11 December 1998


Press Release
GA/9535



GENERAL ASSEMBLY OPENS SECOND DAY OF MEETINGS TO COMMEMORATE FIFTIETH ANNIVERSARY OF UNIVERSAL DECLARATION OF HUMAN RIGHTS

19981211

As the General Assembly began a second day of meetings to commemorate the fiftieth anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the representative of Hungary said speakers during the debate had each highlighted their attachment to the values enshrined in the 1948 Declaration.

Despite that exercise, he said violations of human rights continued; political, social and cultural rights were withheld; and subtle attempts were made to distort democracy. While respect for human rights was a prerequisite for joining Euro-Atlantic institutions, effective methods for verifying abidance to the Declaration were needed.

The representative of the Russian Federation said the Universal Declaration had not been adopted for the celebration of anniversaries, but for the practical protection of individuals in daily life. While bloc confrontation was a thing of the past and democracy had expanded, the world was not free when children were starving; refugee life was an ordeal; lives and destinies were shattered in armed conflicts; and ignorance, more than censorship, prevented people from knowing that all people were born free, with dignity and rights.

The representative of Haiti said the Declaration had not changed the world into a paradise, thus, the true meaning of the commemoration was to reaffirm and strengthen commitment to the protection of human rights. The celebration of the Declaration represented an international effort to give new impetus to the judicial and moral foundations of liberty, equality and fraternity.

Calling for the further expansion of the scope of the Universal Declaration, the representative of Cameroon said the international community must address the broad gap between the principles proclaimed in the Declaration 50 years ago and the spirit adhered to today. That millions of people were ravaged by hunger and violations of fundamental human rights continued, betrayed the spirit of the Declaration. The establishment of democratic regimes and the enforcement of the rule of law in the coming century would help to eradicate poverty -- the ultimate insult against all humanity.


General Assembly Plenary - 1a - Press Release GA/9535 89th Meeting (AM) 11 December 1998

Though underdevelopment should not and must not be invoked to shield or justify human rights violations, experience had shown that lack of development constituted an obstacle to the full realization of all freedoms and human rights, the representative of South Africa said. The right to development and respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms were interdependent and mutually reinforcing.

The Universal Declaration's focus on civil and political rights had positively influenced those norms, the representative of Iran said. However, the elaboration of economic, social and cultural rights had been neglected, and addressing the question of cultural diversity had been postponed. Cultural diversity and universality of human rights were not contradictory but reinforcing. Since tolerance meant respect for diversity, not its suppression in the name of universality, rights instruments should not impose artificial uniformity on human beings.

Also speaking today were the representatives of the Philippines, Georgia, Mauritania, the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, Israel, Malaysia, Namibia, Yemen, Czech Republic, Myanmar, Libya, Republic of Moldova, Sri Lanka, Solomon Islands, Bahrain, Armenia, Latvia, Samoa, Qatar, Honduras, Bulgaria, Indonesia, Fiji, United Republic of Tanzania, Liberia, Lesotho, Niger, Dominican Republic and Guatemala.

The Assembly will meet again at 3 p.m. today to conclude its two-day commemoration of the fiftieth anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.


Discussion on Universal Declaration of Human Rights

FELIPE MABILANGAN (Philippines): In recent years, questions have been raised about the universality and relevance of the Declaration, as new and complex human rights issues have emerged. This development is a healthy sign, an indication that more and more States are showing interest in human rights and are willing to spend time on questions that will help in the elaboration and further development of the principles enshrined in the Declaration. In this regard, we commend the Office of the High Commissioner on Human Rights and the High Commissioner herself for taking an active part in the debate, by providing a forum where questions can be asked and where answers can be formulated.

As we commemorate the fiftieth anniversary of the Declaration, we need not only to take stock of the achievements, but we must also focus on the work that remains to be done. During the first 50 years of the Declaration, emphasis was placed on the promotion of political and civil rights. However, these rights largely remain only on paper for the greatest number of people, who are effectively prevented from enjoying these rights because of poverty -- the homeless, the hungry, the disabled and those who have no access to minimum basic needs. In addition, we must continue to make human rights education a priority, for only through an enlightened citizenry can human rights be defended and made secure.

PETER P. CHKHEIDZE (Georgia): The adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights is among the most crucial events in human history. However, as has been repeatedly pointed out, the problems relating to armed conflicts and associated with economic development directly affect human rights. Unfortunately, the international efforts are not persistent enough to overcome these factors. It is regrettable that the use of force remains the most effective mechanism for the protection of human rights. Thus, efforts are needed to elaborate means of enforcing the goals elaborated by the Declaration. Moreover, the humanitarian impact of sanctions in civilians must be taken into account.

