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Press releases


02 April 2004

1 April 2004

National Delegations Urge Strengthening
of Judicial Independence, Democracy,
Freedom of Religion; Call for End to Torture,
Extra judicial Executions

A series of national delegations told the Commission on Human Rights this afternoon of Government efforts to enhance civil and political rights, notably through increasing the independence of the judiciary and carrying out reforms to support democracy.

Other issues raised included continuing reports of torture around the world, violations of freedom of expression and religion, and risks to fundamental liberties posed by anti-terrorism measures.

A Representative of Norway said it was in difficult times that human rights and democratic values were put to the test, and the world could not afford to fail this test. Three human rights that were frequently challenged, the Representative said, were the right to freedom from torture, the right to freedom of expression, and the right to freedom of religion or belief.

Ireland, speaking on behalf of the European Union, said certain groups were frequently targeted for extrajudicial killings, including human rights defenders, ethnic, religious and linguistic minorities, internally displaced persons, women, children and indigenous people. In addition, many women and girls were killed in the name of misplaced honour or morality. No such violations could be condoned or justified, the Irish Representative said.

A Representative of the Holy See said religious freedom continued to be violated and there was an added dimension today of non-State groups taking upon themselves the initiative to discriminate and even use violence against religious minorities, in many cases with impunity.

Among several countries addressing problems of terrorism, Turkey said attempts to identify terrorism with any religion were unacceptable, and therefore it was regrettable to observe a repeated tendency to equate terrorism with Islam. Terrorists should be condemned and judged not because of their race, colour or belief, but because of their deeds.

Speaking before the afternoon meeting were Representatives of Nepal, the Republic of Korea, Ireland (on behalf of the European Union), Austria, Hungary, Bhutan, Romania, Yemen, Iraq, Norway, Venezuela, Kuwait, the Holy See, Switzerland, Turkey, Singapore, Algeria, Senegal, Cameroon, Tunisia, Zambia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Serbia and Montenegro, Israel, Cyprus, Morocco, and Belarus.

The following non-governmental organizations also delivered statements: of International Association for Religious Freedom speaking on behalf of several NGOs1; Federation of Cuban Women speaking on behalf of several NGOs2; Dominicans for Justice and Peace; speaking on behalf of Franciscans International; Dominican Leadership Conference; Pax Christi International; MADRE speaking on behalf of Center for Women’s Global Leadership; Commission for the Defence of Human Rights in Central America; Swedish Association for Sex Education; China Society for Human Rights Studies speaking on behalf of Chinese Association for International Understanding; United Nations Association of China; B’nai B’rith speaking on behalf of Coordination Board of Jewish Organizations; International League for Human Rights speaking on behalf of International Helsinki Federation for Human Rights; Amnesty International speaking on behalf of Human Rights Watch; International Federation of Human Rights Leagues speaking on behalf of Agir ensemble pour les droits de l’homme; International Movement for Fraternal Union among Races and Peoples; International Educational Development; World Organization against Torture; Baha’i International Community; International Commission of Jurists; Human Rights Watch; and Liberation.

Azerbaijan and Armenia spoke in right of reply.

Debate on civil and political rights will continue when the Commission reconvenes at 10 a.m. on Friday, 2 April. Over 80 non-governmental organizations are scheduled to speak on the topic.


GYAN CHANDRA ACHARYA (Nepal) said civil and political rights, together with economic, social and cultural rights, constituted the fundamental tenets of human rights and as such the very essence of a humane and just society. They were the foundations of peace, justice, freedom and human happiness, and this was why the two sets of rights were considered to be universal, indivisible and interdependent. If peace and stability were crucial for these rights to flourish, creating an enabling environment for their effective implementation was equally indispensable.

Nepal was committed to advancing these rights in line with Constitutional provisions and international commitments. The Government was committed to doing what was necessary and possible in this context, as it was aware of its responsibilities and obligations to protect human rights, and also because it was convinced that it was in the larger interests of peace, equity and justice. However, in protecting human rights, none should lose sight of the fundamental right to life and liberty of all. It was also the responsibility of the international community to see to it that the State continued to carry out its essential duties of protection and security for all.

JI-AH PAIK (Republic of Korea) said as history had witnessed, the universal values of human rights were better protected and promoted in democratic countries. Only where voices from every corner of civil society were heard and the freedom of opinion and expression was fully guaranteed without fear of being suppressed could all expect a prospering democracy and human rights. To achieve this, concerted efforts by the international community at the national, regional and global levels were needed.

The primary responsibility rested always with Governments. Good governance, based on fundamental principles such as transparency, accountability and the rule of law, was certainly an essential element of democracy. The issue of human rights and terrorism had drawn the attention of the international community. In its unswerving support of the international community’s concerted efforts to combat terrorism, the Government of the Republic of Korea had also made its best efforts to ensure that protection of human rights was one of the main criteria of its legislation and policy-making in relation to counter-terrorism activities.

MARY WHELAN (Ireland), speaking on behalf of the European Union, said all States – whether parties to the International Covenant of Civil and Political Rights or not – were bound to observe the rights proclaimed in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. All States should cooperate with the special procedures of the Commission and other mechanisms, an important aspect of which was the willingness to receive visits from Special Rapporteurs and monitoring bodies. All members of the European Union had announced their willingness to receive such visits. The establishment of a Follow-up Unit within the Office of the High Commissioner would be a welcome addition to efforts to close the still-yawning gap between international human rights standards and their practical implementation.

