The Third Committee (Social, Humanitarian and Cultural) today begins consideration of further human rights questions, including alternative approaches for improving the effective enjoyment of human rights and fundamental freedoms. Also to be considered are human rights situations and reports of special rapporteurs and representatives. The report of the United Nations Commissioner for Human Rights is also to be discussed. Almost 30 reports are before the Committee for consideration. A summary of most of those reports (some are still to be issued) follows.
Alternative Approaches for Effective Enjoyment of Human Rights
The report of the Secretary-General on the right to development (document A/53/268) states the General Assembly reaffirmation of the importance of the right to development for all persons and States as an integral part of fundamental human rights.
To a request by the Commission on Human Rights (April 1997) for information relevant to the implementation of the Declaration on the Right to Development, the Governments of Cuba and of Ghana replied. Cuba stated the best way to protect and promote human rights is to take decisive actions for the effective realization of the right to development, in terms of growth, as well as poverty eradication. Ghana stated clearer definitions were needed of the term "development', as well as of individual, collective and State rights.
According to the report, the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) is focusing on three main areas: governance, which contributes to developing the national capacity for human rights promotion in governing institutions and provides support for human rights institutions in the public and private sectors; human rights mainstreaming in all activities in the framework of sustainable human development; and human rights advocacy as part of the policy dialogue with governments and supporting the follow-up to the major global conferences organized in the 1990s, bearing in mind the human rights perspective.
The establishment of the United Nations Development Group, in which the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights participates, has been a decisive step to strengthen the human rights regime within the United Nations, the report states. The Ad Hoc Working Group on the Right to Development, chaired by the Office of the High Commissioner, has been mandated to develop: a common Development Group approach to enhance the human rights in development activities; a matrix outlining specific human rights goals for the Development Group, as well as for individual members, including benchmarks and terms of accountability; and a training module for Development Group staff on the right to development and its implications for development operations.
A note by the Secretary-General on implementation of the Declaration on the Elimination of All Forms of Intolerance and Discrimination Based on Religion or Belief (document A/53/279) transmits the interim report on that topic by Abdelfattah Amor, Special Rapporteur of the Commission on Human Rights. The report looks at initiatives of the Special Rapporteur concerning the identification of legislation in the field of tolerance and non-discrimination concerning religion and belief, and at the development of a culture of tolerance.
According to the report, State policies against religion and policies designed to control religious matters in the name of a political ideology have declined, although such phenomena persists in some countries. Problems arising from such policies, including the restitution of religious property confiscated under previous regimes, remain in other countries.
State policies against minorities in matters of religion and belief, especially against non-recognized communities such as sects or new religious movements, are on the rise, says the report. Policies and practices of intolerance are also increasingly implemented by non-State entities, such as religious communities and political-cum-religious parties or movements. Policies and practices that discriminate against women have increased.
Religious extremism provokes or sustains violence or manifests itself in spectacular forms of intolerance and constitutes an unacceptable assault on both freedom and religion, the report states. No society, religion or faith is immune from extremism. However, when extremism resorts to a frenzy of wanton terrorism and becomes a hideous monster that kills in the name of God and exterminates in the name of religion, when it engages in the most despicable acts of barbarity, and knows no bounds in its cruelty, then silence amounts to complicity and indifference becomes active collusion.
The Special Rapporteur says the issue of sects or new religions needed to be clarified as soon as possible, reiterating his recommendations concerning studies on that phenomenon. He recommends that priority consideration also be given to the issue of how intolerance and discrimination based on religion and belief affect women. He calls for a better understanding of freedom of religion and belief, and recommends the development of research in the area.
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He further recommends that his reports should systematically cover all States, religions and beliefs, ensuring that a summary/analysis of economic, social, cultural, civil and political data is launched for each State. The United Nations should prepare a report on human rights covering all States based on inputs from the Organization's various human rights mechanisms. For that and other initiatives, the necessary financial and human resources must be made available.
A report by the Director-General of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) on the implementation of the Declaration of Principles on Tolerance and the Follow-up Plan of Action for the United Nations Year for Tolerance is transmitted by the Secretary-General (document A/53/284). The report outlines various activities and projects carried out by Member States, non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and intergovernmental organizations as part of the campaign for tolerance launched in 1995 by the United Nations and UNESCO.
Since the first International Day for Tolerance, in 1996, which coincided with the consideration of the final report on the Year for Tolerance, the Declaration of Principles and the Follow-up Plan of Action, there had been a wide range of national media-related programmes and articles on tolerance and on the fight against violence, either by the national commissions of Member States or by their prominent writers, says the report.
Activities carried out in tandem with UNESCO offices, clubs and associations ranged from the creation of a tolerance teaching kit, in France, to an international survey on young people's perceptions of violence on the screen carried out in 1996 and 1997 by the World Organization of the Scout Movement and the University of Utrecht. More than 5,000 students from 23 different countries participated. The final report on the survey was published and also presented at the second World Summit on Children's Television in London in March. The UNESCO Tolerance Programme installed an Internet website on the UNESCO server in April 1997; the Declaration of Principles on Tolerance is also available, in three languages, on the Internet website on the UNESCO server.
Also, four regional networks were set up as a direct result of the UNESCO Declaration, all of which seek to strengthen tolerance and non-violence in accordance with a UNESCO General Conference resolution. They include a Mediterranean and Black Sea Regional Network, an Asia and Pacific Regional Network, an African Network, and a Latin American Network. As an example of their activities, the African Network for Tolerance, Non-Violence and Peace organized a meeting in cooperation with the Senegalese National Commission for UNESCO in April 1997, at which representatives of some 10 African countries shared their experiences and views on ways of promoting tolerance and non- violence on the African continent. They included specific proposals regarding the dissemination of information and the preparation of projects relating to education, social science research and sensitization of the media.
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The Secretary-General's report on human rights and unilateral coercive measures (documents A/53/293 and Add.1) is submitted pursuant to General Assembly resolution 52/120, which, among several other provisions, requested the Secretary-General to bring the text to the attention of all Member States, to seek their views and information on the implications and negative effects of unilateral coercive measures on their populations and to submit accordingly a report thereon to the Assembly.
In response to that request, as of 24 July, replies were received from Cuba, Fiji, Iran and the Sudan, and from Palestine. A reply from Morocco was issued in an addendum to the report.
Cuba said it is a clear example of a country against which such measures have been applied for almost 40 years. The adverse economic and social effects of such practices are considerable. The arbitrary actions of the United States need to be ended as a matter of urgency. Although the bulk of such actions target Cuba, which it is attempting to stifle by means of a total blockade, the economic sanctions imposed unilaterally by Washington against other countries are increasing.
The international community has condemned repeatedly the harm done by such measures not only to trade relations among States, but also to the full realization and enjoyment of human rights. In Cuba's case, the General Assembly has adopted, over the past six years, six resolutions on the necessity of ending the economic, commercial and financial blockade against Cuba, all of which have been totally ignored by the United States.
Ecuador and Fiji state that they used no measures of a coercive nature against other States.
Iran says in its response that unilateral coercive measures are a breach of international law and violation of the right to development. There is a growing tendency among a very few powerful States to insist upon unilateral measures in clear contradiction of international law.
The collapse of the Eastern bloc and the Soviet Union led to redoubled efforts of the United States to strengthen its fanciful so-called new world order and to design a unipolar system in which the United States has a leadership and pivotal role. One of the most evident instances of this strategy is the extraterritorial application of national legislation by the United States Government. The enactment and implementation of the Iran and Libya Sanctions Act of 1996 (D'Amato Act), as well as the Helms-Burton Act against Cuba, are recent examples -- and the most despotic ones -- of United States unilateralism in international relations.
Several unilateral coercive measures taken by the United States led to the disruption of Iran's economy, it goes on. As a result, the Government had
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had to adjust some of the economic policies which formed the basis of its five-year plans for economic, social and cultural development. Owing to reductions in the import of certain raw materials, some industries were unable to perform at full capacity, causing a decline in the growth of the country's gross national product (GNP). The United States' policies also led to a scarcity of essential goods needed for the improvement of the nutritional and health-care standards of the Iranian people.
