Commission on Human Rights
20 March 2002
Commission on Human Rights also Addressed by
UNHCR Chief, High-Level Ministers from Cote d'Ivoire,
South Africa, Albania, Luxembourg, and Austria
High Commissioner for Human Rights Mary Robinson presented her annual report this morning before the Commission on Human Rights, saying among other things that while some had suggested that it was not possible to effectively eliminate terrorism while respecting human rights, such a suggestion was fundamentally flawed. The only long-term guarantor of security against such violence was through respect for human rights and humanitarian law.
Mrs. Robinson said she was particularly concerned that counter-terrorism strategies pursued after the 11 September attacks in New York and Washington had sometimes undermined international standards and had suppressed or restricted such individual rights as those to privacy, freedom of thought, presumption of innocence, a fair trail, asylum, political participation, free expression and peaceful assembly.
She went on to say it was imperative to address the underlying conditions that led individuals and groups to such violence -- that there was no doubt that the absence of the rule of law and democracy, violation of the rights of ethnic and minority groups, and situations of domination, discrimination and denigration contributed to the frustration and hatred that led to terrorism.
The High Commissioner's address initiated the Commission's annual consideration of the activities of her Office and of follow-up to the World Conference on Human Rights. Several national delegations spoke on these topics.
The morning meeting also featured addresses by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), the Minister of Justice and Public Liberty of Cote d'Ivoire, the Minister for Foreign Affairs of South Africa, the Minister for Foreign Affairs of Albania, the Vice-Prime Minister of Luxembourg, and the Federal Minister for Foreign Affairs of Austria.
Ruud Lubbers, United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, said among other things that the minimum right anyone could ask for was the right to flee and the right to be welcomed somewhere. He cited concerns that anti-terrorism measures would limit refugee rights and cut off standard paths to asylum. Recent charges that refugees in East Africa had been sexually exploited, in some cases by refugee workers, would be fully investigated and steps already were being taken to better protect persons vulnerable to such abuse.
Siene Oulai, Minister of Justice and Public Liberty of Cote d'Ivoire, said progress had been made to establish peace and democracy in the country following an attempted coup d'etat in 1999 and post-election disturbances in 2000. Reports of trafficking of children in the region, including in Cote d'Ivoire, had drawn an effective response, he said, and a plan of action for the promotion and protection of human rights recently had been developed with the assistance of the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights and the United Nations Development Programme.
Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, Minister for Foreign Affairs of South Africa, said among other things that the Government was committed to a new South Africa that would never again be a country where oppression existed. She described attempts to enhance human rights, including adoption of a national human rights action plan, establishment of a national Human Rights Commission that was fully functional and was active in national human rights education and steps to monitor the Government's performance in the promotion and protection of human rights and in the prevention of violations.
Arta Dade, Minister for Foreign Affairs of Albania, told the meeting of national efforts to establish democracy, promote human rights, protect minorities, and end trafficking in human beings in the country. She cited as positive elections held in neighbouring Kosovo and called for political dialogue in the neighbouring Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia as the way to achieve a just solution to problems relating to the rights and freedoms of ethnic Albanians there.
Lydie Polfer, Vice-Prime Minister and Minister for Foreign Affairs of Luxembourg, told the Commission that last year, when the Commission had denounced the destructive folly of the Taliban regime, no one had imagined what would occur next. Terror, she said, like torture, was aimed at destroying the "other," and demanded a unified international response. To resolve the terrible impasse in the Middle East, Ms. Polfer said, there was no alternative to a political solution based on the existence of Israeli and Palestinian States within secure and recognized borders.
And Benita Ferrero-Waldner, Federal Minister for Foreign Affairs of Austria, said there had to be a candid and honest dialogue on every aspect of what was understood to be a free and fair society, with the Commission looking beyond security matters to address the root causes of terrorism -- hate, extremism, long-running regional conflicts, poverty, and situations of inequality and injustice. Violence and human-rights abuses had spiralled out of control in Afghanistan for 20 years before action finally was taken -- as a result of the 11 September terrorist attacks -- to end it, she said; why had the international community waited so long?
