16 April 1999


16 April 1999

Press Release


19990416 Commission on Human Rights Continues Debate on Specific Groups, Individuals

(Reissued as received.)

GENEVA, 16 April (UN Information Service) -- United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Mary Robinson this afternoon told the Commission on Human Rights that refugees from Kosovo were telling members of her staff that Serbian police and paramilitary forces were continuing with their campaign of terror.

Mrs. Robinson, who was providing members of the Commission with an update on the situation of Kosovan refugees, said the refugees recounted how they were forced from their homes at gunpoint, and often were given only a few minutes to flee. Staff members also heard that summary executions of ethnic Albanians were occurring on a large scale in several locations.

Dennis McNamara, Director of Protection at the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), said the situation was not only a refugee crisis but a human rights crisis as well. Although more than half a million people had already fled Kosovo, several hundred thousands remained, forced to hide, often in freezing forests and icy mountains.

Mr. McNamara said that, to date, 312,000 Kosovan refugees had crossed the border to Albania, 119,000 went to the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, 67,000 reached Montenegro, 31,000 moved to Bosnia and Herzegovina, and 50,000 - a number used by the Government of the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia and unconfirmed by UNHCR - remained displaced in the country. Those numbers continued to climb.

Also this afternoon, the Commission continued to consider issues concerning specific groups and individuals.

The Representative of the Secretary-General on internally displaced persons, Francis M. Deng, said the situation in Kosovo illustrated to the international audience the problems of displaced persons. Mr. Deng said that while the world was horrified by the faces of refugees it saw on television, those pictures only told half the story. What remained untold was those trapped inside Kosovo, unable to escape when the borders were closed.

Other speakers focused on the right of migrants and ethnic minorities in other countries, as well as discrimination against those who were infected with the HIV/AIDS virus.

Poland, Argentina, Austria, China, Pakistan, the United States, Morocco, Sudan, Cuba, Peru, Bangladesh, Norway, Romania, Egypt, Georgia, the Sovereign Military Order of Malta, Bulgaria, Malta, Switzerland, and Ukraine addressed the meeting, as did representatives of the International Committee of the Red Cross, the International Organization for Migration, and the International Federation of the Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies.

The Commission resumed its plenary in an evening meeting from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m. to continue its debate on specific groups and individuals.

Work Programme

The Commission has before it document (E/CN.4/1999/79) which is a report by the Representative of the Secretary-General on internally displaced persons, Francis M. Deng. The report details the normative framework for the protection and assistance of internally displaced persons, the institutional framework, the country focus, and an agenda for research. The Representative concludes that much has been accomplished since his mandate was created. The international community's response to the global crisis has advanced considerably. The mandate has played a catalytic role that has focused on developing an appropriate normative framework of protection and assistance. Nonetheless, providing an effective and comprehensive system of response to the needs of internally displaced populations around the world remains a daunting task that calls for a concerted effort from all concerned at all levels, local and global. The mandate will have to enhance its capacity with both human and material resources, which are at present dismally deficient.

Also before the Commission is an addendum report (E/CN.4/1999/79/Add.1) by Mr. Deng entitled profiles in displacement: Azerbaijan. In the report, he discusses the displacement crisis, responsibilities and the legal and institutional frameworks for response, current conditions of the displaced, and efforts for durable solutions for this problem in Azerbaijan.

The Representative underscores the fact that protection for the internally displaced extends beyond safeguards against physical attack to encompass also the enjoyment of economic and social rights. Donors,

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international agencies and non-governmental organizations share the view that the Government must assume greater responsibilities for addressing the needs of its internally displaced population. There is a need to find a lasting and peaceful solution to the conflict. The tragic plight of the internally displaced must be addressed in a comprehensive and effective manner.

The Commission also has before it an addendum report (E/CN.4/1999/79/Add.2) by Mr. Deng which includes the report of the Workshop on internal displacement in Africa in which the following issues were addressed: the guiding principles on internal displacement, prevention of internal displacement, state and non-state responsibility, assistance, protection and human rights, local capacities and displaced communities, displaced children and women, inter-agency cooperation, data collection and exchange. One of the objectives of this workshop is to provide input on internal displacement to the Organization of African Unity ministerial meeting on refugees, returnees and displaced persons in Africa which took place in Khartoum in December 1998.


