Commission on Human Rights
20 March 2001
Debate Begins on Methods of Work
Ministers of seven Governments spoke before the Commission on Human Rights this morning, reviewing efforts made and obstacles encountered in enhancing rights and fundamental freedoms in their own countries and in some cases commenting on situations elsewhere.
Interspersed between these addresses, the Commission began substantive work under its agenda item on methods of work.
Zeljka Antunovic, Deputy Prime Minister of Croatia, said, among other things, that the time had come for Croatia to be removed from the Commission's annual omnibus resolution on the situation of human rights in the territory of the former Yugoslavia and from the mandate of the relevant Special Rapporteur. Croatia's cooperation with the United Nations should be moved to an agenda item that was not related to "grave" violations of human rights, since that word in no way described the situation in the country, the Deputy Prime Minister said.
Paskal Milo, Minister for Foreign Affairs of Albania, told the Commission, among other things, that an Electoral Code and a Central Electoral Commission composed of independent experts had been established and that local elections staged in October 2000 had been recognized by international monitoring organizations as the most democratic elections ever held in Albania. He also drew attention to efforts to improve the atmosphere for political parties and to strengthen media freedom.
Mohamed Auajjar, Minister for Human Rights of Morocco, described democratic reforms in the country, cited concern about the well-being of Moroccans living outside the country who experienced xenophobia, racism and exclusion, and reiterated the Government's preoccupation with human-rights violations of Moroccans held against their will under unacceptable conditions in the camps of Tindouf for several decades.
Jorge Castaneda, Minister for Foreign Affairs of Mexico, said the High Commissioner for Human Rights would be invited to set up an office in Mexico and the Government was extending a permanent invitation to representatives of international human-rights mechanisms to visit the country. Mr. Castaneda added that the Government of Mexico rejected any use of the idea of national sovereignty to justify violations of universal human rights and opposed any contention that human rights reflected "western" values and so should not be enforced in societies with different traditions and cultures.
Datuk Seri Syed Hamid Albar, Minister for Foreign Affairs of Malaysia, said, among other things, that although democracy was undoubtedly the best available means for achieving social justice and promoting social inclusion, it was not an end in itself and each society needed to be allowed to determine for itself a democratic system which provided for the effective participation of its citizenry but at the same time was productive rather than destructive.
Anna Lindh, Minister for Foreign Affairs of Sweden, speaking on behalf of the European Union and countries related to the Union, covered in a wide-ranging address issues of children's rights, women's rights, female genital mutilation, protection of human-rights defenders, abolition of the death penalty, and trafficking in human beings.
And Oulai Siene, Minister of Justice of Cote d'Ivoire, reviewed political and Constitutional reforms in his country. He said Cote d’Ivoire believed strongly in fighting racial discrimination, protecting religious freedom, and preserving freedom of the press; and noted that the Government had established a Directorate for Human Rights and Public Freedoms.
Also speaking during the morning session was a Representative of India. Algeria and Morocco spoke in right of reply.
The Commission will reconvene at 3 p.m. to begin discussion of the annual report of the High Commissioner for Human Rights.
Organization of the work of the Session
Before the Commission is a note by the Secretariat (E/CN.4/2001/12) on the organization of the work of the session. The report contains statistics relating to the fifty-sixth session of the Commission.
Also before the Commission is a note by the secretariat concerning the main rules and practices followed by the Commission on Human Rights (E/CN.4/2001/CRP.1) in the organization of its work and the conduct of business.
ZELJKA ANTUNOVIC, Deputy Prime Minister of Croatia, said her country had taken numerous steps to enhance human rights, including through hosting a United Nations expert meeting on gender and racial discrimination, the first meeting in which the link between gender and racial discrimination had been researched. Democratic changes in the country had been accompanied by legal and organizational steps to improve the situation of human rights, and a number of advisory and coordinating bodies had been created with their activities controlled through the Government’s Commission on Human Rights.
Croatia still faced challenges, the Deputy Prime Minister said; the process of returning refugees and displaced persons still had its difficulties, although it had ceased to be a political problem; the real problem was overcoming financial and technical difficulties related to sustainable return. An efficient procedure had been set up for resolving questions of double or illegal occupancy. Laws now guaranteed the highest standards of protection for minority rights. A series of international conferences on human rights and democratization was planned, and much work had been done in cooperation with the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights.
Croatia's progress had been noted internationally and regionally, and the Council of Europe and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe had accordingly reduced their human-rights monitoring activities in the country. Croatia firmly believed, therefore, that the time had come for the country to be removed from the annual omnibus resolution passed by the Commission on the situation of human rights in Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina and the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, and for Croatia to be removed from the mandate of the relevant Special Rapporteur. It was time for Croatia's cooperation with the United Nations to be moved to an agenda item that was not related to "grave" violations of human rights, since that in no way described the situation in the State.