Representatives of Pakistan (on behalf of the Organization of the Islamic Conference), Thailand, China, the Russian Federation, Cuba, Mexico, Spain (on behalf of the European Union), and Canada (on behalf of the Western Group) also addressed the morning session.
The Commission will reconvene at 3 p.m. to continue its review of the report of the High Commissioner for Human Rights and follow-up to the World Conference on Human Rights.
Report of the High Commissioner for Human Rights and Follow-up to the World Conference on Human Rights
Under this agenda item, the Commission has before the annual report of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (E/CN.4/2002/18) submitted pursuant to General Assembly resolution 48/141. The report addresses, among other matters, the issues of maintaining a balance between human rights and security and the rights of refugees and migrants. It also contains information on a unifying strategy to enhance international cooperation aimed at reinforcing equality, tolerance and respect.
The report concludes, among other things, that despite global uncertainty, it is essential to uphold universal human rights standards that were created collectively. Acts, methods and practices of terrorism aim at the destruction of these standards. The report points out that in the immediate aftermath of 11 September, some suggested that human rights could be set aside while security was being achieved. Now, however, there is wide recognition that ensuring respect for human rights and dignity throughout the world is the best long-term guarantor of security. Such an approach focuses attention on the elimination of the root causes of violence and therefore isolates terrorists.
There is an addendum to the report (E/CN.4/2002/18 Add.2) which contains information on activities undertaken by the High Commissioner aimed at promoting diversity and tolerance.
There is a report of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (E/CN.4/2002/14) on Effective Functioning of Human Rights Mechanisms as a result of a meeting of special rapporteurs and representatives, experts and chairpersons of working groups of the special procedures and the advisory services programme of the Commission on Human Rights. The report highlights the activities during the meeting with regard to the organization of work; enhancing the effectiveness of the special procedures system; support services; thematic discussion; technical cooperation and monitoring activities; improving the coordination of special procedures on human rights defenders; contribution to the 2001 World Conference against Racism; consultations with non-governmental organizations; consultations with the bureau of the Commission and cooperation with human rights treaty bodies. The report also contains the adoption and conclusions and recommendations of the eighth annual meeting.
The recommendations concern among other things resources and staff support; enhancing the effectiveness of the special procedures system; non-cooperation and non-compliance on the part of Governments; participation in the work of other United Nations organs, including the Security Council; human rights and corporate responsibility; monitoring activities and technical cooperation; cooperation with various bodies and the World Conference against Racism.
MARY ROBINSON, United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, said that terrorism was a threat to the most fundamental human rights. Some had suggested that it was not possible to effectively eliminate terrorism while respecting human rights. This suggestion was fundamentally flawed. The only long-term guarantor of security was through ensuring respect for human rights and humanitarian law. The essence of human rights was that human life and dignity must not be compromised and that certain acts were never justified no matter what the ends. At the same time human rights and humanitarian law were tailored to address situations faced by States, such as a public emergency, challenges to national security and periods of violent conflict. This body of law defined the boundaries of permissible measures, even military conduct. It struck a fair balance between legitimate national security concerns and fundamental freedoms. These standards had survived the Cold War, times of armed conflict and economic instability. The Commission had a responsibility to ensure that they were not disregarded.
Mrs. Robinson said that she was particularly concerned that counter-terrorism strategies pursued after 11 September had sometimes undermined efforts to enhance respect for human rights. Excessive measures had been taken in several parts of the world that suppressed or restricted individual rights including privacy, freedom of thought, presumption of innocence, fair trail, the right to seek asylum, political participation, freedom of expression and peaceful assembly.
