in Armenia as well as on their access to health care, work and housing.
The Committee will issue written conclusions and recommendations on the report towards the end of its three-week session, which concludes 20 March.
Also this morning, the Committee discussed the situation in Rwanda under its early warning and urgent procedures mechanism. The experts pointed to a second genocide in the making in Rwanda and said that early and effective steps should be taken to put an end to the tensions, conflicts and massacres taking place in the north-west of the country.
In view of the urgency of the situation developing in Rwanda, the Committee decided to maintain this item on its agenda and reconsider the situation at its next session. Mr. Michael Parker Banton, acting as rapporteur for Rwanda, will draft a statement on Rwanda to be adopted by the Committee before the end of its three-week session.
The following experts participated in the proceedings: Michael Parker Banton (United Kingdom); Ion Diaconu (Romania); Ivan Garvalov (Bulgaria); Régis de Gouttes (France); Peter Nobel (Sweden); Gay Mcdougall (United States); Shanti Sadiq Ali (India); Agha Shahi (Pakistan); Luis Valencia Rodriguez (Ecuador); and Mario Jorge Yutzis (Argentina).
The experts will reconvene at 3 p.m. this afternoon to begin consideration of a report of the Libyan Arab Jamahiriya (document CERD/C/299/Add.13).
Discussion of Report of Armenia
Continuing yesterday's discussion on the report of Armenia, Committee members said the country did not fully implement the provisions of the Convention prohibiting all propaganda and organizations based on ideas of superiority of one race or ethnic group. An expert suggested that the new Penal Code which could be adopted in November of this year should include a special category of offenses with a racial motivation which required the introduction of harsher penalties than other similar infringements of the law.
One Committee member asked for more information on the position of minorities in the fields of housing, employment, education and health care. These were needed to obtain a specific and accurate picture of the current situation of minorities. Although religious organisations were free not to register, it seemed that those that registered benefitted from certain advantages.
An expert asked for the differences in substance between the terms ethnic minority and national minority which were used indiscriminately in the report. There was no reference, in the report, to the Islamic religion, one expert noted.
Responding to questions of Committee members, ASHOT MELIK-SHAHNAZARIAN, Head of the Department of the International Organizations of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Armenia, said that with the fall of the Soviet Union, attempts were made to resolve the situation of Nagorni Karabach through democratic means. However, Azerbaijan occupied a large part of the area and undertook a policy of ethnic cleansing of Armenians living there. Prior to the departure of a number of Azerbaijanis from Armenia, they numbered 168,000. All Azerbaijanis who left the country did so peacefully and of their own volition, contrary to the Armenians of Azerbaijan. To date there were more than 50,000 Azerbaijanis still living in Armenia. Azerbaijan had followed a blatant policy of discrimination against Armenians and forced them to leave that country.
Concerning reference in the report to degrading treatment carried out by investigating officers and imperfections of the criminal justice legislation, Mr. Melik-Shahnazarian said Armenia was still a young State and much was being done to improve investigatory and judicial bodies. Prosecution of persons for political opinions no longer occurred in the country. In fact, a humanitarian organization had reported that there were no more political prisoners in Armenian prisons. Currently, 12 candidates of different politics were authorised to stand for the Presidential elections to take place this year.
All ethnic groups in the country, representing approximately 3.5 per cent of the total population, participated in the social and cultural life, the head of the delegation continued. Since the independence of Armenia, no reports by any organizations had said that the rights of minorities were being encroached upon. The 2,000 Kurds living in the country enjoyed very broad rights and had set up an international organization which had legal status in Armenia. The Kurdish language was taught in 10 Armenian schools in the areas settled by the Kurds. Moreover, Kurds had their own scientific institutions and Kurdish-language newspapers, radio and television.
Concerning the rights of deported persons, national minorities and peoples, Mr. Melik-Shahnazrian said individuals as well as entire peoples were deported from their homes during the Soviet period. Armenians themselves had been deported from a number of Soviet Republics. Legislation was therefore passed to allow deported persons to return to their homes. Measures were also taken to ensure all rights and property were restored and to facilitate reintegration in the country.
Under the Soviet system, citizenship referred to the Soviet Union and nationality to the nationality of origin. i.e. Russian, Armenian, Ukrainian, the representative explained. As a result, the term national minorities was used to depict persons of other ethnic origin. Attempts were being made to bring the terminology in line with international standards, however, this was not completed and it explained the different terminology used in the report.
