MEMBERS OF HUMAN RIGHTS COMMISSION WELCOME COMPLETION OF WORK ON DRAFT DECLARATION ON HUMAN RIGHTS DEFENDERS

HR/CN/844
3 April 1998

MEMBERS OF HUMAN RIGHTS COMMISSION WELCOME COMPLETION OF WORK ON DRAFT DECLARATION ON HUMAN RIGHTS DEFENDERS

3 April 1998


Press Release
HR/CN/844


MEMBERS OF HUMAN RIGHTS COMMISSION WELCOME COMPLETION OF WORK ON DRAFT DECLARATION ON HUMAN RIGHTS DEFENDERS

19980403

(Reissued as received.)

GENEVA, 2 April (UN Information Service) -- Members and observers of the Commission on Human Rights hailed this afternoon the completion after 13 years of work on a draft declaration on the rights and responsibilities of human rights defenders.

The draft declaration enshrines the right of everyone, individually and in association with others, to promote and to strive for the protection and realization of human rights and fundamental freedoms at the national and international levels. It provides, among other things that everyone has the right to participate in peaceful activities against violations of human rights and fundamental freedoms. The State shall take all necessary measures to ensure the protection of everyone against any violence, threats, retaliation, adverse discrimination, pressure or any other arbitrary action as a consequence of their legitimate exercise of the rights referred to in the declaration.

Speaking on the draft, the representative of Canada said the declaration represented a very delicate balance of interests and positions arrived at after arduous discussions over many years. The Commission now could look forward to a future when the declaration would serve as a beacon for human rights defenders and a reminder to States of their obligations towards those who would strive, throughout the world, for the promotion of the rights and freedoms of their fellow citizens.

The representative of the United States said that while the text was not perfect, it had much to recommend it. It was strongly recommended that the Commission pass by consensus a resolution sending it to the General Assembly for adoption. No declaration could protect such people by itself -- ultimately, that was the responsibility of each State -- but the draft declaration was a tool that could help, she added.

For the representative of Cuba, the draft declaration had all the virtues and shortcomings of every compromise; yet it provided a clear and concrete point of reference, with a cluster of rules of the game under which all could assume consciously their responsibilities.

China also pointed to the compromise nature of the text, saying it struck a balance between the rights and responsibilities of individuals, groups and organs of society on the one hand, and the State on the other. Once adopted, however, how to implement it would be a complicated issue, the country's representative said, adding that China hoped a prudent attitude could be adopted in that regard.

The delegations of Chile, United States, Canada, United Kingdom, Cuba, South Africa, China, Venezuela, Australia, Norway and Egypt made statements on the draft declaration.

Discussion on the draft declaration was preceded by further debate on the question of the rights of detainees, torture, enforced disappearances and other related issues.

The following non-governmental organizations addressed the meeting: International Institute for Peace, Christian Democratic League, International Treaty Four Secretariat, Lawyers Committee for Human Rights, International Federation of Action of Christians for the Abolition of Torture, International Commission of Jurists, Indian Movement Tupaj Amaru, International Organization for the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination, Latin American Federation of Associations of Relatives of Disappeared Detainees, Himalayan Research and Cultural Foundation, World Society of Victimology, World Democratic Youth Federation, Women's International League for Peace and Freedom, Andean Commission of Jurists and Pax Christi. A representative of the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) also spoke.

In addition, Libya, Mauritania, Bahrain, Yemen, Viet Nam, Malaysia and Morocco exercised their rights of reply.

Statements on Rights of Detainees

J.L. BHAT, of the International Institute for Peace, said the Kashmiri Pandit community was daily facing detentions and torture. Around 20,000 houses of Kashmiri Pandits had been burned; all the houses of Kashmiri Pandits had been looted. Torturing and killing of Pandits and other innocents, including Muslim scholars and foreign tourists, had been going on for more than seven years. It was quite clear that those inhuman acts were part of a plan of systematic ethno-religious cleansing. It was an open secret that those acts were being committed by externally-sponsored terrorists and mercenaries. The United States State Department had declared the Pakistani-based Harkat-Ul-Ansar, which operated in different parts of the

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world and in Kashmir, as an organization that sponsored terrorism. The Commission should appoint a Special Rapporteur to examine that issue.