FRANCIS M. DENG, Representative of the Secretary-General on internally displaced persons, said scenes of several hundred thousand refugees fleeing into Albania, the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia and Montenegro, horrifying as they were, revealed only one side of the refugee tragedy -- those who had managed to cross international borders. Those trapped within Kosovo, especially when borders were closed, remained under the grip of a regime whose capacity for brutality appeared boundless. The international community could not tell what was happening to these people, but it was easy to imagine the fate they were likely to suffer.

In any situation of internal displacement, the primary responsibility for providing protection rested with the State, and yet the State often was the principal source of insecurity and deprivation, Mr. Deng said. The Commission had requested the development of an appropriate framework for protecting and assisting the internally displaced, and he had developed a series of guiding principles on internal displacement which provided practical guidance on how the law should be interpreted and applied in all phases of displacement.

But when Governments were not open to dialogue and when there were restrictions on access to countries and a lack of information about the situation of internally displaced groups, the limitations of human-rights mandates were painfully apparent, Mr. Deng said. Strategies for addressing such situations were urgently needed. As experiences in Sierra Leone and other African countries had recently shown, meanwhile, non-State actors also could be major violators of human rights and could cause internal population displacements.

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Mr. Deng said the Kosovo situation illustrated the need for early response. Warnings about Kosovo had been sounded for years, yet not enough had been done to prevent the debacle now occurring. The international community had not been taken by surprise. It was time for the international community to go beyond ad hoc responses to such crises, Mr. Deng said.

MARY ROBINSON, United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, said that in the past week, several members of the staff of the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) had travelled to the Balkans to interview refugees and witnesses to the atrocities in Kosovo. Staff members of the Office remained in several areas and continued to interview refugees. They also coordinated with local human rights groups and other organizations that assisted them in identifying credible witnesses who were able to analyze the situation and provide new information. Dennis McNamara of the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees had learned that half a million people had fled Kosovo, and that several hundred thousand persons were displaced within the country. Many of the people were believed to be spending nights without shelter in the freezing cold with no or little food. Some were believed to be hidden in forests and icy mountains in central and southern Kosovo.

Mrs. Robinson said there were many reports of continued serious human rights violations, allegedly perpetrated by Serbian police and paramilitary forces. Many refugees reported that they were forced to leave the country at gunpoint, and in some cases house keys, identity papers, and other personal items were confiscated by the police. Several reported that police gave them no more than five minutes to leave their homes, and they believed that after they left, their homes were looted. One doctor who was riding a bus home from work, was forced at gunpoint to turn over his physician's stamp of legitimization.

The High Commissioner said that in the last few days, there were alarming reports of large-scale summary executions of ethnic Albanians in Djakovica, Orahovac, Ljubenic, and Kotlina. One refugee had spoken about a woman carrying an infant who was forced from her home. On the way to the railway station, she tried to run away. One of the paramilitary soldiers shot her dead. It was not known what happened to the infant.

Mrs. Robinson said there were reports of women who were threatened with rape if they did not hand over money to police and soldiers, or if they were not carrying official papers. There were also allegations that people were being used as human shields against the bombs of the North Atlantic Organization Treaty (NATO). In the last week, many internally displaced persons were killed when a NATO bomb struck a train, and two days ago, 75 internally displaced persons were killed as a result of aerial military action. She called for continued efforts to find a peaceful solution to the situation.

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DENNIS McNAMARA, Director of Protection at the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), said current figures showed there were 312,000 Kosovan refugees in Albania, 119,000 in the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia; 67,000 in Montenegro; 31,000 in Bosnia and Herzegovina; and 50,000 reportedly in the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia -- the last figure being provided by the Government and unconfirmed by UNHCR. These totals were mounting all the time.

Mr. McNamara said despite public criticism, the international response to the refugee flows since the escalation of the conflict had been admirably free of mortality. Military action obviously would not resolve the humanitarian consequences of the events in Kosovo. The situation was highly politicized and highly militarized.

