|Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York|
Sixty-third General Assembly
22nd & 23rd Meetings (AM & PM)
THIRD COMMITTEE APPROVES TEXTS ON WORLD ASSEMBLY ON AGEING, YEAR OF VOLUNTEERS,
LITERACY DECADE, 12TH CRIME CONGRESS, AFRICAN INSTITUTE FOR CRIME PREVENTION
Rapporteurs Address: Torture; Housing; Human Rights in Myanmar,
Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, Occupied Palestinian Territories
As the Third Committee (Social, Humanitarian and Cultural) continued its wide-ranging discussion on the promotion and protection of human rights today, delegates also approved without a vote two draft resolutions on crime prevention and criminal justice, as well as three other draft proposals on social issue -- follow-up to the World Assembly on Ageing, the United Nations Literacy Decade, and the International Year of Volunteers.
By the terms of the first text, the General Assembly, bearing in mind the urgent need to establish effective crime prevention strategies for Africa, would urge all Member States, non-governmental organizations and the international community to lend support to the United Nations African Institute for the Prevention of Crime and the Treatment of Offenders. Further, the Assembly would request the Secretary-General topromote regional cooperation, coordination and collaboration in the fight against crime, especially in its transnational dimension. States that had not already ratified or acceded to the United Nations Convention against Transnational Organized Crime would be encouraged to do so.
A second draft resolution, on preparations for the Twelfth United Nations Congress on Crime Prevention and Criminal Justice, would ensure a focus, at the Twelfth Congress, on emerging global challenges and comprehensive strategies in response. That text would have the Assembly decide to hold the Congress in Salvador, Brazil, from 12 to 19 April 2010 with a theme of “Comprehensive strategies for global challenges: crime prevention and criminal justice systems and their development in a changing world”.
Adopted by consensus, as well, the resolution on follow-up to the Second World Assembly on Ageing, held in Madrid in April 2002, would help increase awareness of the Madrid International Plan of Action on Ageing by requesting the Secretary-General to translate the guide to the implementation of that Plan into all official languages of the United Nations. It would also have Member States devise strategies to overcome obstacles to the implementation of the Plan, based on life-course and intergenerational solidarity approaches, and with additional capacity-building at the national level.
Another consensus resolution, on the follow-up to the implementation of the International Year of Volunteers, would have the Assembly invite Governments to mobilize support for the research community to carry out more studies on the subject of volunteerism and call for the United Nations system to integrate volunteerism into its policies, programmes and reports. Noting that the momentum created by the International Year in 2001 had contributed to the vibrancy of volunteerism globally, the Assembly would decide that two plenary meetings of the sixty-sixth session of the General Assembly should be devoted to follow-up of the International Year and the commemoration of its tenth anniversary.
The final draft approved today, on the United Nations Literacy Decade: Education for All (2003-2012), would have the Assembly appeal to all Governments to develop reliable literacy data and information for more inclusive policymaking and urge all Governments to take the lead in coordinating the activities of the Decade. It would also request United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) to reinforce its coordinating role in the fight against illiteracy.
Also today, the Committee heard presentations by five Special Rapporteurs who addressed human rights concerns in Myanmar, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea and the occupied Palestinian territories, as well as issues related to the use of torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatments or punishment, and on adequate housing as a component of the right to an adequate standard of living.
Richard Falk, Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Palestinian territories occupied since 1967, said the human rights situation there continued to be of great concern, primarily due to a lack of progress in the peace process, ongoing restrictions to the movement of Palestinians, and a harsher regime of confinement and siege imposed on the population of Gaza. As well, a deepening health crisis had resulted in a serious deterioration of the mental and physical health of Palestinians, and additional checkpoints had caused a growing number of deaths. Established procedures had failed to end the occupation and, after 40 years, there still seemed to be no signs of an end.
It was now up to the United Nations to seek alternative procedures that would bring greater relief to the Palestinian people, he said. In particular, the General Assembly should seek a legal assessment of the Israeli occupation by the International Court of Justice and, in an effort to implement previous international legal opinions of the Court, the Security Council should consider assisting in the implementation of the Court’s advisory opinion on the construction of a wall in the Occupied Palestinian Territory.
Implementation was also a crucial issue for the Special Rapporteur on Myanmar, Tomas Ojea Quintana. “It is not enough to adopt resolutions”, he said. The General Assembly should also provide the means for implementation, including human and material resources, and the provision of space and opportunity. While there had been some positive developments in Myanmar over the previous year -- the finalization of a new constitution, an expression of intent to hold multiparty elections by 2010, and the release of seven prisoners of conscience -- there continued to be ongoing violations of human rights.
He said many people remained homeless and hungry, and there were reports of the forced return of families to uninhabitable villages, completely destroyed by Cyclone Nargis. While the protection and promotion of human rights was the duty of Governments, the international community should stand ready to help and, as such, he appealed to nations to assist Myanmar in implementing four core human rights elements before 2010: a revision of domestic laws in compliance with international human rights standards; the progressive release of all prisoners of conscience; reform of the military; and the independence of its judiciary.
In the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, the human rights situation remained grave, said Vitit Muntarbhorn, Special Rapporteur. Inequity, disparity, insecurity, immobility and impunity were ongoing. While the country had allowed humanitarian agencies to enter areas affected by floods last year, it had declined to cooperate with the Special Rapporteur. Information culled from sources other than country visits, had shown that the country faced a lack of equity and was characterized by a highly stratified political structure. The elite did well, while others remained marginalized under a centrally planned economy that was driven by a non-democratic structure and an entrenched hierarchy with a budget that favoured the ruling elite.
In the short term, he said the country should, among other efforts, ensure the effective provision of basic necessities and end the punishment of asylum-seekers returning from abroad. In the long term, it should transfer funds allocated for militarization to the social development process, build food security through agricultural development, modernize its legal system, and abide by the rule of law. In turn, the international community was invited to consider a “calibrated response” towards the long-standing violations in that country, and the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) was called on to offer technical assistance to the country, where needed.
The Special Rapporteur on torture, Manfred Nowak, also highlighted the role the Office of the High Commissioner could play in assisting Governments in national efforts. Though, 60 years ago, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights laid the foundation for a number of international and regional instruments aimed at the prevention of torture, it was unclear whether, over the years, the use of torture and other forms of ill-treatment had decreased. Torture was still a frequent or standard practice in many countries, and the conditions of detention often constituted cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment.
Deprivation of personal liberty and the opacity surrounding places of detention created a situation of powerlessness, which, in turn, was conducive to torture, he said. Opening up those places for inspection by independent bodies was one method of preventing torture and improving prison conditions. It was also an area in which the Office of the High Commissioner and other United Notions entities could readily assist.
On the topic of adequate housing as a component of the right to an adequate standard of living, Raquel Rolnik, who was appointed Special Rapporteur on the issue in May, said she was astonished that the right to adequate housing was not at the forefront of public attention, since, according to the United Nations Human Settlements Programme (UN-Habitat), more than 1 billion people, or one third of the world’s population, lived in precarious settlements and slums. Small island nations could, potentially, disappear off the map, resulting in a gigantic migratory wave that could lead to precarious living conditions, like tent camps and shantytowns.
She said she would devote her time to one or two thematic areas each year, issues that would be relevant to all countries, which might be based on country visits. Information would also be exchanged with a very broad network of other actors working on the same theme, each year. She also said the adoption of an Optional Protocol to the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights was an opportunity for States to show their equal commitment to that right.
In other business, the representative of the Philippines introduced a draft resolution on trafficking in women and girls, which aimed to direct more attention towards victims of trafficking, who were overwhelmingly female, and sought to encourage the international community to see the problem through the eyes of women or girls.
The Committee will meet again tomorrow, 24 October, to resume its discussion on the promotion and protection of human rights and to hear presentations by the Special Rapporteurs on violence against women, the situation of human rights defenders, the independence of judges and lawyers, the right to education, and extrajudicial summary or arbitrary executions.
The Third Committee (Social, Humanitarian and Cultural) met today to hear presentations from the Special Rapporteurs on the situation of human rights in Myanmar, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, and in the Palestinian occupied territories, as well as statements by the Special Rapporteur on torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment and the Special Rapporteur on adequate housing as a component of the right to an adequate standard of living.
Before the Committee was a note by the Secretary-General transmitting the report of the Special Rapporteur, Tomás Ojea Quintana, on the situation of human rights in Myanmar (document A/63/341), as well as a note from the Secretary-General transmitting the report of the Special Rapporteur, Vitit Muntarbhorn, on the situation of human rights in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (document A/63/322). The report of the Special Rapporteur, Richard Falk, on the situation of human rights in the Palestinian territories occupied since 1967 (document A/63/326) was also before the Committee, as was another note by the Secretary-General transmitting the report of the Special Rapporteur on adequate housing as a component of the right to an adequate standard of living, and on the right to non-discrimination in this context, Raquel Rolnik (document A/63/275). (For backgrounds on those reports, please see Press Release GA/SHC/3925.)