CECILE SLESZYNSKA, of Christian Democratic International (CDI), said there were many denunciations of human rights violations in poor countries, but little heard about violations in the better-off countries. CDI had more than once presented the situation of many Cuban refugees who had fled to the United States in the Mariel boatlift only to be unjustly imprisoned for indefinite periods by the United States Immigration and Naturalization Service; some of those refugees had now been in United States prisons for more than 10 years without charge or trial. Such detention had no legal basis and violated various articles of relevant international human rights instruments. This indefinite detention was arbitrary, and the Working Group on arbitrary detention had requested the United States to rectify the situation at the end of 1997, about 1,000 Mariel refugees were still being held. Such preventive imprisonment also had led to cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment. United States authorities should be urged to take the necessary measures to resolve this long-standing situation.

LOUIS KENNY, of the International Treaty Four Secretariat, said he wished to draw attention to a case in Canada involving three individuals and an unborn child who had suffered at the hands of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police; and to the degrading treatment of residential school victims and survivors by the Federal Government. In the first case, during the early hours of 20 June 1978, Orval Bear and his pregnant wife Sandra, along with close relative Lloyd Bear, were on their way home after visiting friends when two members of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police stopped their vehicle. The police proceeded to provoke and harass Orval and his passengers. In the ensuing struggle Orval and Lloyd suffered a violent assault. The policemen shot at them and wounded one of them; the unborn child was lost later because of the violent force exerted by the police. The second case concerned the compensation and offers of settlement for the victims and survivors of the residential school system. Recently, the Federal Government of Canada publicly acknowledged their role in the development and administration of residential schools, in which inhuman acts had been carried out.

NICOLAS ULMER, of Lawyers Committee for Human Rights, said the group had been actively involved in Northern Ireland since the 1990s, focusing particular attention on the situation of defense lawyers and the intimidation of those defending persons involved in security cases. The Special Rapporteur on the independence of judges and lawyers, Param Cumaraswamy, had concluded in his report on Northern Ireland that the outstanding questions surrounding the murder of Patrick Finucane in 1989 demonstrated the need for an independent judicial inquiry. The organization urged the Commission to call on the United Kingdom to initiate a review of cases of miscarriage of justice, particularly the murder of Mr. Finucane. The organization also called on the Commission to

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focus on, among other things, the need to bring the emergency legal regime in Northern Ireland into line with principles of international law.

ARTURO REQUESNES GALNARES, of the International Federation of Action of Christians for the Abolition of Torture, said a serious situation in relation to torture existed in Mexico; last year there had been an upsurge in torture as a method of investigation and repression and as a way of punishing political opponents. Such torture was carried out by the police, both federal and local, and lately by the armed forces on the pretext of the battle against armed incursion. It was hard to bring accusations of torture because of lack of security for those filing the charges; impunity was rampant; despite more than 1,200 allegations of torture received by the National Commission on Human Rights, only 50 investigations had led to judicial proceedings. Psychological torture was frequently applied during detention. The Commission should require that Mexico put an end to illegal detentions, that illegal treatment of detainees end, and that the Mexican Government fully comply with every recommendation made by the Special Rapporteur on torture. The Government also should recognize the Committee against Torture as competent to receive complaints directly. There also should be periodic visits to detention centres in the country.

STEPHEN LEWIS, Deputy Executive Director of United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF), said in Northern Uganda, the pattern of abductions of children, pursued by the so-called "Lord's Resistance Army", amounted to a litany of disappearances and torture for which there was not equivalent anywhere on the face of the earth. That practice was characterized by so much of the madness of contemporary conflict and behaviour; everything was done by design, targeted overwhelmingly, deliberately, at children. It was estimated that between 6000 and 8000 children had been taken over the last four to five years, although the exact numbers might be higher. Approximately half had somehow returned home, all of whom bore emotional, physical and irreversible scars and mutilations. It had been reported that a quarter of the children were still in captivity, and the rest were almost certainly dead. It was a psychotic war on children. If ever the world should rally to bring an infamy to an end, that was it.

He said that some two weeks ago, UNICEF had moved abducted children to the protection of the United Nations compound in Juba, Sudan; it also had begun to negotiate with the Government of Sudan for their return to Uganda. One week ago, 17 abductees were flown to Kampala. The children were well, but what they experienced in captivity was the stuff of a lifetime of nightmares.

