OBSTACLES PUT IN WAY OF HUMAN RIGHTS DEFENDERS BY GOVERNMENTS HAMPER ENJOYMENT OF FUNDAMENTAL FREEDOMS, THIRD COMMITTEE TOLD
Committee Also Discusses Internally
NEW YORK, 12 November (UN Headquarters) -- Governments had demonstrated a disturbing tendency to view human rights activity as being against national interest and a threat to national security, and the obstacles they put in the way of human rights defenders had slowed the ability of people in those countries to fully enjoy all their human rights and fundamental freedoms, a Special Representative of the Secretary-General told the Third Committee (Social, Humanitarian, Cultural) this afternoon.
Hina Jilani, the Special Representative of the Secretary-General on human rights defenders, told Committee members there had been insufficient interest in the seriousness of the cases of human rights defenders being killed or threatened by the governments concerned. There were 31 cases of death threats transmitted to various governments since August 2000, as well as 11 communications concerning the issue of impunity. The response of governments in cases brought to their attention had not been satisfactory.
Ms. Jilani was one of three Special Representatives to address the Committee during the meeting. A fourth had his statement delivered for him.
Impunity, Ms. Jilani said, was of the foremost concerns of her mandate, and had become the most serious human rights problem in many countries. It was also a significant factor in enhancing the risks attached to the work of human rights defenders. Exposing human rights violations and seeking redress for them was largely dependent on the degree of security enjoyed by human rights defenders. Addressing the issue of impunity with respect to defenders was, therefore, a critical element in the promotion and protection of human rights.
Two of the special representatives spoke about their country-specific mandates. Maurice Copithorne, the Special Representative of the Commission on Human Rights on the situation of human rights in Iran, said it was very difficult to report that the human rights situation in Iran had improved since the report was completed. Some important areas such as punishments and other aspects of the legal system had suffered a serious backsliding.
Likewise, Peter Leuprecht, the Special Representative of the Secretary-General for human rights in Cambodia, illustrated the shortcomings of the judiciary in Cambodia. He said the problems with the judiciary were mainly a lack of independence, interference by executive branch offices, lack of training, low salaries and corruption. It was also difficult for young lawyers to get into the bar. He appealed to Cambodian authorities to intensify efforts for legal and judicial reform.
Government representatives engaged in an interactive dialogue with the speakers following their presentations.
Earlier, Bacre Ndiaye, Director of the New York Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, delivered a statement on behalf of Francis Deng, the Special Representative of the Secretary-General on internally displaced persons. Mr. Ndiaye said Mr. Deng’s report noted that in over 40 countries covering virtually every continent, internal conflicts and the egregious violations of human rights or natural disasters continued to displace people in astonishing numbers. The situation of internal displacement turned the issue of refugees on its head -- while internally displaced persons generally had little or no protection from national authorities when they moved within their own borders, refugees might often benefit from protection when they crossed international borders.
At the opening of the meeting, Chairman Fuad Mubarak Al-Hanai expressed the Committee's condolences to the families and friends of the victims of American Airlines flight 587, which crashed this morning in New York City.
Representatives of Algeria, Iran, Cuba, Belgium (on behalf of the European Union), Sudan, Russian Federation, Australia, Cambodia, Viet Nam, Singapore, Egypt and Mexico spoke during the interactive dialogues.
The Committee will reconvene on Tuesday at 10 a.m. to continue its debate on human rights issues.
This afternoon, the Third Committee (Social, Humanitarian and Cultural) continued its consideration of human rights matters in a meeting devoted to a dialogue with Special Rapporteurs and Representatives of the Commission on Human Rights, including the Commission’s Special Representative on the situation of human rights in Iran,. Maurice Copithorne; the Special Representative of the Secretary-General for human rights in Cambodia, Peter Leuprecht; and the Special Representative of the Secretary-General on human rights defenders, Hina Jilani.
Bacre Ndiaye, Director of the New York Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, who was expected last Friday to make a statement on behalf of the Representative of the Secretary-General on the protection of and assistance to internally displaced persons, will do so this afternoon.