In its response, the Government of the Sudan says the decision of the United States to impose economic sanctions on the country in April 1997 had had a severe impact on agriculture and hindered the transport of relief to the southern part of the country. It had caused economic hardship, and led to the lack of ability to repay the World Bank. Similarly, the decision of the European Union in 1991 to halt development aid to the Sudan has adversely affected projects under implementation in the fields of development, environment, health, agriculture and education.
Another section of the report contains a response from Palestine. It says that the first resolution adopted by the General Assembly concerning the Palestinian people's right to self-determination was resolution 181 (III) of 29 November 1947, in which the Assembly recognized the Palestinian people's right to establish its Palestinian State, and called upon them to practice that right.
Between 1969 and 1983, the Assembly adopted a number of resolutions all reaffirming the inalienable rights of the Palestinian people, especially its right to self-determination. In 1980, the Assembly requested the Security Council, in the event of Israel's non-compliance with the resolution, to convene to consider the situation and the adoption of effective measures under Chapter VII of the Charter of the United Nations. Yet, the Security Council did not respond to the Assembly's request because of the negative position of the United States and the threat on its part to resort to a veto against any draft resolution to that effect.
In 1982, the Assembly requested the Security Council to discharge its responsibilities under the Charter and recognize the inalienable rights of the Palestinian Arab people, including the right to establish its independent Arab State in Palestine. The General Assembly has been reiterating these resolutions to this day in its subsequent resolutions. The Palestinian people has been prevented from achieving self-determination as a result of the Israeli military occupation of all the Palestinian Territory, and also because it has been suffering under the practices of the Israeli occupation authorities which violate its national and human rights -- at the forefront of which is its right to self-determination.
Morocco's response states that in view of the role that it plays on the international scene in efforts to bring about peace and cooperation among
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States, Morocco fully endorses the rejection of unilateral coercive measures, particularly because of their adverse impact on human rights. Morocco, therefore, renews its commitment to the principles enshrined in the Charter of the United Nations, in particular, the principle of the peaceful settlement of disputes.
The report by the Secretary-General on the question of enforced or involuntary disappearances (document A/53/304) reiterates an invitation to all governments to take appropriate legislative or other steps to prevent and suppress the practice of enforced disappearances. It stresses that any act of enforced disappearance is a grave and flagrant violation of the human rights and freedoms proclaimed in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and other international instruments.
The report recalls that the Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances was established in 1980 by the Commission on Human Rights and entrusted with the task of investigating gross violations of human rights in all countries of the world, and publicly reporting on their findings. Since its inception, the Working Group has transmitted a total of 47,964 cases to 76 governments, out of which it had clarified 2,801 cases. During its fifty- fourth session at Headquarters, from 13 to 17 July, the Working Group clarified 50 cases as a result of replies and communications with governments, sources and families.
A report of the Secretary-General on strengthening the rule of law (document A/53/309) states that the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights remains the focal point for coordinating system- wide attention on human rights, democracy and the rule of law. The technical cooperation programme of the Office was developed to respond to requests from Member States seeking to strengthen the rule of law, and one indicator of the growing global realization of the importance of the rule of law is the number of States seeking assistance in fortifying and consolidating it.
The programme is aimed at assisting governments to promote and protect human rights at the national and international levels, the report states. Assistance is provided on incorporating international human rights standards into national laws, policies and practices, and in building national capacity and regional structures to promote and protect human rights, democracy and the rule of law. Assistance is based upon international standards contained in the human rights instruments and on international practice in applying those standards in all regions of the world, with activities carried out in the context of national development objectives.
The report states that priority is given to assisting developing countries, in particular the least developed countries, with a focus on countries in transition to democracy. During the past year, projects were conducted in Gabon, Lesotho, Madagascar, Russian Federation, the former Yugoslav Republic
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of Macedonia, Uganda, United Republic of Tanzania and countries of the former Yugoslavia. As in all High Commissioner's programmes, assistance in support of the rule of law figured prominently, as did the mainstreaming of human rights within the United Nations system, the advancement of economic, social and cultural rights, and the promotion of the right to development.
Those four goals are now widely recognized to be a vital element of conflict prevention, the report concludes, and it is also widely recognized that the rule of law is the most effective guarantor of all human rights and a fundamental condition for sustainable human development, making support for the rule of law relevant to each unit within the United Nations system.
The report of the Secretary-General on the United Nations Decade for Human Rights Education, 1995-2004, and public information activities in the field of human rights (document A/53/313) notes that by resolution 52/127 of 12 December 1997, the General Assembly urged all governments to contribute further to the implementation of the Plan of Action for the Decade. Component one of the implementation of the Plan of Action for the Decade covers assessing needs and formulating strategies for human rights education. The Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights is carrying out a survey of existing programmes, materials and organizations for human rights education at the international, regional, national and local levels. Targeted questionnaires, already elaborated, will be sent to all partners as soon as the structure of the related database -- which will make the collected information broadly available through the website of the Office (http://www.unhchr.ch) -- is finalized.
Components two and three cover strengthening international and regional programmes and capacities for human rights education. The Office of the High Commissioner and several international and regional Decade partners, alone and in cooperation with the Office, have undertaken human rights education activities in the period under review. Components four and five cover strengthening national and local programmes and capacities for human rights education. At the national level, the Plan of Action for the Decade provides for the establishment, upon the initiative of governments or other relevant institutions, of a national committee for human rights education, which should include a broad coalition of governmental and non-governmental actors and should be responsible for developing and implementing a comprehensive, effective and sustainable national plan of action for human rights education, in coordination with regional and international organizations.
Component six covers coordinated development of materials for human rights education. Work has continued on the six training packages to support the training activities addressed to professional and other target groups, such as human rights monitors, judges and lawyers, prison officers, primary and secondary school teachers, journalists, and national and local NGOs, which are being undertaken by the Office and by national committees and training centres for human rights education.
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Component seven covers strengthening the role of the mass media. The Office is working on a training package for journalists to increase the incorporation by the media of human rights information and public education into their work. In addition, the Office is still evaluating the possibility of establishing a media advisory board to support the High Commissioner's activities in this area, as provided in the Decade Plan of Action. Finally, the Office and the Department of Public Information (DPI) have increased their media public information activities in the field of human rights within the framework of the fiftieth anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
Component eight covers global dissemination of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Since February 1997, a task force within the Office of the High Commissioner has been active in matter related to that event.
The website of the Office (http://www.unhchr.ch) is the most complete source of information available on the Internet concerning United Nations action in the field of human rights, the report states. The site, launched on 10 December 1996, provides access to the texts of more than 90 international human rights treaties, declarations and bodies of principle, including, where available, the status of ratifications; the complete text of all official United Nations reports and resolutions relevant to human rights issued from 1996, as well as most of those issued in 1994 and 1995; and a link to the treaty bodies database made public for the first time through the website. A local search engine, a site map and a subject index facilitate access to information and make the site more user-friendly. The most important recent development has been the launching of the French and Spanish versions of the site, on 10 December 1997.
In its activities in the field of human rights, the DPI has continued to initiate and coordinate activities within the framework of the World Public Information Campaign on Human Rights and the United Nations Decade for Human Rights Education, 1995-2004, which currently coincide with the observance of the fiftieth anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the report states. The Department's multimedia approach strives to ensure effective coverage of United Nations human rights activities, as well as the distribution of relevant human rights information material throughout the world. This work is also being carried out within the framework of three other ongoing decades: the Third Decade to Combat Racism and Racial Discrimination, 1993-2003; the International Decade of the World's Indigenous People, 1995-2004; and the United Nations Decade for the Eradication of Poverty, 1997-2006.
The multimedia approach of the Department includes the production of printed materials, such as brochures, background information notes, posters and media kits, regarding United Nations work in the field of human rights. These materials are produced in various languages and disseminated mainly
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through the network of 68 United Nations information centres and services and the eight United Nations offices throughout the world. The material is also disseminated electronically and is available on the United Nations home page in English, French and Spanish. The multimedia approach also entails radio and television programmes; press conferences, press briefings and special events; exhibits; special media outreach activities; activities with educational organizations and NGOs; and public services for visitors and inquiries.