MONA RISHMAWI, of the International Commission of Jurists, praised the reports of Special Rapporteur on independence of lawyers and judges and said the Commission shared his group's concern about several situations. The Commission of Jurists welcomed the abolition of the "faceless justice" system in Peru, but noted that structural problems hindering the proper

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administration of justice, such as the loose definition of treason, remained. It was also concerned about threats and harassment of numerous lawyers in Northern Ireland. It endorsed the Special Rapporteur's call for the establishment of an inquiry in the case of the murder of Irish lawyer Patrick Finucane. It was regrettable that the Special Rapporteur's report on Colombia was not yet available; the situation of lawyers and judges there had long been of concern. The Commission of Jurists was also concerned about the situation in Turkey, where there were many documented cases of harassment of lawyers. Myanmar and Nigeria were subjects of concern.

BEATRIZ P. GOMEZ, of the Indian Movement "Tupaj Amaru", said that in Colombia there had been numerous cases of torture and degrading treatment. Moreover, justified social protests were repressed; peaceful protestors and union officials were detained on charges of rebellion and terrorism; detentions in some cases were indefinite; lawyers who defended human rights defenders had been murdered; and prisons were overcrowded. The Commission must appeal to the Colombian Government for judicial reforms and strict respect for human rights. In Peru, indigenous peoples were victims of violations. Prisons had been visited by the working group on arbitrary detention, but the group had not been able to visit some cell blocks, and prisoners demonstrating against this shortcoming were punished and transferred to a prison 4,000 metres high, where they would slowly die. Steps needed to be taken to allow lawyers to practice their trade and protect defendants in safety. In Bolivia, more than 5,000 prisoners, most of them indigenous peoples, had been accused of drug trafficking. They lived, often with their children, in frightful conditions. A permanent special rapporteur should be appointed for Bolivia; and all these countries should been kept under careful scrutiny.

MOHAMMED SAFA, of the International organization for the Elimination of all Forms of Racial Discrimination, said there were some 160 Lebanese hostages being held in Israel; they had not been tried or even charged. Their families were not allowed to visit them or to exchange letters. The Israeli authorities had also forbidden the International Committee of the Red Cross to visit the detainees as of 10 September 1997. On 11 November 1997, Israeli forces had entered the Jizzin area in southern Lebanon and kidnapped Lebanese individuals, detaining them at Kishon Prison in northern Israel. The people had been tortured and subjected to ill-treatment throughout an investigation, as reported by Amnesty International. There were about 70 detainees suffering from dangerous diseases; they should be transferred to hospital for immediate treatment. Arab detainees had appealed against the difficult conditions they endured in Israeli prisons, but the authorities had responded by sending in the army.

JANETTE BOUTISTA, of the Latin American Federation of Associations of Relatives of Disappeared Detainees, said impunity for human rights violations engendered further abuses. For example, in Mexico, the Working Group on

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enforced or involuntary disappearances had noted with concern the increased number of disappearances in the country. Relatives of victims had submitted around 400 cases of disappearances, but had received no official reply or information. Instead, the relatives were stigmatized and threatened. In Colombia, the association of relatives of disappeared detainees had been bombed last year; its files had been destroyed as a result. Meanwhile, in Buenos Aires, relatives of disappeared persons said their offices had been attacked and their archives stolen for the eighth time. She herself had to leave Colombia because she had investigated the disappearance of her sister. She urged the Government of Colombia to respect legal rulings and transfer the case of her sister to the proper judicial authority so that an end was put to impunity.

ASHOK BHAN, of the Himalayan Research and Cultural Foundation, said the frequent practice of hostage-taking by terrorists and mercenaries had added another cruel dimension to the denial of human rights. The fundamentalist/terrorist group Harakatul Ansar, masquerading as the Al Faran terrorist group in Kashmir, had taken four hostages and had killed a Norwegian in 1995, and despite the demands of the Subcommission, after three years there had been no resolution to the crime. In January, 23 innocent Kashmiris had been murdered by terrorists, and through this carnage the entire Kashmiri Pandit population had been subject to trauma. The Commission and other relevant bodies should initiate stern measures against the countries from which mercenaries and terrorist organizations publicly and proudly operated; countries whose assistance to terrorist groups had been well documented should be singled out immediately for severe censure.