The Committee had before it a note by the Secretary-General on internally displaced persons (document A/56/168) that provides a normative framework on internally displaced persons, country missions and new issues for research. The report also offers conclusions.
The report states that it is encouraging to note developments in the field of aiding internally displaced persons since the first report was submitted to the General Assembly in 1993. A normative framework has been established, the report points out, and important and innovative efforts are being pursued by both States and intergovernmental organizations.
At the same time, the report states, it would be tragically ironic if the international community were to view these developments as grounds for complacency. The crisis of international displacement is as acute now as it was eight years ago, and, as the understanding of the issues has increased and deepened, so has the challenge of responding.
The Committee had before it a note by the Secretary-General on the Situation of Human Rights in Iran (document A/56/2780), which describes Mr. Copithorne’s work during the past year.
The comprehensive report examines myriad issues in the country, among them the freedom of expression, the status of women, the reform of the legal process, and the situation in prisons and in the imposition of punishment. Further, the report shows the status of intellectuals, and of political, student and religious dissidents in a section that features student unrest, serial murders, the Berlin conference trial and the detention of religious and nationalist activists. Further, the report touches upon the status of minorities, economic, social and cultural rights, and other important issues, such as national human rights bodies and Iran's place in the international human rights system.
Lastly, the report offers many conclusions and recommendations on the following topics: status of women, legal subjects, status of intellectuals and of political, student and religious dissidents, democratic governance, status of minorities, and economic, social and cultural rights.
The Committee had before it a note by the Secretary-General on the Situation of Human Rights in Cambodia (document A/56/209), which details the events of two of Mr. Leuprecht’s visits to the country in 2001.
The report concentrates on the major developments and human rights issues of concern in Cambodia, including land issues, demobilization of armed forces, the transition from "lawlessness" to the rule of law, the further consolidation of democracy, human trafficking, Montagnard asylum-seekers from Viet Nam, labour rights and the Special Tribunal to try those responsible for crimes during the Democratic Kampuchea regime.
The report also offers recommendations in several areas, among them land disputes, natural resources, demobilization of armed forces, the independence of the judiciary, the conditions of detention, police and mob killings, commune elections, human trafficking, and the Khmer Rouge Tribunal.
The Committee also has before it a note of the Secretary-General transmitting the report of the Special Representative of the Secretary-General on Human Rights Defenders (document A/56/341). The report, the first from the Special Representative, Hina Jilani, contains issues of special concern to her arising from communications she received from governments, non-governmental organizations and individual defenders during the past year. Those include impunity in cases of threats and attacks against human rights defenders, as well as legal action and intelligence activities aimed at them.
According to the report, Ms. Jilani, whose mandate was established last year, has received numerous complaints related to human rights defenders around the world. From October 2000 to August 2001, the Special Representative transmitted 82 urgent appeals to governments, as well as nine allegation letters. Six press statements were issued over that period. Further, she also undertook her first country visit to Kyrgyzstan from 30 July to 4 August 2001. Overall, she noted with concern that, in general, governments have either failed or neglected to investigate complaints of attacks and threats against human rights defenders and to punish perpetrators.
The report goes on to state that the responses Ms. Jilani has received from governments on 31 cases of death threats and 11 communications concerning impunity have not been satisfactory. The lack of transparency and accountability in the functioning of State institutions has added to the culture of impunity. Among the report's conclusions, the Special Representative notes that a major reason for the lack of progress in creating an enabling environment for the promotion of human rights and the protection of defenders is the continuing level of tension between the State and civil society. To that end, governments should increase their tolerance for dissent and cease to view human rights defenders as adversaries.