In Georgia, there are deep-rooted traditions of tolerance and humanity. The ups and downs of history, including times of conflict, have not erased that tradition. Georgia has abolished capital punishment and introduced the position of the public defender. However, the issue of human rights in Georgia must be balanced with the needs of national security. Under serious hardships, Georgia continues to build its State institutions. The number of refugees from the region occupied by the separatist regime now exceeds 300,000.

MAHFOUDH OULD DEDDACH (Mauritania): The right to development is an unalienable, universal human right. Today's commemoration provides the opportunity to assess what still needs to be done and determine the necessary implementation procedures to achieve the Declaration's goals. Mauritania's


General Assembly Plenary - 3 - Press Release GA/9535 89th Meeting (AM) 11 December 1998

Constitution supports the provisions of the Declaration which guarantee all citizens equality, regardless of race or religion. A human rights commission exists to promote those values and to combat poverty. To that end, social expenditures in the country represent 45 per cent of the national budget.

In further efforts to promote universal human rights, Mauritania looks forward to holding an international conference, in the year 2000, on how to combat the fight against racism. Peace, tolerance and coexistence must be developed to support human rights throughout the world.

NASTE CALOVSKI (The former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia): My country views the observance of the anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights as an essential part of the activities of the United Nations to promote and protect all human rights and fundamental freedoms. The Declaration is neither a final achievement nor the last document on human rights. It is important to reaffirm some of the rights discussed in it, and some needed to be further developed and better defined. Actions of the international community should result in the elimination of all forms of discrimination.

Regrettably, not all human beings enjoy the same standard of living. Efforts to narrow the huge gap must continue. Globalization of international life will not automatically close the gap between the rich and the poor, or between the developed and the developing countries. The United Nations has the duty to guide future development towards increased growth, strengthening of democracy, establishment of the rule of the law and the removal of barriers to international cooperation. The Organization should be the locomotive of change. All human rights and fundamental freedoms enumerated in the Universal Declaration should be fully observed, everywhere and by everybody.

KHIPHUSIZI J. JELE (South Africa): Though underdevelopment should not and must not be invoked to shield or justify human rights violations, experience has shown that lack of development constitutes an obstacle to the full realization of all freedoms and human rights. The right to development and respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms are interdependent and mutually reinforcing. My country looks forward to the convening and successful outcome of the world conference against racism, racial discrimination and xenophobia, not later than the year 2001. The establishment of national human rights institutions could play a pivotal role in the entrenchment of a culture of respect for human rights worldwide, thus making a major contribution to the prevention of violations.

In South Africa, human rights have taken pride of place. Human Rights have come to occupy centre stage in our daily lives and in the conduct of external relations. It is in this spirit that South Africa yesterday presented to the United Nations its national action plan for the promotion and protection of human rights. Through this measure and as an audit of the human rights situation, the Government seeks to identify areas in need of protection, improvement and


General Assembly Plenary - 4 - Press Release GA/9535 89th Meeting (AM) 11 December 1998

advancement. The objective is also to identify and agree on areas of cooperation between the Government, the private sector, civil society and other players in the promotion and protection of human rights. Yesterday, my country had also deposited with the United Nations its instruments of ratification relating to the Conventions dealing with civil and political rights, genocide, racial discrimination and torture.

DORE GOLD Israel: The State of Israel has strong ties to the Universal Declaration that goes beyond the values it enshrines. Both Israel and the Declaration spring forth from the international outcry to the most horrendous atrocities committed in this century. The rights contained in the Declaration are not new to this century. The Bible commands us to love strangers in our midst. Yet, in this century, these rights were trampled in such a way that humanity was undeniably shaken.

The Nazi slaughter of Jews and the indifference of some to that atrocity are the gravest violation of human rights. The right of the Jewish people to a homeland is not new to the century. However, only the Holocaust woke the international community to the need to establish a Jewish state in Israel. The historic link between Israel and the Declaration is underscored by the fact that some of its principal authors were Jewish. The words of a thousand declarations could be read in less time than it would take to read a list of the children murdered in the Holocaust.

Israel's declaration of independence proclaimed that the Jewish State will ensure complete equality to all its inhabitants regardless of religion, race or sex. Democracy, grounded in an accountable government, is the best assurance for the protection of human rights. To mark the commemoration of the Declaration anniversary, Israel has incorporated the Declaration into the curriculum of every high school civics class. Human rights is not something just to be mentioned in speeches, it must also filter down to the classroom, the textbook, and into the political culture of every United Nations Member State.