The High Commissioner continued that there was no doubt that people felt insecure today because of threats of terrorism. But human insecurity also resulted from other sources. Millions experienced insecurity as a result of armed conflict, racial discrimination, arbitrary detention, torture, rape, extreme poverty, HIV/AIDS, job insecurity and environmental degradation. The key to enhancing human security was the pursuit by all Governments of a comprehensive human rights programme. Impunity for those who committed gross violations of human rights and grave breaches of humanitarian law remained widespread. The coming into force of the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court would strengthen the capacity of international law to respond to impunity. But it was only one of the necessary building blocks. The most effective measures to combat impunity were national legal and judicial systems that did not tolerate exceptions to accountability for gross violations of human rights.
Mrs. Robinson said that it was not sufficient to respond only to the immediate manifestations of violence. It was imperative to address the underlying conditions that led individuals and groups to violence. There was no doubt that the absence of the rule of law and democracy, suppression of expression, disrespect of the rights of ethnic and minority groups in addition to claims of domination, discrimination and denigration were among those underlying conditions. Terrorism often stemmed from hatred and generated more hatred. Behind the resort to terrorism was the assumption of the diminished humanity of the victims. A human rights approach affirmed the richness of human diversity and respect for every human right. It was widely acknowledged that racism and intolerance could be both a cause and a consequence of violence and therefore of insecurity.
RUUD LUBBERS, United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), said all his work related to the protection of human rights -- for a specific group of people. In fact, the minimum right anyone could ask for was the right to flee, and the right to be welcomed somewhere. In December last year, a meeting of States parties to the Refugee Convention had been held for the first time in five decades, and had issued a landmark declaration that had greatly bolstered the standards of the Convention and the rights of refugees generally. This was important because a few years ago the Convention had been under attack, with a number of nations arguing that it was out of date. Now no one questioned its validity or importance.
Progress in developing international law and standard-setting was encouraging, Mr. Lubbers said, but real-world challenges continued to arise. Recently, for example, there were cases of sexual exploitation of refugees in East Africa; such exploitation was a matter of great concern, and he was alarmed to hear that some refugee workers might have been involved -- extorting sex from women and girls in exchange for food. The matter would be carefully investigated, and every effort would be made to address the issue. The number of allegations might be exaggerated -- but even one case was too many. Action was needed, and a plan was already under implementation to enhance the protection of those vulnerable to sexual exploitation. Sexual exploitation also came into play in the trafficking of people -- a worldwide problem. Women and children were marketed across international borders for sexual purposes, and more had to be done to protect such persons, who often were refugees or became refugees as a result of such maltreatment.
Mr. Lubbers said that the terrorist attacks of 11 September had added a new dimension to UNHCR's work; terrorists had to be kept from abusing the asylum system. The Convention did not allow asylum to those who had committed serious crimes. But it was important to ensure, in taking counter-terrorism measures, that countries did not take unwarranted actions affecting innocent asylum-seekers. Refugees were usually innocent victims, including victims of terrorism.
Mistrust and hostility continued in many countries over refugees and asylum-seekers, the High Commissioner said; such discrimination and hostility could not be allowed, and Governments must condemn any attempts by some groups to smear refugees with the tag of "terrorists," a recent trend. They also should battle against all forms of racism and intolerance, as called for by last September's World Conference against Racism; such discrimination was often applied to refugees.
Extremely frightening was a declining level of financial assistance for refugees, Mr. Lubbers said -- refugees were often in situations of extreme poverty, and the lowering levels of aid provided by the world's wealthy countries was unacceptable and had to be reversed.
SIENE OULAI, Minister of Justice and Public Liberty of cote d'Ivoire, said his Government was dedicated to national reconciliation so that its citizens could look forward to a future of peace, security and hope; much progress to this end had been achieved over the past year. A coup d'etat attempt in 1999 had shaken the country, but a programme had since been pursued to find a compromise to the divisions affecting the country, and a forum had been held, including former officials who had been deposed and who had returned to the country to participate. Now the spirit was more one of cooperation and dialogue. The heads of various political factions had forged a union for the well-being of the people of Cote d'Ivoire. Steps had been taken to improve the functions of the judicial system, improve the behaviour of security forces, resolve widespread disputes over land tenure, and strengthen national unity. Those who had contested the outcome of the elections now accepted its legitimacy. Victims of abuses had been compensated.