The Committee also had before it a note by the Secretary-General transmitting the interim report of the Special Rapporteur on torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment, Manfred Nowak (document A/63/175). In his report, the Special Rapporteur draws attention to the situation of persons with disabilities, who are frequently subjected to neglect, severe forms of restraint and seclusion, as well as physical, mental and sexual violence. He expresses concern that such practices, perpetrated in public institutions, as well as in the private sphere, remain invisible and are not recognized as torture or other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment. The recent entry into force of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities and its Optional Protocol provides a timely opportunity to review the anti-torture framework in relation to persons with disabilities. By reframing violence and abuse perpetrated against persons with disabilities as torture or a form of ill-treatment, victims and advocates can be afforded stronger legal protection and redress for violations of human rights.
In his report, he also examines the use of solitary confinement, a practice that has a clearly documented negative impact on mental health and, therefore, should be used only in exceptional circumstances or when absolutely necessary for criminal investigation purposes. The Special Rapporteur draws attention to the Istanbul Statement on the Use and Effects of Solitary Confinement, annexed to the report, as a useful tool to promote the respect and protection of the rights of detainees.
Also today, the Committee is expected to take action on five draft resolutions, including the draft text on follow-up to the Second World Assembly on Ageing (document A/C.3/63/L.4), by which the General Assembly would request the Secretary-General to translate the guide to the implementation of the Madrid International Plan of Action on Ageing into all official languages of the United Nations and stress the need for additional capacity-building at the national level. By the draft text on follow-up to the implementation of the International Year of Volunteers (document A/C.3/63/L.6), the Assembly would invite Governments to mobilize support for the research community to carry out more studies on the subject of volunteerism and call for the United Nations system to integrate volunteerism into its policies, programmes and reports. The draft resolution on the United Nations Literacy Decade: Education for all (document A/C.3/63/L.7) would appeal to all Governments to develop reliable literacy data and information for more inclusive policymaking and urge all Governments to take the lead in coordinating the activities of the Decade. It would also request the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) to reinforce its coordinating role in the fight against illiteracy.
A draft resolution on Preparations for the Twelfth United Nations Congress on Crime Prevention and Criminal Justice (document A/C.3/63/L.2) would have the Assembly decide to hold the Twelfth Congress in Salvador, Brazil, from 12 to 19 April 2010 and also decide that the high-level segment of the Congress be held during the last two days. It would further decide that the theme of the Twelfth Congress shall be “Comprehensive strategies for global challenges: crime prevention and criminal justice systems and their development in a changing world”.
The draft text on the United Nations African Institute for the Prevention of Crime and the Treatment of Offenders (document A/C.3/63/L.11) would urge Member States and civil society organizations to continue adopting practical measures to support the Institute and urge all States that had not already done so to consider ratifying or acceding to the United Nations Convention against Transnational Organized Crime.
In addition, the text of a draft resolution on trafficking in women and girls (document A/C.3/63/L.13) was also before the Committee.
Statement by Special Rapporteur on Myanmar
TOMAS OJEA QUINTANA, Special Rapporteur for that country, began by remarking that the General Assembly was unique as a forum where all States were equal and shared a responsibility in taking concerted decisions affecting the future of people in a country or region, or indeed the entire planet. He went on to say that some paragraphs in his report were “already history”: on 23 September 2008, the Government had released prisoners of conscience, a development he welcomed. Unfortunately, one of those released had been rearrested shortly after, and he was currently awaiting response to his requests for information on that new development. As regards Aung San Suu Kyi’s case against her house arrest and conditions of detention, submitted on 8 October, he voiced hope that it would be examined in an impartial manner and given due attention.
As he had stated in his report to the Human Rights Council, he said he had decided to establish good working relations with Myanmar authorities, and would cooperate with them to improve the human rights situation of the people of that country. “Nothing can be achieved in isolation and condemnation, while there are possibilities for engagement, encouragement and cooperation. I am trying these possibilities”, he stressed.
He said he considered the release of the seven prisoners of conscience, regardless of minimal number, as an achievement. While that might be considered naïve, he assured the Committee that that strategy was not pursued out of naivety, and that he was well aware that more political arrests had been made. Nevertheless, he would continue working with the country in the spirit of cooperation, and was looking forward to future missions, in partnership with the United Nations systems, particularly the Special Adviser to the Secretary-General and the Office of the Human Rights Commissioner.
He noted that democracy would take generations to achieve, and that tangible, step-by step benchmarks should be fixed in the meantime. Assistance, expertise and cooperation should be provided for the realization of those benchmarks. While the protection and promotion of human rights was the duty of Governments, the international community should stand ready to help at any time. For that reason, he had proposed to the Government of Myanmar four core human rights elements to pave the way for democracy and to ensure that its road map was meaningful: revision of domestic laws to ensure compliance with international human rights standards; the progressive release of all prisoners of conscience; reform of the military; and independence of the judiciary, which was necessary to ensure rule of law. He appealed to nations to assist Myanmar in implementing those four elements before elections were held in 2010.
He further noted that the right to vote freely, but exercising that right with an empty stomach and with inadequate housing, was not the true realization of human rights. Many people in the country remained homeless and hungry, according to the Tripartite Core Group press release of 30 September, which said that out of $482 million needed to assist survivors of Cyclone Nargis, only $240 million had been received. He urged all countries, regardless of competing situations elsewhere in the world, not to forget the victims of the cyclone. He had spoken to people who had lost family members and who had lost “everything”, and urged Member States to not “let them down”. He had also received disturbing information on the forced return of families to their villages of origin, where everything was destroyed. Their right to choose whether they wanted to return or resettle elsewhere ought to be honoured by authorities.
The impending food crisis in Chin State, where a large percentage of the population were in dire need of food aid, was among other “disturbing elements” that he had noted. Northern Rakhine State was also confronting a serious food shortage, and had poor access to health facilities, water and sanitation facilities. Since the Tripartite Core Group seemed to have been successful in its work, perhaps it was worth considering replicating that model to address other types of “humanitarian urgencies”.
He called on the Myanmar army and non-State armed groups not to use violence against unarmed civilians, and to stop recruiting child soldiers, using anti-personnel landmines and the forced labour of civilians.
“It is not enough to adopt resolutions”, he said, adding that the General Assembly should also provide the means for implementation those resolutions. By that, he was not only alluding to human and material resources, but also in the provision of space and opportunity, to the countries subject to those resolutions, as well as the Special Rapporteurs in question towards that purpose. In that respect, he requested the full cooperation of the Member State in enabling him to carry out his mandate to improve the human rights situation of the people of Myanmar, to whom he paid tribute for their courage and patience.
Questions and Answers
Following the presentation of Mr. Quintana, the representative of Myanmar took the floor and thanked the Special Rapporteur for his independent, caring and fair-minded perspective on the situation in the country. In particular, he welcomed Mr. Quintana’s efforts to highlight the unique moment in history that the people of Myanmar were now experiencing. In the first part of the report before the Committee, the Special Rapporteur had drawn attention to the significant and positive developments in the country, such as the finalization of a new constitution as a major step forward, the nationwide referendum, the Government’s expression of its intent to hold multiparty elections, and the release of a significant number of political prisoners.
However, the Special Rapporteur, in his report, then proceeded to pass judgement on the Government of Myanmar, saying that national authorities bore the main responsibility for the failure to respond quickly and effectively to the devastation caused by Cyclone Nargis, which killed more than 84,000 persons and destroyed 450,000 homes, he said. Media reports that claimed that Myanmar was slow to respond to the national emergency, or that it turned down aid and assistance offered by the international community, were absolutely false. Myanmar responded expeditiously and recognized the magnitude of the challenge it faced from the very beginning. It welcomed international assistance sent by land, sea and air, as well as medical teams and assistance from a variety of nations. Indeed, over 100 national and international non-governmental organizations and United Nations specialized agencies were actively involved in disaster-relief efforts on the ground. Even the Secretary-General acknowledged the courage and resilience of the people of Myanmar to help each other regroup after such a cruel blow, when he visited the country and saw, first-hand, the efforts under way.
Pointing to the second part of the report of the Special Rapporteur, which focused on substantive issues and elaborated on issues related to human rights in the context of the new Constitution, he expressed his regret over the unsubstantiated information that the Special Rapporteur had included. In particular, he said the report readily lent an ear to unsubstantiated allegations surrounding illegalities during the holding of the nationwide referendum. As well, unfounded charges of arbitrary land confiscation were also included in the report. Such inclusions were unacceptable. The only way to achieve results in the field of human rights was through cooperation, including cooperation between the Special Rapporteur and national Governments. Though it was also logical that the Special Rapporteur would want to interact with other actors inside the country during his visits, he should not rely on the distorted information and allegations from exiles, which would not help to promote and protect human rights in Myanmar, the common goal of all parties.