Despite these efforts, Israel is still forced to deal with the constant threat of terrorism. Liberty and basic human dignity are shattered when citizens cannot ride a bus, cross a street or sit at a café without the fear of a suicide bomb. Terrorism depends on a vast infrastructure of support, often under the jurisdiction of sovereign States. Extolling human rights, on the one hand, while allowing one's territory to be a launching ground for terrorist operations, is a mockery of the Declaration and an insult to the millions whose deaths inspired its drafting.

HASMY AGAM (Malaysia): Vast numbers of humanity in different parts of the world have not been able to enjoy the rights proclaimed in the Declaration. Hundreds of millions in the developing world are denied their right to


General Assembly Plenary - 5 - Press Release GA/9535 89th Meeting (AM) 11 December 1998

development, which has become more pronounced since the Asian financial crisis. Wall Street fund managers or rating agencies have scant regard for respecting the rights of poor labourers, farmers and petty traders in concerned countries when making their decisions to suddenly pull out funds or to downgrade the ratings of certain economies.

It is laudable that more and more people are involved in the universal effort to promote and protect human rights. However, it is important that those who are actively vigorous in these efforts maintain consistency, objectivity and credibility. Governments, leaders and others who wish to address the subject of human rights must first be willing to look closely at their own situation. As the international community embarks upon the promotion of human rights, it should ask if it is being truly objective. Is it absolutely clear about the situation that it wishes to comment on? Does it fully understand the political, social, religious sensitivities involved and the implications of its actions? When it talks of rights, should it not also talk of responsibilities?

For Malaysia, as a developing country, economic, social and cultural rights are as important as civil and political rights. Widespread poverty and economic deprivation have compelled many governments of developing countries to emphasize the economic transformation of their society as the prerequisite for all other changes. Acknowledging the importance of economic, social and cultural rights does not necessarily mean ignoring the importance of civil and political rights.

MARTIN ANDJABA (Namibia): The international community's lack of success to date in implementing human rights standards cries out for new constructive approaches. The world has not yet reached the occasion to celebrate while there are still widespread abuses, such as discrimination on the basis of gender, ethnicity, and religious beliefs. Twice this century, we have witnessed the abominable practice of genocide. Moreover, poverty itself is a violation of numerous basic rights. A very high proportion of the world is living in absolute poverty, while the gap between rich and poor is growing. Compounding this problem is the feminization of poverty.

For many years, the people of Namibia have been subjected to gross human rights violations. Following its independence, one of the main tasks was, therefore, to put national institutions in place to protect and promote human rights. The Namibian Constitution -- where the fundamental human rights and freedoms received the highest possible authority -- is the anchor of the country's values and beliefs. Apart from the constitutional guarantees of fundamental freedoms and human rights, the Government has also established the Office of the Ombudsman, who is vested with wide statutory powers to investigate any specific complaints relating to unfair and unjust treatment of individuals.

AHMED ABDULLAH AL-AKWAA (Yemen): Yemen has incorporated international human rights instruments in the area of social justice to combat fear,


General Assembly Plenary - 6 - Press Release GA/9535 89th Meeting (AM) 11 December 1998

oppression, poverty, disease and backwardness. On 22 May 1990, Yemen recovered its unity and opted for a political system based on freedom of choice, which supports the full development of its citizens. Many parties have since multiplied. All segments of society can express themselves by all peaceful means, since human rights have become entrenched in Yemen's society.

Social, cultural and educational development complement each other. It is important, furthermore, that humanitarian assistance be free from double standards and selectivity in application. If not, there will be a terrible contradiction between what is called for and what the international community does. Non-governmental organizations have a role in reinforcing human rights and protecting them against abuse. The international community must build on the values of tolerance, love and peace.

SEYED MOHAMMAD HADI NEJAD HOSSEINIAN (Iran): The adoption of the Declaration, which encompasses a wide range of rights, though certainly not all, was an historical turning point in the promotion of human rights. The influence of the Declaration has since been profound and extensive. While the primary attention of the Declaration is placed on civil and political rights, and the positive influence of those norms cannot be denied, elaboration of economic, social and cultural rights has, however, been neglected. The question of cultural diversity also has had to wait.

It was only at the Vienna Conference in 1993 that Member States reaffirmed the right to development, as a universal and inalienable right and as an integral part of fundamental human rights. Moreover, the importance of cultural diversity has been recognized. The fact of the matter is that global pluralism and cultural diversity, on the one hand, and universality of human rights, on the other, are not contradictory, rather they are mutually reinforcing. The ultimate objective of international human rights instruments is not to impose artificial uniformity on human beings whose identities lie in their cultural, religious and historical backgrounds and values. Tolerance means respect for diversity, not its suppression in the name of universality.