The second edition in the publication series United Nations Briefing Papers is devoted to United Nations work in the area of human rights, the report goes on. The 85-page book, Human Rights Today: A United Nations Priority, was made available in English in early September and will be followed by French and Spanish versions later in the year. The new edition of the publication Basic Facts about the United Nations, published in English in early September, contains a completely revised chapter on the United Nations and human rights, reflecting the centrality of the issue to the work of the Organization.
A number of activities relating to human rights have been completed by the Video Section of the United Nations Television in the reporting period. Historical archival material and a public service announcement on the fiftieth anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, in six languages, were transmitted by satellite to international television organizations and national broadcasters in December 1997.
On 5 March, the Department organized a commemoration of International Women's Day, on the topic "Women and human rights". In cooperation with the Executive Committee of Non-Governmental Organizations associated with the Department, it organized its fifty-first annual Conference for NGOs, which was held at Headquarters from 14 to 16 September. The theme of the three-day Conference was "The fiftieth anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights: from words to deeds". More than 2,400 representatives of NGOs attended the Conference.
More than 59 United Nations information centres, services and offices commemorated Human Rights Day on 10 December 1997, helping to launch the fiftieth anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the report states. Working in cooperation with governments and civil society around the world, the information centres organized press conferences, seminars and student rallies, produced radio and television programmes, and translated the Universal Declaration into more than 45 local languages, including 24 widely spoken indigenous languages.
The report of the Secretary-General on the regional arrangements for the promotion and protection of human rights (document A/53/324) focuses on three significant developments: the Sixth Asia-Pacific Workshop on Regional
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Arrangements for the Promotion and Protection of Human Rights, held in Tehran from 28 February to 2 March; the Second Regional Conference on African National Institutions held in Durban, South Africa, from 30 June to 3 July; and the conclusion of a Memorandum of Understanding between the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights and the Government of Indonesia on 13 August.
At the Tehran Workshop, following a series of workshops on various human rights issues held in the Asia-Pacific region (Manila, 1990; Jakarta, 1993; Seoul, 1994; Kathmandu, 1996; and Amman, 1997), the Commission on Human Rights reaffirmed that regional arrangements played a fundamental role in promoting and protecting human rights as set out in international human rights law. The workshop held three working sessions on: experiences and best practices in building national human rights capacity in the region; prospects and options for the future; and developing a regional technical cooperation programme in the region.
The Durban Declaration reiterated the importance of creating and developing national institutions in African countries in conformity with the Paris Principles relating to the status of national institutions (December 1993) and reaffirmed that the primary responsibility for human rights protection lay with the State. The Conference urged the African Commission on Human Rights and Peoples' Rights to adopt an appropriate resolution on national institutions, and encouraged African States to ratify the Additional Protocol to the African Charter on Human and Peoples' Rights on the establishment of the African Court of Human Rights before December. Additionally, it called on States parties to allocate increased resources to the Commission.
The report also includes the Memorandum of Understanding signed by the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights and the Government of Indonesia, which represents the first specific action taken by a country in the Asia-Pacific region to implement the agreement reached at the Tehran Workshop. According to the Memorandum, the Office will help the Government of Indonesia in implementing technical cooperation programmes to cover the areas of the Indonesian National Plan of Action for the Promotion and Protection of Human Rights and the strengthening of national capacities; human rights education; the Indonesian National Human Rights Commission and strategies for the realization of the right to development and economic, social and cultural rights.
A note by the Secretary-General on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions (document A/53/337) says that Asthma Jahangir (Pakistan) was appointed as the new Special Rapporteur in August 1998, replacing Bruce Waly Ndiaye (Senegal). The interim report on the situation of extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions worldwide would, therefore, not be put before the General Assembly at its fifty-third session, as requested. The Special Rapporteur intends to report to the Commission on Human Rights at its next session.
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A report of the Secretary-General on the situation of human rights in Cambodia (document A/53/400) is based on the eighth, ninth and tenth visits of the Secretary-General's Special Representative to Cambodia. The report details issues of special concern: protection against physical violence; human rights in relation to the electoral process; the problem of impunity; the rule of law and the independence of the judiciary and protection against torture. Other issues of concern include prison conditions and the rights of workers, women and children.
According to a memorandum of two outside experts, there was no serious investigation into the killings and disappearances in the country since August 1997, the report states. They cited a culture of impunity as one of the most serious obstacles to the establishment of a rule of law in Cambodia. Only if the will to remedy the situation is manifested at the highest levels of Government is it likely to change. Their 41-page memorandum called for rigorous investigations to allow accurate and credible determinations in each case after consideration of all aspects. The Second Prime Minister proposed that all the incidents be collated and divided into two groups: those which had occurred during combat, and the others. The Special Representative explained that all the cases presented had occurred outside the context of combat. The Second Prime Minister reiterated that the killings and other violations described would be thoroughly investigated and that no one found guilty of these crimes would be spared punishment. The Special Representative stressed the need to correct the overlap in the mandates of the judicial police and the gendarmerie which had led to rivalries and refusal to cooperate.
Regarding human rights in relation to the electoral process, the report states that following the military confrontation and the removal of the First Prime Minister in July 1997, political party activities largely ceased. In addition to acts of violence, there was widespread intimidation of supporters of opposition parties, particularly in the countryside. In the days after the election, members of opposition parties were reported to have received threats against their lives and property in spite of the many well-documented complaints of intimidation, the police and the courts did not initiate investigations or take legal action during the election campaign. Before the parties were officially recognized, opposition political activities were met with substantial resistance from local authorities. At the district, commune and village levels, lower-ranking party members and activists faced threats and intimidation.
The biggest issue relating to voter registration was the alleged mass registration of ethnic Vietnamese persons who are not Cambodian citizens, the report states. During the election campaign, there was a pattern of discrimination against ethnic Vietnamese. Most disturbing was the discriminatory and provocative behaviour of opposition parties and politicians. Ethnic hatred in Cambodia remains a powder keg which could be ignited at any time under the wrong socio-political circumstances.
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A major area of concern, the report says, is the lack of equitable access to the electronic media by all parties contesting the election. Both before and during the electoral period, equal or equitable access to the broadcast media did not exist in Cambodia. During the period 20 May to 25 July, there were over 400 allegations of intimidation and violence related to the electoral process. The widespread phenomenon of impunity continues. It is legally protected in the Law on Civil Servants which states that authorization should be sought from the Council of Ministers or the head of the concerned institution prior to the prosecution or arrest of a civil servant, except in cases of flagrante delicto. A major problem relating to the problem of impunity in Cambodia is the fact that the crimes committed by the Khmer Rouge in the 1970s have gone unpunished.
Torture and other forms of physical ill-treatment of persons held in police, military or gendarmerie custody has continued to be a serious problem, the report goes on. It is further compounded by institutional impunity, whereby perpetrators of torture are, most of the time, protected from prosecution or even disciplinary sanction. Although some positive steps have been taken to address blatant instances of torture, sustained efforts are needed to effectively protect persons in detention from being tortured.
Insufficient food rations in the prisons continues to be a problem and, if not corrected, an outbreak of beri-beri can be expected in the second half of the year, as well as an increase in infectious diseases, according to the report. The provision of supplementary food to prisons where food rations are so low that they do not cover the basic needs is recommended. The Special Representative is also concerned about the great number of escapes from Cambodian prisons due to the decayed state of the buildings and the absence of adequate security measures, overpopulation, insufficient numbers of police guards and their low salaries which make them vulnerable to corruption. It is recommended that increased collaboration be sought from agencies such as the Cambodian Criminal Justice Assistance Project, which is currently involved in the rehabilitation of prison buildings and assistance in prison administration.
The report states that the situation of women, who make up the majority of the Cambodian population continues to be of deep concern and needs to be addressed as a matter of high priority, particularly in relation to their education, health, participation in the political life of the country, conditions of work and violence against them. Although major progress has been accomplished in the field of health, the health of Cambodian women is still very poor, in particular in the rural areas. Some 2,000 women die of pregnancy complications each year. The Cambodian Constitution guarantees that poor citizens shall receive free medical care, but there are few health services that people can obtain for free, even at government health facilities, and very often those who cannot afford to pay are not appropriately cared for.
