Skip to main content

Press releases Commission on Human Rights

Default title

20 April 2000

Commission on Human Rights
56th session
20 April 2000

Chairperson-in-Office of OSCE Delivers Address

The Commission on Human Rights adopted consensus resolutions this afternoon aimed at combatting trafficking in women and girls, eliminating violence against women, and integrating the human rights of women throughout the United Nations system.

The Commission also heard an address from Benita Ferrero-Waldner (Austria), Chairperson-in-Office of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE). Ms. Ferrero-Waldner described OSCE efforts in the field of human rights and reviewed OSCE policy in Chechnya, Kosovo, and Central Asia. In the case of Chechnya, she said, the Organization had urged Russian authorities to bring those responsible for human-rights violations to justice and stressed that a solution to the conflict would not be achievable militarily but only through negotiation.

The Commission's resolution on trafficking in women and girls called, among other things, for Governments to address the root factors of trafficking, forced marriages, and forced labour, and to strengthen legislation to prevent such abuses and to punish perpetrators.

The resolution on eliminating violence against women emphasized, among other things, the duty of Governments to refrain from engaging in such violence and called on them to exercise due diligence to prevent, investigate and punish acts of violence against women, whether those acts were perpetrated by the State, by private persons or by armed groups or warring factions, and to provide access to just and effective remedies and specialized, including medical, assistance to victims.

The measure on integrating the human rights of women throughout the United Nations system urged, among other things, that all human-rights treaty bodies, special procedures and other human-rights mechanisms of the Commission and the Subcommission for the Promotion and Protection of Human Rights regularly and systematically to take a gender perspective into account in the implementation of their mandates.

The Commission finished its afternoon session by hearing statements from several Governments on a recently released report on enhancing the effectiveness of the Commission's working mechanisms.

Speaking were representatives of Peru, the Russian Federation, Chile, Pakistan, and the United Kingdom.

The Commission will reconvene at 10 a.m. Tuesday, 25 April.

Action on resolutions

In a resolution on traffic in women and girls (E/CN.4/2000/L.59), adopted without vote, the Commission welcomed steps taken by human-rights treaty bodies, Special Rapporteurs and subsidiary bodies of the Commission on Human Rights, the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, other United Nations bodies and international organizations to address within their mandates the problem of trafficking in women and girls, and encouraged them to continue doing so and to share their knowledge and best practices as widely as possible; urged Governments to take appropriate measures to address the root factors, including external factors, that encouraged trafficking in women and girls for prostitution and other forms of commercialized sex, forced marriages and forced labour, so as to eliminate trafficking in women, including by strengthening existing legislation with a view to providing better protection of the rights of women and girls and to punishing perpetrators, through both criminal and civil measures; invited Governments to take steps to ensure for victims of trafficking the respect of all their human rights and fundamental freedoms, including taking steps to ensure all legislation related to combatting trafficking was gender sensitive and provided protection for the human rights of women and girls and against violations committed against women and girls; called upon Governments to criminalize trafficking in women and girls in all its forms, and to condemn and penalize the offenders involved, including intermediaries, whether their offense was committed in their own or in a foreign country, while ensuring that the victims of those practices were not penalized; encouraged Governments to conclude bilateral, subregional, regional and international agreements to address the problem of trafficking in women and girls; also encouraged Governments to work for the early finalization of the draft convention against transnational organized crime, including a draft protocol to prevent, suppress and punish trafficking in persons, especially women and children, and to give the draft convention and the protocol a human-rights perspective and further encouraged Governments, in cooperation with non-governmental organizations, to undertake campaigns aimed at clarifying opportunities, limitations and rights in the event of migration so as to enable women to make informed decisions and to prevent them from becoming victims of trafficking.