Although he had pointed out the shortcomings of the report, Myanmar’s delegate said that it was only in an effort to remind all parties that the pursuit of human rights required collective commitment and an understanding of each particular situation. In conclusion, he said it was important to ensure that there were no double standards or politicization in collective actions to promote human rights and, as such, he welcomed the commencement of the work of the Universal Periodic Review as a mechanism to avoid such situations.
The representative of Argentina voiced support for the Rapporteur, while the representative of Canada voiced concern that the 2010 elections would only serve the purpose of legitimizing continued military rule. The national convention to draw up a new constitution and the referendum that followed were deeply flawed for procedural reasons. He asked the Rapporteur what steps he would recommend to the Government of Myanmar, so that the next steps in the road map were conducted in a democratic and inclusive manner. The regime did not differentiate between prisoners of conscience and common criminals. Without a pardon, arrested human rights defenders would be disqualified from political activity. What would the Rapporteur do to ensure that all legitimate political actors, including Aung San Suu Kyi and others, could participate in the 2010 elections?
The next speaker, the representative of the United Kingdom, began her statement by referring to the country by the name “ Burma”, which prompted the representative of Myanmar to raise a point of order. He said that the name of the country had been changed at the United Nations to “ Myanmar” 20 years ago. He requested that the Chair ensure that delegations used the country’s official name. The Chair then made a request to that end.
The representative of the United Kingdom said the Rapporteur had illustrated, in his report, a range of unacceptable abuses taking place in the country, including the maltreatment of ethnic groups and continued detention of Aung San Suu Kyi. She asked for the Rapporteur’s assessment of the regime’s ability to implement his recommendations. Indeed, for the process of democratization to be credible, the Government of Myanmar must undergo a change of direction towards true national reconciliation. The Security Council had said that that could only take place upon the release of political prisoners and upon the start of genuine dialogue. Also, did the Rapporteur think he would be granted unfettered access to States along the border, so as to report on the human rights situation in those areas?
The representative of New Zealand expressed concern at the human rights situation in the country, saying it raised doubts on the Government’s commitment to genuine democratization. She called on that Government to work towards the universal achievement of human rights, with appropriate constitutional safeguards. Also, democratization must also necessarily involve the release of all political prisoners, and he reiterated the importance of adherence by the Myanmar Government to the four core principles the Rapporteur had addressed. He asked how the Rapporteur would monitor compliance and ensure enforcement on the part of the Government, and what types of technical advice and guidance he and the international community could provide to the country to rebuild its institutional structures and legislative framework concerning the protection of human rights in Myanmar. Also, what were the Rapporteur’s plans regarding future visits to the country, including areas inhabited by ethnic minorities?
The representative of Japan welcomed the Government’s willingness to host the Rapporteur on his visits, and hoped that it would consent to future visits. Hopefully, mutual trust would be established that would lead to the country’s full democratization. He also welcomed the release of political prisoners, and voiced hope that further democratization would include participation from all stakeholders, and so called for their release. Japan also supported the work being done by Special Adviser Gambari. He asked the Rapporteur to describe the purpose of his future visits. Regarding the 2010 elections, what steps should the Government take to ensure free and fair elections?
The representative of Australia commented on the ongoing detention of Aung San Suu Kyi and others as an impediment to genuine political reform. What next steps should the Government take in order to implement the four core human rights elements mentioned by the Rapporteur?
The representative of France asked what the Rapporteur would do to help the country realize legislative changes. Regarding prisoners of conscience, he urged that their medical care be ensured. Also, what were the Rapporteur’s suggestions towards the establishment of a multiparty political system? At what pace should the country move in, in establishing an impartial judiciary?
The representative of the United States, referring to the country of Myanmar as Burma, highlighted the parts of the report that detailed serious flaws in the constitutional referendum.
On a point of order, the representative of Myanmar asked the delegate from the United States to respect the Chairperson’s comments from earlier in the discussion, and to refer to his country as Myanmar.
The representative of the United States then resumed her comments, asking the Special Rapporteur whether, given the Constitution’s deeply discredited status, the Constitution could truly form the basis of a democratic process. She also asked whether there was a human rights imperative to call on the authorities to release all prisoners of conscience immediately and whether there were additional steps the Government could take to cooperate with the international community to aid cyclone victims.
The representative of the Czech Republic asked for further elaboration on the initial steps towards the review of the national legislation and in what ways the international community could support Myanmar in the realization of common goals.
Thailand’s delegate touched on two points that he felt were positive signs for the future: the fruitful visit of the Special Rapporteur to Myanmar; and the emphasis the Special Rapporteur had placed on cooperation and goodwill between the Government and the Special Rapporteur.
Mr. QUINTANA, the Special Rapporteur, thanked the delegate of Myanmar for his initial remarks and, in reference to the comments the delegate had made on the principle of cooperation, he pointed out that the principle of cooperation, as stated in the United Nations Charter, was an essential element of his mandate. However, he also pointed out that the guiding principle of his mandate was the promotion and protection of human rights, also a principle laid out in the Charter.
Due to time constraints, he briefly responded to questions on specific issues that had been posed by numerous delegates. In regard to his August 2008 country visit, he said that he had viewed that mission as fruitful, since it had allowed him to meet with victims, to have private interviews with many prisoners of conscience, and because it marked the beginning of a new spirit of cooperation with the national Government. However, the visit had been brief and he was unable to meet with all actors or visit all regions. He expressed his hope that, during the course of the current year, he would have another opportunity to visit the country. Ideally, the next mission would be longer and would allow the Special Rapporteur to visit regions of the country in which there were complicated human rights situations. He had already proposed such a mission to the Government of Myanmar and he was waiting for a response. He added that part of his mandate was to listen to all concerned persons in the country, in a climate of cooperation with the Government.
In terms of recommendations for the future, he said the four essential elements that needed to be implemented before the 2010 elections were included in the report and had been advanced to the Government of Myanmar, for implementation. In terms of what the “progressive” liberation of prisoners of conscience actually meant, he said “progressive” referred to the idea that each case would be viewed on its merits and dealt with in a case-by-case manner, with due consideration for the particularities of the case. He added that the report clearly defined how such a liberation would take place. In terms of legislative reforms, he stressed the need to amend all legislation that limited the freedom of expression of persons living in the country. He noted that the recommendations that were made in his report should have been implemented two months ago, when they were delivered to the Government. Finally, he called on the international community to assist in all manner possible to help Myanmar with implementation of those four pillars of human rights.
Statement by Special Rapporteur on Democratic People’s Republic of Korea
VITIT MUNTARBHORN, Special Rapporteur, said the human rights situation in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea remained grave, and could be analysed along the following main areas: inequity; disparity; insecurity; immobility; and impunity. While the country had allowed humanitarian agencies to enter areas affected by floods last year, and had cooperated well with those agencies in terms of food distribution and the delivery of assistance, he regretted that it had declined to cooperate with him.
He said the country faced a lack of equity and was characterized by a highly stratified political structure. The elite did well, while others remained marginalized under a centrally planned economy that was driven by a non-democratic structure and an entrenched hierarchy with a budget that favoured the ruling elite. The country had a “military first” policy, where millions of dollars were devoted to the military industry, in the face of many shortages faced by the population. It was estimated that the armed forces numbered 1 million, with a reserve component of 7.7 million. While the six-party talks were making gradual progress on denuclearization, the issue of demilitarization and a shift from a pro-military to pro-people budget had not yet been addressed.
He said there was a disparity in terms of access by elites to food compared to the rest of population. Chronic food shortages, due in part to natural disasters, as well as to mismanagement, were affecting the population in severe ways. The country had begun accepting food aid through the World Food Programme (WFP) in the 1990s, and an agreement reached in 2008 that would allow the WFP to help 6.5 million people. However, the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) had carried out an assessment in June 2008 revealing a serious decline in food accessibility, consumption and availability, with worrisome consequences for children. Child malnutrition was on the rise. He noted that United Nations agencies operated on a “no access, no food” rule, while the recipient country had a mindset of “no food, no access” rule. The fact remained that there was a need to generate food in the country, and foreign aid could not be a substitute for such generation.
Turning to the topic of insecurity, he noted that political rights were severely constrained in the country. Political participation in the democratic sense was non-existent. There was rigid control over the media. People were not allowed to own mobile phones or computers without permission. Public executions were being conducted to intimidate the public. The criminal justice system gave rise to various abuses, including torture. There was rigid control over people’s profession of religious beliefs. The authorities had been engaged in the abduction of foreign nationals, notably of Japanese citizens.
On the subject of immobility, he said migration was stringently regulated. The population was not allowed to move freely within the country, and recently people were being displaced for economic or political reasons -- that is, in search of food, or in seeking refuge from persecution. With regard to asylum and refuge, the situation facing those seeking asylum abroad was precarious. Those seeking to leave the country faced more severe sanctions than compared to the past, as was the case for those who were forcibly returned to country.