The Government was carrying out a judicial inquiry into disturbances following elections held in the year 2000, Mr. Oulai said, and the intent was to avoid impunity for those who had committed violations of human rights. Cote d'Ivoire was dedicated to democracy, human rights, and good governance, and was well aware that it had to persevere along these paths. Trafficking in children in the region, which had been alleged to have occurred in some cases in Cote d'Ivoire, had been thoroughly condemned by the Government, and strong measures had been taken in response, including stiff sanctions against those who committed such crimes, the return of those trafficked to their originating countries, and the ratification of relevant international instruments. The country also had emerged from the shadow of conflicts between Muslims and Christians with the help of a forum aimed at tolerance and reconciliation.
Cote d'Ivoire had worked to elaborate a plan of action for the promotion and protection of human rights recently with the assistance of the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights and the United Nations Development Programme, Mr. Oulai said. It was hoped that a technical cooperation programme with these agencies would soon be established.
NKOSAZANA DLAMINI-ZUMA, Minister of Foreign Affairs of South Africa, said that her country was committed to a new South Africa that would never again be a country where oppression existed. March 2002 had been declared a human rights month in the country. During this human rights month volunteers would mobilize the skills and resources of every community member to transform the justice system so that South African courts became user-friendly and accessible to the communities that they served. This would also entail regular visits to courts and teaching people about their human rights. The question of gender equality was also dealt with. For a long time the question of empowerment of women had been relegated to the periphery. Countries must move from words to action with respect to gender main streaming in policies they adopted. Equally important was the pressing need for all countries to expunge from their statutory books any anachronistic laws that hindered the advancement of women. The question of gender equality should not be dealt with as an irritant but must be pursued systematically, decisively and resolutely.
Ms. Dlamini-Zuma continued that in the short time since South Africa had become a democracy, a lot had been accomplished in the context of promotion and protection of human rights in the country. South Africa had signed and ratified all but one international human rights instruments. It had adopted a national human rights action plan and had established a national Human Rights Commission that was fully functional. The Commission undertook national human rights education and monitored the Government's performance in the promotion and protection of human rights and prevention of their violations.
The South African Minister said that an important challenge facing the international community in its battle against terrorism was the need to deal with conflicts everywhere. South Africa was saddened by the ongoing bloodshed in the Middle East. Any use of disproportionate and excessive force as well as collective punishment and reoccupation only acted to exacerbate conflict in the region. The use of force unabatedly only begot more violence leading to the ever spiralling wanton violence. This long-standing Israeli-Palestinian conflict must find an immediate, inclusive and comprehensive as well as durable solution. The recent US sponsored Security Council resolution on the Independent State of Palestine co-existing alongside Israel with secure borders was a step in the right direction.
ARTA DADE, Minister for Foreign Affairs of Albania, said the country's foremost objective -- European integration -- had led it to energetically pursue European standards of human rights. Parliamentary elections held last year were an indication of democratic progress, and other steps had been taken to guarantee basic democratic rights to citizens, but the Government was aware that some irregularities had occurred in this complicated and lengthy process, and it was ready to implement recommendations made by international agencies to improve its performance.
Albanian society had been traditionally characterized by the peaceful co-existence of minorities, Ms. Dade said, and minorities enjoyed all the rights sanctioned by the country's Constitution and the Framework Convention on the Rights of National Minorities of the Council of Europe. The Government was aware that there were still problems in ensuring the rights of Roma, and further protection for this group would be included in a national strategy to be drafted by the Government in cooperation with civil society.
