24 October 2007
General Assembly
GA/SHC/3893

Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York

Sixty-second General Assembly

Third Committee

22nd & 23rd Meetings (AM & PM)


NEW HUMAN RIGHTS COUNCIL COULD HELP PUT RIGHTS ABUSERS


ON NOTICE, THIRD COMMITTEE TOLD


Quartet Has Paid Little Attention to Human Rights of Palestinians


The frequency of the meetings of the new Human Rights Council could help put human rights abusers on notice and allow situations of concern to be scrutinized all year round and in real time, Louise Arbour, High Commissioner for Human Rights told delegations this morning as the Third Committee (Social, Humanitarian and Cultural) continued its discussion of human rights issues.


Impunity for gross violations of human rights and grave breaches of humanitarian law continued to be pervasive, she pointed out, noting that, although States had a duty to investigate reports of such violations and bring perpetrators to justice, they often lacked political will or capacity, or both.  The “sheer number” of individuals incarcerated without adequate judicial review of their detention was another issue that was high on her agenda, she said.


The Universal Periodic Review was a mechanism through which the Council would review the human rights record of all United Nations Member States, on the basis of fairness and transparency, she said.  Now, the challenge was to translate the review project into reality to effectively address human rights situations on the ground.  Implementing the Review’s recommendations was the responsibility of each State, but dedicated financial support to many developing countries would be crucial for them to meet their obligations.


During the afternoon session, John Dugard, the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, said the situation in the Territory had worsened since the time of his last report, and he singled out the issues of self-determination, the consequences of prolonged occupation and the role of the United Nations in the promotion of human rights in the Territory for special attention.


He said the Quartet -- consisting of the United States, the European Union, the Russian Federation and the United Nations -- had paid little attention to the human rights of the Palestinians.  And its imposition of sanctions against the Palestinians had led to a serious loss of confidence in the United Nations in the Occupied Territory.  In those circumstances, the question must be asked whether the best interests of the United Nations were served by remaining in the Quartet, where the Organization was used to “legitimize the pro-Israeli position of the Quartet?”


In a heated exchange following the Special Rapporteur’s presentation, the representative of Israel took the floor to give a detailed reaction to the report, saying that the narrow perspective of the report ignored the terrorism and violence emerging from Palestinian areas.


Paulo Sérgio Pinheiro, the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Myanmar, said tragic events had been taking place in the country since 15 August.  Excessive force was used by security forces in the face of demonstrations, people had been killed, while thousands had been arrested.  Alarming reports of death in custody, torture and disappearances continued to be received.  There was an urgent need to coordinate the different approaches among Member States who had been trying to find ways to contribute towards the principles of democracy and the rule of law in Myanmar.


In a statement following the Special Rapporteur, the representative of Myanmar said his Government had exercised restraint in dealing with the demonstrators, and that small protests had been “sullied by political activists and rabble rousers”. He rejected the “outrageous allegations” of human rights violations, particularly sexual violence and recruitment of child soldiers, which he said were false allegations disseminated by remnants of insurgents and their allies.


Statements were also made today by the representatives of Portugal on behalf of the European Union and Suriname, on behalf of the Caribbean Community. 


The representatives of Algeria, Sudan and Iraq spoke in exercise of the right of reply.


B. Lynn Pascoe, Under-Secretary-General for Political Affairs, addressed the Committee on the work of the Department of Political Affairs in providing electoral assistance to Member States.


Johan Scholvinck, Director of the Division for Social Policy and Development at the Department of Economic and Social Affairs, introduced the report on the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.


Ngonlardje Mbaidjol, Director of the New York Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, introduced nine reports of the Secretary-General on various human rights issues.


The Committee will meet again at 10 a.m. on Thursday to continue its general discussion on human rights.


Background


The Third Committee (Social, Humanitarian and Cultural) met today to continue its discussion on human rights.


The Committee had before it the report of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (document A/62/36) –- (for background information see Press Release GA/SHC/3892 dated 23 October 2007).


Also before the Committee was a transmittal by the Secretary-General of a  Letter dated 21 September 2007 from the Permanent Representative of Ukraine to the United Nations addressed to the Secretary-General (document A/62/369) -- (for background information see Press Release GA/SHC/3892 dated 23 October 2007).


The Committee also had before it a Letter dated 2 October 2007 from the Permanent Representative of Cuba to the United Nations addressed to the Secretary-General (document A/62/464) -- (for background information see Press Release GA/SHC/3892 dated 23 October 2007).


Before the Committee was the Secretary-General’s report on The right to development (document A/62/183).  This supplements the report of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights on the right to development which was considered by the Human Rights Council at its fourth session (A/HRC/4/55 of 14 February 2007) and provides relevant conclusions and recommendations of the Working Group on the Right to Development at its eighth session.


The Committee had before it the Secretary-General’s report titled Globalization and its impact on the full enjoyment of all human rights (document A/62/222), summarizing views on the issue by the Governments of Croatia, Cuba, Ecuador, Lebanon, Mexico and Tunisia.


Also before the Committee was the Secretary-General’s report on Human rights and cultural diversity (document A/62/254) which summarizes comments from 15  Member States, the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and the Observatory of Diversity and Cultural Rights.  The governments underline the multi-ethnic and multicultural character of their States, and reaffirm their commitment to human rights and fundamental freedoms as well as respect for cultural diversity.  Very few recommendations address action that might be taken at the international level to promote cultural diversity, the report notes.  It also provides an update on the consultation on the mandate of an independent expert on the promotion and enjoyment of cultural rights.


In addition, the Committee had before it the report of the Secretary-General on Human rights and unilateral coercive measures (document A/62/255), with summaries of statements from Argentina, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Costa Rica, Ecuador, Libya, Mexico, Serbia, Suriname and Syria on the implications and negative effects of such measures on their populations.   Cuba states it was “one of hundreds of developing countries” whose populations are victims of unilateral coercive measures imposed by developed countries.  It refers to the economic, trade and financial embargo imposed by the United States against Cuba as being “the longest and cruellest in the history of humanity as well as an act of genocide, an act of war and an international crime” that had cost direct economic damage in excess of 89 billion dollars.  It was more important than ever, Cuba states, for the international community to pronounce itself against such practices.


The Committee had before it the Secretary-General’s report on National institutions for the promotion and protection of human rights (document A/62/287).  The Secretary-General notes the increasingly important role of national human rights institutions in promoting and protecting human rights, and enumerates the countries visited by the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) during the reporting year.  The report concludes that the accreditation procedure for national organizations should be supported because of the increase in the amount of applications, and because of the effective work these organizations do.


The Committee had before it the report of the Secretary-General titled Combating defamation of religions (document A/62/288), focusing on activities undertaken by States, OHCHR, human rights mechanisms and national human rights institutions on the topic.  It summarizes replies from 16 Member States to a request by OHCHR for information on actions being undertaken vis-à-vis defamation.  In its conclusion, the report says that a majority of the respondent States had constitutional provisions guaranteeing the right to freedom of religion and protecting against religious discrimination.  “Step by step, issues pertaining to defamation of religions are receiving increased attention,” the Secretary-General observes, adding that there was an emerging trend towards amending criminal codes to reflect different strains of defamation. 


The Committee had before it the Secretary-General’s report on Strengthening the role of the United Nations in enhancing the effectiveness of the principle of periodic and genuine elections and the promotion of democratization (document A/62/293).  The report describes how the United Nations has been providing electoral support to Member States in the past two years.  Electoral assistance is only given at the request of a Member State, and is provided through a number of electoral components or missions.  Requests to organize or observe elections are decreasing substantially while technical advice and assistance to electoral authorities is becoming the norm.  The complexity of requests, for technological innovations for example, is increasing.  The report recommends that the United Nations continue to work in partnership with relevant governmental and intergovernmental organizations to develop and disseminate electoral standards and best practices.


The Committee had before it the Secretary-General’s report on Protecting human rights and fundamental freedoms while countering terrorism (document A/62/298).  This gives an overview of the recent developments in the United Nations on the protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms while countering terrorism, highlighting the adoption of the United Nations Global Counter-Terrorism Strategy.  It also includes the activities of the OHCHR, human rights treaty bodies and the Human Rights Council.  According to the report, the High Commissioner for Human Rights expresses serious concern about a number of measures adopted by States which continue to undermine human rights and the rule of law.  These include, among many others, secret detention and the irregular transfer of individuals suspected of terrorist activities; ill-treatment; continued detention of suspects without a legal basis; and minimum due process guarantees, including the right to judicial review of detainment. 