PASKAL MILO, Minister for Foreign Affairs of Albania, said that positive changes had occurred in Albania since the last session of the Commission which clearly proved the serious and constant commitment of the Albanian Government to the progress of democracy and respect for human rights. For the first time, an Electoral Code based on the Albanian Constitution and a Central Electoral Commission, composed of independent experts, had been established. Local elections of October 2000 had been recognized by the international monitoring organizations as the most democratic elections ever held in Albania. He also drew attention to the Political Parties Round Table which took place at the beginning of this month. In the field of information and the media, a recent United Nations report on the right to freedom of opinion and expression in Albania had found that respect for those rights had reached satisfactory levels and that other observations made in the report had been resolved or were on the way to being resolved.
Mr. Milo said that, like other civilized countries, Albania protected and promoted the rights of minorities, considering them as an integral part of Albanian society, and said that throughout history, there had never been inter-ethnic conflict in Albania but, on the contrary, a brotherly co-existence between Albanians and national minorities. The Albanian Government was totally committed to increasing the level of respect for minority rights. Religious freedom was protected by law and the principle of religious tolerance was a traditional characteristic of Albanian society. It was obvious that there were problems in Albania regarding human rights, but the Albanian Government was making necessary efforts to fight against any phenomena that would have a direct or indirect negative impact on human rights standards.
In relation to the situation in the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, Mr. Milo said the Albanian Government had taken a firm stand against extremist individuals and groups and the use of armed activities to threaten peace and stability and endanger the integration and cooperation processes in which the countries of the region were involved. Albania, having the Presidency of the South East European Co-operation Process, was of the view that the problems inherited from the past could not be resolved by the use of weapons, but only through a constructive dialogue between the parties.
Mr. Milo praised the re-establishment of diplomatic relations with the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia following the downfall of the Milosevic regime, demanded that all Albanian political prisoners be released by the Serb authorities, and called on the Serb authorities, on behalf of the Albanian Government, to hand over Milosevic to the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia as the main person responsible for the genocide exercised against the Albanians in Kosovo.
MOHAMED AUAJJAR, Minister for Human Rights of Morocco, affirmed that since his accession to the throne, King Mohamed VI of Morocco had clearly announced his political plans which were to make Morocco a true democratic state with a rule of law. The political plan, which was part of the constitutional acquisition of the country since its independence, aimed at the effective enjoyment of all fundamental rights and individual and collective freedoms, as well as guaranteeing the participation in public affairs of all citizens. The democratic transition which Morocco was experiencing was the result of the lessons which it drew from the past, with the political courage and intellectual necessity. It was to be recalled that Morocco acquired its independence thanks to the perfect symbioses between the Monarchy, the Resistance forces and the National Movement. Since then, it had been strengthened by a national consensus.
Among Morocco's major concerns was the problem of well-being of its citizens living outside the country who experienced difficulties due to the status of immigration in the countries where they lived. The mounting of xenophobia, racism and exclusion in all its forms was a flagrant contradiction with the principles and the values of human rights values which constituted the foundation of the mission of the Commission. Despite their expressed need for foreign labour, the host countries continued to give priorities to a policy of security to the detriment of a policy of development, more humane and at the same time more pragmatic.
The Government of Morocco reiterated its preoccupation concerning the human rights violations of Moroccans retained against their will under unacceptable conditions in the camps of Tindouf for several decades. The tales of persons who were able to escape from the camps and who arrived in Morocco were appalling. The confessions provided precise and troubling indications on the realities in the camps. At least 1,480 persons were detained in the camps for 20 years as Moroccan prisoners of war in violation of the Geneva Conventions. The Government of Morocco called upon the international community to bring an end to such practices. Concerning the situation in the Middle East, the rights of Palestinian people were violated by the intransigency of Israel. The international community should assume its responsibility, by making the international legitimacy to be respected, so that the legitimate aspirations of the Palestinian people to establish an independent state and to enjoy all their rights could be achieved.
JORGE CASTANEDA, Minister for Foreign Affairs of Mexico, said he was present on behalf of a new Mexico -- for the first time in recent history, an opposition candidate, Vicente Fox, had been elected President, and he had from the outset stated that human rights would be one of the Government's chief concerns. The national agenda would include efforts to reinforce respect for human rights as a central element of State reform measures; creation of permanent spaces for civil-society organizations to allow their active contribution to the design of Government policy; carrying out of sweeping reforms to the law-enforcement system; defense of the rights of Mexicans abroad; assurance of full compliance with Mexico's international human-rights commitments; reform of legislation to bring it into line with international human-rights instruments; establishment of courses on human rights in all schools; and investigation of all cases of human rights violations, with appropriate follow-up action according to law.
