04/11/2002
Press Release
GA/SHC/3712



Fifty-seventh General Assembly

Third Committee

33rd Meeting (AM)


'WE ALL KNOW, INSTINCTIVELY, WHEN RIGHTS ARE BEING VIOLATED,'


HIGH COMMISSIONER TELLS THIRD COMMITTEE


Sergio Vieira de Mello, newly-appointed United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, this morning underscored for delegations in the Third Committee (Social, Humanitarian and Cultural) that the promotion and protection of human rights was simply and plainly about ensuring dignity, equality and security for all human beings everywhere. 


Opening the Committee's annual consideration of human rights questions and situations, he said he was convinced that human rights were not complicated to understand, and stressed the need to avoid the tendency to obfuscate discussion on such crucial matters.  "We all know, after all, instinctively, when rights are being violated," he added.


The principle of the rule of law would form the centerpiece of his approach, he said.  The rule of law required that the entire range of institutional arrangements were actively implemented to ensure that human rights based on international commitments were advanced, realized and defended.


International human rights law, international humanitarian law, international refugee law and international criminal law represented chapters that stood as a fundamental defence against assaults on humanity, he said.  Taken together, they provided common ground in a richly diverse world.  The very powers of these rules lay in the fact that they could protect even the most vulnerable and bind even the most powerful. 


In that connection, Mr. Vieira de Mello said that during this session of the General Assembly, the Third Committee would have the opportunity to add a new instrument, the optional protocol to the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman and Degrading Treatment or Punishment.  He encouraged delegations to do so, since the optional protocol sought to reinforce one of the core conventions by contributing to the prevention of a repugnant violation that was still too prevalent.


He said when deliberating on the difficult issues of the time -- from oppression and terrorism to hunger and inequity -- it was necessary to identify areas for action and to move forward decisively.  Here, it was important that the Commission on Human Rights did not let down the victims of human rights violation who continued to look to it for protection.  He called for the assistance of Member States, reminding them that less than 1.54 per cent of the regular budget was given to his Office -- clearly at odds with the importance given to human rights in the Charter.


Krzysztof Jakubowski (Poland), Chairman of the 58th session of the Commission on Human Rights, also addressed the Committee this morning, giving a brief

overview of that session's accomplishments, its challenging issues and areas of difficulty.  He also commented on some of the initiatives undertaken by the Commission and its expanded bureau in the post-sessional period, aimed at responding to those challenges and enhancing the Commission's overall work.


In the subsequent interactive debate with the High Commissioner for Human Rights, Member States raised issues regarding the strengthening of the Commission on Human Rights and the need to prevent politicization; streamlining human rights instruments; the right to development; the need for respect and tolerance between different cultures to avoid racial discrimination and prejudice; the need to respect human rights in the fight against terrorism; cooperation with non-governmental organizations; and the situations in the occupied Palestinian territories, Jammu and Kashmir and Côte d’Ivoire.


Participating in the dialogue were the representatives of Denmark (on behalf of the European Union and associated States), Italy, Brazil, Malaysia, Argentina, Egypt, China, Japan, Cuba, Sudan, Burkina Faso, Suriname, Switzerland, Pakistan, Iran, Mexico and Indonesia.


The Third Committee will reconvene this afternoon at 3 p.m. to hear statements from, and participate in a dialogue with three experts on, respectively, human rights in Afghanistan, the human rights of migrants and human rights defenders.


Background


The Third Committee (Social, Humanitarian and Cultural) met this morning to begin its annual consideration of the Report of the United Nations Commissioner for Human Rights.  Delegations were expected to hear a presentation from the new High Commissioner, Sergio Vieira de Mello, and participate in an interactive dialogue with him.


The guiding document before the Committee is the report of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (document A/57/36) in which Mary Robinson, the outgoing High Commissioner, provides the context of the year’s challenges, including the impact of the horrifying 11 September 2001 attacks on the United States.  The High Commissioner stressed that the protection of civilians in times of war remains an important priority for her Office.  During the reporting period, the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) has continued to strengthen its relationship with other elements of the United Nations system in this regard, including the Security Council.


