Fifty-sixth General Assembly
36th Meeting (PM)
SPECIAL RAPPORTEURS TELL THIRD COMMITTEE THAT EVENTS OF 11 SEPTEMBER SEVERELY
AFFECTED EFFORTS TO PROMOTE, PROTECT RIGHTS TO FOOD, RELIGIOUS FREEDOM
As the Third Committee (Social, Humanitarian and Cultural) this afternoon continued its deliberations on matters related to human rights questions, two humanitarian experts emphasized that the tragic events of 11 September had severely affected efforts to protect and promote rights that were at the heart of human existence: the right to food and the right to religious freedom.
John Ziegler, Special Rapporteur on the right to food, told delegations that while the horrific terrorist attacks must be condemned, the international community must learn the lesson that extreme poverty and the hunger it produced were breeding grounds for all types of extremism, including Islamic fundamentalism. Therefore, international efforts to combat terrorism must at the same time combat situations which led to starvation and famine.
He stressed the notion that malnourishment handicapped people for life. In malnourished children under the age of five, brain cells did not develop and their bodies became stunted. Adults suffered from blindness, diseases and limited potential and were condemned to a marginal existence. The vicious circle repeated itself from generation to generation, as every year, tens of millions of undernourished mothers gave birth to babies, stunted and malformed from malnutrition. That malnutrition occurred daily in a world that already produced more than enough food to feed the global population of 6 billion people was an outrage.
Abdelfattah Amor, Special Rapporteur on the freedom of religion or belief, said human rights must be linked with the establishment of democracy, and also with actions to overcome extreme poverty and with the rights of people to justice and development. The hideous crime that had been committed on 11 September had been a turning point that would leave deep scars, and the public had reacted emotionally and excessively. In some cases political leaders had spoken emotional words lightly, which did not help in the relations among peoples and religions.
He feared that a confrontation of cultures and civilizations was taking place. The emotion was understandable but when emotion crushed reason, intolerance was the result. There had been many recent incidents with Arab and Islamic victims. Those cases were being studied in connection with the freedom of religion. Within one week following 11 September, there had been more incidences of intolerance than during the entire year. It was important to work towards the prevention of intolerance. If the international community wanted to tackle that problem on a daily basis, it must think of preventing intolerance, with respect to the education of younger generations.
Also this afternoon, Marie-Therese Keita-Bocoum, Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Burundi, presented a report on her latest visit to that country as well as on the situation there throughout the year. While stressing that peace was undoubtedly the main aspiration of the people of Burundi, she noted that war, insecurity and political instability continued to be obstacles to economic and social development that peace was the main aspiration of the people of Burundi. She called on warring factions to stop using children in armed conflict and to respect the rights of women.
Also this afternoon, the representative of Egypt introduced a draft resolution on the right of the Palestinian people to self-determination.
Participating in the dialogue with the special rapporteurs were the representatives from Tanzania, Tunisia, Belgium (on behalf of the European Union), Spain, Libya, Senegal, Viet Nam, Sudan, Republic of Korea, United States, Benin, Cuba, Democratic People's Republic of Korea, Iran and Syria.
The Committee will reconvene Monday morning at 10 a.m., to continue its consideration of matters related to human rights.
This afternoon, the Third Committee (Social, Humanitarian and Cultural) continued its consideration of human rights matters, in a dialogue with Special Rapporteurs and Representatives of the Commission on Human Rights, including Mr. Abdelfattah Amor, Special Rapporteur on the freedom of religion or belief, and Mr. Jean Ziegler, the Special Rapporteur on the right to food.
Mrs. Marie-Therese Keita-Bocoum, Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Burundi who had been unable to introduce her report in the Committee’s morning meeting, is expected to do so this afternoon.
Mr. Bacre Ndiaye, Director of the New York Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, will make a statement on behalf of the Representative of the Secretary-General on the protection of and assistance to internally displaced persons.
Also this afternoon, the Committee was expected to hear the introduction of a draft resolution on the right of the Palestinian people to self-determination (document A/C.3/56/L.33). By that text, the Assembly reaffirmed the right of the Palestinian people to self-determination, including the right to an independent State. It urged all States, specialized agencies and organizations of the United Nations system to continue supporting and assisting the Palestinian people in their quest for self-determination.