Ending trafficking in human beings was one of the top priorities of the Albanian Government, Ms. Dade said; extensive measures had resulted in strengthened cooperation with neighbouring Governments, and there had been a 60 per cent reduction in the clandestine flow of persons from Albania or through its territory. On the other hand there was still a problem in repatriating persons to their countries of origin because of a lack of readmission agreements with those countries.
Events in the Balkan region were of concern to Albania, the Foreign Minister said; Albania applauded recent positive developments in Kosovo since elections were held last year, and hailed the results as an expression of the will of the people of Kosovo, including ethnic minorities living there. The Government also was following with great interest developments in the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia; it opposed acts of violence and extremism there and shared the view that only political dialogue would bring about a just solution to problems relating to the rights and freedoms of ethnic Albanians in that country. Albania would soon conclude its presidency of the South East European Cooperation Process with a conference in Tirana on 28 March, Ms. Dade added.
LYDIE POLFER, Vice Prime Minister and Minister for Foreign Affairs of Luxembourg, said that when last year the Commission had denounced the destructive folly of the Taliban regime, no one was able to imagine what events would occur next. Terror, like torture, was aimed at destroying the other. This was not a conflict of civilizations, a cultural or religious fact. The international community had again been faced with the threat of totalitarianism that had ravaged other parts of the world in the 20th century. Luxembourg, which would hold the presidency of the Ministerial Committee of the Council of Europe from May to November, had put among its priorities the international fight against terrorism while respecting human rights.
The terrible impasse in the Middle East showed that there was no alternative to a political solution; to the existence, side by side, of Israeli and Palestinian States within secure and recognized borders. In this regard, Security Council resolution 1397 offered new prospects for the region. The Durban Conference had undoubtedly contributed to highlighting the lack of a global vision of human rights. The need to better integrate regional and multilateral approaches was for the first time underscored during the Durban Conference. Never before had countries been faced with the human dimension of globalization.
BENITA FERRERO-WALDNER, Federal Minister of Foreign Affairs of Austria, said that six months after the 11 September terrorist attacks the Commission had to ask itself key questions about how the global scourge of terrorism could be eradicated and what could be done to create a world genuinely guided by a universal culture of human rights and human security. Such a worldwide culture did not have to be utopian, but on the other hand it would not come easily. There had to be a candid and honest dialogue on every aspect of what was understood to be a free and fair society, and the Commission had to look beyond security and address the root causes of terrorism -- it had to address the breeding grounds of dissatisfaction, hate, extremism and terror, including numerous regional conflicts, the problem of poverty, and situations of inequality and injustice.
Afghanistan had suffered for 20 years from an unending spiral of warfare and grave human-rights abuses, Ms. Ferrero-Waldner said, and had the international community done enough to stop it? Why had it taken the disaster of 11 September before action was taken in Afghanistan? Today, fortunately, events in Afghanistan had taken a better turn. Of crucial importance to continued progress there was attention to the rights of women, and their inclusion in efforts at dialogue and conflict resolution.
Since chairing the Organization of Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) in 2000, Austria had strongly advocated continued attention to Central Asia and the Caucasus region, Ms. Ferrero-Waldner said, particularly with regard to dangerous actual or potential conflicts and security threats such as trafficking in people, weapons, and drugs. Another place needing concerted international attention was the Middle East. Both the Palestinians and the Israelis had suffered too many deaths of innocent civilians and had to finally muster the strength and courage to end the spiral of violence and return to serious efforts to reach a lasting cease-fire, to return to peace negotiations, and to respect human life and human rights. The Commission must speak with one voice and send a strong message to both sides in the conflict.
Promoting human rights around the world required educational efforts and pursuit of what was called the "Dialogue of Civilizations," the Foreign Minister said. Attention to human security was vital, and Austria, as of July, would chair the Human Security Network, a flexible framework of like-minded countries from all geographic regions committed to enhancing cooperation on human-security matters.
Austria strongly favoured a preventive approach to conflicts and problems, Ms. Ferrero-Waldner said, and would sponsor resolutions at this session on protection of minority groups, protection and assistance to internally displaced persons, and strengthening the rule of law and public confidence in the administration of justice.