The Committee had before it the Secretary-General’s report on the Subregional Centre for Human Rights and Democracy in Central Africa (document A/62/317).  The report gives an overview of the work carried out by the Centre, and the most significant developments in its operation in the past year.  It also describes changes including the change in leadership and strategic direction.  Under new leadership, the Centre is focusing on human rights and democracy issues that could bring solid and sustainable results while having a rapid impact in the region.  The report recommends that the Centre be provided with additional funds and human resources to enable it to deliver on all its planned work and ensure its continued legitimacy as well as leadership on human rights and democracy issues in the region.


Before the Committee was the Report of the Secretary-General on the Khmer Rouge trials (document A/62/304).  The report provides details on the progress achieved, since 2005, by the Extraordinary Chambers for the Prosecution under Cambodian Law of Crimes Committed during the Period of Democratic Kampuchea.  As an example of outreach, the report mentions the over 5,000 rural Cambodians who were brought by the Documentation Centre of Cambodia to visit the court facilities.  The report also notes the challenges the Extraordinary Chambers faces with its “unique structure”, with the Director of the Office reporting to the Cambodian Government, and the Deputy Director -- a United Nations staff member -- reporting to the Secretary-General.  This type of organization has led to significant shortfalls in staffing and the budget, the report says.


The Committee had before it 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/62/207).  It transmits the report of the Special Rapporteur on the independence of judges and lawyers.  The report details two missions by the Special Rapporteur, Leandro Despouy, to the Maldives and the Democratic Republic of the Congo.  Having served in his position since 1994, Mr. Despouy concludes that judicial actors in the majority of countries are unable to discharge their functions independently.  He also draws attention to the fact that during states of emergency, repeated violations of the right to a fair trial occur, as well as other human rights violations.  Mr. Despouy expresses serious concern that individuals are still being executed in Iraq, in particular a man who confessed to having participated in the attack of August 2003 against the United Nations office in Baghdad.  This violates the right to the truth by the victims of the attack and frustrates attempts to obtain significant evidence about that attack.  He concludes by recommending that the African Union sign a relationship agreement with the International Criminal Court.  He also recommends that trials of the Iraqi Supreme Criminal Tribunal be conducted in accordance with international standards, or that an international criminal tribunal be constituted with the cooperation of the United Nations.


The Committee had before it a report of the independent expert on the Effects on economic reform policies and foreign debt on the full enjoyment of all human rights (document A/62/212), which conveys the proceedings of an expert consultation that took place from 9 to 10 July in Geneva.  Experts note that human rights create a legal obligation, and are not to be taken into account only when possible or convenient.  The challenge for the international community is to agree on how to calculate the cost of upholding minimum human rights standards within the context of debt sustainability.  Regarding minimum standards of economic, social and cultural rights, the main concern over lending practices and “conditionality” of international financial institutions is that they are seen as undermining the accountability of States to their citizens, including human rights obligations.  The rights of vulnerable and marginalized groups have been negatively affected by economic policies.  Debtor States should develop a legal framework to ensure that their human rights obligations are recognized; creditors must take reasonable measures to find out what their loans are being used for, and assume responsibility for the roles that their loans played. 


Before the Committee was 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/62/214) which transmits the report of Paul Hunt, the Special Rapporteur on the right of everyone to the enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health.  The report suggests that, in order to secure this right for all, human rights should be applied to the difficult process of prioritizing health interventions.  Honouring binding commitments to human rights includes providing for the health needs of marginalized groups such as women and persons with disabilities.  The report also explores the high efficacy of health impact assessments, and expresses regret at tendencies to devote more attention to medical care at the expense of underlying determinants such as access to safe water and sanitation.  On those matters, the report makes a number of recommendations to States and other actors.


The Secretary-General’s note on the Human rights of migrants (document A/62/218) transmits the report of the Special Rapporteur on the human rights of migrants, Jorge Bustamante.  The report focuses on the visits undertaken by the Special Rapporteur to the Republic of Korea, Indonesia and the United States, where various aspects of the lives of migrant workers were explored through interviews with migrants, law enforcement officials and others.  The report also highlights border control, expulsion, and conditions for the admission and stay of migrants, which were the main focus of the Special Rapporteur’s report to the Human Rights Council at its fourth session.  The Special Rapporteur concludes by encouraging Member States to ratify the International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of Their Families.


A note by the Secretary-General, before the Committee, transmits a report submitted by his Special Representative on the Situation of human rights defenders (document A/62/225).  The Special Representative, Hina Jilani, analyses the legal framework for the protection of the right to protest at the international and regional levels and illustrates cases presented to both international and regional mechanisms, showing how the different systems complement and reinforce each other.  The report further analyses the work of the Special Representative in her protection role and looks at the issue through analysis of different “groups of protestors” as well as “thematic areas” of protest.


The Committee had before it a report on Protection of and assistance to internally displaced persons (document A/62/227) prepared by the Secretary-General’s Representative on the matter, Walter Kälin.  He observes that internal displacement, whether caused by natural disasters, conflict situations or large-scale development projects, is now affecting a growing proportion of the world’s population.  More than 24 million people are displaced due to conflicts in their country, and millions more for other reasons.  The Representative recommends that governments ensure that the needs and rights of displaced persons are taken into consideration within the framework of any peace processes, and that they give particular attention to issues relating to community reconciliation and “living together again”. 


The Committee had before it the Secretary-General’s note on Extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions (document A/62/265), transmitting the interim report of the Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions, Philip Alston.  The issue of this report coincides with the 25th anniversary of the creation of the mandate on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions.  According to the report, in the past year, the Special Rapporteur conducted visits to Guatemala, Lebanon, the Philippines and Darfur.  27 countries ranging from Security Council members such as China, the Russian Federation and the United States, as well as States like Thailand, Israel and Uzbekistan, did not issue the requested invitations for a visit.  This lack of compliance with the Special Rapporteur’s requests, as well as the systematic neglect of past recommendations by the Special Rapporteur, is the reason why Mr. Alston has issued this report without any new recommendations.  Taking steps to address the problem of States’ non-cooperation in response to requests for visits would, therefore, be an important start, the Special Rapporteur concludes.


Before the Committee was a note by the Secretary-General transmitting the interim report of Special Rapporteur Asma Jahangir on the Elimination of all forms of religious intolerance (document A/62/280).  The report draws attention to the situation of refugees, asylum-seekers and internally displaced persons, saying that they are in situations of vulnerability that may also have a link to their freedom of religion and belief.  Also, the Special Rapporteur notes that atheists and non-theists had made him aware of their concerns vis-à-vis blasphemy laws, education issues, equality legislation and official consultations held only with religious representatives.  He reiterates that religious freedom includes the right not to profess any religion or belief. 


The Committee had before it the report of Special Rapporteur, Rodolfo Stavenhagen, on The situation of human rights and fundamental freedoms of indigenous peoples (A/62/286), which includes his views on new challenges with respect to the protection of indigenous peoples’ rights throughout the world.  It also touches upon the Special Rapporteur’s official visit to Kenya, where he says the principal human rights issues faced by indigenous communities like the Elmolo, Yakuu, Sengwer, Maasai and Ogiek related to the loss and environmental degradation of their land, forests and natural resources; in recent decades, their situation has taken a turn for the worse as a result of State attempts to modernize or “sedentarize” such communities.  Corruption made circumstances harder.


The Committee had before it a note by the Secretary-General transmitting the interim report of Jean Ziegler, Special Rapporteur, on The right to food (document A/62/289), who is “outraged to report that global hunger is still on the rise”.  Some 854 million people today do not get enough to eat every day, compared with an estimated 800 million in 1996.  Every year, more than six million children die from hunger-related illness before their fifth birthday.  The Special Rapporteur is also “deeply concerned” by food crises that threatens “millions” across southern Africa, with funding shortfalls forcing the World Food Programme (WFP) to cut operations across the region.  Mr. Ziegler also addresses the impact of biofuels (bioethanol and biodiesel) on the right to food.  Rushing to turn maize, wheat, sugar and palm oil into fuel for cars, without examining the impact on global hunger, is a recipe for disaster, he says.