Among the European Union’s priorities was abolition of the death penalty. Where it to exist, it must be restricted to the most serious crimes and only be carried out in conformity with the minimum standards approved by the United Nations. The reports of Special Rapporteurs gave compelling evidence that violations of the right to life continued to occur in various parts of the world. Certain groups were frequently targeted for extrajudicial killing, including human rights defenders, ethnic, religious and linguistic minorities, internally displaced persons, women, children and indigenous people. Many were killed because of their sexual orientation, and many women and girls were killed in the name of misplaced honour or morality. No such violations could be condoned or justified. Many of those subject to extrajudicial killing were also the victims of enforced disappearances. Grave concern was expressed over the large number of unsolved cases before the Working Group on that subject, as well as over the increase in new cases. It was to be hoped that a legally binding instrument to protect all persons from enforced disappearance would be successfully drafted. Other issues of concern were deprivation of liberty linked to use of the Internet; deprivation of the liberty of vulnerable persons; torture; violations of freedom to opinion and expression and freedom of religion and belief; barriers to establishment of independent and efficient legal systems; and impunity.

GEORG MAUTNER-MARKHOF (Austria) said the existence of an independent, vigilant and impartial judiciary was fundamental for civil and political rights. Yet little had been done to provide judges with basic materials on international human rights norms and with jurisprudence to support them in strengthening the protection of human rights. While the role of judges was pivotal, their long-term impact on the human rights situation of a country was often overlooked. For that reason, the Austrian Government had convened an international symposium on the role of judges in the promotion and protection of human rights and on strengthening inter-agency cooperation on the occasion of the tenth anniversary of the 1993 World Conference on Human Rights.

Among the Conference’s objectives had been to draw attention to the needs of judges for independence, impartiality, competence and integrity. All States and relevant actors of the United Nations system and regional organizations were invited to take advantage of the set of recommendations that had come out of the symposium. There also was a need to avoid gender-discrimination in court and to ensure women’s full and equal access to justice. Measures to ensure gender equality within the judiciary and their staff were important, as were adequate representation of female judges and an overall gender balance in assistance projects.

ORSOLYA TOTH (Hungary) said Hungary attached great importance to the independence of the judiciary, as evidenced by its sponsorship of resolutions on the issue over many years. The tenth anniversary of the mandate of the Special Rapporteur on the independence of the judiciary provided a good opportunity for taking stock and analyzing achievements and best practices. In any democratic society, judges were the guardians of rights and fundamental freedoms. The general scarcity of financial resources, inadequate legislation on the judiciary, lack of modern criminal codes and codes of procedure and lack of proper training thwarted endeavours to ensure the promotion and protection of human rights. Lack of resources must not be accepted as an excuse for not fulfilling the principles of the independence of the judiciary.

It should also be noted that in addition to a lack of financial resources, lawyers and judges also faced continued harassment, intimidation, torture and enforced disappearances. In addition, their integrity was repeatedly challenged. Judges and lawyers were prominent human rights defenders and it was indispensable that their independence be duly guaranteed.

SONAM T. RABGYE (Bhutan) said civil and political rights and freedom from want and fear could only be achieved if conditions were created whereby everyone enjoyed civil and political rights, as well as economic, social and cultural rights. Consistent with these values and its vision, Bhutan had taken a unique approach to development that placed the individual at its centre and emphasized good governance, equitable socio-economic development, environmental conservation and preservation of culture and tradition as key elements.

Continuous and far-reaching political developments had been taking place in Bhutan. The process of drafting a written Constitution had begun in November 2001, and once prepared it would be taken to the people in all the districts for thorough discussion before its adoption by the National Assembly. It was expected that the draft Constitution would fully protect fundamental rights and freedoms as well as the basic needs of the people. It would clearly define the role of all Bhutan’s political institutions, both traditional and new, and would spell out the country’s philosophy and principles of governance.

PETRU DUMITRIU (Romania) said the country had hosted on 14 and 15 November 2003 the Central and Eastern Europe Community of Democracies Regional Conference and NGO Forum. Participants had emphasized the importance of transparency and accountability of public institutions in strengthening democracy. They acknowledged the responsibility of civil society and of the media in monitoring public institutions and the way Governments exercised their power. They agreed that effectiveness in formulating governmental policies and carrying out programmes could be enhanced through the involvement of civil society. In Europe, the role of regional organizations in promoting democracy and human rights had been crucial. Governmental delegations described existing mechanisms of regional cooperation based on the conviction that national experiences were relevant for a common vision for consolidating democracy and respect for human rights.

The NGO Forum had recognized that promoting democracy was possible only through genuine cooperation between all societal actors. Best practices were shared, with particular focus on the impact of civil society activities aimed at promoting good governance and education for democracy.

MANAF AL SALAHI (Yemen) said Yemen continued to focus on the promotion of every citizen’s enjoyment of his civil and political rights, without discrimination. Those rights had been ensured in national legislation and there was recognition of the need for their implementation regionally and nationally. The national process aimed at guaranteeing all the rights prescribed in the International Covenant. The right to participate in public life had been incorporated as a principle underpinning legislation on the right to participate through referenda. The 2003 elections to the People’s Assembly had been conducted directly and with universal suffrage. Additionally, universal suffrage had applied during the 1999 and 2001 People’s Assembly elections, the 2001 local elections and the 1999 presidential election.

These rights had been ensured through various institutions – executive, legislative and judicial. Moreover, the Government had taken measures to prohibit torture. Human rights mechanisms had regular access to the country’s prisons. Still, it was very difficult for Yemen to eliminate all human rights violations.

