|Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York|
Sixty-first General Assembly
21st & 22nd Meetings (AM & PM)
HIGH COMMISSIONER LINKS POVERTY, UNDERDEVELOPMENT TO DENIAL OF ECONOMIC, POLITICAL,
SOCIAL RIGHTS, AS THIRD COMMITTEE CONTINUES HUMAN RIGHTS DEBATE
Stresses Importance of Creating
Sound Legal Foundation for Economic, Social Cultural Rights
Poverty and underdevelopment exacerbated abuse, neglect and discrimination, denying millions the enjoyment of their civil, cultural, economic, political and social rights, the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, Louise Arbour, told the Third Committee (Social, Humanitarian and Cultural) as it continued its debate on human rights today.
She stressed the importance of creating a sound legal foundation for economic, social and cultural rights, in response to a series of questions from delegates. The most promising initiative towards that end would be an additional protocol to the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, she said. The Office would continue to support intergovernmental discussions on the drafting of that important legal instrument. Asked when the world would start denouncing violations of the right to development, she said that issue could be better addressed once the human rights architecture was improved.
Ms. Arbour touched on her Office’s work to combat discrimination, noting that racial discrimination might be growing in some regions, fuelled by fear of terrorism, misconceived perceptions of identity or anxiety over competition for employment. She also highlighted the work of the new Human Rights Council, which already had two tangible achievements in its adoption of the draft Convention on Enforced Disappearances and of the draft Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People. The international community had high expectations that the Council would discharge its mandate by ensuring universality of coverage and impartiality, she said.
She noted that a vital tenet of the Office’s work was country engagement, through providing a forum for dialogue, monitoring developments on the ground, and research and technical cooperation. The Rapid Response Unit had enabled the Office to deploy human rights officers at very short notice, as in the case of Lebanon during the July crisis. The Office had also supported or participated in various fact-finding missions and Commissions of Inquiry, including to Darfur, Kyrgyzstan, and Togo in 2005, and to Timor-Leste, Liberia and Lebanon in 2006. Addressing longer-term objectives, the Office had opened offices in Nepal, Uganda and Guatemala over the past year and planned to establish a presence in Togo and Bolivia in the current year. Continued operations in Cambodia and Colombia reflected the need for sustained investment in human rights. In 2006, the Office was preparing to add five new Regional Offices to the existing six.
Johan Schölvinck, Director of the Division for Social Policy and Development of the Department of Economic and Social Affairs, reviewed support for the work of the Ad Hoc Committee on a Comprehensive and Integral International Convention on the Protection and Promotion of the Rights and Dignity of Persons with Disabilities. He drew attention to the Committee’s adoption of the text of the Convention at the end of its eighth session, noting that formal adoption of the Convention by the Assembly was expected by the end of the current session.
Craig Mokhiber, Officer-In-Charge of the New York Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, introduced a series of reports before the Committee.
The representatives of Finland (on behalf of the European Union), China and Egypt also made statements on human rights questions.
Also making statements on human rights today were the representatives of Cuba, Sudan, Mongolia, Uzbekistan, India, Kenya, Ghana, Guyana (on behalf of the Rio Group), Saudi Arabia, Suriname (on behalf of the Caribbean Community) Portugal, Finland (on behalf of the European Union), China and Egypt.
The representative of the Sudan spoke in exercise of the right of reply.
The Committee will meet again at 10 a.m. on Thursday, 19 October, to continue its consideration of human rights questions.
The Third Committee (Social, Humanitarian and Cultural) met today to continue its general discussion of human rights questions, including comprehensive implementation of, and follow-up to, the Vienna Declaration and Programme of Action. For additional background, please see press release GA/SHC/3856 of 17 October.
The Committee also began its debate of alternative approaches for improving the effective enjoyment of human rights and fundamental freedoms. It had before it the Secretary-General’s report on the right to development (document A/61/211), which supplements the report of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (UNHCHR)on the right to development (document E/CN.4/2006/24 and Corr.1).
Also before the Committee was a note by the Secretary-General on protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms while countering terrorism (document A/61/267), which transmits the report of the Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of human rights while countering terrorism, Martin Scheinin. The Special Rapporteur raises concerns about whether counter-terrorism laws enacted in 2006 in Turkey and in the United Kingdom are compatible with the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. In his review of counter-terrorism legislation around the world, the Special Rapporteur has noted numerous instances where limitations to the rights to freedom of association and assembly clearly went beyond the scope necessary to counter terrorism and could be used to limit the rights of political parties, trade unions, or human rights defenders.
The Special Rapporteur calls for added attention to the rights to freedom of association and peaceful assembly in the context of ensuring that counter-terrorism measures conform to human rights standards. The report also provides an update on a desktop study on human rights and counter-terrorism in Australia, intended to examine the laws and policies of a State that has a regional and global impact in the war on terror.
The Committee also had before it the Secretary-General’s report on globalization and its impact on the full enjoyment of all human rights (document A/61/281), which sums up replies from Guatemala, Croatia and the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) on globalization’s impact on human rights.
Also before it was the Secretary-General’s report on human rights and unilateral coercive measures (document A/61/287), which summarizes replies from three member States -– Cuba, Libya, and Trinidad and Tobago -– in response to a request for views on the impact of unilateral coercive measures on their populations.
In addition, the Committee had before it the Secretary-General’s report on the question of enforced or involuntary disappearances (document A/61/289), transmitting information received from States on measures taken to give effect to the Declaration on the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearances. The Governments of Argentina, Azerbaijan, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Georgia, Kuwait, Lebanon, Mauritius, Mexico, Panama, Russian Federation, Syria, Turkey, Ukraine, and the United Arab Emirates submitted responses. The report also summarizes activities of the Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances and reviews efforts to promote the Declaration. It notes that the new Human Rights Council, at its first session, adopted the International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance and recommended its adoption by the General Assembly.