He said that, in the short term, the country should ensure the effective provision of food and other necessities and cooperate with United Nations and other humanitarian agencies in that regard; end the punishment of asylum-seekers returning from abroad; end public executions; resolve the problem of foreign abductions; and extend an invitation to the Special Rapporteur to assess the human rights situation on the ground. In the long term, it should adhere to the four human rights treaties it was party to; transfer funds allocated for militarization to the social development process; build food security through agricultural development; guarantee the security of its people by modernizing the legal system and abiding by the rule of law; address violations that gave rise to impunity; and turn to the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) for assistance, where needed. In turn, the international community was invited to consider a “calibrated response” towards long-standing violations in that country.
Questions and Answers
Thanking the Special Rapporteur for his presentation, the representative of the United Kingdom expressed her delegation’s concern over the lack of cooperation shown by the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea. She also noted some small improvements in the human rights situation in the country, such as improvements in their treatment of persons with disabilities, and asked whether the Special Rapporteur had seen similar reports and if he thought they were credible. She also asked what could be done to urge the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea to show more respect for international law in regards to border crossings.
The representative of Canada asked whether the Special Rapporteur could cite specific examples of improvements made to the promotion and protection of human rights achieved through maximizing dialogue and whether, given the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea’s upcoming Universal Periodic Review, there were particular opportunities for outreach to support that process.
The representative of the Republic of Korea, referring to the two categories of refugees described in the report and the question of who might be responsible for the protection of those refugees (that is, the country of origin or the country of residence), asked for further information on the human rights situation of those refugees and what should be done to enhance the protection of human rights for those refugees.
Japan’s delegate supported the recommendations that the report proposed, specifically in terms of addressing refugee outflow issues and of foreigners abducted by the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea. With regard to the latter issue, he drew attention to the investigation that was to be established on the disappearance of Japanese persons by the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea. However the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea said it would not conduct such an investigation, despite the ongoing efforts of the Government of Japan to urge the Government of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea to commence a new investigation without delay. He also asked the Special Rapporteur to elaborate further on the technical assistance that the OHCHR could provide to support efforts on the situation in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea. Further, he asked about the calibrated approach by the United Nations to the situation in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea and what the Special Rapporteur’s views were on the issue, especially as it concerned the Third Committee’s involvement in such an approach.
The representative of the United States asked the Special Rapporteur to elaborate his views on the North Korean refugee situation, specifically in regards to children, and welcomed his suggestions on what multilateral actions could be taken to improve the situation regarding the seemingly complete impunity that existed within the country.
The representative of the Czech Republic called upon the Government of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea to cooperate with the Special Rapporteur and asked, in light of ongoing violations of human rights in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, would there be any space for the concept of the “responsibility to protect”, as outlined in the Security Council resolution of 2006. She also asked for more information on the status of citizens who unsuccessfully sought refuge in other countries, and if there was a trend within the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea towards toughening the treatment of those persons.
The representative of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea said his Government totally opposed and categorically rejected the report of the Special Rapporteur, as it had “political fraud” running through it. His delegation remained unchanged in its position of neither recognizing nor accepting the resolution that had created the mandate of the Special Rapporteur. Imposing a western sense of values on the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea was a waste of time and a dream that could never come true. His Government would continue to further strengthen and develop its own social system that guaranteed the human rights and fundamental freedoms of its people. With regard to the comments made by the representative of Japan on the abduction issue, he said Japan had always tried to mislead the international community on the true facts of the situation.
France’s delegate, speaking on behalf of the European Union, called on the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea to cooperate with the Special Rapporteur and to guarantee him complete and free access to the country. He asked how the international community could urge the Government of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea to improve cooperation. He also asked for more information on what technical assistance the OHCHR could provide to the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.
Responding, Mr. MUNTARBHORN said he had offered the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea many opportunities to engage with him, and that offer was still standing. He noted some improvements in the human rights situation in that country, and again said he was encouraged that the Government was party to four human rights treaties and had submitted a report on its implementation of child rights. In addition, it was party to several anti-drugs treaties. Better cooperation with United Nations agencies on food aid was to be welcomed, including with the WFP. He noted that the country had adopted a new law on disabilities, which, in principle, would open it to help and assistance from others to improve facilities for the disabled community.
But, he reiterated the suggestion contained in his report that the human rights situation in that country remained very serious, as demonstrated by numerous systematic human rights violations and violence against vulnerable people. He called on protection for those that sought asylum, saying they must be treated in a humane manner.
Further, he said he welcomed the fact that United Nations agencies, such as the WFP, were conducting a detailed study on the crop and food supply, to be completed by end of year. Other groups were conducting a census, which would also, no doubt, prove useful.
Regarding space for humanitarian dialogue, he noted that the six-party talks had provided occasion for bilateral negotiations on foreign abduction, which needed to be further “concretized” and made transparent. The Democratic People’s Republic of Korea was scheduled to undergo a universal periodic review by the Human Rights Council next year, and the OHCHR had expressed a willingness to provide technical assistance in that regard. He said he would welcome the country’s engagement with himself, as well.
In terms of refugees, he noted that international law in that regard now covered those who had fled from their country of origin because they were political dissidents, as well as people involved in “war cases”. A new category of people were those who “feared persecution later”. In the context of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, that might include those who left the country without exit permits -- for hunger reasons, for example -- but who feared a reprisal for having done so. He would welcome a policy directive from the Government instructing immigration officials not to punish returnees and to “revamp” the country’s criminal and immigration law to reflect a more humane approach.
In addition to that list of people moving across borders, he would add labourers who migrated to other countries, who must also be afforded human rights protection. Recipient countries must accord humane treatment to all categories of migrants, including within the context of child protection, protection of families and family reunification. He drew attention to the expansion of the definition of non-refoulement to include “non-rejection” of migrants at the frontier. He noted that the number of asylum-seekers had gone down, possibly due to more stringent border controls and more severe action taken against returnees.
On the topic of foreign abduction, he said he had called for a transparent and satisfactory resolution of the question. Earlier in the decade, the Pyongyang Declaration had opened the door for closer cooperation with Japan on that matter. He welcomed a further exploration of the spirit of that Declaration in finding amicable steps towards the future.
He regretted that the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea had not accepted the offers of assistance made by the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights. Indeed, improvements were needed in certain key areas: upgrading the prison system, and in particular with regard to how the justice system was affecting children. He welcomed efforts by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) to negotiate on their possible re-entry into the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea to promote food security, which was different from short-term food access. That would be done by engaging in sustainable agriculture, preventing harvest losses, and in improving watershed management.
Regarding what he termed a “calibrated approach” to supporting human rights in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, he said that the international community must bear in mind the variety of options available to it, outside of the usual options -- that is, the Human Rights Council and the General Assembly. In terms of battling impunity, for example, he said if remedies were not available locally, Member States must be prepared to look to establishing accountability at the international level, a subject being studied by certain civil society organizations. At the moment, non-governmental organizations were collecting data to be presented to the international community that would trigger action under “the right to protect”, which covered four areas: genocide, ethnic cleansing, crimes against humanity and war crimes.
He welcomed the constructive response from the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea and was looking forward to receiving a follow-up of communications on leniency towards returnees, he said.
Statement by Special Rapporteur on Situation of Human Rights in Palestinian Territories Occupied since 1967
RICHARD FALK, Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Palestinian territories occupied since 1967, said that, to date, the Special Rapporteur had been unable to arrange a visit to Israel and the occupied Palestinian territories and, as such, he would take all necessary steps to secure entry in the near future. The report before the Committee (document A/63/326) relied on the best available open sources, as well as on observations gathered during a private visit to Israel in July 2008, which included a short trip to Ramallah, as well as nearby Israeli settlements.
He drew the Committee’s attention to two sets of developments that bore directly on the protection of human rights in the territories in question. First, the objectives of the Annapolis Joint Statement of 27 November 2007 -- to reinvigorate the peace process and to commit Israel to easing restrictions on the movement of Palestinians and to freeze settlement activity -- had not been met. In fact, additional checkpoints and blockages on the West Bank had been added and those actions seriously violated the rights of Palestinians and diminished their prospects for the future. Second, the June 2008 ceasefire between Gaza and Israel had yet to deliver on Israeli assurances of an easing of the entry and exit of goods and persons. Though the ceasefire had been generally effective in reducing the level of political violence, existing evidence showed a harsher regime of confinement and siege imposed on the population of Gaza.
Such delays and denials of permission had resulted in a growing number of deaths, severe mental and physical suffering, and constituted a violation of the duty of the occupying Power to take all reasonable steps to protect the health and well-being of the population under occupation, he said. The situation created a particular challenge for members of the General Assembly, such as the challenge to States parties to the Geneva Convention to carry out their legal obligation as stated in article 1 “to respect and ensure respect for the present Convention in all circumstances”. Indeed, given the long duration of occupation, as well as the severe hardships associated with the unlawful features of the occupation, it was a matter of urgency that the United Nations act decisively. A call for action seemed like a highly appropriate opportunity to exercise a “responsibility to protect” a vulnerable population enduring an unfolding humanitarian catastrophe.