SUROOD R. NAJEEB (Iraq) said Iraq was committed to the application of human rights and the implementation of all international humanitarian and human rights covenants. The previous regime had perpetrated the gravest violations of human rights, as evidenced by the large number of mass graves. It had repressed the freedoms of thought, expression, religion, association, movement and others. Summary executions and political killings had been widespread, as were disappearances and the execution of political prisoners and others. The previous regime also had oppressed political parties of all tendencies. Various religious and ethnic communities had witnessed violations of their rights in the worst ways.

The new Government of Iraq, embodied in its Governing Council which represented various sections of society, had called for the respect of the human rights of all Iraqis, regardless of ethnicity, religion, sex or other criteria. All punishments that violated human rights had been prohibited, and Iraq intended to join the Convention against Torture. Iraq’s retrieval of its independence and freedom of Government would guarantee for all their religious, economic, political and civil rights so that they could take part in the Iraq of tomorrow.

SVERRE BERGH JOHANSEN (Norway) said it was in difficult times that human rights and democratic values were put to the test. This also applied to the commitment to these values. The world could not afford to fail this test. There were three human rights that were frequently challenged, and the first of these was the right to freedom from torture, which was among the most abhorrent violations of human rights. Yet reports suggested that its use had not diminished.

Freedom of expression was among the basic prerequisites for a democratic society, and this right was often under threat in times of crisis. Only through freedom of expression and access to information were members of society able to monitor the representatives elected by them. Freedom of religion and belief were related to freedom of opinion, and there was a need to build pluralistic societies where everyone had freedom and responsibility for their own beliefs. Tolerance and the exchange of ideas were key factors for development, peace, and change.

FERMIN TORO JIMENEZ (Venezuela) said the raison d’etre behind the current process propelling the people of Venezuela towards an authentic people’s democracy intended to eradicate poverty and misery was the commitment of the Government to the full realization of human rights. It had become possible to exercise the freedoms of opinion, expression, thought, association and assembly to an extent unprecedented in the history of the country. However, the Government had to denounce the way in which the majority of the media had denigrated those population sectors that supplied support to Government, inciting hatred and social, racial and cultural discrimination and ignoring their Constitutional responsibility to provide impartial and accurate information. That situation constituted a violation of human rights, particularly the rights of children, who made up 52 per cent of the country’s population.

The Government was currently engaged in drafting a law on social responsibility in radio and television. Venezuela was also engaged in judicial reform aimed at putting an end to decades of corruption and deterioration. In 1998, some 95 per cent of the country’s judges had been provisional appointments. Today, half of the judiciary had permanent posts. The State of Venezuela had also paid out approximately 2 billion Bolivars to the victims of past Government violations of human rights, based upon a decision of the Inter-American Court of Human Rights.

NAJEEB A.A. AL-BADER.(Kuwait) said Kuwait strongly condemned any form of terrorism and would continue its cooperation with the international community in the fight against that scourge. Kuwait opposed all forms of terrorism wherever they took place and whoever committed them. It believed terrorism was the main obstacle to the full enjoyment of human rights. Terrorism had negative effects on States' efforts to strengthen the rule of law and consolidate the economic, social and cultural rights of their citizens. It also could disrupt civil and political rights.

Kuwait rejected the association of acts of terrorism with particular ethnic or religious groups. Kuwait believed that the evil of terrorism should be eradicated through the concerted efforts of the international community. Kuwait, being a victim of Iraq's invasion, had experienced the consequences and the damages of terrorism.

SILVANO M. TOMASI (Holy See) said the place of religions in society and their role in public life in service of the people had been an issue in recent debates provoked by political events and increased pluralism in many countries. Religion was an important dimension in the lives of individuals and peoples, and it was natural that it should play an active role in the public arena. Any follower of any religion had the right, with no prejudice to the security and legitimate authority of the State, to be respected in his convictions and practices, in the name of religious freedom, which was one of the fundamental aspects of freedom of conscience and an effective contributor to the common good of society.

International juridical instruments had constantly affirmed the value and importance of religious freedom and had provided protection against discrimination against all religious believers so that they might freely profess their faith according to their conscience, their symbols and their traditions. Unfortunately, religious freedom continued to be violated in several places and there was an added dimension today of non-State groups taking upon themselves the initiative to discriminate and even use violence against religious minorities, in many cases with impunity. Places of worship and cemeteries had been burned down or vandalized or desecrated; believers had been threatened, attacked and even killed.

JEAN-DANIEL VIGNY (Switzerland) said certain discussions on the legitimacy of the resort to torture had taken place over the last year, in particular in the context of the fight against terrorism. Attempts to justify in certain circumstances practices that amounted to torture had sadly again seen the light of day. However, the prohibition of torture was absolute, and recourse to practices of this type, whatever their form, could not in any way be justified.

Switzerland appealed to authorities in every country to manifest their total opposition to torture. Any attempt to legalize physical and psychological pressure during interrogation, when, for example, faced with terrorism, should be condemned in the most emphatic terms, and any person suspected of perpetrating torture should be brought to trial. Switzerland recognized the legitimacy of the fight against terrorism and the duty of every State to ensure the maximum level of security for its citizens, but this fight should imperatively respect human rights, international humanitarian law, and international law with regard to refugees.