UNHCR was facing an enormous task trying to coordinate the humanitarian response to around half a million refugees, many of whom were not exactly politically welcome in the countries to which they had fled, he said. It was doing its best. Kosovo was both a refugee and a human-rights crisis. Human rights were at the heart of the exodus -- the right to asylum was critical to saving thousands of lives, and the right to return would have to be honoured for any lasting solution to be achieved. UNHCR understood that refugee totals could increase drastically from even their current high levels. Meanwhile, women refugees were experiencing serious human-rights violations and this required immediate and concerted reaction by the international community.

JACEK TYSZKO (Poland) said the subject of HIV/AIDS gave the world both a reason for panic and despair, as well as a reason for hope. HIV/AIDS had continued to explode around the globe. According to UNAIDS and the World Health Organization who reported in December 1998 that more than 33 million people worldwide lived with HIV/AIDS, 21 million out of this number were living in sub-Saharan Africa, 14 million had died across the world, and 16,000 new infections occurred daily. HIV doubled the death rate for adults in some places, and was the single biggest cause of death in others.

Mr. Tyszko said the reason for hope, however, was the fact that more was known about the disease than ever before, and that measures were taken to slow the spread and infection of the disease. The protection and enjoyment of human rights was an essential part of an effective response to the pandemic. This required the implementation of all human rights: civil, political, economic, social, and cultural rights in accordance with existing international human rights principles.

HERNAN PLORUTTI (Argentina) said it was important to address the issue of human rights of migrants. Economic obstacles that impeded their full enjoyment of human rights was nothing less than a violation of human rights. In Argentina, immigration was high. Its Constitution extended an invitation to all men of goodwill who wished to live there. Immigrants had played an

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important role in shaping Argentina's history. A rush of immigration beginning in the 1870s had been a decisive factor in shaping the population of the country well into the new century. Argentina was proud of its racial plurality and its cultural diversity.

Mr. Plorutti said that in 1989, Argentina became a magnet for migrants of neighbouring countries, especially migrants from Peru, Bolivia, and Paraguay. Many amnesties have been provided to ensure their well being. The International Organization of Migration had helped create many new opportunities for migrants, for example, it made sure that migrants would not work in demeaning conditions. In Argentina now, migrants could get a temporary permit for a year, and that could be renewed without having to show a work contract. But more help was needed from the international community.

CHRISTIAN STROHAL (Austria) said his country had repeatedly underlined the importance of the full realization of human rights for all, including the most vulnerable in any given society, as a foundation for peace and stability. The effective protection of minorities constituted a major stabilising factor both in intra-state and inter-state relations. In turn, policies of repression, denial, or forced assimilation lay the ground for strife and separatism. Such was the brutal repression of the rights of the ethnic Albanian population in Kosovo. The effective protection of minorities not only guaranteed the continued existence of minorities in physical terms, but provided them with access to material resources required for their livelihood. Tolerance and respect for different characteristics were required, as were positive measures to ensure development of each individual, regardless of his or her origin.

Mr. Strohal said one of the greatest challenges was the plight of the tens of millions of persons displaced within the borders of their own countries. The international response to the internally displaced persons had largely been insufficient and focused primarily on assistance needs of the internally displaced persons. Yet recent tragic events demonstrated that the protection needs of displaced persons were as great as their need for food, shelter, clean water, health care and education. The Representative of the Secretary-General had undertaken a number of initiatives and activities to disseminate the guiding principles which was to be praised.

LI BAODONG (China) said that in advancing protection of the rights of minorities, the international community should exchange experiences through dialogue and cooperation and avoid arrogance, prejudice, double standards, and finger-pointing. China was a unified country with many ethnic groups; the population of 55 minority groups in China stood at 108 million, or nearly 9 per cent of the total population. China attached great importance to the legitimate rights of ethnic minorities and had established special rights for them in accordance with the law. Two basic aspects of the Government's

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approach were adherence to a policy of equality and ethnic autonomy and support for economic and cultural development of minority groups.

Mr. Baodong said the Government acted to maintain and develop the fine traditional cultures of ethnic minorities, and it had taken various measures to intensify the assistance offered to them in human, material, financial, technological and other fields. In the Tibet autonomous region, for example, 62 aid projects had been undertaken with a total investment of nearly 4 billion yuan.