The Secretary-General’s note on the right to food (document A/61/306) transmits the interim report of the Special Rapporteur on the right to food, Jean Ziegler. In his report, the Special Rapporteur expresses grave concern that despite promises made, global hunger had increased, affecting 852 million people around the world. The report focuses on the impact of drought, desertification and land degradation on the right to food, particularly in Africa. The report also discusses the creation of the new Human Rights Council and its first decisions on international legal instruments that relate to the protection of the right to food. Among his recommendations, the Special Rapporteur urges all Governments to respond to urgent appeals in relation to food crises and strongly encourages massive investment to be directed towards rural development and small-scale agriculture and pastoralism. He also urges all States parties to implement the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification.
The Secretary-General’s note on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions (document A/61/311) transmits the interim report of the Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, arbitrary or summary executions, Philip Alston. In his report, the Special Rapporteur reviews the situation of country visits requested, noting that the prolonged lack of a positive reply by numerous countries, including members of the Human Rights Council, is deeply problematic. The Special Rapporteur then reviews developments in the two countries he visited in the course of 2005, Nigeria and Sri Lanka. The report also deals with substantive issues of relevance to the mandate, elaborating on relevant legal principles and international standards. The Special Rapporteur’s recommendations to the General Assembly concern country visits, the need to investigate the killings in Gaza, Israel and Lebanon since June 2006, and the need for international human rights monitoring in Sri Lanka.
The Secretary-General’s note on human rights defenders (document A/61/312) transmits the report submitted by the Special Representative of the Secretary-General on Human Rights Defenders, Hina Jilani. In the report, the Special Representative gives a brief analysis of the methodology of work used during the six years of the mandate and then focuses on the right to freedom of assembly in relation to the activities of human rights defenders. The report concludes with recommendations to States on how to further enhance and ensure full implementation of the right to freedom of assembly as provided for in the Declaration on Human Rights Defenders and other international instruments.
The Secretary-General’s note on the human rights of migrants (document A/61/324) transmits the interim report of the Special Rapporteur on the human rights of migrants, Jorge Bustamante. The report contains an update on the work of the Special Rapporteur since his last report to the General Assembly and his report to the Commission on Human Rights, focusing particularly on issues he raised in the context of the Assembly’s High-level Dialogue on International Migration and Development. The Special Rapporteur notes that lack of awareness by many sectors of society about the realities of migration are important factors in the vulnerability of migrants to abuse. His main recommendations include for better mechanisms be put in place for the collection and dissemination of information on migrants.
Also before the Committee was the Secretary-General’s report on combating defamation of religions (document A/61/325), which gives an overview of reports already submitted to the Human Rights Council on defamation of religions and the promotion of tolerance for all religions and their value systems.
One of those reports deals with the situation of Muslims and Arab peoples (document E/CN.4/2006/17); another, from the High Commissioner for Human Rights on combating defamation of religions (document E/CN.4/2006/12) includes the Commissioner’s views following the publication of controversial cartoons in a Danish newspaper in September 2005. The Secretary-General’s report concludes that, with no let-up in alleged incidents involving intolerance and discrimination on the grounds of religion or belief, much more needs to be done to address the issue.
The Secretary-General’s note on the right of everyone to the enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health (document A/61/338) transmits the report of the Special Rapporteur on the right of everyone to the enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health, Paul Hunt. The report reflects on the recent activities of the Special Rapporteur and examines the relationship between the right to the highest attainable standard of health and two issues at the heart of the Millennium Development Goals: access to medicines and the reduction of maternal mortality. The Special Rapporteur notes that he is preparing draft preliminary guidelines for States and pharmaceutical companies on access to medicines.
The Secretary-General’s note on the elimination of all forms of religious intolerance (document A/61/340) transmits the interim report of the Special Rapporteur on freedom of religion or belief, Asma Jahangir. The report sets out the activities carried out under the mandate since the submission of her previous report to the General Assembly, including country visits to Azerbaijan and the Maldives, communications and other activities. The report also presents an analysis of recent trends relevant to the mandate and sets out a number of conclusions and recommendations. Among her principle recommendations is for the international community, under the auspices of the United Nations, to develop a common global strategy to deal with rising religious intolerance.
The Secretary-General’s report on the United Nations Human Rights Training and Documentation Centre for South-West Asia and the Arab Region (document A/61/348) provides an overview of the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) activities to establish the Centre in cooperation with the authorities of the host country, Qatar. The report identifies some of the pending issues, while concluding that the opening of the Centre in 2006 remains achievable.
The Secretary-General’s report on the Subregional Centre for Human Rights and Democracy in Central Africa (document A/61/352) provides an overview of the Centre’s activities and significant developments from November 2005 to September 2006. Those activities include the capacity-building of national human rights institutions through training, technical cooperation, human rights education and dissemination of information; support to peace processes in the subregion; and development of partnerships with United Nations agencies, research and academic institutions, regional human rights mechanisms, as well as civil society organizations.
The Secretary-General’s report on protecting human rights and fundamental freedoms while countering terrorism (document A/61/353) reaffirms that States must ensure that any measure taken to combat terrorism complies with their obligations under international law, in particular human rights, refugee and humanitarian law. The report notes that OHCHR, human rights treaty bodies and various special-procedure mandate-holders of the Human Rights Council all have expressed grave concerns regarding the alleged use by some member States of secret detention centres and the practice of irregular transfers of persons suspected of engagement in terrorist activities. Serious concerns also have been expressed over the use of diplomatic assurances to justify the return and transfer of suspects to countries where they may face a risk of torture.
The report notes the entry into force of the Optional Protocol to the Convention against Torture on 22 June 2006 as a significant development towards ensuring the protection of detainees around the world. The adoption by the Human Rights Council of the International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance is also an important step towards further strengthening the rule of law in countering terrorism. Member States should be encouraged to ratify and implement the Convention against Torture and its Optional Protocol as an important practical measure of good faith and meaningful commitment to preventing torture and ill-treatment. Further, the General Assembly is urged to consider the adoption of the Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance.
The Secretary-General’s note on civil and political rights, including the questions of independence of the judiciary, administration of justice, and impunity (document A/61/384) transmits the report of the Special Rapporteur on the independence of judges and lawyers, Leandro Despouy. The report identifies issues of greatest concern to the Special Rapporteur during the year and since the issuance in early 2006 of his reports on activities undertaken during 2005. A significant achievement highlighted in the report is the adoption by the Human Rights Council in June 2006 of an International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance. The General Assembly is invited to adopt this instrument at the sixty-first session, to pave the way for signature and ratification by States.