The Committee had before it a note by the Secretary-General on the Elimination of All Forms of Religious Intolerance (document A/56/253), which reports on the mandate of the Declaration on the Elimination of All Forms of Intolerance and of Discrimination Based on Religion or Belief, which was adopted in 1981. The report examines how the United Nations coordinates cooperation between the relevant bodies, agencies and offices.
The report contains updates on the management of activities to promote freedom of religion or belief, as well as on action to prevent religious intolerance. Such preventive actions include the international consultative conference on school education in relation to freedom of religion or belief, tolerance and non-discrimination, and inter-religious dialogue.
The recommendations in the report include an assessment of the activities of the mandate since its creation in the area of management of action to promote religious freedom, as well as action to prevent religious intolerance. This, the report states, can offer a better perspective and a more balanced view of the evolution of the situation regarding freedom of religion or belief. A comparative analysis of general and mission reports and communications sent within the framework of the mandate since 1988 shows intolerance and discrimination on the grounds of religion or belief in various parts of the world. But it also shows positive situations and cases with respect to the 1981 Declaration and, in particular, improvements in certain fields and in certain countries.
Also before the Committee was a note by the Secretary-General transmitting the report of the Special Rapporteur on the right to food (document A/56/210) in which the Rapporteur calls on the Assembly to reiterate the urgency of the elimination of hunger and malnutrition in the world today. According to the report, in a world richer than ever that can easily produce enough food for the global population, there are still 826 million people who remain chronically and severely undernourished.
Further to the report, many people, especially women and children in developing countries, still suffer from what the Food and Agriculture Administration (FAO) calls “extreme hunger” as they eat less in a day than the minimum quantity necessary for survival. Despite the numerous legal provisions that protect the right to food, there is still very little understanding of what that right means. The legal basis for the right to food is outlined in the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights as the right to an adequate standard of living and the fundamental right of everyone to be free from hunger. The right to food is very closely linked to the right to life.
In general, the report continues, the right to food embodies the practical idea that all people should have a decent standard of living, including enough to eat, both in peacetime and in war. The right is also about the overall concern for human dignity. The Rapporteur believes that the silent genocide of hunger is a crime against humanity. To that end, concrete steps must be taken to ensure that national legislation provides a framework that recognizes the State’s obligation to respect, protect and fulfil the right to food of its people. International trade obligations must also be reviewed to ensure that they do not conflict with the right to food. The Rapporteur recommends, among other things, that States adopt an international code of conduct on the right to food, as voluntary guidelines for achieving food security for all.
The Committee also had before it a Note by the Secretary-General on Internally Displaced Persons (Document A/56/168) that provides a normative framework on internally displaced persons, country missions and new issues for research, as well as conclusions.
Among the conclusions detailed in the report is that it is encouraging to note developments in the field of aiding internally displaced persons since the first report was submitted to the General Assembly in 1993. A normative framework has been established, the report points out, and important and innovative efforts are being pursued by both States and inter-governmental organizations.
At the same time, the report states, it would be tragically ironic if the international community were to view those developments as grounds for complacency. The crisis of international displacement is as acute now as it was eight years ago, and, as the understanding of the issues has increased and deepened, so has the challenge of responding.
Introductory Statement by Special Rapporteur on human rights in Burundi
MARIE-THERESE KEITA-BOCOUM, Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Burundi, presented a report on her latest visit to that country as well as on the situation there throughout the year. Despite general calm in June, armed violence had increased around the capital. Attempts at coups in April, and the arrest of political leaders in July had reinforced instability in Burundi and throughout the region. Regarding the peace process, all meetings aimed at fostering dialogue on the agreements reached at Arusha had been postponed. War, insecurity and political instability continued to be obstacles to economic and social development. The effects of drought also continued to be an important factor, possibly even exacerbating social and inter-ethnic violence in the country.
She said that main human rights violations included violations of the right to free movement and the right to life. Overpopulation at detention centres was also a problem, and people were frequently detained in military camps. The rights of children and women still continued to be secondary. Yet, there had been some progress in that regard because of increased attention by international actors. Still, cases of rape and torture were regularly reported. Representatives of the media were also often harassed and intimidated. The number of children participating in conflicts and living in the streets had also increased. She noted also that there had been a reduction of cases of yellow fever.
One could say, she continued, that peace was the main aspiration of the people of Burundi. While the Arusha agreements had not yet been fully implemented, that process had brought together most of the political actors, and a transitional facilitator had been named. What remained was the question of armed conflicts. Burundi must develop within its own country a mechanism to ensure the protection of human rights, especially those of women and children. Peace was the best way to ensure that human rights were protected. She called on warring factions to stop using children in armed conflict and to respect the rights of women. She recommended rapid creation of law enforcement ombudsmen. She also stressed the importance of immediately mobilizing women to fully participate in building a better political future of the country.
