2 April 2004


Press Release



General Debate on Civil, Political Rights Concludes

(Reissued as received.)

GENEVA, 2 April (UN Information Service) -- The Commission on Human Rights this afternoon started its consideration of its agenda item on the integration of the human rights of women and the gender perspective, hearing an address from the Chairperson of the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women.

Ayse Feride Acar, Chairperson of the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women, said that the Committee was increasingly concerned that vulnerable groups of women, such as minority, indigenous, migrant or refugee women faced multiple discrimination and violence.  They required targeted intervention by States parties to the Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women.

Ms. Acar said she had been pleased to note that during the high-level segment of the Commission, many distinguished speakers had called for more effective measures to halt violence against women and to eliminate such problems as trafficking in women and harmful traditional or cultural practices.  The Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women consistently requested reporting States to focus in a comprehensive and sustained manner on the prevention and eradication of all forms of violence against women as a violation of their human rights. 

Also this afternoon, the Commission concluded its general debate on civil and political rights after hearing from a series of non-governmental organizations (NGOs) which raised alleged cases of violations of freedom of expression and opinion, freedom of religion and belief, freedom from torture, freedom from enforced disappearances and independence of the judiciary in countries and territories around the world.

A representative of the Organization Tunisenne de jeunes médecins sans frontières said civil society was called upon to promote and protect human rights, seen as an independent and indivisible whole.  The idea was for all people to enjoy their rights and to be released from fear and poverty, and this was a necessity for the full enjoyment of civil and political rights.  Education and the dialogue among civilizations were the vital pillars of policies against extremism

in all its forms.  However, mankind was moving towards hatred and the lack of respect of diversity.

Representatives of the following non-governmental organizations delivered statements:  United Nations Association of China; Pax Romana; International Rehabilitation Council for Torture Victims; Catholic Institute for International Relations; Society for Threatened Peoples; Japanese Workers Committee for Human Rights; World Confederation of Labour; International Fellowship of Reconciliation; Lawyers for a Democratic Society; Penal Reform International; Philippine Human Rights Information Centre; Indian Council of South America; Young Doctors without Frontiers Tunisia; Indian Council of Education; International Institute for Non-Aligned Studies; Netherlands Organization for International Development Cooperation; Australian Council for Overseas Aid; International Humanist and Ethical Union; International Youth and Student Movement for the United Nations, speaking on behalf of several NGOs; International Indian Treaty Council; International Union of Socialist Youth; Voluntary Action Network India; World Muslim Congress; International Possibilities Unlimited; African Society of International and Comparative Law; Worldview International Foundation; Foundation of Japanese Honorary Debts; Permanent Assembly for Human Rights; International League for the Rights and Liberation of peoples; Agir Ensemble pour les droits de l'homme; Fraternité Notre Dame; International Islamic Federation of Student Organizations; Indigenous World Association, speaking on behalf of International League for the Rights and Liberation of Peoples and International Indian Treaty Council; and Third World Movement against the Exploitation of Women;

The following countries exercised their right of reply:  Lebanon, Syria, Algeria, Turkey, Colombia, Chile, Singapore, Eritrea, Malaysia, Pakistan, Rwanda, Sudan, Morocco, and Cyprus.

When the Committee resumes its work at 10 a.m. on Monday, 5 April, it will continue with its consideration of the integration of the human rights of women and the gender perspective.

Statement of Chairperson of Women’s Anti-Discrimination Committee

AYSE FERIDE ACAR, Chairperson of the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women, said she had been pleased to note that during the high-level segment of the Commission, many distinguished speakers had called for more effective measures to halt violence against women and to eliminate such problems as trafficking in women and harmful traditional or cultural practices.  The Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women consistently requested reporting States to focus in a comprehensive and sustained manner on the prevention and eradication of all forms of violence against women as a violation of their human rights.  Such measures should include legislation, including provisions for redress, support, and training; sensitization of public and health officials on all forms of violence against women; awareness raising and media campaigns; and public education programs.  The Committee was increasingly concerned that vulnerable groups of women, such as minority, indigenous, migrant or refugee women faced multiple discrimination and violence.  They required targeted intervention by States parties to the Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women.

During its twenty-ninth and thirtieth sessions, the Committee had noted progress in implementation of the Convention in many areas, such as legislative revisions of penal, family and civil codes, and policy and programme activities.  In some countries, courts were taking an active role in forging a jurisprudence of gender equality by using the Convention directly.  At the same time, the Committee found it necessary to underline the need for enhanced efforts to implement the Convention at the national level.  The persistence of prejudices and discriminatory practices as well as gender stereotypes based on social and cultural patterns of conduct and customary behaviour continued to act as major impediments to gender equality in most societies.  It was the opinion of the Committee that while tradition and culture were sources of richness in a society, they could not be allowed to function as obstacles to women’s enjoyment of their human rights.

The Committee had found it necessary to focus on the situation of women in Iraq.  Women there should be full and equal participants in all post-war reconstruction activities and in all spheres of Iraqi society and Iraqi development.  All responsible authorities in Iraq, with the assistance of the international community, should ensure full compliance with and implementation of all provisions of the Convention in that country. 

Efforts had been stepped up to publicize widely procedures of international redress for alleged violations of the Convention, Ms. Acar said.  The Committee would continue to seek opportunities to enhance its effectiveness as a catalyst for attention to the human rights of women in the United Nations human rights system in the future. 

