Fifty-ninth General Assembly
26th & 27th Meetings (AM & PM)
NEED TO PROTECT HUMAN RIGHTS WHILE FIGHTING TERRORISM STRESSED, AS THIRD COMMITTEE
HEARS REPORTS ON TORTURE, EXECUTION, RELIGIOUS FREEDOM, RIGHT TO FOOD
No Executive, Legislative, Judicial Measure Authorizing Torture,
Cruel Treatment Could Be Considered Lawful under International Law, Expert Says
The imperative to promote and protect human rights, which had increasingly fallen victim to the war on terror, emerged as a common thread in the mandates of several of the Special Rapporteurs addressing the Third Committee (Social, Humanitarian and Cultural) today, as it entered the first of three days of dialogue with various special mechanisms of the Commission on Human Rights.
Recalling that one year ago he had warned that the consensus principle forbidding torture and cruel or degrading treatment was being eroded, Theo van Boven, Special Rapporteur on torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment, stated that he had continued to receive reports and information regarding circumventions of the unconditional prohibition of such treatment or punishment in the name of countering terrorism.
No executive, legislative, administrative or judicial measure authorizing torture and cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment could be considered lawful under international law, he stressed. Condoning torture constituted a violation of the prohibition, he added. Domestic law could not be invoked as a justification for failure to comply with international treaty obligations and customary international law. Moreover, the definition of torture contained in the Convention against Torture could not be altered by events or in accordance with the will or interest of States. The prohibition applied equally to torture and to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.
Asma Jahangir, Special Rapporteur on freedom of religion or belief, said that, in a number of States, anti-terrorist measures had unduly limited freedom of religion or belief, in violation of international human rights standards. Intolerance would only breed further intolerance; it was essential to stress governments’ obligation to abide by human rights norms in their efforts to curb violence, even when the latter was perpetrated in the name of religion.
While rising religious tensions were apparent, governments faced a difficult challenge in protecting their citizens from acts of violence and other intolerance perpetrated by non-State actors, while at the same time ensuring that perpetrators of such acts were brought to justice in accordance with universally accepted human rights standards. She added that States also faced a delicate task in striking the proper balance between respect for religious freedom and freedom of speech; enjoyment of one right must not infringe on the other.
Newly appointed Independent Expert on the protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms while countering terrorism, Robert Goldman said he was in the process of preparing the report on ways and means of strengthening the protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms while countering terrorism, mandated by the General Assembly and Commission on Human Rights. That report would be sent to the High Commissioner for Human Rights for her consideration and transmission to the Commission. Thus far, the report was highly technical in tone and thematic in nature. Essentially, it built upon and elaborated various themes and issues contained in the study recently submitted to the General Assembly by the High Commissioner.
Also a recent appointee, Philip Alston, Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions, discussed the directions in which he planned to take his mandate, emphasizing the importance of dialogue with governments and civil society and reducing the degree of bureaucratization of processes that had traditionally been used. In order to really understand the issues concerned by his mandate, it would be more helpful to engage in a more analytical approach. Moreover, while he was fully committed to cooperation with other special mechanisms in principle, he would maintain the option of insisting on a narrow focus when necessary in dealing with issues central to his mandate.
Also today, Special Rapporteur Jean Ziegler briefed the Committee on his activities in promotion of the right to food, declaring that realization of that right would require combating hunger through policy. According to the Food and Agriculture Organization’s latest report, 842 million people continued to be gravely and permanently undernourished. Yet the world already grew more than enough food to feed the global population. The sole response to redress the world food situation adequately was to adopt a policy-making approach enshrining the right to food.
Summarizing his report, he said it covered two analytical components related to fisheries livelihoods and the new voluntary guidelines on the right to adequate food. It also covered four situations of specific concern regarding flagrant violation of the right to food: the situations in Darfur, Sudan; the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea; the unilateral embargo imposed by the United States against Cuba; and the occupied Palestinian territories.
Following each of today’s presentations, delegations had the opportunity to engage in question-and-answer sessions with the Special Rapporteur or Independent Expert. Participating in those dialogues were the representatives of the Netherlands (on behalf of the European Union), Switzerland, Canada, Yemen, New Zealand, United States, Russian Federation, Norway, Republic of Korea, Costa Rica, Cuba, Egypt, Venezuela, Afghanistan, Côte d’Ivoire, Singapore, Iran, Colombia, Malaysia, India, Finland, China, Uzbekistan, Sri Lanka, Thailand, Bangladesh, Indonesia, Nigeria, Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, Mali, Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, Israel and Mexico.
The Observer for Palestine and the representative of the Organization of the Islamic Conference also participated in the dialogues.