The Committee had before it the Secretary-General’s report on the Situation of human rights in the People’s Democratic Republic of Korea (document A/62/318).  The report outlines activities undertaken by the United Nations, in particular the OHCHR, to promote and protect human rights in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.  Both the Assembly and the Office continue to express their serious and grave concern at continuing reports of systemic, widespread and grave violations of human rights in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, the report said.  The Democratic People’s Republic of Korea has not accepted the mandate of the Special Rapporteur, and he was not authorized to visit the country, thus forcing him to collect information from other parties that had knowledge of the situation.  The report concludes with a number of recommendations, but foremost that the Government of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea extend full and free access to United Nations agencies and other humanitarian actors in order for them to be able to carry out their mandates.


The Committee had before it a note by the Secretary General transmitting the report of Akich Okola, the independent expert on the Situation of human rights in Burundi (document A/62/213), which states that the overall human rights situation in the country seems to have improved, although violations relating to cases of ill-treatment and sometimes torture of suspects by police officials and legal procedure violations continue to be reported.  The independent expert calls on the international community to support the Government’s efforts to reform the justice system, and welcomes the commitment of the President of Burundi not to grant amnesty for major crimes committed during the conflict.  The independent expert prompts Burundian authorities to fully investigate incidents of sexual violence and to bring those responsible for such crimes to justice.


The Committee had before it a note by the Secretary-General transmitting the report of the Martin Scheinin, Special Rapporteur on Protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms while countering terrorism (document A/62/263), featuring a summary of visits made to South Africa, the United States and Israel, and reflecting upon some of the challenges to refugee law and asylum resulting from global measures to combat terrorism.  In many regions, counter-terrorism measures often “disproportionately” affect asylum-seekers, refugees and immigrants.  And genuine asylum-seekers may be the group most affected by the post-2001 wave of new counter-terrorism measures.  Mr. Scheinin is “troubled” that terrorism and national security are being cited as reasons for more restrictive asylum and immigration regimes.  Human rights and refugee law, as developed over decades, did take proper account of the security concerns of States, and the new momentum in addressing terrorism did not justify revamping the standards and principles of international protection.  The Special Rapporteur calls upon the United States to close down without delay its military detention facility at Guantánamo Bay and to either try or release its detainees. 


The Committee had before it the Secretary-General’s note transmitting the Special Rapporteur’s report on the Situation of human rights in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (document A/62/264).  Although the country declined to allow the Special Rapporteur, Vitit Muntarbhorn, access to the country, the note identifies a myriad of human rights violations, chiefly relating to food access, personal freedom and refugees’ rights.  The Special Rapporteur calls for international burden-sharing in dealing with the flow of asylum-seekers to ease the pressure on first-asylum countries.  He also mentions the severe punishments that potential refugees from the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea face at home.  He cites a 2006 study that contends that the misdeeds of the authorities are “tantamount to crimes against humanity”.  The Special Rapporteur concludes with a plea to be allowed access to the country, in order to offer advice and to accurately assess the human rights situation on the ground.


The Committee had before it note of the Secretary-General transmitting a report titled Situation of human rights in the Palestinian territories occupied since 1967 (document A/62/275) which has been prepared by John Dugard, the Special Rapporteur on the matter.  It says the exercise of the right of the Palestinian people to self-determination has been threatened by the separation of the West Bank and Gaza due to the seizure of power by Hamas in Gaza in June 2007 and the seizure of power by Fatah in the West Bank.  Every effort must therefore be made by the international community to ensure that Palestinian unity is restored. 


This year marked the 40th anniversary of the occupation of Palestinian Territory, the report notes.  Israel’s obligations have not diminished; on the contrary, they have grown.  The International Court of Justice should be asked to render an advisory opinion on the legal consequences of prolonged occupation, the Special Rapporteur suggests.  In Gaza, Israel has violated important norms of international humanitarian and human rights law by undertaking military action against civilian targets and by creating a humanitarian crisis by closing Gaza’s external borders.  By law, it has to cease these actions, the Special Rapporteur says, adding that other States party to the siege of Gaza were also in violation of international humanitarian law.


Addressing the West Bank, the Special Rapporteur says the human rights situation there could improve as a result of rapprochement between the emergency Government led by President Abbas, on the one hand, and Israel, the United States and the Quartet (the European Union, Russia, the United States and the United Nations) on the other.  Violations of human rights and international humanitarian law, plus Israel’s refusal to transfer tax revenues and the imposition by the United States of banking restrictions, have had a serious impact on life in the West Bank.  Poverty and unemployment have reached their highest levels; health and education have been undermined by military incursions, the wall and checkpoints; and the entire social fabric of society has come under threat.  Some 10,000 Palestinians are in Israeli jails, treated in an inhuman and degrading manner, and the extrajudicial killing of suspected militants had continued unabated.


Regarding the Quartet, the Special Rapporteur says that serious questions were being asked about the role of the Secretary-General.  The Quartet -- led in practice by the United States -- is largely responsible for furthering the peace process, but it has shown little regard for promoting human rights or international humanitarian law, and it is indirectly responsible for economic sanctions.  The Special Rapporteur states that if the Quartet cannot be guided by human rights law, international humanitarian law, the advisory opinion of the International Court of Justice and considerations of fairness and even-handedness in its dealing with the Occupied Palestinian Territory, then the United Nations should withdraw from it. 


Also before the Committee is the Secretary-General’s note transmitting a progress report submitted by the independent expert, Titinga Frédéric Pacéré, on The situation of human rights in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (document A/62/313).  The report says that the situation remains worrying, given the poor security concerns, the serious and widespread human rights and other violations as well as atrocities committed in the eastern part of the country and in northern Katanga, with complete impunity by militias and armed groups.  The report documents serious human rights violations committed by the armed forces and police to draw national and international attention to the egregious violations of human rights as well as to the poor security conditions prevailing throughout most of the country.  The independent expert concludes with several recommendations, including a call for an end to all abuses, violations and all forms of exploitation and widespread sexual violence.  He also recommends the establishment of a special international tribunal for the Democratic Republic of the Congo.


The committee had before it the Secretary-General’s note transmitting the report of the Special Rapporteur, Sima Samar, on the Situation of human rights in the Sudan (document A/62/354).  The report provides an analysis of the human rights situation in Sudan from the angle of sustenance, freedoms, asylum, vulnerability of specific groups, and responsibility of the State authorities to protect human rights.  The report includes the Special Rapporteur’s findings from her mission to Sudan in July 2007.  Protection of human rights in Sudan continues to be an enormous challenge, Ms. Samar says.  Many of the concerns highlighted in last year’s report remain the same one year on.  Violations of civil and political rights continue.  In all parts of the country, common patterns of injustice, marginalization and exploitation emerge.  Impunity remains a serious concern in all areas, the report says.  Protection of civilians –- the primary responsibility of the Sudanese State -— remains insufficient, the report says.


The Committee also had before it the Secretary-General’s report on the Status of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities and the Optional Protocol thereto (document A/62/230).  The report provides a brief overview of the status of the Convention.


Statement


LOUISE ARBOUR, United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, said that since she last addressed the Committee, the Human Rights Council had made considerable strides, focusing its efforts on institution-building in order to equip itself for its mandate.  The Universal Periodic Review was a mechanism through which the Council would review the human rights record of all United Nations Member States, on the basis of fairness and transparency.  The challenge was to translate the review project into reality in order to effectively address human rights situations on the ground.  Implementing the Universal Periodic Review’s recommendations was the responsibility of each State, but dedicated financial support for many developing countries was crucial for them to meet their obligations.


The Council had held three special sessions in the past year in reaction to unfolding crises in the Middle East, another one on the conflict in Sudan (Darfur) and yet another one, recently, on Myanmar.  It decided to convene a group to ensure the effective follow-up to resolutions on Darfur and also decided to establish a new mandate on contemporary forms of slavery.  With its framework in place, and with its operative approach “partially road-tested in an intense first working year”, the Council was now expected to devote its undivided attention to the many human rights situations that demanded action.  The frequency of the Council’s meetings would make this task easier and might also help put human rights abusers on notice that situations of concern could be scrutinized all year round and in real time.


The High Commissioner’s country visits were a means of strengthening country engagement, and allowed for more direct dialogue with government representatives and others.  She had recently addressed the Non-Aligned Movement’s ministerial meeting on human rights and cultural diversity in Iran, and had pointed out that the failure to understand or accommodate diversity inevitably led to an erosion of rights.  Human rights standards provided guidance for protecting diversity, and human rights law “shields us from the ever-shifting grounds on which cultural identities are defined”, she said.  Sometimes, cultural identity was exploited by ruling elites in pursuit of political or economic interests, and some groups were marginalized.  Economic policies impacted on human rights, so human rights should influence macroeconomic policy-making processes.


