|Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York|
Sixty-second General Assembly
28th & 29th Meetings (AM & PM)
Darfur Remains region where gross human rights violations are perpetrated
by all parties, rapporteur tells third committee
Myanmar Continues to Be Serious Concern in Light of Continuing
Human Rights Violations, Committee Told by Under-Secretary-General
Political solutions were urgently needed to resolve the conflict in Darfur, where there could be no military solution, Sima Samar, the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Sudan, said today as the Third Committee (Social, Humanitarian and Cultural) continued its discussion of human rights issues.
In a statement based on her fourth visit to the Sudan as Special Rapporteur, from 25 July to 2 August, Ms. Samar said that the protection of human rights in the Sudan “continues to be an enormous challenge”. And while there had been some “slow progress”, many of the concerns highlighted in her latest report were unchanged from last year.
“ Darfur remains a region where gross violations of human rights are perpetrated by all parties,” she said. “Arbitrary arrest, torture, illegal taxation, extortion, forced displacement, killing and sexual violence continue.” While welcoming the adoption of Security Council resolution 1769 (2007), which authorized the deployment of a United Nations-African Union hybrid force in Darfur, she underscored that the State had primary responsibility for the protection of civilians, highlighting that its actions in that regard had been “insufficient”.
In her statement, which ended with a list of recommendations for all parties involved in the Sudan, including the United Nations and the international community, Ms. Samar referred to the situation in other parts of the country as well, noting for instance that “poor implementation” had hampered the Comprehensive Peace Agreement covering the south of the country. She also referred to human rights violations by security forces that had been documented in Khartoum, Darfur, the north and the south.
Responding to her statement, the representative of the Sudan said his Government had been cooperating with numerous human rights institutions. He listed a number of legal developments that guaranteed all human rights to all citizens, stating that, since the signing of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement, there had been immense positive transformations for peacebuilding, as well as maintaining basic rights. Turning to Darfur, he said there was greater voluntary return, with thousands of internally displaced persons returning to the area. He concluded by asserting that the Special Rapporteur had been the hostage of misleading information.
Earlier, the Committee heard from B. Lynn Pascoe, Under-Secretary-General for Political Affairs, who elaborated on the good offices mandate of the Secretary-General to engage the Myanmar authorities which had been undertaken by Ibrahim Gambari, the Secretary-General’s Special Adviser on the International Compact with Iraq and Other Political Issues. According to Mr. Pascoe, the situation in that country continued to be a “serious concern” in light of continuing reports of human rights violations “particularly at night” by security and non-uniformed personnel.
Mr. Pascoe stated that the Secretary-General and the international community both believed that a return to the prior status quo in Myanmar was neither an option nor sustainable. He stressed that ultimate responsibility for the future lay with the Government and people of Myanmar.
The representative of Myanmar responded by setting out a number of steps that had already been taken by his Government, including an end to curfews in some areas and the appointment of a minister to liaise with Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, the leader of the National League for Democracy (NLD).
In other business today, the Committee heard statements from Manfred Nowak, the Special Rapporteur on torture; Walter Kälin, Representative of the Secretary-General on the human rights of internally displaced persons; and Martin Scheinin, Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms while countering terrorism, who informed the Committee that he was in discussions with the United States to visit the Guantanamo Bay military detention facility.
Ngolardje Mbaidjol, Director of the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees in New York, also addressed the Committee on behalf of Arjun Sengupta, Chairperson-Rapporteur of the Working Group on the Right to Development.
The Committee also heard the introduction of seven draft resolutions on social development; the advancement of women; the rights of children; implementation of human rights instruments; torture; and next year’s sixtieth anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
The representatives of Yemen, the Russian Federation, Eritrea and France spoke in exercise of the right of reply.
The Committee will meet again at 10 a.m. Tuesday, 30 October, to continue its discussion of human rights issues.
The Third Committee (Social, Humanitarian and Cultural) today continued its general discussion of human rights. For more background, please see Press Releases GA/SHC/3893, GA/SHC/3894, and GA/SHC/3895.
MANFRED NOWAK, Special Rapporteur on Torture, recalling that he had carried out nine fact-finding missions since taking up his mandate, said victims of torture had invariably been caught between the need to show evidence to support allegations of torture and the lack of such evidence. As a result, people with credible allegations of torture had no recourse to have their complaints investigated. Records of medical examinations were often non-existent; recourse to doctors was at the discretion of police, prison guards or judicial officials; while medical examinations were commonly delayed. The absence of effective investigations was the major reason for torture and ill-treatment.
One of the most commonly observed obstacles to the respect of human dignity and to the prohibition of torture and other forms of ill-treatment was overcrowding in detention centres, he said. Examples were the failure to separate vulnerable groups such as children, women and ill prisoners; a lack of beds, food, water and medicines; as well as poor ventilation and sanitation. The almost automatic recourse to pre-trial detention of suspects was the key factor. Moreover, in many countries, criminal laws focused on lengthy prison terms. One of the most effective safeguards against torture and ill-treatment was to avoid depriving a person of his or her liberty. Criminal justice reform should therefore strive to avoid the deprivation of liberty at all stages.
Briefing the Committee on his most recent country visits, Mr. Novak said that in Paraguay, he had been impressed by efforts by the Truth and Justice Commission to guarantee the right of victims to know about gross and systematic violations committed by the former regime in that country. Torture, however, was still widely practised, primarily during the first days in policy custody, as a means of obtaining confessions. The practice had been facilitated by impunity. In Nigeria, torture and ill-treatment in police custody had been widespread, particularly in the Criminal Investigation Departments, and the conditions of police cells visited had been appalling. Nigerians themselves had identified the nature and scale of the problems. In Togo, evidence of ill-treatment by law enforcement officials, mainly inflicted during interrogation for the purpose of obtaining a confession, had been found, and conditions in police custody and in most prisons amounted to inhumane treatment.