General Debate on Civil and Political Rights

WANG YUSHENG, of the United Nations Association of China, said respect for human rights was written into the Chinese Constitution some time ago, and progress had been made.  Regrettably, there were still non-governmental organizations which were distorting facts and spreading lies, in particular with regard to Falun Gong which had violated people’s rights and harmed other people.  Falun Gong disregarded the law, violating people’s rights and undermining security in China.  These evil attacks had happened again and again and were a flagrant trampling of international laws.  Falun Gong also undermined public facilities, cutting cables and intervening in normal broadcasts.  This had aroused the great indignation of the public.  No country respecting the rule of law would bear these activities, and they should be punished.  There were also questions as to who provided the funds which paid for these activities. 

HAE-YOUNG LEE, of Pax Romana, said the freedom to seek, receive and impart information was closely linked to the right to information, which imposed a positive obligation on States to ensure access to information.  However, only 50 States in all regions of the world had adopted laws on the right to information, while there was no global and binding instrument on the right to information.  Today, human rights defenders were frequently denied access to information, and were verbally and physically harassed and even targeted for crimes.  The Special Rapporteur and the Commission should pay closer attention to this matter.

CAMELIA DORU, of the4 International Rehabilitation Council for Torture Victims, said that the organization had supported medical, economic, social and legal assistance programmes to tens of thousands of torture victims and their relatives throughout the world, and urged all Member States to give generously to the United Nations Voluntary Fund for Victims of Torture this financial year prior to the meeting of the Board of Trustees in May.  Responses to terrorism could be undertaken without violating fundamental human rights; condoning, officially or otherwise, of so-called “light” forms of torture would set an extremely dangerous precedent, in which regard the Commission must reiterate its support for the absolute prohibition of torture.  The Council also urged the Commission to promote the ratification of the optional protocol to the Convention against Torture, as well as United Nations technical assistance in the implementation of visiting mechanisms in State parties.  The Commission was also urged to promote the speedy adoption of the Basic Principles and Guidelines for Reparation to Victims of Violations of International Human Rights and Humanitarian Law.

TIAGO AMARAL SARMENTO, of the Catholic Institute for International Relations, said regarding the independence of the judiciary and the need to deal with overall weaknesses in this regard in East Timor, there was an urgent need to ensure that there was a mandate for the continuation of the work of the Serious Crimes Unit and Special Panels after the expiration of  the mandate of the United Nations Mission of Support in East Timor (UNMISET).  Structural vulnerabilities were compounded by current practices which provided scope for political interference with the judiciary, and such practices included the lack of financial independence of the judiciary and courts in general.  Allegations of judicial interference in East Timor were also present in relation to the Special Panel for Serious Crimes which had jurisdiction for international crimes, whose work was being undermined in bringing to justice those accused of crimes against humanity.  The Special Rapporteur on the independence of judges and lawyers should undertake a mission to East Timor to further analyse these issues.

ULRICH DELIUS, of the Society for Threatened Peoples, said enforced disappearances of civilians were the most typical and frequent of human rights violations in the ChechenRepublic today.  There were many disappearances and arbitrary arrests, the pretext for which was always the same: links to rebel fighters.  In many cases these allegations were made during interrogations that were accompanied by the use of force, beatings and torture.   Further, more and more women and young girls were disappearing.  The Commission should adopt a resolution condemning the practice of enforced disappearances in the ChechenRepublic, and should send members of the appropriate Working Group to the ChechenRepublic for investigation.  It should also put pressure on the Government of the Russian Federation to end impunity in the ChechenRepublic and immediately stop using enforced disappearances as a means in its struggle against terrorism. 

KOICHI YOSHIDA, of the Japanese Workers’ Committee for Human Rights, said there was a serious human rights violation now on-going in Japan.  There was an intolerable attack on political parties, organizations and individuals who were against the dispatch of Japanese troops to Iraq.  This kind of attack showed an anti-democratic intention of the Government to push back history to the dark days when Japan participating in wars.  Many Japanese and foreign organizations and individuals had issued and published statements and messages of protest against the acts of the Japanese police.  The Committee would fight against these attacks in solidarity with the national and international forces for peace, democracy and human rights.

BEATRICE FAUCHERE, of World Confederation of Labour, said that serious violations of civil and political rights were usually perpetrated in countries that had been the subject of discussion during earlier meetings of the Commission.  For instance, in Burma, the Government did not hesitate to conduct systematic harassment of human rights defenders.  In Colombia, arrests, assassinations and other sorts of violence persisted against social leaders – union leaders among them – and the perpetrators enjoyed complete impunity.  In Guatemala and Cambodia as well, to be a unionist was dangerous.  The World Confederation demanded that the Governments of Colombia, Guatemala and Cambodia guarantee respect and implementation of civil and political rights.

