Other activities of the High Commissioner that drew praise from national representatives were advice and support offered to national institutions for human rights, monitoring activities carried out around the world, and bolstering of regional human rights efforts.
Introducing her annual report, High Commissioner Mary Robinson said that, along with the rights of women and children, planning and preparation for the upcoming World Conference against Racism and Racial Discrimination merited special attention.
The Commission then moved on to its agenda item on the right to self-determination, hearing pleas to extend exercise of that right to residents of Jammu and Kashmir, occupied Palestine, and the Western Sahara. Iraq claimed that the United States and the United Kingdom had engaged in military attacks that amounted to denial of Iraq's right to self-determination.
Right of Peoples to Self-Determination
Before the Commission under this agenda item is a report by the Secretary-General (E/CN.4/199/10)on the right of peoples to self-determination and its application to peoples under colonial or alien domination or foreign occupation which cites resolution 1998/4 "Situation in Occupied Palestine" and the subsequent verbal note to the Minister for Foreign Affairs of Israel and all other governments requesting information pertaining to the implementation of the resolution by the Government of Israel. The report lists the Department of Public Information activities in this regard, including the continuation of press coverage of the meetings of the Special Committee to Investigate Israeli Practices, the dissemination of United Nations information, materials and press releases and press coverage to the Special Committee's field mission to Egypt, Jordan and Syria in July 1998. The reply from Israel was not received by the time the report was issued.
Before the Commission under this agenda item is a written statement (E/CN.4/1999/NGO/58) submitted by the International Organization for the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination on the right of peoples to self-determination and its application to peoples under colonial or alien domination or foreign occupation which raises the question of the right afforded to Jews in the Law of the Return in Israel to migrate to Palestine and enjoy residency and citizenship rights in Israel while prohibiting any Palestinian, whether Christian or Muslim, from returning to the homeland where they, their parents and great-grandparents, were born.
AYMEE HERNANDEZ (Cuba) insisted that agenda item number 8 on the question of the violation of human rights in the occupied Arab territories, including Palestine, deserved detailed study. Cuba noted the work carried out by the Office of the High Commissioner in order to produce the High Commissioner's report, and insisted upon the importance of the support work of the Secretariat as it was vital that the mandates were not distorted or misinterpreted. Cuba was struck by the conclusions in paragraph 18 of the report, and the references made to the covenants and the four main human rights conventions. Certain omissions had been made, and this was to the detriment of the report.
Ms. Hernandez also found that ideas set out in reports were set into practice without the consultation of the different States, and that the relationship of the Commission with its mechanisms was deteriorating. The worry was that the Commission might become a passive body, and Cuba insisted on the importance of the Commission's active mandate.
GASIM IDRIS (Sudan) reaffirmed the right of the Palestinian people to self-determination and called for the withdrawal of Israel from the occupied Arab territories so that the Palestinians could realize their rights to self-determination.
IFTEKHAR CHOWDHURY (Bangladesh) focused upon the concept of self-determination, since to deny this to any nation was to do violence to fundamental human values. He spoke of the plight of the people of Palestine and insisted that it would be a sad commentary on our times if this gross injustice were allowed to continue. Every human being had the right to have a life of dignity in freedom, and to enjoy the full spectrum of civic choices.
NABIL RAMLAWI, observer for Palestine, said the Commission had been calling for Palestinians' right to self-determination for more than 30 years; it even had stated that achieving a just and permanent peace in the Middle East was fundamentally linked to the exercise of this right by Palestinians. The persistence of the Israeli military occupation of the Palestinian territory was not limited to denial of that right but amounted to a grave and constant breach of the principles of international law and of numerous other human rights. Israel had flouted and betrayed the recent peace process, and since its creation had been a State of aggression, occupation, and racism. The Commission and the United Nations as a whole must take measures to put an end to these human rights violations inflicted upon Palestinians.
LAZHAR SOVALEM (Algeria) commented upon the right to self-determination, as a right that no longer seemed to have the attention and the commitment that it formerly had from the international community. The plight of the people of Palestine was a prime example of this. There was also the referendum on self-determination that the United Nations had undertaken to organize in the Western Sahara at the end of this year. Algeria wished for a resolution of all problems in the region, since this would permanently consolidate peace, security and stability in the region.