Giving details of his visit to Sri Lanka for the first time, he said that the country had been able to uphold its democratic principles despite the difficult security situation being faced by the Government. Torture, however, had been widely practiced and had become routine in the context of counter-terrorism operations. Consistent and credible allegations from detainees about ill-treatment by the police had been received by the Special Rapporteur. Similar allegations about the army had also been reported. While the recent abolition of corporal punishment in Sri Lanka was welcome, disturbing complaints of cases of such punishment in prisons had been received and corroborated by medical evidence. Recommendations to prevent and combat torture and ill-treatment had been made by the Special Rapporteur to Sri Lanka Government.
The representative of Sri Lanka said that his delegation respectfully differed with regard to the Special Rapporteur’s description of detainees’ conditions in Sri Lankan prisons which Mr. Novak had described as amounting to degrading treatment. Overcrowding was caused by resource constraints, the representative said, and added that his country was mindful of its international obligations. He also respectfully differed with regard to the statement about torture being widely practiced in Sri Lanka, and said that statistics had shown torture to be very rare. Nevertheless, his country would take the Special Rapporteur’s recommendations into account, he said as he welcomed initiatives towards technical assistance. He thanked Mr. Novak for his work, and assured him of Sri Lanka’s commitment to full cooperation with the United Nations and his office and for constructive engagement to take care of all the Special Rapporteur’s recommendations.
The representative of Portugal thanked the Special Rapporteur for his report, and referred to the 23 countries which had not complied with his request for an invitation. The European Union deplored this, she said, and asked if Mr. Novak had received any information since May about the missing invitations. She also asked if there was anything the European Union could do to help with that situation.
The representative of Indonesia said the Special Rapporteur’s request for an invitation to visit his country had been accepted and Mr. Novak would be holding a seminar with civil society during his visit. He asked how the Special Rapporteur saw the promotion of professional activities, such as the seminar, vis-à-vis his efforts to combat torture?
The representative of Iran asked for more detailed information on torture relating to anti-terrorism measures as well as secret detention, and added that the Special Rapporteur’s useful suggestions had been taken into account.
The representative of Norway wanted to know what the most important qualifications were for forensic medical experts working on torture cases.
The representative of China said that the Special Rapporteur’s reports which stated that there was an unclear definition of torture as well as a reluctance to combat impunity in China were groundless. His country attached great importance to preventing torture, and had many measures to prevent it. Chinese law clearly stipulated that abusing detainees was a crime punishable by law, and severe penalties existed for rights infringement cases. The Chinese Government continued to cooperate with the special mechanisms of the United Nations, and hoped the Special Rapporteur would respect the differences from country to country, and recognize progress in preventing torture.
The representative of Nigeria thanked the Special Rapporteur for his report but said that report referred to strange cases. There was an ongoing process of releasing those who were not supposed to be in jail, he said. The Government was committed to the law and was doing all it could to stem the wayward behaviour of some members police force. The system of prisons was going to be totally overhauled, and the Special Rapporteur should recognize that.
The representative of Switzerland said they had noted, at the last session of the Human Rights Council, that the Special Rapporteur was planning a visit to Sri Lanka, and thanked him for sharing his conclusions. The representative then asked what could be done to strengthen existing national mechanisms to avoid impunity.
The representative of Finland said the Special Rapporteur had mentioned additional difficulties prosecutorial institutions faced vis-à-vis torture that left few or no visible marks. How could such difficulties be addressed? She also mentioned that minors constituted one of the most vulnerable groups of detainees, and asked for further examples of the application of the Convention on the Rights of the Child to children detention.
The representative of South Africa asked what the Special Rapporteur’s views were on the serious allegations of widespread renditions to torture and the application of the death penalty. He asked if renditions should not be conducted in a way that led to criminal prosecutions and justice.
The representative of Iraq said his delegation wanted to highlight that his Government’s invitation to visit his country was still valid, and that the Government had also declared its intention to join the fight against torture and avoid impunity.
The representative of Canada said her country appreciated the Special Rapporteur’s focus on impunity, and was deeply concerned by the prevailing climate. She asked Mr. Novak to elaborate on the role the United Nations, including the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), could play in promoting access to forensic expertise.
The representative of Chile , addressing the functioning of forensic experts in preventing torture, said while a country might have the will, it could lack resources. He asked for further details on the best way to establish such a system of forensic expertise.
The representative of Paraguay said that his country welcomed the Special Rapporteur, his report and its recommendations. Addressing Mr. Novak’s comments about Paraguay, he noted that procedures had improved considerably.
Responding to the questions and comments from representatives, Mr. Novak said his country visits aimed to establish facts, as well as to begin a process of cooperation. Donor support for prison reform would be welcome, he said. A “certain dialogue” was underway with Zimbabwe and Uzbekistan about visits to those countries. On assisting States to implement the Optional Protocol to the United Nations Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, he cited a positive experience in Paraguay where a seminar had been organized and recommendations generated. Something similar would be taking place in the next two weeks in Indonesia, which had not yet ratified the Optional Protocol. If a Government was committed to setting up effective mechanisms to prevent torture and ill-treatment, they should be supported by donor countries. The recently adopted United Nations Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Forced Disappearances was in many ways similar to the International Convention against Torture as many of the mechanisms were similar. Prolonged detention amounted to torture.
Responding to the representative of Iran, the Special Rapporteur said that he had been extremely concerned by some counter-terrorism measures used by many countries, especially towards suspects held in secret. Any secret place of detention constituted a human rights violation. Governments were called upon to halt secret detentions -- basic rights had to be extended even to the most serious terrorism suspects. Closer cooperation with Iran would be welcome.
Responding to the representative of Norway, he highlighted the multidisciplinary character of medical forensic experts. Such experts always accompanied the Special Rapporteur on his country visits to corroborate allegations of torture and ill-treatment.
Mr. Novak said a response from China was still awaited ahead of a forthcoming report to the Human Rights Council.
The Special Rapporteur said he was grateful to the representative of Nigeria for his remarks about the release of pre-trial detainees and said that more information on the dismissal of police officers implicated in acts of torture would be welcome.