NOREEN ARIF, of the World Society for Victimology, said although India was a signatory of both the Covenant on Civil and Political and the Convention against Torture, its record had been most significant for its systematic and serious violations of the provisions of the two instruments. The United Nations Human Rights Committee, during its review of India's report in July last year, had confirmed widespread use of torture by State agents, particularly in occupied Jammu and Kashmir, Indian Punjab and the northeastern states of India. In the specific case of occupied Jammu and Kashmir, torture and other forms of degrading punishment were the norm rather than the exception. The rape of Kashmiri women and girls was widely used as an instrument of suppression by the Indian occupation forces.

BENOU MOHAMED SIDI EL MUSTAPHA, of the World Democratic Youth Federation, said he had been detained by the Moroccan authorities because he was in favour of the independence of Western Sahara. He had been imprisoned for three years and seven months for joining a peaceful demonstration on 8 October 1992 in the city of Smara against the Moroccan occupation of Western Sahara. Demonstrators had been attacked and many wounded, including women. Even after his release, he continued to be under house arrest, which prompted him to flee his country, even if it meant never seeing his family again. The

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United Nations had a responsibility to implement the referendum the people of the Western Sahara awaited so eagerly.

SONILA ABESSYHARA, of the Women's International League for Peace and Freedom, said there was a grave situation with regard to disappearances in Sri Lanka; it was the country with the highest number of reported disappearances in 1997; although the Government had set up Commissions of Inquiry into the disappearances, no action since 1994 had been taken to prosecute those implicated in testimonies given before these commissions. On the contrary, members of the Sri Lankan security forces implicated in several key cases had been acquitted and released due to failure by the Attorney General's department to proceed with prosecution. In Sudan, reports of large-scale disappearances in the south and in the Nuba mountain areas, where civil war continued to rage, were of special concern; the Special Committees of Investigation set up by the Government of Sudan had failed to provide adequate information or redress to relatives of the disappeared. There also were cases in Sri Lanka and Sudan of rape and maltreatment of women; the Commission must make a strong statement condemning the use of rape and sexual violence against women as forms of torture by government troops and State security personnel. It also should demand an end to impunity for State security officials in the two countries which abused human rights.

MARIE-NOELLE LITTLE, of the Andean Commission of Jurists, said the Andean countries had engaged in a process of legal reform which had already resulted in some improvements. The reforms were aimed at, among other things, revamping the penal system, computerization, improving training and capacity-building. But despite some progress, the populations of those countries were still lacked confidence in the administration of justice due to the slowness of proceedings, the lack of access and independence, and corruption. One of the biggest challenges remained the creation of an independent judiciary. In one of the countries in the region, Peru, the Government was working to create a mechanism that would give freedom to innocent persons who were detained; 360 people had been freed so far, which was encouraging. In Colombia, on the other hand, the establishment of a regional system of justice which used "faceless judges" continued to be an obstacle to the proper administration of justice.

GUERRIC MARENDAZ, of Pax Christi International, said he wanted to discuss the administration of justice and conditions of detention in Turkey, Israel, Iran, East Timor, the Western Sahara and Kosovo. The last year had seen no improvement in the administration of justice and conditions of detention in Turkey, where there were numerous political prisoners and where torture was endemic. The situation of prisons in Turkish Kurdistan was particularly bad. Concerning Israel, Pax Christi International hoped the stalled Israeli-Palestinian peace process could succeed. In that context, respect of human rights by both parties was important. The detention of 3,500 of Palestinians in Israeli prisons considerably delayed the advent of peace.

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Pax Christi was also concerned about the legitimization of moderate physical pressure on Palestinian detainees.

The organization was very concerned about the cases of stoning in Iran, he said. The situation in East Timor had also deteriorated, with arbitrary detentions of students and involuntary disappearances continuing. This would last as long as the right of the East Timorese to self-determination was not recognized by Indonesia. The situation in Western Sahara was also of concern, with persistent arbitrary arrests, suppression of freedom of expression, torture and disappearances. In the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, the rights of Albanians to legal defence in Kosovo were flouted, and torture was inflicted to force confessions.

Right of Reply

NATET AL-HAJJAJI (Libya) said a statement of the Arab Organization for Human Rights had referred to the disappearance of the former Libyan Minister of Foreign Affairs. He had held several important government posts and had never been an opponent of the Government of his country. If his opinions sometimes diverged from those of the Government, that was his right; he was never cut off from his country or those within it. After his disappearance in 1993, his wife made several visits to the Jamahiriya and met with several Libyan officials. She had received much cooperation from them, and had expressed appreciation to them. The Government had undertaken all necessary efforts to discover the whereabouts of this former official.

