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Press Release
UNITED NATIONS

HR/CN/1055
15 March 2004


COMMISSION ON HUMAN RIGHTS BEGINS HIGH-LEVEL SEGMENT
Foreign Ministers of Ireland, Germany, Paraguay,
And Senior Official from Nigeria Deliver Statements
(Reissued as received.)

The Commission on Human Rights this afternoon began its high-level segment, hearing from the Foreign Ministers of Ireland on behalf of the European Union, Germany and Paraguay, as well as a senior official from Nigeria.

The speakers, among other things, called for a cohesive effort to bring an end to terrorism and violence across the globe, whilst promoting and protecting human rights. They noted that respect for human rights was an essential part of peace and security.

Brian Cowen, the Minister for Foreign Affairs of Ireland, speaking on behalf of the European Union, said that the fight against terrorism had become a global priority, while at the same time, that fight posed new challenges for the promotion and protection of human rights.  All governments needed to respond to this threat, said Joschka Fischer, the Federal Minister for Foreign Affairs of Germany, and in doing so should answer questions relating to the balance between freedom and security.

Another issue raised was women’s rights, which, Mr. Fischer said, were infringed against in all areas of the world, and determined action should be taken by all Governments to tackle this issue.  There should be no impunity for gender violence, said Leila Rachid de Cowles, the Minister for Foreign Affairs of Paraguay, as this was not a partial issue, nor a concern that affected the interests of only the few.  It concerned the human rights of more than half the world’s population, and denial of these rights was a mistake, since these rights concerned not just women, but concerned all.

Another topic raised was that of the right to development, and the inequalities between countries.  The challenges of development to countries of the South were grim and overwhelming, said O.A. Ashiru, Under-Secretary at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Nigeria.  Those countries were grappling with the imperatives of improving the infrastructural development, as well as the socio-economic well-being of their peoples in the so-called globalizing world that was increasingly disconnected and lopsided.  The right to development of peoples, Ms. Rachid said, was a fundamental pillar, and protectionism and the distortions of international trade undermined this right.

China exercised its right of reply.

The Commission on Human Rights will reconvene on Tuesday, 16 March, at 10 p.m. to continue its high-level segment.

Statements

BRIAN COWEN, Minister for Foreign Affairs of Ireland, speaking on behalf of the European Union, said that the fight against terrorism had become a global priority, particularly since September 2001.  At the same time, that fight posed new challenges for the promotion and protection of human rights.  Acts of terrorism could never be justified by any cause or ideology, and should be unreservedly condemned.  The indiscriminate slaughter of unsuspecting human beings, which was the hallmark of terrorism, constituted first and foremost a flagrant denial of the fundamental right to life of its victims.  All States had a duty to protect their citizens from terrorist attacks and to combat terrorism in all its forms.  Yet, in order to receive the widest possible support and to be successful in the long term, the fight against terrorism should be conducted in full respect of human rights and fundamental freedoms.  Fostering human rights should indeed become an integral part of the fight against terrorism.

The international community should not weaken in its resolve to promote and protect human rights and to strengthen the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, Mr. Cowen said.  The international community was living in a period of great dangers.  People in all parts of the world recoiled before the dangers of war, terrorism, weapons of mass destruction, famine, disease, ethnic and religious hatred, and organized crime.  In confronting those challenges, the international community should work to bring about a more humane world where people could live in security and dignity, free of want and fear, and with equal opportunities to develop their human potential to the full.  That work could not be fully accomplished without genuine international resolve and cooperation.  Threats to, and violations of human rights were the greatest source of insecurity in the world today.  When events within a country threatened international peace and security, they became the legitimate interest of the international community.  The international community could not stand by and accept the large-scale flagrant and persistent violation of individual human rights.  The primary responsibility for the protection of human rights rested within individual States.

The European Union was firmly convinced that promoting human rights, democratization and the rule of law would promote peace and security.  It fully supported the gradual strengthening of human rights law and the international system for protecting human rights, which had come about in the last 60 years.   In recognition of the need to act to promote respect for human rights, the Union had written the principles of liberty, democracy, respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms and the rule of law into the treaty on the European Union.  The fight against the death penalty was a priority for the Union, and it would oppose it in all cases.  The abolition of the death penalty was a catalyst in the progressive development of human rights.

JOSCHKA FISCHER, Minister for Foreign Affairs of Germany, noted that since the 11 September 2001 terrorist attacks, terrorism had become the largest threat to global security, as reaffirmed by last week’s attacks in Madrid, Spain.  The new terrorism was aimed at the basic values of open and democratic societies.  In responding to it, all governments must answer questions related to the balance between freedom and security, both of which needed to be implemented equally and at the same time.  Terrorism could only be successfully combated through respecting human rights.

Noting that the improved human rights situation in Afghanistan reflected positive developments, he stressed that the practical implementation of human rights in that country remained a major challenge, especially in regard of women’s and children’s rights.  As a sign of the international community’s continued commitment to the Afghan transition process, his country was inviting participants to a new high-level conference on Afghanistan, to be held on 31 March and 1 April, in Germany.  However, it was not just in Afghanistan that women’s and children’s rights continued to be threatened, but all over the world.  Determined action must be taken to combat the continued violence and discrimination against women and children, particularly in regard of issues such as the trafficking in women and children, child soldiers and domestic abuse, among others.  Moreover, discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation was a cause for concern.  The Commission was called upon to condemn discrimination against homosexuals, bisexuals and transsexuals.