On addressing impunity, he noted some steps that could be taken in Sri Lanka, stating that in recent years, only three people had been sentenced in connection with acts of torture under legislation that set a minimum sentence of seven years. The role of psychiatrists and psychologists as well as medical forensic experts in confirming incidents of torture was noted. Extraordinary renditions which led to torture were serious violations of human rights that had to be addressed. Many countries lacked forensic expertise and donor nations could do more to help States to develop their own such expertise.
Human rights of internally displaced persons
WALTHER KÄLIN, Representative of the Secretary-General on the human rights of internally displaced persons focused his remarks on two important issues: the question of when displacement ended, and the need to address internal displacement in peace processes. In his mission, he said, he had found that some Governments had made remarkable efforts to find durable solutions for displaced persons, namely Uganda, Côte d’Ivoire, Nepal and Turkey. He also commended Georgia’s National Strategy for Internally Displaced Persons. Azerbaijan had also invested significant resources to improve the living situations of some 700,000 internally displaced persons pending their return to places of origin.
There had been considerable concern in recent years, he said, about a durable solution for internally displaced persons. Unlike refugees, displaced people were not conferred a special legal status, but continued to be citizens of their own country. Over the past years, he had developed a “Framework for durable solutions” with humanitarian agencies and non-governmental organizations to determine when the vulnerabilities and rights violations that characterized internal displacement could be considered to have ended. Displacement did not end abruptly, he observed. It was a process through which the need for specialized assistance and protection diminished progressively.
Resolving internal displacement and achieving durable solutions was inextricably linked with achieving lasting peace. The successful return and integration of displaced persons was often a key indicator of the success of a peace process. A report prepared by the Brookings-Bern Project on internal displacement would be launched today, which would analyze the role of internal displacement and affected people in peace processes. The report would identify four areas related to displacement that required attention within the text of peace agreements: clear definitions that distinguished between refugees and internally displaced persons; guarantees of parties’ cooperation in the resettlement process; an enumeration of the rights of the displaced; and the definition of an implementation process.
Within the framework of his mainstreaming mandate, he said, he was committed to promoting the incorporation of the human rights of internally displaced persons in peace agreements and the systematic consideration of issues related to them in peacebuilding activities, based on the recommendations of the study. He intended to develop a handbook for mediators addressing these areas of concern for displaced people, and to suggest wording for peace agreements with clear legal underpinnings. He was also concerned with serious gaps in funding mechanisms for protection, transitory assistance and early recovery activities following the conclusion of peace agreements.
Addressing country situations, he mentioned that such scenarios had improved in the past 12 months in Nepal, Southern Sudan and Northern Uganda, although the latter situation remained critical. Too many countries still had troubling situations vis-à-vis internally displaced persons. Displacement was also increasing in Afghanistan. He was extremely concerned about the situation in Iraq. Alarming signals were coming from Somalia, and he was worried about the situation in East Timor as well. Displacements continued in the Eastern part of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, notably in Northern Kivu.
In conclusion, he said he welcomed the invitation by the Government of the Sudan to visit Darfur in the spring of 2008, and noted that the situation of roughly two million in Darfur continued to be one of the most serious in the world.
The representative of Portugal, on behalf of the European Union, posed questions on follow-up country visits, the application of guiding principles on internal displacement, and the role of non-State actors as well as the Peacebuilding Commission.
The representative of Azerbaijan said her Government would take the Special Representative’s recommendations into consideration, then outlined measures that had been taken to address the “forgotten situation” of internally displaced persons in her country.
The representative of Switzerland asked about access to internally displaced persons.
The representative of the United States welcomed the cluster approach used by the United Nations to address humanitarian situations and added that the international community had to play a role in situations where Governments could not protect their own citizens.
The representative of the Russian Federation asked what State measures were most effective in providing long-term solutions for internally displaced persons in a peace process.
The representative of Norway asked for elaboration on efforts to mainstream human rights into the wider issue of internally displaced persons.
The representative of Côte d’Ivoire outlined developments in his country since the Ouagadougou Agreement, adding that there had been spontaneous return of some internally displaced persons.
The representative of Sri Lanka said that in his country, the number of internally displaced persons had ebbed and flowed, depending on the situation. In Eastern Province, some 100,000 people had returned to their homes voluntarily, with others to follow very soon. Although some 90,000 Muslims had been in limbo for many years, broadly speaking, the number of internally displaced persons had gone down.
The representative of Georgia referred to the situation in Abkhazia and noted that young people born in exile had a right of return.
The representative of Iraq said that his Government had been working to create a good environment for the return of internally displaced persons by confronting those who acted outside the law and by providing basic services and economic development. Doing so, however, required much time, effort and help from friendly countries and international institutions.
The representative of the Sudan said that ending the suffering of the people of Darfur was one of his Government’s priorities; he went on to ask about trafficking of children in States with internally displaced persons.
The representative of Uganda said that since the cessation of hostilities in the north of her country, many internally displaced persons had gone back to their homes, although “in places near to the source of the problem” some people had moved into satellite camps pending the outcome of peace talks.
WALTHER KÄLIN began by responding to questions on follow ups to his visits. Follow ups were extremely important to him, he said, and added that the initial mission was the starting point for a dialogue with a country. He always cooperated very closely with country teams, and debriefed agencies when coming back, he said. He tried to go back to countries on follow-up visits.
Regarding questions on the guiding principles and their implementation, he said he was grateful for support for a database that would aid in that work. The manual would provide detailed guides for Governments, and would be launched next summer. He said he was pleased about cooperation with the African Union, and also about being asked to provide input in the process of elaborating an African internal displacement protocol. That would help strengthen the normative framework. Regarding non-State actors and what approach could be taken, he said it depended very much on the context, as well as whether Governments wanted him to engage with such actors. Georgia had taken a very constructive approach. He noted his respect for the decisions of sovereign Governments on where he could visit.