YESHI TOGDEN, of the International Fellowship of Reconciliation, said that he remained deeply concerned about the Chinese Government’s systematic curtailing of the right to religious freedom and belief in Tibet.  Tibetans were trapped in the contradictions between the promises of “freedom of religious belief” in the Chinese Constitution and the application of atheist doctrine by the Communist party.  The current campaign promoting atheism had gone hand-in-hand with an increasing number of restrictions on public expressions of belief such as prayer flags and pilgrimages.  Moreover, the steady intensification of official control had expanded beyond the Tibet Autonomous Region to Tibetan areas in present-day Qinghai, Gansu, Sichuan and Yunnan.  There was also ongoing concern about Tibetan religious figures that had been imprisoned by the Chinese Government, including the Panchen Lama.  Reincarnation lay at the heart of all Tibetan Buddhist practices.  Through its interference in the identification process and spiritual training of important incarnates, the Chinese Government deliberately created division among the Tibetan people and disrespected the Tibetan Buddhist faith.

GIYOUN KIM, of Lawyers for a Democratic Society, said he wanted to express grave concern over the situation in the Republic of Korea where the right to freedom of expression, thought and conscience had been seriously violated in the name of “national security” and “unique security circumstances facing the Korean peninsula”.  Among the worrying trends cited, 78 persons had been taken into custody in 2003 and tried on charges under the National Security Law.  The Special Rapporteur on the freedom of opinion and expression had, eight years ago, recommended the repeal of the National Security Law.  The Government of the Republic of Korea should immediately release all prisoners of conscience and abolish the National Security Law and recognize the right to conscientious objection to military service at the domestic level, in addition to the international level. 

FRANÇOIS VARGAS, of Penal Reform International, said that at a time when the fight against terrorism, and more generally, against insecurity had erected imprisonment as the only answer, the population of prisons had reached record numbers.  Global conditions of detention were getting worse and deserved sometimes to be considered as cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment.  As the Special Rapporteur against Torture had said, some inappropriate conditions of detention could be assimilated to torture or ill treatment.  The fight against torture and inhuman, degrading and cruel treatment should therefore include the fight for the improvement of conditions of detention.  The recommendations of the Special Rapporteur against Torture were therefore recommended for adoption to all States.

MARY AILEEN BACALSO, of the Philippine Human Rights Information Centre, expressed grave concern over the continuation of enforced disappearances in Asia.  Among others, situations in Kashmir, Indonesia, the Philippines, Sri Lanka and Thailand were of concern.  The Centre demanded that such disappearances be brought to an end, that victims be provided with restitution and compensation and that human rights defenders be protected during their investigations of such disappearances.  The Commission must continue to support the ongoing process of drafting a convention prohibiting enforced and involuntary disappearances.

ADELARD BLACKMAN., of Indian Council of South America, said that in April of 2003, the Indian Council of South America had made a declaration to the Human Rights Commission in which it had indicated that the Buffalo River Nation was a sovereign nation and that its rights were being violated.  The Buffalo River Nation was planning to raise its case at the International Court of Justice.  Among the issues the Nation would bring up to the Court were the cases of land rights and self- determination which should be taken up under international law.  The Canadian Government had not respected their rights especially with regard to land rights.  The natural resources of the world were mostly found on indigenous lands, he recalled, and the issue had not been handled respectfully.  He recalled that the Canadian Government had not on several occasions respected these rights and for that reason called on it to fully respect the question of indigenous issues which was necessary for justice.  In less than 50 years, the ethnic people of Canada would be extinct if action was not taken.  In conclusion, he appealed to the international community for the Buffalo River Nation to receive the justice that it deserved. 

MOHAMED ELYES BEN MARZOUK, of Young Doctors without Frontiers Tunisia, said civil society was called upon to promote and protect human rights, seen as an independent and indivisible whole.  The idea was for all people to enjoy their rights and to be released from fear and poverty, and this was a necessity for the full enjoyment of civil and political rights.  Education and the dialogue among civilizations were the vital pillars of policies against extremism in all its forms.  Mankind was moving towards hatred and the lack of respect of diversity.  Institutions should work on the respect of the law.  The independence of the judiciary was an essential part for the defense of democracy.  The use of information technology communications should respect privacy so the world could build a new information society based on worldwide solidarity, and a new society that respected peace, harmony and justice.

ANKUR SRIUASTAUA, of Indian Council of Education, said the historical roots of religious intolerance went back many centuries.  All religions displayed ecumenical value and universalism.  Islam, which proclaimed all its followers as an equal brotherhood at the same time strove to treat the non-believers as neighbours.  Christians were urged by the Bible to allow their neighbours the same rights of following one’s faith and culture.  Religious tolerance was an integral part of multi-culturalism as was recognized by many of the United Nations covenants starting from the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.  To practice it daily and to promote it actively should be the common endeavour.

REENA MARWAH, of International Institute for Non-Aligned Studies, said that a truism borne out of the experience of many countries was that tyranny only resulted in rebellion.  The right to speak freely through or via the media, or in political, academic or social gatherings or in private meetings had been acquired by the people in countries where such rights were enshrined in law had been won after a hard and bitter struggle.  From the days of the Magna Carta the democratic system had matured through the struggle of the European peoples through widespread national liberation movements or a variety of freedom struggles against colonial rule.  Freedom of expression became a reality only through education which inculcated knowledge and training to think freely and critically and to speak without fear, among other things.  The Taliban Government in Afghanistan was an example of what happened to regimes which denied freedom of expression to their people.