The report also addresses the importance of, and the Office’s involvement in, processes to ensure accountability in societies in transition.  An example of the approach taken by the OHCHR to assist societies in conflict is the work undertaken in Afghanistan, where the Office participated in the design of the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) and is actively contributing to the implementation of the human rights provisions of the Bonn Agreement.


The High Commissioner states that it was a mixed year for the Commission on Human Rights.  Encouraging developments were the adoption of a draft optional protocol to the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman and Degrading Treatment or Punishment, the creation of a new mandate on the right to health, and the creation of two working groups to provide follow-up to the World Conference against Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and Related Intolerance.


It is regrettable, however, that the Commission generally shied away from taking steps that would have strengthened protection of the rights of vulnerable individuals and groups.  The increase in block voting by groups and preference for an approach excluding action on country situations where consensus is not possible may indicate a possible trend towards weakening the traditional protection role that the Commission has exercised.  The High Commissioner’s report offers some ideas on how the Commission might strengthen its protection role.


Concerning human rights and development, the High Commissioner stresses that a human rights approach to development consists of two elements.  First, there is mainstreaminghuman rights, which captures the idea of institutional internalization of human rights from a peripheral concern to a shared corporate responsibility.  Second, there are rights-based approaches, which refer to the consequent operationalization of human rights into the policies andprogrammes of an organization.  In the recommendations, the High Commissioner states that the major focus over the coming years needs to be on developing and strengthening national protection systems, because it is at the national and local level that human rights are either protected or violated.


The annex to the report briefly describes the High Commissioner’s

13 official visits to Afghanistan, Bahrain, Brazil, Cambodia, China, East Timor, Egypt, India, Lebanon, Mexico, Pakistan, Peru and Switzerland.

There is a note by the Secretary-General on the question of the violation of human rights and fundamental freedoms in any part of the world (document A/57/446), which contains the report on the situation of human rights in Timor-Leste, prepared by the former High Commissioner for Human Rights.  The report states there is much to commend in the human rights progress the Government and people of Timor-Leste achieved in the three years since the popular consultation.  Serious human rights concerns, however, continue to persist in this now independent sovereign State, including a weak justice system, increasing reports of domestic violence and reports of assaults and intimidation against returnees from West Timor. 


The report states that continuing attention is also required on the provision of health, nutrition, literacy, education and other social services, as well as employment creation and poverty alleviation measures.  The former High Commissioner states that as Timor-Leste finally joins the world stage as an equal partner, it is crucial that the international community continue to support the country’s efforts to develop a uniquely Timorese society with respect for human rights, rule of law, democracy and justice at its core. 


Statement by United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights


SERGIO VIEIRA DE MELLO, United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, said human rights were about ensuring dignity, equality and security for all human beings everywhere.  He was convinced that human rights were not complicated to understand and stressed the need to avoid the tendency to obfuscate discussion on this crucial matter.  After all, everyone knew -- instinctively -- when rights were being violated.  Referring to recent incidents in Bali and Moscow, he said no cause could justify terrorism and that such phenomenon must be universally and unequivocally condemned.  Successfully countering terrorism required more than a rigorous strategy of appropriate law enforcement.  It also required a longer-term and more holistic approach, as well as the determination to ensure that all rights were truly enjoyed by all.


Human rights violations bred hatred, resentment and ultimately violence, he continued.  It was worrying that some States had taken advantage of the current climate to pursue politics that could be used to quell legitimate political dissent and suppress fundamental freedoms.  Ensuring security for all was no doubt one of the most important priorities of the day.  Security was threatened in many ways, amongst which terrorism was but one way.  It was necessary also to seriously address claims of discrimination and racial hatred -- so often the auguries of destructive conflicts.  Other challenges were no less pressing, including the uphill struggle against extreme poverty, underdevelopment and HIV/AIDS, as well as the ongoing search in many countries for social justice.


