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SUMMARY RECORD OF THE 25th MEETING
Held at the Palais des Nations, Geneva,
on Friday, 30 March 2001, at 10 a.m.
Chairperson : Mr. DESPOUY (Argentina)
1. The CHAIRPERSON thanked Switzerland and the Canton of Geneva for the hospitality extended by them each year to the Commission on Human Rights and for their contribution to the development of international humanitarian law, with which the name of Henri Dunant would forever be associated. The Commission was very honoured to hear, for the first time, Mr. Leuenberger, whose long political career had led him to the office of President of the Swiss Confederation.
2. Mr. LEUENBERGER (Switzerland) said that it was a great honour for him to take the floor before the Commission on Human Rights - the true moral conscience of the international community. In the words of Jean-Jacques Rousseau, a citizen of Geneva, “Man was born free, yet everywhere he is in chains”. The Commission took on the essential task of freeing man from his chains. It dealt with respect for the founding values of the human community, such as freedom of religion and conscience, freedom of expression, democracy and the rule of law. However, those values, which were the basis for universal and indivisible rights, were flouted daily throughout the world. The civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights of individuals and communities were trampled on daily by war, murder, imprisonment, torture, disappearance and rape.
3. All countries, regardless of their size, bore their share of responsibility for that situation, on account of the interdependence which characterized the “global village”, where goods, information, capital and people moved about with ease. Those who governed had fostered globalization, relaxation of controls and the opening-up of frontiers. The economy thus had large areas of activity and investment, which held out the promise of growth and prosperity for all, even if for the moment, inequality was growing. A world of blatant inequalities and growing poverty - in which 2 billion people were living on less than 2 dollars a day - could not be a world of peace. The right to development was an integral part of human rights. The rich countries bore a particular responsibility for that huge amount of poverty. Trade protectionism, unequal trade, weak investment and cooperation, the brain drain and the flight of capital did not encourage development.
4. Having assured the globalization of the economy, the next task was to globalize political, economic and social responsibilities. No Government, society or ethnic group, no transnational corporation could shirk its local or global responsibility. As had been rightly observed by Pierre Sané, the Secretary-General of Amnesty International, the power of the transnational corporations must necessarily be counterbalanced by responsibility towards the communities in which they operated. In that connection, he commended the “ ;Global Compact” initiative launched by the Secretary-General of the United Nations, which forged a sound link between human rights, the right to work and the environment, and to which a growing number of companies had committed themselves.
5. International law had progressed steadily under the aegis of the United Nations and the regional organizations. War criminals and the perpetrators of genocide could no longer count on impunity. The international tribunals for Rwanda and the former Yugoslavia, together with the International Criminal Court, whose Statute the Swiss Parliament was about to ratify, constituted very valuable new instruments. State sovereignty, the mask that concealed countless barbarities, was no longer absolute. “Good governance” was becoming an integral part of the conditionality for official development assistance (ODA). Nevertheless, there were certain inconsistencies, behind which lurked a degree of hypocrisy. Economic considerations or reasons of State had frequently prompted some countries to conceal human rights violations in another country which was their trade partner or strategic ally.
6. At a time of globalization, unilateral denunciation was no longer appropriate, because responsibility too was global. It would be a simple task to draw up a list of human rights violations throughout the world. It would be easy, for example, to condemn the existence of the death penalty in the United States, to reassert that human rights were not respected in Chechnya and to recall the persistence of massive repression of minorities and religious communities in China. However, it was necessary to go beyond mere incantation and adopt tangible measures, including economic and political measures, against repressive regimes. Such measures should be guided by international law, and not by the partisan interests of any particular State. State boundaries had been blurred by economic and technological globalization. They should also give way to respect for fundamental human rights and international humanitarian law. That was the prerequisite for globalization and human rights to be compatible.
