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Press Release
UNITED NATIONS

HR/CN/2000/56
22 March 2000
UNITED NATIONS

Press Release





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22 March 2000
Morning


Debate Continues on Report of High Commissioner for Human Rights

The Commission on Human Rights this morning continued discussion of a report of the High Commissioner for Human Rights on the activities and proposed work of her Office, and also heard addresses from Government ministers of Cameroon, Turkey, Israel, Morocco, Mexico, Italy and Luxembourg.

These officials outlined the policies of their States with regard to the protection and promotion of human rights and also highlighted the role played by their Governments in international human-rights matters.

Augustin Kontchou Kouomegni, Minister of State in Charge of External Relations of Cameroon, said his country had initiated a national programme of governance to combat corruption, increase transparency, eradicate poverty and ensure that the rule of law became a reality.

Mehmet Ali Irtemcelik, Minister of State in charge of Human Rights of Turkey, said that his country had waged a successful struggle against terrorism which had halted a campaign of merciless violence which had been targeted at the nation's democratic institutions, social peace and harmony. The capture of the terrorist leader in February 1999 was a turning point in the battle, he said.

Yossi Beilin, Minister of Justice of Israel, said that most of the world had come to regard Israel as hateful occupier that violated human rights, yet failed to see that its actions stemmed from the fact that there were some countries ready to destroy Israel. He hoped Israel, side by side with the Arab countries, would soon make a permanent peace in the Middle East.

Mohamed Auajjar, Minster of Human Rights of Morocco, said his Government reaffirmed that a referendum in Western Sahara could only be held with the participation of all the population originating from the region, without discrimination or exclusion. He said the Government was giving priority attention to fostering human rights and supporting the rule of law throughout Morocco.

Luxembourg's Minister for Foreign Affairs, Lydie Polfer, said the suffering of the population of Chechnya and the grave violations of human rights there were alarming. She welcomed the decision of the Russian authorities to invite the High Commissioner for Human Rights to visit the region, and remarked that however complex the situation in that part of the Russian Federation, one could not accept the violation of human rights under the pretext of establishing order or fighting terrorism.

Carmen Moreno, Under-Secretary of Foreign Affairs of Mexico, said Mexico was carrying out a profound and irreversible political transformation and that the culture of respect for human rights had been strengthened. The country's legal framework had been enriched by the ratification of international instruments, particularly through the recognition of the compulsory jurisdiction of the Inter-American Court of Human Rights, she said.

Aniello Palumbo, Italian Vice-Minister for Foreign Affairs, said Italy was committed to the promotion and implementation of human rights and to defending those rights elsewhere in cooperation with the international community. Italy believed that the protection of human rights had to be based on and developed through frank, unambiguous and productive dialogue between individual countries and the international community.

Representatives of the following States also took the floor this morning: Cuba, the Russian Federation, Sudan, Canada, Guatemala, India and Austria.

The Commission will reconvene at 3 p.m. to continue its review of the report of the High Commissioner.

Statements

AUGUSTIN KONTCHOU KOUOMEGNI, Minister of State in charge of External Relations of Cameroon, said it was time to expand, diversify and renew approaches to human rights. Civil and political rights could only be expressed if economic, political and social rights were guaranteed. The right to development had to be put on an equal level with other human rights. The Vienna spirit had to be renewed for the realization of all human rights.

Cameroon had initiated a national programme of governance to combat corruption, increase transparency, eradicate poverty and ensure that the rule of law became a reality. Cameroon had worked on this through the involvement and contribution of all citizens. Mr. Kontchou Kouomegni warned against intolerance and ethnic tensions. Cameroon intended to preserve and promote democracy. Peace was required to maintain a stable democracy. Cameroon also believed in the peaceful resolution of conflict and was patient with regard to the border conflict with Nigeria.

Mr. Kontchou Kouomegni warned against misinformation and manipulation in reports concerning Cameroon. Some circles dwelled on shortcomings when the focus should be put on achievements. Cameroon was against racial discrimination, torture and human-rights violations, and it promoted the rights of women and children. Cameroon had provided relief to refugees from regional conflicts, and as of next school year education would be mandatory and free of charge.

MEHMET ALI IRTEMCELIK, Minister of State in charge of Human Rights of Turkey, said that for years, successive Turkish Governments struggled to enlarge the scope of democracy and freedom while at the same time waging a relentless fight against ethnic terrorism. Attempts at progress were interrupted by terrorism and the defensive reflexes of society inevitably became more prominent. Turkey's successful struggle against terrorism had brought to its death knell the merciless violence which had targeted the nation's democratic institutions, social peace and harmony. The capture of the terrorist leader in February 1999 was a turning point.