Dialogue with Special Rapporteur
The representative of Burundi said his Government had studied the report of the expert and was satisfied that the report had been drafted in an attempt at fairness. At the same time, Burundi had noted with regret that the Special Rapporteur’s visit had been relatively short. That had certainly affected the content of the report. He underscored that during the reporting period, the situation in the country had been marked by continuing armed conflict. Incursions from neighbouring countries had produced a deplorable humanitarian situation, particularly as it had led to the destruction of health facilities and schools. He called on the international community to consider that situation unacceptable and to exert pressure on those responsible to put an end to hostilities.
Following the implementation of the transition government, rebel hostilities had intensified, he said. Children had been kidnapped from schools. The report also noted that acts of torture by any party must not be tolerated. Burundi had ratified the Convention on Torture and had recast its legislation to fight that scourge and had also urged the relevant support of civil society. He appealed for the necessary resources from the international community. In Burundi, efforts had been made to ensure fundamental freedoms. Members of the press and political parties were able to express themselves freely, but nearly every other aspect of life in the country was affected by war.
The representative of Belgium, speaking on behalf of the European Union asked for an update on efforts of the Office of the High Commissioner to update the penal code in Burundi. Did the Special Rapporteur have any new information on the status of the Arusha agreements? He also asked how women could be better integrated into the peace process?
The representative of Tanzania said her country was currently harbouring refugees from Burundi. Statements in the report that noted incidents of armed groups from Tanzania had entered Burundi were pure hearsay. She asked if the Special Rapporteur could give specific evidence that such armed aggression had taken place at any time during her week-long visit to Burundi.
In response to those comments, Ms. Keita-Bocoum said the information on the border situation had been provided by the Government of Burundi and the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, among others. As with many countries in Africa, the borders between Burundi and Tanzania were very vulnerable. She intended to consult the Government of Tanzania on the border issue as well as the issue of refugees.
She said her office had organized seminars in Burundi to discourage imposition of the death penalty. There were some 200 people in Burundi awaiting the death penalty. She went on to say that the situation for women in Burundi was particularly difficult. That issue should be one of the high priorities for the new Government. However, some progress had been made in ensuring that women participated in the political life of the country. In addition, many of the so-called Guardians of Peace were below the age of 18, and she had seen first-hand in several provinces their military training.
Statement by Special Rapporteur on the Freedom of Religion or Belief
ABDELFATTAH AMOR, Special Rapporteur of the Commission on Human Rights on the freedom of religion or belief, noted several trends and conclusions regarding that freedom. There had been a steady decline in anti-religious policies, but a growth in policies against minorities. Extremism, which was often exercised by non-state actors, had increased. Sometimes it was practiced by fanatical groups or for political purposes, and often by extremist professionals, he noted.
The growth in extremism was based on the passive policies of certain national or foreign agencies, he said. The number of non-believers in societies had grown, and it often consisted of those who were in conflict with religions. There had been a growth in discrimination and intolerance, including against women, upheld by State or non-State actors or traditions. There had been limited progress in interreligious dialogue. The victims of intolerance or discrimination sometimes reflected the evaluations of societies in general, and were often women and minorities.
It was important to work towards the prevention of intolerance, he continued. If the international community wanted to tackle that problem on a daily basis, it must think of prevention with respect to the education of the younger generation. The functions of the mandate for freedom of religion or belief should be viewed in a larger context. The implementation of the 1981 Declaration could not be detached from a respect for all human rights. Human rights must be linked with the establishment of democracy, and also with actions to overcome extreme poverty and with the rights of people to justice and development. To meet that challenge, there was a need for cooperation between all United Nations agencies, non-governmental organizations and civil society.
Dialogue with the Special Rapporteur on the freedom of religion or belief
In relation to the forthcoming international conference sponsored by Spain on the prevention of religious intolerance through education to be held from 23-25 November in Madrid, the representative from Tunisia asked how its conclusions and documents could be used in the future. How could it be integrated to assist States in political, educational, and other programmes in this area?
The representative of Belgium, on behalf of the European Union, asked what the main threats to the elimination of intolerance were, and were any new threats arising? How could States assure that freedom of religion, and particularly the freedom to worship, were fully respected? He also asked what the expected outcome of the Madrid conference was.