7. Switzerland was keen to present itself as a model State in the field of human rights. Nevertheless, it had on occasion been condemned by the European Court of Human Rights for acts of racial discrimination, unequal pay for men and women, or preventing family reunification for foreign seasonal workers. That fact was evidence that fundamental rights and freedoms were never won once and for all, that they must be constantly upheld, and that it was necessary to fight to ensure that they were put into effect. The decisions of the European Court of Human Rights were valuable, because they enabled Switzerland to evolve and to improve its legislation in order better to protect fundamental rights.
8. As all were aware, it was not enough to condemn human rights violations. The commitments made within the Commission were but a first step. The resolutions adopted must then be followed up by finally making a reality of the right of all to food, by offering all children, girls and boys, a basic education, by ensuring that all workers received a decent wage, by working for debt relief for the poorest countries, by putting into practice the commitments on climate policy made at Kyoto, by introducing legislation effectively to combat organized crime and money laundering, and enforcing that legislation.
9. Switzerland hoped that, at its current session, the Commission would be able to advance towards the adoption of an additional protocol to the Convention against Torture and to send a clear political signal to the extraordinary session of the General Assembly devoted to racism and to the World Conference against Racism. Only the uncompromising implementation of the Commission’ s resolutions would help humankind to progress towards a world of freedom, justice and solidarity, the sole guarantee of a genuine human rights policy. That would be the most fitting tribute that could be paid to Mrs. Mary Robinson for her courage and her unstinting work in the cause of human rights.
STATEMENT BY MR. KOFI ANNAN, SECRETARY-GENERAL OF THE UNITED NATIONS
10. Mr. KOFI ANNAN (Secretary-General of the United Nations) began by paying tribute to the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights. He respected, but greatly regretted, her decision not to seek a second term. Her tenure had seen important achievements. She had raised global awareness of the oft-neglected economic, social and cultural rights, and in particular the right to development. Despite meagre funding, she had expanded the global presence of the Office of the High Commissioner, and had been a forceful advocate of all human rights for all people, especially for the most vulnerable.
11. He assured the Commission that, together with the High Commissioner, he would seek to continue that progress and, in particular, to ensure the success of the World Conference against Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and Related Intolerance, preparation for which was well under way, thanks to the tireless efforts of Governments, experts and non-governmental partners, and which was increasingly attracting public attention. The time was ripe for considering what message the Conference should send and for bridging the differences that had emerged. Racism and intolerance plagued all countries without exception, scarring societies and marring work for peace. Some forms of discrimination were only too familiar, starting with those affecting women: rape in time of war, exploitation at work and abuse at home. Immigrants were attacked and their customs mocked. School textbooks often ignored the contributions, or even the existence, of indigenous peoples. State spending frequently neglected the needs of minorities. The mass media were sometimes used to spread false and ugly stereotypes. Politicians - democrats as well as dictators - used race-based appeals to seek and maintain power.
12. In the past 10 years, new types of intolerance had emerged, with new targets and new tools with which to spread it. People with HIV and AIDS were ostracized and the intensified cross-border movements associated with globalization, were seen by some as a threat prompting a retreat from openness. The Internet was used by some as a messenger of hatred and dehumanizing imagery. Such troubling behaviour was a hindrance to development and a breeding ground for armed conflict, generating massive flows of refugees and displaced persons. People who were excluded or marginalized and whose attempts at peaceful protest were met with repression often ended up resorting to extreme measures, including violence.
13. The United Nations had mounted a vigorous response to those practices: in recent years, almost all peacekeeping operations had had human rights components, the Organization’s development agencies systematically emphasized good governance and the rule of law, and the General Assembly had proclaimed 2001 the United Nations Year of Dialogue among Civilizations. The international criminal tribunals were seeking to end impunity and to promote justice and accountability, and it was to be hoped that the International Criminal Court would shortly come into operation. Those measures constituted an important step in the right direction. However, the world was not yet free of bondage and forced labour, genocide had again been perpetrated in the last decade and far-right parties with racist programmes were growing. The people who suffered most from the denial of their human rights were often unable to reach the various mechanisms responsible for protecting those rights. The World Conference should seek ways of remedying that situation.