The deepening health crisis that was afflicting Palestinians living under occupation was also of great concern, he said. The evidence of the crisis was overwhelming, particularly concerning the serious deterioration of the mental and physical health of Palestinians and the extreme precariousness of the health system. Denials or long delays prior to the issuance of exit permits for Palestinians seeking medical treatment had also resulted in several deaths. The continued expansion of Israeli settlements on the West Bank was also adding to the burdens carried by Palestinians and was complicating any eventual realization of Palestinian rights to self-determination.
Against that backdrop, the Special Rapporteur offered a series of recommendations to the United Nations, in addition to those already mentioned. Those included: recommending the General Assembly to ask the International Court of Justice for a legal assessment of the Israeli occupation; Security Council assistance in the implementation of the 2004 International Court of Justice advisory opinion on the construction of a wall in the Occupied Palestinian Territory; an examination of the responsibility of the United Nations to ensure respect for the well-being of the Palestinians living under unlawful conditions of occupation; and, in view of the health crisis, for the international community, including the United Nations, to resume economic assistance as a matter of the highest priority.
Questions and Answers
The representative of Israel said the report by the Rapporteur had been cause for hope of a more insightful, balanced and constructive approach with regard to the situation in the region. The latest report was, instead, another prefabricated “uniform”, designed to conform to the partisan, political position that had taken root in the Human Rights Council. Its unbalanced nature was no surprise, given that it was the product of a mandate that prejudged its outcome. Further, that mandate had not been reviewed or scrutinized; it was scheduled to be reviewed in March, but was overlooked due to the pressure exerted by certain States and was again ignored in September. That undermined the report and integrity of the Council. Beyond the imbalance inherent in the mandate, the one-sidedness of the report was exacerbated by the highly-politicized views of the Rapporteur himself. The report claimed to be based on information gathered by civil society organizations, including the United Nations. But, it should be noted that, with the exception of certain Israeli sources, the report was silent as to the identity of those sources, making it hard to verify their reliability.
The report was troubling for providing legitimacy to Hamas, recognized throughout the whole as a terrorist organization, but which was presented as a positive and legitimate actor as the “government entity currently administering the Gaza Strip”. The suggestion that Israel alone introduced certain conditions that Hamas must fulfil, before it would cease to be considered a terrorist organization, was misleading. It should be clarified that such conditions had been imposed by the Quartet, comprising the United Nations, the European Union, the United States and the Russian Federation, and subsequently embraced by the international community. The report also ignored the fact that the Hamas leadership had repeatedly continued to call for Israel’s destruction, as well as to reject the two-State solution, to reject the Annapolis process, and to declare their active support for terrorism.
She said the report dealt at length with Israel’s defensive measures, but failed to mention, even once, Palestinian terrorism faced by Israel. The word “terrorism” itself was never even used in the report, but, instead, the report supported a “right to resist”. For example, it said that, in March, eight Israeli high school students were murdered in Jerusalem as part of the right to resist, and three Israelis were killed in a suicidal car attack, also in exercise of such a “right”.
The Special Rapporteur discussed unsubstantiated claims of harassment by a Palestinian journalist at a border crossing, but ignored the fact that official records and follow-up reports showed that the incident was incorrect and misleading. The report was also highly critical of Israeli roadblocks, but failed to note the compelling security reasons for placing them. Not mentioned was the removal of roadblocks in the West Bank, and the opening of intersections adjacent to Hebron and Shavei Shomron to Palestinian traffic.
She said the report had been critical of Israeli Defence Force closures of Palestinian charity organizations and other seemingly legitimate institutions and businesses, but turned a blind eye to the true nature of such institutions, which served as a cover for terrorist fundraising and other activities. It criticized the state of health in the West Bank and Gaza, but failed to note that Israel had granted tens of thousands of entrance permits into Israel to Palestinians for medical treatment annually. It was silent with respect to Israel trauma, resulting from unceasing firing of missiles and suicide attacks. The report tried to argue that the Gaza Strip was occupied territory and that Israel exercised control over it, but ignored the fact that Israel would have been able to act against the attacks launched from there against Israel, if that were truly the case.
She said the report described restrictions on access of goods to Gaza, but ignored the fact that Israel ensured that humanitarian needs in Gaza were met, and that Palestinians freely petitioned Israel’s Supreme Court to ensure that such policies conformed to international standards. It also failed to mention that humanitarian assistance channels were often abused, and crossing between Israel and Palestinian territories were regularly attacked by terrorists.
She said that, overall, the report did not account for the context in which Israel’s operations had become necessary ever since the outbreak of violence in 2000. Most terrorist attacks had been directed towards civilians and carried out from within civilian-populated areas. The report failed to mention “human guided bombs” and suicide terrorism, and that those attacks were designed to take human lives and sow fear in over a quarter of a million of Israelis.
She said Israel supported self-determination for the Palestinian people, leading it to make far-reaching compromises, and to engage in negotiations with moderate Palestinian partners and to embrace a two-State vision. The report presented a skewed reality, where the rights of Israeli citizens were completely ignored, as were the binding obligations of the Palestinians. The polemic submitted in the form of this latest report had nothing to contribute to the debate regarding humanitarian protection on all sides to the conflict.
Following those remarks, the representative of the Observer Mission of Palestine spoke, saying his Government would continue to cooperate with the Special Rapporteur, in an effort to tell the truth about the plight of the Palestinian people. He expressed his delegation’s hope that the Special Rapporteur would be able to visit the region in the near future, to allow him to submit objective reports on the situation as he saw it.
Responding specifically to the comments made by the representative of Israel, he asked, if Israel was unhappy with the Special Rapporteur’s report and felt it was not objective, whether they had been any happier with the comments made by the Under-Secretary-General for Political Affairs, who had made a similar statement to the Security Council the day before. Indeed, numerous international authorities and entities had released reports or spoken out against Israeli violations of international law. He asked, therefore, if Israel would abide by the statements made by the Quartet -- composed of the United States, Russian Federation, European Union, and the United Nations -- or the statements made by the Council of the European Union. It was “high time” for Palestine’s partners in the peace process to “wake up” and to fulfil their international obligations and allow the peace process to move forward. A peace treaty providing for an independent Palestinian State, with East Jerusalem as its capital, and a just solution for refugees, would require a change of behaviour on Israel’s part, but would lead to greater peace and stability in the end.
Regarding the recommendation made by the Special Rapporteur for a legal assessment of the Israeli occupation by the International Court of Justice, the representative of Lebanon asked how it would be possible to ensure Israeli compliance with the assessment, if one were given. He also asked whether the indiscriminate attacks on Palestinian civilians constituted a gross violation by the occupying Power and whether it was legally correct to say that the Gaza strip was still under occupation. In addition, he asked if Member States were legally obliged, under humanitarian and human rights law, to break the illegitimate siege of Gaza.
The representative of France, speaking on behalf of the European Union, called on the Government of Israel and the Palestinian Authority to cooperate with the Special Rapporteur in regards to a visit on the ground, and asked how the international community could contribute to the Special Rapporteur’s efforts to obtain access. He also asked more specifics on the contributions that United Nations agencies could make to improve the overall situation of human rights in the Palestinian occupied territories.
The representative of Indonesia asked what emergency efforts the international community could take to address the deepening health crisis in the occupied Palestinian territories, and other humanitarian issues in the area. He also informed the Committee of a conference, held in Jakarta in July 2008, that had led to an Asian and African joint effort to support capacity-building for Palestine. He invited other Member States to support that initiative and said more information could be found in document A/62/946-S/2008/58.
South Africa’s delegate aligned himself with those comments and also asked what additional support the Special Rapporteur needed from the international community, over and above the recommendations made in the report.
The representative of Syria underscored the importance of the recommendations made by the Special Rapporteur, since they addressed the issue of how to hold Israel accountable for their actions. He asked a question to all Member States, not just the Special Rapporteur, on how to translate those recommendations into reality, specifically, how to create mechanisms that would lead to implementation, by holding Israel legally and politically accountable for their violations of international law.
The representative of Cuba condemned those violations, including Israel’s failure to comply with the advisory opinion of the International Court of Justice on the construction of a wall in the occupied Palestinian territories. As such, his delegation was particularly interested in the recommendation of the Special Rapporteur to seek Security Council assistance to implement that advisory opinion, and he asked for further information on the details of the recommendation.
Like the representative of Indonesia, Sudan’s delegate asked what role the international community should have in providing assistance, in light of the health crisis in the occupied Palestinian territories. He also asked the Special Rapporteur to elaborate on the treatment of journalists by Israeli forces -- such as the killing of a Reuters journalist by an Israeli tank and the torture of Palestinian journalist Mohammed Omer -- and what the international community could do to help in those situations.