At the close of the morning meeting, Committee Chair Valeriy P. Kuchinsky (Ukraine) took the opportunity to express, on behalf of the Committee, profound gratitude for the many years of dedicated service to the cause of human rights given by the Special Rapporteur on torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment. Mr. van Boven had announced his intention to retire as of 1 December 2004.
The Third Committee will reconvene at 10:00 a.m. tomorrow, 28 October, to continue its dialogues with special mechanisms of the Commission on Human Rights.
The Third Committee (Social, Humanitarian and Cultural) met today to continue its consideration of questions of human rights. It was expected to hear presentations by, and hold dialogues with, the following special procedures of the Commission on Human Rights: the Special Rapporteur on torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment (presenting his report contained in document A/59/324); the Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions (presenting his report contained in document A/59/319); the Special Rapporteur on the freedom of religion or belief (presenting her report contained in document A/59/366); the Special Rapporteur on the right to food (presenting his report contained in document A/59/385); the Special Rapporteur on the human rights of migrants (presenting her report contained in document A/59/377); and the Independent expert on the protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms while countering terrorism.
Statement by Special Rapporteur on Torture
THEO VAN BOVEN, Special Rapporteur of the Commission on Human Rights on torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment, recalled the warning he had delivered last year -- that the consensus principle forbidding torture and cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment as an imperative norm of international law was eroding -- and said that, this year, he had continued to receive reports and information regarding circumventions of the absolute nature of the prohibition of such treatment or punishment in the name of countering terrorism.
Among attempts to circumvent the prohibition against torture that had been put forward, he cited legal arguments of necessity and self-defence; attempts to narrow the scope of the definition of torture and arguments that some harsh methods should not be considered as torture but merely as cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment; acts of torture and ill-treatment inflicted on suspected terrorists by private contractors; the indefinite detention of numerous suspects -- including children -- without determination of their legal status and with no access to a lawyer; and attempts to deem evidence that may have been obtained under torture admissible in judicial proceedings.
No executive, legislative, administrative or judicial measure authorizing torture and cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment could be considered lawful under international law, he stressed. Condoning torture constituted a violation of the prohibition, nor could domestic law be invoked as a justification for failure to comply with international treaty obligations and customary international law.
The definition of torture contained in the Convention against Torture could not be altered by events or in accordance with the will or interest of States, he stated. Moreover, the prohibition applied equally to torture and to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment. The Human Rights Committee had stated that failure to ensure rights under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights gave rise to the violation of human rights as a result of the failure to take appropriate measures or efforts to prevent, punish, investigate or redress the harm caused by the acts of private persons or entities.
The maintenance of secret places of detention must be abolished, he continued. It should be a punishable offence for any official to hold a person in secret, as prolonged incommunicado detention could facilitate the perpetration of torture, and could in itself constitute a form of torture. Though fully aware of the threats posed by terrorism and recognizant of the duty of States to protect their citizens against such threats, he stressed that the prohibition of torture and cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment was unconditional, no matter the circumstances.
The principle of non-refoulement had also been undermined, he added. It was inadmissible for authorities in one country to hand over persons to their counterparts in other countries without the intervention of a judicial authority and without any possibility for persons concerned to contact their families and lawyers. In a number of circumstances, returned persons had been subjected to torture, in spite of diplomatic assurances that they would not be tortured.
Regarding his report, he said he had addressed several aspects of the impact of torture on its victims, in particular from a medico-psycho-social perspective. To address adequately the needs of victims, a multidisciplinary and comprehensive approach -- including medical assistance, financial support, social readaptation and legal redress -- must be adopted. He had also provided detailed information regarding his communications with governments, as well as a summary of his fact-finding mission to Spain. His two-week mission to China had been postponed until June 2004. No reply had been received in response to his request, made jointly with the Special Rapporteur on the right to health, to visit the United States Naval Base at GuantanamoBay.
Given his forthcoming retirement, he wished to underscore five final points, he concluded. In the 25 years since the Commission on Human Rights had begun creating special thematic mechanisms to address important and urgent human rights concerns, the mandate holders had served as the “eyes and ears” of the Commission. They should be recognized as an essential component of the United Nations system for the promotion and protection of human rights. There must also be greater coordination between the various special mechanisms, in which the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights should be constantly involved and better follow up to the recommendations and activities of the special mechanisms, also, the glaring disparity between the mandates of the special mechanisms and the financial and human resources provided to them must be redressed.
Finally, he wished to stress that, as Special Rapporteur, he had acted on behalf of a wide array of persons. His actions should not be interpreted as defence of their causes. The only cause he had defended was to protect everyone, without exception, against torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.