TURKEKUL KURTTEKIN (Turkey) said there was an ongoing substantial reform process in Turkey with the purpose of upgrading democracy and human rights standards to the highest levels attainable by aligning legislation with international norms. Human rights were not static, they had an evolutionary character, and as such they were a great challenge. No country could ever claim a perfect human rights record, and all had to accelerate their efforts to meet this challenge. It required self-confidence and determination. The Commission was the only international platform where all could make use of the collective wisdom and collective conscience of humanity to enlarge upon common denominators to upgrade human rights. A climate of cooperation, dialogue, tolerance, understanding, and respect for the other should prevail in the Commission.

Terrorism was a common threat to humanity and an affront to human dignity, democracy, human rights and economic and social development, and there could be no excuse for it. Attempts to identify terrorism with any religion were unacceptable, and therefore it was regrettable to observe a repeated tendency to equate terrorism with Islam. Terrorists should be condemned and judged not because of their race, colours or beliefs, but because of their deeds. International cooperation was essential for combating terrorism, and this fight should be in conformity with international law. Root causes needed to be addressed while not compromising in the fight against terror.

KEVIN LIM (Singapore) said national military service had had a profound impact upon society in Singapore over its 30 years of independence. No one was exempt and, regardless of social background, military standing was determined solely by performance. Singapore’s national service highlighted the fact that as different countries evolved in different ways, their priorities and value systems were bound to differ. The relevant draft resolution before the Commission on military service ignored that fact in insisting on universal applicability of the right to conscientious objection. In seeking to impose a standard upon the whole world, the co-sponsors of the draft were foisting their value systems on others. The draft also ignored the fact that national defense was a fundamental sovereign right under international law and that dealing with conscientious objectors must be a matter for each State.

Furthermore, the draft ignored Article 29 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and Article 18 of the International Covenant of Civil and Political Rights, which recognized that the exercise of the rights and freedoms of an individual were subject to the limitation of ensuring public order and the general welfare of society. Thus the draft represented a convenient misinterpretation of international human rights standards. Finally, the draft ignored that when a State had a compulsory military system, allowing individuals to be excused on the basis of conscientious objection fundamentally undermined collective responsibility for national defense, compromised national values and violated the principle of universal application of the law.

LAZHAR SOUALEM (Algeria) said item 11 of the agenda offered the opportunity to a number of delegations to make an up-to-date analysis of the situation of democratic liberties and to put into focus gains made in the consolidation and irreversibility of democratic processes. Algeria, which was coming out of a decade of horror into which it had been plunged by terrorism, was salving its wounds. The social scarification of this dolorous period had resulted in the conviction that the State, as the public power, should give to its citizens, in particular in the context of the “disappeared”, answers. Families should know the truth and thus be allowed to grieve.

Reform of the justice system, launched over two years ago, was one of the most important projects Algeria had ever known in the context of consolidation of the rule of law. The emancipation of women and the fight against all forms of violence towards women had also been a focus of Government attention. A Presidential election would take place in April, and work had been done to ensure that it would be totally transparent. The election would be a new point of departure for Algeria, as it would consolidate the irreversibility of the democratic process and would consecrate, thanks to open competition for the post, what had already been gained.

PAPA DIOP (Senegal) said Senegal had made the reinforcing of judicial power and the independence of judges and lawyers one of the priorities of its policy of consolidation of the rule of law and protection of citizens’ rights. Senegal sought to preserve the objectivity and impartiality of judges. The Senegalese Constitution stipulated that the judiciary was a power in its own right, and was independent from the legislative and executive branches. This distinction was important as it indicated the strong commitment of the Senegalese public powers to the advancement of the judiciary to the status of a full and independent institution.

Judicial power was exercised in Senegal by the courts, tribunals, and magistrates. They were managed by an organic law which defined the status of the Magistrature. The judicial system in Senegal allowed magistrates to affirm their independence in any and every circumstance, even though it was important to recognize that the independence and impartiality of justice rested mainly on the will of judges to remain independent.

MICHEL MAHOUVE (Cameroon) said Cameroon gave great importance to conciliating respect for the fundamental rights of the human person with the needs for order and security without which no society could develop. The prohibition of torture was a Constitutional norm, and this was expressed in internal judicial norms. There was no guaranteed impunity in Cameroon for those who had committed acts of torture, and those found guilty of this crime were condemned severely, following due process.

Human rights defenders were not the object of harassment by Government powers. Further, Cameroon refused to reject any foreigner in any way, be it by expulsion or extradition, when this could result in the torture of the person concerned when he returned to his own country. Cameroon intended to ratify the optional protocol to the Convention against Torture, which would confirm its will to be totally transparent, as already evidenced by its invitation to the Special Rapporteur on torture to visit. In its fight against this scourge of modern times, Cameroon needed the help of the international community in general and of the Commission in particular. The baseless accusations of some NGOs, rapid to criticize, would not stop the determination and efforts of Cameroon in this field.

HOLLA BACH TOBJI (Tunisia) said Tunisia was committed to the promotion and protection of the human rights of its citizens. A series of measures had been taken to strengthen institutions and other mechanisms aimed at protecting and promoting human rights. Tunisia was also fully complying with international human rights instruments and strictly implementing them. The Government believed in the universality and indivisibility of human rights, and thus it was equally focusing on strengthening the economic, social and cultural rights of its people. Following a referendum on the Constitution, significant reforms had been made to meet the needs of the country’s rapidly progressing society.