Mr. Irtemcelik said his country was one of the rare examples of a State which had managed not only to protect democracy, human rights and freedoms against terrorism, but also to enrich them through a slow, yet continuous process of reforms. Turkey's problem was not that of solving an ethnic question, but the problem of raising democratic standards. In certain areas, Turkey was indeed behind international standards in terms of democracy and human rights. The Government was of the view that the magical word should be more democracy and more rights and freedoms.

The improvement in human rights was an irreversible process in Turkey, the Minister said. The public was increasingly sensitive about protecting its rights and freedoms, and the flourishing civil society served the useful role of a barometer of the Government's performance. Despite many challenges faced by the Government, many things had been achieved in recent years: Constitutional changes had been made; detention periods had been reduced in accordance with international standards; the geographical scope of the emergency rule in the south-east had been gradually narrowed; and measures had been taken for further improvement of prison conditions.

YOSSI BEILIN, Minister of Justice of Israel, said an encounter between United States President Bill Clinton and the President of Syria, Hafez al-Assad, was scheduled to take place in Geneva on Sunday. The meeting could constitute the last opportunity to reach peace between Syria, Lebanon, and Israel. Peace agreements in the Middle East in fact could be reached by the end of the year 2000 -- this was a rare opportunity which should not be missed.

When the UN offered Israel a State in 1947, Israel had to fight for it, sacrificing a whole generation, Mr. Beilin said. When hostilities broke out in 1967, Israel occupied territories where other people lived. Israel tried to convince itself that the occupation was benevolent, but one knew from history that occupation was occupation and that the occupier would always be hated. Most of the world came to regard Israel as a hateful occupier that violated human rights, comparing it to racist countries, with the UN passing a resolution in 1975 equating Zionism with racism. On the other hand, most of the world failed to see that there were some countries ready to destroy Israel.

Currently, Israel was the only member State of the UN that could not be a member of the Commission, where it could sit only in the capacity of an observer, since it did not belong to any regional group. Israel was a democratic country where the rights of women, disabled people and children were highly developed. Many years had been lost in efforts to convince the world about the gap between the image of Israel and its true self. Israel saw itself as part of the effort to convince the world that it was human beings which mattered the most. It was to be hoped that next year Israel, side by side with the Arab countries, could a make a permanent peace in the Middle East, which would enable Israel to move on to deal with other important issues.

MOHAMED AUAJJAR, Minister for Human Rights of Morocco, said that since its inauguration in 1998, the Moroccan Government had been working to respect obligations undertaken in different areas, particularly in human rights, with the support of the new King, Mohammed VI. The edification of human rights and the rule of law had been given priority. The new regime would work towards promoting fraternal solidarity and would ensure a harmonious development of the country and would guarantee to all Moroccans dignity and equality, while helping them to enjoy their social, economic, political and civil rights. That stand had been affirmed by the Head of the State in a statement delivered on 10 December 1999. The challenges Morocco faced were numerous and diverse. The promotion of employment, the fight against illiteracy, the guarantee of social security and the strengthening of democracy needed a big effort if Morocco was to construct a society based on justice, liberty and solidarity.

Concerning the Western Sahara, the Government reaffirmed that a referendum in those provinces could only be held with the participation of all the population originating from the region without discrimination or exclusion. Morocco, convinced of the righteousness of the cause of its territorial integrity, reiterated its commitment to cooperate in a constructive and sincere manner with the United Nations. The Government of Morocco expressed its deep concern with regard to human-rights violations in the camps of Tindouf, where Moroccans were held against their will and were subjected to torture and forced labour.

Mr. Auajjar said the issue of immigration constituted another topic of major concern to the Government of Morocco, particularly in face of the social repercussions created by globalization and the recent profound reversal in the world economy. Economic change had been accompanied, directly or indirectly, by a wave of racism and xenophobia as witnessed by events in El Ejido in southern Spain, where Moroccan immigrants had been victims of violence committed by local inhabitants.

CARMEN MORENO, Under-Secretary of Foreign Affairs of Mexico, said Mexico had taken part in a profound and irreversible political transformation. Competition between political parties had intensified at the same time as transparency, equity and justice had been consolidated in the electoral process. Mexico had cooperated with the United Nations in training national electoral observers. The Federal Electoral Institute (IFE), the autonomous State institution in charge of elections, had issued invitations for foreigners to attend the Mexican electoral process if they so wished. The IFE's experience had allowed the involvement in 25 technical assistants and 23 electoral observation missions.