MR MUGYANTO, of the Netherlands Organization for International Development Cooperation-NOVIB-Oxfam Netherlands, said that the organization was deeply concerned about the cases of enforced disappearances in Indonesia and mentioned that up to May 2003, the Commission for Disappearances and Victims of Violence – KONTRAS - had documented 1,292 cases of involuntary disappearances that occurred since 1965 when General Suharto took power by wiping out suspected communists and their supporters.  The organization noted that the Indonesian Government had not done anything despite this situation.  Another matter of concern was that of the continuing violence in Aceh, which was in a state of martial law and where cases of disappearances continued to happen.  The second ad hoc Human Rights Tribunal after East Timor was ongoing which was following the case of the Tanjung Priok massacre that took place in 1984.  However, at least 14 cases of enforced disappearances had not been included in the indictment. 

AFRIDAL DARNI, of the Australian Council for Overseas Aid, said while the Indonesian Government had submitted its report on the situation, it had not implemented recommendations made by the Committee against Torture, and had not amended its legislation.  There was a deteriorating situation in Indonesia with regard to this issue and others such as arbitrary detention.  The situation in Aceh was deteriorating, and the targeting of the human rights movement there was infringing on human rights legislation.  There had been summary executions and sexual assault by the police force.  The Commission should urge the Government of Indonesia to address these numerous human rights violations and fully implement the recommendations of the Committee against Torture, re-open the peace negotiations and fully cooperate with the international humanitarian organizations for the benefit of the people of Aceh. 

ROY BROWN, of the International Humanist and Ethical Union, said in Muslim countries apostasy was far from a dead issue, as was shown by the fairly recent examples of those tried, imprisoned, forced into exile, or executed in Sudan, Egypt, Iran, Yemen, Pakistan and elsewhere.  Islamic human rights schemes were clearly not universal since they introduced specifically religious criteria into the political sphere.  A Universal Islamic Declaration of Human Rights was an oxymoron.  In Muslim countries apostasy was usually linked to the related charges of blasphemy and heresy.  These charges, whether upheld or not, clearly contravened several articles in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.  Everyone should have the right to freedom of thought, conscience, and religion.  The Commission should call on all Governments to bring their national legislation into conformity with those human rights instruments to which they were party, and to forbid fatwas or sermons preaching violence against those holding unorthodox opinions or who had left a religion.

JAN LONN, of the International Youth and Student Movement for the United Nations (on behalf of the following NGOs:  World Organization against Torture, Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom, African Society of International and Comparative Law, and General Arab Women Federation), said that the international community had one year ago witnessed the largest ever assemblage of military might, which had been used to bring war against Iraq.  In that country today, the most fundamental violations of human rights continued to be committed on a daily basis by the occupying powers.  The United Nations was called upon to denounce those violations.  The Transitional Administrative Law provided for the handing over of power to an unelected group, which would in no way constitute self-determination.  The Transitional Administrative Law also proposed elections for a national assembly in which only a fraction of candidates would be allowed to stand, and which would therefore serve to further fragment, not to unite, society.  The United Nations should in no way condone or take part in this charade.   Concern was also expressed over the situation in the Tindouf camps in Algeria.

LEONARD FOSTER, of the International Indian Treaty Council, said that gross widespread injustices were being carried out in the United States against indigenous populations, especially on the grounds of cultural and spiritual rights.  It was recalled that the Special Rapporteur on religious intolerance had cited these violations in his most recent report.  The issue of land rights was a matter of serious concern.  There had been many proposals by corporations recently to infiltrate lands occupied by indigenous people to set up their operations.  There were also increasing cases of incarceration of indigenous peoples in the United States.  It was essential to overturn this problem and restore the cultural and spiritual rights of these people which were necessary for their well being.  The United States should be held accountable for the numerous violations it committed against indigenous people.  Several felony arrests were as a result of alcohol abuse.   Ignorance and racism should not be an excuse to deny these peoples their rights.  Lastly, efforts should be made to ensure the freedom and cultural development of people regardless of their ethnicity.

TSERING JAMPA, of the International Union of Socialist Youth, said many thematic procedures of the Commission had found that the humanitarian situation in Tibet was not satisfactory.  As China delayed the ratification of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, it was interesting to see if it would satisfy the Special Rapporteurs and Chairpersons who had been invited to China, bearing in mind that previous Special Rapporteurs had made unfavourable reports.  It was of crucial importance to monitor how Beijing responded to the Working Group’s recommendations.  Working Groups had asked China to remedy certain situations, but it had not done so, whilst giving the impression that it was complying with United Nations mechanisms and continuing to deprive people of their human rights.  China responded to accusations of hypocrisy with denial, and behaved like a spoilt child.  This was not the behaviour of a mature State.  The Working Group on arbitrary detention should continue to monitor the situation in China, and in view of the grave human rights situation, the Commission should adopt a resolution to censure China.

PARIYADAN MATHEW PAUL, of Voluntary Action Network India, said that all people were equal before the law, but noted that the socially excluded and indigenous people had been excluded from democratic participation in the State, which created exclusion and segregation.  All such forms of discrimination were condemned.  Human rights for all must be the governing features of political participation.  In India, the caste system meant that some had been discriminated against.  But to understand discrimination today, one must take into account the caste dynamics in the current situation.  The dynamics of oppression and atrocities had changed.  Programmes must be re-evaluated and reformulated so that they did not degenerate into quota systems.