Reform constituted a fundamental step in the setting up of institutional structures for the consolidation of the rights and fundamental freedoms of citizens, the strengthening of relations between the executive and the legislative branches, and the widening of the powers of the Constitutional Council. A number of results had been achieved through implementation of the new provisions. The electoral system had been made transparent, and the next legislative elections would take place on 24 October.

LOVE MTESA (Zambia) said corporal punishment in Zambian schools had been outlawed. It was not even practiced in prisons, as it was illegal. The Zambian Constitution guaranteed the fundamental rights and freedoms of the individual, whatever their race, place of origin, colour, creed, sex or marital status. It further provided for the freedoms of expression, assembly and association. Those freedoms could only be limited in the interests of defense, public safety, public order, public morality or public health; when there was a need to protect the reputation, rights and freedoms of other persons; or when anything done was not justifiable in a democratic society.

As a result of the importance attached nationally to the freedom of expression, each individual was given the opportunity to express his or her views in the national debate on the Constitution being conducted through the Constitutional Review Commission. This freedom of expression had also resulted in a growing number of privately owned radio stations and newspapers. These were not censored or interfered with by the Government. As a result of provisions safeguarding freedom of assembly and association, there had been more than ten political parties during the 2001 general and presidential elections – the number had now dropped to seven because some opposition members had retired and other political parties had merged. The Government would continue to respect these and other fundamental rights and freedoms for its citizens to ensure that democracy, transparency and accountability prevailed.

MILOS VUKASINOVIC (Bosnia and Herzegovina) said the tragic conflict on its territory had caused consequences which would only be healed through hard work over a long period of time. The issue of missing persons was one of the most sensitive, with the gravest of consequences. This was not only a humanitarian issue, but also a political problem, the solution of which was of vital importance for the improvement of the whole human rights situation in Bosnia and Herzegovina as well as for the rebuilding of confidence and the speeding up of the current reconciliation process.

The Government of Bosnia and Herzegovina considered that its experience, as well as that of other countries that had been involved in armed conflicts, showed that further and more decisive international action in this field was needed. Therefore, the Inter-governmental Conference on missing persons of the International Committee of the Red Cross was deeply welcomed, as were the conference’s recommendations.

MILAN BEGOVIC (Serbia and Montenegro) said the country had undertaken comprehensive reforms in the field of human rights. It had acceded to the optional protocol to the Convention against All Forms of Discrimination against Women and had signed the optional protocol to the Convention against Torture. Capital punishment had been abolished. The right to conscientious objection had been provided by a decree on alternative national service which allowed national service to be done in civilian institutions. These were important steps forward in completing the system devised to ensure full respect for human rights. Recently, the Government had changed its electoral regulations; the ethnic minority parties’ election threshold had been removed. Affirmative measures had been introduced with regard to women. The law on the Ombudsman, recently passed by the Assembly, provided for more efficient and consistent protection of human rights.

Notwithstanding those achievements, there was still a lot to be done. The focus would be on legislative reform, including reform of the judiciary and home affairs, and the struggle against corruption and organized crime. The Government expected the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights to continue its efforts under the provisions of the Memorandum of Understanding on Cooperation in the Development and Implementation of Technical Cooperation Programmes. Unfortunately, those positive developments had been overshadowed by the recent outburst of ethnically motivated violence in the southern Serbian Province of Kosovo and Metohija. It was particularly distressing that such acts of terror by Kosovo Albanian extremists against Serbian and other non-Albanian communities were happening despite the considerable international presence in the province.

YAAKOV LEVY (Israel) said that religious intolerance was among the most pernicious of prejudices and had had the most ghastly of effects over the last two millennia. The Jewish people had been the victims of religious intolerance for 2000 years. That distinct form of intolerance was known as anti-Semitism. It was the oldest and most continuous form of religious intolerance ever known. For twenty centuries, Jews had been exiled, expelled from their homes, persecuted, burned alive, their synagogues desecrated, their holy books burned or confiscated by the authorities, their very existence hanging by a thread. That phenomenon had set the stage for the greatest act of mass murder in history, the Shoah or the Holocaust. The term "genocide" was coined in order to describe the Holocaust.

Unfortunately, since the year 2000, there had been a resurgence of that most ancient hatred. Today, Judaism was denigrated in cartoons in which Jews were depicted grotesquely, in the same manner as that used by the Nazi newspaper "Der Sturmer". Those depictions went far beyond any form of what could be considered "legitimate criticism" of the Jewish State. They were hateful, and were intended to be so.

HELENA MINA (Cyprus) said the Government of Cyprus had always been committed to a humanitarian solution to the problem of missing persons in Cyprus and to the matter of the restoration of the rights of the missing and their families. Furthermore, in its ardent desire to see progress towards a solution to the division of the country, the Cyprus Government had undertaken unilaterally concrete steps. The right of families to know the fate, the whereabouts and, if dead, the causes of death, of any relatives who were unaccounted for should be upheld. The relatives of the missing were entitled to have convincing evidence regarding the fate of their loved ones, and therefore unsubstantiated speculations and presumptions of death were contrary to the real human needs and rights of the families concerned.

In this regard, the European Court of Human Rights, in the case of Cyprus v Turkey, had held that failure to investigate the real concerns of the families of missing persons could only be categorized as inhuman treatment contrary to Article 3 of the European Convention on Human Rights.

OMAR HILALE (Morocco) drew the attention of the Commission to the inhuman situation of 514 individuals detained in southern Algeria. That humanitarian tragedy of the twenty-first century continued inexorably, despite continued calls from the international community and despite a number of resolutions passed by the Security Council calling for the detainees’ unconditional and immediate release. Considered by the International Committee of the Red Cross to be the longest-held detainees in the world, these people had been languishing in their Algerian prisons for three decades.