Ms. Moreno said the Mexican culture of respect for human rights had been strengthened, and legal and institutional frameworks for protection of human rights at the federal and local levels had been established. The legal framework had been enriched by the ratification of international instruments, particularly with the recognition of the compulsorary jurisdiction of the Inter-American Court of Human Rights. Within the legislative field, the main action had been an amendment to the Constitution which granted full autonomy to the National Human Rights Commission and allowed the Mexican Ombudsman great independence. Civil and penal codes had also been reformed and measures had been taken to strengthen the judiciary's independence and impartiality.

Ms. Moreno said the human rights of indigenous peoples was of particular importance to the Mexican Government. Indigenous peoples were participating in local, federal and national Government and as members of non-governmental organizations. Within the United Nations framework, Mexico supported the establishement of a permanent forum for indigenous peoples. With regard to Chiapas, the Mexican Government wished to achieve a dignified, fair peace and had undertaken to end the ancestral lag and poverty-stricken conditions of the population in Chiapas.

ANIELLO PALUMBO, Vice Minister for Foreign Affairs of Italy, said Italy was committed to the promotion and implementation of human rights in Italy and to defending those rights within the international community, in line with the goals and work of the UN. Italy believed that the protection of human rights had to be based on and developed through frank, unambiguous and productive dialogue between individual countries and the international community. The international community had to point out risk situations and cases of chronic and blatant violations of human rights, threats to ethnic minorities or sections of the population against which discrimination was being practiced for reasons of race, creed, political affiliation, and so on. Too often in the past, the international community had stood aside, impotently witnessing massacres and genocide in Bosnia, Kosovo, Rwanda, East Timor, Sierra Leone and Burundi. The recent appalling developments in Chechnya therefore should be addressed by the Commission.

Mr. Palumbo said initiatives in relation to the abolition of the death penalty were linked directly to the first and the most fundamental of all human rights: the right to life. With regard to genetic technology, it was imperative for the international community to raise its guard and focus its attention on all forms of genetic and biological manipulation that were likely to affect the integrity of people and their rights. More effective instruments needed to be developed regarding the involvement of children in armed conflict and the protection of women and children. Poverty elimination, combatting social exclusion, fostering equal opportunities, and ensuring the active participation of all sectors of society in development were other priority challenges.

LYDIE POLFER, Minister for Foreign Affairs of Luxembourg, said the defense of human rights was not the monopoly of States; this was reflected through the fact that during each session of the Commission, an increasing number of non-governmental organizations participating in the debate confirmed the growing interest of civil society in the promotion and protection of human rights. However, the responsibility of States for the respect and promotion of human rights was critical. It was the State which guaranteed the respect for and the exercise of human rights which were at the base of the State's legitimacy.

Mrs. Polfer said news of the enduring suffering of the population of Chechnya and of grave violations of human rights there was alarming. She welcomed the decision of the Russian authorities to invite the High Commissioner for Human Rights to visit the region. The situation in Chechnya should be treated in the same manner as in other regions of the world where violations had taken place. However complex the situation in that part of the Russian Federation, one could not accept the violation of human rights under the pretext of establishing order or fighting terrorism. She appealed to Russian officials to cooperate in a transparent manner with international observers and the media.

Mrs. Polfer said her country continued to attach great importance to the critical dialogue which the European Union continued with China and would carry out in the near future with Iran. The dialogue was not an end in itself but would lead, it was hoped, to technical assistance; it was also intended that there would be regular evaluation of the assistance.

RODOLFO REYES RODRIGUEZ (Cuba) said the protection of human rights around the world remained an important issue . The strengthening of international cooperation in preventing human-rights violations should include institutional changes as well as policies and programmes aimed not only at the protection of human rights but also at promoting the realization of all human rights. The international system for the prevention of human-rights violations should include respect for the national sovereignty and the integrity of States, the existence of transparent practices and norms, and competent, objective and impartial international institutions.

Sadly, these elements were not reflected in current international practices with regard to human rights. The unjust international order facilitated the institutionalization of new mechanisms of intervention and coercion against developing nations, which resulted in human-rights violations against minorities, indigenous peoples, and migrant workers in North America and Europe.

YURI BOITCHENKO (the Russian Federation) said that item 4 of the agenda was one of the most important items to be addressed at the Commission. Russia agreed there should be a greater focus on the political, social and economic rights of all. Greater attention also needed to be put on human-rights violations in all their manifestations, as no country was safe from the escalation of tension into human-rights violations or even genocide. Support and cooperation was needed for carrying out preventive measures.