SIDNEY SOKHONA (Mauritania) referring to statements by France-Libertés and International Federation of Human Rights, said the four persons mentioned in their statements were not human rights advocates; they were using the noble cause of human rights as a vehicle for their political ambitions. They were also using their activities to collect funds for their personal use. The individuals, controversial even within opposition circles, had been sentenced in conformity with the country's laws. The Presidential pardon granted to them was in the spirit of the Islamic value of mercy.

SAID AL-FAIHANI (Bahrain) in response to a statement by a non-governmental organization on the treatment of detainees in the country, said the statement was made up of entirely unsubstantiated and inflammatory allegations which served no useful purpose other than to encourage the elements of political extremism. In Bahrain, all detainees were treated strictly in accordance with the law. They were not held incommunicado or tortured and there were legal and practical safeguards in place to prevent abuse; torture was considered a crime under the Constitution of Bahrain. All detainees had the right to be represented by a lawyer of their choice and they were tried in civil courts.

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ABDULRHAMAN AL-MUSIBILI (Yemen) said the group Liberation had alleged that violations had occurred in Yemen. The fact was that those allegations had nothing to do with human rights violations; rather they referred to political plots hiding behind supposed defense of human rights. Human rights were guaranteed by the Constitution and laws of the country, as well as international instruments ratified by Yemen. Any citizen had the right to file charges of violations of human rights; the major wish of the Government was that the worthy cause of human rights should not fall prey to political ploys; those claiming violations before the Commission should make sure to verify their sources.

HOANG HUU HAI (Viet Nam) said a few speakers under the cover of the International Federation of Human Rights or Pax Romana came as usual to the Commission's meeting to actually abuse the forum by way of spreading irresponsible distortions, allegations and even lies. They not only knew little about the situation in Viet Nam, but they also deliberately closed their eyes to realities and developments in the country which were known to the world. It was high time for those few hostile people to learn to reconcile themselves with and open their eyes to realities.

HAMIDON ALI (Malaysia), responding to concerns raised with regard to the defamation suit faced by the Special Rapporteur on the independence of judges and lawyers, Param Cumaraswamy, in his country, said that the Government of Malaysia and the United Nations were working closely to resolve the matter. Malaysia was giving serious consideration to the views and recommendations advanced by Yves Fortier, the Secretary-General's Special Envoy. Malaysia also reserved its right to clarify the issue further under another appropriate agenda item, as it was expected that some positive developments would have taken place by then.

NACER BENGELLOUN TOUIMI (Morocco) said two non-governmental organizations had insulted and slandered his country; the first speaker had given a rather fanciful version of what had happened to him and his problems. The delegation would not fail to bring before the Commission objective elements on that particular case. Such bad manners and impoliteness should not be allowed in the Commission; insults to countries were totally unjustified; the sacred institutions of a country should be respected out of common courtesy. The second speaker, speaking of disappearances and arbitrary arrests, was making distorted claims and as usual did not back them up with specifics. In fact Morocco was hailed for its cooperation and for the help it provided in trying to clarify such cases. Instead of going to government mechanisms that might clarify the situation, they came here instead and insulted the country.

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Draft Declaration on Human Rights Defenders

The Commission is considering the report of Jan Helgesen (Norway), Chairman-Rapporteur of the Working Group on the drafting of a declaration on the right and responsibility of individuals, groups and organs of society to promote and protect universally recognized human rights and fundamental freedoms. The reports details the adoption on 4 March of the draft declaration, also known as the declaration on human rights defenders, following more than a decade of work.

The draft declaration enshrines the right of everyone, individually and in association with others, to promote and to strive for the protection and realization of human rights and fundamental freedoms at the national and international levels. The draft also holds that each State has a prime responsibility and duty to protect, promote and implement all human rights and fundamental freedoms; each State shall adopt such legislative, administrative and other steps as may be necessary to ensure that the rights and freedoms referred to in the declaration are effectively guaranteed.