FAROOQ REHMANI, of World Muslim Congress, said that foreign occupation created the conditions for the absolute denial of all human rights, which was the situation in Jammu and Kashmir.  The right to life carried no recognition in the context of the Indian State-sponsored terrorism of the region.  Killings had increased from 10 to 15 a day.  The main targets of custodial killings were the youth.  Between November 2002 and September 2003, more than 2,000 Kashmiris had lost their lives.  The laws promulgated during the last fifteen years gave unlimited power for the State to detain individuals arbitrarily.  Villages and towns were being raided with unusual force, causing casualties and fatalities by Indian forces.  The occupation must be brought to an end.

DEBORAH ROBINSON, of the International Possibilities Unlimited, said of particular concern was the finding of the Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions that the safeguards and guarantees for the protection of those facing capital punishment were not being followed in a number of cases.  Although there had been a number of important developments in the United States concerning the juvenile death penalty, now was not the time to let up pressure.  It was heartening that many members of the Working Group on the administration of justice saw the juvenile death penalty as contrary to customary international law.  The Commission should appoint a new Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions.  It was incumbent on the Commission to spur the United States and other countries that maintained the juvenile death penalty into action towards the elimination of this shameful practice.

ABDELBAGI G. JIBRIL, of the African Society of International and Comparative Law, said the security forces in Sudan were conducting a massive campaign of arrest and dismissal from public service in Khartoum and elsewhere in Sudan.  The list of those under arrest was long, and included pro-democracy activists, politicians, scholars, students, human rights activists as well as presumed combatants of the rebellion in Darfur.  The Government of Sudan should release all persons arrested because of their political opinion, human rights activities or conscientious objectors to military service in Darfur without delay.

THEIN OO, of Worldview International Foundation, said that there was no constitutional provision for the independence of the judiciary in Myanmar.  After reviewing the situation of the judiciary in that country, he said that the military was able to make the instruments of law enforcement do as they wished.  A great injustice had been done to the people of Myanmar on the occasion of the attack perpetrated against Nobel Peace-laureate Daw Aung Sun Suu Kyi.  The authorities were now trying to come up with excuses for the premeditated ambush, but their obvious motivation had been to eliminate the human rights and democracy movement in Burma.  The Commission was urged to propose an independent investigation into the attack against Ms. Suu Kyi, as there was no independence of the judiciary in the country.

J. ADRIANSEN, of the Foundation of Japanese Honorary Debts, spoke on the case of Dutch prisoners of war held in Japanese prison camps during World War II; these victims included men, women and children who were interred in concentration camps and forced into sex slavery to serve the imperial army; other prisoners were deported to Japan and China to work in the mines. Tens of thousands had died under appalling circumstances; boys were sent to boys’ camps and their mothers were not informed of their whereabouts. Approximately 25 per cent of the boys had died under terrible circumstances and were maltreated by Japanese guards; young children and women suffered and there had been a lack of food and medicine and dirty water which often resulted in death.  Moreover, representatives of international organizations were not allowed to visit these camps.

BRENDA VUKOVIC, of the Permanent Assembly for Human Rights, said with regard to the inter-sessional Working Group for a mechanism for forced disappearance, the Argentine people had suffered from this problem significantly during the dictatorship period.  The State had recently asked for forgiveness for this.  The victims lay outside all systems of legal protection and could suffer from torture and clandestine death, so the truth would never be known.  In introducing such issues into international human rights law, it would dilute State responsibility, but it was necessary to remedy the situation.  The valuable report concerning the over-crowding in prisons, arbitrary arrests and others in Argentina was appreciated.  The initiative taken by Canada to update its studies on the struggle against impunity was also appreciated. 

ROMAN SEITENFUS, of the International League for the Rights and Liberations of Peoples, said there was much concern for the situation of detainees in Morocco.  Morocco had adopted a new law with the aim of combating terrorism, which prolonged the length of time for arrest, and this was of concern since it was during the period before judgement that the detained were most at risk from torture and ill treatment.  Conditions of detention in Moroccan prisons were catastrophic, and the level of mortality was very high.  Places of detention were over populated, and hygienic and alimentary conditions so insalubrious that they triggered many illnesses.  Freedom of expression was extremely restricted and human rights defenders were subjected to many intimidations and insults.  The Western Sahara territory was still under occupation.  The Commission should put pressure on Morocco to implement the peace plan and allow the issue of self-determination for the Sahraoui people to be finally solved.

ABOU-BAKR ABELARD MASHIMANGO, of Agir ensemble pour les droits de l’homme, said that although the current Government of Rwanda had successfully thrown out the corrupt regime of Juvenal Habyarimana, it had not given rise to democratic transition, but had resorted to activities such as extrajudicial killings, enforced disappearances and intimidation, among others, to still opposition and smother civil society as a whole.  The Government, which had been in power for ten years now, believed itself to have found national legitimacy with the recent elections, however, there had been gross instances of rigging.  His organization was very concerned about the massive violations of human rights, which among other incidents, could be seen in instances of armed militias established by the State, the persecution of journalists and human rights defenders and interference with the judiciary.  Among other aspects of this latter phenomenon, court decisions on the indemnization of victims of the genocide had not been carried out.  Pressure should be brought to bear to redress the situation.