Responding, Mr. FALK said he regretted the personal attack by the representative of Israel, which misrepresented his true position, including as reflected in the report and also throughout his career as a scholar and someone concerned with issues of peace and justice. He had never supported deliberate political violence against civilians and would never do so. To associate the “right to resist” with violence against civilians was in opposition to what he had written over many years, including in the context of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. He had always been deeply committed to non-violent solutions. His commitment on the mandate of his office was based on the hope that peace would come to the two peoples. He was also committed to international justice, which could only be achieved through serious implementation of international law and human rights standards, which he felt was central to his mandate.
He said it had been his hope and wish to have had a constructive dialogue on the issues covered in the report, but the Government of Israel had made such dialogue impossible by threatening drastic measures against him if he ever entered the country without its prior authorization. He believed that was a big mistake. His purpose was that of a bearer of truth, and to stand witness to the realities of the occupation. To the extent that Israel was prepared to live with such exposure, he was ready to take full account of their arguments, positions and facts. Indeed, the report was his best effort to convey the truth as he discerned it.
He said the focus by Israel on his alleged bias amounted to an attempt to deflect attention from the real ordeal of the Palestinian people. The conclusions reached in the report would be reached by any unbiased person who was exposed to the realities of the occupation. Even if the person was 60 per cent favourable to Israeli contentions, that person would still come to those conclusions, which were overwhelmingly supported by impartial journalists and observers from around the world, over many decades.
He said an important issue had been raised by several speakers: the intrinsic importance of Israel’s refusal to carry out the understanding reached at Annapolis to freeze settlement activities. Settlements on occupied territories were a serious violation of the Geneva Conventions. More than that, it sent a message to Palestinians, and the rest of the world, that the search for peace was not a serious undertaking. A minimal demonstration of good faith on Israel’s part would be to freeze such activity, and certainly not to continue it at an accelerated pace. The reason that he felt it was important for the International Court of Justice to pronounce on the right to self-determination of the Palestinian people was because the Annapolis approach would seem to be “sterile”; it was not able to induce the Government of Israel to comply with undertakings it had agreed to with respect to settlements, the easing of the movement of people, and other minimal expressions of good faith.
Even though the Court’s opinions were called “advisories”, he said they were nevertheless an authoritative view on binding legal obligations, written by the most distinguished jurists in the world, who were deserving of respect. They represented a challenge to all Member States and the Secretary-General, to seek a means of achieving some implementation. He welcomed the Syrian delegate’s call to move beyond rhetoric and towards finding methods of accountability to translate the international community’s perceptions into “some kind of meaningful political reality”.
The treatment at the border of Mohamad Omar had a temporary happy ending, but the fact remained that Israel had made it difficult for those who had direct experience of the occupation to leave the country, and for those that had a competence to report on those realities to enter the country. That amounted to a policy of avoiding transparency. It placed a tremendous responsibility on all to seek as much access as possible, so as to enable people to uncover the truth of the occupation.
Kicking off a second round of questions, the representative of Egypt expressed his delegation’s concern over the deteriorating health situation in the occupied territories and asked what the international community could do to alleviate that situation. He also questioned how it would be possible to ensure that the occupying Power met its obligations and commitments under international humanitarian and human rights law, a question that was echoed by the representative of Iran.
The delegate from the United States said her delegation remained committed to efforts to alleviate the suffering of Palestinians. However, she said the report before the Committee was one-sided and, as such, could damage the sensitive bilateral negotiations between the Israelis and Palestinians. It mischaracterized the Annapolis Conference and failed to mention concerns regarding acts of terrorism against Israel. She also said the report raised serious concerns regarding the use of the Security Council to make International Court of Justice advisory opinions binding, as such an act would interfere with established procedures and could damage processes already under way. She called for the one-sided and biased mandate of the Special Rapporteur to be broadened, so as not to concentrate only on one side of a two-party conflict.
The representatives of Malaysia and Switzerland asked what the international community could do to alleviate the suffering and hardship, taking into account restrictions on the movement of goods and funds. Switzerland’s delegate also asked whether the Special Rapporteur on health might also be included in any future visit by Mr. Falk to the region.
Mr. FALK, taking the floor once more, referred to the comments made by the delegate from France, who had emphasized the importance of inducing and persuading Israel to cooperate with the Special Rapporteur’s mandate. It was important that all Member States cooperated with the United Nations when it was trying to carry out its authorized undertakings.
Turning to the comments made by the delegate from the United States, he said it was unfortunate that the delegate attacked his capacity for an objective assessment of the reality on the ground. Further, he said it was difficult to take Israel’s commitment to the peace process seriously, when it continued to expand its occupation with additional checkpoints, in violation of international law. The ceasefire that had been established between Gaza and Israel had generally reduced the levels of violence in the region. It was no longer the case that there were repeated rocket attacks by one party and repeated responses by the other. Instead, the border had been relatively calm. As such, his analysis in the report stressed the excessive use of force by Israel. No one questioned Israel’s right to exercise force in self-defence, but it was necessary to question the excessive use of force when that was not the case.
On the claim made by the United States on alternatives to established procedures, he said such a claim overlooked the fact that established procedures had failed to end the occupation. After 40 years of occupation, there still seemed to be no signs of an end. It was now up to the United Nations to demonstrate its seriousness in dealing with the conflict and to seek alternative procedures that would bring greater relief to the Palestinian people.
In response to numerous questions about what the international community could do to relieve the suffering of Palestinians, he gave three specific proposals. The first was for Member States, individually or as a group, to begin to investigate how to apply the “responsibility to protect” norm to the civilian population of the Occupied Palestinian Territory. Only political pressures could explain the failure to investigate the relevance of that norm prior to now. Second, recognizing that the “great Powers” had not achieved success in resolving the conflict, he urged Member States to take seriously a proposal presented by the President of Brazil to hold a broad United Nations-sponsored conference, which would include a wide range of concerned participants. Finally, he suggested that Member States should urge Israel to cooperate with the Special Rapporteur and allow him access to the country. The United Nations relationship to the future of Palestine’s self-determination would be judged and assessed by the degree to which it could translate rhetoric into concrete acts, and the degree to which it would ensure respect for international humanitarian and human rights law.
Pausing its dialogue with special rapporteurs, the Committee heard the introduction of a draft resolution on trafficking in women and girls (document A/C.3/63/L.13) by the representative of the Philippines. She said trafficking in human beings found its roots in economic hardship and persistent discrimination against women in society. Propelled by criminal elements, it could easily grow in situations of political unrest and other emergencies, with 1 million being tricked into this form of “modern-day slavery”. Women and girls comprised the majority, and numbered as much as 80 per cent of the total. Most were trafficked for the sex industry.
She said United Nations conventions, protocols and treaties existed to combat that problem, but most lacked a gender-based approach. Existing anti-trafficking measures around the world were focused on law enforcement, criminal or immigration approaches. A more comprehensive approach would involve going after traffickers, as well as directing adequate concern to trafficked victims. It was hoped that, through the resolution, the international community, civil society, private sector and Governments would begin to see the problem through the eyes of women or girls. It was also hoped that the demand side would be dealt with in a practical manner. The text went beyond a call for cooperation and was more specific about areas where international cooperation would have the most impact. It highlighted the experience of “re-victimization” on the part of authorities, whether intentionally or unwittingly.
The Committee then moved to adopt several other drafts resolutions introduced previously, beginning with the draft text on follow-up to the implementation of the International Year of Volunteers (document A/C.3/63/L.6). Before acting on the text, the Secretary of the Committee explained that adoption of that draft resolution would entail no budget implications.
After the representative of Brazil made a small oral amendment to the draft, the text was unanimously approved as orally revised.
In a statement after action, the representative of Japan explained that his country attached great importance to volunteerism, especially in light of the assistance given by volunteers to his country in the aftermath of the Kobe earthquake in 1995. The representative of Germany also expressed support for the resolution for having recognized the work of the United Nations Volunteers. That organization saw the participation of people from both developed and developing world alike, with a headquarters in Bonn. She called on Member States to contribute to the fund devoted to that organization.
Next, the Committee took up the draft resolution on follow-up to the Second World Assembly on Ageing (document A/C.3/63/L.4), hearing amendments to the text as read out by the representative of Antigua and Barbuda (on behalf of the “Group of 77” developing countries and China). Those changes included the renumbering of paragraphs, the rewording of paragraphs 12 and 13, as well as minor additions and deletions to other paragraphs, all of which were contained in a document that was being circulated at the time of introduction.
That draft resolution was approved by consensus, as orally amended.
The Committee then moved to the draft resolution on the United Nations Literacy Decade: Education for all (document A/C.3/63/L.7), which was adopted by consensus.
Before acting on the text, the Secretary of the Committee made a small oral amendment and the Chair informed the Committee that the draft resolution had no budget implications.