Addressing the issue of his engagement with the United Nations Peacebuilding Commission and what he intended to do as a next step, he said he was continuing dialogue with that body and looking at possibilities to profit from lessons learned. He was also working towards a manual assisting peace mediators and negotiators -- an interesting project he would be taking up in the coming year.
Turning to natural disasters, he said work was ongoing, and mentioned the operational guidelines on human rights and natural disasters. Very soon he would have a manual ready with very practical advice for the field.
The Sudan had raised the question of trafficking in children, which was not acceptable regardless of whether those children were internally displaced persons or not. What was needed was a systematic monitoring of causes and effects as well as systematic dialogue with all actors. And what was really necessary was a basic understanding that providing assistance meant not taking parts in a conflict.
Human Rights, Fundamental Freedoms and Countering Terrorism
MARTIN SCHEININ, Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms while countering terrorism, said that cooperation by Member States with his mandate had clearly improved in the past year. He cited successful missions to South Africa, the United States, as well as Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territories. Referring to the thematic focus of his report, he said that in many parts of the world, asylum-seekers with a well-founded fear of persecution had been disproportionately affected by counter-terrorism measures, notably after the post-2001 wave of related actions. Terrorism and national security had often been used to argue for more restrictive asylum and immigration regimes, although human rights law and refugee law, as they had developed over the decades, already took the security concerns of States into account. The new momentum in addressing terrorism did not justify the revamping of standards and principles of international protection.
He said that pre-entry interception and screening measures; detention of asylum-seekers; exclusion from refugee and other protection status (including the principle of non-refoulement); repatriation or resettlement of those detained for terrorism-related activities; and stronger global responsibility for international protection were issues highlighted in his current report. Pre-entry interception had become common at sea; States, in cooperation with the UNHCR, should ensure that there were clear guidelines for such operations that fully respected both refugee and human rights law. Turning to mandatory or indefinite detention of asylum-seekers, he said States should not depart from the right to judicial review of the lawfulness of any form of detention.
Positive signals that the United States would close down the military detention facility at Guantanamo Bay were encouraging, he said. The UNHCR should be involved in the resettlement of those detainees there claiming to be in need of international protection. It was regrettable that the possibility of privately interviewing, detainees at Guantanamo Bay had not been guaranteed. Other country visits – to Turkey, South Africa and Israel – had included unhindered access to terrorism detainees. Since his visit to the United States, the Government had extended the Special Rapporteur an invitation to visit Guantanamo Bay to observe military commission proceedings; further consultations on such a visit would be taking place this week.
The representative of Portugal asked if the Special Rapporteur could give more information on cooperation with regional organizations in the discharge of his mandate, and also more information on current relations with other United Nations bodies.
The representative of Switzerland asked about the situations of individuals in detention such as Guantanamo Bay. What guarantees had to be respected for the detainees regarding trials, and what was the Special Rapporteur’s opinion on the use of military courts to try civilians? Were there sufficient institutional safeguards in the United Nations to ensure balance between counterterrorism and the rights of individuals?
The representative of Iran said that the consequences of the war on terror had triggered a war on foreigners living in western countries, subjecting them to excessive surveillance. Could the Special Rapporteur give more details on that issue?
The representative of Israel commended the Special Rapporteur for a profound and useful report that brought a wide perspective of the issue at hand to country’s consideration. Thanking him for the constructive dialogue, he said the recommendations were being studied. Israel had a duty to protect its citizens from terror, but the country also valued human rights very highly.
The representative of Finland asked about definitions of terrorism. What were the Special Rapporteur’s insights on those issues, and what were the most important next steps?
The representative of Indonesia thanked the Special Rapporteur for his independence and expertise, and asked about racial profiling, requesting Mr. Scheinin to inform the Committee on best practices on that issue.
The representative of South Africa thanked the Special Rapporteur for a very good report on a very important subject, and for his visit to South Africa. His country was currently taking collective national measures to implement Mr. Scheinin’s recommendations, and would engage the Special Rapporteur’s report on his mission to South Africa more interactively at the session in Geneva.
The representative of the United States said that the United States looked forward to the day Guantanamo Bay could be closed, and those eligible for release or transfer could be resettled. The country was pleased to have been able to offer the Special Rapporteur the ability to observe military commission hearings, and regretted that prior engagements prevented him from accepting the invitation. As the United States moved forward with those military commission hearings, it was important that the proceedings “be as transparent as possible”, he said. The United States had worked hard to ensure that the commissions were fully consistent with all applicable law, he said.
Responding to questions, Mr. SCHEININ said that greater discussion of his reports on his missions to South Africa, the United States and Israel, including the Occupied Palestinian Territory, would take place at the meeting of Human Rights Council. One of the most troubling issues vis-à-vis the effect of counter-terrorism on human rights had been profiling, which could lead to adverse discrimination. Profiling had been regularly raised during country missions, and it would be addressed in a forthcoming statement of best practices on human rights and fighting terrorism. Professionalism was the short answer to improving interception and border controls, not only by Government agencies but also by private contractors who increasingly had been hired to handle such duties. Professionalism included full awareness of human rights and recognizing someone in need of international protection.
On cooperation with regional organizations, he said discussions had taken place during his visit to South Africa about what that country could do to promote a better understanding of human rights at the regional level. The most action oriented cooperation of that kind still took place with the European Union, the Council of Europe and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE); a meeting with the European Committee on the Prevention of Torture would take place in Strasbourg, France next week. The United Nations Counter-Terrorism Implementation Task Force, involving some 30 agencies including UNHCR and himself, had provided an excellent framework to mainstream human rights into counter-terrorism efforts.