The Special Rapporteur alerts the Assembly to the fact that the wide powers given to military courts in some countries have given rise to repeated violations of the right to a fair trial by a legally established, independent and impartial tribunal. He analyses the judicial precedents and international standards which bodies defending human rights at the regional and universal levels have developed. He also evaluates national judicial systems which are noteworthy in that connection, major reforms under way and the negative human rights impact of frequent recourse to military justice. The report also sets out the main findings of the study carried out with other United Nations experts regarding the situation of detainees at Guantánamo Bay, analyses their repercussions and assesses the latest developments. Lastly, it examines the recent course of the trial of Saddam Hussein and his collaborators, and recent developments at the International Criminal Court. Lastly, the report embarks on an analysis of the activities of the Extraordinary Chambers in Cambodia.
The Secretary-General’s note on the effects of economic reform policies and foreign debt on the full enjoyment of all human rights (document A/61/464) transmits the report of the independent expert on this topic, Bernards A. N. Mudho. The report provides a short update on recent developments concerning the Multilateral Debt Relief Initiative and its impact on the achievement of the Millennium Development Goals and human rights. The independent expert recommends the development of follow-up initiatives to the Initiative, including further debt relief programmes by other multilateral institutions currently not participating, and initiatives towards a permanent solution to the problems of bilateral and commercial debts. He also recommends further steps towards a more favourable trade system.
In this context the independent expert recalls, in particular, the eighth Millennium Development Goal to “develop a global partnership for development”, which explicitly calls for “an open trading and financial system that is rule-based” and a comprehensive solution to developing countries’ debt problems. With respect to the Multilateral Debt Relief Initiative, the independent expert invites participating multilateral institutions to consider some improvement in the eligibility and implementation criteria.
Also before the Committee was a note by the Secretary-General on human rights and extreme poverty (document A/61/465), transmitting two reports of the independent expert on this issue, Arjun Sengupta. The reports (documents E/CN.4/2005/49 and E/CN.4/2006/43) were submitted to the Commission on Human Rights at its sixty-first and sixty-second sessions. In his first report to the Commission, the independent expert proposes a definition of poverty and extreme poverty, explores how this definition can be linked to human rights, and suggests some concrete actions which could strengthen a human rights-based approach toward poverty eradication. National actions should aim to fulfil civil, political, economic, social, and cultural rights to remove income and human development poverty, as well as social exclusion.
The report also recommends the creation of an appropriate mechanism at the international level to coordinate development cooperation activities of different Governments and agencies. Within existing mechanisms, it would be useful to concentrate on ensuring that the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund explicitly make the link between human rights fulfilment and poverty reduction, including by implementing the recommendation of the former independent expert that the two institutions amend their articles of agreement to include the phrase, “while respecting human rights, particularly economic and social rights”.
In his second report to the Commission, submitted in March 2006, the independent expert further explores the connection between human rights and extreme poverty. He makes the case that poverty can be identified with the deprivation of human rights recognized in international human rights instruments. The international community and all member States should, therefore, take up their obligation to remove extreme poverty as a core human rights obligation which should be realized immediately. As an addendum to the report (document E/CN.4/2006/43/Add.1), the independent expert describes the findings from his October-November 2005 mission to the United States, his first official country mission. The mission report illustrates that extreme poverty is not only a problem of poor developing countries, noting that the United States is one of the wealthiest countries in the world but also has one of the highest incidences of income poverty among rich industrialized nations.
The Secretary-General’s report on missing persons (document A/61/476) provides information received from States and from the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) on implementation of General Assembly resolution 59/189, which focused on the issue of persons reported missing in connection with international armed conflict, in particular those who are victims of serious violations of international humanitarian law. It asks the Assembly to call upon States that are parties to an armed conflict to take all appropriate measures to prevent persons from going missing in connection with armed conflict, to account for persons reported missing as a result of such a situation and to take all necessary measures, in a timely manner, to determine the identity and fate of persons reported missing in connection with the armed conflict. The report contains a summary of responses received from the Governments of Azerbaijan, Colombia, Croatia, Cyprus, Guatemala, Jordan, Mauritius, Mexico, Tunisia and Venezuela, and from ICRC.
The Committee also began its debate of human rights situations and reports of Special Rapporteurs and Representatives. It had before it a note by the Secretary-General on protection of and assistance to internally displaced persons (document A/61/276), transmitting a report of the Representative of the Secretary-General on the human rights of internally displaced persons, Walter Kälin. The report discusses the Representative’s efforts to engage in dialogue with Governments, mainstream the rights of internally displaced persons into all parts of the United Nations system, and promote the dissemination, recognition and use of the Guiding Principles on Internal Displacement. The Representative notes progress on many fronts, including the recognition of the Guiding Principles on Internal Displacement by Heads of State and Government at the 2005 World Summit and the innovative efforts underway within regional organizations.
Among his recommendations are for Governments to develop national laws and policies consistent with the Guiding Principles on Internal Displacement, for Governments and regions in political transition to ensure that the rights of internally displaced persons are considered in all negotiations and agreements, and for Governments to pay attention to potentially vulnerable groups of internally displaced persons, including child- and woman-headed households, the elderly, traumatized persons, and people with disabilities. The Representative also recommends that United Nations agencies redouble efforts to institute a rights-based approach to the protection of internally displaced persons, and that United Nations country teams bring operational policies into line with the Inter-Agency Standing Committee Operational Guidelines on Human Rights and Natural Disasters.
Also before it was a note by the Secretary-General transmitting the report of the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (document A/61/349) (not yet available).
The Committee also had before it the interim report of the independent expert on the situation of human rights in Burundi (document A/61/360), which states that, in view of the tremendous challenges involved in the country’s reconstruction and development, the international community should lend its support and encourage all actors in the field of human rights to pursue their efforts and strengthen their coordination with a view to achieving better protection and promotion of human rights.