During this session of the General Assembly, the Third Committee would have the opportunity to add a new instrument, the optional protocol to the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman and Degrading Treatment or Punishment.  He encouraged the Third Committee to do so, since the optional protocol sought to reinforce one of the core conventions by contributing to the prevention of a repugnant violation that was still too prevalent.  International human rights law, international humanitarian law, international refugee law and international criminal law represented chapters that stood as a fundamental defence against assaults on humanity.  Taken together, they provided common ground in a richly diverse world.  The very power of these rules lay in the fact that they could protect even the most vulnerable and bind even the most powerful. 

The principle of the rule of law would form the centerpiece of his approach as High Commissioner for Human Rights.  The rule of law required that the entire range of institutional arrangements that functioned under national constitutional and legal order played an active role to ensure that human rights based on international commitments were advanced, realized and defended.  Conflict often emerged where the rule of law collapsed, he said. 


Massacres, destruction, brutality, rape, displacement, fear, hunger and trauma formed the caravan of conflict, and once in train, they were hard to stop.  It was essential that all States and armed groups alike entirely reject the negligent, reckless, or intentional targeting of innocent civilians in all cases.  In this connection, he expressed concern about the current situation in the occupied Palestinian territories and Côte d’Ivoire.  References were also made to the situations in the Great Lakes region, in particular, Burundi, and in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Sierra Leone and Afghanistan.


Mr. Vieira de Mello was convinced of the indivisibility of all human rights and would continue to be a zealous advocate for the right to development, recognizing the need to free all individuals from fear and want.  When deliberating on the difficult issues of the time, from oppression and terrorism to hunger and inequity, it was necessary to reflect on moving forward.  Here, he was particularly thinking about the effectiveness of the Commission on Human Rights.  It was important that the Commission did not let down the victims of human rights violations who continued to look to it for protection.  He was also working to strengthen the capacity of his Office and called for the assistance of Member States.  The fact that less than 1.54 per cent of the regular budget was given to his Office was at odds with the importance given to human rights in the Charter.  Respect for human rights indeed formed the most solid foundation for security. 


Statement by Chairman of Commission on Human Rights


KRZYSZTOF JAKUBOWSKI (Poland), Chairman of the Fifty-eighth session of the United Nations Commission on Human Rights, then gave a brief overview of that session, of its accomplishments, and challenging areas and issues of difficulty.  He also commented on some of the initiatives undertaken by the Commission and its expanded bureau in the post-sessional period, aimed at responding to those challenges and enhancing the overall work of the Commission.


He said the 58th session had been unique in that it presented the Commission's membership with an unusual accumulation of challenges.  The worsening human rights situation in the occupied Palestinian territories had dominated the discussions in Geneva -- in terms of general and special debates, as well as in resolutions and decisions adopted.  Combined with a sudden discontinuation of additional meetings, the Commission's work had come under extreme pressure.  Although the expanded bureau was able to devise a number of measures which allowed the session to complete its agenda, it came at a significant cost in terms of participation in and quality of the debate.


Subsequently, he continued, another challenge had risen -- the challenge of frustration -- as all participants saw their speaking time dramatically reduced, particularly special rapporteurs, representatives of civil society organizations and national human rights institutions.  As an extreme measure, the debates under a number of items were clustered together.  But that dramatically reduced time for substantive debate and, overall, represented a step back in the development of the Commission's agenda.  It had been agreed, however, that those measures did not constitute a precedent for the future.


One result of the session had been the Commission's request to the Economic and Social Council for an additional 14 extended meetings at the 59th session, a significant reduction over the 39 additional meetings granted last year.  The Council endorsed that modest request, which the Commission believed was the minimum necessary to allow next year's session to proceed.  That would allow the Commission to allocate adequate time for special procedures to address their areas of specific interest in a manner commensurate with the crucial role they played as core mechanisms of its work.  That would also allow the Commission to maintain and strengthen the very special and privileged relationship it had developed with civil society.