Impunity for gross violations of human rights and grave breaches of humanitarian law continued to be pervasive, she said.  States had a duty to investigate reports of such violations and to bring perpetrators to justice, but often they lacked political will or the capacity, or both, to fulfill such obligations.  The “sheer number” of individuals incarcerated without adequate judicial review of their detention was another issue that had been high on her agenda.  That issue would be the subject of the first meeting she was planning with senior judges.


OHCHR had developed 10 rule-of-law tools for conflict and post-conflict States.  Complex topics such as the establishment of truth and reconciliation commissions had been part of those tools.  Looking forward to next year’s celebration of the 60th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, she urged the Committee to join in efforts to move into the era of universal implementation of the Declaration’s principles, and make them a daily reality for all.


Discussion


The High Commissioner then responded to questions from several delegations.


Addressing mainstreaming human rights at the country level and the role of human rights advisers from her Office, Ms. Arbour said that was a form of country engagement that had been welcomed by States that had benefited from the deployment of United Nations country teams.  The formula had proven very effective in several countries, and had allowed resident United Nations coordinators in concerned countries to have human rights expertise at hand.  Such advisers also provided countries with on-the-ground training in situations where technical cooperation would otherwise be difficult to deliver.


Responding to questions about the country visits she had conducted, she said that she had conducted different types of visits, all at the invitation of governments.  Some visits were to attend a particular event; others were more comprehensive in nature, with substantive dialogue to assess the human rights situation in a given country and to provide some input for future directions.  She said that she had visited four Central Asian countries, as well as Nepal, Japan, Indonesia and Colombia (to sign a renewal of a memorandum of understanding with the Government to secure a local presence by her Office for the next four years), the Great Lakes region of Africa and Sri Lanka.


Briefing the Committee on her Sri Lanka visit, she said she had been to Colombo and Jaffna, spoken with the press, and held discussions with the Minister of Human Rights and Disaster Management.  Sri Lanka faced many challenges, and many but not all, were linked to the armed conflict in the country.  Those challenges included gender issues and minority rights.  The most urgent challenges, however, arose from the armed conflict.  That was especially so in light of disappearances, abductions and extra-judicial killings.  A deficit in credible information on those issues was a major concern, creating a sense of uncertainty about the true scope of the problems.  The Government had expressed a desire for more help from her Office, but it was not certain how much was needed, as Sri Lanka is a sophisticated society with a high level of literacy and considerable capacity.  What the Office could contribute would be a presence in Sri Lanka, acting under a full mandate, which could offer some technical assistance whilst filling the information gap.  That would go a long way to satisfying the desire of Sri Lankans for a proper understanding of the situation in their country.


Several delegations asked Ms. Arbour about the relationship between the Human Rights Council and the Third Committee.  She said that was a question for Member States, and that she had no views that she could usefully express on how interaction between those two bodies should be orchestrated.  She recalled, however, that the Council was a subsidiary body of the Assembly, and that the question would be raised in two years as to whether the Council should be made a principal organ of the United Nations.


Questioned about treaty body reform, she recalled that, at the request of the former Secretary-General, Kofi Annan, her Office had been asked to put forward a vision for that reform.  Unfolding events would show the increased urgency to look at the existing complex machinery.  The International Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities would be coming into force soon; it was hoped that the International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance would also come into force promptly.  The International Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, a demanding instrument, had already been put in place.  Ms. Arbour predicted that the universal periodic review system in the Human Rights Council would likely generate more ratifications, as well as timelier reporting by those countries that had ratified instruments but had defaulted in their reporting obligations.  More work for treaty bodies was anticipated.  Member States had to take a very sober view of where the treaty body system would be, five or ten years down the road.


The geographical distribution of staff at her Office, she said, had been a recurring question.  The concerns of Member States were taken very seriously.  As a matter of principle, the OHCHR should be a model of diversity and all rights holders in the world should see themselves reflected in the Office.  That said, the Office –- being part of the Secretariat –- could only recruit according to rules that had been set out by Member States which sometimes set constraints.  Where those rules had proven to be an impediment, initiatives had been taken to deviate from them to rectify the imbalance.  A first step had been to increase the pool of applicants for positions at the Office.  There had been some success there.  In 2005 only 8 per cent of candidates had not been previously employed by the United Nations, but now that proportion had gone up to 26 per cent.  More rigorous in-house selection through the Galaxy process had also been put in place.  Overnight change was not possible, but a trend had been established that was moving in the right direction, albeit slowly; whereas in December 2006, 64 per cent of professional staff at the Office came from the Western group of Member States, the proportion at the end of September 2007 had been 58 per cent.  That marked an increase for underrepresented countries.


Responding to questions about giving equal importance to economic, social and cultural rights, she stated that she was personally committed to seeing all rights advanced with equal seriousness and vigour.  The Human Rights Council had equipped itself with very strong mandates on economic and social rights, such as health and adequate housing.  Those special procedures had been very active and visible.  That was one of many ways in which the Office continued to advance economic and social rights in the field.


Responding to a question about her Office’s interactions with Member States, she said that regular briefings had been held in Geneva, but that it might be desirable for similar briefings to be conducted in New York as well by herself, her Deputy or the head of her New York Office, in between more formal briefings


The representative of Indonesia asked if the meetings between the High Commissioner and the human rights advisers in Geneva could also be a forum for enhancing transparency in their work.


The representative of Benin asked for the High Commissioner’s reaction to Benin’s initiative, presented on behalf of the African group, on celebrating the 60th anniversary of the Declaration on Human Rights, and asked how the OHCHR could work with them on that.


The representative of Iraq asked about the role the OHCHR would play, and what its future projects were in Iraq in light of resolution 1770, which requested the extension of functions of international organizations in Iraq.


The representative of Nepal asked Ms. Arbour what her assessment of the impact of the universal periodic review in the work of the Office was, and how the review would be coordinated with Member countries where special procedures were already in place.


Cuba’s representative also asked about reform of treaty bodies, and how the High Commissioner thought her office could more directly support the right to development.


The representative of Egypt asked about the move of the gender unit of the Political Affairs Department to Geneva to work under the OHCHR, and expressed concerns that this might affect the prioritization of women and gender issues.


The representative of Canada wanted to know about the High Commissioner’s efforts towards mainstreaming human rights through all the work of the United Nations.


Cameroon’s representative, following up on Gabon’s question about the human rights centre in Cameroon, asked again about the High Commissioner’s action to follow up a General Assembly resolution that required her Office to provide funds and additional human resources to the centre.


Colombia’s representative thanked the High Commissioner for her work.


The representative of Algeria noted that the High Commissioner had visited Western Sahara but had not presented a mission report.  She was curious about the criteria that Ms. Arbour had used to carry out that particular mission.  Second, her delegation had made a proposal to revise the relationship between OHCHR and other subsidiary organs of the system, and she wanted to know what the High Commissioner thought about that.


The representative of Libya asked how the High Commissioner saw the fact that the Human Rights Council was not going to adopt the same measures and standards that the Commission on Human Rights had used.  It would not be focusing on dialogue with States.  How would the Council avoid politicization of human rights, and thus avoid facing the same criticism that the Commission had faced?


Norway’s representative asked if there was a need to further strengthen the process through other measures.


The representative of Morocco referred to Algeria’s question and asked if the High Commissioner might clarify the issue, adding that the country regretted the politicization of the issue but that many issues related to “the camp” needed to be addressed.


Louise Arbour said that human rights advisors would be meeting in her office in the context of their presentations today.  She said she would be very happy to give a briefing after they had this global meeting of field representatives.


Answering Benin’s question, she said that all initiatives highlighting the occasion of the 60th anniversary of the Universal Declaration on Human Rights were most welcome, and that her Office also intended to launch a major awareness campaign in December for the upcoming anniversary.


Addressing the role of her office in Iraq, she noted that it was part of the integrated mission.  She also hoped the situation in the country would permit them to work and to address the very challenging situation in Iraq.  Increased United Nations involvement would permit increased action on human rights issues.


