COMMISSION ON HUMAN RIGHTS
ADOPTS RESOLUTION ON SITUATION IN SIERRA LEONE
06 April 1999
AFTERNOON HR/CN/99/21 6 April 1999
Special Rapporteurs on Afghanistan and Sudan Introduce Reports
The Commission on Human Rights this afternoon called on warring factions and forces in Sierra Leone to respect human rights and abide by applicable international humanitarian law. The Commission reminded all factions and forces in Sierra Leone that in any armed conflict, including an armed conflict not of an international character, the taking of hostages and wilful killing and torture or inhuman treatment of persons taking no active part in the hostilities constituted grave breaches of international humanitarian law.
In a resolution reached in private session under the Commission's "1503 procedure" and made public this afternoon, the Commission also said it would discontinue private discussion of the situation in Sierra Leone and take up the matter in public under its agenda item on "the question of the violation of human rights and fundamental freedoms in any part of the world". The resolution further requested the High Commissioner for Human Rights to apprise the Commission at its next session of reports of the Secretary-General concerning human-rights violations in Sierra Leone.
Commission Chairperson Anne Anderson said that during the 1503 meetings, the Commission also had reviewed human-rights situations in Chad, Gambia, Nepal, Saudi Arabia, and Yemen, and had decided to discontinue review of matters in Gambia, Nepal, Saudi Arabia, and Yemen. In reference to Chad, she said, a text would be read out when the Commission took up its agenda item on "advisory services and technical cooperation in the field of human rights".
Later in the afternoon, the Commission heard presentations from its Special Rapporteurs on the situation of human rights in Afghanistan and Sudan.
Kamal Hossain, Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Afghanistan, said that the expectation of restored human rights provided by the Geneva Accords signed in 1998 had remained unfulfilled to date in the country. He concluded that the programme for building a lasting peace must give due place to the progressive realization of the human rights of all the Afghani people. He called on the international community to use its resources to support this peace-building process.
In response, the Representative of Afghanistan said the right to life and security continued to be flouted by the Taliban regime and that people from other religious and ethnic minorities continued to be brutally persecuted. He called on an investigation be carried out into the cases of many Afghans held in Taliban jails who were civilians yet had been held for two years without trial or sentence.
Leonardo Franco, the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Sudan, said that regrettably the adoption of a new Constitution in the country had been overshadowed by the curtailment of a series of political freedoms and reports of abuses such as arbitrary arrests and detentions without due process targeting human rights advocates, as well as political, religious and student leaders. He recommended that the role of State security agencies be restricted since they were directly responsible for human rights violations and their pervasive presence created a climate of fear and intimidation.
In response, the Representative of Sudan said that the Special Rapporteur had unfortunately not reached conclusions based on positive developments in Sudan that he himself had noted in his report. These developments included adoption of a new Constitution with a comprehensive bill of rights; release of all political detainees; and the steady implementation of the peace agreement of 1997.
Also addressing the Commission this afternoon on the question of the violation of human rights in any part of the world were representatives of Argentina, Qatar, Sri Lanka, Poland, Pakistan, Norway, the Republic of Korea, Afghanistan, Cyprus, and Bahrain.
Eritrea, Turkey, Iraq, Ethiopia, and Greece exercised their right of reply.
The Commission held an evening meeting from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m. to continue its debate on the question of the violation of human rights in any part of the world.
Question of the violation of human rights and fundamental freedoms in any part of the world
Under this agenda item, the Commission has before it a report (E/CN.4/1999/25)from the Secretary-General which deals with the Commission's decision of 1998/109 on human rights in Cyprus. It details the United Nations activities pursuant to that decision regarding the Secretary-General's mission of good offices, the United Nations Peace-Keeping Force in Cyprus (UNICYP) and the Committee on Missing Persons in Cyprus.
Also before the Commission is a report (E/CN.4/1999/26) from the Secretary-General which deals with the human rights situation in southern Lebanon and the west Bekaa. It states that a note verbale was sent on 15 May 1998 to the Minister for Foreign Affairs of Israel in this regard and states that no reply has been received to the date of the report.