In a statement before adoption, the representative of Mongolia, whose country was the draft’s main sponsor, made a number of other small oral amendments to the text, including the deletion of operative paragraph 13 in its entirety, as it duplicated text that appeared elsewhere in the draft. Changes to the text were circulated in the room, and the text was approved as revised.
Next, the Committee moved to take action on two draft resolutions on issues relating to crime prevention and criminal justice. The Committee adopted a draft resolution on Preparations for the Twelfth United Nations Congress on Crime Prevention and Criminal Justice (document A/C.3/63/L.2) without a vote. The draft was recommended for adoption by the Economic and Social Council.
The draft text on the United Nations African Institute for the Prevention of Crime and the Treatment of Offenders (document A/C.3/63/L.11) was also adopted by consensus.
Before acting on the text, the Secretary of the Committee made minor oral amendments to the draft, and said its adoption would not entail any additional budgetary appropriations for the biennium 2008-2009.
The representative of Uganda, as the main sponsor of the draft, made further amendments to the text and circulated a hard copy of those amendments to delegates.
Statement by Special Rapporteur on Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment of Punishment
MANFRED NOWAK, Special Rapporteur, said the Universal Declaration of Human Rights laid the foundation for a number of international and regional instruments aimed at the prohibition and prevention of torture, which included the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, the European Convention for the Prevention of Torture, and the Inter-American Convention to Prevent and Punish Torture, and the recently established Subcommittee on the Prevention of Torture and national preventive mechanisms. The United Nations had also established the United Nations Voluntary Fund for Victims of Torture and the Special Rapporteur on Torture. The prohibition of torture was absolute, non-derogable and constituted jus cogens.
However, he said that in sharp contrast to progress on texts, it was unclear whether the use of torture and other forms of ill-treatment had decreased. He had observed that detainees were vulnerable to such treatment, and that the conditions of detention often constituted cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment. Torture was still a frequent or standard practice in many countries, often due to the “malfunctioning” of the administration of criminal justice. Reliance on confessions as proof in the criminal justice system exerted pressure on the police to extract confessions from detainees. Deprivation of personal liberty and the opacity surrounding places of detention created a situation of powerlessness, which, in turn, was conducive to torture. Detainees were often held incommunicado or in situations of enforced disappearances.
He said the typical situation in which torture occurred was in a closed interrogation room where the victim was handcuffed and shackled to a chair, perhaps even naked and blindfolded. Torture methods comprised beatings with rifle butts, truncheons, iron rods or cables. More elaborate techniques included electrocutions, suspension from the ceiling and water-boarding. Those methods applied to political prisoners and detainees suspected of ordinary crimes. The general public was often unaware of what life was like in places of detention.
He said pre-trial detention was common in many countries, and when the criminal justice system was not functioning properly, the combined time detainees spent in police custody and remand might amount to several years. Places of detention were overcrowded, with restricted access to adequate food and health care, ventilation, light and low levels of hygiene. Corruption, hierarchical relations among detainees, and a high degree of inter-prisoner violence made the situation worse. Usually, poor people suffered most. He reiterated the appeal of a predecessor, Nigel Rodley, who said that activities inside prisons and police stations ought to be made more transparent. Opening those places up for inspection by independent bodies was one method of preventing torture and improving prison conditions. The OHCHR and various United Nations entities specialized in combating torture, including himself, stood ready to assist Governments in their efforts to eradicate torture.
He also drew attention to the fate of detainees living under prolonged situations of cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment, and called on renewed effort to empower detainees to live in dignity and enjoy rights provided for in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Persons with disabilities also ran the risk of being subjected to torture and cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment. They were often segregated from society in institutions and were de facto deprived of their liberty. They were also disproportionately exposed to medical experimentation. He recommended that States adopt legislation that recognized the legal capacity of persons with disabilities to ensure full access to justice for persons with disabilities, including to a complaints procedure. They were also recommended to ensure the full range of safeguards against torture was made available to persons with disabilities, and that the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities be disseminated widely.
Turning to solitary confinement, which he noted posed serious and adverse health effects such as insomnia and mental illness, he recommended that its use be kept at a minimum, particularly during pre-trial detention. It should be strictly regulated by law and exercised under judicial supervision.
He then discussed his country visits to Denmark and the Republic of Moldova. He voiced concern about allegations concerning rendition flights operating through Denmark and Greenland and plans to return suspected terrorists to countries known for their practice of torture. But, he acknowledged the principle of “normalization” adopted by the prison system in Denmark, by which life inside prison was reflected, to as great an extent possible, to life outside prison.
In the Republic of Moldova, he had observed widespread ill-treatment during initial periods of police custody. He was concerned over the lack of effectiveness of complaints mechanisms, and recommended that protection for victims of violence be strengthened. Safeguards for detainees should be reinforced and their rehabilitation and reintegration be put at the centre of Moldova’s penal policies and laws. He further welcomed the recent law on preventing and combating family violence and the establishment of a national preventive mechanism under the Optional Protocol to the Convention against Torture.
Questions and Answers
Following the Special Rapporteur’s presentation, the representative of France, speaking on behalf the European Union, asked him to clarify what his proposals for follow-up were, particularly in regard to the creation of national mechanism for implementation of the Convention against Torture and the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. She also asked him to clarify his activities in regard to the death penalty and how it related to his mandate.
The delegate from the United States said the reports about torture and other forms of mistreatment, including acts of criminal abuse by private actors, against persons with disabilities was of great concern, and he asked the Special Rapporteur if he could point the domestic criminal laws of any particular country as a model for comprehensively dealing with acts of abuse by private actors committed against persons with disabilities. She also called into question the interpretation of the relation between the provision against torture and such acts.
The representative of Uruguay, referring to paragraphs 31 and 63 of the Special Rapporteur’s report, said the information regarding her country was completely out of date. Her country had discharged its international obligations in regard to human rights standards faithfully, and she cited numerous national laws that protected persons with mental disabilities, physical disabilities, and those being held in police protection. As well, there were a number of prevention mechanisms in place in the country, and the Government had invited outside experts, such as the Special Rapporteur, to come to the country to assist in developing those mechanisms further. In regard to the case of Viana Acosta, also included in the report, she said that Ms. Acosta had been provided full compensation through a national resolution passed in 1999.
Highlighting the expansion of the scope of the work of the Special Rapporteur, Thailand’s delegate asked for an elaboration on how best to respond to gender issues as they related to torture, in particular women with disabilities who were subjected to ill-treatment.
The representative of Switzerland asked what concrete measures needed to be taken to be sure that psychological aggression would also be recognized as torture or ill-treatment. In addition, he asked what needed to be done to improve human rights in situations of solitary confinement.
Denmark’s delegate said, in regard to the comments made by Mr. Nowak in his report, that “ Denmark planned to resort to diplomatic assurances” in dealing with illegal residents. She stressed that Denmark had no such plans, though a working party had been established to discuss the issue of the deportation of illegal residents, with due regard of the situation that might meet them in their countries of origin, such as the possibility of torture or other forms of punishment, including the death penalty.
The representative of Norway asked whether the Committees that monitored implementation of the Convention against Torture and the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities would work together to ensure that there were no competing interpretations of the new standards included in the latter Convention.
Nigeria’s delegate asked for more information on the allegations detailed in paragraph 78(g) of the report and said that her Government stood ready to investigate the matter, if the information proved to be correct. As well, she drew attention to national efforts to improve the overall situation in Nigerian prisons, including a new budgetary allotment for prison decongestion and compliance with the rule of law.
In response, Mr. NOWAK noted that if Governments were to ratify the Optional Protocol to the torture Convention, they would then be obliged to establish national preventive mechanisms. In such cases, he suggested that those mechanisms take persons with disabilities into account, such as by conducting visits to psychiatric institutions, places of detention and so on. It was important that those mechanisms be well resourced, truly independent and able to carry out regular visits. The Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities itself obliged States parties to establish national monitoring bodies to oversee the treatment of persons from that community. Such bodies should coordinate their efforts with preventive mechanisms in the case of torture and cruel, inhuman, degrading punishment.
He said he often appealed to Government not to carry out certain death sentences, especially when relating to minors or if the method of execution amounted to cruel treatment. Corporal punishment was considered by the Human Rights Council and the Committee against Torture as a form of cruel punishment, in principle. For that reason, he called on the General Assembly and the Human Rights Council to consider the extent to which capital punishment amounted to cruel, inhuman and degrading punishment.
He acknowledged that the definition of torture in article 1 of the Convention was narrow, but noted that it referred to the acquiescence of State officials in private acts of torture, which encompassed domestic violence. When asked to name best practices in States that had enacted national legislation to protect persons with disabilities from domestic violence (that is, violence by private actors), none came to mind. But, he remarked that all States that had enacted comprehensive legislation on domestic violence against women and children, such as Denmark, for instance, often extended that protection to persons with disabilities.
He apologized if reference to a Uruguayan case had seemed to imply that that country was currently in violation of human rights standards relating to torture. That was not the case; he was merely citing case law to make a larger point.