He said that, in order to address the unprecedented number of challenges at its next session, the Commission was set to embark on a formal review of its working methods.  He had been pleased to note an emerging consensus as the membership geared up for that review process, around many issues, particularly the recommendation that any decision on working methods be adopted by consensus and the proposal to introduce a high-level segment, which would take place two to four days prior to the session proper.


Despite all the difficulties, he continued, the 58th session saw the Commission take a number of important and innovative steps, including the decision to appoint a special rapporteur on the highest possible standard of physical and mental health.  That new mandate, adopted by consensus and subsequently approved by the Council, filled a critical gap in the work of the United Nations human rights system relating to human rights and health issues.


He said the Economic and Social Council, at the Commission's request, had also endorsed two new working groups as follow-up to the Durban World Conference against Racism, as well as the establishment of a voluntary fund to provide additional resources for various activities related to effective implementation of the Durban Declaration and Programme of Action.  Following a decade of negotiations, the Commission had adopted the draft to the Convention against Torture.  As the Commission's work continued to expand, it had adopted          110 resolutions and decisions at its 58th session, compared with 101 at the      57th session.  Much of the work had been facilitated by the expanded bureau -- five Bureau members working in conjunction with five regional coordinators.


Finally, he said that the Commission on Human Rights was not self-sufficient and was not working in isolation from other important human rights partners.  Preserving and promoting the notion of international human rights organizations and bodies working as a family towards the same goal had been the essence of the expanded bureau's work during the post-sessional period.  Indeed, the bureau had participated in the 14th annual meeting of the chairpersons of human rights treaty bodies, as well as the ninth annual meeting of special rapporteurs and special representatives.  Even with those meetings, there was a need for a strengthened relationship between those core mechanisms and bodies.  There was, more than ever, a hunger for a dialogue towards strengthening the human rights protection system.  All efforts to increase coordination and information exchange should ensure, however, that the independence of the Commission's mechanisms was not endangered.


Interactive Dialogue with High Commissioner for Human Rights


In a subsequent dialogue with the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, Mr. Vieira de Mello, several Member States welcomed the High Commissioner’s first appearance before the Third Committee.


The representative of Denmark, speaking on behalf of the European Union and associated States, asked about the promotion of national measures of justice that could uphold international human rights and the role that could be played by the OHCHR in this regard.  Mr. Vieira de Mello had also underlined the important work of non-governmental organizations.  Was the Office planning to strengthen cooperation with non-governmental organizations?  Concerning human rights streamlining, the representative of Denmark asked how the Office promoted human rights education. 


The representative of Italy said the impulse to improve the common good lay at the heart of human rights.  Human rights were not complicated to understand and must go hand in hand with cultural diversity, she said.  Italy believed that an open and honest dialogue between different civilizations was needed and asked whether the OHCHR would support such a dialogue and how the Office could initiate such a dialogue. 


The representative of Brazil said she appreciated the priority given to the rule of law in the activities of the OHCHR.  The Southern Common Market (MERCOSUR) countries would present a resolution on this topic and looked forward to working with him in this area.


The representative of Malaysia said the OHCHR would benefit from having a person of so much experience and expertise serve as the High Commissioner for Human Rights.  He also thanked the former High Commissioner for Human Rights, Mary Robinson, for her unwavering support for all human rights.  It was encouraging that Mr. Vieira de Mello would focus attention on security, the rights of women and children, the right to development and the rule of law.  It was hoped that he would establish and develop dialogue with all Member States, from all civilizations. 


Mr. VIEIRA DE MELLO responded to the questions of Member States.  Concerning the role of his Office in the improvement of national implementation of measures of justice, he said that human rights instruments were essential, since they set norms and standards.  However, such instruments must then be implemented at the national level.  If they were not implemented at the national level, they had been developed in vain.  There was a need to continue extending technical assistance to countries implementing national measures, he said. 