Dialogue with Special Rapporteur on Torture
Following his presentation, Mr. Van Boven responded to questions posed by the representatives of the Netherlands (speaking on behalf of the European Union), Switzerland, Canada, Yemen, New Zealand, United States, Russian Federation, Norway, Republic of Korea, Costa Rica, and Cuba.
Responding to a question regarding country visits and what to do when visit requests were denied, Mr. VAN BOVEN said no country refused a visit on absolute terms. It usually involved questions of logistics, or imminent elections or other reasons. Country visits were based on the principle of cooperation with the United Nations. His visits were not only meant to look into facts but to come up with recommendations as part of his efforts to combat the practice of torture. He said following up recommendations made by a Special Rapporteur was crucial, but limited resources had not enabled him to do as much follow-up as he would like.
Addressing the challenge of trying to have discussions about a practice that generally took place in secrecy, he said it was important to attempt to talk with the victims of torture even though it was often difficult for victims to speak about their experiences. It was important that these matters be publicly discussed. He added that statements by the highest authorities of a country, condemning torture could be helpful in combating the practice. He said there was a growing awareness of torture by private enterprises, but this should not exclude consideration of the degree of state responsibility, particularly as States might have failed to take appropriate measures.
Turning to concerns about capital punishment, he noted the links between anti-torture activities and capital punishment in certain instances. For instance, when death sentences were obtained under torture, the issue of capital punishment had entered into his mandate, and he had addressed this with governments on several occasions. He was against capital punishment in principle, and if capital punishment was being executed in a specially cruel manner, including methods like stoning and repeated hanging, then these methods entered into his mandate.
He said rape also constituted torture under certain circumstances and under which it could be regarded as a crime against humanity. Gender-based violence was increasingly in the forefront of public attention, and the work of the Special Rapporteur was critical in this respect.
Responding to a question on procedures for responding to refusals for visit requests, he said that when a request for a visit was refused, if there had been improvements in a country, he generally did not repeat the request for a visit. But, if there had been no change, then he continued to ask for permission for a visit. He noted that it was possible, physically and in terms of available resources, to carry out an average of only 3-4 visits per year. He urged countries that had not already done so to join the list of those who had expressed willingness to receive visits of Special Rapporteurs.
He said that, while there had been a broad consensus on the prohibition of torture, acting on this consensus was a different matter. There had recently been a tendency for consensus on this matter to be subject to erosion, both in politics and in academic circles. He said the reports being published by the Committee for the Prevention of Torture were important sources of information. The question of monitoring at both national and international levels was crucial in preventing torture and was of strategic importance to the work of Special Rapporteurs.
Regarding the question of torture in the context of armed conflict, he said there was a need to look at how to improve monitoring mechanisms for torture occurring in relation to armed conflict.
He said there were disturbing developments concerning information collected through intelligence to be used in judicial procedures. It was important for lawyers and judges involved in these procedures to have the right and duty to look into the sources of the information. The fact that information may have been obtained under torture was still relevant in judicial procedures. In some countries there should be an insistence of the application of the anti-torture convention in this respect.
He added that the media had an important role to play in awareness-building and pointing to certain problems. The media had drawn public attention to certain practices and instances of torture. While the media had an important role to play in this respect, he said he would never take action based on information from the media alone and would always seek other sources of information, especially when taking action on urgent appeals.
Statement by Special Rapporteur on Extrajudicial Executions
PHILIP ALSTON, Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions, presenting the report contained in document A/59/319, said the report submitted by his predecessor, Asma Jahangir of Pakistan, was an overview of the work she had undertaken over the course of her six years as Special Rapporteur and provided an important snapshot of the current situation relative to the many issues under his mandate.
He emphasized the importance of dialogue with governments, saying he planned to engage in frank discussions with them and to be responsive to their views and concerns. He said he would also work closely with civil society in gathering information about executions worldwide and would seek to make the most effective contribution that he could to discourage and deter killings, to expose those that did occur and to hold governments to account where they were responsible or had failed to take appropriate steps in response to the actions of others.
He said he would like to reduce the degree of bureaucratization of some of the processes that had traditionally been used, to reduce the arcane and often impenetrable language used in communicating with governments and to be more focused. In terms of his mandate, his intention was not to devote time or energy to issues concerning the definition of the terms “extrajudicial”, “summary” and “arbitrary”, as these terms revealed relatively little about the precise nature of the issues. Most executions could be characterized with reference to more than one of the terms. His focus would be on the mandate as it had evolved over the years through the various resolutions of the General Assembly and the Commission on Human Rights.