Statement on Behalf of Special Representative on Internally Displaced Persons
BACRE NDIAYE, Director of the New York Office of the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, making a statement on behalf of Francis Deng, Special Representative of the Secretary-General on internally displaced persons, said in recent years Mr. Deng had tended to emphasize the progress made by the international community in recognizing and responding to the global crisis of internal displacement. His reports in that regard had focused on the development of normative and institutional frameworks for protecting and assisting the internally displaced. This year, Mr. Deng’s report highlighted established legal frameworks and rhetorical commitments on one hand and the persistent need for the protection of millions of internally displaced persons around the world on the other. While it had been evident that awareness of the crisis of internal displacement had been raised significantly, it had also become clear that, in many parts of the world, protecting and assisting masses of people in desperate situations was at best an unfulfilled aspiration.
He said Mr. Deng’s report went on to note that in over 40 countries, covering virtually every continent, internal conflicts and the egregious violations of human rights or natural disasters continued to displace people in astonishing numbers. Often, those populations were trapped in zones of conflict and persecuted from all sides. While they moved across internal borders in search of security, they were victims of discrimination and degradation -- that was if they managed to escape the physical dangers of conflict. Indeed, the situation of internal displacement turned the issue of refugees on its head: while internally displaced persons generally had little or no protection from national authorities when they moved within their own borders, refugees might often benefit from protection when they crossed international borders.
According to Mr. Deng, a stark example of that dichotomy was the situation of those displaced within Afghanistan. More than 1 million men, women and children had been displaced in that country and many were facing imminent starvation and deplorable health conditions. There was no question that the need for their protection was acute, but their needs were going largely unattended as access to the country had been impeded. At the same time, when it came to protecting persons within their own borders, some progress had been made. Most importantly, the Guiding Principles on Internal Displacement had been developed as a result of a creative and cooperative process. More and more governments and organizations had been widely disseminating those principles. At the institutional level, the collaborative approach that utilized collective capacities of international networks had been agreed upon as the preferred approach.
He said, however, that those were merely the bright spots in a situation that generally continued to be dismal and challenging. While the guiding principles had been well received, their implementation remained problematic. He said Mr. Deng’s cursory overview indicated that there was still an urgent need for the international community to take the crisis of internal displacement seriously and to respond commensurately. The crisis of internal displacement should be viewed as a wake-up call and a warning about the challenges underlying nation-building. It was in the interest of all concerned that conditions be created internally that would ensure respect for human rights and humanitarian standards, which would in turn promote security, stability and prosperity.
Comments on Internally Displaced Persons
Following Mr. Ndiaye’s introduction of the report before the Committee on behalf of the Special Representative of the Secretary-General on internally displaced persons, the Committee Chairman, FUAD MUBARAK AL-HINAI (Oman) informed members that they could make comments on the report.
The representative of Algeria regretted that Mr. Deng had been unable to appear before the Committee and was certain that Mr. Ndiaye could answer her questions. She asked about the application of Guiding Principles on Internal Displacement and an analogous refugee law. The report also mentioned reluctance on the part of the international community to broadly apply those guiding principles. She believed that was because they had never been negotiated by any international body. Perhaps discussion in an intergovernmental body, such as the Assembly, might lead to their broad adoption or application. She also asked if Mr. Deng’s research efforts went beyond those in cooperation with the Brookings Project on Internal Displacement at the City University of New York.
The CHAIRMAN informed the representative of Algeria that her questions were beyond the mandate of Mr. Ndiaye and that her concerns, as well as those of other delegations, would be passed on to Mr. Deng.
Statement by Special Representative on Iran
MAURICE COPITHORNE, Special Representative of the Commission on Human Rights on the situation of human rights in Iran, said the President of Iran, in his inaugural address in August, had said Iran had no choice but to put the emphasis on the rights and demands of the people, in order to make progress and to resolve the country's various problems. Surely, few could disagree with such an assessment. As indicated in the report, there were signs enough that the incorporation of human rights values into Iranian society was proceeding at an accelerating rate.
He said, however, the implementation of such rights by the Government had lagged behind evident public expectation. In the last four months, the right to free expression had been caught up in broader political issues. In one case, legal proceedings had begun against a member of Majilis deputies, some for remarks construed to be critical of the judiciary. Several had been sentenced to terms of various lengths. In a strongly worded response, the President declared the Constitution provided a guarantee of free speech for members of the Majilis, particularly within the Majilis themselves.