Events in the Chiapas region since 1994 had brought to the forefront an unquestionable and intolerable reality that had been ignored by Government and society alike, Mr. Castaneda said; the new Government would only be successful in establishing a national culture of human rights if it succeeded in achieving lasting peace in Chiapas.
President Fox had announced the appointment of an Ambassador for Special Missions on Human Rights, and this official would work tirelessly with the Commission, Mr. Castaneda said; the Government had already signed a technical cooperation agreement with the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights; the High Commissioner would be invited to set up an office in Mexico. The Government wished now to extend a permanent invitation to the representatives of international human-rights mechanisms to visit Mexico. Furthermore the Government was taking a series of reforms to aid the situation of Mexico's indigenous peoples.
The Government of Mexico rejected any use of the idea of national sovereignty to justify any violation of universal human rights, the Foreign Minister said; it also discarded any contention that human rights reflected "western" values and so should not be enforced in societies with different traditions and cultures.
DATUK SERI SYED HAMID ALBAR, Minister for Foreign Affairs of Malaysia, said that despite the fact that vast swathes of the globe were free from the shackles of political oppression, in numerical terms, more lived in destitution now than ever before. Thus, if what was wanted was the realization of the aspirations of "social progress and better standards of life in larger freedom", a balanced and realistic approach to human rights, democracy and capitalism had to be adopted. These factors needed to be approached in the context of comprehensive human rights, productive democracy and humane capitalism.
Mr. Albar said that although democracy was undoubtedly the best available means to achieving social justice and promoting social inclusion, it was not an end in itself. Each society needed to be allowed to determine for itself a democratic system which provided for the effective participation of its citizenry but at the same time was productive rather than destructive. A humane form of capitalism in which man's well-being was emphasized was needed. As a contribution to the process of humanizing globalization, Malaysia was cooperating with the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights and was hosting a regional seminar on "Globalization and its Impact on the Enjoyment of Economic, Social and Cultural Rights" in Kuala Lumpur in May this year. Technical cooperation and assistance were necessary, particularly in the areas of national capacity building and human rights education. A cooperative, not sanctimonious or confrontational approach was needed for the promotion of human rights. He criticized the exploitation of human rights issues by some countries in order to promote their political and economic agendas which did not serve the cause of human rights and the work of the Commission. This undesirable development needed to be curtailed if the credibility of the Commission was to be maintained.
Mr. Albar said Malaysia remained deeply committed to the protection of all its citizens. A Malaysian National Commission on Human Rights (SUHAKAM) was created in 1999. It had since been active in increasing the level of awareness of human rights issues among the general public and conducting investigations into alleged human rights violations. Malaysia had continued to pursue time-tested policies that best served the overall interest of its people.
ANNA LINDH, Minister for Foreign Affairs of Sweden, speaking on behalf of the European Union and the countries associated with the Union, said that too many women, men and children around the world suffered the consequences of exercising their freedoms and human rights. Global access to information made it difficult to cover up human rights violations and provided the community with knowledge to react. In addition, globalization brought opportunities for social and economic development but also increased the risk for exploitation of people. Common values and principles were needed to bridge cultural differences and the social divide between continents and peoples. Global rules built on democracy and human rights were needed to enhance justice.
Human rights were not acknowledged from the beginning of mankind; they had had to be fought for, made legitimate and continuously claimed and strengthened; and there were times when it was a duty to speak up. Those who remained silent on such occasions were also guilty. A core element when promoting human rights was to distinguish between right and wrong, and to take positions. Human rights defenders following that principle deserved support. Leaders who claimed that the safety and stability of their country was undermined by human rights defenders obviously failed to recognize that observing human rights, democracy and the rule of law would be stabilizing effects and would work as a key to economic and social development.
Ms. Lindh said the Union was opposed to the death penalty. The use of torture was also among the abhorrent violations of human rights. No exceptions to the prohibition against torture were permitted under international law. However, torture still persisted despite the efforts of the international community. The Union would continue to urge countries in bilateral and multilateral contacts at all levels to take effective measures against torture. In addition, the victims of torture and ill-treatment should be rehabilitated and compensated. The Union was currently working on guidelines against torture to be adopted in the very near future.
Trafficking in human beings was not a new phenomenon, but its growing dimensions and alarming consequences for its victims required immediate attention, Ms. Lindh added. In Europe alone it was estimated that approximately 500,000 women and children were victims of trafficking, especially for sexual purposes, every year. It was a shocking figure and a crying shame.