S. K. TRESSLER (Pakistan) said that minorities made up 3 per cent of Pakistan's population, and the Government had put into place laws to preserve and protect differing languages, scripts, and cultures. Pakistan's minorities contributed much to the country, including great accomplishments in the fields of health and education. If left to the highly competitive and charged electoral system, minorities would not have had much of a chance to participate in public office. But Pakistan instead implemented a separate electoral system, which resulted in 10 minority members occupying seats in the National Assembly and a total of 23 seats in the Provincial Assemblies.

Mr. Tressler said that with regard to the so-called blasphemy laws, accusations concerning the laws mainly stemmed from illiteracy, ignorance or personal animosities. It was important to note that no death sentence, given by a lower court on the charge of blasphemy, had been so far held up by higher courts in Pakistan. No law was being used especially against minorities. The vast majority of those charged were Muslims, and not non-Muslims. But the Government, sensitive to the plight of minorities, had appointed an Inter-Faith Committee composed of eminent representatives from the majority and minority communities. The Committee had adopted various policies, including the creation of a Ministry and departments of minority affairs at the federal and provincial levels, and the prohibition of denying admission to pubic educational institutions because of race, religion, caste, or place of birth.

ALEXANDRA ARRIAGA (United States) said his country was formed by many who had fled tyranny and sought freedom of conscience, religion and belief. It was home to several different religious groups and members of every nationality and ethnicity. From this rich diversity, the United States drew its strength and commitment to the principle that it was a nation built on tolerance and respect for individual beliefs.

Ms. Arriaga said the United States was deeply troubled by the treatment of religious minorities in many countries. In China, authorities continued to interfere with Protestant and Catholic groups which lacked their official approval. And there was also its efforts to suppress religious expression in Tibet and Xinjiang and to disparage the Dalai Lama. In spite of repeated international expression of concern about the welfare and whereabouts of

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Gendun Choeyki Nyima, the Government of China still refused international observers access to him. Sudan, India, Pakistan and Egypt were all examples where religious minorities faced violence and harassment. The United States was committed to ensuring the human rights of all individuals and being home to so many of the world's religions, nationalities, and ethnicities.

MOHAMED MAJDI (Morocco) said migrants were lately coming under great pressure and discrimination from host countries; xenophobia and racism were still growing, along with discrimination in housing and employment; migrants were held responsible for various economic problems and often were seen as eliminating chances for employment among national populations. Often migrants were denied the right to freely practice their religions and to unify their families. The right to live in a family should be fully recognized.

Mr. Majdi said it was discouraging that not a single developed country had ratified the International Convention for the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and their Families. It was important for the international community to work together on the structural and root causes of major migratory movements. Host countries should adopt anti-racism laws based on the principle that racism was a crime, and should implement such laws.

SHARAF ELDIN BANNAGA (Sudan) said displacement of the population in Sudan was a major problem facing the country, and its root causes lay in three main areas, the economy, severe spells of drought, and in the armed conflict that involved south Sudan. According to available statistics, the number of displaced was around 4 million, 14 per cent of the population. Most of them had fled the conflict zones in the south and sought refuge in the north and in government-controlled areas where they could find protection and basic services.

Mr. Bannaga said considering the magnitude of displacement, the Government had accorded it high priority. The tenets of its policy lay in the understanding that all citizens had a constitutional right to freedom of movement, and that those citizens were facing special circumstances and therefore required special care. As citizens, they had the same rights for basic services provided by the Government to regular residents. Despite its considerable efforts to provide assistance to the displaced, much still remained to be done considering the Government's limited resources. Sudan called upon the international community to shoulder its responsibility and play a positive role, mainly through provision of adequate financial resources in health care and proper sanitary water systems. It should move beyond relief to favour rehabilitation and community integration of displaced persons.

JORGE FERRER RODRIGUEZ (Cuba) said the Commission should appoint a Special Rapporteur on the human rights of migrants, as proposed; the violation of the human rights of migrants was widespread and migration was increasing

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year by year. The United States was erecting walls of barbed wire and metal along its southern border to keep migrants from Central and Latin America out; more immigrants had died trying to cross this enormously long wall than had died over the decades that the Berlin Wall had existed. In addition to deaths, there were beatings, verbal abuse, and illegal detention of migrants for long periods of time without cause in the United States. Mentally disturbed detainees in migratory detention centres in the United States had harmed others, as they had not been properly treated or supervised.