The draft provides that everyone has the right, individually and in association with others, to participate in peaceful activities against violations of human rights and fundamental freedoms. The State shall take all necessary measures to ensure the protection by the competent authorities of everyone, individually and in association with others, against any violence, threats, retaliation, de facto or de jure adverse discrimination, pressure or any other arbitrary action as a consequence of their legitimate exercise of the rights referred to in this Declaration.

In this connection, everyone would be entitled, individually and in association with others, to be effectively protected under national law in reacting against or opposing, through peaceful means, activities and acts, including those by omission, attributable to States which result in violations of human rights and fundamental freedoms as well as acts of violence perpetrated by groups or individuals that affect the enjoyment of human rights and fundamental freedoms.

Statements in Debate

JAN HELGESSEN, Chairman-Rapporteur of the Working Group on the drafting of a declaration on the rights and responsibility of individuals, groups and organs of society to promote and protect universally recognized human rights, introducing the report, said the Working Group had finalized its work and had adopted the final text of the draft declaration. The text was a compromise document whose drafting took 13 years.

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The Group's long struggle to conclude a text might have led, from time to time, to scepticism, pessimism, a feeling of deep disappointment and despair. But the subjects with which the members of the Group had struggled were complex, seen from a legal point of view, and sensitive, seen from a political point of view. He hoped the draft declaration would be adopted during the forthcoming annual meeting of the General Assembly.

LOUIS LILLO (Chile) said his delegation expressed special satisfaction to speak on the draft declaration on human rights defenders; the declaration would have great impact on strengthening the work of human rights defenders and would enure their proper protection. After many years of hard work, it had been possible to achieve consensus; it was right to recognize the enormous effort made by all the parties. Government delegations and non-governmental organizations had had different views, and the draft was a compromise settlement. But the important thing was that, finally, the international community would recognize the legitimate nature of the work of human rights defenders and their legitimate right to receive funds for their valuable task. Chile hoped that the draft text would be promptly submitted to the General Assembly for adoption. It regretted that the draft had not been given more publicity and hoped that it would be given the importance it deserved in the General Assembly.

ROBERT LOFTIS (United States) said it was a matter of some regret that the Commission was not able to break away from its old patterns of behaviour and make the defenders declaration its first resolution; while the text was not perfect, overall, it had much to recommend it, and it was strongly recommended that the Commission pass by consensus a resolution sending it to the General Assembly for adoption. The spirit of human rights defenders lived not only in the famous but in the lives of people the rest of the world little saw or knew about -- labour leaders, educators, election monitors, and others. No declaration could protect such people by itself; ultimately, that was the responsibility of each State; but the draft declaration was a tool that could help. Among those needing protection, he wished to honour one particular group, journalists, who risked their lives to expose corruption in high places, or defend minority rights in lands that refused to acknowledge them. He had no doubts that many nations would act correctly under the declaration, and also little doubt that others would continue to make life difficult for every man or woman who dared to raise a voice in defense of human liberty.

PETER SPLINTER (Canada) said his Government could look back with satisfaction at the completion of the elaboration of the draft declaration after 13 years of hard work in the Commission's Working Group, not to mention the many years of earlier preparatory work. The draft declaration represented a very delicate balance of interests and positions arrived at after arduous discussions over many years. It was a testimony to what patience, determination and a willingness to work constructively could accomplish in the Commission. The Commission now could also look forward to a future when the

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declaration would serve as a beacon for human rights defenders and a reminder to States of their obligations towards those who would strive for the promotion of the rights and freedoms -- whether civil, political, economic, social or cultural -- of their fellow citizens. It had been an honour and a privilege for representatives of Canada to work with the representatives of the countries and non-governmental organizations both in the Group and the Commission on that noble project.

AUDREY GLOVER (United Kingdom) on behalf of the European Union and Central and Eastern European Countries associated with it, paid tribute to the men and women around the world who devoted themselves to the defence and promotion of human rights, whether individually or as part of non-governmental organizations. Their work in campaigning against human rights violations was essential in the promotion of the values to which countries had subscribed. Their work was difficult and often dangerous, and States, both collectively and individually, had a duty to do something to protect these courageous men and women. The Union was extremely pleased that the Working Group had managed to reach consensus on the draft declaration on human rights defenders. It was no secret that the Union would have liked more progressive language in many of the provisions of the draft, and would have preferred to see certain other ideas dropped altogether. However, for all its shortcomings, the draft was a significant achievement which recognized the invaluable and often heroic role played by human rights defenders around the world.