Also, Cambodian women continue to be the target of violence and discrimination. Violence in the home remains of particular concern.
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Discrimination against women is particularly obvious in cases of domestic violence. Few, if any, arrests have been made or penalties given to the husband who abuses his wife. Abuse often results in serious physical injuries or even death. The Special Representative recommends that training of policemen and court officials should be carried out regarding this issue and policewomen and female court officials should be recruited and trained.
The continuous spread of HIV/AIDS is alarming, the report states. Cambodia has the second highest rate (after Thailand) of pregnant women with the virus. The Special Representative commends the efforts of the Cambodian Government, with the support of the UNDP, to develop a strategy to combat HIV/AIDS through training and peer education. He also welcomes the efforts of many local NGOs to improve awareness of the threat of HIV/AIDS. However, greater efforts are needed to reduce the spread of the virus.
The Special Representative is alarmed by reports of an increasing number of cases of rape involving children, and which sometimes result in death. He recommends that the local authorities investigate seriously all cases of rape and bring the alleged perpetrators to justice.
With one of the youngest and fastest-growing populations in Asia, improving children's access to quality education, improving the provision of health care for children, and protecting vulnerable children, in particular those caught up in prostitution and working children, remain challenges for Cambodia, he states. Child labour remains a serious concern. Thousands of children are working as prostitutes, porters and workers in quarries, slaughterhouses, construction and brick factories. Trafficking of children and women for the purpose of prostitution continues. Thirty per cent of the estimated 15,000 prostitutes in Phnom Penh are under-age. Poverty and violence in the home often drive children onto the streets. It is estimated that there were more than 10,000 street children in Phnom Penh in 1997. Street children are the targets of policemen who often beat them, arrest them and release them on the condition that they provide money varying between $15 and $20 every month. They are also easy targets of sexual abuse and exploitation. Adequate funds should be made available for the Ministry of Social Affairs and local NGOs to enable them to continue and strengthen programmes aimed at finding a durable solution to the problem of street children, the report adds.
The rights of minorities is another field where further discussion is needed, the report says. Improved legal protection against discrimination and racial hatred is needed as was illustrated during the election campaign. The protection of the rights of the indigenous peoples requires strong measures against logging and the appropriation of tribal lands. The Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination addressed a number of recommendations to the Cambodian Government which ought to be acted upon in a systematic fashion. In this field, the international community should be prepared to offer
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advisory services and other assistance, if requested.
A report of the Secretary-General on respect for the privileges and immunities of officials of the United Nations and the specialized agencies and related organizations: safety and security of humanitarian personnel and protection of United Nations personnel (document A/53/501) states that over the past decade, conditions in which United Nations personnel have been expected to operate and the level of risk they face have deteriorated considerably, and there has been an unprecedented increase in the number of security incidents involving personnel of the United Nations system. Details of incidents in which personnel have lost their lives are listed in annex III of the report. Countless other United Nations personnel have been victims of attack, robbery, harassment, injury or rape. A similar pattern of casualties has been experienced throughout the humanitarian community.
The abduction/hostage-taking of United Nations personnel continues to be a major security risk, the report states. During the reporting period, 33 United Nations personnel were abducted and held hostage in eight separate incidents. Details of some of the incidents can be found in annex IV of the report.
The primary responsibility for the security and protection of staff members rests with the host government, it addds. In the case of international organizations and their officials and property, the government is considered to have a special responsibility under the Charter of the United Nations or its agreements with individual organizations. However, governments are often unable or unwilling to assume their responsibilities, particularly during emergency situations, such as abrupt changes in government, civil disorder and the absence of de facto authorities.
In order to enhance security and safety of personnel of the organizations of the United Nations system in such situations, since 1980 a set of arrangements have been in place to ensure coordinated action in all matters relating to security, the report goes on. Under these arrangements, the responsibility for the coordination of all security matters rests with the Secretary-General, who has appointed the United Nations Security Coordinator to act on his behalf. Each organization of the United Nation system has appointed an official responsible for liaison with the Security Coordinator. In the field, a senior United Nations official is appointed in each country to serve as designated official for security.
A review of conditions at duty stations revealed that the growing insecurity is attributable partly to the increased exposure of United Nations staff, who, together with their colleagues working for intergovernmental and NGOs, are often the only outsiders present in many high-risk areas; the general disregard for international law, including humanitarian law; and a perceived loss of impartiality and neutrality by the parties to the conflict.
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To these should be added the changing nature of conflict, which has led to a blurring of the lines of distinction between victims and aggressors.
In the particular case of peacekeeping missions, security risks are inherent to their deployment and tasks, the report says. They are and have been deployed in areas where there is either an active armed confrontation or a precarious peace process under way between armed groups. In the first case, peacekeepers may find themselves in an exchange of fire between the parties. In the latter case, the United Nations role in support of such a process makes it an obvious and soft target for groups that are opposed to the process. In addition, there are often high levels of violent crime in countries where peacekeepers are deployed, especially where civil conflict has shattered the fabric of society.
The issue of staff security and safety has been discussed extensively in various forums of the United Nations system. A decision adopted by the Administrative Committee on Coordination (ACC) focused on a number of measures that the organizations of the United Nations system will take to improve the security of staff. As a first step, the ACC addressed the need for financial resources to ensure that funds were available within each organization for security. It also recommended a number of measures to strengthen the security management system in the field, including the provision of mandatory initial and follow-up security training for designated officials. The question of security training for all staff members and dependants serving in the field is a matter of utmost priority.
A note by the Secretariat (document A/C.3/53/L.5) transmits on the recommendation of the Economic and Social Council for adoption by the General Assembly a draft declaration on the right and responsibility of individuals, groups and organs of society to promote and protect universally recognized human rights and fundamental freedoms.
By adopting that declaration, the Assembly would stress that all members of the international community shall fulfil, jointly and separately, their solemn obligation to promote and encourage respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms for all without distinction of any kind. It would also stress that the primary responsibility and duty to promote and protect human rights and fundamental freedoms lay with the State.
Moreover, the Assembly would declare that everyone has the right to promote and strive for the protection and realization of human rights and fundamental freedoms at the national and international levels. It would also declare that each State has a prime responsibility and duty to protect, promote and implement all human rights, including through the adoption of legislation making domestic law consistent with the Charter of the United Nations and other international obligations. The Assembly would further enumerate those fundamental rights, as well as steps to be taken by States for
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safeguarding and promoting them, including with regard to the right to participate in peaceful activities against violations of human rights and fundamental freedoms.
Finally, the Assembly would declare that the State has the responsibility to take legislative, judicial, administrative and other appropriate measures to promote understanding of civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights, including through publication of laws and human rights instruments, the support of national human rights institutions and education of human rights at all levels. Limitations to any human rights would be in accordance with applicable international obligations, determined by law, solely for the purpose of securing due recognition and respect for the rights and freedoms of others and of meeting the just requirements of morality, public order and the general welfare in a democratic society.
Human Rights Situation, Reports of Special Rapporteurs
A note by the Secretary-General transmits the first periodic report submitted by Jiri Dienstbier, Special Rapporteur of the Commission on Human Rights on the situation of human rights in Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia and the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia (document A/53/322). The report considers human rights developments in the three countries until mid-August. Many of the continuing problems are linked to a failure to respect the human rights most closely associated with democratic principles.
Almost three years after the signing of the General Framework Agreement for Peace in Bosnia and Herzegovina (Dayton Agreement), the citizens of Bosnia and Herzegovina remain subjected to serious human rights violations, the report states. The victims usually belong to ethnic groups which are or have become a minority in a given area. 1998 had been proclaimed the year of minority returns, but few such returns have taken place. Many refugees returning from abroad cannot return to their homes of origin, adding to the number of internally displaced persons in Bosnia and Herzegovina, which approaches some 800,000. The main obstacles to return remain poor security, lack of adequate housing and few employment opportunities. Several incidents of violence against returnees caused major setbacks during the spring and summer of 1998.