The Commission is also considering a report (E/CN.4/1999/38) from the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Sudan, Leonardo Franco. The report states that in view of the late appointment of the Special Rapporteur, he will not be in a position to make a full report to the Commission on Human Rights at this stage. Upon satisfactory completion of his mission, a more substantive report will be forthcoming.
The Commission also has before it a note from the Secretary-General (E/CN.4/1999/40) concerning the situation in Afghanistan. The Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Afghanistan, Kamal Hossain, was appointed in December 1998 and will not be presenting a written report to the Commission.
Resolution on Sierra Leone
In a resolution on the situation of human rights in Sierra Leone, the Commission appealed to all factions and forces in Sierra Leone to respect human rights and abide by applicable international humanitarian law; reminded all factions and forces there that in any armed conflict, including an armed conflict not of an international character, the taking of hostages and wilful killing and torture or inhuman treatment of persons taking no active part in the hostilities constituted grave breaches of international humanitarian law, and that all countries were under the obligation to search for persons alleged to have committed, or to have ordered to be committed, such grave breaches and to bring such persons, regardless of nationality, before their own courts; decided to discontinue consideration of the situation in Sierra Leone under the private 1503 procedure and to take up the matter under the public procedure of its agenda item on "the question of the violation of human rights and fundamental freedoms in any part of the world"; requested the High Commissioner for Human Rights to apprise the Commission at its next session of reports of the Secretary-General concerning human-rights violations in Sierra Leone; and decided to make its decision public.
KAMAL HOSSAIN, Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Afghanistan, said that the expectation of restored human rights provided by the Geneva Accords signed in 1998 had remained unfulfilled to date. The most fundamental of the human rights violations had been to reduce the people of Afghanistan for such a long period to becoming virtual hostages or refugees in their own land while externally armed forces sought to rule Afghanistan without the effective participation or consent of its people.
Mr. Hossain maintained that among the realities of the Afghanistan challenge to peace-building were: over 700,000 square kilometres which were contaminated with landmines and unexplored ordnance; chronic malnutrition; dubious distinction of being the world's largest producer of narcotic substances; and over 2 million internally displaced persons.
Mr. Hossain concluded that the programme for building a lasting peace must give due place to the progressive realisation of the human rights of all the Afghani people. The transition process toward building peace through an inclusive participatory process, involving continuing consultations with all segments of the Afghani people, aimed at establishing a broad-based, multi-ethnic and fully representative Government. The international community, he said, must use its resources to support that process and commit itself to actions, among others, as follows: the process must be human-rights focused; the Secretary-General should ensure that all United Nations activities in Afghanistan were carried out taking into account the principle of non-discrimination against women and girls; and all parties of the Afghan conflict should be urged to reaffirm publicly that they were committed to safeguarding internationally recognised human rights and to take measures to prevent human rights abuses.
LEONARDO FRANCO, Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Sudan, said that regrettably the adoption of a new Constitution had been overshadowed by the curtailment of a series of violations of political freedoms and reports of abuses such as arbitrary arrests and detentions without due process, and targeting human rights advocates, as well as political, religious and student leaders. The role of State security agencies should be restricted since they were directly responsible for human rights violations and their pervasive presence created a climate of fear and intimidation. Further, he made recommendations for the prevention and abolition of torture.
Mr. Franco said that one of the most gripping moments of his mission was to discover in the southern garrison town of Wau the existence of a population of several thousand displaced persons within the internally displaced population of 46,000 persons.
The lingering question Mr. Franco emphasized was what could be done to improve the situation of the continuing war and relieve the suffering of the affected population? The prevailing attitude was unfortunately that the imperatives of war relegated human rights concerns until after the conflict. Mr. Franco said that he strongly disagreed with this view and called on the Government and the Sudan People’s Liberation Army to comply with the standards of humanitarian law. He addressed common and specific recommendations to both parties and asked the Commission to endorse them.