Cooperation would continue with non-governmental organizations.  In fact, instead of establishing a focal point, he would establish a unit that would not only liase, but also be the entry point, for coordination of cooperation with non-governmental organizations in all fields of human rights.  He added that mainstreaming in the United Nations was exceptionally important, and he would continue the work started by his predecessor on human rights mainstreaming. 


He said dialogue between cultures was fundamental and vital for the promotion of tolerance, and necessary for the respect for human rights.  Respect for other cultures was a precondition for the respect for human rights.  He would be discussing with Member States on how a forum could be held on such an open dialogue on cultural diversity and human rights.  Many Member States had mentioned different forms of anti-Semitism, and this needed to be addressed.  He was concerned about the trend in generalizing sentiments about one particular religion or group of people, and would work militantly against discrimination. 


Opening the second round of questions, the representative of Argentina spoke about the difficulties that had emerged during the 58th session of the Commission on Human Rights and urged all States to try to work more effectively with the Commission and to avoid attempts to politicize human rights issues.  He also asked if the new High Commissioner would deepen his Office's relationship with other multilateral institutions, particularly financial actors.


The representative of Egypt focused his comments on the refusal of Israel to allow the Commission's visit to the occupied Palestinian territories.  He also believed that the report seemed to impose criteria for future membership in the Commission on Human Rights -- particularly the accession to certain human rights treaties -- which might infringe on States’ sovereignty.  His delegation would continue to press issues concerning the so-called international guidelines on HIV/AIDS and health, which had never been discussed or adopted by the General Assembly.  He had particular concerns about same-sex marriages, as well as oral sex and other behaviour by consenting persons.  He wondered how promoting such behaviours and practices would help stop the spread of HIV and said it was time to stop trying to enforce values and beliefs on others.


The representative of China expressed gratitude for the important work undertaken by Mary Robinson, former High Commissioner for Human Rights, and pledged to work in cooperation with Mr. Vieira de Mello.


The representative of Japan commented on recommendations to enhance the effectiveness of the human rights treaty bodies and wondered if the work of those bodies could be enhanced by participation of non-governmental organizations.  She also asked if the High Commissioner could outline some of his proposals to enhance the work of his Office.


The representative of Cuba asked if Mr. Vieira de Mello would elaborate on his Office's efforts to expand on the outcome of the Durban World Conference on Racism.


Responding to those comments and questions, Mr. Vieira de Mello said he was determined to work with the current and future bureaux on the Commission’s working methods.  He would not only offer the cooperation of his Office, but his personal assistance as well, to elucidate the best methods and measures to protect international human rights and ensure that those efforts did not follow a path that might marginalize the Commission's work or lead to politicization of issues.  He would make innovative but well-balanced recommendations to the Secretary-General on measures to enhance the work of and cooperation with the treaty bodies.


He was in discussions with representatives of the Bretton Woods institutions in order to extend cooperation and to ensure the promotion and protection of human rights concerns in the polices and programmes of all international financial bodies.  On the situation in the occupied Palestinian territories, he said he would always remain available to both sides, as well as the Commission's membership, to discuss that serious issue.  What was needed now was for the Commission to perhaps offer new guidance and new instructions on how to proceed concerning that matter.

On the elements for membership mentioned by Egypt, which were simply guidelines, not criteria, he said it would be logical for members of the Commission to respect and abide by decisions that it had made over the years.  So, ratifying the six core human rights conventions and extending invitations to special procedures would be expected of Commission members as well as every other United Nations Member State.  It would also lend credibility to the Commission.


On the subject of HIV/AIDS, he said the international guidelines had been deliberated by international health and education officials and were basically intended to eliminate discrimination against persons who, unfortunately, were living with the disease.  The final document of last year's Assembly special session on AIDS did not contain a reference to those guidelines.