The Special Rapporteur concludes that the representatives of the dominant political parties among the three ethnic groups in Bosnia and Herzegovina are more interested in strengthening a sense of collective identity among those who share their ethnic background than in establishing a genuine system of civic society. The return process continues to be obstructed in many ways. Authorities allege that returns cannot happen until "conditions" are right, although they rarely spell out these conditions. However, the authorities are responsible for creating and improving conditions for return, as they committed themselves to do by the Dayton Agreement. Improvements in security will be conducive for returns,
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and thus the action of the international Stabilization Force (SFOR) in the short term, and the United Nations International Police Task Force (IPTF) in the long term (for the creation of multi-ethnic police forces), will be critical.
The apprehension, prosecution and punishment of war criminals remains a precondition for improvement of the human rights situation, the return of refugees and displaced persons and reconciliation, the report states. Greater respect for the mandate of the human rights institutions and their role in establishing the rule of law in Bosnia and Herzegovina is required from the authorities.
Although there has been some improvement in creating conditions for free and democratic elections, serious problems remain to be solved. Full freedom of movement has still not been secured despite positive developments, such as the introduction of uniform license plates for the entire country. The main media still are controlled by nationalist parties, which has a negative effect on the political process. The promotion of democratic values and a true human rights culture should be pursued at all levels of society. For this reason, the continued support of the international community for local NGOs will be vital.
Turning the situation in Croatia, the report states that membership in the Council of Europe and the goal of joining the European Union had a positive influence on the Croatian Government and on the attitudes of many opinion leaders in the country, the report states. However, real understanding of the nature of democratic society still appears to be low. Due to the lack of democratic traditions, the legacy of communism, the recent conflict and animosity towards Serbs, the development of respect for human rights will be a long process.
If the process of building democracy and civil society is to be guaranteed, the presence of international institutions will be necessary to help strengthen democratic forces in the Government and in the public, it goes on. The international community should concentrate its efforts on strengthening the legal system, on training the police, and on supporting the development of a free media. International assistance is needed to restore the economy, but to be effective it should be coordinated, concentrated on infrastructure and other conditions for the development of private initiative (for example, demining).
The Special Rapporteur welcomes the Government's programme for the return and accommodation of displaced persons, refugees and resettled persons, but urges a simplification of the procedures. He also welcomes all steps taken by the Government to discover the fate of missing persons. He is particularly concerned by the Government's domination of the electronic media and its attempts to stifle freedom of the press.
The Government should also take urgent steps to reduce the backlog of cases in the courts at all levels, the report states. The administration of justice should be transparent: information about the results of prosecutions of those
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charged with human rights violations in connection with Croatian military operations in 1995 should be made available.
Addressing the situation in the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, the Special Rapporteur stresses that because of the early required submission and publication dates for the present report, and given the pace of developments in that country, particularly the crisis in Kosovo, it is likely that elements of the present report will have been superseded by events before the document is published. In the four months since the Special Rapporteur's mission to the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, violence in the province of Kosovo has accelerated into a crisis with international consequences.
Many facts about the human rights situation in Kosovo remain elusive, he states. Yugoslav, Serbian and Kosovo Albanian leaders, as well as Montenegrin officials and representatives of different ethnic communities, have all pointed to abuses of the human rights of persons living in Kosovo and called upon the international community to take an active interest in the human rights of vulnerable groups.
The Special Rapporteur has received many reports of torture during pre- trial detention in Kosovo. He is alarmed at consistent disregard by Serbian State security forces throughout the Republic of international standards, as well as domestic law and procedures, governing police conduct and the treatment of pre-trial detainees. Beatings and ill-treatment in pre-trial detention are routine throughout Serbia, he states.
As well as the conservatively estimated 500,000 refugees from Croatia and Bosnia and Herzegovina already in the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, an estimated 200,000 persons have been internally displaced by the crisis in Kosovo. The Special Rapporteur warns that the task of supporting over 700,000 persons in need cannot be sustained by the already overtaxed aid structure in the country, and is a far-reaching regional catastrophe in the making.
The Special Rapporteur observes that challenges facing the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia are similar to those faced by the other countries of his mandate: to build a system based on rule of law instead of on a ruling party; foster an independent judiciary; implement in daily practice international standards and constitutional protections; create functional units of self-government and local administration; promote democracy and pluralism; support freedom of broadcast and print media; transform economic and social systems so as concurrently to create opportunity and protect the vulnerable; and heal the wounds of war. As of August, the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia faces additional challenges, and the situation of human rights in the country is grave.
In all the countries of the Special Rapporteur's mandate, the human rights situation remains deeply affected by the failure to observe and implement basic democratic principles. As a result, positive developments in legislation and
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policies are blocked by a lack of cooperation on the State and local levels. In the prevailing atmosphere of suspicion and even hatred, some local authorities and ethnically based organizations take new laws and decisions as instruments imposed on their governments by the international community against their interests. There is sometimes encouragement, at least on a private level, to ignore reforms even by some high-ranking politicians. Independence of the judiciary and police is not respected and mostly not understood.
On the practical level, the basic problem in the region is the return of hundreds of thousands of people belonging to ethnic groups which are or have become minorities in places of their origin, the report states. Where they used to be majorities, new local authorities of different ethnic groups do everything possible to prevent the re-establishment of the previous situation. The destruction of the economy and consequent lack of employment prevents even majority returns. There are also cases in which members of minority groups are not employed even though there are available jobs. Landmines often prevent farming in some of the most fertile European regions alongside the Danube and Sava rivers. A further problem is the lack of respect for the religious rights of others.
The tremendous hatred felt towards other ethnic groups in all three countries has to be challenged, and methods for the promotion of tolerance and reconciliation must be developed as a precondition of sustainable peace and democratic development, he stresses. Some important progress has been made since the signing of the Dayton Agreement in December 1995 and the Basic Agreement in Croatia, signed in November of the same year. Nevertheless, there still remains a high level of disregard for human rights. The role of the international community will continue to be essential in assisting the governments in the region in improving their human rights records, and for the people to be assured that past atrocities will not be repeated.
A note by the Secretary-General transmits the report and recommendations on the situation of human rights in Haiti (document A/53/355), prepared by Independent Expert Adama Dieng in accordance with Commission on Human Rights resolution 1998/58. He welcomes the establishment of a United Nations Civilian Police Mission in Haiti (MIPONUH) with a mandate to assist the national authorities by supporting and contributing to the professionalization of the Haitian National Police.
The report summarizes the findings of two missions by the independent expert, in February/March, and in August, and the recommendations he made.
Since 8 June 1997, President René Préval has been faced with an impasse in the Parliament, which, on two occasions, has refused to approve the nomination of the prime minister-designate, the report states. The absence of a prime minister for 14 months has had an adverse impact on the human rights situation. The ministers who remained in their posts are now responsible for
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more than one ministry, with all that that implies for good governance, notwithstanding their tireless efforts.
Apart from the disastrous effects which the institutional crisis has had on economic activity, the present situation is not reassuring to private investors. The purchasing power of Haitians is being eroded daily, inflation is raging, prices of basic foodstuffs are steadily rising and both the process of modernization of the State and the pace of economic reforms are slowing. Upon his departure from Haiti, the expert was of the opinion that a consensus was within reach that would pave the way for the confirmation of a third prime minister-designate, namely, Jacques Edouard Alexis, who is currently Minister of Education.
The government crisis which led to the collapse of the State apparatus made it impossible to take vigorous action aimed at the gradual implementation of economic, social and cultural rights, including the right to health and the right to education, the report goes on. Likewise, the transformation of society is still being hampered by the weakness of its institutions. The situation of women's rights is deplorable, children's rights are violated, those who commit serious human rights violations enjoy impunity, and the National Police lack professionalism. However, some progress has been made in the process of reform of the judiciary.