He noted the tendency in many United Nations reports to identify complex issues without acknowledging their full complexity or to gloss over contentious issues. In his view, in order to really understand issues it would be more helpful to engage in more of an analytical approach. He intended, therefore, to explore the significance of one or two issues in each report. He added that there would be a slight reorganization of the way in which the country report addendum was prepared to show more clearly the responsiveness of governments to matters which had been raised with them. He said he would also indicate more clearly the requests for visits that had been made and the responses or non-responses received from governments. While cooperation was important, it should not be an objective in and of itself, and it might be preferable in some circumstances not to try to negotiate with other mandates. He was fully committed to cooperation in principle, but would maintain the option of insisting on a narrow focus when necessary in dealing with issues that were central to his mandate.
He reiterated the importance he attached to his mandate, saying he was firmly resolved to use the responsibilities entrusted to him to try to make a difference. He noted that in the time he had taken to make his statement, a large number of people would have been executed, extrajudicialy, arbitrarily, or summarily. He would do his utmost to honour the obligation that he has to them and to those threatened with the same fate in the days ahead.
Dialogue with Special Rapporteur on Executions
Participating in the subsequent dialogue with the Special Rapporteur were the representatives of the Netherlands (on behalf of the European Union), Egypt, Venezuela, Switzerland, Afghanistan, Cuba, Côte d’Ivoire, Singapore, Iran, Colombia, New Zealand, Malaysia, Finland, Norway, and China, as well as the Observer of Palestine.
In response to their questions and comments, Mr. ALSTON affirmed his intention to coordinate with other special mechanisms of the Commission on Human Rights in carrying out his mandate. Of particular relevance would be interaction with the Special Rapporteurs on torture and on violence against women, as well as the Special Rapporteur on genocide. In pursuing that collaboration, he held that personal contact remained very important. He would also seek to avoid overlapping his mandate with that of other special mechanisms. Furthermore, he pledged not to be drawn into discussions on new subjects unless a given situation had a dimension clearly related to his mandate.
In terms of his intention to enhance dialogue with States, he said that could be achieved in various ways, including through better follow-up to country reports and through responding to government positions in a reasoned way. For instance, in response to fears voiced by the representative of Afghanistan that the involvement of foreign elements in instances of extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions would not be adequately reflected in a forthcoming report on the situation in that country, Mr. Alston assured him that detailed attention would be given to the perpetration of crimes against humanity in Afghanistan and that the activities of foreign elements, which had committed such crimes, would certainly be considered.
He also noted that one of the major shortcomings of the reporting system was the brevity of reports submitted by the special mechanisms. So many issues of relevance to different countries must be taken into account that one had really to reference the country-specific addenda truly to understand some of the references included.
The representatives of Côte d’Ivoire and Colombia specifically urged the Special Rapporteur to visit their countries to get a better, more objective view of the situations there.
In response to the concern voiced by several delegates over the inclusion, by the previous Special Rapporteur, of a reference to targeted aerial assassinations in terms of both post-11 September counter-terrorism measures and to the 22 March 2004 assassination of Sheikh Yassin, spiritual leader of Hamas, within the same paragraph of her report, the Special Rapporteur said the reference to post-11 September had not been intended to limit the time period covered.
Rather, he explained, the reference had intended to make the point that after 11 September, some governments and public opinion and media sectors had evinced a willingness to think that fundamental changes had taken place in relation to what was permissible under international law. There had been a sea change in terms of such attitudes. His predecessor had tried to draw attention to this change and had reiterated that all extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions remained entirely unacceptable.
In the specific case of the assassination of Sheikh Yassin, a public correspondence had occurred between the Special Rapporteur and the Government of Israel, he said. The lack of an explicit reference to Israel in the paragraph did not constitute an attempt to conceal anything.
Furthermore, in response to queries about the terminology used in the report, specifically the reference to “areas populated by civilians” in the discussion of targeted assassinations, he said this should not be taken as a limitation on the definition of a targeted assassination. Delegations could reference the Special Rapporteur’s writings on the earlier targeted assassination in Yemen, which had made clear that this method of seeking to resolve problems not only created far more problems than it solved, but remained incompatible with international legal obligations.
On the inclusion of references to sexual orientation as the motive for extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions, he said it was important to maintain a broad perspective and discuss all the motives for such executions. There had been no reason to omit a specific reference to sexual orientation, given that a significant number of specific allegations had been received indicating that killings had taken place on that basis.
On the issue of capital punishment, he said that the succession of Special Rapporteurs on the subject of extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions had made it abundantly clear that the death penalty formed a vital part of their mandate. The death penalty was irreversible; the attempt to analogize the moratorium on capital punishment, on the basis that systems were inadequate to implement it without prejudice, with the notion of proposing a moratorium on prisons, given that some countries’ prison systems remained less than adequate, could not be accepted.