MIGUEL ALFONSO MARTINEZ (Cuba) said the fact that the working group had to conclude its efforts on the draft declaration on human rights defenders in the current scenario of a unipolar world, under repeated attempts to establish a homogenizing and interfering "new world order" that sought to impose international standards based on the ideas of just a few, had not helped much during the last stage of work; nevertheless, the participants had made it. The draft declaration had all the virtues and shortcomings of every compromise; yet it provided a clear and concrete point of reference, with a cluster of rules of the game under which all could assume consciously their responsibilities. Cuba had endured over many decades attempts to subvert its domestic order through propaganda, misleading appreciations of its domestic situation, distortions of the true nature of its institutions, and blatant political manipulations; therefore Cuba attached particular importance to articles 3 and 13 of the draft declaration -- recognizing the prevalence of domestic law of each member State in these matters -- and to article 20, where the inadmissibility of violating the principles of the International Bill of Human Rights, under the pretense of "defending human rights" in other countries, was reiterated.

MUZIWAKHE THEMBA KUBHEKA (South Africa) said after 13 long and arduous years, the international community was finally in a position to adopt a declaration that would serve human rights defenders world-wide by enabling

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them to perform the courageous task in promoting and protecting human rights and fundamental freedoms. It was his delegation's strong and fervent hope that the declaration be adopted during this year marking the fiftieth anniversary of the Universal Declaration on Human Rights. In the case of South Africa, under the apartheid regime, many human rights defenders had been systematically tortured, beaten, imprisoned, detained and even murdered. Thus, it should come as not surprise to anyone that South Africa's delegation had followed closely and contributed actively to the final proceedings of the Working Group.

DU ZHENQUAN (China) said his delegation extended its congratulations to the Chairman of the Working Group on the draft declaration. The draft declaration provided individuals and groups with appropriate rights and social responsibilities in carrying out human rights activities. It struck a balance between the rights and responsibilities of individuals, groups and organs of society on the one hand, and the State on the other. Once adopted, however, how to implement it would be a complicated issue; China hoped that a prudent attitude could be adopted in that regard.

NAUDY SUAREZ FIGUEROA (Venezuela) said the draft declaration on human rights defenders was a monument to years of persevering work. Non-governmental organizations dedicated to human rights had grown extensively in number in Venezuela in recent years, playing an important role in the country. Non-governmental organizations provided healthy criticism, early warnings, and effective help in the cause of human rights. It was encouraging that the draft declaration would provide the broadest safeguards to persons around the world engaged in the valuable and risky work of promoting human rights, and Venezuela would support the resolution on the draft declaration before the Commission and would support the draft when it came before the General Assembly.

CRISPIN CONROY (Australia) said his country warmly welcomed the consensus adoption of a draft declaration by the Working Group and looked forward to the early adoption of the text during this session and then at the General Assembly later this year. The draft declaration should be seen as a charter for human rights defenders the world over. Those human rights defenders -- individuals, groups, non-governmental organizations, lawyers, trade union leaders or anyone committed to the promotion and protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms -- often acted as a conscience and reminded the international community of the obligations to which it was committed.

PETTER WILLE (Norway) said the draft declaration was not an endeavour to create new rights for a new category of persons. Rather, it clarified, confirmed and reinforced the importance of the rights and freedoms already encompassed in the Universal Declaration on Human Rights.

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AMR HAFEZ (Egypt) said differences on the topic of the draft declaration over the years had reflected lack of trust; some would argue that others did not sincerely share the objective of protecting human rights. There was also suspicion that the declaration was a screen for political objectives. Agreement on a draft finally had been reached because differences in opinion were respected and treated as a right rather than a source of suspicion; because all interests and concerns were treated equally, so that the resulting product was balanced; and because there was good faith throughout the negotiations. Egypt wished to stress that the draft stated that human rights were the primary responsibility of the State, and that although individuals and non-governmental organizations had major roles to play, they were not a substitute for the role of the State; Egypt considered that the role of non- governmental organizations, while vital, should be within the frame of respecting national laws and Constitutions. In order to keep the trust now established, it had to be clear in the international community that impressions should not replace facts, and that all proposals and serious ideas deserved equal treatment based on international partnership and the rule of law.

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For information media. Not an official record.