He would definitely consider a visit to China, perhaps in the first half of next year.  To Japan, he reiterated his belief that non-governmental organizations could play an important role in the work of the entire human rights system, as well as the that of the treaty bodies.


He said that, indeed, measures were being taken to improve the management of his Office.  Late last week, he had held the first of a series of briefings with delegations in Geneva on the recommendations of the Offices of Oversight Services (OSIS).  His own recommendations would center on creating in the Office a greater capacity for policy development and formulation, and translating those policies into programmes and activities, particularly towards the implementation of human rights elements in peace agreements.


He added that the structure of the Office was, indeed, "awkward", particularly as there was currently no position within the Secretariat which could be considered an "Office Manager", which might oversee such reform of the Human Rights Office.  Among his proposals, he would include a request to create such a position, but those things took time and changes would not take effect until perhaps the 2004-2005 biennium.


On follow-up to Durban, an Anti-Discrimination unit had been established in Geneva to coordinate and monitor follow-up activities.  He added that he had submitted a list to the Secretary-General to set up a panel of eminent persons.  He also drew attention to the Working Group on the situation of persons of African descent.  His Office would also support the work of the Intergovernmental Working Group on follow-up to the Conference and would soon report on several seminars that had been held since the Conference.


Durban had been extremely important, and it would be crucial for all to work together to design a comprehensive and realistic follow-up programme to ensure the implementation of its outcome.  He reiterated that, throughout his years of work in the field, he had developed a personal awareness that, among other things, intolerance and racial discrimination were at the origin of many internal conflicts.  All could, therefore, rest assured that he would devote much time and energy to ensure that the Durban Declaration was upheld and implemented.


As the debate continued, the representative of the Sudan supported the High Commissioner’s focus on the right to development and extreme poverty.  She also referred to the politicization of the Commission on Human Rights and what could be done about it.  She said the Commission had witnessed an important transformation, particularly on voting on country situations, and called upon the High Commissioner to ensure that human rights questions were not politicized.  With regard to a mission to the occupied Palestinian territories, it was hoped that the High Commissioner would focus on the foreign occupation -- the fundamental raison d’etre for the violence in the region.


The representative of Burkina Faso said that in his statement, the High Commissioner had talked about the human rights situation in Côte d’Ivoire and that it was necessary to ensure compliance with human rights.  Was the Office thinking about getting involved in this area, in order to stop these incredible human rights violations?


The representative of Suriname appreciated the central role of the right to development and the human rights-based approach in the High Commissioner’s statement.  She applauded him for stressing the interdependency between social, economic and cultural rights and civil and political rights.  The remarks regarding human rights education needed to be stressed since it was a key to development.  She asked how delegations could be supported in their attempts to realize human rights education on all levels.


The representative of Switzerland said his country supported the High Commissioner’s plan of action, particularly the focus on international law, and continued by saying that basic legal norms were important in the context of combating terrorism.  The international community would not be able to root out terrorism without the adherence to international law, international humanitarian law and international penal law.  He stressed the importance of the Optional Protocol to the Convention against Torture.  Finally, he appealed to Member States to launch a standing invitation to special rapporteurs to visit and see what the human rights situations were on the ground.


The representative of Pakistan stressed that non-enforcement of the right to self-determination had led to killings and violence in Jammu and Kashmir, and the occupied Palestinian territories.  He found it disturbing that the report had omitted the terrible massacre of Muslims in the Indian state of Gujarat.  There must be no impunity for such acts.  He was also disappointed that the former High Commissioner had failed to take into consideration the effort of Member States in the promotion of human rights.  In Pakistan for example, several activities and initiatives had been undertaken to end the practice of honour killing.  The practice of honour killing was considered a premeditated murder in Pakistan, and perpetrators of such crimes had no impunity.  He stressed that the Blasphemy Law in Pakistan did not intend to oppress any religious minority, but to protect all religions.  The High Commissioner was asked how he would be dealing with the human rights situation in Jammu and Kashmir.


