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UNITED NATIONS
Department of Public Information · News Coverage Service · New York


HR/4648
3 March 2003


COMMITTEE ON ELIMINATION OF RACIAL DISCRIMINATION OPENS
SIXTY-SECOND SESSION AT PALAIS DES NATIONS


Hears Address by High Commissioner for Human Rights

(Reissued as received.)


GENEVA, 3 March (UN Information Service) -- The Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination this morning opened its sixty-second session at the Palais des Nations by hearing an address by the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, Sergio Vieira de Mello.

In his statement, Mr. Vieira de Mello said that his work as High Commissioner was, and would continue to be, guided by the bedrock principles of the United Nations Charter, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the other international human rights instruments, including the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination.  The human rights enshrined in those instruments were essentially about ensuring dignity, equality and security for all human beings everywhere, he added.

Mr. Vieira de Mello also said that one could never emphasize enough that it was protection at the national level that should be the first concern.  The law and the administration of justice should be the primary forces in combating the causes and effects of racism.  Yet, justice systems all too often failed in that purpose and instead mirrored the prejudices of the society they served.

Following the High Commissioner's statement, some Committee members spoke, particularly focusing on the practicability of the submission by States parties of a single report to all treaty bodies.  They also asked about the lack of attention given to a large number of vulnerable groups such as disabled persons.

Reacting, the High Commissioner said the idea behind the submission of a single report was to enable States lacking resources to discharge their obligations under the treaties in a single report.  It would not lead to any hypocrisy.

An expert also said that the Committee should deal with the situation of serious violations of human rights, particularly of racial discrimination going on in some regions of the world, such as the occupied Palestinian territories where 10 people were killed every day.  The expert also suggested that a general discussion should be held on the current situation in the Middle East.

In the course of its three-week session, the Committee will review anti-discrimination efforts undertaken by the Governments of Côte d'Ivoire, Ecuador, Fiji, Ghana, Morocco, Poland, Russian Federation, Saudi Arabia, Slovenia, Tunisia and Uganda.  It will also look into the state of affairs in the Bahamas and Papua New Guinea under its review procedure for States parties whose reports are seriously overdue.  These countries are among the 167 States parties to the international Convention.

Also this morning, the Committee approved its agenda for the three-week session, and decided to hold a general debate focusing on the current situation in the world at noon on Thursday, 6 March.  It also adopted its programme of work.  The review of the situation of Guyana and Barbados, which was scheduled for this session, was postponed to a later session.  An expert also suggested that the Committee examine the situation of Suriname under its review procedure because of the prevailing conditions in the country.

When the Committee reconvenes at 3 p.m., it is scheduled to take up the fourteenth to sixteenth periodic reports of Morocco (CERD/C/430/Add.1).

Statement by High Commissioner for Human Rights

SERGIO VIEIRA DE MELLO, United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, stated that his work as High Commissioner was, and would continue to be, guided by the bedrock principles of the United Nations Charter, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the other international human rights instruments, including the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination.  The human rights enshrined in those instruments were essentially about ensuring dignity, equality and security for all human beings everywhere. 

During his 34 years in service of the United Nations in different countries and continents, Mr. Vieira de Mello continued, he had seen thousands of women and men, young and old, stripped of their rights and their dignity as a result of conflicts that frequently had their origins in patterns of discrimination.  There was a need to work together to ensure that those root-causes were addressed through combating racial discrimination and promoting the principle of equality.  That principle was the cornerstone of effective and harmonious relationships between people.  Discrimination certainly represented one of the many sources of insecurity that he intended to tackle, alongside other sources such as armed conflict and poverty.

Mr. Vieira de Mello said that his experience had taught him that, even in places that had seen the worst of what humankind was capable of, there were always people who had the vision necessary to make a difference.  They needed to be provided with tools to enable them to work for a better life.  Those tools needed to be used in the framework of the rule of law, which he had decided to focus on as an overarching theme for his agenda.  The Committee and the other treaty bodies had a lot to offer in explaining the components of the rule of law.  There was a need to work together to make that dynamic concept operational and accessible to everyone.

One could never emphasize enough that it was protection at the national level that should be the first concern, Mr. Vieira de Mello continued.  One should ensure that all countries, big and small, rich and poor, understood and were willing to implement the provisions of human rights treaties, and in particular the International Convention on Racial Discrimination.  The Committee's contribution to an approach oriented towards victims of racial discrimination and vulnerable groups was to be welcomed.  The situation of such groups, which included minorities, migrants, refugees, non-nationals and indigenous peoples, needed to be borne in mind at all times, as they were the primary targets of racial discrimination.

Mr. Vieira de Mello continued to state that the law and the administration of justice should be the primary forces in combating the causes and effects of racism.  Yet, justice systems all too often failed in that purpose, and instead mirrored the prejudices of the society they served.  The problem was, therefore, twofold:  it was vital that one worked towards ensuring that every justice system had procedures and safeguards to prevent discrimination, including law that prohibited and punished discrimination; and mechanisms to check and rectify patterns of discrimination.  It was also necessary to ensure that discriminatory mechanisms and practices in the systems of the administration of justice themselves were eliminated.

With regard to the long-term impact of racial discrimination in economic and social terms, Mr. Vieira de Mello said that poverty indexes broken down by race and ethnic groups often correlated strongly with other human development indicators such as access to health services, education and employment.  Victims of racial discrimination were often also the primary victims of violations of the right to health, housing, employment and education.  Combating that kind of discrimination was fully in line with the priority which the Office of the High Commissioner was giving to combating poverty and to the promotion and protection of economic, social and cultural rights and the right to development.

Mr. Vieira de Mello recalled that, last September, the United Nations Secretary-General had submitted to the General Assembly a report entitled "Strengthening of the United Nations:  An Agenda for Further Change", including his most recent proposals on the reform of the United Nations.  The report had significant implications for the activities of treaty bodies and contained an important component on the strengthening of the activities of the Office.  In his report, the Secretary-General proposed two measures that might help to alleviate the shortcomings of the current systems:  first, Committees should craft a more coordinated approach to their activities and standardize their various reporting requirements.  Second, each State should be allowed to produce a single report summarizing its adherence to the full range of international human rights treaties to which it was party.

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