On minorities, Mr. Copithorne said information provided in recent months suggested the situation of some groups had not improved, and indeed, could have deteriorated. Regarding punishments, the last four months had seen a crackdown by authorities on what was seen to be amoral and anti-social conduct, and a sharp increase in punishments that were clearly contrary to international standards. Those included hangings and floggings, often in public. In August, the Supreme Court ordered a retrial of 15 so-called rogue elements in the security services who had been convicted in January of the 1998 murders of intellectuals and political dissidents. According to press reports, the Intelligence Minister declared the killings were insignificant mistakes that had been forgiven by the public. The detention of religious national activists was also an ongoing problem. The problem had been described in an earlier report, in which the Government made a commitment to release the activists on bail. However, many were still in jail. Indeed, according to recent information, some remained in solitary confinement after some eight months of detention.
He said it was very difficult to report the human rights situation in Iran had improved since the report was completed. Indeed, in some important areas such as punishments and other aspects of the legal system, there had been a serious backsliding. However, there was satisfaction in being able to express immense respect for Iran, its people and its culture, and the very deep admiration of those Iranians seeking to improve the human rights situation for all citizens, including women and minorities. The road was not an easy one, but Iran would be able to win great international esteem for itself by staying the course, by building a society in which the dignity of all individuals would be respected and nourished.
Dialogue with Special Representative on Human Rights in Iran
The representative of Iran said the mandate of the Special Representative was politically based. While the Government had respect for the work of the Special Representative, Iran reserved the right to disagree with some of his findings. The reform process in Iran was genuine and ongoing. It had originated in the will of the Iranian people, and was a commitment made by the Government. It was an irreversible process. This was not influenced by any external pressure or illegitimate observations. It was not possible to comment on all parts of the report, given the time constraints. But there were significant and crucial portions to address.
Speaking on the serial murders, the delegate said that what the Special Representative said was an injustice to the problem of serial murders. In fact, it underestimated and belittled the fact that the Government had made every efforts to bring to justice those involved in those crimes. He quoted press reports, but they did not reflect reality. Iran's leader, on many occasions, considered those killings against writers and intellectuals as crimes, and said those responsible had to be brought to justice. Two persons had been sentenced to death, in accordance with the national laws. The Government did not believe those killings were insignificant mistakes. Human rights values were being integrated into society because of the Government, and the Special Representative concurred that civil society was being encouraged to speak up about its rights. The Government was not lagging behind -- it was doing its best.
He said there was no discrimination between men and women when it came to political rights. In the first Parliament elections, there were 90 women candidates. In the most recent elections, there were over 500 candidates. In local elections throughout the country, about 7,276 women were candidates, and about 1,100 were elected. There was a Vice-President on women’s issues, and there were many women mayors elected throughout the country. The literacy rate of women and girls was above 82 per cent.
The representative of Cuba said Iran suffered from economic difficulties for various internal reasons, including having to deal with many refugees. Did the Special Representative feel there were other external factors that led to the economic difficulties? There was no reference in the report to that possibility.
Mr. COPITHORNE said his mandate was the human rights situation in Iran. The report focused on what the Government could do for itself and its people, leaving aside the economic factors. If the people thought external factors should be considered, then that would be considered for inclusion in future reports.
The representative of Belgium, on behalf of the European Union, said the Special Representative had not yet been able to visit Iran. How were the requests to visit the country channelled to the Iranian Government? Was a future visit expected? There was also a question about violence against women, and a question about the general human rights situation in Iran.
The delegate of the Sudan said the people of Iran had a rich civilization. It could not be ignored what the Iranian people had done for the world, particularly in literature and medicine. Reference to the situation of women in Iran was surprising. The first picture of abuse of women in Iran came in a movie. It was important to remember this was just a film, and films tended to dramatize and exaggerate. It possibly would not be an accurate reflection of the situation in the country. The statistics pointed out by the delegate of Iran concerning the participation of women in political life showed maltreatment of women would not be tolerated.