In response to several questions about the universal periodic review, she welcomed all the interest in it, and added that while much progress had been made on it, the universal periodic review was still a work in progress.  While there was a paper concept of how it would function, the practical implementation would require a lot of work and resources.  The fundamental concept of the universal periodic review was its universal character, which would go a long way towards addressing questions of selectivity that had crippled the former Commission, she said.  At the end of the day, it was in the implementation of the universal periodic review that “we will be put to the test” regarding commitment to human rights, she said.


Addressing the questions related to treaty body reform, she said it was also a work in progress, as particularly the Committee on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women and the Committee on the Rights of the Child were both very concerned with preserving their unique character and mandates.  Any effort to streamline that would have to be attuned to these concerns, she observed.


On the right to development, she said what had been seen was a shift towards practical initiatives to measure whether the right to development was being implemented.


Coming back to the question on gender equality and the consequences of the support her Office could offer to the Committee on the elimination of discrimination against women, she said all stakeholders were sure that the transition would be smooth, all those involved would maintain their status, and the Committee would continue to be master of its destiny.


Turning to the Cameroon human rights centre, she said she intended to meet her obligations, saying this was a centre that had already received support out of the United Nations’ regular budget, which was not the situation for most field offices.  She said her Office would comply with the requirement of the General Assembly resolution.


She then addressed the question that was raised about her Office’s reports on Uganda and Nepal.  “This committee is master of its own proceedings,” she observed, adding that her Office would cooperate with all requirements by Member States.  The OHCHR had a presence in both Uganda and Nepal as well as in many other countries, all of which were subjects of memorandums of understanding with the governments concerned.  Her Office’s Memorandums of Understanding stipulated that the OHCHR would present a report to the Human Rights Council and to the General Assembly.  And it was with this understanding that her Office had put forward the reports.


Addressing the questions raised on Western Sahara, she said her Office had held discussions with Algeria and Morocco on the deployment of a small mission.  According to the terms of reference, the report of the small team was to be handled by the High Commissioner at her discretion, she said.  The report would serve as the basis of confidential discussions with the parties concerned, in accordance with the governments concerned.


As for her interactions with the Human Rights Council, it was proceeding in a very different fashion, she said, and meeting very frequently.  In March, her annual report was submitted, and at each subsequent session, she took the floor to update the Council on her activities or any concerns she wished to share.


Uganda’s representative then took the floor to comment on the reports.  Regarding the High Commissioner’s answer that there was a Memorandum of Understanding between her Office and the Government of Uganda, she said that the Ugandan Government had no prior information that there was a report that would be presented.  They had also documented the fact that they did not have any information that there would be a report on Uganda, the representative said, reiterating Uganda’s statement at the beginning of the Committee that “it was an ambush”.


Statement


B. LYNN PASCOE, Under-Secretary-General for Political Affairs, addressed the Committee on the work of the Department of Political Affairs in providing electoral assistance to Member States.  He recalled that his Department was in the process of major reform that would see it become more field-oriented.  Its Electoral Assistance Division was a valuable part of that reform.  That Division had provided assistance to 107 Member States since its establishment 15 years ago -- including 43 Member States in the past two years.  Demand for its services remained high.


More and more United Nations offices, programmes and agencies had become involved in electoral assistance, based on assessments by the Division, with the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) being the primary partner in providing long-term technical assistance.  There had also been cooperation with external organizations, such as the European Union, the Organization of American States, the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, and the International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance.


Mr. PASCOE described several notable trends in electoral assistance in the past two years.  More assistance for local elections was being provided.  Gender considerations were being incorporated into the planning and conduct of elections.  The majority of assistance provided by the United Nations now was technical, rather than electoral observation; the United Nations did not observe elections or issue statements about them.  In three cases, the organization had been asked to certify election results, most recently in Timor-Leste.  More complex assistance was being provided, as Member States sought advice and help on the latest electoral technologies.  Emphasis on national capacity-building meant that electoral assistance had to be sustained over several electoral cycles, rather than being focused on a particular election, because “there is no quick fix”.


He said that, as the “focal point” of electoral assistance provision, he planned to work with relevant United Nations departments to streamline and revise administrative, procurement and financial procedures that often inhibited the ability to respond to requests from Member States.  Terms of reference for the United Nations Trust Fund for Electoral Assistance had been revised.  To be able to conduct urgent electoral missions in the context of conflict prevention, financial support from Member States had to be ensured.  Funding was needed as well to ensure long-term electoral capacity-building.  Reference materials were being developed on electoral best practices; lessons learned in the certification of elections should be reviewed.  Help also had to go out to Member States to ensure that the necessary political conditions for viable elections were in place before the conduct of elections.


Discussion


Responding to a comment from the representative of Cuba, who questioned the involvement of UNDP in electoral assistance and commented on the United Nations Fund for Democracy, Mr. PASCOE said that the Department of Political Affairs responded either to requests from Member States or to Security Council mandates in the provision of electoral assistance.  Throughout its processes, it worked closely with Member States.


Statement


JOHAN SCHOLVINCK, Director of the Division for Social Policy and Development at the Department of Economic and Social Affairs, then elaborated on the report on the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.  Thanks to a strong commitment to the rights of people with disabilities, the Convention –- barely six months after its opening for signature – had had no fewer than 118 signatories, and its Optional Protocol 66 signatories.  There had been seven ratifications of the Convention so far, and three for the Optional Protocol.  The Convention would enter into force on the 30th day after the deposit of the 20th instrument of ratification or accession.


The recent adoption of the Convention represented a crucial opportunity to consolidate disability-related activities within the United Nations system, he said.  Examination of options to improve the “complementarity” and synergy of the three main disability instruments –- the Convention, the World Programme of Action and the Standard Rules –- could be a first step towards such consolidation.  An excellent opportunity for collaboration between his Department and OHCHR had also been provided by the Convention.  Close collaboration would continue during the implementation phase of the Convention.  It was foreseen that the Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities would be serviced in Geneva by OHCHR, and the Conference of States Parties would be serviced in New York by the Department of Economic and Social Affairs.  That would ensure that the Convention could benefit from the expertise of each of those two entities.


NGONLARDJE MBAIDJOL, Director of the New York Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, then introduced nine reports from the Secretary-General on globalization; the Subregional Centre for Human Rights and Democracy in Central Africa; combating defamation of religions; the right to development; unilateral coercive measures; the protection of human rights while countering terrorism; human rights and cultural diversity; national institutions for the promotion and protection of human rights; and the human rights situation in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.


Statement


JOÃO SALGUEIRO (Portugal), speaking for the European Union, said that responsibility for addressing human rights violations could no longer be ignored.  Everyone faced challenges regarding their own human rights record.  The European Union was fully committed to promoting and protecting all human rights, and it would continue to address violations.  It strongly supported the OHCHR; as for the Human Rights Council, it now had the necessary tools to deal effectively with human rights situations worldwide.


As the main body of the United Nations with universal composition, he said, the General Assembly could not remain silent in the face of human rights violations, even if the Human Rights Council had to address those issues as well.  The European Union intended to present draft resolutions on the human rights situations in Myanmar and the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea; the seriousness of the situation in those two countries warranted the attention and action of the Assembly.


He said the European Union was pleased that more and more countries had abolished the death penalty.  However, the number of executions had increased in some States during the last year.  In the framework of a cross-regional alliance, the European Union would be introducing a resolution on the death penalty.


Mr. Salgueiro went on to discuss the human rights situation in a number of countries.  He said continued violence and grave human rights violations –- such as abductions, rape, sex slavery and abuses against children –- in Darfur and other parts of Sudan were a serious concern.  Impunity for those responsible for abuses in Darfur had to be put to an end by the Government.  In Sri Lanka, there had been a disturbing rise in abductions, enforced disappearances, arbitrary detentions, extrajudicial killings and extortion perpetrated by the Government, by the LTTE (the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam) and by the Karuna faction.  The use of child soldiers was also extremely worrying, and there had been a lack of protection for human rights defenders.


In Iran, he said, the human rights situation had been deteriorating; the European Union condemned its extended use of capital punishment and the use of stoning, flogging and amputation as sentences.  The Government of Iran was urged to end clampdowns and mass arrests of human rights defenders, activists, students and journalists.


Insecurity and impunity in the Democratic Republic of the Congo was still extremely worrying, he said, as were the use of armed violence, arbitrary detentions, torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading forms of punishment.  Also of concern was the use of child soldiers and widespread use of sexual violence, especially in the east of the country.  In Belarus, there had been a deterioration of the situation, with systematic violations of civil and political rights.  In Cuba, where civil and political rights had been violated by the Government, the European Union’s position was one of concern, with encouragement for a peaceful change to a pluralistic democracy.  While the release of a few prisoners in recent months was welcomed, the Cuban authorities were urged to unconditionally release all political prisoners.