TEHMINA JANJUA (Pakistan), speaking on behalf of the Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC), said the OIC condemned terrorism in all its forms, but also agreed with the High Commissioner that terrorism had yet to be comprehensively defined; a legitimate definition must draw a clear distinction between terrorism and legitimate struggles for self-determination and against foreign occupation or alien domination. Any definition on terrorism also needed to include acts of terrorism perpetrated by States and occupying powers. The OIC had called for an international conference on terrorism, and Malaysia in early April would host a special session of OIC Foreign Ministers to address the issue of terrorism.
The High Commissioner had rightly noted that some States had exploited the aftermath of the 11 September terrorist attacks to intensify repression of occupied people under the pretext of eradicating terrorism. There also had been an upsurge in attacks against Islam and its values; associating Islam with terrorism was an assault against this eternal religion and the High Commissioner's Office should launch a public campaign to counter this negative propaganda. Strategies to end terrorism had to address the root causes -- poverty and despair -- attacks on innocent migrants and asylum seekers, and the growing gap between rich and poor. The High Commissioner was to be congratulated on her efforts to make the Durban Summit against Racism a success.
VIRASAKI FUTRAKUL (Thailand) said that the fallout from the attacks of 11 September had had an impact on human rights. Thailand condemned acts of terrorism which violated the fundamental rights of individuals, in particular the right to life. Terrorist acts, like those perpetrated on 11 September, constituted crimes against humanity. Thailand had implemented national measures to comply with the Security Council counter terrorism resolution. Thailand recognized the concern over the application of human rights norms in the fight against terrorism.
Thailand had hosted hundreds of thousands of displaced persons from neighbouring countries for prolonged periods and its policies on refugees had always followed a tradition of humanitarianism. Prevention of human insecurity could be achieved only through respect for and promotion of human rights. Thailand supported human security policies from both the perspective of freedom from fear as well as freedom from want. Poverty and marginalization were among the factors that increased those silent conflicts that nurtured discord and armed conflict within and among societies. This was why Thailand paid particular attention to the rights and interests of vulnerable groups affected by poverty. Nevertheless, Thailand realized that the answer to prevention did not lie in eliminating poverty alone. If the international community was to ensure the realization of human security together with the effective promotion of human rights, a more holistic approach and a correct balance between human security and state sovereignty concerns in dealing with the challenges of terrorism would be needed.
SHA ZUKANG (China) said that terrorism in whatever form or manifestation endangered the life and safety of innocent people, thus constituting a gross violation of human rights. Therefore, the international community should stand firmly against all forms of terrorism, combatting in a consistent and resolute manner any terrorist act, regardless of how, when, where and against whom it was committed. Adopting double or even multiple standards in this respect would serve as connivance of terrorism and would lead to grave consequences.
In combatting terrorism, international humanitarian law and human rights must be respected. The scope of the flight should not be broadened arbitrarily. Terrorism should not be linked up with specific ethnic groups, religions or countries. Counter-terrorism efforts should deal with both the symptoms and the root causes of terrorism. The international community should ponder seriously over how to advance democracy at the international level and overcome development related problems, as a final solution to the issue of terrorism would come only after all its root causes were removed.
SERGUEI TCHUMAREV (the Russian Federation) said that the basic responsibility of protection for human rights lay with States. The Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights was called upon to strengthen cooperation between States in the field of human rights, especially through its technical assistance programmes. Terrorism should be combatted at the national and international levels. However, protection of human rights was one of the key factors in preventing this phenomenon. Item 4 on the agenda was the only item under which the activities of the Commission could be discussed. Russia would like the report of the High Commissioner to contain more information on the work of the Commission, including the result of work undertaken by the Commission and its framework policies, voluntary contributions and other matters which were of interest to member countries. Deficiencies continued to exist in the work of the Commission, such as in the area of the implementation of the right to development and the processing of individual complaints. Russia believed that the Commission had sufficient resources to improve its functioning.