The Secretary-General’s note on the human rights situation in Nepal (document A/61/374) transmits the report of the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) on the human rights situation and the activities of her office in Nepal. The report notes improvements in the human rights situation in Nepal since April 2006, with the Government and the Communist Party of Nepal-Maoist having recognized in their agreements that human rights are core elements to the peace process. However, the report also notes that current improvements remain fragile, and any setback to the peace process risks a negative and potentially devastating impact on the human rights situation. Many challenges remain which must be addressed in the short and long term, including impunity, deep-rooted discrimination and other abuses against vulnerable groups.
The report of the Special Rapporteur, Paulo Sérgio Pinheiro, on the situation of human rights in Myanmar (document A/61/369) says that in the past two years, the reform process proposed in the “road map for national reconciliation and democratic transition” had been strictly limited and delineated. As a result, the political space had been redefined in narrower terms. In addition, obstructions in the past couple of years have held back the pace and inclusive nature of the reforms which were required for democratization. The capacity of law enforcement institutions, and the independence and impartiality of the judiciary, had been hampered by sustained practices of impunity. This situation had contributed to reinforce inequality and increased the gap between the poorest and the richest. In May 2006, the house arrest of Aung Sang Suu Kyi was further prolonged by 12 months in spite of various international appeals, including by the Secretary-General of the United Nations; meanwhile, at the end of August 2006, the number of political prisoners was estimated at 1,185.
In the report on the situation of human rights in Sudan (document A/61/469), the Special Rapporteur, Sima Samar, says that the consolidation of peace in Sudan has been threatened by the lack of reform and ongoing violations of human rights and fundamental freedoms. She refers in particular to the lack of reform of the security sector, the legal framework and accountability, and emphasizes the importance of transparency and consultation with a broad spectrum of society, especially relevant professional groups, to build confidence in the impartiality and effectiveness of the process and to ensure that the reforms respond effectively to the actual needs of victims and society in general. She also reports on the situation in Darfur following the signing of the Darfur Peace Agreement in May 2006 between the Government of National Unity and the Sudan Liberation Army/Minawi faction. As not all factions signed the agreement, there has been an escalation of violence between the signatories and non-signatories.
In the report of the Special Rapporteur, John Dugard, on the situation of human rights in the Palestinian territories occupied since 1967 (document A/61/470), the central feature is the conflict in, and the siege of, Gaza. The report says that Israel had violated the prohibition on the indiscriminate use of military power against civilians and civilian objects, in a case of collective punishment of an occupied people in violation of the Fourth Geneva Convention. It is difficult to resist the conclusion that those responsible for this action are guilty of serious war crimes, the report says. The situation in the West Bank has also deteriorated substantially; the Wall under construction in the Palestinian territory was no longer justified solely as a security measure by Israel but was now portrayed by the new Government of Israel as a political measure designed to annex Palestinian land.
The report says the occupation of the Palestinian Territory is responsible for most human rights violations, implemented in an unnecessarily harsh fashion by the Israeli authorities. The humanitarian situation in both the West Bank and Gaza was appalling, with at least four out of 10 Palestinians living under the official poverty line of less than $2.10 a day and unemployment standing at least at 40 per cent. The report also states that, although Palestinians have a high regard for United Nations workers on the ground, they have serious misgivings about the role of the United Nations in New York and Geneva.
The Committee had before it the progress report by the independent expert on the situation of human rights in Democratic Republic of the Congo (document A/61/475), which says the human rights situation in Democratic Republic of the Congo remains worrying, particularly in the eastern part of the country and in northern Katanga where national and foreign militias, as well as the Mai-Mai and the armed forces of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, have committed atrocities and other massive human rights violations with impunity. Massacres of civilians, looting, mass rapes of women and girls, and summary executions, among other things, are posing a serious challenge to the transitional Government’s efforts to improve the situation. The political situation at the end of 2005 and in the first half of 2006 was mostly dominated by the preparations for, and holding of, the presidential and legislative elections, and the accompanying election fever. However, violations —- in some cases extremely serious ones -— occurred in virtually all spheres of human rights.
The report of the Secretary-General on the Situation of human rights in Turkmenistan (document A/61/489) concludes that gross and systematic violations of human rights have continued in Turkmenistan, notwithstanding gestures made by its Government. The main areas of concern referred to in the report are the situation of human rights defenders, severe restrictions on the freedom of expression and information, including repression of political dissent, restrictions on the enjoyment of religion, the situation of minorities, the use of torture, the absence of an independent judiciary and limited access to health care services and education.
The Secretary-General’s report on the situation of human rights in Myanmar (document A/61/504) provides details on his good offices efforts aimed at facilitating national reconciliation and democratization in that country. During the reporting period, efforts were made by the United Nations to re-engage with the Myanmar authorities after no high-level contacts for nearly two years. The report notes that despite some developments following a May 2006 mission led by the Under-Secretary-General, a genuine process of democratization and national reconciliation has yet to be launched. If progress is made, the Secretary-General reiterates his readiness to help mobilize international assistance in supporting national reconciliation efforts so that the people of Myanmar can enjoy the benefits of economic, social and political development.
LUIS ALBERTO AMOROS NUÑEZ ( Cuba) said the effective promotion of human rights called for genuine international cooperation, and for the elimination of the narrow view of human rights as civil and political rights, which marginalized or ignored economic, social and cultural rights. The process of United Nations reform in the area of human rights had to be more profound, involving the entire human rights machinery, including the Office of the High Commissioner, a “heritage” practically exclusive to the developed West. Cuba believed the Committee should consider the report of the Joint Inspection Unit (document JIU/REPRESENTATIVE/2006/3) on the review of the management of the Office.
Special procedures at the Human Rights Council had not escaped the political manipulation that had put an end to the Commission on Human Rights, he said. Its work had been being undermined by a lack of objectivity, by selectivity and by biased approaches. There was an imbalance in geographic representation as well, to the detriment of developing countries. The Office had been favouring civil and political rights, to the detriment of economic, social and cultural rights. That was unacceptable, and went against the universality of all human rights. Many problems weighed down the United Nations human rights machinery, and true reform would require more genuine cooperation.