VLAMIMIR GALUSKA (Czech Republic): In the real world, the effectiveness of safeguards for noble values, such as honour, dignity, personal liberty and equality, are still open to question. Many of the internationally recognized and guaranteed human rights instruments have been deplorably blunted by reservations of States parties, intended to accommodate different national laws. Credit should go to the international community seeking to realize human rights to the maximum extent, but, above all, credit should go to human rights activists for their unfailing efforts to promote human rights in everyday life.

The Statute of the International Criminal Court, adopted in Rome this year, gave the Court jurisdiction over the most heinous crimes, such as genocide and crimes against humanity and war crimes. It is gratifying and


General Assembly Plenary - 7 - Press Release GA/9535 89th Meeting (AM) 11 December 1998

highly symbolic that the international community took that step during the year of the fiftieth anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Putting an end to the impunity of individuals responsible for the most egregious violations of human rights would certainly be instrumental in deterring the commission of such crimes in the future.

WIN MRA (Myanmar): By the drawing of a lot, his country was the first to vote for the Universal Declaration upon its adoption 50 years ago. The Declaration has remained a basic source of inspiration for all national, regional and international efforts to promote and protect human rights and basic freedoms. As the current millennium draws to a close, it is encouraging to observe that the international community, guided by the spirit of the Declaration, has made remarkable achievements in the promotion and protection of human rights.

There is hardly any country that does not subscribe to the ideals enshrined in that Declaration, but, while many countries have been successful in realizing those ideals, others are still striving to translate the ideals into action compatible with their particular political, social and economic situations. To help such countries achieve those ideals, the international community must treat human rights in a fair, understanding and constructive spirit.

ANDRÉ ERDÖS (Hungary): The current debate in the General Assembly has highlighted the attachment of each member of the international community to the values enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Despite that, examples of violations of human rights occur on a daily basis. Around the world, political, social and cultural rights are withheld, and there have been subtle attempts to distort democracy. There is still a great deal to be done before human rights are respected universally. The Declaration had a tremendous impact on the profound changes that occurred in Eastern Europe. An example of its impact was seen in a 1970s popular song in Hungary that set the Declaration's articles to music.

Respect for human rights and accession to the Declaration are requirements for those countries wishing to join the Euro-Atlantic institutions. Another important issue in Europe or elsewhere is the effectiveness of verification methods of abidance to the Declaration. The principles of the Declaration have remained current and they will remain a source for guidance by the international community in defending those rights around the world.

ABDUSSALAM A. SERGIWA (Libya): Our commemoration today shows international interest in human rights. The Declaration's articles have dealt with the equality and dignity of all members of the human race. It provided the solid foundation for the international community to conclude a series of legal instruments. At a time when we appreciate the efforts made in respecting and promoting human rights, we cannot condone the gross violations of human rights


General Assembly Plenary - 8 - Press Release GA/9535 89th Meeting (AM) 11 December 1998

practised in full view of the international community. Those violations include acts of genocide and displacement. The Palestinian people have been denied their basic fundamental rights. Certain countries have politicized human rights and imposed certain policies to suit their vested interests.

Enjoyment of human rights includes freedom from hunger, poverty and disease. Despite efforts, Libyans continue to be denied their rights to development and movement. That situation results from the economic measures, the air embargo and unfair resolutions imposed on the country. We hope that the United Nations will grapple with the negative implications of the coercive sanctions imposed on the Libyan people, whose only sin is their determination to live freely, on their own soil. We hope the international community will assess progress in the field of human rights and identify the obstacles to securing human rights.

ION BOTNARU (Republic of Moldova): The promotion and protection of human rights is, first of all, a national responsibility. In this respect, since the declaration of independence, all elections in my country, including the parliamentary ones held this year, which took place on a multi-party basis, were free and fair. The new Constitution guarantees full human rights for all, including national minorities. The Republic of Moldova has acceded to the main international legal instruments on human rights adopted within the framework of the United Nations and the Council of Europe, and is continuing this process.

Despite the difficulties of transition and the negative effects of the international economic and financial crisis, my Government spares no effort in implementing human rights and fundamental freedoms, including the consolidation of human rights institutions. Unfortunately, the democratization process in the country is affected by the actions of the separatist regime in the eastern region, which violates civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights of the population. Nevertheless, we are undertaking supplementary efforts to make each citizen seize, defend, promote and understand his/her rights. The past 50 years shows us that implementing the principles of the Declaration is still not easy. As it has been said, economic and social rights must be treated with the same priority as civil and political rights. That is especially the case for countries with economies in transition.