Returning to the topic of best practices, he said that in some cases, such practices had been mixed with “problematic dimensions”. South Africa had a cumulative definition of terrorism, with a number of conditions to be met; however, the list of terrorism-related crimes was too broad. It appeared to be a case of countries, when learning from each other, copying “the bad parts” only. In the United States, best practice had included a rejection of profiling by the Department of Homeland Security, the Department’s community outreach work, and the role of free media and the judiciary. Much could also be learned from that country in the area of support and rehabilitation of victims of terrorism. Returning to South Africa, he said that country’s parliamentary control over terrorist lists and an absence of special modified procedures was noted. In Israel, as in the United States, the concept of unlawful combatant had been introduced, but that concept was subject to judicial review. It was hoped that the Security Council, in its resolution addressing counter-terrorism, would emphasise the role to be played by the United Nations, as well as Member States, in ensuring respect for human rights.
On the issue of detainees, he said the “common bottom line” was speedy access to the courts to determine the lawfulness of detention. The Human Rights Council had found that there was no rule in human rights law that would outlaw military courts, but added that such courts should be avoided. Regarding United Nations safeguards to protect human rights, he noted that the need for a more transparent sanctions regime -- one that would be subject to review -- arose from the imposition of sanctions which affected individuals.
B. LYNN PASCOE, the Under-Secretary General for Political Affairs presented the report of the Secretary-General on the human rights situation in Myanmar. The report focused on the efforts to engage the Myanmar authorities through the good offices, he said, with Ibrahim Gambari, the Secretary-General’s Special Advisor on the International Compact with Iraq and Other Political Issues pursuing that mandate.
Mr. Pascoe said he would focus his remarks on recent developments, and gave a brief overview of the situation. Demonstrations over a fuel price increase quickly grew in size when monks and nuns started marching in protest against the Government’s initial response. By some reports, between 50,000 and 100,000 people demonstrated peacefully but by 24 September, authorities also used lethal and excessive force to disband the peaceful protesters. Mr. Gambari was dispatched on 26 September, and on behalf of the Secretary-General, he expressed the international community’s deep concern about the events of the preceding weeks.
The situation in Myanmar continued to be one of serious concern in light of continuing reports of human rights violations, “particularly at night”, by security and non-uniformed personnel, Mr. Pascoe said. Those incidents had included raids on private homes, intimidation, beatings, arbitrary arrests and disappearances. Mr. Gambari, during his latest visit to the region, had been able to resume the role he had started to play during his last visits to Myanmar by conveying messages between the senior leadership and Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, the detained leader and General Secretary of the National League for Democracy (NLD). The Secretary-General and the international community both believed that a return to the status quo ante was no longer an option, nor was it sustainable.
Ultimately, he said, the responsibility for the future of Myanmar rested with the Government and the people of that country. The more united the international community, the better the prospects of the people of Myanmar to arrive at the shared goals of peace, democracy and prosperity.
The representative of Myanmar said that country reports had always been submitted by Special Rapporteurs and experts in line with mandates given by the General Assembly, but this was the first time that the Under-Secretary-General for Political Affairs had introduced a human rights report to the Committee. It was peculiar that he had chosen to focus selectively on Myanmar. When it came to the protection and promotion of human rights, it was essential that deliberations be pragmatic and constructive. Only through cooperation could human rights everywhere be promoted and protected. Responsibility for the future of Myanmar rested with its Government and people. It had been in that spirit that his country had been promoting peace and stability as well as pursuing a seven-step process to democracy.
He outlines a number of steps that his Government had undertaken, including the total lifting of the curfew that had been imposed in some urban areas in September, the release of 2,700 demonstrators, and the appointment of a minister to liaise with Daw Aung San Suu Kyi. A first meeting with her took place on 25 October. There had also been a number of other positive developments in the past year. On 26 February, Myanmar and the International Labour Organization (ILO) agreed on a mechanism on forced labour while the fight against narcotic drugs was another area in which efforts had been bearing fruit. The Secretary-General’s report had acknowledged that, on the whole, the Government of Myanmar had shown greater openness to the United Nations As had been said on another occasion, in recent weeks and months, Myanmar had become an emotive issue. The international community had to distinguish the situation from propaganda, and see the larger perspective. What had happened in his country was tragic, but what had started as a demonstration over fuel prices had been taken up by political activists and rabble-rousers. The Government acted with restraint for a month; the security forces then moved in when things got out of hand. The international community could best help Myanmar by accentuating positive developments and providing encouragement. He urged that community to work with Myanmar to make a difference.
The representative of Portugal, on behalf of the European Union, said that the Union’s great concern about the situation in Myanmar would be expressed in a draft resolution that her delegation intended to table. She went on to ask for an assessment of the good-offices process so far, the main objectives of the Special Adviser for his upcoming visit to Myanmar, and given the human rights aspect, coordination of work with that of the Special Rapporteur on the human rights situation in Myanmar, Paulo Sérgio Pinheiro.
The representative of Gambia said that he thought the Under-Secretary-General would have introduced a report on democratization.
The representative of Japan said his Government supported Mr. Gambari’s efforts. It was regrettable that the Government of Myanmar had chosen to use force against peaceful demonstrators, a course of action that led to the death of a Japanese citizen. Japan hoped that country would accept the decision adopted by consensus by the Human Rights Council and the declaration issued by the Security Council. Japan would continue to cooperate with the United Nations and Myanmar to improve human rights as well as to facilitate democracy and reconciliation. He then asked Mr. Pascoe to assess the response to the good-offices efforts undertaken by United Nations, and to set out the priority areas vis-à-vis national reconciliation in Myanmar.
The representative of the United States said it was entirely appropriate for the Under-Secretary-General to appear before the Committee in the absence of the Special Envoy.
The Secretary of the Committee, Moncef Khane, responding to the representative of Gambia, made some explanatory remarks.
The representative of Gambia in turn asked for an explanation to be made by the Under-Secretary-General.
Mr. Pascoe said it had been the wish that Mr. Gambari could have been in the Committee today, but he was currently in Asia. Out of respect for the Committee, however, the report had been introduced now, and talks with Mr. Gambari could be held later.