The prisoners should have been released 13 years ago, at the time of the cease-fire, in accordance with the Geneva Convention. These victims of arbitrary detention were victims of the Algerian political system, which aimed at giving a false impression of a continued conflict. Morocco called on the Algerian Government to release the detainees in order to discharge its international obligations.

VLADIMIR MALEVICH (Belarus) said one of the inalienable elements of a truly democratic society was the effective enjoyment of independence by the judiciary. All other rights depended on the right to a free and fair trial by a competent and independent court functioning under the law, and this was established by the Constitution of Belarus, where every individual had the right to judicial redress.

There was an effective system of protection of the judiciary in the country. Criminal legislation provided for the fullest possible protection of the rights of both those suspected of crimes and those convicted of crimes. No one could be found guilty of a crime without due legal process and proof. There was also a process of judicial review that ensured that none could be found guilty unfairly. A significant role in ensuring respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms belonged to the Constitutional Court, which had created the legal basis for further discussion of the issue of the death penalty, with the possibility of a moratorium on it, leading to a potential repeal of the penalty.

JOHN TAYLOR, of International Association for Religious Freedom speaking on behalf of several NGOs1, said the report to the Commission of Abdelfattah Amor, Special Rapporteur on freedom of religion or belief, gave impressive testimony to the truly world-wide scope of his sensitive and pertinent investigations over some eleven years. Although this agenda item, 11 e, was perhaps anachronistically entitled “religious intolerance”, the substance of the mandate of the Special Rapporteur was to promote the fundamental right of freedom of religion or belief. It was not only intolerance but the associated scourges of ignorance, legal and social discrimination, and xenophobic prejudice which needed to be fought.

There were sadly far too many flagrant connections between violations of the fundamental freedom of religion or belief with other violations such as arbitrary detention, torture, denial of the right to education, erosion of the rights of the child, or failure to honour, protect and empower the status of women. Cooperation and shared vision among all stakeholders was needed to make real the precious, fundamental and too often threatened human right of freedom of religion or belief.

MAGALY LLORT, of Federation of Cuban Women speaking on behalf of several NGOs2, said five Cuban patriots whose only crime was that of protecting their country from terrorism were currently serving the sixth year of unjustifiable prison sentences in the United States. To an obscure trial process had been added barbarous conduct to punish the families they had left in Cuba. This represented a violation of the human rights of people who refused to bow down.

The case of the Cuban people was to refuse the right of the powerful to crush the weak. One could see reflected in the United States’ policy the wish to impose on the human race the values of the strongest as the only valid values. In the case of Cuba, there had been attempts to deface the country before the Commission on Human Rights. The Cuban people continued to witness the United States’ irrational contempt for their country.

PHILIPPE LE BLANC, of Dominicans for Justice and Peace, speaking on behalf of Franciscans International; Dominican Leadership Conference; Pax Christi International, said these NGOs were concerned about the rise in religious discrimination. Religious intolerance and discrimination on the basis of religion remained one of the root causes of a number of conflicts, wars and ongoing violent situations in the world. It was often a major motivation for attacks by extremists against minority religions or against the beliefs of people. It also gave rise to religious extremism.

In Pakistan, laws had resulted over the years in religious intolerance and violence against Christians, Hindus and members of the Ahmadiye community, the imposition of discriminatory and repressive laws against religious minorities, and extremist attacks against religious minorities, especially Christians. In addition to the country’s blasphemy law, several laws and regulations -- especially articles and provisions of the Constitution of Pakistan -- discriminated against religious minorities. While some were meant to give preferential treatment to Muslims, others tended to ignore the fact that Pakistan was a multi-religious society.

MARIA DEL PILAR SANCHEZ, of MADRE, in a joint statement with Centre for Women’s Global Leadership, Commission for the Defense of Human Rights in Central America, and Swedish Association for Sexuality in Education, said religious intolerance affected the human rights and lives of those persons whose sexual orientation and gender identity differed from what society found acceptable. In Latin America, difference was still persecuted, punished, excluded or eliminated. In many cases, churches were responsible for imposing absolute, dogmatic truths and teachings in the name of God, generating conflicts and intolerance. The inalienable rights of intersex, transgender, bisexual, lesbian and gay people suffered a devaluation in ecclesiastical and religious spaces, and some religious hierarchies felt entitled to exclude them. The defense of human rights drew strength from respect and tolerance, which were also key elements of faith practices.

The Commission should affirm explicitly that the right of intersex, transgender, bisexual, lesbian and gay people not to suffer discrimination and violence was an inalienable human right and as such no religion or culture could be invoked to deny it.

DANHONG REN, of China Society for Human Rights Studies speaking on behalf of Chinese Association for International Understanding; United Nations Association of China, said that although international instruments stipulated that all had the right to life, liberty and security of person, and that none should be subjected to torture or to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment, in the United States arbitrary detention, torture and violations of citizens’ civil and political rights continued to constitute malignant, obstinate diseases.

Racial discrimination had permeated every aspect of society, prison inmates received inhuman treatment and the minimum age for application of the death penalty continued to be lowered. The United States had issued the Patriot Act in the name of homeland security and anti-terrorism, but substantial contents of that act encroached upon the rights and freedoms of citizens, especially ethnic minorities. The United States Government should face up to its human rights problems and devote itself to promoting the development of human rights in its own country rather than accusing and lecturing others.