Where the death penalty was concerned, one could not accept that a particular judicial system always got it right, he said. Even if a judicial system had been accepted as possessing a highly sophisticated judicial system, mistakes had still been shown to occur. For that reason, every individual case of capital punishment should be considered.
However, he said he wished to engage in a more open dialogue on the subject of the death penalty, especially with retentionist States. International law had not outlawed the death penalty. Thus, despite the importance of efforts to promote its abolition, it was essential to discuss the death penalty with States on their own terms.
In reference to the application of the death penalty against minors, he noted that only eight countries had carried out such executions since 1990. Moreover, there was reason to believe that the majority of those States were actively discussing the issue and would eventually be brought to desist in the practice.
Regarding the inclusion of genocide in his mandate, he affirmed that consideration of genocide had always constituted a central part of the mandate, as it remained the ultimate manifestation of such executions. That the Secretary-General, with support of the Security Council, had opted to draw up a special action plan and appoint a Special Adviser on genocide clearly indicated the existence of significant concerns among international community at large.
On executions carried out by non-State actors, he expressed interest in exploring the issue more closely. He also expressed concern that United Nations human rights mechanisms did not have a coherent policy in relation to non-State actors and said there should be an attempt to think more clearly about how to take account of them.
As his mandate evolved, he would address a fewer number of issues than his predecessor, not because he did not think that all the issues she had addressed were relevant, but simply because he wished to focus in-depth on specific issues of concern.
Statement by Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Religion or Belief
ASMA JAHANGIR, Special Rapporteur on freedom of religion or belief, noted that she had inherited a prosperous and living mandate from her predecessor, Abdelfattah Amor, and said she would take every opportunity to hold discussions and dialogues with those willing to work with her, including governments, victims, concerned groups and other United Nations mechanisms. Although she was not presently in a position to present guidelines, conclusions or opinions on some contentious issues, she had attempted to give her mandate a definite orientation. Her methods of work would, therefore, include the identification of alleged violations to the right to freedom of religion or belief, wherever they occurred, and to communicate them to concerned governments. As far as possible, she would verify information received and would only transmit sufficiently credible allegations.
The 2001 change in her mandate’s title -- from Special Rapporteur on religious intolerance -- had permitted a widening in the mandate’s proactive role, she said. At the same time, it allowed for continued efforts to examine incidents and government action incompatible with the provisions of the Declaration on the Elimination of All Forms of Intolerance and of Discrimination Based on Religion or Belief. Religion would invariably continue as a subject of reference for her mandate, yet its central thrust must be protecting individual rights to freedom of religion or belief. For that reason, she would focus on the protection aspect of her mandate and work to streamline it with other special procedures of the Commission on Human Rights. She also intended to streamline gender concerns into most aspects of the mandate.
Urging all States to extend her invitations for in situ visits, she explained that such visits would allow her better to assess the problem areas of religious intolerance and to collect first-hand information. And while she would focus on countries in which there was a real concern for religious rights, she welcomed the opportunity to visit States in which good practices had promoted a culture of tolerance, or in which emerging religious tensions required an early response from Governments. At the present time, she had requested the Governments of Azerbaijan, Bangladesh, Indonesia, Iran, Nigeria, Sri Lanka and Uzbekistan to allow her to visit.
On her report, she noted that it covered the period January to September 2004, during which 39 communications had been transmitted to 29 States, and 14 States had provided replies. Throughout her work, she had concluded that while rising religious tensions were apparent, governments faced a difficult challenge. They must protect all individuals -- including religious communities and communities of belief -- from acts of violence and other intolerance perpetrated by State agents, as well as non-State actors, while at the same time ensuring that perpetrators of such acts were brought to justice in accordance with universally-accepted human rights standards. States also faced a delicate task in striking the proper balance between respect for religious freedom and freedom of speech. The enjoyment of one right must not infringe on the other.
In a number of States, she concluded, anti-terrorist measures had unduly limited freedom of religion or belief, in violation of international human rights standards. Intolerance would only breed further intolerance; it was essential to stress governments’ obligation to abide by human rights norms in their efforts to curb violence, even when the latter were perpetrated in the name of religion.
Dialogue with Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Religion or Belief
Participating in the subsequent dialogue with the Special Rapporteur on freedom of religion or belief were the representatives of Egypt, Canada, Netherlands, Costa Rica, Uzbekistan, Sri Lanka, India, Cuba, Thailand, China, United States, Bangladesh, Indonesia, Nigeria, Republic of Korea, and the Organization of Islamic Conference.
Ms. JAHANGIR, responding to clarifications of the representative of Egypt about the Egyptian Constitution’s recognition of the right of belief and its guarantee of religious tolerance, said all responses that his Government had provided were reflected in the report. She thanked him for his clarification.