He said as the crackdown was still going on in the streets of Myanmar, it was still the early stages. It would have been preferable if Mr. Gambari could have been in the country a few weeks ago to see if there was any possibility of re-starting the dialogue he had started last year on Daw Aung San Suu Kyi. It was not clear who Mr. Gambari was going to talk to but he was there to do what the United Nations did best -- use its good offices. “We’d like to be able to find out more about the situation,” he said, and do what could be done to make sure that real dialogue got going so that the process could move along more quickly.
In response to the question about coordination between Mr. Gambari and Paolo Sérgio Pinheiro, the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Myanmar, he said that there was coordination to make sure each of them was working on their issue, which was why the Committee was talking about good offices today. Both were working to complete the job they had been mandated to do. Mr. Pascoe also confirmed that he himself had come last week to talk about democratization.
Answering Japan’s question on how to assess the response in Myanmar so far, Mr. Pascoe said it had been encouraging. He wanted to see real dialogue between the two sides, to lead Myanmar to the kind of prosperity and respect for human rights that the whole international community wanted to see.
The representative of Gambia taking the floor again, said it was not Mr. Gambari’s objectives the Committee was talking about, but those of the United Nations. He said he was not convinced by the answers Mr. Pascoe had given, and expressed his wishes that the next time the Under Secretary-General came to the Committee there would be a properly introduced report. If the Under Secretary-General wanted to brief anyone, it should be done in a forum in the Organization where he had been mandated to do that. “This was not the forum”, he said.
The representative of Myanmar expressed his hopes that the Under-Secretary-General would underscore the importance of all issues on the Committee’s agenda as his delegation was interested in tackling everything, and not just the issues of a single country. He thanked Mr. Pascoe for the acknowledgements about Myanmar’s progress, but pointed out some of the fallacies - one was a continuing crackdown on the people in Myanmar. The situation had in fact returned to normal, he said, and the Government had totally lifted the curfew. People were going about their normal lives and there was no crackdown. The Government of his country was taking all pragmatic measures to ensure that the Myanmar would be back on the road to democracy and development. More than anybody else, he said, it was the people of Myanmar who wanted a peaceful and developed nation.
The Secretary of the Committee, Moncef Khane, said that he felt compelled to take the floor to answer the question posed by Gambia. He said it had been announced on Friday at the morning session that the report of the Secretary-General on the situation of human rights in Myanmar would be introduced.
Taking the floor for the last time, Mr. Pascoe thanked the Committee for letting him attend.
Introduction of Draft Resolutions
The representative of Senegal, on behalf of the United Kingdom, introduced a draft resolution entitled Policies and programmes involving youth: youth in the global economy (A/C.3/62/L.7). More than 200 million youths were living on less than $1 a day, the majority of them in developing countries. Many had been infected with HIV. The young people of today would be the adults of tomorrow; and they needed attention. They suffered from a lack of education, lack of employment, and discrimination. The elimination of poverty would not be possible without lasting solutions to the many problems facing youth. Young people should be involved in all decisions, including those that affected the global economy. It was time for action. It was hoped that the draft resolution would be adopted by consensus as in the past.
The representative of Mongolia introduced a draft resolution entitled Improvement of the situation of women in rural areas (A/C.3/62/L.19), which would declare 15 October of each year as the International Day of Rural Women. The role of women in eliminating poverty had been emphasized by several United Nations summits and conferences. Rural women’s access to employment would be opened by the development of traditional handicrafts and new sectors such as tourism. Women’s access to information technology was needed. Rural women made up more than quarter of world’s population; they were responsible for more than half of the world’s food output, and it was hoped that the draft would be approved by consensus.
The representative of Zambia, on behalf of the Southern African Development Community (SADC), introduced a draft resolution on The girl child (A/C.3/62/L.23). Recalling similar resolutions in previous years, she said that this year’s text had been updated, streamlined and strengthened to reflect developments. It highlighted the needs of the girl child in education, health and development, and the need for protection from exploitation, abuse, discrimination and violence. It aimed to raise awareness of the various problems faced by the girl child and called on the international community to address them. Negotiations on the draft were continuing with hopes that it would be approved by consensus.
The representative of Sweden introduced a draft resolution entitled International Covenants on Human Rights (A/C.3/62/L.25). She recalled that a similar resolution had been adopted in 2005. Since then, adherence to the covenants and optional protocols had grown. The current resolution had been shortened for streamlining purposes, and updated to reflect developments. It took note of important efforts undertaken by treaty bodies, and of harmonizing reporting guidelines. The text now had 52 co-sponsors; it was hoped that more would follow, with approval by consensus.
The representative of Denmark introduced a draft resolution entitled Torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment (document A/C.3/62/L.26). She said negotiations on the draft had yet to be concluded, but it was hoped that a final agreement could be reached as soon as possible, at which time a request would be made for the text to be distributed. There could be no derogation from the right to freedom from torture. The draft would condemn all forms of torture and underline the obligation of States to prohibit torture at any time and at any place. Negotiations on the text were continuing in a constructive spirit, and it was hoped that flexibility would be shown by all parties. It was hoped that the final version would be approved with strong support.
The representative of Belarus introduced an amendment to the draft resolution entitled Torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment (document A/C.3/62/L.26). The document number of Belarus’ amendment was A/C.3/62/L.27. If adopted, the amendment would add a new preambular paragraph after the fourth preambular paragraph in the original text submitted.
The representative of Benin introduced a draft resolution entitled International year of human rights learning (A/C.3/62/L.28). If adopted, the text would celebrate the 60th anniversary of the adoption of the Human Rights Declaration. That would be an occasion to expedite the realization of all human rights, he said. It was necessary for every man, woman and child to be informed of their rights, and for that reason, Benin had decided to declare the upcoming year as the “international year of human rights learning”.