Steps taken by Afghanistan to promote human rights were welcome, he said, but the recent execution of 15 Afghan nationals was to be regretted.  The humanitarian crisis in Zimbabwe had worsened, bringing misery to millions of its people; the European Union had regularly condemned the use of intimidation, violence, arbitrary arrest and torture in that country.  The Union was highly concerned by the deepening humanitarian crisis in Iraq, and followed with great concern the occurrence of human rights violations, lack of public security, reports of torture, continued use of the death penalty, and difficulties in applying due judicial process in that country.


In Somalia, reports of targeted killings, the inability of journalists to carry out their work without interference, and the lack of a free media were causes of particular concern.  He said the human rights situation in the Somali region of Ethiopia was also a source of deep concern, with worrying reports of extrajudicial executions, arbitrary detentions, sexual violence and torture.  In Guatemala, a decision to establish a commission against impunity was welcome, but there had been a high level of politically motivated violence during the electoral campaign.  In Uzbekistan, the European Union was deeply concerned about freedom of expression and assembly, and the grave situation of human rights defenders; that country had to cooperate fully with all relevant United Nations mechanisms.  In Eritrea, the detention without charge of members of minority religious groups, journalists, leading political figures and members of civil society had been contraventions of human rights agreements that that country was party to.


Mr. Salgueiro said that the protection of human rights defenders had always been a priority for the European Union, which was gravely concerned by the sentencing on vague accusations of several such defenders in Iran.  The situation for human rights defenders was also disturbing in Uzbekistan, Nepal, Iran, Guatemala, Colombia, Yemen, Syria, Cuba, Indonesia, China, Russia, Sri Lanka, Belarus, Myanmar and Zimbabwe.  The European Union reiterated its firm stance in favour of the absolute prohibition of torture.  He said an institutionalized climate of impunity for acts of torture that existed in many parts of the world had to be rejected, and governments had to make clear to their officials, including the police and military, that torture would never be tolerated.


Statement


HENRY MAC DONALD ( Suriname) speaking on behalf of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) said CARICOM members remained guided by the fundamental principles of good governance, the rule of law and respect for the fundamental rights and freedoms of all.  Recognizing the creation by the international community of a wide range of mechanisms, and despite repeated promises never again to allow abhorrent breaches of human rights law, the critical question was whether those commitments were really acted upon, or whether they were merely theoretical concepts.


He said the Community looked forward to discussions with regard to developing human rights guidelines for pharmaceutical companies.  Globalization was not merely an economic process; the gap between developed and developing countries posed a threat to global security, stability and prosperity.  He hoped that the newly established Human Rights Council would deliver on its expectations of promoting human rights.  He thanked all contributors to CARICOM’s initiative to erect a permanent memorial at the United Nations in honour of the victims of slavery and the transatlantic slave trade.


Statement


JOHN DUGARD, Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Occupied Palestinian Territory said that the situation in the Occupied Palestinian Territory had worsened since his last report.  Gaza was still an imprisoned society, with Israel refusing to recognize it as occupied territory.  The humanitarian crisis continued and over 80 per cent of the population was living below the poverty line.  Some improvements in the West Bank had been offset by a number of issues, including the continued construction of the wall and the continued expansion of settlements.


Today he wanted to address three issues, he said:  self-determination; the consequences of prolonged occupation and the role of the United Nations in the promotion of human rights in the Occupied Palestinian Territory.  The right of the Palestinian people to self-determination was seriously threatened by the dispute between Fatah and Hamas, and unfortunately the Quartet –- consisting of the United States, the European Union, the Russian Federation and the United Nations –- had further divided the Palestinian people by supporting one faction against the other.


The prolonged occupation contained elements of apartheid, he said, with a host of laws and practices that discriminated against Palestinians in favor of settlers.  It was suggested that the International Court of Justice be asked for an advisory opinion on the legal consequences for Israel, the occupied Palestinian people and third States due to the prolonged occupation.


Turning to the role of the United Nations, he said it was his responsibility to address the issue of the role of the United Nations in the peace process conducted by the Quartet directly within the United Nations family.  Serious questions had been asked about the compatibility of the United Nations role in the Quartet with its responsibility to be the principal protector of human rights.  The Quartet, which reported to the Security Council, had not been established by a resolution of either the Security Council or the General Assembly, but despite its dubious legal foundation, it had assumed primary responsibility for the management of the peace process between Israel and the Palestinians.


Unfortunately, he said, the Quartet paid little attention to the human rights of the Palestinians.  The imposition of sanctions against the Palestinians by the Quartet had led to a serious loss of confidence in the United Nations in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, he said.  In those circumstances, the question must be asked whether the best interests of the United Nations were served by remaining in the Quartet, where it was used to “legitimize the pro-Israeli position of the Quartet”.


If the Secretary-General were unable to persuade the Quartet to adopt an even-handed and impartial approach to the Israel/Palestine dispute, he suggested that the Secretary-General should consider withdrawing the United Nations from the Quartet.  This, however, was not an appeal to the Organization to withdraw from the Quartet, he clarified.  Instead, it was an appeal to the Secretary-General and his senior staff to consider the United Nations role in the Quartet with special regard to the human rights situation.


Discussion


The Committee then engaged in a discussion with the Special Rapporteur, with some delegations directly concerned by the topic taking the opportunity to make statements.


RIYAD MANSOUR ( Palestine) thanked the Special Rapporteur for his report.


ADY SCHONMANN (ISRAEL) said the report viewed a complex situation through the simplest of prisms.  In its narrow perspective, terrorism and violence emerging from Palestinian areas simply did not exist.  Any measure taken by Israel to protect its citizens was categorically condemned as inadmissible or disproportionate.  Moreover, the report brought into clear focus the personal agenda of the current Rapporteur, who had been advancing the view that terrorism was “a relative concept”.  The Special Rapporteur’s staunch opposition to the Quartet far exceeded his mandate, and his report’s use of inflammatory language did nothing to contribute to constructive dialogue.  At a time when Israeli and Palestinian negotiating teams were preparing to discuss the complex issues in dispute, the report undermined any such efforts, and reflected an approach that was potentially more damaging than previous reports.


The representative of Palestine, on a point of order, said the floor had been opened to questions and comments for the Special Rapporteur, and that a three-page statement by Israel could not be accepted.  The Chair appealed to delegations to be brief.  The representative of Israel said it was the custom of the Committee to allow those parties most directly affected by a Special Rapporteur’s report to comment at greater length.


The representative of South Africa asked how the United Nations could play a role in the establishment of a sovereign Palestinian State, and also what the role of the United Nations should be with regard to human rights violations.  Also, how might a further legal opinion help the Palestinian people express their rights to self-determination?  She expressed worry about the arbitrary detention of Palestinians, and asked how the international community could ensure that Israel abide by the Fourth Geneva Convention.


The representative of Portugal asked what could be done to improve the situation.  While Portugal was aware of the limits to the Special Rapporteur’s mandate, Portugal wanted to know what could be done about impunity, and also asked for more information on the situation regarding the West Bank.


The representative of Kuwait asked what was the best way to end the occupation in the Occupied Palestinian Territory.


The representative of Egypt said the report of the Special Rapporteur spoke for itself, and asked him to elaborate more on the settlements in the territories.


The Special Rapporteur, JOHN DUGARD, began his response by addressing Israel, noting that he had been criticized for not giving more attention to terrorism, and for suggesting that terrorism was a relative concept.  “I’m a South African”, he said, “and grew up in apartheid South Africa”.  Opponents of the apartheid government were initially labelled communists and then became terrorists, he said.  Nelson Mandela was accused of being a terrorist, but today he was seen as a “saintly icon”.  He said two Israeli terrorists –- people who had committed acts of terrorism against the British occupation –- had become prime ministers of Israel.  Even in Israeli history, terrorism was a relative concept.  This did not mean that he wished to minimize the savage nature of terrorism, but there was a tendency in Israel to concentrate so much on terrorism that the real issues were ignored.  He urged the Israeli Government to consider the issues he raised, such as the legality of the wall, as well as issues such as the ongoing arrest of Palestinian prisoners, the humanitarian crisis and the check points.  He urged the Israeli delegation to address the real issues and not focus too much on terrorism, as it did not help to find a solution to the problem.