Turning to the human rights situations in a number of individual States,  Mr. Fischer said that it was of decisive importance to re-establish sovereignty in Iraq on the broad basis of legitimacy, in which respect the United Nations must assume a central role.  With respect to the conflict in the Middle East, the implementation of the Road Map remained the sole means of ensuring peace and security.  He also noted that while the Chinese Government had become more willing to discuss the human rights situation in that country, major deficiencies remained in terms of the implementation of the death penalty and the persecution of dissidents, among other issues.  And on Chechnya, while unconditionally condemning all acts of terror committed against Russian civilians, Germany called upon the Government of the Russian Federation to protect and promote human rights in the north Caucasus.  Violations of human rights must be investigated and those responsible brought to justice, while greater overall transparency on the situation was needed.  Furthermore, among other specific issues, trends toward anti-Semitism must countered and the Commission must condemn anti-Semitism roundly.

The establishment of the International Criminal Court, he concluded, was one of the most positive developments of recent years.  The priority must be to defend the enforcement of the Rome Statute.  Finally, the Commission should continue to be a driving force in the elaboration of human rights norms, in addition to remaining a political forum in which human rights violations in certain countries could be clearly addressed and, if need be, condemned.

LEILA RACHID DE COWLES, Minister for Foreign Affairs of Paraguay, said that as the events of 11 September 2001 had left a scar in all hearts, 11 March 2004 would also leave its traces, as it had witnessed a violation of human rights and democracy at a vast scale.  She expressed her deepest condolences to the victims of that barbaric act.  Terrorism had deprived many of their rights over the last years, and had dealt a blow to the heart of the United Nations itself.  If the founding principles of the United Nations Organization were to be upheld, this scourge had to be overcome.   It was a time to assert and build multilateralism, which would allow the building of a fairer, more balanced world, committed to the observance of international law.  The Commission had the duty to orient its work towards these ends.

The right to development of peoples was a fundamental pillar, she said, and protectionism and the distortions of international trade undermined this right.  Developed nations should take into account the effects of this type of discriminatory policy, in the form of violations of economic and social rights, and the rights of peoples.  At the same time, international cooperation was an effective tool for the promotion and protection of human rights, and all should work together to achieve the ideals and principles contained in the Organization’s Charter.  Paraguay attached great importance to this forum in light of these convictions.

Democracy was not just a tool of government, but a way of life, and was displacing the old culture of authoritarianism -- which had caused so much harm in the past -- through the rule of law and the fostering of democratic institutions.  In a young country such as Paraguay, programmes aimed at promoting and protecting human rights were given their due weight, and the Government was working towards a revolution in many areas and sections, including those of health and education.  There was a need to resolutely face the future, and this could only be done by remaining aware of the past.  Paraguay was determined that gross violations of human rights should never ever again take place in that country, and this would be done without fostering hatred or divisiveness.  Paraguay had extended an open invitation to all United Nations treaty bodies to visit the country as and when they considered necessary.

Particularly highlighted by Ms. Rachid were the efforts of Paraguay to combat and eradicate the violation of the rights of the child.  Work had been done to combat sexual exploitation and child slavery, instances that could be linked to the work of the Commission on Violence against Women, and the assertion of their rights and role in a more humane world was also a topic of particular interest, and this not only in the context of Paraguay, but also globally.  Violence against women could not be tolerated, and deserved every attention to combat its pernicious effects.  There should be no impunity for gender violence, as this was not a partial issue, nor a concern that affected the interests of only the few.  It concerned the human rights of more than half the world’s population, and denial of these rights was a mistake, since these rights concerned not just women, but concerned all.

O.A. ASHIRU, Under-Secretary at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Nigeria, said the human rights environment had changed dramatically over the last few years.  In surveying developments since the Commission last met, it seemed difficult to imagine a year in which so much had happened to alter the environment within which the Commission worked.  Some of those developments were a direct result of the Commission's recommendations and analysis; others had been foreshadowed by the previous work of the Commission; and still others had been thrust unexpectedly upon all.  The Commission had the statuary responsibility to discuss the state of the implementation of various human rights instruments with a view to charting a new course, as one would face the uneasy challenges of promoting and protecting human rights in the current millennium.

The challenges of development to countries of the South were grim and overwhelming.  Those countries were grappling with the imperatives of improving the infrastructural development as well as the socio-economic well-being of their peoples in the so-called globalizing world that was increasingly disconnected and lopsided.  The imperatives of partnership, interdependence and burden sharing that characterized that unequal relationship were fading, with the regrettable effect of widening the yawning gulf between the haves and the have-nots.

Nigeria had made progress in the field of human rights.  Since its independence in 1960, Nigeria had remained steadfast and committed to the promotion and protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms.  As a further testimony to its commitment to the fight against corruption, Nigeria not only actively participated in the negotiations for the United Nations Convention against Corruption but was also among the fist countries to sign the Convention.  The Commission should seize the opportunity of the current session to condemn the harbouring of illegally acquired funds, stashed away in foreign countries.  Nigeria was also committed to the observation and implementation of all international human rights instruments to which it was a party.

Right of Reply

A representative of China, speaking in a right of reply, noted that the German Foreign Minister had criticized a few countries on their human rights situations, including his country.  The Foreign Minister had also praised two countries, both of which had undergone regime change.  If regime change was the best way to promote and protect human rights, it was unlikely to work in the Russian Federation and China because they were too big.  The Foreign Minister had also referred to the problem of ethnic minorities in China.  That issue would be addressed by his delegation, which would also address the activities of skinheads ad neo-Nazis in Germany, as well as the measures the German Government meant to take in response to them.


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