Mr. COPITHORNE said he spoke with Iranian colleagues from time to time about visiting the country, and no invitation to visit was expected. His last visit there was in February 1996.
He said when he referred to violence against women he meant physical abuse. There was a discussion of the problem in Iran, and that was always the first step in tackling a problem. But it was just a first step, and much work needed to be done. Iranian information indicated the situation could be getting worse.
Regarding films, it was known that they were often exaggerated, but not always. Films were often metaphors, but that film was referred to show the psychological constraints some women felt in Iran. In the political field, women had a prominent role in government because the Special Representative was appointed. The report focused on the law itself, and not the political sphere.
The representative of the Russian Federation asked about the Islamic Commission on Human Rights. What did the body do? The report said the Commission achieved progress every year in expanding educational programmes and ensuring a more objective coverage of the issues.
The delegate of Australia asked if the acceleration of human rights values in society included the right of freedom of expression?
Mr. COPITHORNE said the Islamic Commission on Human Rights was making progress. It had set a high standard, and it was providing the Special Representative with a lot of information. It was a success story within the realm of human rights in Iran.
He said that despite the fact that many newspapers had been shut down, the nature of discourse in Iran was more lively than it was five years ago. The closure of a newspaper did not significantly quell discourse, and the exercise of freedom of expression was better than it had been. But there was a long way to go.
Statement by Special Representative on Cambodia
PETER LEUPRECHT, Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Human Rights in Cambodia, emphasized that, on the whole, during his three visits to Cambodia, he had received good cooperation from the Government. He regarded the Government’s response to his report as responsible and constructive. Those comments were a good basis for the continuation of a fruitful dialogue. One of the main objectives of protecting and promoting human rights was to reduce and prevent suffering, he continued. Cambodians had experienced terrible suffering throughout their turbulent recent history, particularly under the Khmer Rouge. Since that time, the situation had improved somewhat, but there was still an unacceptably high degree of suffering.
He had witnessed some of that suffering on his visits to the county. He had seen poor people who had been expelled from their land and relocated to live in appalling conditions. He had met victims of human trafficking and sexual exploitation -- young women and girls -- some no older than six or seven. He had witnessed the suffering in Cambodian prisons where conditions were gravely inadequate. Children and babies spending the first years of their existence in such places would probably be traumatized for life. Many of those he had met had been rescued and were receiving education, vocational training and counselling in a shelter run by a Cambodian non-governmental organization. Sadly, however, the suffering of so many others would never be told.
What were the causes of such suffering and how could it be reduced and remedied in the future? he asked. He felt that the root causes were closely related to evils that continued to plague Cambodian society, namely poverty, violence, corruption and lawlessness. When he had met Prime Minister Hun Sen on 26 June, he had agreed with that analysis. There must be highly determined efforts to address those four evils, and a strong political will would be needed to eradicate them. While the main responsibility remained with the Government, the people of the country must also be able to count on solidarity with civil society actors within the global community. For the Government’s part, the international community was eager to see concrete results from reform programmes.
He said his report focused on a number of specific issues, including land rights, land grabbing, natural resources, demobilization of armed forces and human trafficking. It was obvious that those problems would not be solved overnight, but the authorities must demonstrate strong political will to tackle them. His report had also drawn attention to the sad state of the Cambodian judiciary. A point of considerable regret and frustration was the outstanding issue of the Memorandum of Understanding between the Government and the Cambodia Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights. In spite of encouraging assurances during his visit, no agreement had as yet been reached on an Memorandum of Understanding that would be in line with the United Nations Convention on Privileges and Immunities.
Dialogue with Special Representative on Human Rights in Cambodia
The representative of Cambodia thanked the Special Representative for his comprehensive report. However, it did contain some elements that were cause for concern. On the four "fundamental evils", poverty, violence, corruption and lawlessness mentioned in the report, he said such an ambiguous statement could mislead readers to believe that Cambodia had no ruling authority, and lawlessness was rampant throughout the country -- like the "Wild West" of old cowboy movies. In truth, the situation was completely different. Today, Cambodia enjoyed unprecedented peace, as well as political, social and economic stability.