SERGEY LAVROV (Russian Federation): The belief in fundamental human rights, dignity and the value of a person -- values which survived the trenches, the bombs and the gunfire of the world war, and endured in the concentration camps -- turned out to be stronger than the dividing lines and the ideological taboos. On the one hand, colonialism and bloc confrontation became things of the past, and the frontiers of democracy have expanded. However, one can hardly believe that the world is free when children are starving, refugee life is an ordeal, lives and destinies are shattered in


General Assembly Plenary - 9 - Press Release GA/9535 89th Meeting (AM) 11 December 1998

armed conflicts, and ignorance, more than censorship, prevents people from knowing that all people are born free, with dignity and rights.

The year 1998 was declared the Year of Human Rights in Russia, and a number of important events took place. The main thing, however, is that we do not forget that behind the words, the Declaration was adopted not for the celebration of anniversaries, but for the practical protection of an individual in everyday life.

JOHN DE SARAM (Sri Lanka): While supporting the central role of the United Nations in the field of human rights, "we are concerned that, amidst the poverty around us, the United Nations is slow in according the imprimatur of human rights to such collective rights as the right to development". The violation of human rights by entities other than governmental do not always receive the condemnation they deserve.

If the record of the last 50 is not entirely encouraging, let us hope that the legacy of the next 50 years is more humane. Many of the most effective endeavours that could be made towards universal observance of human rights lie well within the national jurisdictions of States, and touch some of the most important aspects of life within societies. In that perspective, it seems possible to conclude that there are limitations to the language of legal obligation, confrontational encounters in international deliberative bodies and coercive measures.

REX HOROI (Solomon Islands): The state of a country's economic development and progress will affect the degree to which the fundamental rights of its people are met. Least developed countries such as Solomon Islands struggle with the provision of a number of these rights. International cooperation to assist these countries must be a significant component of the global human rights programme.

Protecting and fostering human rights begin at home. My country's geographical, linguistic and cultural diversity poses a unique challenge to those efforts. A country with over 900 islands and more than 80 indigenous languages, Solomon Islands' society is based on the extended family whose collective rights have long been recognized. Individual rights have traditionally been protected in the context of the extended family. In its village society, the people live in a subsistence economy in which the extended family provides the individual with basic needs. Understandably, a high value is placed on the protection of the family's collective rights.

In such a land-tenure system where the clan as a whole is custodian, an analysis of individual rights is complex. The issues are not only basic rights, but the extent to which the individual can enjoy those rights in using and benefiting from the land's resources. Internal and external changes are


General Assembly Plenary - 10 - Press Release GA/9535 89th Meeting (AM) 11 December 1998

making the relationship between the individual, the family and the environment, a critical challenge in the implementation of human rights.

Nonetheless, the international community cannot afford to use "culture" or "family" as excuses for inaction in the human rights field. Instead, it should use these concepts for questioning and formulating strategies to ensure that individuals and groups in society are accorded all of their human rights. Mutual understanding and respect for such cultural diversity will strengthen the national and international human rights systems.

RASHID AL-DOSARI (Bahrain): My delegation pays tribute to the important role the United Nations has played in the promotion of human rights around the world, in particular the contributions of the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights. Bahrain is convinced that the Universal Declaration of Human Rights is one of the foundations of international law. Bahrain's commitment to the Declaration is rooted in the tolerant principles of the Islamic sharia -- Islamic law. My country upholds human rights principles, including the rights to secure employment, housing and the right to social services. Bahrain's respect for human rights places it among the most advanced countries for human development according to United Nations standards.

Bahrain guarantees freedom and dignity for all its citizens without imposing ideas or ideals that would conflict with the basic values inspired by the sharia. The United Nations should work to reduce differences in the understanding of basic human rights concepts that exist among peoples and countries. Cooperation among States can only be based on dialogue among different cultures which build trust and confidence among States. My country is prepared to help bring about that cooperation in the promotion of the Universal Declaration.

MARTIN BELINGA EBOUTOU (Cameroon): There is a need to further expand the scope of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Millions of people are still ravaged by hunger, and fundamental human rights continue to be violated. These and other disturbing trends betray the spirit of the Declaration. Some States also seek to promote only a single category of human rights, or want to use the issue for blackmail and other political pressures. Human rights, however, are universal. The international community must address the broad gap that unfortunately exists between the letter proclaimed in the Declaration 50 years ago and the spirit adhered to today.

Cameroon has integrated the principles of human rights into its new Constitution, which guarantees respect for minorities and provides all citizens with the rights set forth in the Declaration. Tolerance and acceptance of differences in religion and other ways of life lie at the cornerstone of all human rights. The establishment of democratic regimes and


General Assembly Plenary - 11 - Press Release GA/9535 89th Meeting (AM) 11 December 1998

the enforcement of the rule of law in the coming century will help to eradicate poverty -- the ultimate insult against all humanity.