She said registration of religion was an issue that required further consideration. Registration per se would not be offensive, but misuse of it would be of concern.
On the question of the priorities of her mandate, she said priority must be on fighting intolerance and protecting individual rights. This would be the focus of her mandate. The issue of prevention would be considered, but the whole question of religious persecution and religious intolerance must be addressed. Religious rights were being violated in numbers. More cooperation from governments was critical, particularly in the area of freedom of expression. She looked forward to visiting countries that had asked her to visit. Only through country visits was it possible to see what was happening on the ground and to understand the point of view of each government. Interreligious dialogues should be expanded to include leaders of civil society. Religions and belief must have autonomy. One way to ensure this was by governments remaining neutral, because when governments began to discriminate, favour or patronize certain religions, the autonomy of certain groups was compromised.
She urged delegations to keep in mind that their cooperation was critical and that protecting human rights was not a frivolous matter, reminding them that her mandate could not be served adequately, if resources were insufficient. She said her mandate was probably the most sensitive, complicated mandate. Every new mandate meant a need for fresh resources. Without proper support, her work would not be as creative. She reiterated her concerns about how she would be able to present a report of value without sufficient resources.
She reassured the Committee that all government responses that were received before 31 August had been included in the present report. The responses not received by this date had been left out. She thanked the governments who had submitted their reports after that date.
She said she shared delegations’ concerns about pluralism and multiculturalism, which had to play a mainstream role in her mandate at a time when phobias against particular religious groups were increasing, and the garb of religion was being used to carry out criminal acts. She said more time was required to study Islamophobia, Christianophobia and anti-Semitism.
Statement by Special Rapporteur on Right to Food
JEAN ZIEGLER, Special Rapporteur on the right to food, said that realizing the right to food would require combating hunger through policy. According to the Food and Agriculture Organization’s latest report, 842 million people continued to be gravely and permanently undernourished; yet the world already grew more than enough food to feed the global population. Thus, while there were a few signs of hope, such as the attainment of self-sufficiency by China and the Brazilian-led initiative against hunger and poverty, the struggle to achieve the right to food remained far from won.
His report contained two analytical components, he said. In the first, he had laid out the situation relative to fisheries livelihoods, noting the erosion of these livelihoods. His report, therefore, provided recommendations to maintain and sustain fisheries communities, which were especially important to coastal civilizations in Asia, Africa and the Caribbean.
The second analytical component concerned the voluntary guidelines on the right to adequate food elaborated by the Intergovernmental Working Group, he added. Although the second World Food Summit had failed, the Working Group had been established at the last moment. The voluntary guidelines did not reaffirm the right to food, but they had laid out twenty guidelines for combating hunger. Importantly, States had, for once, taken the time to discuss, in detail, the right to food. Although no final compromise had been reached, the fact that the discussion had taken place should be welcomed. It was now fundamental to ratify the guidelines.
Also noting that he had been mandated to inform the international community about particularly flagrant violations of the right to food, he said he wished to draw attention to four specific situations. The first concerned the situation in Darfur, Sudan, where some 50,000 people had been killed and 1.1 million had been displaced. The pro-Government Janjaweed militias continued their activities against the people of Darfur, and millions of people had been left dependent on humanitarian support for survival. The Government of Sudan must stop the activities of the militias in violating the right to food and ensure the protection of and assistance to displaced Sudanese. International assistance would be insufficient in remedying the situation without such redress.
In the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, he said, 6.2 million individuals, out of a total population of 24 million, remained exclusively dependent on international humanitarian aid. The World Food Programme remained insufficiently resourced to provide effective aid to all who required it. The lack of adequate aid resulted from Western States’ inadequate response to WFP’s appeals. Moreover, further efforts must be exerted to find a solution to the problem of refugees from the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea who had fled over the border to China. While recognizing the legal accuracy of China’s contention that these individuals had entered the country illegally, he stressed that the situation constituted an urgent humanitarian problem. Reliable sources indicated that those refugees, which had been repatriated, had been punished and sent to camps.
The third situation of particular concern was related to the unilateral embargo imposed by the United States against Cuba, he said. The embargo, which constituted an infringement of the right to food, had been tightened even further recently. Additionally, that the United States allowed Cuba to buy food from it had led to the rise of an absurd situation. The unilateral measures levelled against Cuba under the Helms-Burton Act prevented Cuba from exerting its democratic commercial rights. He thanked the Government of Cuba for its cooperation in response to his request to visit the country, and noted that he had received no reply to the request for information submitted to the United States.