In a resolution on elimination of violence against women (E/CN.4/2000/L.60), adopted by consensus, the Commission condemned all acts of gender-based violence against women and called, in accordance with the Declaration on the Elimination of Violence against Women. for the elimination of all forms of gender-based violence in the family, within the general community and where perpetrated or condoned by the State, and emphasized the duty of Governments to refrain from engaging in violence against women and to exercise due diligence to prevent, investigate and, in accordance with national legislation, punish acts of violence against women, whether those acts were perpetrated by the State, by private persons or by armed groups or warring factions, and to provide access to just and effective remedies and specialized, including medical, assistance to victims; affirmed that the term "violence against women" meant any act of gender-based violence that resulted in, or was likely to result in, physical, sexual or psychological harm or suffering to women, including threats of such acts, coercion or arbitrary deprivation of liberty, whether occurring in public or in private life, and including domestic violence, crimes committed in the name of honour, crimes committed in the name of passion, traditional practices harmful to women, including female genital mutilation, and forced marriages.

It strongly condemned physical, sexual and psychological violence occurring in the family, which encompassed but was not limited to battering, sexual abuse of female children in the household, dowry-related violence, marital rape, female infanticide, female genital mutilation and other traditional practices harmful to women, non-spousal violence and violence related to exploitation; encouraged Governments and the United Nations system to ensure greater international cooperation in, and national attention to, acquiring data and developing indicators on the extent, nature and consequences of violence against women and girls, and on the impact and effectiveness of policies and programmes for combatting this violence; encouraged Governments to ensure that all international and national measures to eliminate trafficking, including the draft Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons, Especially Women and Children, supplementing the United Nations Convention against Transnational Organized Crime, promote and protect the human rights of victims; urged all Governments to mainstream a gender perspective, as appropriate, into national immigration and asylum policies, regulations and practices, in order to extend protection to those women whose claim for protection was based on gender-related persecution; and reminded Governments that their obligations under the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women should be implemented fully with regard to violence against women.

In a resolution on the integration of the human rights of women throughout the United Nations system (E/CN.4/2000/L.61), the Commission emphasized that the goal of mainstreaming a gender perspective was to achieve gender equality and that this included ensuring all United Nations activities integrated the rights of women; invited the Economic and Social Council to give attention to the implementation of its agreed conclusions 1997/2 on mainstreaming a gender perspective and 1998/2 related to the coordinated follow-up to the Vienna Declaration and Programme of Action, in particular section IV on the equal status and human rights of women, including in its coordination segment of 2000 on the theme "Assessment of the progress made within the United Nations system, through the conference review, in the promotion of an integrated and coordinated implementation of and follow-up to major United Nations conferences and summits in the economic, social and related fields".

It encouraged the continued commitment of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights to integrating human rights of women throughout the United Nations system and, in this regard, welcomed the finalization by the High Commissioner of the policy statement on gender and the human rights of women, and the cooperation on women's human rights between the High Commissioner and the Special Adviser to the Secretary-General on Gender Issues and Advancement of Women; urged the relevant organs, bodies and agencies of the United Nations system, including all human-rights bodies and the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees to bear in mind, in the recruitment of staff, including for peacekeeping operations and humanitarian and human rights missions, the need for expertise in women's and girls' enjoyment of human rights; emphasized the need for further activities in the United Nations system to strengthen expertise concerning the equal status and human rights of women through, inter alia, the provision of training on the human rights of women and on gender mainstreaming, including through gender impact analysis, to all United Nations personnel and officials at Headquarters and in the field, especially in field operations; recognized that gender mainstreaming would strongly benefit from the enhanced and full participation of women, including at the higher levels of decision-making in the United Nations system, and in this regard strongly encouraged Member States to promote gender balance; encouraged United Nations bodies and agencies to increase cooperation with other organizations in developing activities to address, within their respective mandates, violations of the human rights of women and to promote the full enjoyment of all human rights and fundamental freedoms of women, including by developing activities with other organizations; requested all human-rights treaty bodies, special procedures and other human-rights mechanisms of the Commission and the Subcommission for the Promotion and Protection of Human Rights regularly and systematically to take a gender perspective into account in the implementation of their mandates.