Mr. VIEIRA DE MELLO, High Commissioner for Human Rights, responded to the questions raised by the representative of the Sudan and underlined that, with regard to the right to development, his Office had a multi-pronged approach to the issue, including cooperation with United Nations agencies and financial institutions.  He was less interested in discourse and declarations and more interested in areas where the Office could contribute to the right to development.  The High Commissioner would aim to encourage agencies, financial institutions and Member States to include the right to development in their strategies.  Regarding the voting patterns in the Commission on Human Rights, he said the emergence of regional blocks on country-specific resolutions must be prevented, in order to avoid politicization.


Concerning the question posed by the representative of Burkina Faso on the role of his Office in Côte d’Ivoire, he said he had done his utmost in sending messages to the parties involved, reminding them to respect human rights.  There must be strict cooperation with regional organizations, and he had informed the Committee that he would continue to assist United Nations staff in order to restore normalcy in that country.  Tolerance would help in reversing the excesses of the last weeks, he said.


To the representative of Suriname, he said that human rights education was a huge topic that deserved a continued commitment.  He would continue the efforts of his predecessor in the broadest possible way.  However, more must be done to promote the teaching of human rights at the primary and secondary levels and to generalize such teaching.  Unless begun at an early age, attempts to correct biases and prejudices later in life would fail. 


On the questions raised by the representative of Switzerland concerning fundamental norms and international law, he said that two weeks ago, he had made some practical recommendations to the Counter-Terrorism Committee.  These recommendations were now being considered.  He added that only one more ratification was needed for the entry into force of the Convention on Migrants and encouraged Member States to act on this information.


Finally, in response to the representative of Pakistan, he said he would give particular attention to situations of conflict and other threats to international and regional peace.  He stressed that women’s rights would be one of his central concerns.


Opening the final round of the dialogue, the representative of Iran said it was, indeed, true that respect for cultural diversity was a precondition for the promotion and protection of human rights.  Such respect had the power to banish prejudice, hatred and discrimination against many ethnic, cultural or religious communities, ideals or individuals.  He reminded the Committee that Ms. Robinson had made it a priority to highlight the views of a diverse collection of experts and representatives from both Islamic and Western countries, with a view towards understanding and partnership for the sake of integrating the principles of international human rights instruments and upholding the notion of human rights for all.  He wondered if Mr. Vieira de Mello would follow a similar path.


The representative of Mexico said her delegation had been encouraged by the creation of a working group on human rights, democracy and the rule of law, and asked for more information on the work of that body.


The representative of Indonesia expressed gratitude for Mr. Vieira de Mello's increased attention to the trend of targeting specific religious groups or nationalities that had emerged during the fight against terrorism.


In response, Mr. Vieira de Mello supported Iran's statement about the importance of promoting cultural diversity and the dialogue among civilizations.  He praised the work done by his predecessor, as well as that of Iran done in that regard.  The Committee could rest assured that the enhancement of such dialogue would, indeed, continue.


He said that technical cooperation was crucial, in order to guarantee full respect of human rights.  On the role of the working group on democracy and the rule of law, he said his Office hoped to be able to help States in those areas. 

And while the working group did not require additional financial resources, it would perhaps require additional human or intellectual resources.  In a small upcoming meeting in Geneva, he would lead discussions on the role his Office could play in the area of human rights, democracy and the rule of law.


He said that he had spoken to the membership of the League of Arab States, as well as representatives of a number of other countries and regional groups on the recent emergence of Islamophobia.  He said that it was his intention to take a stand -- a very concrete one -- to ensure and promote understanding of Islam as a religion and as a culture of peace.


Finally, he said his first presentation before the Committee had been an illuminating experience, and he now realized he had a lot to learn.  He also realized that he and the Assembly shared similar views on many important issues and looked forward to working together as his new mandate got under way.


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