Mr. ABDELHALIM ( Sudan) said that his country had ratified a number of treaties and was committed to upholding its obligations under them. He noted that the principle of the universality and indivisibility of human rights required that all rights be accorded the same degree of interest, which meant that economic, social and cultural rights should be viewed with the same interest as civil and political rights. His delegation hoped practical steps would be taken to guarantee the rights to development, food, and the promotion of social and cultural rights. He spoke about the importance of promoting tolerance and of the preservation of the family as the nucleus of society.
He expressed hope that the new Human Rights Council would promote the principle of international cooperation and dialogue and not repeat the past mistakes of the former Commission on Human Rights. It was the responsibility of members of the Council to keep it free from pressures and influences. His delegation called upon the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) to respect the limits of its mandate and to exercise it independently and impartially. The Office did not take heed of the principle of equitable geographic distribution and needed to be reformed. In that context, enhancing the role of the Third Committee, which was truly global in its representation, was of fundamental importance. Sudan renewed its commitment to the promotion and protection of human rights and would block any attempt toward confrontation and selectivity.
O. ENKHTSETSEG ( Mongolia) noted several important developments over the past year aimed at strengthening the United Nations human rights machinery, including the creation of the Human Rights Council, the strengthening of OHCHR, and the progress made to improve the functioning of the human rights treaty body system. Mongolia welcomed the Office’s emphasis on poverty reduction as one of its priorities for the current biennium and looked forward to receiving the “principles and guidelines for a human rights approach to poverty reduction strategies” due to be published as a tool to assist countries and international agencies in translating human rights norms into policies in favour of the poor. Regarding the treaty body system, her delegation welcomed the finalization of harmonized guidelines on reporting, which would help ease the reporting burden shouldered by States parties. However, she noted, a lot more had to be done to improve the effectiveness of the treaty bodies, including by addressing issues such as the overlap in the work of the committees and the backlog of State reports.
She recalled the Secretary-General’s statement that the cause of human rights had entered a new era of implementation, adding that member States needed more support aimed at capacity-building and human rights education. As a State party to more than 30 international human rights treaties, including the seven core human rights treaties, Mongolia stood committed to the promotion and protection of all human rights. The establishment of the National Human Rights Commission in 2001 and the process of legal reform had been among the steps taken to promote human rights.
ALISHER SHARAFUTDINOV, Deputy Minister of Internal Affairs of Uzbekistan, said his country had taken all measures to implement its international obligations regarding human rights, including the Vienna programme of action. Among the institutions that had been put in place was a parliamentary ombudsman, the first such office in the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS), which published a report every year to inform the public. A national centre for human rights had also been established to disseminate information to the public and to coordinate the preparation of periodic reports, of which it had compiled 18 for consideration by the United Nations treaty bodies.
Monitoring institutions had been set up, helping to assess the correctness of legal policies vis-à-vis human rights, he said. Non-governmental organizations, such as associations of lawyers and judges, had been playing a particular role. Thanks to their work, it was possible for Uzbekistan to turn from being a strong State to a strong civil society. The academy of internal affairs meanwhile provided courses to existing and new officials on human rights. Uzbekistan was determined to continue its reforms, and had an interest in seeing that there was full-bodied cooperation with the treaty bodies.
RAHUL GANDHI ( India) noted that the Vienna Declaration was the foundation for a genuinely holistic conception of human rights, with its recognition that extreme poverty inhibited the full and effective enjoyment of human rights, and its reaffirmation that the Right to Development was a universal and inalienable right. He recalled the findings of the Working Group on the Right to Development, which noted that the policies of the Bretton Woods institutions had to be corrected from the perspective of that right. India hoped that the new Human Rights Council would play a decisive role in fulfilling the promise of the Millennium Declaration to make the Right to Development a reality for all and work toward developing a legally binding instrument on that issue.
The Vienna Declaration also stressed the important role of international cooperation in the field of human rights, an area where the greatest challenges lay. There was a need to move away from selectivity, double-standards and partial approaches in dealing with the promotion and protection of human rights and to undertake an approach based on dialogue, consultation, and cooperation. The new working methods and activities of the Human Rights Council should address that challenge. His delegation welcomed initiatives of OHCHR, including those on justiciability of economic, social and cultural rights and on a rights-based approach to development. Noting the Vienna Declaration’s call on the international community to prevent and combat terrorism, he urged an early conclusion of negotiations on the draft Comprehensive Convention on International Terrorism, which India had initiated.
DOROTHY ANGOTE ( Kenya) said that economic, social and cultural rights had too often been relegated to the back seat, while civil and political rights had been overemphasized. Those disparities had to be addressed; elaborating an optional protocol to the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights would be a significant step in that direction. Kenya had made a tremendous effort to honour its reporting obligations, but the multiplicity of such obligations had severely limited its ability to submit its reports in a timely manner. Pending a reform of the treaty body system, Kenya urged OHCHR to strengthen its technical assistance and capacity-building to help States shoulder their heavy reporting burden.
Over the last three years, Kenya had made substantial progress towards establishing itself as a human rights State, she said. Measures put into place had included a Kenya National Commission on Human Rights, the Government’s chief agent in ensuring compliance with international obligations; an Inter-Ministerial Committee to advise the Government on its international human rights obligations; and ratification and implementation of relevant international and regional human rights instruments. Pro-human rights legislation had been enacted, addressing gender, disabilities and sexual offences. Key challenges that still stood in the way of full realization of human rights for the majority of Kenyans included weak institutions, lack of awareness, poverty, and constitutional and legal reforms.
DIVINA ADJOA SEANEDZU ( Ghana) said that the United Nations human rights treaty system was one of the Organization’s best assets which brought meaningful redress to the violated. Her delegation hoped that the International Convention on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances, the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples and the Convention on the Rights of Disabled Persons would be adopted by the General Assembly at the current session. She also noted that the historic establishment of the new Human Rights Council was at the heart of human rights reform and should be empowered to deal swiftly and effectively with the urgent situations before it.