Furthermore, the Commission encouraged the efforts of the treaty bodies to monitor more effectively the human rights of women in their activities, bearing in mind the workshop on gender integration, and reaffirmed that it was the responsibility of all treaty bodies, in their work, to integrate a gender perspective, bearing in mind also the need to develop gender-sensitive guidelines to be used in the review of States parties' reports to develop, as a matter of priority, a common strategy towards mainstreaming the human rights of women into their work, so that each body, within its mandate, monitored the human rights of women; to incorporate a gender analysis and regularly exchange information in the development of general comments and recommendations, with a view to the preparation of general comments which reflected a gender perspective; and to incorporate a gender perspective in concluding observations so that the concluding observations of each treaty body delineated the strengths and weaknesses of each State party insofar as enjoyment by women of the rights guaranteed by a particular treaty was concerned.


BENITA FERRERO-WALDNER, Federal Minister for Foreign Affairs of Austria and Chairperson-in-Office of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), said that as a regional arrangement under the UN Charter, the OSCE was a security organization within Europe. At the same time, the OSCE was a human-rights organization. The intrinsic link between peace and security and human rights had been recognized through the organization's comprehensive security concept, comprising politico-military security, economic security, and human security. The OSCE had created several specific institutions responsible for the human dimension within the OSCE: the Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights, the High Commissioner on National Minorities, and the Representative for the Freedom of the Media. Together with the Secretary-General and the Chair-in-Office, they assured a specific human-rights focus.

The OSCE believed that strengthening civil society was the human dimension of security. The role of NGOs in the promotion of human rights, democracy and the rule of law was vital. They were particularly important for reporting human-rights violations and for raising awareness of these issues.

The Austrian chairmanship pursued the following human rights priorities: the fight against torture, eliminating all forms of discrimination against women; eradicating trafficking; promoting the rights of the child; protecting displaced persons; promoting the rights of persons belonging to national minorities, including the Roma and Sinti; and strengthening the independent media.

The human-rights situation in the OSCE region had been affected by a number of crises, Ms. Ferrero-Waldner said. The Northern Caucasus region had seen a dramatic crisis stemming from the violent conflict in the Chechen Republic of the Russian Federation. The extent of destruction was shocking: the city of Grozny had practically been wiped out. That this should happen at the beginning of the 21st century was a cause of grief and apprehension. The amount of suffering this conflict had caused to the civilian population, especially the large number of displaced persons, predominantly women and children, who were facing dire conditions for survival, was deeply distressing and posed an urgent challenge to international solidarity. Ms. Ferrero-Waldner said she had insisted during her meetings with the Russian leadership on a prompt, independent and credible investigation and appropriate legal action to bring the perpetrators of human-rights violations to justice. No solution to this crisis would be possible by military means - a viable solution would have to involve dialogue with Chechen representatives.

Turning to the Balkans, Ms. Ferrero-Waldner said the OSCE and the UN worked together in a unique framework in Kosovo - unique in its comprehensiveness and its complexity. In the human-rights field, the organizations were confronted with both addressing past violations and creating an environment that would prevent further abuses. The OSCE was also carefully monitoring developments in Montenegro. In Bosnia and Herzegovina, everything was done to strengthen democracy, the rule of law, civil society and respect for human rights. A key goal was an accelerated return of the numerous remaining refugees and displaced persons.

Throughout South East Europe, the Austrian chairmanship was supporting a number of projects regarding human rights and democratization, in particular in the field of human-rights education. Special attention was also being paid to the human-rights situation in Central Asia, where OSCE supported civil society and strengthening the independence and impartiality of the judiciary and due process of law. In this regard, Ms Ferrero-Waldner expressed concern about harassment and detention of human-rights activists and leaders of the political opposition, in particular in Kyrgyzstan, Turkmenistan and Tajikistan.

No single organization was able to cope with the many faceted and complex nature of the challenges mentioned, she said. Under the Austrian chairmanship, the OSCE was trying to further strengthen its relationship with the UN. Ms Ferrero-Waldner called for all to strive for freedom from fear and want in the OSCE region and throughout the world.