MARIE SABINE LEGRAND, of Fraternité Notre Dame, said the organization was a humanitarian and religious body which assisted people without distinction to race, creed, colour or religion; it had worked on five continents to minimize poverty and promote peace.  In France there was no development in religious freedom largely due to century-old laws and compromises had not been reached on cases on religious expression; persecution often resulted and freedom of expression as often denied.  The Fraternité chose to help their neighbours in order to help all, Christians and Muslims alike.  Women were being denied the right to wear religious symbols, as demonstrated in certain countries.  The Fraternité called for an end to religious intolerance.  In the twenty-first century it was necessary for religious practitioners to carry out their work unimpeded; restrictions on freedom were destructive to their practice. 

KAUKAB-UL-SABAB, of the International Islamic Federation of Students Organization, said the violation of international human rights norms was taking place in Jammu and Kashmir, due to Indian denial of the quest of the people of those countries for self-determination.  Their basic human rights were ignored, namely those for political expression.  Indian violence against Kashmiris had peaked with no let-up.  Many had been executed or summarily murdered by Indian forces, and torture was routine in police stations on a daily basis.  The draconian security laws had shredded the legal rights of Kashmiris.  Laws constituted a stigma on Indian democracy and raised questions as to India’s commitment to international civil and political rights.  Human rights defenders were killed and threatened.  Muslims, Christians and Sikhs also faced abuses of their rights.  The Commission should stand up in the defence of the people of these lands and help them regain their lives, security and honour.

RONALD BARNES, of Indigenous World Association, delivering a joint statement on behalf of International League for the Rights and Liberation of Peoples and the International Indian Treaty Council, said he wished to support the statement made by the Buffalo River Denai Nation.  The United States, upon accepting the Charter of the United Nations and placing Alaska and Hawaii upon the list of non-self-governing territories list, had accepted obligations that had been violated when they became states of the union without being allowed to exercise their rights to self-determination.  States and organizations had declared the interdependence of human rights.  There was no reason why the Commission could not review the decision on Alaska and Hawaii, with the aim of sending those cases to be considered by the United Nations.  Only the military of the United States had participated in the vote for Alaska and Hawaii to become states of the union, not the indigenous peoples of the two territories themselves.  The indigenous people of Alaska and Hawaii continued to be subjected to “taxation without representation”.

AFRIDAL DARMI, of the Third World Movement against the Exploitation of Women, said that 2003 had been a gloomy year for the freedom of expression and religious tolerance in Indonesia.  Under martial law in Aceh, at least 23 cases, including murder, arson, intimidation and arrest had been committed against journalists and the press.  Furthermore, the dismissal of the programme for Training on Human Rights Violation Monitoring demonstrated the arbitrariness of the Indonesian Police and Military.  Threats also came from the Government’s plan to revise the criminal code, and enact laws on state concealment, intelligence and broadcast law.  The Indonesia Government recognized only five religions -– namely Islam, Protestant and Catholic Christianity, Buddhism and Hinduism, with the consequence that each citizen must belong to one of them as atheism was not allowed.  Any other religious beliefs were not allowed.  The Commission was appealed to urge the Government of Indonesia to revoke articles under the criminal code criminalizing the press; to protect seriously the freedom of expression; to send the Special Rapporteur on freedom of expression to visit Indonesia; to protect all religions; and to exercise consistently the recommendations of the World Conference against Racism to eliminate racism, discrimination and religious intolerance.

Right of Reply

GEBRAN SOUFAN (Lebanon), speaking in right of reply, said Lebanon wished to commend various Working Groups and Special Rapporteurs for having acknowledged communications received from Lebanon.  Such communications underlined the strong belief of Lebanon in dialogue as a way of reaching constructive and conclusive results.  In the report on enforced or arbitrary disappearances, the Working Group raised the matter of 314 cases which occurred in 1982 and 1983 in the context of past tragic events in Lebanon.  The Government could not be held accountable for a situation where chaos prevailed at the expense of the rule of law.  The representative of Israel, acting yesterday as the sole advocate and protector of Semitism, had mentioned a TV series, portraying it as anti-Semitic propaganda and hate-mongering, in order to divert attention from Israel’s grave human rights violations.  Lebanon could not compete with Israel’s manipulations, and did not wish to, but Israel would never be able to stand up to freedom of religion in Lebanon within the confines of the law.

MIKHAIL WEHBE (Syria), speaking in right of reply, said the statement of the Israeli delegation yesterday had not hesitated to distort the facts of history in the same way that the Government did not hesitate to alter geographical facts on the ground.  The term “Semitism” applied to the inhabitants of the region, not to followers of a certain religion.  The Israeli delegation had tried to establish a monopoly on the use of the term “anti-Semitism” and use it to put a negative label on anyone who dared to criticize the Israeli Government and its violations of human rights.  This juxtaposition between anti-Semitism and criticism of Israel had been on the rise over the past few years.  Yet one had only to listen to the statements of Israel’s leaders over the years to see that they evinced an utter disregard of others.  Such ideas as espoused by those leaders constituted racism.  Anyone issuing such statements and resorting to such barbaric acts as Israel resorted to in occupied Palestinian and other Arab territories was truly anti-Semitic and racist.