PABLO CHELIA (Argentina) called on the Commission to work for the restoration of human rights in Cyprus. Argentina thanked the United Nations Secretary-General for his good offices mission which had made progress towards a negotiated compromise between the two parties to reach a fair solution. Argentina was concerned about the situation of human rights in Cyprus. The international community needed to find a solution which was supported by international instruments and resolutions of the Security Council and the General Assembly. The solution also had to look into the rights of refugees and investigate disappeared persons. The Turkish authorities had made progress, but there had also been difficulties in 1998. Argentina believed that a solution which implied the establishment of two separate zones and which excluded the full union of both communities of the Cypriot population was unacceptable. The whole Cypriot population must be guaranteed the enjoyment of all their rights and liberties.
H.M.G.S. PALIHAKKARA (Sri Lanka) said that his Government had acceded to the Optional Protocol to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights in 1997 despite a campaign of terrorism waged by one of the most ruthless groups in the world, the so-called Tigers. It was also in the process of finalizing its report under the Convention on the Rights of the Child and had filed its first report under the Convention against Torture. The policies and programmes on human rights and humanitarian work undertaken by the Government had to be seen in the context of the extraordinary security threat brought about by the ruthless terrorist group, the LTTE, which openly advocated ethnic cleansing and the ethnic segregation of the country against the will of its own community.
Mr. Palihakkara stated that the root cause of Sir Lanka's principal human rights concern still had remained unresolved, mainly due to the intransigence of the so-called Tigers. The Government had persisted in its efforts to promote a political process of constitutional reform and devolution of power as a means of addressing the ethnic issues in the country. Despite the terrorist activities, the Government had expressed its willingness to enter into negotiations with the LTTE if it demonstrated readiness in a verifiable way, to renounce its terrorist campaign for a mono ethnic separate state in Sri Lanka and joined with other political parties to work towards a negotiated political solution within a specific time-frame.
KHALID BIN HAMAD (Qatar) said attention had to be paid to the situation in south Lebanon and the west Bekaa where human-rights circumstances continued to deteriorate after years of illegal Israeli occupation. Daily, Israel violated basic human-rights standards; Israelis troops destroyed houses and crops; destroyed civilian property; and kept farmers and fishermen from carrying out their livelihoods. The troops also enforced collective punishment; for example, they imposed closures against entire villages if they suspected one occupant of some kind of resistance to the occupation. In addition, there were various forms of physical and mental torture carried out against detainees, including women and children; some detainees had died after their release.
The Commission must continue to bring pressure to bear against the Israeli authorities to halt their human-rights abuses in this region and to withdraw their forces and so remove the base cause of these serious problems.
KRZYSZTOF JAKUBOWSKI (Poland) said the fiftieth anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights last year gave countries a chance to consider the challenges ahead, taking into account the fact that human rights movements had hardly been successful in terminating human rights abuses. Kosovo was a sad testimony of this. Poland categorically condemned such brutality and violence and associated itself with the demands of the international community to immediately halt the barbarity of ethnic cleansing.
Mr. Jakubowski said growing interdependence and globalization were affecting all elements of international relations. Today nobody questioned the universality of basic human rights and this simply meant that human rights had reached an international dimension and that the international community had the moral obligation, right and duty to intervene every time human beings were being abused. There were States which as a matter of principle disregarded essential freedoms and the freedom of expression. Such was the reality prevailing in the remnants of the Communist countries. It was not necessary to name these countries.
SYED SHARIFUDDIN PIRZADA (Pakistan) said that all citizens of Pakistan were entitled to human rights. Pakistan was a vibrant democracy and was one of the first countries to ratify the Convention on the Rights of the Child. There was no situation of gross and systematic violation of human rights in Pakistan, nor were there restrictions on human rights organizations to visit the country and to report on the situation of human rights there.
Mr. Pirzada said Pakistan had taken a number of steps to further improve the human rights situation in the country, including among others: special initiatives to protect women’s rights and the rights of children; police reforms in Punjab and Sindh; and the implementation of landmark judgments declaring various sensitive enactments as void based on their repugnance to fundamental rights.
Pakistan was committed to sincere, meaningful and result-oriented talks for an early solution of the Jammu and Kashmir dispute. Mr. Pirzada underscored Pakistan's hope that under the Commission's focus on the protection of human rights in armed conflicts, it would recommend among others: the scrupulous regard for international humanitarian law; a standing provision to enable all human rights mechanisms to visit any occupied territory or situation of armed conflict to probe and monitor relevant matters; a special rapporteur on human rights violations in occupied territories and situations of armed conflict; stationing of field missions in such territories and situations; and the international community must ensure the population of the occupied territory was free to communicate with human rights organizations and United Nations human rights mechanisms.