The Russian Federation commended the High Commissioner's report's recommendations on rationalization of work, but was concerned about the proposed rapid-reaction force. This recommendation exceeded the mandate the High Commissioner for Human Rights and clearly ignored the regulations of the UN Charter. The Commission should provide clarification on this point and should understand that human-rights issues were meant to create a rapprochment between countries, not justify violations of the UN CHarter. The resolution 1999/54 of 55th session of the Commission had made a request for the analysis of the results of human-rights forces. The Russian Federation noted that human-rights forces were on the increase, and repeated the request of the resolution for the Commission to supply a self-critical and open analysis of field operations and the activities of human-rights forces.

IBRAHIM MIRGHANI (Sudan) said his country deeply regretted that the report of the High Commissioner for Human Rights said that one example of a country where traditional slavery persisted was Sudan. His delegation categorically rejected that conclusion, which was premature, imprecise and incriminating. Such a conclusion was based on vile and unsubstantiated allegations by some motivated circles whose only aim was to tarnish the image of Sudan and to benefit from unlawful enrichment through donations. It was indeed unfortunate that the reference was a mere repetition of similar allegations levelled against Sudan over the last few years by a particular non-governmental organization whose consultative status with ECOSOC had been withdrawn last year.

The reference in the report of the High Commissioner was contrary to the decision taken by the Commission at its fifty-fifth session in relation to abduction in Sudan and not 'slavery', as referred to in the report. Sudan had shown seriousness in cooperating fully with the Office of the High Commissioner. But such a reference in the report would not serve such a goal of cooperation -- on the contrary, it might have a serious detrimental effect.

ROSS HYNES (Canada) said the agenda item before the Commission, the question of prevention of human-rights violations, represented the kind of leadership intended in the creation of the position of a High Commissioner for Human Rights. Canada felt that the kind of work the High Commissioner was recommending in humanitarian observation and rapid-reaction forces was within the mandate of the High Commissioner.

The United Nations in general and the Commission in particular could no longer act in isolation, ignoring current trends and events in the world. Canada supported the recommendation that humanitarian observers and rapid-reaction forces be used, and requested the right to elaborate on these issues at a later time.

LUIS PADILLA MENENDEZ (Guatemala) said that while a preventive approach regarding the violation of human rights was essential, it not sufficient on its own. Early warnings on the genocide in Rwanda were already found in the 1993 report of the Special Rapporteur on extrajudiciary, summary or arbitrary executions. This example demonstrated that an early warning system in itself was not sufficient if the international community did now show the political will to prevent violations. The Office of the High Commissioner should have a response capacity and a task force should be created to respond to emergencies and serious incidents. Greater cooperation between UN bodies, the Bretton Woods Institutions, donor countries and non-governmental organizations was also required in carrying out various mandates of the Commission.

The Commission should implement the recommendations of the Special Rapporteur on external debt and those made by the Independent Expert on structural-adjustment policies, in particular the recommendation concerning immediate cancellation of Zambia's debt. Guatemala wished that other African countries affected by serious humanitarian crises, such as flood-stricken Mozambique, would also have their debts written off. In Central America, the cancellation or alleviation of debt of Nicaragua and Honduras, which had been seriously hit by Hurricane Mitch, should also be considered.

SAVITRI KUNADI (India) said promotional activities to develop national capacities in the field of human rights constituted one of the most efficient means of promoting and protecting human rights, democracy and the rule of law. Advisory services, technical services and transparency in all aspects of functioning of the Office of the High Commissioner were vital. Careful thought had to be given to the proposals in the High Commissioner's report concerning humanitarian observers and establishment of a rapid reaction force. There also was a tendency in the report to confuse the terms 'racism' and 'slavery'.

India recommended that the international community discourage secession on ethnic or religious grounds, as such issues could be solved within a democratic framework, and the country was concerned about the lack of mention of terrorism, particularly State-sponsored terrorism, in the report. India also felt that it would be tragic to impose human rights conditionalities on development cooperation. Concepts such as early warning systems needed to be approached with prudence.

CHRISTIAN STROHAL (Austria) said Austria shared the assessment of the High Commissioner for Human Rights in regard to the role of the Commission in the United Nations system. The Commission was the 'human-rights engine' of the UN. It had contributed greatly to the setting of human rights standards and to the development of monitoring mechanisms. However, for the years to come, implementation would be the major challenge. Human rights needed to be moved even more from the conference room to the field and needed to become a reality for all. That was the heritage of the World Conference and its follow-up process, and the Commission should be its guardian.

Austria welcomed particularly the initiative of the High Commissioner to build her scenarios for prevention on the basis of the consensus of the World Conference regarding the relationship of human rights, development and democracy. Her contribution in that regard would serve as an important element for the work of the Working Group on the right to development.



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