The representative (Peru) supported the report on special procedures which reflected a broad understanding for the rationalization and the protection of human rights. The criterion stressed had been the protection of the implementation of standards and international human-rights law and the restitution of victims and ensured that States assumed responsibly their obligations. States would be motivated to respect their obligations as a response to procedural mechanisms encouraging preventive responses. The delegation of Peru welcomed the incorporation of a logic with regards to fact-finding and results, rather than a system based on presumptions of facts and allegations. These procedures would depoliticize the work of the Commission.

The delegation further supported the participation of NGOs in the working group, as their contribution been very constructive. All members were in agreement on the use and relevance of the recommendation of a new logic in Commission mechanisms. Consensus granted the Working Group's decisions full legitimacy, strengthened cooperation and ensured a logic of protection of human rights. These positive results would not have been possible without the sense of openness and transparency exercised by the members and Chairperson Anne Anderson. The Working Group had begun in an atmosphere of tension and had ended with a welcome consensus.

The representative (Russia) said no delegation was fully satisfied with the report of the Inter-sessional Working Group on Enhancing the Effectiveness of the Mechanisms of the Commission. This, however, was the point of consensus -- it was important that, unlike in the case of country situations, a voting procedure was avoided.

When considering cooperation on human rights, the Commission could not afford division. The Russian delegation concurred with the view of the Chairperson of the Working Group that the report of the Working Group should be considered in its totality.

ALFREDO LABBE (Chile) said the strengthening of the machinery of the mechanisms had moved forward significantly. Chile, in consideration of what had been a most intense discussion of human rights, would have wanted to unreservedly celebrate the results. However, there was dissatisfaction on moral, political and legal levels. Human rights were consistently violated as implied by the discussions on the improvement of mechanisms. Otherwise this review of the machinery would not have been necessary.

The effectiveness of the Commission had to be gauged in accordance with its ability to meet the enormous challenges in human rights. Being diplomats, the Chilean delegation realized that achieving consensus was a great talent but as defenders of fundamental human rights it was regrettable that several issues had been sacrificed to consensus. Chile emphasized the need for renewal as practice spoke louder than words. There had to be new voices in the Commission.

MUNIR AKRAM (Pakistan) said that although imperfect, the report of the Working Group on Enhancing the Effectiveness of the Mechanisms of the Commission provided a good basis for the acutely required rationalization of work in the UN human rights field. The effectiveness of human-rights mechanisms was compromised and undermined due to duplication and the multiplicity of the demands made on them. Any future mandate should fully take into account an indication of a clear added value in terms of increased human-rights protection; balance between the two sets of rights; avoidance of duplication; periodic reviews of mandates. Cooperation would have to be promoted in accordance with article 55 of the UN Charter. Cooperation could not be enforced, it could only be voluntary.

The Working Group's decision that the Subcommission should continue to focus on preparing studies in the human-rights field was welcomed. Support was also expressed for the 1503 procedure, which encouraged cooperation by States because of its confidential nature. Deep disappointment was expressed at the inability of the Working Group to examine at length and to propose specific measures on the working methods of the Commission.

The representative (the United Kingdom), speaking on behalf of a number of countries, said the Working Group proved how important it was to break down geographical, cultural and political barriers in the pursuit of the important objectives of the United Nations. The objective set at last year's Commission was to enhance the effectiveness of the mechanisms of the Commission, to build on the excellent work prepared by the Bureau of the fifty-fourth session. It was hard work. It was controversial; consensus had seemed out of reach, but finally was not. Now was not the time to dwell on disappointments or wishful thinking on what might have been. One should draw some comfort from the fact that the report had already guided to a significant extent the Commission's overall deliberations at this year's session. That would culminate in the decision which all should approve under Item 20.

Contrary to some fears expressed at the beginning of that exercise, the Working Group had not weakened or undermined the UN's human-rights machinery. While its report might not radically overhaul the tried and tested, but less than perfect, instruments and mechanisms at the disposal of the members, it did, when viewed objectively, contain specific improvements. Review of the mechanisms of the Commission, and the related working methods of the Commission, as an ongoing process, would continue to be of concern. The Working Group had been an important learning experience for many delegations, which would serve the Commission well in the future.

* *** *