Mr. Rodriguez said restrictive, repressive, police-based approaches were not effective solutions to the problems raised by migration -- in fact their effects were counter-productive and resulted, among other things, in undocumented migration and trafficking in illegal migrants.

GONZALO GUILLEN (Peru) said that in the early 1980s, Peru had seen a large wave of migration because of instability in other countries in the region. The subject of internally displaced persons in Peru was now getting much attention from the Government. Peru had implemented many programmes to help thousands of families, and they had been successful - 350,000 of 600,000 displaced persons in the country in the last six years had returned to their native homeland.

Mr. Guillen said the report of the Representative of the Secretary-General on internally displaced persons revealed that there were between 20 to 25 million people around the world who were internally displaced. There had not been enough protection or support for them from the international community. It required a concerted effort at all levels, locally and internationally. The Peruvian delegation would like to see a declaration to provide practical guidance, which would be an instrument of education and public policy for countries. Humanitarian assistance should be provided without discrimination. The responsibility of helping these people was first a responsibility to be met by the country involved. But if the country was unable or unwilling, that was when the international community must intervene. Women and children made up most of the displaced people. Because of their vulnerability, they needed special attention and treatment.

IFTEKHAR CHOWDHURY (Bangladesh) said since time immemorial, people had constantly been on the move in quest for the unknown and in search of a better life. This was a process that contributed to enriching societies. Yet ironically, migration had become a major concern for many countries. Some even perceived it as a threat to sovereignty with the potential to undermine cultural and ethnic homogeneity, national identity and economic advantages. In the process, the migrants had been made scapegoats for the domestic, social and economic ills of the host country.

Mr. Chowdhury said that in the context of globalization and economic liberalisation, the need to articulate an effective regime for international

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migration had become even more urgent. Free movement of labour was perceived with great apprehension. Regulatory measures were often adopted in the name of safeguarding the interest of domestic labour. Bangladesh commended the Working Group for its work and said efforts should focus on educating the human mind -- freeing it of all kinds of bigotry, and enriching it with values of tolerance and appreciation of diversity.

BIRGIT VINNES (Norway) said the insurance of equal enjoyment of human rights for all alleviated tension in a society. A genuine democracy contained safeguards to ensure respect for minorities, it must be the common goal of all to create political systems in which minorities could enjoy their fundamental human rights. The United Nations had a prominent role in promoting and protecting the rights of minorities. The principle of non-discrimination was at the very core of human rights and was the basis for the protection of the rights of minorities. In practice, however, the enjoyment of human rights often faced many obstacles.

ION MAXIM (Romania) said ensuring that ethnic minorities were protected was one of the most important aspects of human rights and fundamental freedoms in Romania. The country was deeply attached to the idea that all citizens had the right, regardless of their ethnic origin, to partake in all aspects of political, economic, and public life. For this Commission, there was a need to stress that specific and adequate protection should be made to persons belonging to national minorities. The lack of dialogue could jeopardize internal stability.

Mr. Maxim said that in recent years, Romania had signed bilateral treaties with neighbouring countries which provided a solid framework for addressing minority issues such as education, historical and cultural heritage, preservation of ethnic identity, and encouragement of inter-ethnic dialogue. In Romania, the Constitution required ethnic minorities to occupy at least one seat in Parliament. Its Parliament today included at least one representative of the Hungarian, Jewish, Turkish, Bulgarian, Greek, Polish, Slovak, Italian, Tatar, Albanian, Russian, Serbian, Armenian, German, Ukrainian, and Roma minorities. For example, the Democratic Union of Magyars of Romania had 25 deputies and 11 senators in Parliament, and ethnic Hungarians held two Cabinet posts, as well as eight in State Secretariats, two Prefects, five Deputy Prefects, 139 Mayors, and 2,580 local councilors. With this many minorities holding high office, the Government had adopted initiatives like ensuring mother tongue studies at all levels.

HASSAN ABDEL MONEIM (Egypt) said concepts of human rights had to adjust to changing realities. The problems of migrant workers were growing in magnitude, and the numbers of migrants were growing yearly; it was a matter of concern that the International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and their Families, which had been devised to respond to

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this development, had been ratified by so few countries. There needed to be more support for the Convention.