The weakness of the judicial system remains a cause of serious concern, he says. It is the question of the impunity of the authors of serious violations of human rights, as well as the right to reparation, restitution and rehabilitation of victims which are currently at the centre of a wide-ranging public debate in Haiti. Most human rights organizations in Haiti have expressed concern over the attitude of officials of the Ministry of Justice, whom they accuse of a lack of transparency in the handling of the issue of reparations.
Although the National Police has made considerable progress during the past two years, the many human rights violations committed by its agents remain cause for concern. During the period under review, 2,278 files were turned over to the Inspector-General's Office. The most serious offences account for 33 per cent of the files received; following their review, the contracts of 200 police officers were revoked, and the files of 66 police officers dismissed for disciplinary and criminal offences were turned over to the courts.
The problems of the National Police are exacerbated by the economic and political climate, and by the weakness of the State, the report states. It must be acknowledged that this young institution has made considerable progress, however, police officers identified as responsible for human rights violations, corruption and other crimes have been promptly released by judges, although the files prepared by the Inspector-General's Office contained ample proof. Such releases are apparently carried out by corrupt judges who receive sums of money from police officers brought before them.
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The report of the Secretary-General on technical cooperation programme in Haiti (document A/53/530) contains information on the implementation of the programme, supplementing the report by the Independent Expert. The programme of technical cooperation to strengthen the capacities of the political and parapolitical structures in the field of human rights was prepared by the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights in close cooperation with the Government of Haiti and other parties, including the International Civilian Mission in Haiti (MICIVIH) and the UNDP.
It states that MICIVIH's activities include training in and monitoring observance of human rights. The High Commissioner has supported the National Commission of Truth and Justice and, in cooperation with the UNDP and MICIVIH, has provided training in human rights at the grass-roots level.
The report states that UNDP and MICIVIH are very much involved in these areas and that the renewal of the mandate of MICIVIH has provided an element of continuity to its programme and enhanced the possibilities for cooperation among the agencies and programmes of the United Nations system. For that reason, the High Commissioner found that, in order to ensure cost-effectiveness, complementarity and coordination, it was more appropriate to transfer the implementation of the technical cooperation programme to MICIVIH.
A note by the Secretary-General transmits the interim report on the situation of human rights in Myanmar (document A/53/364), prepared by Rajsoomer Lallah, Special Rapporteur of the Commission on Human Rights, in July. The report states that the Government of Myanmar has ignored the resolutions of both the General Assembly and the Commission on Human Rights and has displayed a total lack of cooperation with the Special Rapporteur. That Government had not found an appropriate time for him to visit Myanmar, more than two years after his appointment.
The situation in Myanmar has not evolved favourably since the submission of the report of the Special Rapporteur to the Commission on Human Rights at its fifty-fourth session. He states the conclusions drawn in that report remained valid. Although the Special Rapporteur had hoped a dialogue would begin between the Government and the National League for Democracy (NLD), including leaders of minorities, that hope had not been fulfilled. The structure of power under the military regime remained autocratic and accountable only to itself and rested on the denial and repression of the most fundamental rights.
The Special Rapporteur remains deeply concerned about the continuing harassment of political leaders and the detention of many political prisoners, including the virtual blockade of the General-Secretary of the NLD in her compound, and her continued vilification and inability to organize normal political meetings and functions. He expresses equal concern about the serious human rights violations that continued to be committed by the armed
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forces in the ethnic minority areas, including extrajudicial and arbitrary executions, rape, torture, inhuman treatment, forced labour and denial of freedom of movement. Those violations have been so numerous and consistent over the past years as to suggest they are the result of policy at the highest level, entailing political and legal responsibility.
A note by the Secretary-General transmits the report of the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (document A/53/365). The report states serious violations of many human rights continue, including the right to life, to physical and psychological integrity, freedom of association, due process and freedom of expression and opinion. No effort has been made to end cultural practices that discriminate against women, nor are programmes in place to protect economic, social and cultural rights.
Further, the Government has refused to take responsibility for the violations of human rights and of international humanitarian law that occurred during the recent conflict in the country, the report states. It claims the Special Rapporteur, the joint mission, the Secretary General's Investigative Team, the European Union commissioners, and the intergovernmental and non-governmental organizations were liars whenever Congolese television showed scenes of the tragedy in the Rwandan refugee camps.
The Government had taken an ethnic-cleansing approach to the August insurgency, the report observes. It has not cooperated at all with the Special Rapporteur, the joint mission sent by the Commission on Human Rights, the Secretary General's Investigative Team or any mechanisms set up by the Commission on Human Rights. As a result, the Special Rapporteur has not been able to report on the possibilities for the international community to assist with local capacity-building.
It was encouraging that the Government had taken decisive action to deal with corruption on the part of its authorities, the report states. The creation, on 1 June 1996, of the Ministry of Human Rights was also worth mentioning. Though its role was unclear, it could become an important factor in the protection and promotion of human rights. The Special Rapporteur endorses all the recommendations of the Secretary-General's Investigative Team, as set forth in document S/1998/581, particularly as regards the expansion of the competence of the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda or the establishment of another international criminal tribunal to include the actions alluded to and committed by any person, regardless of nationality, between 1 January 1994 and 31 December 1997. Measures for witness protection should also be taken.
The report calls on the Government to pave the way for the establishment of democracy, allowing the full participation of all political and social groups.
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A note by the Secretary-General transmits the report of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights on the Human Rights Field Operation in Rwanda (document A/53/367). The High Commissioner states her awareness of the enormous challenges facing the Government of Rwanda in a post-genocide society and recognizes the steps it has already taken to improve the human rights situation in that country.
While expressing appreciation to the Government of Rwanda for its cooperation throughout most of the duration of the Field Operation, the report regrets the closure of the Operation before national governmental and non-governmental institutions had reached their full capacity in promoting and protecting human rights. The High Commissioner remains preoccupied by the insecurity and human rights situation in the north-western prefectures in view of the escalating armed conflict in the region, and reiterates her concern at the ease with which armed groups appear to have access to weapons despite a Security Council-imposed embargo on arms supply to the region.
While acknowledging the right and duty of the Rwandan Government to protect its territory from attacks, the High Commissioner states that military operations should be carried out in conformity with human rights and international humanitarian law. It calls on the international community to assist the Government of Rwanda to protect the civilian population in the conflict area and to put an end to the ongoing violence.
It further encourages the Government of Rwanda to assist families in locating persons believed to be missing by improving the system of registers at all detention centres and by implementing a system of informing families of those persons who are detained, particularly in military detention centres. Finally, she urges a moratorium on the use of the death penalty, or else to do so with constraint and in strict compliance with the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, and never on persons under the age of 18 years.
The report of the Special Representative of the Commission on Human Rights on the situation of human rights in Rwanda, who undertook two missions to Rwanda from 8 to 15 June and from 31 August to 7 September (document A/53/402), is also before the Committee.
Prior to his missions, the Government of Rwanda had suspended the activities of the United Nations Human Rights Field Operation in Rwanda, recalling that the intention of the Government was for the human rights operation to encourage partnership and help Rwandans to develop the capacity to promote human rights, rather than to "police" the Government. The Government wished to review the mandate of the Operation and emphasize capacity-building, technical cooperation, training and education, taking account of the progress achieved in Rwanda since 1994. The Government did not accept the High Commissioner of Human Rights view that monitoring should be a way to help the Government address problems, a basis for dialogue to diagnose
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those needs and an encouragement to the international community to provide help. The Field Operation withdrew from Rwanda on 28 July.
The Special Representative says that current security conditions in some countries surrounding Rwanda has drastically deteriorated with direct implications for the security of Rwanda, presenting difficulties for the Government in reducing human rights violations, eradicating impunity and implementing programmes for the development of a human rights culture. Over the past year, armed groups, widely believed to be elements of the former Rwandan army and possibly recruits from the former Zairian army, have committed the majority of reported incidents in Rwanda. Many believe their aim is to continue the genocide. The attackers were indiscriminate in the targets of their killings. The majority of right-to-life violations committed by State agents have occurred during counter-insurgency operations. The Special Representative commends the efforts of the Rwandan military to correct, redress and prevent the recurrence of such violation.