SIMA SAMAR, Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Sudan, recalled that, during 1 August 2006 to 31 August 2007, the period under review, the Human Rights Council had expressed serious concerns about the human rights situation in Darfur and had undertaken a number of initiatives. In light of that emphasis by the Council, the most recent visit by the Special Rapporteur from 25 July to 2 August had focused on other parts of the Sudan. Protection of human rights in the Sudan was still an enormous challenge. Some slow progress had been made, including the signing of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, the drafting of new bills and the issuance of orders. Such positive steps, however, had yet to have tangible effects. Many of the concerns highlighted last year were the same this year.
Darfur remained a region where gross violations of human rights were perpetrated by all parties, she said. Arbitrary arrest, torture, illegal taxation, extortion, forced displacement, killing and sexual violence continued. There was no military solution to the conflict there; political solutions were urgently needed. Some progress had been made on the political front, although potential advances had largely been unrealized. The authorization of a hybrid peacekeeping operation in Darfur was welcome, and should help the protection of human rights. Protection of civilians should remain the primary responsibility of the State, but it was insufficient. It was hoped that the Comprehensive Peace Agreement would remain in place, but it had been hampered by poor implementation. Portions that would have improved the human rights situation had not been implemented. The legal and institutional human rights framework was still weak; the National Human Rights Commission had not yet been established and some 60 laws needed to be reformed in an open, inclusive and participatory way.
She said justice in southern Sudan was very weak, with inadequate resources and equipment, legal reform, law enforcement and justice administration. In eastern Sudan, victims of the massacre in Port Sudan had still not received justice. In transitional areas, two parallel judicial systems were in place, creating enormous challenges to the administration of justice. Civilians had been killed and arrested in the area of dams in Kajbar, Merowe and Amri in northern Sudan. Fundamental rights, including freedom of expression and association, had been violated by security forces while credible reports of arbitrary arrest, detention, torture and ill treatment had been received. The advancement of economic, social and cultural rights was moving at an extremely slow pace and widespread poverty aggravated political unrest throughout the country.
The Special Rapporteur then set out a number of recommendations. For the Government, they included law reforms; faster implementation of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement; the disarming and demobilization of militia; the deployment of credible and professional police forces; the transparent investigation of human rights violations; full cooperation with the International Criminal Court to arrest those accused of war crimes and crimes against humanity; guaranteeing the freedoms of journalists and human rights defenders; and ratification of remaining international human rights instruments. Addressing the warring factions, she called for respect for international human rights law; facilitating the provision of humanitarian assistance; full cooperation with United Nations and African Union peacekeeping forces; and support for the political process leading to a peaceful solution for the Darfur conflict. Turning to the Government of southern Sudan, she recommended faster legal reforms and faster disarmament of ex-combatants, among other steps. Addressing the international community, she recommended ongoing technical and financial support to the Government of National Unity, as well as the Government of southern Sudan to implement the Comprehensive Peace Agreement and to build national institutions for the protection of human rights. She also called on it to support the African Union/United Nations hybrid force, both politically and financially, and to assist and facilitate the political process to end the conflict in Darfur. She called on the United Nations, to take a more proactive role in protecting civilians, with a wide dissemination of the peacekeeping mandate in the Sudan.
The representative of the Sudan said that his Government was cooperating with the numerous human rights institutions at work in his country. The Sudan had numerous obligations in accordance with regional and international commitments. The review revealed that his country was undertaking a wide range of activities. He then listed legal developments in the Sudan that guaranteed all human rights to all citizens of the country. Since signing the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) his country had witnessed immense positive transformations for peacebuilding and maintaining basic rights.
He then gave a detailed review of two dam projects that Ms. Samar had also covered in her report. The report was unrealistic and gave inaccurate information that did not serve the interest of human rights at all. Addressing Darfur, he said there was greater voluntary return, with thousands of internally displaced persons returning to the area. Lastly, he commented on a French organization which had recently been apprehended in Chad trying to abduct children and transport them to Western states on the pretext that they were orphans. The Special Rapporteur was the hostage of misleading information who was trying to find the best way to extend her mandate.
The representative of Portugal, on behalf of the European Union, said human rights violations elsewhere in the Sudan, in addition to Darfur, could not be ignored. The Special Rapporteur’s reports of demonstrators being arbitrarily detained were even more troubling, as Sudan was preparing for elections. Women’s rights continued to be violated with female genital mutilation. What measures did the Special Rapporteur recommend as a matter of priority for improving women’s rights? Concern was expressed at the culture of impunity, while updated information on Darfur was requested.
The representative of the United States said that although the Special Rapporteur’s report was very thorough, it would have benefited from more details on the implementation of the March 2007 Joint Communiqué between the Government of the Sudan and the United Nations on easing bureaucratic restrictions on humanitarian operations in Darfur. He also asked for more details on the implementation of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement and its shortfalls, stating that the people of the United States and its Government were deeply concerned about escalating violence, insecurity, and continued attacks on the civilian population of Darfur.
The representative of China said that the Chinese delegation had taken note of the Special Rapporteur’s report, and welcomed the efforts of the Sudanese Government to implement the recommendations by the expert group. He noted that the peace negotiations on the Darfur issue were in progress, and expressed hope that it would have some results. The international community should support the African Union and its work in the promotion of a solution to the Darfur issue. On the security front, the international community should also lend support to efforts by the Sudanese Government to find a sustainable solution, so that the situation of the population could be improved and the root causes of the conflict eradicated.
The representative of Libya said his delegation wanted to express gratitude to the Special Rapporteur and said he hoped she would continue her efforts to protect human rights in the Sudan. The report presented before the Committee showed that progress had been achieved. The Sudan had cooperated a lot with the Special Rapporteur, and allowed her to visit the country. Justice was not completely absent in the Sudan, and some people had been prosecuted for human rights violations in Darfur. He hoped the Special Rapporteur would continue to cooperate with the national unity Government in the country to safeguard humanitarian assistance and to help those subjected to armed conflict there.
The representative of Canada said the conclusions in Ms. Samar’s report justified the extension of her mandate. Her country called on all parts involved to work towards the improvement of human rights in the Sudan. She asked what role the international community could play, and said the culture of impunity in the Sudan was a matter of concern. She asked how that country could be helped to cooperate with the International Criminal Court.