Mr. Moneim said the rights of migrants should be accorded much broader protection than was the case now in the Commission; these people had left their homes; they were vulnerable; they provided skills and vitality to their hosts countries. That did not mean, however, that they were prepared or obliged to surrender their basic human rights.

AMIRAN KAVADZE (Georgia) said it was exactly a year ago since Georgia had described a truly tragic situation concerning hundreds of thousands of persons forcibly displaced from the Abkhazian Autonomous Republic of Georgia, and had made specific proposals aimed at overcoming this crisis caused by the Georgian-Abkhazian conflict. It was unfortunate that the burning human problems directly ensuing from a brutal violation of fundamental human rights of 300,000 predominantly ethnic Georgians forcibly evicted by Abkhazian separatists from their historical homeland remained unresolved.

Mr. Kavadze said it was clear that the international community had misunderstood and underestimated this acute humanitarian problem which could lead to extremely negative consequences since this very dangerous phenomenon of aggressive separatism had not encountered any resistance or rebuff. The Government of Georgia continuously stated that the return of refugees to their places of origin could not be viewed as a gift of Abkhazian separatists to the forcibly displaced civilian population since the right to return was their fundamental right recognized by the international community.

MARIE-THERESE PICTET-ALTHANN, the Sovereign Military Order of Malta, said the Order, in keeping with its nine-centuries-old tradition, had provided medical assistance to displaced populations streaming out of Kosovo; from the first week of the arrival in Albania of massive flows of refugees, the Order had, through its Emergency Corps, put in place aerial and land-based transport of essential material, including a hospital with medical equipment that could serve a camp of 20,000 refugees at Durres. The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees had also asked the Order to take charge of the functioning of a camp of several thousand refugees at Shkodra. In the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, the Order was carrying out the distribution of medicines and materials of priority importance.

Ms. Pictet-Althann said the tragic situation in the region was evidence once again that flagrant violations of human rights, especially between conflicting armies, resulted in complex and wide-ranging problems related to population movements. The protection of human rights and observance of international law was vital for protecting and providing displaced persons with effective aid.

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PETKO DRAGANOV (Bulgaria) said that the rights of the Bulgarian national minority in the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia should be brought to the attention of this Commission. For many years, Bulgaria had tried to reach a solution with the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia over the mistreatment of Bulgarian minorities there. Now, the on-going crisis in Kosovo had made Bulgaria fear that the situation was such that persons belonging to other minorities, including Bulgarians, could become the targets of the Belgrade authorities. There had been disturbing reports that Bulgarian minorities had been forced to participate in public meetings to show support for the policies of Belgrade.

Mr. Draganov said Bulgarian minorities had been continually mistreated in the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia. Many of the minorities had been afraid to express their identity for fear of retribution. The right to use their mother tongue and to manifest cultural identity had been continually violated. Although the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia had guaranteed bilingual education, Bulgarian was only taught as a foreign language, and for two hours a week. The Bulgarian minority was also deprived of having the right to profess its faith, and of having its own priests.

JACQUELINE AQUILINA (Malta) said every year, the Commission heard comments on different reports which described the situation of thousands of people from different areas of the world who had been forced to leave their homeland due to many causes: internal conflict, external aggression, social injustices or ethnic cleansing. At present, there was the human tragedy of hundreds of thousands of Kosovar Albanians, forced to flee from their homes, often at gunpoint with little more than they could carry. The work of the staff of international aid agencies and non-governmental organizations was highly commendable and appreciated by the world at large. Malta had made its own contribution through an aid effort that was underway around the clock.

Ms. Aquilina said the human rights of the people of Cyprus needed attention. All United Nations Security Council resolutions, in addition to those of the Commission on the situation in Cyprus, needed to be implemented without delay.

DANIEL HELLE, the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), said the ICRC took great interest in the work of the Representative of the Secretary-General on internally displaced persons; the ICRC dealt with such populations frequently. It sought to assist all victims of armed conflict on equal footing, and in accordance with their needs. It was also important not to neglect the needs of any vulnerable group, whether displaced or not, such as those who had been unable to escape, women and children, the wounded and sick, or detained persons.