KLAUS NETTER, of B’nai B’rith International, delivering a joint statement on behalf of the Coordination Board of Jewish Organizations, said Jewish individuals, institutions and landmarks around the world were harassed and under attack. Recently, a wave of anti-Semitism had permeated global culture, and, unfortunately, official responses to those attacks had been largely related to the Middle East conflict, except in France.

Those responses implied abdication of the basic human right of religious freedom and tolerance. The rise in anti-Semitism was not just a manifestation of racism, but of religious intolerance that was reaching epidemic proportions. The situation called for a specific reference to anti-Semitism in the Commission’s resolution on that issue. The Commission should also call on countries to enhance penalties for religiously motivated attacks on institutions or murders of individuals and to enact laws recognizing and protecting religious groups.

ALEXEY KOROTAEV, of International League for Human Rights, in a joint statement with International Helsinki Federation for Human Rights, said the Commission should address continuing violations of civil and political rights in Turkmenistan, where fundamental freedoms, including those of religion, association, expression and movement were severely restricted if not denied altogether.

The Commission should adopt once again, as it did last year, a resolution condemning the ongoing assault on the fundamental civil and political rights of the Turkmen population. It should call upon the Turkmen authorities to grant access to the International Committee of the Red Cross to the country; release immediately and unconditionally all prisoners of conscience; request international monitoring of all trials; grant Turkmen citizens full freedom of movement; and issue immediately invitations to relevant United Nations mechanisms to visit.

KATE SHEILL, of Amnesty International, in a joint statement with Human Rights Watch, urged the Commission to call unequivocally on States to respect, protect and fulfil the human rights of people targeted on the basis of their sexual orientation or gender identity. Human rights were universal. Yet lesbians, gay men, bisexual women and men, and transgender persons faced human rights violations throughout their lives, throughout the world.

It was incumbent on the Commission and United Nations' human rights mechanisms to uphold the principle of universality by affirming the right of all persons to be free from discrimination. Throughout history, prejudice had been incited and inflamed for political purposes. Differences of race, religion, gender, gender identity, and sexual orientation had been drawn as boundaries in efforts to exclude certain people from full membership in the human family. The stigma and prejudice surrounding sexual orientation and gender identity had made these issues grounds for severe human rights violations.

VO VAN AI, of International Federation of Human Rights Leagues, in a joint statement with Agir ensemble pour les droits de l’homme, said there was much concern over the situation of civil and political rights in Viet Nam. Violations were systematic there against Buddhists of the Unified Buddhist Church of Viet Nam, which represented three quarters of the population and had not ceased to defend human rights.

The peaceful exercise of the right to the freedom of expression was restrained by law, and annihilated in fact. The Commission must put as much pressure as possible on Viet Nam so that it conformed to its international obligations, welcomed a visit from the Special Rapporteur on the freedom of expression, and liberated any and all persons who were imprisoned for having legitimately exercised their civil or political rights.

PAUL BEERSMANS, of International Movement for Fraternal Union among Races and Peoples, said disregard for human rights and fundamental freedoms, in particular the freedoms of thought, conscience, religion and belief, had brought war and great suffering to humanity, especially when serving as a means of foreign interference in the internal affairs of other States. It amounted to a kindling of hatred between peoples and nations.

That was the case in Jammu and Kashmir, where a spiral of violence had resulted in endless suffering as the human rights and fundamental freedoms of the Kashmiri people had been violated by foreign jihadi fighters who had support from across the border. However, positive signs had been seen of late, including the joint statement by the Indian Prime Minister and the Pakistani President. Proposals for confidence-building measures and talks between all parties had been made. It was the opinion of the Movement that a solution would only be found through peaceful means in an atmosphere of friendship and harmony. The peace talks should continue and their pace should be accelerated.

KAREN PARKER, of International Educational Development, said arbitrary detention in China of Falun Gong members had been investigated by the Working Group on arbitrary detention. The cases of those arrested and detained had overwhelmed the capacity of the Working Group as well as the Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions, the Special Rapporteur on the question of torture, and other thematic mechanisms.

That was not surprising given more than 900 custodial deaths, 100,000 arrested and detained, and the many violations of the rights of those seeking to defend Falun Gong practitioners. China should be subjected to heightened scrutiny by Commission mechanisms. It was imperative that any resolution condemning China address the persecution of Falun Gong practitioners, who made up a large percentage of political prisoners and tortured persons. Another matter of concern was conditions of detention of children in the United States who were put in cages like dogs.

P. MUTZENBERG, of World Organization against Torture, said throughout the year the organization had continued to receive information of numerous and serious allegations of torture, forced disappearances and extra-judicial executions from countries all over the world. Lack of adequate protection of victims and witnesses continued to be a serious concern.

Particular concern was felt over situations in Brazil, Sri Lanka and in Libya. The Commission should, in this year’s resolution on torture, reaffirm that torture was strictly prohibited under international human rights and humanitarian law and its prohibition was a norm of jus cogens. The resolution should reaffirm the absolute obligation of States not to return a person to a country where he or she was at risk of being subjected to torture or other cruel and inhuman treatment.

DIANE ALA’I, of Baha’i International Community, said the Baha’i in Egypt continued to suffer from violations of their human rights, in particular the right to freedom of religion or belief. All Baha’i believed that an essential purpose of religion was to promote concord and harmony. They did not participate in partisan politics, and obedience to the Government was a tenet of faith. The Baha’i held the Prophet Muhammad in a position of reverence, and affirmed the truth of the Islamic message.