Finally, on the situation in the occupied Palestinian territories, he underlined the humanitarian tragedy affecting the 3.8 million Palestinians living there. A recent United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) report had indicated that 22 per cent of Palestinian children were permanently malnourished and that 85 per cent of water in Palestinian aquifers had been diverted to illegal Israeli settlements in contravention of the Geneva Convention. Although it had been condemned by the International Court of Justice, the construction of the security barrier continued and had led to the destruction of hundreds of arable, Palestinian-owned acres. The international community had attempted to alleviate the dramatic humanitarian and food situation in the occupied territories, yet it continued to deteriorate from month to month. Israel had every right to defend itself and to protect its people, but collectively punishing an entire population ran counter to the right to food and to international humanitarian law.
The sole response, which could adequately redress the world food situation, he concluded, was to adopt a policy-making approach to enshrine the right to food. One section of the international community and United Nations system, including the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank, continued to dispute that approach and to advocate the universal application of liberalization and privatization; yet looking at the figures, one saw that hunger continued to be on the rise. Ending hunger had nothing to do with market relations.
Dialogue with Special Rapporteur on Right to Food
Participating in a dialogue with the Special Rapporteur on the right to food were the representatives of Mali, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, Netherlands (on behalf of the European Union), United States, Israel, and Cuba. The Observer of Palestine also addressed the Special Rapporteur.
Mr. ZIEGLER, responding to concerns by the Mali delegation about the locust plague in his country, said the tragedy in West Africa caused by the locust plague was indeed catastrophic. He was right to draw attention to the famine suffered by his country and his neighbours as a result of the locust plague. The drought was complicating the situation further. He assured the Mali delegation that this was a priority issue targeted for further study and research on his agenda.
Regarding the concerns of the representative of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea about the official name of his country, Mr. Ziegler said the correct name had indeed been used in the report. He pointed out that he had asked the Government of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea five times for permission to visit, and five times his request had been denied. He, therefore, had to work on the basis of secondary documentation. The representative of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea had said his Government was not depriving its people of the right to life and was most concerned about the situation. Mr. Ziegler said he had never called into question that Government’s compassion for the suffering of its compatriots. The question was whether food aid was reaching its intended point of destination. Numerous NGOs had signed an infamous memorandum announcing they would stop working with the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea because they could not assure food aid was reaching the people for which the aid was intended.
On the question of the inclusion of refugees in his report, he said he was not going beyond the bounds of his mandate as the refugees referenced in the report were refugees fleeing hunger. That was indeed within bounds of his mandate. He had cited five volumes filled with research findings and stories of families bearing witness to their lack of access to food. As the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea had denied him permission to visit, he was left with no other option but to cite these secondary sources, which he pointed out were credible sources of information.
Turning to the lack of access to food suffered by women, an issue raised by the representative of the Netherlands, he said this was indeed a scandalous and widespread phenomenon, especially for women in the South. There was a critical need to improve women’s access to land ownership and their access to water sources. As to questions regarding the utility of voluntary guidelines, he pointed out concrete results in Southern Africa, where a committee on human rights had been established, and it had brought several cases to the Supreme Court to address infringements on the right to food.
He said another example of voluntary guidelines being used to re-establish the right of access to food, was in India where NGOs had succeeded in bringing a case to the Supreme Court that had resulted in the Court ordering food warehouses to be opened up to make food available for sale on the market. He urged States that had not yet done so to ratify the voluntary guidelines.
On the situation in the occupied Palestinian territories, he pointed out the resolution that called on non-State actors to show respect for all human rights. A letter had been written to Caterpillar, Inc. regarding its armed bulldozers which were built according to stipulations of the occupying forces. The bulldozers were destroying land; as the Special Rapporteur on the right to food, it was within his mandate to question a multinational society that was guilty of infringing on the right to food.
Responding to comments by the representative of Israel that the right to food was being distorted for political purposes and that Mr. Ziegler’s report was biased against Israel, Mr. Ziegler said that during his visit to Israel he had been warmly welcomed by various ministries. No restrictions had been placed on his travels, and all his questions had been answered. He had focused on the situation in the occupied Palestinian territory because the Commission on Human Rights had issued a singular and unique mandate for him to carry out a mission in the occupied Palestinian territory. But it had not been the only mission; he had made visits to numerous other countries.
He said all acts of violence were equally horrible and equally repulsive, but it was not within his mandate to address this in his report. He could not talk about the roots of a conflict. It was not within his mandate and he was obligated to stick to the bounds of his mandate. Reiterating that he had remained within the bounds his mandate, he said he had not participated in anti-Israeli activities, and that as a member of an NGO in Israel, he had participated in activities which had taken place in Tel Aviv.