JANIS BJORN KANAVIN (Norway) said the human-rights situation in the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia was of great concern; a durable and equitable solution could only be found through political processes based on respect for democracy and human rights; the forced mass evictions, ethnic cleansing, and killing of civilians, including Kosovo-Albanian politicians and intellectuals, by Serbian forces and paramilitary elements had to be strongly condemned.
Norway also expressed concern about human-rights situations in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Sierra Leone, Rwanda, Sudan, Afghanistan, Iraq, Myanmar, Zambia, Zimbabwe, Saudi Arabia, and Cambodia. Progress was noted but concern expressed over situations in China, Turkey, Cuba, East Timor, Iran, and Algeria.
CHANG MAN SOON (Republic of Korea) said that in order to respond to human rights abuses, there was a need to know what human rights were. Human rights problems required genuine full cooperation of individual governments. As the Vienna Declaration and Programme of Action clearly stated, the protection and promotion of human rights and fundamental freedoms were the responsibility of governments. There were repressive regimes in many parts of the world where the denial of basic human rights had become a state policy and where the culture of intolerance and impunity continued to prevail. Such was the situation in the former Yugoslavia.
Mr. Soon said the mutilations and killings in some parts of Africa were another horrifying example of formidable human rights abuses. In Afghanistan, the most basic rights of women and girls, such as the right to work, education and proper health care, were commonly denied, as a result of policy. The full and equal participation of women in political, civil economic, social and cultural life and the eradication of all forms of discrimination on grounds of sex were important priorities for the international community. Nigeria deserved the praise of others with its recent elections. Also in Iran, improvement of human rights were notable since the inauguration of President Khatami. The Korean Government would continue to strengthen the mechanisms of human rights protection and promotion of the Commission on Human Rights.
HUMAYUN TANDAR (Afghanistan) said the right to life and security continued to be flouted by the Taliban regime -- several thousand people had been massacred in the last year during the Taliban campaign in the north of the country. People from other religious and ethnic minorities continued to be brutally persecuted, and it was crucial that an investigation be carried out into the cases of many Afghans held in Taliban jails, most of whom were not prisoners of war -- they were civilians, and many had been held for two years without trial or sentence.
Mr. Tandar said religious persecution continued; the Shi'a suffered in particular. Violence against women and children was just as brutal as in previous years -- they still had no rights to education, to health, to work. The overall discrimination against women was utterly appalling: they had virtually no rights or powers and were regarded as figures of shame useful only for satisfying men's urges. The Taliban was trying to return to the Middle Ages; its adherents were also practising domestic and international terrorism and were growing and marketing illegal drugs.
PETROS EFTYCHIOU (Cyprus) said 25 years after the Turkish invasion and occupation of 37% of the territory of the Republic of Cyprus, massive violations of human rights continued in a systematic manner well after the end of hostilities. He reminded the countries of the tragic consequences of the 1974 Turkish invasion and the human rights situation in Cyprus today.
Mr. Eftychiou said that as a result of the Turkish invasion, 20,000 people living in the area occupied by the Turkish army were forced to abandon their homes and turn into refugees within their own country. Some 25 years later, not a single displaced person had been allowed to return home. The agony and drama of the families of the missing still continued. With the occupation, a large part of Cyprus' cultural heritage, including religious and archaeological monuments, found itself under the control of the occupied regime. At the time of the invasion, there were approximately 120,000 Turkish Cypriots living in Cyprus. Today there were only 60,000 left and at the same time, 114,000 Turkish settlers had been implanted in occupied Cyprus. With regard to the case of Cyprus, the relevant resolutions and high level agreements would offer a sound basis for achieving a just and viable solution to the problem.