OULAI SIENE, Minister for Justice of Cote d'Ivoire, said that his country had always cared about human rights and intended to remain an open country where all could live in harmony. There had been a black spot on the pages of the country's history in the year 2000, but that was a temporary if regrettable incident; the President had undertaken all necessary action to ensure national reconciliation and assure that peace and security would prevail in Cote d'Ivoire. The Government was a party to numerous international and regional human-rights instruments. In 1990 the Government had renounced its former one-party system and now had more than 100 political parties; in 2000, a new Constitution had been adopted following a referendum; the Constitution set a consistent framework for the separation of powers and independence of the legal system, among other reforms. An independent commission now oversaw the entire electoral process.
The President, Laurent Gbagbo, was determined to fight fraud and corruption in the management of public affairs, Mr. Siene said; all cases of such offences were brought before the competent bodies. The new Constitution marked significant progress in human rights; the first section of 20 articles recognized numerous rights that exceeded the standards even of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights; the death penalty had been abolished and in fact had never been implemented when it might have been. The country, in keeping with its humanitarian reputation, played host to millions of non-nationals, including immigrants and refugees -- some 26 per cent of its population consisted of non-nationals.
Cote d'Ivoire believed strongly in fighting against racial discrimination, in protecting religious freedom, and in preserving and fostering freedom of the press, the Minister of Justice said. In addition, the Government had established a Directorate for Human Rights and Public Freedoms and intended to adopt a national action plan for human rights for which it had requested assistance from the Commission on Human Rights.
SAVITRI KUNADI (India), speaking on behalf of the Asian Group, said the Group wished to underline the importance of cooperation, dialogue, consultation and consensus building to enhance the effectiveness of the Commission and to avoid politicization of its work. The Asian Group believed that wider consultations and dialogue would ensure a greater degree of compliance and cooperation from member States, thereby generating a climate of international cooperation for the promotion and protection of human rights. The Asian Group urged the Chair, other groups and delegations to exert utmost efforts to promote transparent consultations on all draft resolutions.
The issue pertaining to the participation of non-governmental organizations in the Commission had been frequently discussed; while the Asian Group encouraged the participation of the organizations in the work of the Commission, it would like to reiterate that their role should be clarified in such a way as to ensure that their participation enhanced the ability of the Commission to address human rights issues in a more effective manner.
The Asian Group continued to advocate the curtailment of Commission sessions to four weeks. The biennialization and clustering of agenda items, reduction of the number and length of resolutions through, among other thing, biennialization of as many thematic resolutions as possible and discontinuation of resolutions which were no longer warranted by existing circumstances, were also steps which should be considered by the Bureau in consultation with the regional groups.
Rights of Reply
A Representative of Algeria, speaking in right of reply, said he regretted that the Moroccan Minister for Human Rights had carried out a sterile polemic over the issue of the Tindouf camps. The matter has been under discussion for decades, and numerous efforts had been made to resolve it. The reality was that refugees had had their land seized by a foreign power. There had been a war, in fact, and that reality should not be distorted. Moroccan prisoners of war had never been admitted by the Moroccan Government until recently. Morocco, meanwhile, had prison camps of its own and was not in position to teach anyone any lessons about prisoner-of-war camps.
A Representative of Morocco, speaking in right of reply, said that the Moroccan Minister for Human Rights had taken up a human rights issue. A respectable non-governmental organization, Amnesty International, had stated certain things about the human rights situation in the camps. The Representative made reference to a principle of Anglo-Saxon law which said that the sun worked best to shed light on a subject. Why had no census or accounting been taken in the camps as there was controversy over the actual figures. Did Algeria have something to hide? Morocco had tried to bring to the floor its concern for the situation in the camps. He hoped Algeria would not deny that the Tindouf camps were located within its territory and, therefore, its responsibility.
A Representative of Algeria, in a second right of reply, said the Moroccan delegation should go back to the UN documents to verify the reality. In addition, Morocco should respect the Houston Agreements concerning the refugees which it now claimed to be prisoners of war. The UNHCR was doing a good job concerning the refugees in the camps. The Saharawi Arab Republic was recognized by at least 70 States and it was also a member of the Organization of African Unity (OAU). The delegation should avoid polemic on the historical context of the situation of the refugees. Morocco should demonstrate its goodwill in that regard.
A Representative of Morocco, in a second right of reply, said he had not heard a reply on the matter of the situation in the camps; he did not know why Algeria was speaking on this matter and in fact the Algerian Representative was referring to a different matter that Morocco had not raised. He hoped everyone would abide by the standards of discussion of the Commission.
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