Regarding the importance of a gender perspective on torture, he said that he would take up the issue of women in relation to torture, in an upcoming report to the Human Rights Council. That was because the concept of torture included private acts, such as rape. It would also apply to persons with disabilities that women were more vulnerable to sexual and similar forms of violence, whether in detention or in a private setting.
Regarding solitary confinement, he stressed the importance of using it as a last resort. He noted that it might be necessary to isolate suspects during periods of pre-trial detention, but it should not be prolonged. It should also be subject to strict monitoring.
In terms of specific issues raised by the representatives of Denmark, Norway and Nigeria, he said he was happy to receive more information if any was available. With regard to Norway, in particular, his next meeting with that Government would take place in November to discuss the issue of disabled persons. In terms of Nigeria, he noted that President Obasanjo had made a strong commitment to implement the Rapporteur’s recommendations, including in individual cases involving persons with disabilities.
The representative of Singapore said she did not believe the death penalty was related to the issue of torture. It was a judicial penalty regulated by States. She cautioned the Rapporteur against stating his opinion on that issue, which might be taken as his interferences with issues not included in his terms of reference. She further invited the Rapporteur not to take the view of one State as reflecting the views of all.
The representative of Mongolia asked whether or not the Rapporteur had received new information from her Government on its use of solitary confinement, since data concerning her country in his report seemed to be identical to that contained in a report from three years ago.
In response, Mr. NOWAK said he had not received any information, despite several requests towards that end. To the representative of Singapore, he firmly reasserted what he saw as a clear link between the death penalty and his mandate, which covered cruel, inhuman and degrading punishment. Furthermore, the Convention against Torture, in article 1, stated that torture was itself a form of punishment. If Governments inflicted severe pain or suffering on a person, that amounted to torture or cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment. Last year, the General Assembly had adopted a specific resolution calling on a moratorium on the death penalty, and in line with that, he had requested the Assembly and Human Rights Council to further examine the extent to which the death penalty violated, or amounted to, interference with the absolute prohibition of torture or cruel, inhuman and degrading punishment. He would be happy to respond to legal questions concerning that subject in future reports.
The representative of Singapore again took the floor, stressing that the resolution he was referring to said nothing to indicate that the death penalty fell under his purview. Furthermore, that resolution had not been adopted with consensus, and so did not reflect the view of the entire Assembly.
Statement by Special Rapporteur on Adequate Housing
RAQUEL ROLNIK, Special Rapporteur, expressed astonishment that adequate housing was not at the forefront of public attention. Billions of people lived in inadequate housing conditions throughout the world, including in wealthy countries, and would persist if the world maintained the premise that a home is a commodity and not a right. Homelessness, both in developing and developed countries, was one of the most visible and severe symptoms of the lack of enjoyment of the right to adequate housing. Its causes were multifaceted, including extreme poverty, disability, lack of affordable housing, speculation in housing and land, unplanned and forced urban migration, and displacement caused by conflicts, natural disasters or large-scale development projects.
According to the United Nations Human Settlements Programme (UN-Habitat), more than 1 billion people, or one third of the world’s population, lived in precarious settlements and slums, she said. They lacked access to basic services and were left unable to enjoy their civil, political, economic, social or cultural rights. For others still, affordability, whether limited by explosive growth in housing prices or lack of access to credit, constituted one of the main barriers to the enjoyment of the right to adequate housing. Urban gentrification, accompanied by rising property values and rent, and problems in paying loans and mortgages, exposed people to the risk of sliding into inadequate housing or homelessness.
She said evictions were sometimes carried out in ways that did not respect human rights. The Commission on Human Rights recognized forced eviction as a human rights violation, yet they continued worldwide, pushing hundreds of thousands into poverty, homelessness and inadequate housing conditions, with particularly adverse effects on children and groups already facing discrimination. They intensified inequality, social conflict, segregation and “ghettoization”. It affected the poorest, most socially and economically vulnerable sectors of society. Appropriate legislation and its adequate enforcement could do much to prevent that phenomenon. She noted that discrimination in housing could be based on race, class, gender, and economic marginalization, and was manifested in various ways, including limited quantity and quality of basic services provided to low-income neighbourhoods and informal settlements.
She said she had been requested to conduct a study on women and housing, which had identified a number of obstacles to the effective realization of housing rights that affected women differently, including violence against women, discriminatory cultural norms, multiple discrimination, inaffordability and even privatization of public housing stocks.
To prevent forced evictions, the previous Special Rapporteur had presented a set of basic principles on development-based evictions and displacement, which provided guidance, before, during and after eviction, to ensure respect for human rights in cases where there were no alternatives to eviction. She would continue working to develop tools such as those.
She said too many decision-makers and rights holders continued to be unaware of the existence of the right to adequate housing, and she would try to disseminate such information further. In the coming years, she intended to explore the relationship between the organization of “mega-events” and housing policies, the right to adequate housing in post-conflict and post-disaster reconstruction, the effects of climate change on that right, and social inclusiveness. Mega-events could include international sports events, for example. In terms of post-disaster and post-conflict situations, there was a need to integrate human rights standards into prevention, relief and rehabilitation efforts. Meanwhile, a rights-based approach to efforts to address climate change would necessarily underline the principles of participation in decision-making and empowerment, and help ensure that priority attention went to the most vulnerable. For instance, urban planning rarely included measures to facilitate the integration of migrants, who were often discriminated against in the housing market. Urban planning should be less focused on the creation of so-called “world-class cities” and more on controlling speculation and reining in rent.
She said her work as Special Rapporteur had just started, but it was already clear that realization of the right to adequate housing needed to be fully recognized as a fundamental human right. The adoption of an Optional Protocol to the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights was an opportunity for States to show their equal commitment to that right. The belief that markets would provide adequate housing for all had failed. She looked forward to making recommendations on ways to integrate the right to adequate housing in urban planning and housing polices at all levels of Government. She also urged Government to examine how they would deal with those suffering from the fallout of the financial crisis.
Questions and Answers
Thanking Ms. Rolnik for her report, particularly its emphasis on the impact of climate change on the right to adequate housing, the representative of Cuba asked the Special Rapporteur to further elaborate on that issue, particularly in regards to the development of a more concrete climate change approach linked to housing and the role that the UNDP might be called upon to play, in regards to reconstruction efforts.
The representative of France, speaking on behalf of the European Union, asked what the impact might be of the adoption of an optional protocol to the Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, similar to the Optional Protocol to the Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which would allow citizens of States parties to submit complaints about alleged violations directly to the Committee for consideration. She also asked for further information regarding her forthcoming visits and how they related to thematic areas of concern.
Thailand’s delegate also asked for a clarification in regards to her intention to base her reports around thematic issues and how it might be possible to operationalize her recommendations, particularly in terms of using various media to raise public awareness.
The representative of China asked how the Special Rapporteur might deal with the financial crisis and the ongoing prevalence of poverty.
Brazil’s delegate, while thanking the Special Rapporteur for her report, also drew attention to the need to take country-specific situations into account when talking about the issue of adequate housing, particularly in regards to resources available.
Ms. ROLNIK, in response to the comments on climate change, said that the issue affected all countries, especially those in the Caribbean and other small island States. Small island States could, potentially, disappear off the map, resulting in a gigantic migratory wave. Past experience had shown that such migratory movements were disastrous in regards to the right to adequate living, and often led to precarious living conditions like tent camps and shantytowns. Thus, it was necessary to build prevention plans and to find ways, means, and strategies to mitigate or prevent risk in the most vulnerable areas. Those strategies should also be made available to those communities and their inhabitants.
Regarding her decision to organize her work, each year, under one or two different thematic areas, she said such an approach would provide her with the opportunity to highlight some of the most important areas of concern. Themes might be linked primarily to one or two countries, and be based on country visits, but the issues would be relevant to all countries. Information would also be exchanged with a very broad network of other actors working on the same theme, each year.
In regards to the dissemination of information, the question raised by Thailand’s delegate, the Special Rapporteur said that sharing information with the people most affected by the lack of inadequate housing was of the utmost importance. It was not only about making reports or information available in local languages; it was also about making sure they were written in a style that everyone could understand. Therefore, one of her roles as a rapporteur was to work as a translator to convey that information.
She said the inclusion of the notion of the right to adequate housing into national and local legislative measures was very important, since that would empower the most vulnerable groups and allow them to seek redress for their situations. The adoption of an optional protocol, as suggested by the representative of France, would not be a problem. Indeed, it would be the solution for those living in inadequate housing, since it would share the responsibility for their problems with all of society.
She agreed that it was necessary to be very careful in talking about adequate housing and the differences in the availability of resources and cultural patterns within countries. There was not one single solution or one single model to provide adequate housing for all. Instead, it was necessary to think outside of the box to find many solutions, based on the assumption that the right to adequate housing was a public issue and not just a market issue.
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