Mr. Melik-Shahnazrian said the whole legal system was undergoing an in-depth reform and further information would be given in the next report on this. The draft Criminal Code was already partly adopted at second reading, and should be fully adopted by May of this year. All new legislation would be sent to the Committee, he said. The implementation of legislative provisions was taking place gradually as mentalities took a long time to evolve. Measures were carried out to train people in the application of certain provisions, he said.
No statistics were kept on persons of ethnic origin because it was felt that this would result in a form of segregation, separating those of minority ethnic origin from those of majority ethnic groups. Participation in referenda was the same for everybody, and there were no limitations on freedom of movement.
The term Armenian referred to all ethnic Armenians irrespective of their nationality, Mr. Melik-Shahnazrian said. Such persons benefitted from simplified procedures to obtain nationality. This stemmed from the large number of Armenians of ethnic origin exiled following the genocide carried out by the Ottoman Empire between 1915 and 1922. As this took place only 83 years ago, it was felt that the exiled persons had the right to Armenian citizenship.
In concluding remarks, Committee member LUIS VALENCIA RODRIGUEZ thanked the delegation for its detailed report and the wide ranging and frank answers given to the questions raised. Noting the important economic and political problems faced by the country, he expressed the hope that Armenia would continue to consolidate its democratic institutions on the basis of the rule of law. The large population movements were being dealt with in accordance to the principles of the Convention and other international human rights instruments, he said.
Mr. Rodriguez said Armenia should continue to ensure full respect of the provisions of the Convention including those stemming from articles 4, 5 and 6.
Noting the country was still building its new legal system
Mr. Rodriguez requested copies of the new legislation to be adopted. He recommended that Armenia keep statistics of racially motivated crimes, and report to the Committee when such crimes were brought before the courts. More information would be appreciated on, among other things, the exceptions made to certain rights of foreign nationals; the promotion of education and culture of Armenian citizens; measures adopted to protect the rights of deported persons; and the political, education, employment situation of minority groups as well as their access to health care, work and housing. He encouraged the country in its endeavours to disseminate information on human rights issues and said it should further promote tolerance and friendship among racial or ethnic groups. Mr. Rodriguez expressed the hope that a Commission of Human Rights would be set up in the country.
Situation of Rwanda
Committee member MICHAEL PARKER BANTON presented the situation in Rwanda under the Committee's early warning and urgent procedures mechanism. He said that the Committee had adopted a statement in 1996: recalling its earlier decisions; emphasising the importance of the United Nations Assistance Mission for Rwanda; expressing concern over delays in bringing persons to justice and over continuing incitement to ethnic hatred; recommending the convening of a constitutional conference; and offering its co-operation in that event. In 1997 the CERD welcomed the presence of a State delegation and the information it provided. At that session, the representative noted that reconciliation could only come about if the country had the means to rebuild the social and economic foundations of the society. The international community had provided only minimal resources to the new Government, the representative added.
Mr. Banton said the Committee should express regret that the Government did not accept the invitation to attend this session and provide up-to-date information. Events in the country were a continuing cause for concern, in particular those related to events in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. The Committee should agree to keep Rwanda on the list for prevention procedures and reconsider the situation at its 54th session as it was necessary to obtain further information and the results of the Secretary-General's Investigative Mission to the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
Pointing to a second genocide in the making, a number of experts stressed that the situation in the country should remain on the agenda and should be considered at the Committee's next session. Early and effective steps should be taken to put an end to the tensions, conflicts and massacres taking place in the north-west of the country.
Members of the Committee stressed the need to put an end to impunity. They said it was imperative that those responsible for ethnic massacres be tried for the crimes committed and that justice be carried out according to fair and impartial procedures. More information was needed on the progress made by the International Tribunal in Arusha. To what extent were the proceedings being covered in the media in Rwanda, one expert asked. Committee members called on the Government to cooperate with the International Tribunal and with the Secretary-General's Investigative Mission.
A number of experts said it was urgent to avoid any new acts of violence for racial motives and take measures to normalize the situation. Assistance should be provided to Rwanda to develop institutions of Government that were inclusive of all ethnic groups.
The Committee decided to maintain this item on its agenda and to reconsider the situation at its next session in view of the urgency of the situation. Mr. Banton will draft a statement to be adopted by the Committee before the end of its three-week session.