He said those advances had been due to the second mandate of the coalition Royal Government in November 1998. In that mandate, the Government had adopted an agenda which gave priority to reforming its administration, judiciary, military, police and financial institutions. Those reforms had been successfully implemented along with increased gun control and other anti-crime laws. Armed robbery and drug trafficking had been remarkably reduced in recent years. There had also been significant signs of improvement in the economy. Those arguments were more than enough to prove that Cambodia was on the path towards democracy and had been making progress in protecting and promoting the human rights of its people. He said that some sections of the report were irrelevant and misleading. He said while his Government considered it appropriate for civil society actors to participate in voter registration or educational activities, it strongly opposed any foreign interference -- material or financial -- with political parties.
While he agreed that the country was one of the poorest in the world, and that some issues of corruption and violence still persisted, Cambodia was not a country without rule or without law. There existed a willingness and determination to deal with social problems for the well-being and social progress of the people. Human rights must be considered as a whole, including social and economic development. In Cambodia’s view, everything must be put in one package: respect for human rights and the practice of democracy, along with peace, political stability and development.
The representative of Belgium, speaking on behalf of the European Union, asked about the situation of persons evicted from their lands. The delegation was also concerned with the state of the judicial system in Cambodia as well as the status of the Memorandum of Understanding with the Cambodia Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights.
The representative of Viet Nam said there had been tremendous progress in Cambodia in recent years. Viet Nam supported that progress. He said that paragraphs of the report on his country, particularly those concerning asylum-seekers were one-sided and did not include the responses of his Government. He said his Government had been cooperating with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees and the Government in Cambodia to solve the matter. Viet Nam’s view was that one should not create chaos out of order. He added that every nation must protect its border areas. He also categorically rejected all the claims about his country in the report and hoped that future documents would contain his Government’s position.
In response to Viet Nam’s concerns, Mr. LEUPRECHT said it was his view that the paragraphs on that country did not contain claims but facts. He actually had written that the persons that had fled Viet Nam "claimed" to be fleeing persecution. To the concerns of the representative of Cambodia, he said if and when he drew attention to problems within that country it was not out of pleasure to criticize but out of an effort to help the country to overcome those problems.
On persons evicted or displaced from land, he said that most, if not all such persons were in desperate situations. Because Cambodian society was still basically rural and farm-based, once people were evicted from the lands they lived and worked, they had nothing else to lose. In his view, the authorities should, among other things, put an end to impunity for land grabbing, put an end to fraud in land titling schemes, and appoint independent authorities to address land disputes. If those and other steps were not taken there was a great risk of increased violence.
He went on to say that the problems with the judiciary were mainly the lack of independence, interference by executive branches, lack of training, low salaries and corruption. It was also sadly difficult for young lawyers to get into the bar. He would discuss those issues with the new administration when he visited the country next week. On the Memorandum of Understanding, he said the Cambodia Office needed a clear legal basis in line with the Convention on Privileges and Immunities of the United Nations and State practice in that area. He hoped that progress could also be made on that issue next week.
The representative of Viet Nam reiterated the need to present fair and balanced information in the reports before the Committee.
Statement by Special Representative on Human Rights Defenders
HINA JILANI, Special Representative of the Secretary-General on Human Rights Defenders, said the present report contained issues of special concern arising out of communications that had been received from governments, non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and individual defenders in the course of the implementation of the mandate. The issue of impunity for human rights violations was of the foremost concerns. The culture of impunity persisted and had become the most serious human rights problem in many countries. It was also a significant factor in enhancing the risks attached to the work of human rights defenders. Exposing human rights violations and seeking redress for them was largely dependent on the degree of security enjoyed by human rights defenders. Addressing the issue of impunity with respect to defenders was, therefore, a critical element in the promotion and protection of human rights.