He said the delegate of South Africa had raised a number of questions, including how the Quartet could play a more meaningful role.  This could be done by paying more attention to human rights.  A legal advisory opinion might help by providing clarity to the issues.  At present, Israel argued that it was not occupying Gaza.  An advisory opinion could clear up the issue and other legal issues.  Regarding treatment of prisoners, he said there was much that State parties to the fourth Geneva Convention should do.  Under humanitarian law, Israel was required to hold prisoners within the occupied territories and not within Israel, as was the current policy.  It would be helpful if States could carry out their obligation by bringing pressure on Israel to comply with international obligations.


In response to Portugal’s question about what was most urgent, he said that a host of issues such as the wall, the increased checkpoints and the border crossings needed to be addressed.  As for how national reconciliation between Hamas and Fatah could be effected, he said the international community should be playing the role of mediator, in trying to bring the two sides together.  At present, there were serious accusations of human rights violations by Hamas in Gaza and by Fatah in the West Bank, but this fell outside his mandate.  It still required the attention of the international community.


Kuwait had asked about an advisory opinion and how it might be secured.  Mr. Dugard explained the procedure.


Noting that the representative of Egypt had asked about settlements, he responded that the Israeli Government said it was freezing settlement activity, but the Government continued to fund and support settlements.


Yemen had raised the question of how United Nations resolutions might be implemented.  This was an issue for the Quartet, said the Special Rapporteur.  Most of the Quartet’s statements were highly critical of Palestine, and no account was taken of the fact that Israel was in serious violation of international law.


JOSEPH REES ( United States) said his country strongly disagreed with the criticism levelled by the Special Rapporteur against the Quartet; it was unhelpful and deeply irresponsible to suggest that the United Nations should consider withdrawing from the Quartet.  The superficial treatment of the complicated and illegitimate situation in Gaza, where Hamas had violently seized power in June, was troubling; the fact of the matter was that President Abbas was the elected leader of all the Palestinian people.  No more than a passing reference had been given to acts of terror directed towards Israeli citizens; the Special Rapporteur’s implication that terrorism could be justified was irresponsible and deeply disturbing.  The United States did not support seeking a further International Court of Justice advisory opinion on issues related to occupation, colonization and apartheid, as mentioned by the Special Rapporteur.


The representative of Syria said her delegation fully shared the opinions contained in the report.  As a native of South Africa, the Special Rapporteur was the best representative of a dialogue on the Arab/Israeli conflict.


The representative of Libyasaid the report was clear, transparent and bold.  It had noted the negative consequences of the situation in the Palestinian Territories after construction of the wall.


The representative of Nicaragua said that an end must be put to the violation of the rights of Palestinian people.


The representative of Palestine said the prism that the Special Rapporteur had used had been the international law, including international humanitarian law and human rights law.  Such instruments were applicable to the Occupied Palestinian Territories, including East Jerusalem, and had been breached by Israel.  The same prism had been used by other United Nations agencies.  Mr. Dugard’s report had been factual and honest, and he was to be commended for that.


Responding to questions from Lebanon and Indonesia on a further advisory opinion from the International Court of Justice, the Special Rapporteur explained that the 2004 advisory opinion had been a very narrow one, dealing with the legality or illegality of the wall.  A host of other issues needed to be addressed; thus it might be helpful to look at the whole spectrum of the nature of the occupation.  As the occupation had been accompanied by colonialism, with half a million settlers on the West Bank, it might help to confirm that it was still an occupied territory.  It would be a helpful exercise that would not only give legitimacy to United Nations on the subject, but also provide further clarity.


On a question from Indonesia on what the Quartet could be doing, the Special Rapporteur said his complaint was that the Quartet did not take the human rights context of the situation sufficiently seriously.  He explained that he was a human rights Special Rapporteur; he could not trespass too much onto political terrain, but there had to be a human rights approach.


Responding to Libya on how to end the occupation, he said the best solution would be a peaceful settlement.  He noted that there was a possibility of a conference in the United States in November towards that goal.  He hoped it would succeed, but it was important that it be conducted with due regard to the human rights context, and the need for the protection of the human rights of the Palestinians to be included in any settlement.


On what could be done by the United Nations and civil society, he said civil society had been very active in creating public awareness of human rights violations.  States could be more pro-active.  For instance, there were still serious suggestions that States had been buying produce from illegal Israeli settlements, blissfully unaware that such produce was tainted with illegality.


Responding to the comments made by the United States, he said he had been interested to hear the representative say that the Quartet was concerned by the normative parameters of any peaceful settlement.  That was essential, but such parameters had to have regard to human rights norms and the opinion of the International Court of Justice, whose 2004 advisory opinion had been neglected by the international community.  While the United States was not legally bound to accept an advisory opinion, it had imposed its will on the other members of the Quartet, which had indicated that they were prepared to accept the advisory opinion.


On terrorism, the Special Rapporteur said that while he did not wish to underestimate terrorism, it could be used as a “red herring” and a distraction from the real issues.  Many human rights violations could not be justified as actions taken to curb terrorism.  It was not necessary to have checkpoints throughout the West Bank to prevent terrorism, now that the wall was being built as a security wall.  It was clear that its purpose was to enclose Israeli settlements within Israel.  Regarding apartheid, it was politically incorrect to suggest that Israeli practices in the Occupied Territories were akin to apartheid.  However, while it was a very delicate issue, many of Israel’s practices on the West Bank and in East Jerusalem discriminated on racial grounds against Palestinians.


PAULO SÉRGIO PINHEIRO, Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Myanmar, then addressed the Committee.  He said that, despite having not been granted access to the country since November 2003, he had followed events closely, based on information from independent and reliable sources, as well as through dialogue with the Permanent Missions of Myanmar in Geneva and New York.  Tragic events had been taking place in Myanmar since 15 August 2007 when the retail price of fuel had been increased by 500 per cent without warning.  Peaceful protests had culminated in large demonstration from 18 September to 30 September, led by Buddhist monks.  From 26 to 28 September, excessive force had been used by the security forces in the face of the demonstrations; people had been killed, thousands arrested and many people were still detained.  Alarming reports of death in custody, torture and disappearances continued to be received.


The Special Rapporteur said that, as of today, he had been able to verify allegations of the use of excessive force by the security forces, including the use of live ammunition, rubber bullets, tear gas, bamboo and wood sticks, rubber batons and catapults or “slingshots”.  Those had largely explained the killings and severe injuries that had been reported.  It was a matter of very serious concern that non-law enforcement officials and non-State armed groups had been used alongside the security forces.   Today marked the twelfth anniversary of the house arrest of Daw Aung Sang Suu Kyi, the General Secretary of the National League for Democracy; her release, and those of other detainees and political prisoners, should be immediate and unconditional.  Myanmar had an obligation to investigate grave human rights violations, to prosecute those who perpetrated those violations and to punish them if they were found guilty.


He said States in the region had an outstanding role to play, but there was an urgent need to coordinate the different approaches among Member States who had been trying to find ways to contribute towards the principles of democracy and the rule of law in Myanmar.  There should be a strategic dialogue with the Government.  The Government in Myanmar was called upon to continue cooperating with Ibrahim Gambari, the Secretary-General’s Special Adviser, who had recently been in the country.


The Government, he said, had confirmed this week its agreement for the Special Rapporteur to visit Myanmar; he would be particularly concerned to confirm the numbers, whereabouts and conditions of those detained, as well as an accounting for the numbers killed during the protests.  It was difficult at this stage to provide accurate numbers of persons killed, arrested and detained; figures given by the authorities underestimated what might be the real numbers.


The recent tragic events had shown that the Government was not adequately protecting the freedoms of opinion and assembly, he said.  Meaningful and inclusive dialogue between the Government, political representatives and ethnic groups was the starting point for national reconciliation.  International actors, including the Human Rights Council, should contribute to that process.  International humanitarian assistance could not be made a hostage of politics; any decision on such assistance had to be solely guided by the best interests of children, women, people with disabilities, those affected by illness and minority groups. 


The stability of Myanmar was not well served by the arrest and detention of political leaders, or by restrictions on fundamental freedoms, he added.  Unconditional release of the General Secretary of the National League for Democracy and thousands of political prisoners was a prerequisite for an authentic democratic transition.  Ordinary people needed space to express their views and discontent, peacefully and in public.