ANNA AGHADJANIAN (Armenia): Armenia welcomes the increasing attention being paid to economic, social and cultural rights alongside civil and political ones. One of the main challenges for the protection and promotion of human rights remains their implementation at the national level. Addressing this issue in individual countries in a balanced and cooperative way has proved to be a constructive method for the implementation of human rights on the international level. Ever since independence, Armenia has been making a consistent effort to bring national legislation into compliance with international norms and standards, particularly in the field of human rights. Within the first years after independence, it has acceded to all six core human rights treaties without reservation. In March, the President of Armenia established a Presidential Commission on Human Rights, which is a transitional institution, for a period before the completion of the legal framework necessary to set up an institution of ombudsman.

Much remains to be done, and this anniversary has become an appropriate occasion to reaffirm the principles adopted 50 years ago. It is also an occasion to define new ways and means for their implementation, especially taking into account the new structure of the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights and the new mandate and role of the High Commissioner. The United Nations is the United Nations of "we, the peoples," not "we, the governments" and, therefore, is called upon to protect the rights of individuals.

JANIS PRIEDKALNS (Latvia): At the time of the adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, my country was under foreign occupation. The occupying Power violated human rights on a massive scale but, paradoxically, at the same time participated in the adoption of the Declaration. Only three and a half months after the adoption of the document, the occupying Power carried out mass deportation of Latvian people to hard labour camps where many of them died. Some decades later the United Nations institutions for the protection of human rights became known in Latvia. Expression of opposition to the occupying Power more and more frequently relied upon the United Nations human rights documents.

Since the restoration of independence, Latvia has committed itself to the protection and promotion of human rights for all people of Latvia. My delegation supports the incorporation of human rights objectives into all aspects of United Nations work. Promotion and support of national human rights institutions must remain a part of the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights. As a newly elected member of the Commission on Human Rights, Latvia believes that universal respect for human rights should continue to be a priority objective of the United Nations system, requiring increased allocation of resources.


General Assembly Plenary - 12 - Press Release GA/9535 89th Meeting (AM) 11 December 1998

DESNA M. SOLOFA (Samoa): The Universal Declaration has inspired national constitutional provisions, among them, the Constitution of my country. It has also generated binding norms with undeniable universality. Human rights and freedoms are the essential ingredients of democracy. My Government believes deeply, at least in Samoa, that human rights and freedoms are best nurtured in the context of their culture and traditions.

Human rights lie at the heart of all that the United Nations aspires to achieve in peace and development. My Government fully supports the work of the High Commissioner, in particular her call for a rights-based approach to development and empowering people to demand justice as a right. Nonetheless, all is not well. Systematic and massive violations of human rights continue to dominate the international agenda. Poverty worldwide is persistent and disturbing, and the calculated slaughter of peoples and cultures is extremely offensive. That such events take place is an indictment on us all.

PIERRE LELONG (Haiti): The Commission on Human Rights has drafted a document, so as to harmonize the dual concepts of the need for liberty and the imperatives of justice and social solidarity. The Declaration being celebrated represents great effort on the part of humanity to give new impetus to the judicial and moral foundations of liberty, equality and fraternity. For those, like the people in Haiti, who are the offspring of Africa transplanted in America, this commemoration leads us to remember the great violation of human rights perpetrated in Africa and America in the course of the last two centuries. Haiti is a testimony of the vision of Toussaint L'Ouverture, a distant precursor of the Declaration.

Awareness of human rights is stamped on the minds of people throughout the world. Totalitarianism is shrinking and justice is growing stronger, particularly with the development of the International Criminal Tribunals. Also, the protection of women, children and minorities has grown. We must recall the fundamental importance of the right to development. Human rights must not be politicized. The Declaration has not changed our world into a paradise. The true meaning of the commemoration is to reaffirm and strengthen our commitment to the protection of human rights.

NASSER AL-KHALIFA (Qatar): The Government of Qatar recently announced its commitment to continue to develop legislation to promote human rights, and reaffirmed its right and duty to guarantee a decent standard of living for all its people. The Government also emphasized its profound interest in all United Nations resolutions relevant to human rights, and in upholding the spirit and provisions of the Universal Declaration.

Instructions were also issued in Qatar to hold elections in 1998, and there was also a decision to establish a commission to draw up a permanent constitution. Greater attention should be paid by the international community to cultural, social and economic rights and to the situations that lead to


General Assembly Plenary - 13 - Press Release GA/9535 89th Meeting (AM) 11 December 1998

migration and displacement. The world should recall the tragedy of the Palestinian people, and reaffirm their right to self-determination and to return to their homeland. Adequate financial resources should be provided to the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights to enable it to pursue its important duties.