The ICRC's mandate to stimulate respect for international humanitarian law had always been emphasized; it prescribed that persons in the power of a

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party to a conflict should be respected and protected from abuses, and the civilian population should be provided with protection from the effects of hostilities. It contained explicit prohibitions against forced displacement not justified by the security of civilians or imperative military reasons. The ICRC supported the Representative's Guiding Principles on Internal Displacement.

RICHARD PERRUCHOUD, the International Organization for Migration (IOM), said the tragedy of Kosovo could not go without mention. The situation was evidence that migrants needed help and attention. But migrants in other regions were also facing difficult times and had had their human rights violated. The IOM believed that migration that took place where human rights were respected helped both migrants and society in general. The IOM was not the guardian of an international convention. It was working for respect for human dignity through action. It helped with re-settlement, and protected migrants to ensure that basic human rights were enjoyed by all individuals.

Mr. Perruchoud said today, migration was not seen as a positive force for economic advancement. This had led to xenophobia and discrimination of the migrant. There had been increased appeals for the IOM to play a greater role in the process and to be an agent of change. It was not the mission of the IOM to become a monitoring organization.

RASHIM AHLUWALIA, the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, said in recent times, the Federation was faced with a proliferation of internal conflicts related to religious, ethnic, economic and other factors, which in turn had produced unprecedented mass population displacements. This phenomenon had coincided with greater reluctance and increased limitations on the part of governments in relation to asylum, integration and resettlement of displaced and refugee groups. The Federation was particularly concerned about the increased displacement of populations within national borders, and which therefore fell outside the protection of the 1951 Refugee Convention. The especially vulnerable situation of these groups underscored the importance of relevant human rights instruments and the need to address in this Commission issues related to their legal protection.

Ms. Ahluwalia said the Federation welcomed clear and comprehensive information on legal protection afforded to internally displaced persons, which had been mostly set down in the Guiding Principles on Internal Displacement compiled by the Secretary-General•s Representative, Francis M. Deng. The Federation was also concerned about the shortage of funds available to assist displaced populations.

SILVIA DANAILOV, Switzerland, said the Working Group on minorities allowed minorities to make their voices heard in the countries in which they lived; but many minorities could not afford to attend the Working Group's meetings, while many countries did not attend, either, and so could not engage

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into dialogues with relevant minorities. One solution was the development of a voluntary fund to help pay for attendance by minority groups; it also seemed a good idea to write letters to Governments that had not attended the last session of the Working Group to encourage them to come to the next series of meetings -- especially those countries that had been mentioned in the course of previous meetings.

Ms. Danailov said the Working Group was developing a useful database on minorities. Meanwhile confusion and controversy surrounded the issue of whether the rights of minorities amounted to "self-determination", and whether self-determination meant secession from States or loss of national autonomy; it was important to have more dialogue, since dialogue often revealed that minorities only wanted protection of their cultures, languages, and livelihoods and did not want independence.

MYKOLA MAIMESKOUL (Ukraine) said almost no country in the world was homogeneous ethnically or religiously. Understanding that, Ukraine had passed a series of national legislative acts that encouraged the development of native cultures. There was no room in the country for forced assimilation, or the idea that one ethnic group was more superior than the other. No groups were granted special status.

Mr. Maimeskoul said Ukraine was worried about the safety of some of the more than 12 million Ukrainians living in more than 50 other countries around the world. It was necessary for Ukraine to stress that care of migrants fell with the country of citizenship or permanent residence. That value could be more greatly emphasized with a more active involvement of the United Nations treaty bodies and special rapporteurs. On the subject of the thousands of the Crimean Tartars returning to their homeland, more than 250,000 had already returned since the early 1990s. But the expense of accommodating the expected migration will be no less than $ 3 billion, and Ukraine definitely was not able to afford that alone.


In press release HR/CN/915 of 15 April 1999, the third paragraph on the front page should read as follows:

A representative of Paraguay said children in her and other developing countries often had to work in order to bring additional income into the households. She suggested that the Commission look at a Paraguayan programme that educates families in the most impoverished areas of the countries about alternatives for earning extra money.

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For information media. Not an official record.