Statement


U THAUNG TUN ( Myanmar) said that the Special Rapporteur’s report was less than objective, yet that cooperation with the United Nations was a cornerstone of Myanmar’s foreign policy.  It was in that spirit that Myanmar continued to cooperate with the Special Rapporteur.  In recent months and weeks, his country had become an emotive issue, but the international community had to rise above the fray and discern the true situation.  What had occurred recently was tragic.  What had begun as a peaceful protest over fuel prices, and protests by Buddhist novices who were unhappy with the mistreatment of fellow monks by local authorities had been “sullied by political activists and rabble rousers”.


The Government had exercised restraint and not intervened for nearly a month.  The security forces had been called in to restore law and order only when the situation had gotten out of hand and posed a challenge to peace and security, he said.  The country had weathered the storm, and had recently appointed a minister to liaise with Daw Aung San Suu Kyi.  He rejected the “outrageous allegations” of human rights violations, particularly sexual violence and recruitment of child soldiers.  Those were false allegations disseminated by remnants of the insurgents and their allies.  He expressed confidence that the Special Rapporteur would not fail to note the concrete developments taking place in Myanmar, despite all manner of sanctions and obstacles placed in its path.


Discussion


Several delegations then put questions to the Special Rapporteur, during which the Chairman, following a request made by the representative of Myanmar, asked delegations to refer to the country by its official name.


Mr. PINHEIRO said that news about his visit to Myanmar was very recent.  There had been a suggestion that it would take place before a summit of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN).  Talks regarding the visit were continuing, but everything at this stage was positive.


On the number of political prisoners, he said several had been released during the past seven years of his mandate, but that it was impossible to give an accurate number.  On the condition of women, he noted that the Government had presented a report to the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women; it was imperative that the rights of women be addressed in the new Constitution.


Responding to questions posed by the representative of France on conditions in detention centres, he said that the Government had benefited from visits from the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) for a number of years, and he had been told that conditions had improved.  It was hoped that ICRC would be able to resume the excellent work it had been doing.  On what help could be extended to the Special Rapporteur, he said Member States could continue to do what they had been doing; namely, coordinated action.  Such action was indispensable to ensure a transition process in Myanmar.  He said he was very pleased by the consensus note issued by the Security Council.


Responding to a question from Guinea-Bissau on the value and need for freedom of expression and speech, he said the Government of Myanmar could soon recognize that such freedoms were essential in a transition to democracy.  Answering a question from New Zealand about details of his upcoming visit to Myanmar, he said he had just begun making the arrangements, and noted that the Ambassador of Myanmar had extended the full cooperation of his Government.


On a question from the representative of Japan, also about the potential visit to Myanmar, he said the purpose of the visit would be to follow up on the resolution of the fifth special session -- to offer to the Human Rights Council an honest and thorough picture of the crisis after listening to the protesters and the viewpoint of the Government.


Reacting to the statement by the representative of Myanmar, he said he was not condemning the National Convention, as it could be an important tool in the transition process.  Rather, there was a need to include more voices and viewpoints in the process; that was an opinion that had also been expressed by the Secretary-General and his predecessor.  Crisis was always an opportunity for progress.


The representative of Germany -- having seen how important the Internet and mobile technology had been to show the world what was happening in Myanmar recently -- asked how the international community could assist in providing this resource to the people of Myanmar.


The representative of Australia asked how the international community could provide assistance.


The representative of Canada urged the authorities to facilitate the work of the Special Rapporteur, and added that they were very concerned with detention and lack of respect for human rights.  How could countries in the region and outside facilitate the Special Rapporteur’s work in Burma?


The representative of Myanmar then asked for, and received the floor to speak on a point of order.  Speculating that the distinguished representative of Canada might have been out of the room at the time of his last point of order, he again asked the chairman to remind delegations that the name of his country was Myanmar. The chairman did so.


The representative of the United States wanted to know how the Special Rapporteur and the Secretary-General’s Special Adviser Ibrahim Gambari, were coordinating their work and their travels, as well as how they were supporting each other’s mandates. The representative then asked about the Special Rapporteur’s proposed phased approach to prisoner releases, and expressed concern that such an approach might encourage the authorities to delay. The representative asked the Special Rapporteur for his thoughts on that possibility. He concluded by urging the international community to address the threat posed by the current political situation not just to “the people of Burma”, but also to the overall peace and security of the region.


On a point of order, the representative of Myanmar again took the floor and requested a little more time to fully explain the history of the name change of the country.  The Chairman said he would allow that, if only the Myanmar delegation would allow the rest of the questions to be asked first.  He then gave the floor to the representative of Brazil, who welcomed the Special Rapporteur’s report and expressed support for his work.


The representative of China said they hoped the Special Rapporteur would continue to have dialogue with Myanmar.  He hoped the Government of Myanmar would continue to improve the lives of its people, and that the international community would provide constructive help to human rights problems in the country.  He observed that the Special Rapporteur understood the Chinese language to some extent, but said that the word “crisis” was not equivalent to opportunity.  If the international community and Myanmar could have constructive engagement, the crisis could be turned into an opportunity.


The representative of Myanmar then explained that, in 1989, the Government had changed the country’s name and registered it with the United Nations.  Ever since the region had been civilized, the nation had called itself Myanmar, he said, and the country wanted the English version to be in conformity with the name.  Myanmar was composed of over 100 nationalities and ethnic groups, and if one referred to the country as “ Burma”, one would be referring only to the largest ethnic group in the country, and not to them all.  The name was not a political situation.


Taking the floor to answer the questions addressed to him, Mr. PINHEIRO said that one of the articles of the resolution of the Human Rights Council encouraged the Government of Myanmar to engage in a dialogue to ensure full responsibility for human rights.  He was working very closely with the High Commissioner for Human Rights.


“We have to deal with the indivisibility of human rights,” he said, and added that economic and social rights had to be considered as well.  The representative of Germany had indicated this very clearly, he said.  Access to the Internet could not be denied to the citizens of Myanmar.  On the other hand, he said, he thought that the international community and Internet providers had to find ways that did not allow censorship in terms of access to the Internet, which was very much present in the international debate.  Regarding forced labour, a dialogue continued between the International Labour Organization (ILO) and the Government, he said.


Turning to the Australian representative’s question, he said the authorities had a duty to ensure humane conditions for prisoners.  He mentioned the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) and said that the organization’s very old history was proof of their seriousness and commitment.  He would repeat this appeal to the Government of Myanmar.  Addressing Canada’s questions on how countries could facilitate his work, he said it was important to assure a humanitarian presence in support of community empowerment.  In every example of political transition, international solidarity to empower civil society was decisive, and Myanmar would surely not be the exception to the rule.  He said that the international community had to rejoice with the offer permitting him to visit the country.


Right of Reply


The representative of Algeria, speaking in exercise of the right of reply, commented on remarks made by the representative of Morocco during the discussion with the High Commissioner for Human Rights.  Ms. Arbour had been asked by Algeria to clarify the criteria by which she decided to present reports on human rights situations and the cases of Nepal, Uganda and Western Sahara had been cited.  That Morocco had given a political twist to a technical question was regrettable.  Algeria had no objection to the issuance of the report by the OHCHR on Western Sahara, which had been based on a visit to the occupied territory of Western Sahara and to the Tindouf camp.


The representative of Sudan, responding to the earlier statement by Portugal on behalf of the European Union, said that that statement was a reminder of the colonial mindset that, in the past, had dominated Sudan for far too long.  Sudan’s problems were the legacy of colonialism.  He referred to the situations in the Occupied Palestinian Territories, Abu Ghraib and Guantánamo in the context of human rights and stated that there had been a politicization of human rights.  The representative who spoke on behalf of the European Union should speak instead of the human rights situation of migrants in European countries.  Sudan had ceaselessly deployed efforts to further the peace process in Darfur, working with the African Union, while Libya had generously offered to host a conference to end the conflict there.  It was hoped that the European Union would be a partner in that process.


The representative of Iraq, responding to Portugal on behalf of the European Union, said that his country shared the concerns that had been expressed about human rights and Iraqi refugees.  His Government had been working hard to fulfil its responsibilities.  While the security situation had improved in some areas, problems continued, and support was needed from friendly countries and concerned international organizations.  In terms of human rights, the main challenge for the Iraqi people had been terrorist activities and crimes targeting innocent civilians.  The invitation to the Special Rapporteur on torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment to visit Iraq was a sign of the firm belief of the Government to improve the human rights situation and to fight against impunity.


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For information media • not an official record