LAZHAR SOUALEM (Algeria), in a right of reply, said that yesterday, in his stunning declaration, the Ambassador of Morocco had apparently made a mistake in subject, room and audience, and had imputed that Algeria was responsible for the detention of Moroccan prisoners of war held by the Popular Front for the Liberation of Saguia el-Hamra and Rio de Oro (POLISARIO Front).  His words were relevant to the date, as yesterday was the 1st of April.  The Algerian delegation wished to remind the Moroccan Representative that there was a plan for resolving the Western Sahara issue under the aegis of the United Nations and the Security Council.  It also wished to remind him that the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) regularly visited these prisoners, and that measures, under the aegis of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, had allowed the Sahari families, separated by the wall erected by Morocco, to be reunited.  Morocco’s absurd and bellicose words were irrelevant to the proceedings of the Commission. 

MUSTAFA LAKADAMYALI (Turkey), speaking in right of reply, said yesterday the Greek Cypriot Representative had referred to the problem of missing persons in Cyprus.  It should be recalled that the Turkish Cypriots were the first to suffer from this tragedy in 1963-1964, and that tragedy was repeated on a worse scale in 1974 with the result that of the hundreds who were subjected to enforced disappearances in atrocious circumstances, 500 in all, non-combatants, still remained unaccounted for.   In 1981, the United Nations decided to create a Tripartite Committee on Missing Persons, composed of Turkish Cypriot, a Greek Cypriot and a third member appointed by the United Nations Secretary-General, to address the problem of the missing.  In December 2003, the United Nations Secretary-General sent a letter to the two leaders in Cyprus requesting them to resume formal meetings of the Committee.  The two leaders in Cyprus replied to the Secretary-General’s letter in the affirmative.  Therefore, it was expected that the work of the Committee on Missing Persons would be reactivated soon.

In her statement, the Greek Cypriot representative referred to the right to know of families of missing persons. Turkey agreed with this right.  The case of Ms. Androulla Palma in 1998 illustrated the importance of this.  Even though the Greek Cypriot authorities knew that her husband had died and had been buried on the Greek Cypriot side of the island in 1974, for over 23 years she was deliberately made to believe that he was a prisoner in Turkey.  The Greek Cypriot administration had to offer a public apology afterwards.  The Turkish delegation hoped that the issue of the missing would not be abused for political purposes and would be handled with a new frame of mind, in a period in which strong chances existed for the creation of a new partnership in Cyprus on the basis of equality between two constituent States. 

CLEMENCIA FORERO UCROS (Colombia), speaking in right of reply, said the real threat being faced by Colombia was terrorism from illegal armed organizations against the civilian population.  Civilians had suffered most intensely from this scourge.  The President of Colombia had obtained a mandate to strengthen the capacity of the country to fight these threats and to protect all citizens.  There had recently been a reduction in homicides as a result of President Uribe’s efforts.  The NGO Federation of Associations of Relatives of Disappeared Detainees had said the Government had not achieved a reduction of these threats.  That gave a wrong picture of the situation.  Government registers indicated that there was a downward trend in persons who had been killed or who had disappeared.  These acts were often committed in the context of internal conflicts.  The geographical difficulties of Colombia, as well as the situation of unarmed judicial authorities working in situations of armed conflicts made resolving these problems a great challenge.

LUIS MAURELIA (Chile), speaking in right of reply, said the Government of Chile was not considering any bill which would foster impunity for violations of human rights committed during the time of the military dictatorship.  Those who were following the legislative process in Chile knew this well.  An NGO had referred to the supposed prohibition of freedom of expression which affected the written press.  This charge was utterly denied.  There was full freedom of the press in Chile.  If the Representatives of these NGOs would speak to the delegation, the delegation would give them full information on the issues in question.

KEVIN LIM (Singapore), in exercise of right of reply, said the Asia Forum for Human Rights and Development had made several baseless allegations about the Singaporean Government’s use of the Internal Security Act.  The Security Act was only used against public disorder and to combat subversive activities.  It had been invoked against individuals who rejected the democratic process and resorted to violent means to overthrow the lawfully and democratically elected Government.  It had also been used against individuals engaging in activities that incited religious and racial hatred. It had never been used against anyone who operated within Constitutional limits.  The Asia Forum was wrong to say that the Internal Security Act provided for indefinite detention without trial.  Non-governmental organizations such as the Asia Forum for Human Rights and Development should educate itself on the Internal Security Act before misleading the Commission with unsubstantiated accusations.

AMARE TEKLE (Eritrea), speaking in right of reply, said the International Helsinki Federation for Human Rights had made a fallacious and misleading statement about religious freedom in Eritrea.  It should be recalled that Eritrea had responded to similar allegations last year, saying that the issue had nothing to do with religious freedom but with registration by these groups with the appropriate authorities.  The Government had a compelling need for such registration.  The Government also recognized that religious freedom was a fundamental right, and the Constitution of Eritrea had enshrined that right.  On the other hand, it should be recognized that religious freedom was not absolute, and democratic States could enact laws imposing restrictions which were, among other things, essential for protecting public order, conserving social stability, and maintaining morality.  Finally, it should be heard loud and clear that Eritrea was a secular State and would remain a secular State.  Period.

BALA CHANDRAN THARMAN (Malaysia), speaking in right of reply, said the Government of Malaysia had amended its Penal Code in 2003 to deal with offences related to terrorism.  With regard to the definition of a “terrorist act”, that subject was indeed being addressed under the existing Penal Code and was being treated as a criminal offence.  Contrary to the insinuation of the Asia Forum for Human Rights and Development that the Government had acted arbitrarily in this matter, any “terrorist act” would be duly prosecuted before a court of law.  Normal procedures stipulated under the existing Criminal Procedure Code that arrest, legal representation and information on the grounds for arrest had to guarantee and respect standard norms.  As for those detained, their detentions were subject to due process under Malaysian law.  The detentions had not been carried out arbitrarily or with impunity.  The detainees had been provided all the necessary safeguards in terms of preservation of their human rights, including the right to habeas corpus.