Her Government had undertaken, through its Constitution and laws, to build democracy and good governance and promote the rule of law and respect for human rights in a bid to align national priorities with international norms, she said. Parliament had established the Commission on Human Rights and Administration of Justice as a redress mechanism. The Commission also played an important role in human rights education. She noted that the Government had strengthened the legal framework for persons with disabilities and had passed the Human Trafficking Act. While States had the primary responsibility to make human rights a reality, the international community had a collective responsibility to assist in the performance of that task.
GEORGE TALBOT (Guyana), speaking on behalf of the Rio Group, said the States in the Group attached equal priority to the promotion of all human rights -– civil, cultural, economic, political and social. Those were universal, indivisible, interdependent and inter-related. The Group welcomed the creation of the Human Rights Council, and believed it might be appropriate to consider the revitalization of the Third Committee; to examine ways of maintaining its substantive role in the General Assembly while avoiding duplication with the Human Rights Council and other bodies. Capacity-building at the national level was crucial for strengthening human rights; OHCHR was well-placed to play an instrumental role in that regard.
The Convention on Enforced Disappearances had been a significant milestone, he said. Recent history had made the devastating impact of such disappearances all too real for many countries in the Rio Group region, where the right to truth as a tool for combating impunity had been recognized as important. Consensus had to be reached to ensure the human rights of migrants and to address such violations as abusive working conditions, restrictions on freedom of movement and denial of right to association. Full respect for human rights was fundamental to preventing and combating terrorism. In no way should the fight against terrorism be used to justify the suspension or violation of State obligations under international human rights, refugee and humanitarian laws.
FAWZI BIN ABDUL MAJEED SHOBOKSHI ( Saudi Arabia) said that the world was paying growing attention to human rights, and while human rights might seem a modern concept, it echoed the message of the Prophet for tolerance, justice and peace. The concept of human dignity was enshrined in the Koran. Saudi Arabia, on the basis of Islamic law, considered human rights as an obligation and a concept which should not be violated. Human rights were universal, and should not be used as a means of exerting pressure, for political purposes, or for economic benefit. Human rights were a gift from the Creator and not a favour done by one man to another, he said. Economic, social, and cultural rights should benefit from the same protections as those for civil and political rights.
He appealed to all States to work towards peace, justice and equality. In that context, the international community had a collective responsibility to stop all violations in the Occupied Palestinian Territory. He also demanded an end to the campaign of denigrating Islamic religious symbols and urged the creation of an atmosphere of tolerance.
EWALD LIMON ( Suriname), on behalf of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM), said that the causes of development and security could not be advanced without respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms. Concerted action had to be taken to implement a global partnership for development, thus enabling the promotion and protection of human rights for all. The fight against terrorism had to take place, at all times, in accordance with international human rights and humanitarian law, and CARICOM strongly objected to the use of torture and other inhuman or degrading forms of treatment as a means to fight terrorism.
The core function of the Human Rights Council should be to encourage universal respect for, and observance of, all human rights and fundamental freedoms, he said. Principles of universality, objectivity, non-selectivity, constructive dialogue and cooperation had to underscore its work. The proposal for a unified standing treaty body warranted careful consideration. Reporting requirements under treaty provisions had been very challenging for CARICOM States, which had limited human and financial resources, and the need for increased international cooperation could not be overemphasized.
Slavery and the slave trade had been among the most serious violations of human rights in the history of humanity, he said. With 2007 marking the bicentenary of the abolition of the transatlantic slave trade, the issue of reparations and compensation remained outstanding. CARICOM had taken the initiative to present a resolution to honour the memory of those who died as a result of slavery; its member States hoped they could count on their friends and partners in the United Nations to commemorate an event that had been at the core of their history and existence.
JOÃO SALGUEIRO (Portugal) noted that, while the Universal Declaration of Human Rights had recognized, as far back as in 1948, all categories of rights on an equal footing, even today economic, social and cultural rights received less protection at the international level than did civil and political rights. In contrast to the remedial avenues available for victims of torture or arbitrary detention, the right of petition at the international level was still not recognized for those affected by, for example, severe malnutrition, seriously inadequate health care or a total lack of educational opportunities. That was true despite positive developments over the last year, including the increasing role of national courts in enforcing economic, social and cultural rights and the evolution of the European, Inter-American and African human rights systems.
The Working Group on an optional protocol to the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights had achieved remarkable progress so far, he said. Noting that the Chairperson-Rapporteur of the Working Group had been asked to prepare a first draft Optional Protocol, his delegation hoped that consensus could soon be reached on the text. Portugal also welcomed the recent conclusion of negotiations on a draft Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities and its draft Optional Protocol providing for a communications procedure.
Statement by the High Commissioner
Introducing her report on the work of the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights during the past year, LOUISE ARBOUR, High Commissioner for Human Rights, highlighted the fact that the Human Rights Council had become a reality. Although reservations over the Council’s effectiveness persisted, the adoption of the draft Convention on Enforced Disappearances and of the draft Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People were two tangible achievements of the new body. Work had started to map out the Council’s architecture and modus operandi, particularly the Universal Periodic Review which should complement the work of the Treaty Bodies and Special Procedures. The international community had high expectations that the Council would discharge its mandate by ensuring universality of coverage and impartiality, she said.
A vital tenet of the Office’s work was country engagement, through providing a forum for dialogue, monitoring developments on the ground, and research and technical cooperation, she said. Her Office was strengthening capacity at Headquarters as well as its field presence, and also bolstering partnerships with other parts of the United Nations. The Rapid Response Unit had enabled the Office to deploy human rights officers at very short notice, as in the case of Lebanon during the July crisis. The Office was also able to support or participate in various fact-finding missions and commissions of inquiry, such as those to Darfur, Kyrgyzstan, and Togo in 2005, and to Timor-Leste, Liberia and Lebanon in 2006. The Office had also sought to expand its presence and address longer-term objectives in specific countries and regions, opening offices in Nepal, Uganda and Guatemala over the past year. The Office planned to establish a presence in Togo and Bolivia in the current year. Continued operations in Cambodia and Colombia reflected the need for sustained investment in human rights.