The Special Representative deplores the continued loss of civilian lives. The security situation has exacerbated already difficult conditions for the rural population, particulary in the north-west. Many people have moved closer to military positions for protection, creating internally displaced settlements without access to their lands for cultivation. Many of the killings are believed to be ethnically motivated, but there is an increasing complex matrix of motives, intertwining past crimes, frustration over the lack of security, land conflict, theft and personal vengeance. The Special Representative remains concerned about increasing reports of alleged disappearances.
A crisis situation continues to exist in the justice sector, he says. Present structures are not sufficiently equipped to deal adequately, within a reasonable time, with the civil and criminal cases against persons accused of genocide. The Special Representative welcomes the efforts of the Government to address the problems related to the administration of justice and the concrete steps it is taking in this area.
The interim report of the Special Rapporteur on the human rights situation in Burundi (document A/53/490) covers the period from 1 May to 15 September. He acknowledges important efforts by the authorities to promote peace within the framework of the negotiations in Arusha, despite the problems crippling the Great Lakes region and the population movements in the country's north-eastern frontier. Several recent initiatives to implement power-sharing among the Government, the political parties, the National Assembly and civil society helped to reduce antagonisms. Those initiatives had also contributed to a minimum level of trust between the parties.
However, the peace process still faces several obstacles. For example, none of the positions in the current Government is a result of a proper democratic election. Despite government efforts to inform people in the
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provinces about institutional changes, the majority have not yet experienced a real decline in tension among local civilian or military authorities at the communal level.
The Special Rapporteur reiterates his appeal for the suspension of death sentences -- currently numbering more than 250 -- and life sentences, at least until peace negotiations are completed and the judiciary reformed. The authorities should implement his previous proposals for urgent judicial reforms, including strategies to end impunity and reorganize the army and security forces under distinct structures.
The international community should give top priority to security a ceasefire, the Special Rapporteur says. He recommends acknowledgement of the power-sharing initiatives within the framework of the "Partenariat interne pour la paix", despite its limitations. The initiatives should be seen as a serious attempt to come up with a provisional political structure that could take the country forward.
He urges the international community to pursue its firm financial commitment to a legal assistance programme and suggests the current group of six lawyers be doubled next year. The international community should not wait for judiciary reform before providing basic material and human resources. Foreign governments should support the training of Burundian magistrates and attorneys to improve the judiciary's competence, independence and impartiality.
The Special Rapporteur appeals for increased financial support for the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner of Refugees (UNHCR). More international human rights observers can be a decisive element within the framework of a peace agreement, he says. The United Nations should reconsider the establishment of an international tribunal if there is a ceasefire; genuine internal political dialogue; successful conclusions of ongoing negotiations and the beginning of democratic governance. A tribunal may help address collective fears and memories of genocide by acknowledging past crimes and defining individual responsibility for those crimes.
A note by the Secretary-General transmits an interim report on the situation of human rights in Nigeria (document A/53/366) by Soli Jehangir Sorabjee, Special Rapporteur of the Commission on Human Rights. He notes that recent developments in Nigeria since the change in leadership that took place on 9 June represent an opportunity to usher in a new era of civilian democratic rule. Nigeria's authorities have an opportunity to embark on a process of transition through broad consultation and full respect for fundamental rights and freedoms, as pledged by General Abubakar in his statement of 20 July.
The conduct of free and fair elections will be a crucial element in the continuum of progress towards implementation of the transitional programme for
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return to civilian rule, the report goes on. Several important steps have already been taken, including the dissolution of Nigeria's five State- sanctioned political parties, the annulment of elections held under General Abacha, the disbanding of the five transition agencies under General Abacha's transition programme, and the establishment of an Independent National Electoral Commission to oversee elections. International observers have been invited to monitor all stages of the election process. Yet, in order for elections to be meaningful, the enjoyment of a number of other internationally protected rights must be assured.
The Nigerian legal system currently does not provide effective protection of human rights, owing to the suspension of the human rights provisions of the 1979 Constitution currently in force, the report states. While General Abubakar has promised to publish and circulate the 1995 draft constitution, which is to form the post-transitional constitutional framework, he has indicated that the promulgation of the Constitution will be entrusted to the Provisional Ruling Council, a military entity.
Rule of law is still not established in Nigeria, it adds. The independence and authority of the judiciary are undermined by clauses in executive decrees which oust the jurisdiction of the courts. Such clauses also preclude the granting of relief in respect of human rights violations. The right to liberty and security of the person is not protected owing to Decree No. 2 of 1984, under which individuals may be detained indefinitely. No qualitative changes have been made in the composition of tribunals or the processes to be employed by them in order to conform to article 14 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and article 7 of the African Charter.
In order for elections to be free and fair, the Government will have to fully respect the rights to freedom of opinion, expression and association, freedom of the press, and the right to peaceful assembly, as set out in the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, the report states. The current restrictions on the above freedoms should be removed by repealing or amending the relevant decrees in force.
The importance of a genuine, transparent, democratic and widely participatory constitution-making process can hardly be overemphasized given the antecedents in Nigeria, it goes on. The promulgation of the Constitution should thus involve representatives of a broad cross-section of civil society, of which the military constitutes only one of the components. Determination of the rights and obligations of persons and, in particular, the determination of any criminal charge against a person should be made by regular courts of law. All legal proceedings must be conducted in public before independent courts whose proceedings conform to international norms of due process.
A note by the Secretary-General on the human rights situation in the Sudan (document A/53/504) states that an interim report on that situation
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would not be submitted to the General Assembly at its fifty-third session due to the lack of sufficient time for a new Special Rapporteur to prepare a report. Attention was therefore drawn to the most recent report of the Special Rapporteur on that situation, presented to the Commission on Human Rights early this year (document E/CN.4/1998/66).
That report states that it was based on detailed information regarding all categories of violations and human rights abuses addressed in previous reports. The information was based in part on testimonies of victims and witnesses, as well as on exchanges with Sudanese government officials, interviewed during the Special Rapporteur's mission to Khartoum between 2 and 10 September 1997. With regard to the overall situation of human rights in the Sudan during 1997, the report states that information on the violation of human rights continued to be expressed, including against members of the respective government security forces in areas controlled by them. Following the escalation of fighting between January and August 1997, the situation of human rights in the conflict zones had deteriorated, including with indications about indiscriminate and deliberate aerial bombardments of civilians fleeing or seeking relief from the fighting.
In April, the report states, the Consultative Council for Human Rights had established subcommittees to deal with categories of abuses, which coexisted with a Special Committee previously established with regard to slavery and disappearances. That development was seen as positive step by the Government of the Sudan towards addressing the situation of human rights in the country, which meant that the violations in each of the categories could be considered with greater efficiency, particularly if concrete steps were taken in a consultative and cooperative framework.
Specific recommendations are offered in the report with regard to the Special Committee on alleged disappearances and slavery. Those include the wide publicity of the Committee's activities, the encouragement of transparency and the broader involvement of parties in fact-finding activities, the granting of unimpeded access to observers in areas where alleged abuses occur and the consideration of international participation in addressing cases of reported abuses.
Finally, the report recommends establishing a field office of the High Commissioner in Khartoum and the placement of human rights field officers in conflict zones to monitor the situation of human rights in the Sudan.
An interim report of the Special Representative of the Commission on Human Rights, Maurice Copithorne, on the human rights situation in Iran transmitted by a note of the Secretary-General (document A/53/423), covers issues such as freedom of opinion and expression, status of women, legal matters and the situation of ethnic and religious minorities.
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To carry out the terms of his mandate for the period between January to August, the Special Representative drew from a wide range of information sources, including the Government of Iran, other governments, United Nations organizations, bodies and programmes, NGOs, individuals and media reports.
The report states that public and private debate in Iran about change in governance and in the judicial system had become more open and sharply focused. There is a significant commitment to such change in many quarters including the executive. Some human rights sectors were already benefiting from that, including freedom of expression which, despite occasional setbacks, did appear overall to be making progress.
Comprehensive plans for change in other areas had been announced, including the prison system and, to a lesser extent, the court system, the report states. In other areas, notably the status of women and the status of religious and ethnic minorities, there appeared to be no comparable commitment to change. In both areas, human rights violations continued to occur. The situation of the Baha'is religious community had not improved.