14. He was convinced that world conferences were not a waste of time or money. The United Nations conferences in the 1990s had produced dynamic blueprints for progress on key issues such as the environment, the advancement of women and, not least, human rights. The Durban Conference too could deeply influence the lives of all victims of racism by giving them help and reason to hope. It could build on the foundations provided by the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination. In that regard, he stressed that it was crucial for States to cooperate with the Committee created by that Convention. In actual fact, if the Durban Conference served only to raise public awareness and to rouse the collective conscience, that would be reason enough to hold it. However, the main business was to redirect public policy and leave a lasting imprint on the workings of Governments, which were the main violators of human rights, despite bearing prime responsibility for upholding them. Accordingly, participants should focus their full attention on the conference declaration and programme of action. Language from conference documents often found its way into national laws and constitutions. Such documents inspired the creation of new institutions for the promotion of human rights and new protections for human rights defenders. They helped spur changes in curricula, so that tolerance and respect for diversity were taught to children from an early age. Those considerations explained why it was important to work towards a solid and credible declaration and programme of action, a forward-looking document that acknowledged past achievements, one that all people without exception could recognize as their own and in which they - and not just their Governments - could find inspiration.
15. Nothing could be achieved without the involvement of civil society. The private sector, too, had a key role to play. For that reason, one of the core principles he had asked companies to embrace in the Global Compact was the elimination of discrimination in hiring and in the workplace. It would take years, if not generations, to achieve universal tolerance. Living together in harmony had always been the dream of humankind. In every part of the world, there had been fine examples of real and lasting success. Such examples should be emulated.
STATEMENT BY MR. JACQUES CHIRAC, PRESIDENT OF THE FRENCH REPUBLIC
17. Mr. CHIRAC (France) thanked the Chairperson for having recalled that human rights, the concern for human beings and human dignity had long been a passionate concern of the French. The French people had been among the first to declare that human rights were universal and sacred, and the French nation had always been in the forefront of the struggle for freedom. However, no people could currently wage the battle alone. At a time of globalization and instant communication, everything had to be thought out, accomplished and dreamed on a world scale. That was why the United Nations, which had been born of the rejection of war and barbarism was, and was destined increasingly to be, the spearhead of a new humanism.
21. Because the ideals and principles that inspired it were universal, the Commission had a duty to address problems that legitimately concerned the international community. He asked what the Commission’s credibility would have been if it had not put the Chechen issue on its agenda the previous year. Similarly, because of the tragic deterioration in the situation in the occupied Palestinian territories, it was the Commission’s duty to examine the human rights situation there, in a spirit of fairness and on the basis solely of the facts. ...
STATEMENT BY MR. NABEEL SHAATH, MINISTER OF PLANNING AND INTERNATIONAL COOPERATION OF THE PALESTINIAN NATIONAL AUTHORITY
60. Mr. SHAATH (Palestine) thanked all the members of the Commission on Human Rights and the High Commissioner for Human Rights on behalf of the Palestinian people and officials for their support and protection during a period of suffering and misfortune. He also expressed his gratitude to the Human Rights Inquiry Commission and to the international, Palestinian and Israeli NGOs for their assistance.
61. Although the adoption of legally binding international human rights standards had been a great step forward for humankind, it was nevertheless true that numerous human rights violations were still being committed. However, they were no longer considered to be morally and legally acceptable. Practices that in the past had been regarded as legitimate means of waging war or of governing, such as torture, mass deportation, the use of gas and of anti-personnel mines, were currently considered to be crimes. The international community should ask itself whether it was doing enough to ensure that no human rights violation, regardless of where it was committed or of its circumstances, was tolerated. If it had been more vigilant, tragedies such as the Holocaust could have been averted. That was why the Commission’s session, and the inclusion of the question of Palestine on its agenda, was so important because, in the days to come, it would be a question of deciding whether Israel was to be allowed to continue to wage a war of unprecedented cruelty against the Palestinians. The siege of the Palestinian territories by the Israeli forces could not be accepted as a necessary evil.