Despite the seriousness of the cases in which human rights defenders had been killed or had suffered threats and acts of intimidation, there had been insufficient interest on the part of the governments concerned to investigate complaints and to punish perpetrators, she said. Thirty-one cases of death threats had been transmitted to various governments since August 2000, as well as 11 communications concerning the issue of impunity. The response of governments in cases brought to their attention had not been satisfactory. It was only in very few cases that results or even encouraging progress could be reported. Human rights violations committed by non-State entities were increasing, and their targeting of human rights defenders gave cause for alarm. Commitment to the protection and promotion of human rights was incomplete without ending the culture of impunity, which was a source of great consternation amongst human rights groups, NGOs and individual defenders. The establishment of the International Criminal Court was seen as a positive development towards ending the climate of impunity.
Ms. Jilani said another matter of deep concern was that of legal actions against human rights defenders. Reports received, and other information gathered, strongly indicated that criminal prosecution and judicial repression was being used to silence human rights defenders and to pressure them into discontinuing their activities. Twenty communications had been sent to various governments on that issue. Laws on public order, morality, national security or emergency and sedition, or regulations on forming associations or receiving foreign funding were frequently being used to deprive defenders of their liberty, freedom of association, freedom of expression and assembly and freedom to carry on their profession.
Governments had demonstrated a disturbing tendency to view human rights activity as being against national interest and a threat to national security, she said. The resilience of human rights defenders who continued to do their work despite adverse circumstances was extremely impressive. Human rights defenders played a significant role in inducing recognition by States of the concepts of fundamental freedoms, participatory democracy, transparency and accountability.
Dialogue with Special Representative on Human Rights Defenders
The representative of Belgium, on behalf of the European Union, asked if Ms. Jilani would start working with States in developing their national laws? Was lack of political will a chief problem? What kind of role would be played in addressing this problem? Could she refer more to the problem of impunity?
The delegate of Singapore said she wanted to learn more about the Special Representative's methods of work. What were the geographic origins of the complaints?
The representative of Egypt said the international community had a duty to support the work of human rights advocates. Missing from the report, however, was the responsibility of human rights defenders. Their responsibilities had to be spelled out. They were not allowed to violate local laws.
The delegate of the Sudan asked for a clarification of human rights advocates.
Ms. JILANI said regional seminars had been held in Senegal and Mexico, which was a good way to learn about the issues that were common to a particular region. The seminars were not just sources of good information on violations and violators, but they were chances for defenders to talk about the best methods of doing their work. There would be a similar seminar in Bangkok in the next week.
The lack of support for international human rights standards made it difficult to deal with national laws, she said. Better cooperation from States should be sought in this area. The very fact that this mandate was created was an acknowledgement of the value of the work of human rights defenders. Their work had to be overseen by the international community so human rights were protected and promoted. There had to be movements on the national level, however, to protect those defenders.
Concerning impunity, she said, it was a very serious human rights problem. Several complaints had been received, and they had been forwarded to governments, but little attention had been paid to them. Human rights violations had to be investigated and prosecuted.
Ms. Jilani said the methods of work were the same as those employed by other human rights mechanisms. The Special Representatives received complaints, but she also took a proactive approach and sought complaints. It was important to verify the information received before any communication was sent to a government. No communication was sent without verification of at least three or four sources. There was no region of the world that was free from complaints and from communications about complaints.
Concerning the responsibility of human rights advocates, she said the State had the responsibility to adopt steps that might be necessary to create conditions to ensure that all persons were able to enjoy all human rights and fundamental freedoms. Human rights defenders had the duty to play a role in safeguarding democracy, and protecting and promoting human rights and fundamental freedoms.
The representative of Cuba said that ever since the beginning of the mandate, emphasis had been put on protection and defence of the defenders, and their responsibilities had been side-stepped. How could the international community ensure that the defenders lived up to their responsibilities?
The delegate of Mexico said she appreciated the Special Representative's delicate work and shared the view of the Special Representative that the work of regional seminars was important.
Ms. JILANI said Cuba raised questions that it had already raised in a communication to her, and the Special Representative referred her to the printed response for a more in-depth answer.
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