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Press Release
UNITED NATIONS

HR/CN/994
17 March 2003


COMMISSION ON HUMAN RIGHTS OPENS FIFTY-NINTH SESSION


High Commissioner for Human Rights:  One Cannot Compromise
Hard-Won Human Rights to Give States Free Hand in Fighting Terrorism

(Reissued as received.)


GENEVA, 17 March (UN Information Service) -- The Commission on Human Rights opened its fifty-ninth session this morning and heard Sergio Vieira de Mello, the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, say that the Commission was meeting at a time of unusual convulsion in world affairs.  He was not only speaking of those crises dominating the headlines -- he was also speaking about the HIV/AIDS pandemic, the trafficking of women and children, and people whose only currencies were despair and cruelty. 

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The Chairperson of the 2003 session of the Commission, Ambassador Najat Al-Hajjaji of Libya, said that during the past year, the Middle East had not known peace, security and stability.  The Palestinian people were still being humiliated, killed and deprived of self-determination.  Black clouds were also gathering in the sky of the region and this was ominous of a catastrophic war which would certainly violate all human rights and especially the right to life. Ms. Al-Hajjaji said that her Government felt that the resources available for the consultative services in the field of human rights carried out by the High Commissioner's Office were scarce.  International cooperation in this field was, therefore, needed to reduce confrontation and criticism, and this could reduce tensions within the Commission.  She was honoured to announce that her country was contributing $1 million to the consultative services programme organized by the High Commissioner’s Office, and a further $1 million to the voluntary funds for the victims of severe human rights violations and for other activities carried out by the High Commissioner’s Office.

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Opening Statements

NAJAT AL-HAJJAJI (Libya), Chairperson of the fifty-ninth session of the Commission on Human Rights, said that during the past year, the Middle East had not known peace, security and stability.  The Palestinian people were still being humiliated, killed and deprived of self-determination.  Black clouds were also gathering in the sky of the region and this was ominous of a catastrophic war which would certainly violate all human rights and especially the right to life.  Terrorist attacks had continued to occur in various parts of the world, encouraging some to prefer resorting to military force rather than international law.  Reason and logic gave way to anger and frustration.  Some countries had taken coercive measures violating the rights of migrants and refugees and minorities and even visa applicants.  Sooner or later, wisdom and reason would have to be used to treat the root causes of the anger and frustration.

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SERGIO VIEIRA DE MELLO, United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, ...

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When security was defined too narrowly -- for example, as nothing more than a State's duty to protect its citizens -- then the pursuit of security could lead to the violation of the human rights of those who were outside the circle of the protected.  That circle might be defined in geographical or other terms.  The problem remained the same.  In this context, the High Commissioner for Human Rights mentioned the situation in Israel and the occupied Palestinian territories.  He strongly urged the Commission to remember that questions of security were central to its mission -- the protection and promotion of human rights.  The culture of human rights must be a popular culture if it was to have the strength to withstand the blows that would inevitably come.  Human-rights culture must be a popular culture if it was to be able to innovate and to be truly owned at the national and subnational levels.  He added that the recent inauguration of the International Criminal Court was a major step towards defending the principle of the security of civilians.  His choice of the rule of law as an overarching theme in his own work was due not least to its universality.  It was also the most solid foundation of security.  Since taking office, he had sought to advance the rule of law in discussions with leaders of many countries.  In conclusion, Mr. Vieira de Mello stressed the responsibility of the Commission to exercise leadership since the work of the Commission was critical to so many people. 

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