The representative of Syria said that the Sudanese Government had achieved progress over a period of time. Rather than launching criticism and referring to human rights violations, what needed to be done was to exert pressure on rebel movements to encourage them to travel to Libya and continue peace negotiations. The international community should provide mechanisms to help the Sudanese Government overcome the difficulties it faced in socioeconomic development.
The representative of Cuba asked what role the United Nations and the international community could play in improving the economic and social situation in the Sudan.
The representative of Egypt said that all parties mentioned in the report should have been dealt with in a more balanced manner. He asked what positive steps had the Government taken, stating that, without a peace treaty and forces on the ground, there would be no peace in the Sudan.
Responding to the questions put to her, the Special Rapporteur said her mandate should continue, although she personally did not wish to continue with it. Women’s rights were not just a problem in the Sudan, but in most other parts of the Third World. There were still some restrictions on the movement of humanitarian agencies on the ground, although there had been some improvements in relation to visas and customs. The need for law reform was underlined.
Responding to the question posed by China, she said that the engagement of the international community was helpful in any conflict situation, and not just in the Sudan. Everyone was concerned about the human rights situation in the Sudan; human beings had to help fellow human beings. It was clear that the United Nations and the international community should support the Government of National Unity, the Government of southern Sudan and the people of that country in overcoming the problems they were experiencing. All parties were called upon to cease hostilities, lay down weapons and embrace dialogue. All parties had violated human rights and although some positive efforts had been undertaken by the Government, there had been no real change on the ground. If the Government or the parties to the conflict spent as much on development as they did on fighting, it would help the peace process. Parties to the Comprehensive Peace Agreement were called upon to implement that agreement while warring factions in Darfur were called upon not to sacrifice their people for political ambitions.
The representative of the Sudan thanked delegations that had expressed solidarity. Referring to the statements from the European Union, the United States and Canada, he said, “their houses are made of glass and they should not through stones at others”. His country had been racing ahead in achieving stability and peace and its high-level participation at peace talks in Libya was a case in point that should be acknowledged. Groups not participating in those talks had political motivations for not doing so.
Ngolardje Mbaidjol, Director of the Office of UNHCR in New York, spoke on behalf of Arjun Sengupta, Chairperson-Rapporteur of the Working Group on the Right to Development. Last year, he said, the high-level task force and the Working Group saw the successful adoption by consensus of the criteria for the implementation of the Right to Development. The Task Force recommendations included the continuation of dialogue with the African Peer Review Mechanism; the Economic Commission for Africa (ECA)/Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development – Development Assistance Committee (OECD-DAC; Mutual Review of Development Effectiveness in the context of the New Partnership for Africa’s Development (NEPAD) and the Paris Declaration on Aid Effectiveness.
At its eighth session, the Working Group considered the report of the Task Force. It made several recommendations. The road map and the work plan consisted of three phases of implementation. That was a pragmatic approach to the right to development mandate that had been adopted in recent years.
In preparation for the Task Force’s meeting in 2008, the progress on the implementation of the recommendations would be consolidated and the plan for phase two of the road map would also be deliberated on at that meeting, which would then make recommendations to the Working Group.
There were many issues related to the progressive realization of the right to development that were still not settled, he said. As the development discourse extended far beyond Millennium Development Goal 8, it would be necessary to come up with criteria for evaluation that would eventually cover those areas. At some point the international community had to discuss and systematically examine whether a legally binding instrument would be more helpful in discharging the responsibilities or whether other measures would be more conducive to implementing the right to development.
The representative of Cuba thanked the representative of the Secretariat for presenting the report. His delegation would continue to work to ensure the right to development within the United Nations. His country supported the full set of criteria that had been set up by the Working Group in order to have a periodic review on global partnerships for development. As chair of the Non-Aligned Movement, Cuba would be participating in negotiations on a draft resolution on the right to development.
The representative of Indonesia posed a technical question concerning assistance to the work of the High-Level Task Force.
The Chairman, Raymond Wolfe ( Jamaica), replied that a response would be forthcoming in writing.
Rights of Reply
The representative of Yemen, speaking in exercise of the right of reply, said he was surprised by the statement made last Wednesday by Portugal on behalf of the European Union. Allegations about human rights defenders in Yemen had been unjustified and groundless. The European Union should pay closer attention to violations of human rights in European countries. Since the 1990 reunification of Yemen, great steps had been taken to build democracy and the dossier on his country had been closed by the Human Rights Committee. There was no longer a single political detainee in the country. Yemen regretted the contents of the European Union statement and emphasized the need for truthfulness.
The representative of the Russian Federation, also responding to the statement by Portugal on behalf of the European Union, said that blatant accusations had been made against his country. The use of double standards had become an integral part of the European Union’s position on human rights. A number of Western States, including European States, had not been dealt with in Portugal’s statement. Cruel measures taken under the pretext of fighting terrorism could have been cited, as well as the use of secret prisons and cruel acts used to put down those who thought differently. Nazism was being revived. United Nations treaty bodies had noted human rights violations in Europe; and there was a need for the European Union to deal with its own human rights problems and not teach other States.
The representative of Eritrea, responding as well to Portugal said his country was party to most human rights conventions, and had taken steps to bring its laws into line with those instruments, including the prohibition of female genital mutilation. Eritrea had come out of the ashes of war; it had been the victim of gross violations for decades. His Government had been making every effort to respect the basic rights of its people. Everyone in Eritrea was entitled to religions freedom, although some elements had used religion to avoid compulsory national service and to create instability.
The representative of France, responding to statements by the Sudan and Syria, referred to the Arche de Zoē affair that had involved 100 children in Chad. He detailed a number of steps that his Government had taken in response to that affair, including contacts made in Chad with the United Nations Children’s Fund and UNHCR. The French Ambassador to Chad had said that French citizens arrested in Chad would have to respond to their own actions in Chad.
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