Regarding the comments made by the representative of the United States, he said the participation of the United States concerning food aid was indeed commendable. He noted that 62 per cent of aid from the World Food Programme came from the United States. Everyone recognized the generosity of the United States. However, from Mr. Clinton to Mr. Bush, the United States had denied the right to food, saying the market itself would be able to establish fair prices and that food aid was there to make up for any imbalances. This was a position disputed by the international community at large, as well as by leading intellectuals within the United States. The United States embargo against Cuba had been condemned on repeated occasions and the United States could not criticize Cuba for staving off famine. What could be criticized was the impact of the embargo. He was accused of stepping outside the bounds of his mandate. Where and how?
The representative of Cuba thanked the Special Rapporteur for the consistency of his efforts regarding the United States embargo against Cuba. He reiterated Cuba’s call for an end to the embargo, saying the embargo was illegal and infringed upon numerous rights, including the right to food.
Statement by Independent Expert on Protection of Human Rights while Countering Terrorism
ROBERT GOLDMAN, Independent Expert on the protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms while countering terrorism, recalled the decision, taken by the sixtieth session of the Commission on Human Rights, to appoint an independent expert for a period of one year to assist the High Commissioner for Human Rights to conduct a study, requested by the General Assembly, on ways and means of strengthening the protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms while countering terrorism. Since his appointment to that post, he had twice met with the High Commissioner and her staff to discuss the new mandate.
At present, he was preparing the report mandated by the General Assembly and Commission on Human Rights, he said, which would be sent to the High Commissioner for her consideration and transmission to the Commission. Thus far, the report was highly technical in tone and thematic in nature. No State had been mentioned by name, yet the endnotes would reference States in connection with relevant decisions and/or remarks of treaty supervisory bodies and other mandate holders. Essentially, the report built upon and elaborated various themes and issues contained in the study recently submitted to the General Assembly by the High Commissioner.
Dialogue with Independent Expert on Protection of Human Rights while Countering Terrorism
Participating in a subsequent question-and-answer session with the Independent Expert were the representatives of Switzerland, Netherlands (on behalf of the European Union), Mexico, Costa Rica, India, and Israel.
In response to their questions, Mr. GOLDMAN said his mandate was unique. It would only last for one year and, unlike other special mechanisms, he would not report directly to the Commission on Human Rights. He would discuss his findings with the High Commissioner for Human Rights and she would transmit them to the Commission. Thus, he could only speak “impressionistically” on the issues raised by the preceding speakers.
Offering his opinion on the creation of a special mechanism to deal directly with the promotion of human rights and fundamental freedoms while countering terrorism, he said it would be useful to establish a mandate to serve as a focal point for States on the issue. The struggle against terrorism implicated almost every conceivable civil and political right, as well as many economic, social and cultural rights.
The duties that could fall upon the holder of such a mandate would be diverse, he affirmed. In terms of existing bodies, only the Human Rights Committee served to monitor the issue, and its capacity was limited by a schedule in which it met only three times a year and could only review fifteen country reports during those meetings. Moreover, responses to the Committee’s recommendations remained reactive due to limited resources.
His own mandate was not operational, he stressed, nor was it funded. In fact, the law school at which he taught, not the United Nations, was carrying the burden of funding his study. He had been asked to finalize a 29-page report on support for human rights and fundamental freedoms while countering terrorism, which he had addressed in 300 pages as a member of the Inter-American Human Rights Commission. He would attempt to rise to the challenge, but it would be difficult.
Among the bodies of law to be referenced in the report, he cited international humanitarian law, the relationship between international humanitarian law and human rights law, the extraterritorial application of human rights law at both the universal and regional levels, refugee law, and issues related to refoulement and other practices undertaken by States in delivering individuals back to States in which they risked being tortured.
Concern for the victims of violence remained ever foremost in his mind, he affirmed. He had spent thirty years representing victims of violence, particularly those who fell victim at the hands of States. Yet, the focus of his mandate was properly the conduct of States, and ensuring that they protected citizens’ free, full and fair exercise of their rights. The conduct of non-State actors would also be considered, where relevant, as when they engaged in acts of terrorism within and without situations of armed conflict.
Finally, he said it was necessary, in his view, for the Security Council to be fully aware of the measures adopted by States in their attempts to counter terrorism, in compliance with relevant Council resolutions. Such measures must not constitute violations of obligations under international legal and human rights mechanisms and under international law and customary law.
Statement in Exercise of Right of Reply
Speaking in exercise of the right of reply to the Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions, the representative of Yemen said her country guaranteed its citizens human rights. In terms of the incident to which the Special Rapporteur had referred in paragraph 35 of his report, the individuals concerned had been implicated in attacks against United States and French ships. They had been given the opportunity to turn themselves in, in which instances their rights would have been guaranteed. They had not taken that opportunity, thus the subsequent action had been taken. Her country remained committed to human rights.
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