The representative of Spain said that he was pleased with the work done by the Special Rapporteur to ensure the Madrid conference was a success, and also that Mary Robinson had consented to open the conference. He invited all States to attend.
The representative of Libya said one could not substitute Islam for the former red enemy or for the Crusade. That was a serious issue, and she hoped that recent events and, particularly, the risk of the defamation of Islam would not lead to the condemnation of millions of human beings and their worship of Islam.
The representative of Senegal asked how many participants would be at the Madrid conference and what results could be expected. Also, he wondered what was the basis for choosing the countries the Special Rapporteur had visited. Were there specific criteria? He also asked for clarification about rules and common principles of conduct, as opposed to religious extremism. He also wondered whether there were any limitations to the Rapporteur's mandate that would not allow him to cover all states and all religions in his work.
The representative of Viet Nam questioned how religion could be misused to increase intolerance.
Responding to the queries, Mr. Amor said the Madrid conference would be organized within its mandate. It was a conference of a consultative nature and not one for producing decisions. It would be prospective rather than retrospective, and strategic rather than tactical. The stakes were immensely important. Many diplomats and politicians were absorbed by immediate tasks and did not think about the long-term in achieving true rather than superficial changes. A strong appeal should be addressed to the entire world to prevent intolerance. He hoped the Madrid conference would be a useful process that would lead to concrete measures of assistance to all.
Regarding the main threats to the elimination of intolerance, there was no hierarchy, he said, but one could speak about the types of discrimination that do the worst damage. Extremism was the worst because it was often used for other purposes than religious ends. It was not the monopoly of any state, religion or society, but was expressed to different degrees.
The status of women in religion had gone through a revolution, he continued, but it was relative and tempered by context. The rights of women must be considered, but there was frequently a difference between religion and practice. It was more of a cultural than religious problem, although one must also understand that religion was an essential part of culture.
Regarding participants and results of the Madrid conference, it was expected that that conference would be the unleashing of a long process, he said. A majority of States had indicated that they would be present, plus several religious communities, non-governmental organizations and experts. There would be close to a thousand people and at least a hundred States.
With respect to the countries he visited, many criteria had been used, he said. Sometimes they were in response to the Commission or the Assembly and sometimes to States. Selectivity was avoided where possible, but the idea would be to study all States. What prevented that were the resources available to the Rapporteur.
He concluded by commenting on the events of 11 September in the United States. What had happened there was a hideous crime, and the perpetrators must be caught and judged according to the standards of international law. Those events were a turning point that would leave deep scars, and public opinion had reacted emotionally and excessively. In some cases political leaders had spoken emotional words lightly, which did not help in the relations among peoples and religions.
He feared that a confrontation of cultures and civilizations was taking place. The emotion was understandable but when emotion crushed reason, intolerance was the result. There had been many recent incidents with Arab and Islamic victims. Those cases were being studied in connection with the freedom of religion. Within one week following 11 September, there had been more incidences of intolerance than during the entire year. There was a confusion between Islam, terrorism and fanaticism as if the Taliban were spokespeople for Islam.
Statement by Special Rapporteur on Right to Food
JEAN ZIEGLER, Special Rapporteur of the Commission on Human Rights on the Right to Food, said that over 815 million men, women and children were seriously undernourished. Every seven seconds, one child under the age of 10 died of hunger or related illnesses around the world. Over 1.2 billion people lived in extreme poverty, more than 10 years ago. In malnourished children under the age of five, brain cells did not develop, and bodies became stunted. Adults suffered blindness, diseases, limited potential and were condemned to a marginal existence. The vicious circle repeated itself from generation to generation, as every year, tens of millions of undernourished mothers gave birth to babies, stunted and malformed from malnutrition. That malnutrition occurred daily in a world that already produced more than enough food to feed the global population of six billion people. According to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), the world could produce enough food to feed 12 billion people -- enough food to give each person every day the equivalent of 2,700 calories.
He extended the right to food to armed conflicts, noting that the efficiency of the bombing campaign and the legitimacy of food drops in Afghanistan must be questioned. Food drops by military forces compromised the credibility of humanitarian aid, which must be neutral and universal and must respond to the need of suffering people. It was dangerous to confuse humanitarian and military objectives. Furthermore, Afghanistan was a mine-infested country, and no reception areas cleared of mines were being used for the food drops. A last absurdity was that the food drops in most areas were serving the Taliban -- the man who had the gun took the food. He stressed that the bombing and food drops in Afghanistan must be stopped, to allow full humanitarian access to five million starving Afghans.