62. He did not intend to draw up an inventory of all the violations committed in the occupied territories. The reports of the Commission on Human Rights, of the Special Committee to Investigate Israeli practices Affecting the Human Rights of the Palestinian People and Other Arabs of the Occupied Territories and of the Committee on the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People gave a clear picture of the human rights situation in the territories under Israeli occupation. In that connection, the report by the High Commissioner for Human Rights on her visit to the occupied Palestinian territories (E/CN.4/2001/114), which gave a true picture of the situation, was an example of political courage.
63. The Palestinian National Authority could not but endorse the conclusions of the Human Rights Inquiry Commission, established under resolution S-5/1 of the Commission on Human Rights, dated 19 October 2000, and contained in paragraphs 113 to 115 of that Commission’s report (E/CN.4/2001/121). In particular, the Inquiry Commission recommended the urgent establishment of an international presence to ensure compliance by all parties with human rights and humanitarian law standards. Every Palestinian could testify to the fact that the lack of political will had prevented the implementation of international humanitarian law during the previous 30 years. Although Israel, as the occupying Power, had always refused to accept the de jure applicability of the Fourth Geneva Convention to the Palestinian territories, and the other High Contracting Parties had taken no steps to compel Israel to meet its obligations, the Palestinian Authority had endeavoured to foster dialogue, cooperation and confidence between the Palestinians and Israeli civil society and political leaders. It had always been convinced that a peaceful, just and lasting solution would be found to the conflict, while Israel had continued its unlawful policy of annexation and colonization with the aim of transforming the demographic make-up of the occupied territories and preventing the Palestinians from exercising their right to self-determination and from creating a sovereign Palestinian State. The intensification of the policy of establishing settlements clearly lay at the root of the escalation of violence and of the popular uprising by the Palestinians.
64. Respect by Israel for human rights was the sine qua non for a resumption of the dialogue and the revival of the peace process. The Palestinian civilian population had to be protected against collective punishment, acts of reprisal, excessive and blind use of force - in particular of weapons that were prohibited internationally, extrajudicial executions and the destruction of property. Believers, both Christian and Muslim, must have free access to religious sites. To that end, an international monitoring force, whose mission would be to provide protection for the Palestinians and to discharge the obligations incumbent upon the High Contracting Parties under article 1 of the Fourth Geneva Convention, should be deployed in the occupied territories until Israel accepted the de jure applicability of that Convention, or until a just and lasting peace agreement was reached. The presence of such a force would enable the Palestinian National Authority to maintain public order in the areas under its jurisdiction and to remove the practical obstacles and reservations of principle to the resumption of its cooperation with Israel. It was unfortunate that the United States of America had recently vetoed a draft Security Council resolution whose aim had been simply to implement the Sharm el-Sheikh Agreement and to permit an international monitoring force to be deployed in the occupied Palestinian territories.
65. The Palestinian National Authority strongly reaffirmed that the Palestinian leaders were ready to negotiate with Israel to bring about a peaceful settlement to the conflict, on the basis of international legitimacy and the application of the agreements already signed. It was prepared to examine every means of preventing the escalation of violence and of creating the conditions necessary for a resumption of negotiations. However, the Israeli Government was alone capable of bringing the spiral of terror to an end. The main challenge facing the international community remained the protection of the Palestinian civilian population.
66. In just six months, a situation in which peace had been almost restored had been transformed into a virtual declaration of war by Israel. The deterioration in the situation illustrated the fragility of the limited progress made. The Commission’s decisions would be decisive for the future. It was vital to do everything possible to protect the Palestinians and thereby make progress towards peace.