Freedom of expression remained a principal field of contention between two groups of leaders with strongly differing visions of Iranian society -- one seeking significant respect for freedom of expression and related liberties, the report notes.
It asserts that the situation of women did not appear to improve in any significant way. It quotes foreign wire services as reporting of continued occasional harassment of young women by Tehran police and extrajudicial groups for failing to conform to the appropriate dress code. The role of women in the Iranian judicial system was a matter of some uncertainty. There were now 99 women in the judicial system, including four family court judges and one assistant judge in the general court.
The report expresses real concerns over the application of particular Iranian norms and practices, such as the right to mahr, the bridal price, equivalent to a dowry. One area viewed as crucial is the legal reality of divorce in which men could divorce at will while women have to meet one of 12 specific criteria. There was strong resentment about implementation of dress code and the lack of prompt and effective avenue through which a wife could get around a husband's withholding of consent.
The report notes several positive developments on questions relating to torture or cruel or inhuman treatment or punishment. Allegations of torture were now being openly reported. That allegations of torture were now part of public discourse was seen by the Special Representative as an important first step towards doing away with violation of basic human rights.
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In a section of the report devoted to other matters, the Special Representative welcomes what seemed to be a new openness on the part of the Islamic Human Rights Commission, particularly a greater focus on the human rights situation within Iran. He recommends that the trends should be appropriately institutionalized and publicized as part of the process of the Commission's becoming a truly independent national agency for the promotion and protection of human rights. He also suggests the development of a national action plan for human rights.
On the situation of the Baha'is, the Special Representative states that he continued to receive reports of the violation of their rights, forcing him to conclude that the pattern of their persecution had not abated. In the report's conclusions, the Special Representative observes that a will existed on the part of many leaders in Iran to move the society towards a more tolerant and more peaceful condition. The Government needs to broaden its agenda for change and to declare a strong commitment to achieving certain goals within specified time-frames, he adds.
Another note of the Secretary-General (document A/53/433) transmits an interim report on the situation of human rights in Iraq prepared by Max van der Stoel, Special Rapporteur of the Commission on Human Rights. The report is based upon information received by the Special Rapporteur up to 31 August and is to be read in conjunction with his last report to the Commission on Human Rights (document E/CN.4/1998/67).
In the absence of cooperation on the part of the Government, the report states that the Special Rapporteur had continued to rely on information from governmental, intergovernmental and non-governmental sources. He had also received well-documented information from individuals connected, in one way or another, with the situation in Iraq. He had further received several well- documented reports describing the situation in the country, particularly in relation to the matters over which the General Assembly and the Commission on Human Rights had expressed serious concern. In addition, he had had direct contact with Iraqis who had fled the country and from whom he continued to receive information.
The Special Rapporteur regrets that he was yet again unable to report any significant improvement in the situation of human rights in Iraq. He says, principally, there had been no change whatsoever in the politico-legal order which was the cause of systematic violations of human rights of all kinds and in all spheres of life. Not surprisingly, allegations relating to arbitrary arrests, mistreatment in detention, cruel and unusual punishments and arbitrary and extrajudicial executions continued to be received.
The Special Rapporteur observes, as he had in the past, that execution for commission of petty crime -- involving no violence whatsoever -- was a wholly disproportionate punishment constituting violation of the right to
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life. Moreover, he considers that maintenance by the Government of Iraq of such severe penalties for such a wide variety of offences was indicative of the nature of the overall situation of human rights in Iraq, as evidenced also in the general attitude of the authorities in defending as normal the imposition of the death penalty for such petty offences.
On the subject of disappearances, the report says hundreds of Fayli Kurds and other Iraqi citizens of Iranian origin who had reportedly disappeared in the early 1980s were in fact being held incommunicado in Abu Ghraib prison. They had reportedly been detained in extremely harsh conditions without specific charges or trial for periods of 17 and 18 years. Their families had been forced to leave their homes and cross the border into Iranian territory.
The Special Rapporteur observes, as he had done since taking up his mandate in 1991, that the Government of Iraq had consistently failed to respect its obligations under the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights to the detriment of the welfare of millions of Iraqi citizens, along with the systematic violation of various civil and political rights.
Greater supplies of food and medicine and more material for the improvement of the sanitation system would have reached Iraq if the Government had given priority to them, instead of to military programmes and the building of prestige projects. The situation remained precarious notwithstanding the availability of significant resources following the enlarged "oil-for-food" programme. The Government of Iraq bore primary responsibility for the continuing suffering of the Iraqi people, the report asserts.
It concludes that all previous recommendations of the Special Rapporteur remained valid. "Indeed, it would appear that so far not one of the Special Rapporteur's recommendations has been implemented, with the exception of his recommendation to implement the 'oil-for-food' programme -- and this the Government of Iraq resists doing fully", the report adds.
In a note on the situation of human rights in southern Lebanon and western Bekaa (document A/53/537), the Secretary-General says that the Commission on Human rights had invited the Government of Israel to provide information concerning the extent of its implementation of resolution 1998/62. No reply had been received at the time of the preparation of the report.
Report of High Commissioner for Human Rights
The report of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (document A/53/36) states that over the past 12 months large-scale violations of economic, social and cultural rights have become more visible than ever before. Poverty and exclusion are plagues affecting developing countries, but also increasingly developed nations. Whole countries are on the margins of world economic development, while the world economy as a whole and many
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countries individually are rapidly increasing their wealth. The phenomenon of widespread poverty is of greatest concern because the lack of social justice, the exclusion of large groups and the division of countries into rich and extremely poor foster instability, internal conflict, political extremism and the terrorism of despair.
Encouragingly, the report states, the need for action is increasingly recognized and the fact that most States understand the principle of international cooperation for human rights has led to a wide acceptance of human rights assistance, monitoring and human rights field presences. Those are the conditions that lead to limiting human rights violations, improving human rights practices and creating situations of confidence in which social rebuilding can occur. Over the past year, the development of a rights-based approach to development within the United Nations has been an important tool helping States and international agencies to redirect their thinking and begin to favourably impact on the enjoyment of human rights.
The report describes the efforts taken with regard to the fiftieth anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the cross-cutting nature of human rights that is a common thread running through all the Organization's activities. It also describes the steps taken to improve the human rights machinery and mentions activities related to specific human rights issues, such as the right to development and combating the trafficking in women and children. Finally, the report describes advances made towards holding the World Conference against Racism to be convened no later than the year 2001, and summarizes activities related to technical cooperation, national institutions and education.
The report concludes that deeply troubling situations continue to occur and, in the human rights area, the United Nations is clarifying its procedures, sharpening and implementing its preventive tools and responding to new challenges. A clear lesson from the five-year review of the implementation of the Vienna Programme of Action is the greater need for the United Nations to provide leadership for human dignity on a worldwide basis at all levels, from the governmental to the grass roots.
During the past year, the report further concludes, there has been a significant increase in world expectations for the real protection and promotion of human rights, in particular economic, social and cultural rights. Those expectations are directly aimed at the United Nations, going to the heart of the Organization's legitimacy in the eyes of the world's people. The immense burden of responding to those legitimate demands is measured against the growing gap between the needs of the human rights programme and the resources provided in the United Nations budget by Member States.
Over the past five years, the report sums up, Economic and Social Council mandates have increased in excess of 35 per cent, and there has been a
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30 per cent increase in ratifications of treaties. The human rights treaty bodies have required growing analytical assistance and increased meeting time, while the substantive capacity of the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights has had to expand into new areas of expertise. Yet, from 1995 to 1998, there has been no significant growth in the regular budget resources in dollar terms. In terms of staff, the Office staffing table has regressed by 18 regular posts between the two most recent bienniums.
Ultimately, the report concludes that it is no longer acceptable for Member States to tell the people of the world that their human rights are worth less than 2 per cent of United Nations resources. The Commission on Human Rights and the Economic and Social Council need to both call upon all States to take the necessary steps to put the core activities of the human rights programme on a sound and predictable financial basis through the Organization's regular budget.
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