TEHMINA JANJUA (Pakistan), speaking in right of reply, said Pakistan did not wish to dignify the statement of the International Humanist and Ethical Union by responding to it, but felt it necessary to say that it was unfortunate to see the Commission used as a forum for attacking Islam.  It seemed that Islam had become unfashionable – was the organization’s statement meant just to be fashionable, or did it reflect a genuine intention to malign Islam?  Even the Special Rapporteur on the freedom of religion had referred to the defamation of Islam as a malignant factor spreading like a plague worldwide.  Yet Islam was by definition a religion of peace.

GUILLAUME KAVARUGANDA (Rwanda), exercising a right of reply, said with regard to the statement made by the NGO Agir ensemble pour les droits de l’homme that describing the country’s election results as “Soviet scores” was an insult to the 4 million Rwandese who had participated in these elections.  The international community had congratulated the Rwandan Government for the way in which it had carried out the elections.  The Government was one of unity.  It had regrouped 8 political parties, and the State Security Services exercised their role in the respect of the law and were controlled by Parliament and the judicial apparatus.  The assassinations of which the NGO had spoken had taken place in Kenya, where the authorities had arrested those responsible.  These assassinations had nothing to do with the Rwandan Government.  Rwanda was an open country, with freedom of movement guaranteed for all.  There was no smothering of civil society and no harassment of human rights activists.  The NGO’s claim that another genocide was threatened was without foundation.

ELSADIG ALMAGLY (Sudan), speaking in right of reply, said disappearances, freedom of expression and religious intolerance had been confused by the NGO Union for Progressive Judaism with cases of hostage taking and slavery.  The NGO had put forth propaganda aimed at discrediting Sudan.  Its defamatory statement was without foundation. 

OMAR HILALE (Morocco), in a right of reply, said he was deeply disappointed since he had thought that the fact that Algeria had waited 24 hours before replying to the appeal for Algeria to release its detainees was a good sign.  But good news was not forthcoming.  Even more, Algeria’s reply was given in the form of a joke.  Algeria perhaps wanted to do away with the label of having the largest number of violations of international humanitarian law, but this was not the case.  The reference to the date of April 1 was an insult to the detainees kept in Algerian prisons by Algerian soldiers.  Morocco was not the one making this charge; an NGO not even friendly to Morocco but instead with a long-term link to Algeria had done this.  Speaking of the oldest prisoners in the world was not an April Fool’s joke.  As for the Third Geneva Convention, it was being violated every day by Algeria, and these detainees were tortured and used for political ammunition.  As to the question of Algerian responsibility, it seemed that the first article of the Third Geneva Convention was not being respected by Algeria.  In fact it was being violated.  Algeria did not respect international humanitarian law or the law of God, which called for justice and human dignity. 

HELENA MINA (Cyprus), speaking in right of reply, said that she wished to express Cyprus’s readiness for the speedy resumption of work by the committee on missing persons.  However the work of that committee should not be viewed as an end in itself.  Individuals had disappeared during and after the Turkish invasion of the island and, according to the Council of Europe, Turkey must conduct an investigation into the fate of those who were arguably in Turkish custody at the time of their disappearances.  The aim of Cyprus’s Government was to determine the fate of each and every missing person whether Greek or Turkish Cypriot.  Finally, Cyprus wished to note that whether the Turkish Representative liked it or not, the Cypriot delegation represented the internationally recognized administration of Cyprus and not a Greek Cypriot entity.

Mr. SOUALEM (Algeria), in a second right of reply, said that 48 hours ago the Secretary-General of the United Nations had met with the President of the Saharan group at which time they discussed the issue of the referendum and prisoners of war, yet there had been no mention in those discussions of Algerian interests.

Mr. LAKADAMYALI (Turkey), in a second right of reply, said that with regard to the statement made by the Greek Cypriot Representative, Turkey felt no surprise, since this scenario was familiar.  Cyprus always portrayed itself as a country suffering from invasion and occupation.  This was disappointing, since it gave evidence of a frame of mind that was far from reality.  It was also disappointing in the context of the search for peace.

Mr. HILALE (Morocco), in a second right of reply, said the Algerian delegation wanted to do away at any cost with its international responsibility as a country with prisons in the south, with Algerian wardens and boundaries around a camp guarded by Algerians to keep Moroccans in.  The State’s responsibility was quite clear, yet Algeria wanted to give a selective reading of international law.  It was time for Algeria to recognize that it could no longer remain outside

international law.  It had built prisons to keep Moroccans in.  It was a shameful thing, a shameful history for a Muslim country – prisoners had been detained for three decades.  What situation could allow this to continue?  Morocco relaunched its fraternal appeal to Algeria to release the Moroccan prisoners held in the camp; the future of the Maghreb was at stake.

Ms. MINA (Cyprus), in a second right of reply, made a special appeal to the Government of Turkey to take the necessary steps to resolve the problem of missing persons in Cyprus.

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For information media. Not an official record.