AHMED AL HADAD (Bahrain) said the Government had committed itself to guaranteeing its citizens their basic rights to health, education, welfare, and housing, and such policies had brought tangible and admirable results despite a backdrop of limited resources, a rapidly growing population, and a high population density. Citizens had direct personal access to the Amir and Government officials and recently a Shura (consultative) Council had been established, which had 40 members and represented a broad cross-section of the Bahraini community.
Mr. Hadad said Bahrain continued to support an approach of cooperation rather than confrontation in the field of human rights; it cooperated extensively with the United Nations. Bahrain cautioned against the cynical abuse of international human-rights machinery, such as by individuals and groups with no genuine concern for human rights and who only wanted to further extremist and discredited agendas.
AHMED ELMUFTI (Sudan) said the Special Rapporteur had unfortunately not reached conclusions based on positive developments in Sudan that he himself had noted in his report. These developments included adoption of a new Constitution with a comprehensive bill of rights; release of all political detainees; steady implementation of the peace agreement of 1997; declaration of a comprehensive cease-fire which unfortunately had not been accepted by the Sudanese People's Liberation Army (SPLA); and establishment of a constitutional court for the first time in the country's history.
Mr. Elmufti said the Special Rapporteur had received the full cooperation of the Government during his visit to Sudan; but his report failed to adequately note the practical measures undertaken by the Government to bring about peace, including the comprehensive 1997 agreement. In fact he should have justifiably concluded that the SPLA was solely responsible for all violations related to the conflict, including the displacement of the population and abduction and mistreatment of women and children. The Special Rapporteur also failed to understand that peace and democracy could not be built overnight. Finally his conclusions on the issue of slavery were inaccurate and should be reconsidered.
Rights of Reply
AMARE TEKLE (Eritrea), speaking in right of reply, said the Ethiopian representative had evaded the issue in his remarks on the conflict with Eritrea. He had claimed that the Organization of African Unity (OAU),the United Nations and the rest of the world had treated Eritrea as the aggressor; would he point out one OAU or United Nations document which labelled Eritrea as the aggressor even once? And why were the European Union representatives refused permission to visit a supposed bombing site where Eritrea allegedly had violated the air moratorium? It was not only human beings but also truth that had been deported from Ethiopia.
BULENT MERCI (Turkey), speaking in right of reply, in response to the statement of the Ambassador of Greece, said his country considered it was an attempt to white wash the scene. However, the statement could not hide the fact that a bloody terrorist, the mastermind of more than 100,000 crimes in Turkey, had sojourned in the Greek Embassy. Turkey considered deplorable Greek violations of human rights against the Turkish minority residing in Greece who were denied even the most fundamental rights including, among others: repression in the fields of education and religion, full employment of their professions; and the destruction of their cultural heritage.
TAHA MAHMOOD (Iraq), speaking in right of reply, said the statements of Norway and New Zealand were not accurate but a politicization of human rights; it was also wrong to use double standards; those statements were based on allegations in the report of the Special Rapporteur, and Iraq had already refuted those allegations. Norway and New Zealand should at least have been fair and referred to the international economic embargo that had caused the most grievous human-rights abuses; the embargo had killed more than a million people. There also were brutal and illegal weapons, including ammunition made of depleted uranium, that had been used against Iraq.
BIRHANEMESKAL ABEKE (Ethiopia), speaking in right of reply, said that the Eritrean delegation had once again vilified Ethiopia, with the intention of detracting attention from the plight of Ethiopian nationals in Eritrea who were being deliberately exposed to risk and death. The Eritrean authorities would still like the world to believe that these Ethiopian nationals were acting of their own free will. The right to live in peace in one’s own country was being violated for thousands of Ethiopians still living under Eritrean occupation. This was an Eritrean attempt to change the demography of the region that it had illegally occupied. The international community must condemn this and demand that Eritrea refrain from further committing these criminal acts and hold accountable all those responsible for war crimes.
EMMANUEL MANOUSKIS (Greece), speaking in right of reply, said Turkey once again had misled the Commission; he wished to state once and for all that Greece did not and never would support terrorism and did not support the PKK. In fact the Kurdish situation was a human-rights matter and needed to be faced up to and resolved on that basis by Turkey. It also should be pointed out that fighting against terrorism could not be used as an excuse for human-rights violations.