Like food, water was also essential to life, he continued. More than one fifth of the world population still did not have access to safe and affordable drinking water, and half the world's people did not have access to sanitation. Millions of people suffered from diseases carried in water that were easily eradicable. Of the four billion cases of diarrhea recorded every year in the world, 2.2 million were fatal, resulting in death mostly in cases of children and babies. Millions subsisted without access to water for irrigation. He called on international trade and macroeconomic policies to respect the right to food. Economic policies and trade policies must not be allowed to endanger life through malnutrition, but must protect the ability of people to feed themselves.
Dialogue with the Special Rapporteur on the right to food
The representative of the Sudan said her delegation fully supported Mr. Ziegler’s work. The need to ensure sufficient provision of food for school children was important. She asked what was the effect of globalization on the right to food? How could that right be guaranteed on the international level?
The representative of the Republic of Korea said a paragraph in the report contained an error regarding his country. The report noted that the percentage of Koreans in urban areas living without access to tap water was between 30 to 40 per cent. In fact, recent reports now showed that over 90 per cent of persons living in urban areas in his country had access to tap water. He hoped that the Special Rapporteur would take note of that fact in future reports.
The representative of the United States asked what were the sources of the report’s estimate for the number of deaths in the Democratic Republic of Korea due to famine? Were those numbers consistent with the estimates of international agencies and the World Food Programme (WFP)? Further, he said the United States disagreed with the report’s comments on Cuba and Iraq and rejected his conclusions.
The representative of Belgium, speaking on behalf of the European Union, asked how the issue of human rights could be integrated into the work of the World Trade Organization (WTO). What would be the role of relevant United Nations agencies in providing food security?
The representative of Libya praised Mr. Ziegler’s emphasis on the access to drinking water. She highlighted her country’s own attempts to secure drinking water for its population. She noted that though projects to guarantee water for human use and industry had met with some problems, Libya had been able to achieve that goal. She invited the Special Rapporteur to her country to study Libya’s efforts in that regard.
The representative of Benin asked if Mr. Ziegler intended to initiate activities to create awareness among different agencies and international organizations to ensure the right to food.
The representative of Cuba said the statement made by the United States was contrary to the statements of the Special Rapporteur as well as the those of the international community which had consistently condemned the use of an economic blockade against Cuba. Those statements were very unfortunate. He praised Mr. Ziegler’s call for a halt in the bombing of Afghanistan so that the people of the country could be fed.
In response to those comments, Mr. Zeigler recognized the progress that had been made to secure the right to food in the Sudan despite the continued conflict. On the issue of globalization, there were various schools of thought squaring off; one which favoured total liberalization of trade, a new approach initiated by civil society, and the neo-liberal approach favored by international financial institutions. He would review the statistics on the water situation in the Republic of Korea.
To the United States, he said that there was no doubt that the economic blockade against Cuba was a violation of the right to food. But as a result of the revolution, Cuba was now one country where the right to food had been guaranteed in the Constitution. He added that the economic blockade against Iraq was not affecting the political regime, but rather the vulnerable segments of society, namely women and children. He went on to say he could not judge the situation in the Democratic Republic of Korea. He had been told that the situation had improved since February.
As for the presence of social and humanitarian concerns in the work of the WTO or other inter-governmental financial organizations, such a presence was non-existent, he continued. He said that tomorrow on the streets of Geneva there would be a demonstration by civil society to protest against the upcoming WTO conference in Qatar. There had been efforts to introduce a social dimension into the international trade debate, but so far those efforts had met with no success.
The representative of the Democratic People's Republic of Korea said his delegation took note of the report of the Special Rapporteur but encouraged him to follow his mandate more closely. Allegations of famine killing large portions of the population were groundless and unacceptable. He urged those seeking the truth to avail themselves of statistical data that his country had provided United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) and other United Nations organizations. He hoped that Mr. Ziegler would be more impartial and balanced in his assessment of the situation.
The representative of Iran requested clarification on Mr. Ziegler’s sources.
The representative of Syria asked for clarifications on the mandate of the Special Rapporteur.
In response, the Special Rapporteur said he had respect for the World Food Programme and the Government of the Democratic Republic of Korea. He had noted the situation had improved.
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