This year, the Office was preparing to add five new Regional Offices to the existing six. The regional centres would assist countries where the Office had no country presence to strengthen national capacity and build links with regional institutions and civil society networks. The Office also pursued country engagement through other United Nations partners in the field, for instance by enabling the human rights components of peace missions to go beyond their traditional monitoring role and provide technical cooperation and training. That cooperative approach also had helped humanitarian agencies to address human rights issues in areas either engulfed by conflict or hit by natural disasters, such as the tsunami and the Pakistan earthquake.
Underpinning the Office’s country engagement and partnerships were certain core strategies, including the realization of the right to development. Poverty and underdevelopment exacerbated abuse, neglect and discrimination, denying millions the enjoyment of their civil, cultural, economic, political and social rights, and ultimately, their right to development, she said. With that in mind, her Office had chosen “Poverty and Human Rights” as the theme for this year’s Human Rights Day on 10 December 2006, and had undertaken a number of related initiatives. Her Office also would continue to support intergovernmental discussions on the drafting of an optional protocol to the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights.
She also touched briefly on her Office’s work to strengthen women’s rights and to combat discrimination. She noted that racial discrimination might be growing in some regions, fuelled by fear of terrorism, misconceived perceptions of identity or anxiety over competition for employment. In conclusion, she mentioned that her Office also provided policy guidance and expertise in the areas of transitional justice and the rule of law, offering as an example the Office’s role in negotiating the establishment of a Truth and Reconciliation Commission and a Special Tribunal in Burundi.
Questions and Discussion
Responding to questions from the representatives of Sudan and Cuba, among others, regarding the geographic distribution of the Office’s staff, Mrs. ARBOUR said it was in the interests of the promotion and protection of human rights that the Office be seen as pluralistic and representative, and she shared the ambition that it be a true mirror of the world in which it discharged its functions. However, it could only take initiatives that were consistent with United Nations rules.
During the post-regularization exercise last year, the Office had been put firmly into the Galaxy recruitment process, she said. One major impediment was embodied in the General Assembly rule governing national competitive examinations. Approximately 56 per cent of staff was at the P-2 and P-3 levels, but for those levels the Office could not recruit those who were not competitive exam candidates, and the examination process had produced an overwhelming majority of candidates from developed Western countries. So long as the Office was bound to recruit from such candidates, it was unlikely that the numbers would change in the near future. One initiative to overcome this problem would be to request a dispensation from that rule, at least for a few years.
Responding to questions about field offices and country visits, she said that Memorandums of Understanding concluded with the Governments of Uganda and Guatemala to establish field offices in those countries had been models of cooperation. She said she had returned the night before from a productive visit to Haiti, and that she would be travelling in November to Israel and the Palestinian territories.
In response to a question on gender issues, she stressed how critically important it was for women’s rights to be squarely articulated as human rights, and that they had to find their place within the United Nations human rights system.
In reply to a question from the representative of India, she said treaty body reform had become a critical issue, in anticipation of a major increase in the volume of work in light of incoming protocols and conventions. It was in the spirit of having a strengthened secretarial infrastructure that the idea of a unified treaty body had been raised.
Responding to additional questions about field offices, she said she did not think of monitoring and reporting as being adversarial, and capacity-building as being friendly. It was her hope that the work of the Office everywhere could be carried out in an integrated fashion. Many Governments would like to have the Office represented in their countries, but there was a question of resources and of assessing the Office’s capacity to make a contribution.
Responding to a question from the representative of Benin on the possibility of denouncing violations of the right to development, she said that there was no doubt that in the architecture of human rights, violation and remedies had so far been clearer regarding political and civil rights. As the architecture evolved, however, it would be better able to address the right to development.
Asked by the representative of Uzbekistan about the Office’s regional presence in Central Asia, she said the Office was looking to be present in all regions, especially in areas where it could not have a country presence. Central Asia was a place where the Office thought it could offer assistance, with field staff selected on the basis of particular requirements such as language and expertise in the region.
Regarding ways to encourage cooperation by member States, she said that she considered Governments privileged working partners, and a hand should be lent to those willing to protect and promote human rights. Countries which had been obstructive were better dealt with by the Human Rights Council, rather than by OHCHR, because it was through the collective encouragement of other States that progress could be made.
Replying to a question regarding migration, she said she was very concerned at the low level of ratification of the Convention on the Rights of Migrant Workers. Economic migration had to be anchored in human rights, as migration had often been triggered by serious violations of economic rights. The Convention on Migrant Workers did not generate any new obligations for States; rather, it expressed existing obligations in a targeted way.
Responding to a question from the representative of the United States, she said she was not at liberty to announce any specifics regarding new field offices. Those were the subject of ongoing bilateral negotiations, and it would be inappropriate to announce anything at present. Certainly, the Office would continue to be present in peacekeeping missions, and it would continue to build its regional presence. Field offices required either a bilateral agreement with the Government concerned, or a mandate from the Human Rights Council, and the latter case was unpredictable.
Introduction of Reports
JOHAN SCHÖLVINCK, Director of the Division for Social Policy and Development of the Department of Economic and Social Affairs, summarized the work of the Department in implementing General Assembly Resolution 60/232 on the Ad Hoc Committee on a Comprehensive and Integral International Convention on the Protection and Promotion of the Rights and Dignity of Persons with Disabilities. He drew attention to the Committee’s adoption of the text of the Convention at the end of its eighth session, noting that formal adoption of the Convention by the Assembly was expected by the end of the current session.
He noted that the Department had strengthened its cooperation with OHCHR in providing technical support to the Ad Hoc Committee, including in the work to provide background documentation to assist member States and observers in negotiating a draft convention. Also, the Department had improved the accessibility of information by providing selected documents in Braille and transmitting electronic versions of in-session documents via wi-fi technology at the Committee’s seventh and eighth sessions. The Department facilitated the participation of non-governmental organizations at the Committee’s seventh and eighth sessions, including by providing documents and responding to their queries.