JOSE ANTONIO GUTIERREZ NAVAS (Honduras): Since the signing of the Universal Declaration, the international community has continued to struggle to protect the fundamental human rights guaranteed to all people by the text. The history of Honduras has often frustrated attempts to move towards a democratic system. During the cold war, the region became a theatre for battles imposed on it from the outside. Upheavals in neighbouring States, with which Honduras has long been intimately linked, also frustrated hopes for progress in the area of human rights. For many years many asylum-seekers have fled their respective countries for sanctuary in Honduras, which has played host to more than 300,000 refugees. Insecurity and violence permeating the region also prompted thousands to emigrate to the United States where, as migrant workers, they have not been treated fairly.

Recently, the natural disaster Hurricane Mitch destroyed 60 per cent of Honduras' economic infrastructure, forced more than a million people to become homeless, and for more than 6,000 people denied them their dearest human right of all: the right to life.

VLADIMIR SOTIROV (Bulgaria): Bulgaria aligned itself with the statement made by the representative of Austria on behalf of the European Union. Human Rights Day 1998 is a day in which all of us who enjoy human rights should try to imagine life without them. It is a day for those who are still denied their human rights to dream again of asserting them. While we celebrate 50 years after the signing of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the international community cannot afford to turn a blind eye to the work that still needs to be done in the field of human rights. Sadly, the world remains a place in which torture is still practised, in which a billion people are living in poverty, where children are still exploited, and where women are denied their fundamental equal rights.

To mark the anniversary of the Declaration, the Bulgarian Parliament yesterday adopted an Act abolishing the death penalty. The few articles in the Penal Code that provided for capital punishment were amended to a maximum sentence of life imprisonment without parole.

MAKARIM WIBISONO (Indonesia): The progressive measures and cooperation sought by the Declaration have gained prominence and strength in recent years. Selectivity in human rights should be rejected as the international community enters a new age. It is fitting that this anniversary is celebrated in the same year the United Nations reviews the follow-up to the World Conference on Human Rights, which stipulates that widespread poverty inhibits the full and


General Assembly Plenary - 14 - Press Release GA/9535 89th Meeting (AM) 11 December 1998

effective enjoyment of human rights. Wider respect for human dignity would be gained by lifting mankind out of poverty. Adequate means must be provided for food, education, health, nutrition and housing that continue to be denied to over a billion people.

Advancing the right to development is crucial to further progress in improving the human condition. Central to Indonesia's efforts in human rights are poverty alleviation and an enhanced socio-economic environment. Concurrently, it has made great strides in many other areas of the human right spectrum. The Indonesian National Plan of Action on Human Rights 1998-2003 -- adopted this year -- indicates that at least eight international instruments are considered for ratification over the next five years. Under such a plan, Indonesia will enter the next millennium with a human rights culture.

SAKIUSA RABUKA (Fiji): Fifty years after the international crusade for human rights was launched, where people were once stifled, they are now speaking. A great deal has been achieved, but victory has not been totally won. The international community must take appropriate and prompt action to address violations of rights, notably violations that lead to genocide and ethnic cleansing. But human rights must not be used as a tactic by the more powerful to intervene in the internal affairs of small, less powerful countries to advance national self-interest.

Economic and social rights, as well as legal and political rights, must form part of the human rights sphere, including the rights to work, to adequate health services and medical supplies, to housing and to the best possible education. This will require cooperation from developed countries, international organizations and international financial institutions. The right to development should include market access, investment capital flows, technology transfer and debt assistance. Such aspects of the right to life are equally as important as the right to liberty.

DAUDI N. MWAKAWAGO (United Republic of Tanzania): The Universal Declaration of Human Rights continues to stand out as one of the major political statements designed to give effect to the ideals and principles of the United Nations Charter. Yet, despite some successes, struggles for self-determination and independence have not always resulted in full respect for the individual. Indeed, the world continues to pay homage to the grim memories of those who lost their lives in the genocides in Cambodia, the former Yugoslavia, Rwanda and elsewhere. Although the universal standards of human rights have become a most powerful political concept, there is growing concern that a critical misunderstanding exists about the nature and scope of human rights.


General Assembly Plenary - 15 - Press Release GA/9535 89th Meeting (AM) 11 December 1998

Freedom of speech, protection against torture and other civil and political rights are an important part of the package, but human rights also include the right to social security, a reasonable living standard, food, education, housing, health, and the right to work, among others -- in other words, the right to development. One of the regrettable developments in efforts to translate the Human Rights Declaration into legally binding instruments was the division of these rights into two separate conventions, suggesting that civil and political rights were primary, while economic and social rights were secondary. This distinction is largely responsible for the mixed feelings of some countries towards today's commemoration.