Therefore, it was of grave concern that Egyptian newspapers had published a fatwa falsely denouncing the Baha’i as active enemies of Islam. Media and court decisions in Egypt had often denounced the Baha’i as apostates and the Government had not acted to stop those inciting hatred and violence. The Egyptian Baha’i remained loyal, law-abiding and tolerant, despite these defamation campaigns. Their only request was the removal of official restrictions against them. The international community was urged to support the Baha’i in calling upon Egypt to resolve this issue.

JOSE ZEITUNE, of International Commission of Jurists, said the right to be tried by a competent, independent and impartial tribunal established by law was fundamental for the protection of human rights and the rule of law. Equality before the law was one of the pillars of human rights. One of the most blatant inequalities was that suffered by many women who faced discrimination in the administration of justice. Where it existed, discrimination could be present in women's access to justice and in the manner in which justice was administered.

The International Commission of Jurists called upon States to eliminate gender bias in the administration of justice by establishing legal protection of the rights of women on an equal basis with men and ensuring through competent national tribunals that there was effective protection of women against all acts of discrimination. The number of attacks against the independence of judges and lawyers, meanwhile, had continued to rise in 2003.

MALCOM DORT, of Human Rights Watch, said the Commission should take note of situations in Uzbekistan, Iran and Sudan.

In the first, there was severe and ongoing repression of internal dissent, and the Uzbek Government should not be allowed to justify abuses in the name of the fight against terrorism. In Iran, since the last session of the Commission, the situation had deteriorated, and the Commission should adopt a resolution reinstating a Special Rapporteur on Iran. In western Sudan, the situation of human rights was deteriorating, and there were fears that the issue was not being given adequate international attention. The Commission should condemn these abuses, reinstate a Special Rapporteur on Sudan, and request him to take immediate action to address the situation.

GENEVA ARIF, of Liberation, said the organization was concerned by the large number of persons from the indigenous African tribes of the Darfur region of Sudan who had disappeared or had been tortured to death since the current armed conflict broke out in February 2003. The Government of Sudan was called upon to investigate such incidents, compensate the victims and their relatives, and bring those responsible to justice. Liberation was also concerned by the use of extreme force by Indian police in Jammu and Kashmir against a march held by the Association of Parents of Disappeared Persons. The Commission should exert pressure on India to prevent that type of violence from happening again.

In Bhutan, it had been reported that the Government had denied access to independent humanitarian groups seeking to help the Assamese people who needed relief on the Indian-Bhutan border. The Assamese people had been subjected to coordinated attacks carried out with logistical and material support from the Indian Government. Finally, while the new Iraqi Constitution gave the Kurds equal citizenship rights, the Kurds in Turkey remained unacknowledged as a people by their Constitution and State. Turkey should cease its violations of Kurds’ freedom of expression and uphold the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.

Right of Reply

SEYMUR MARDALIYEV (Azerbaijan), speaking in a right of reply, said with regard to the statement made by Armenia that morning that Azerbaijan regretted the incident that had taken place in the capital of Hungary resulting in the death of a military officer of the Armenian Armed Forces, and the Government of Azerbaijan had already expressed its condolences to his colleagues and family. Azerbaijan called on the Armenian side to refrain from accusatory statements with regard to Azerbaijan and its people. It could not be allowed for the incident in Budapest to be used as a catalyst to aggravate or complicate relations between Armenia and Azerbaijan. Ongoing tension between the two countries due to the unresolved conflict over the Nagorno-Karabakh region confirmed the necessity for intensification of the efforts of the international community to settle the matter on the basis of the norms and standards of international law, as this was the best option for removing enmity between two nations and contributing to peace and stability in the region.

ZOHRAB MNATSAKANIAN (Armenia), speaking in a right of reply, said Armenia took note of the condolences expressed by the Representative of Azerbaijan, but regretted the attempt to portray the incident as being Armenia’s fault “after all”. Any justification of murder was as disgraceful as murder itself.

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1Joint statement on behalf of: International Association for Religious Freedom; All India Women’s Conference; International Federation of Social Workers; Brahma Kumaris World Spiritual University; World Federation of Methodist and Uniting Church Women; World Organization of Former Pupils of Catholic Education; Susila Dharma International Association; World Union of Catholic Women’s Organizations; Institute for Planetary Synthesis; International Council of Jewish Women; and World Young Women’s Christian Association

2Joint statement on behalf of: Federation of Cuban Women; Movimiento Cubano por la Paz y la Soberanía de los Pueblos; Centro de Estudios Europeos; Women’s International Democratic Federation; Centro de Estudios Sobre la Juventud; and Organization for the Solidarity of the Peoples of Asia, Africa and Latin America


The name of the International League for the Rights and Liberation of Peoples was incorrectly identified on page 8 of press release HR/CN/04/29 of 31 March 2004.
It should read as follows:

ELENA SANTEMMA, of International League for the Rights and Liberation of Peoples, said that as universally recognized, the right to a mother tongue was an important part within the wider right to education and it was a human right in itself. It was possible to define the mother tongue as the language which a person learned from his mother and family on a day to day basis, beginning from his birth, but also as a tool of growth, personal development and consciousness raising, through which he or she identified himself or herself as a member of a society or of an ethnic group. That was why teaching in one's own mother tongue was fundamental in the process of understanding reality and developing the capacity to criticize it.