PRESS CONFERENCE BY UNITED NATIONS HIGH COMMISSIONER FOR HUMAN RIGHTS

28 February 2007

PRESS CONFERENCE BY UNITED NATIONS HIGH COMMISSIONER FOR HUMAN RIGHTS

28 February 2007
Press Conference
Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York

press conference by United Nations high commissioner for human rights

Briefing correspondents at Headquarters today, Louise Arbour, High Commissioner for Human Rights, signalled “significant advances” in the normative human rights framework, but highlighted troubling thematic issues like the ongoing violence against women and the prevailing culture of impunity.

She said the progress made, though not as flamboyant as that made on more country-specific issues, included the adoption of the Convention on the Protection of All Persons against Enforced Disappearances and the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, and the entry into force last year of the Protocol to the Torture Convention, which provided for very extensive mechanisms of national and international investigation.  However, the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, though approved by the Human Rights Council, was still awaiting action by the General Assembly.

Responding to questions on country-specific issues, she said in reference to the court brief she had recently filed in Iraq against the death penalty that human rights advocacy in court was particularly effective.  “In fact, it is the form of choice for the advancement of human rights; courts are the primary guardians, not only of human rights standards, but of the application, the implementation of rights,” she stressed.

The document filed in the Iraq high tribunal was actually an application for a leave to submit the brief, she said.  To the extent there would be opportunities elsewhere to advance important human rights issues -- whether in international courts, regional courts, or in a national tribunal -- within the limits of her capacity, that was certainly something to be considered.  “If the courts are willing to listen to us, as I said, I think it’s a form that we should not shy away from.”

Asked whether she would make a personal statement ahead of a decision to deploy a United Nations peacekeeping force in Chad and the Central African Republic, she said there was no need for her to be involved at the present stage, but she was poised to work with the Department of Peacekeeping Operations to deploy a human rights presence if and when the opportunity presented itself.

Responding to questions about prisoners held at Guantanamo Bay and elsewhere without access to an independent judicial review of their cases, she said that lack of access had been her concern upon the creation of the “ Guantanamo environment” -- described by some as a “legal black hole”.  “I hope we will see the American judicial system rise to its long-standing reputation as a guardian of fundamental human rights and civil liberties and provide the protection to all that are under the authority, control, and, therefore, in my view, jurisdiction, of the United States.”

With respect to the extrajudicial killings by Israel in Gaza and the West Bank, and the thousands of Palestinians detained without trial, she said she had shared that concern directly with Israeli authorities in her recent visit to the Middle East.  At that point, the Israeli Supreme Court had not yet rendered its decision on the legality of extrajudicial killings.  The court was an excellent judicial body, but its decision had not gone the distance in totally prohibiting that practice.  The ruling had been disappointing.

At the same time, one could not underplay the very profound security claims of ordinary Israelis, she added.  People had the right to turn to their Government for protection.  The measures employed to provide security, however, should not have the kind of impact they were having on ordinary Palestinians, by curtailing their ability to make a living and curbing their access to health care.

Asked whether she would make another attempt to visit Darfur, given the Sudanese Government’s refusal to allow a recent Human Rights Council mission into the country, she said the Government had declined to issue visas.  It was understood that it had objected to the presence of a member of the high-level mission and to one of its staff members.  If that information was correct, it was entirely unacceptable for United Nations staff to be denied access in the discharge of their professional responsibilities.

She added that the Government was saying it had not been given sufficient notice for the issuance of the visas, but the mission had been launched in late December.  There had been “interminable discussions” among the Council President, the Chair of the mission and the High Commissioner’s Office, as well as lengthy discussions about the proposed dates for the visits and the need for visas.  The allegation that the Government had not been given sufficient time was not credible.  However, the mission had expressed its intention to report to the Human Rights Council, so it had neither been aborted nor terminated and was understood to have just finished its report.

Asked to comment on the fact that the Human Rights Council had issued eight resolutions on Israel and only one setting up the mission to the Sudan, she said that, while the Council was an intergovernmental body, it was also a quintessential political body.  Whatever its mandate, it was a body of 47 Member States, which reacted -- or failed to react -- to situations rather than to abstract human rights principles.  That was why it was so important for the United Nations system to have not just the Human Rights Council, but also special procedures, independent experts, the treaty body system and the Office of the High Commissioner.

Regarding this week’s International Court of Justice ruling that Serbia had not been responsible for the genocide of Bosnians in Srebrenica, she said that, based on the broad outlines of that very sophisticated opinion, the decision that would resonate most would be the one dealing with the obligation to prevent genocide.  That had now been overshadowed, however, by disappointment that Serbia had been found not to have been an actual perpetrator of the crime of genocide.  However, one should not underestimate the resonance that the further opinion would have regarding the obligation of States, not only those complicit or actively implicit in acts of genocide, but also those with a responsibility to prevent it.

She pointed out that the International Court of Justice had made extensive use of the jurisprudence of the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia, which showed the quality of the jurisprudence emerging from the International Criminal Tribunals.

It was difficult to speculate about what the outcome would have been had the late Slobodan Milosevic been found directly and personally responsible for genocide, particularly in relation to Srebrenica, she said.  However, there had been no resolution at his trial and the amount of evidence accumulated and made available to the International Court of Justice had obviously been of assistance.

As for the International Criminal Court’s indictments against senior members of Uganda’s Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA), she pointed out that the rebel group had been active for about 20 years and those who now said the indictments were an impediment to peace had short memories.  It was not as though the International Criminal Court had derailed a robust and very promising peace process.  There was cause for scepticism about peace negotiations with a group that seemed to lack any kind of political agenda.  It was very important not to romanticize the LRA as the political champion of the Acholi people, who it had terrorized for 20 years by killing, mutilating and abducting their children.

She said there was a certain amount of revisionism in transforming what was essentially a well organized, very well armed criminal enterprise into a political interlocutor with whom a peace settlement could be negotiated.  Judicial initiatives, and the process of the International Criminal Court, should take their course and negotiations should be about the terms and circumstances of surrender.  However, that did not mean international interlocutors should not engage with the LRA, but it should be made clear that its commanders had been indicted by a credible body that had the support of 104 Member States.  The indictees should answer the serious charges facing them.

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For information media • not an official record
For information media. Not an official record.