These aspects of human rights are supportive not competitive. Governments now recognize that economic growth and the eradication of poverty are encouraged by free discussion and the rule of law. Moreover, it is far easier to promote civil and political rights in an environment of positive economic development where economic and social rights are protected. Dismissing the culture dimension of human rights has also undermined its universality.

RACHEL GBENYON-DIGGS (Liberia): The role of women, such as Eleanor Roosevelt and Mary Robinson, in championing human rights issues is a source of pride. The Universal Declaration is a beacon of hope for mankind. Liberia knows the virtues of the search for freedom, equality and justice for all. Governments need to adopt practical policies to protect their people. The restoration of constitutional democratic rule in Liberia assures its people human rights. The promotion of democracy inherently promotes and protects such rights.

An independent Human Rights Commission in Liberia has the mandate to investigate abuses, while the Government provides training in the rule of law and sensitivity to human rights concerns. It also welcomes increasing human rights collaboration, and encourages greater accountability and transparency in government policies. The country just celebrated National Human Rights Week, in close collaboration with civil society. Several human rights instruments are now before the Liberian Government for ratification.

PERCY MANGOAELA (Lesotho): After 20 years of arbitrary rule, Lesotho is painfully learning to adjust to the vicissitudes of an imperfect but tried and tested electoral system. The violent reaction of some of our compatriots to the skewed results that are often associated with such a system has left wounds that can only heal when all people of good will determine to resolve difference through dialogue rather than violence. It is heartening to note that despite the lawlessness that prevailed in the country for weeks, the perpetrators of these acts are being tried in the courts of law and not extrajudicially. The prevailing tolerance has engendered the beginnings of mutual trust, and all political parties have returned to negotiations. The collective will to defend democracy and safeguard human rights and fundamental freedoms in our region is unwavering.


General Assembly Plenary - 16 - Press Release GA/9535 89th Meeting (AM) 11 December 1998

Lesotho was dismayed that there are still some points of difference between it and some other Member States on the meaning of the right to development, and it would like to work assiduously to resolve those differences. Furthermore, official corruption represents one of the most insidious abridgments of the right to development because those who benefit from it deny the rest of the population the resources necessary for development. A thorough analysis of the right to development is needed before it can be properly understood. Democracy, development and respect for human rights are interdependent. The lack of development should not be invoked to justify the abridgement of internationally recognized human rights.

JOSEPH DIATTA (Niger): The Niger associates itself with the statement yesterday by the representative of Burkina Faso on behalf of the Organization of African Unity (OAU). The patient and resolute work done by the United Nations for half a century has made it possible to achieve progress in promoting and protecting human rights. With complete faith in the Universal Declaration, the Niger has incorporated into its Constitution the principles embodied by that document.

Widespread poverty, among other things, diminishes the dignity and fundamental human values that must be universally respected by all. Genocide and other war crimes committed in the Balkans and Great Lakes regions clearly confirm this harsh reality. The international community must remain alert and mobilized to safeguard the cultural, political, economic, religious, and developmental rights of all peoples, in accordance with the Declaration and other United Nations instruments. Member States must also set up the appropriate jurisdiction to better deal with those committing crimes against humanity, such as the recent establishment of International Criminal Court.

CRISTINA AGUIAR (Dominican Republic): It was in the old university of the Dominican Republic, the oldest in the new world, that the first humanists in America studied. The Dominican Republic has always defended the inherent universality of the principles enshrined in the Universal Declaration, which explicitly stated the equality of the rights of men and women.

The Dominican Republic is satisfied that protection of human rights is gaining increasing relevance in the world agenda. There is a need to build a common architecture of shared values. Human rights are a living substance, indivisible and interdependent, and grounded in the testament of the Dominican friars of the sixteenth century.

GERT ROSENTHAL (Guatemala): Respect for human rights is a matter of universal concern, and it is imperative that every country should strive to ensure their observance. It is one of the cornerstones of recent efforts to build a democratic society and consolidate peace in Guatemala. Human rights provide a theme which intimately links Guatemala with the United Nations.


General Assembly Plenary - 17 - Press Release GA/9535 89th Meeting (AM) 11 December 1998

The modality for the verification of human rights used successfully in El Salvador is being applied in Guatemala. Under the modality, a United Nations mission is charged in verifying on the ground and with the consent of the Government whose activities are to be verified, in compliance with agreement on human rights. In the cases of both El Salvador and Guatemala, the agreement on human rights is part of a series of undertakings entered into for the purpose of putting an end to a conflict, undertakings that are also subject to verification. This unprecedented and original method of safeguarding peace has been invaluable to our countries.

* *** *