CRAIG MOKHIBER, Officer-In-Charge of the New York Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, introduced a series of reports before the Committee, including the Secretary-General’s reports on: globalization and its impact on the full enjoyment of human rights; combating defamation of religion; the protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms while countering terrorism; missing persons; the right to development; the question of enforced or involuntary disappearances; the establishment of a United Nations human rights training and documentation centre for South-West Asia and the Arab region; the Subregional Centre for Human Rights and democracy in Central Africa; regional arrangements for the promotion and protection of human rights; the human rights situation and the activities of the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights in Nepal; and the situation of human rights in Turkmenistan. He noted that the Secretary-General’s report on the situation of human rights in Uzbekistan would be available shortly.
Discussion on Draft Convention on Disabled Persons’ Rights
In response to a question on the respective roles of the Department of Economic and Social Affairs and the OHCHR in follow-up to the proposed Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, Mr. SCHÖLVINCK said that the division of labour was a matter for the Secretary-General to decide. It also was for the Secretary-General to decide where the headquarters for the follow-up mechanism to the Convention would be located. Regardless, the Department would certainly remain closely involved in the issue.
KIRSTI LINTONEN (Finland), speaking on behalf of the European Union, said human rights were not abstract legal concepts to be deployed as political tools; rather, they were vital safeguards to ensure that all individuals, all over the world, could enjoy their rights and freedoms. The European Union strongly supported the mission of the Human Rights Commission and reaffirmed its strong support for the High Commissioner for Human Rights. It opposed the death penalty in all cases and in all circumstances, and was pleased to see that a worldwide trend to abolish the death penalty had continued, with Mexico, the Philippines and Moldova having done so in the past year. It deplored the fact that in a few countries, among them Iran, minors had been sentenced to death and executed, in clear violation of international legal obligations.
She expressed alarm over the deteriorating human rights situation in Sudan, particularly Darfur, where violence against civilians, including the recent killings, and the culture of impunity was a grave concern. She called for an immediate end to the violence and human rights violations, including rape and other abuse of women. Human rights monitors and humanitarian workers must have access to people in need. She also expressed grave concern over the human rights situations in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, Uzbekistan, Sri Lanka and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. She pointed to the worrying number of attacks on human rights defenders, including the recently murdered Russian journalist Anna Politkovskaya. She expressed deep concern over restrictions on freedom of expression, freedom of the press and the status of human rights defenders in Iran and the violent suppression of demonstrations in Zimbabwe. International law prohibited torture and cruel or inhuman punishment in all circumstances. The existence of secret detention centres where detained persons were kept in a legal vacuum violated international law.
LIU ZHENMIN ( China) said that, to open a new vista concerning international human rights, it was the joint responsibility of all member States to seize the historic opportunity to bring about a thorough change of both the concept, and the mechanism of human rights. First, universal enjoyment of human rights could not be realized without effective maintenance of international peace and security. The United Nations needed to exert greater efforts in conflict prevention, peacebuilding and combating terrorism in all its forms. It was imperative that the Human Rights Council focus its attention on massive violations of human rights caused by armed conflicts, especially those on the international level.
Secondly, he said that the universal enjoyment of human rights could become reality only when the legitimate concerns of the developing countries were appropriately addressed. Not all countries -– especially those least developed -- had benefited from economic globalization. Some were still constrained by poverty, disease, and environmental degradation -- thereby lacking the most basic conditions for achieving human dignity, freedom and human rights.
Universal enjoyment of human rights called for showing special respect for the rights and interests of vulnerable groups, he said. He welcomed the adoption of the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples as well as the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. Furthermore, universal enjoyment of human rights demanded greater efforts to promote dialogue and cooperation.
He said that the Human Rights Council was now in the crucial phase of setting up its mechanisms and procedures. Those should be set up in a democratic and transparent manner. China stood ready to work with other countries to participate actively in striving for a fair outcome through consensus in order to make the Council credible, dynamic and efficient.
His Government had always taken the promotion and protection of human rights as a major responsibility. He said that since January 2006, China had repealed agricultural taxes levied on 800 million farmers and amended the Compulsory Education Act, so that 160 million children in rural areas were guaranteed the right to education. China was a developing country with 1.3 billion people, he said. Though much remained to be done, it stood ready to enhance cooperation with other countries in a joint bid for the healthy development of the cause of human rights at the international level.
MAGED ABDELAZIZ ( Egypt) said that with the creation of the Human Rights Council, there had only been an institutional change in name and structure, and no parallel development in the means in which important issues were dealt with. The Council had to be delinked from political, military or economic alliances, and standards for dealing with human rights issues had to be unified among small and large States alike. Attempts by some to impose certain cultural patterns on the international community, without taking into account cultural, ethnic and religious backgrounds, was a real threat.
Decisive solutions were needed, he said. The feeling of superiority expressed by some in the field of human rights as a means to impose their will or hegemony on other peoples had to be confronted. The use of the Security Council to deal with human rights in a way that weakened the authority and effectiveness of the Human Rights Council and the General Assembly had to be avoided. Firm commitments had to be made to reiterate that human rights were the responsibility of States, and that the role of the international community lay in enhancing the capacities of States in that field. The linkage between the international campaign against terrorism and violence, on the one hand, and respect for human rights, on the other, had to be respected. Among other solutions, human rights in their various components had to be dealt with in a fair and equal manner, and all United Nations organs dealing with human rights had to respect their mandates.
Right of Reply
Speaking in exercise of the right of reply, the representative of the Sudan, responding to the statement made by the representative of Finland, on behalf of the European Union, said it was not up to certain countries to act as arbiters on human rights and distribute good conduct certificates. The statement of the European Union did not mention detention in European countries, violations of the rights of migrant workers, threats to religious practice, or attempts to impose one type of civilization on others, he said. Sudan shouldered its human rights obligations in line with its treaty obligations. His country had signed peace agreements to resolve conflicts in the south, in Darfur, and in the eastern region. His Government did not need lessons from international forces to remind it of its obligations to its own people.
He said that dialogue and cooperation were the best way to handle human rights issues, and that confrontation and force only led to escalating tensions. Countries that talked about human rights violations here, there and everywhere did not talk about violations in their own territory. He asked those countries to be neutral, impartial and constructive.
* *** *For information media • not an official record