IVAN MORA GODOY (Cuba) said his country had long favoured reform of the Commission to rationalize and simplify its mechanisms and to end politicization and the application of double standards and selective approaches in which the countries of the South were made victims and mandates, technical-assistance programme resources, and personnel were allocated in an unbalanced way. The tradition of long speeches in this hall where only developing countries were criticized had to end, especially as the rights of millions of human beings in the developed countries were also being violated, as everyone knew, due to discrimination and an increasing lack of the right to education, health care, adequate housing, and employment. There had to be a frank and open dialogue in the Commission based on tolerance and mutual respect in which differences in cultures and countries were not feared or repressed but valued as the precious goods of humanity. Reforms could not start from the same old selective approach, and Cuba wondered if this was the true intention -- to assure the permanent power and presence in the Commission of countries that were self-titled champions of human rights, even those countries which had lost their seats because of their "big-stick" policies.
There was a need to correct geographic imbalances in the staffing of the Office of the High Commissioner and for greater unrestricted voluntary donations to allow flexibility in the Office's operations.
MARICLAIRE ACOSTA (Mexico) said that the defence of human rights required an atmosphere of moderation not confrontation. Efforts should be made to promote confidence among countries and in the special mechanisms of the Commission and other interactional mechanisms. No effort should be spared to ensure objective treatment of human rights, in accordance with the principles adopted in the World Conference in Vienna. It was important to show greater determination in designing mechanisms of technical cooperation and Mexico noted with satisfaction progress made in this field. The Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights was commended for its work in promoting human rights, while respecting the singularity and sovereignty of every country. Mexico also noted with satisfaction the priorities set in the report of the High Commissioner, in particular the attention given to minorities and vulnerable groups.
Mexico supported the High Commissioner's call for countries to ratify the International Convention for the Protection of Migrant Workers. The Government of Mexico was convinced that education was crucial in creating tolerate societies. A special anti-discrimination body had been created with a view to combatting racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance. The body was according special attention to the violation of the human rights of migrants, including migrant workers and the promotion of international cooperation to combat xenophobia.
JOAQUIN PEREZ-VILLANUEVA Y TOVAR (Spain), speaking on behalf of the European Union (EU), said June 2003 would mark the tenth anniversary of the Vienna Declaration and Programme of Action for human rights, and would be an opportunity for reflection and assessment. The High Commissioner's current report raised important questions in the aftermath of the 11 September terrorist attacks, and the EU had stressed in a number of fora that the fight against terrorism must be carried out with full respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms. Terrorist acts did not constitute human-rights violations, but they were unjustifiable crimes and no "root cause" could ever be used to justify them.
There was a growing need to discuss and better understand differences in perceptions, values, and interests, and to promote tolerance and appreciation for cultural diversity, and the EU supported initiatives such as the Global Agenda on Dialogue among Civilizations and the Barcelona Process. It attached great importance to full respect of the 1951 Refugee Convention and noted that it had been stressed by UNHCR that the Convention excluded from refugee protection persons suspected of serious non-political crimes, which were commonly interpreted to include terrorist acts. The EU was aware that Commission mandate holders were experiencing difficulties in discharging their mandates, and encouraged the High Commissioner's Office to redouble efforts to improve its servicing of mandates. And the EU called for an augmentation of the Office's resources.
MARIE GERVAIS-VIDRICAIRE (Canada), speaking on behalf of the Western Group, said that the Western Group would not support any effort to diminish or silence the voices of non-governmental organizations (NGOs). Freedom of expression was and must remain one of the key principles governing the work of the Commission. The Western Group believed that on the important question of NGO participation, the Commission should have a pragmatic approach and should avoid unnecessary and divisive discussions. In this regard, the Western Group welcomed the positive steps that had been taken to improve the relationship between the NGO Committee and the Commission.
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