13 November 2001


General Debate Opens on Human Rights

NEW YORK, 13 November (UN Headquarters) -- Following years of widespread violations of human rights in Afghanistan that distressed the international community, countries now would be focusing on implementing a political process there that would lead to the restoration of a civil society with respect for all human rights and fundamental freedoms, several delegations told the Third Committee (Social, Humanitarian and Cultural) this morning.

The remarks came as the Committee opened its general debate on issues relating to human rights. The speakers made references to the situation of the promotion and protection of human rights in dozens of countries from every region of the world. But it was Afghanistan, in which the international battle against terrorism was being waged, which garnered significant attention.

The representative of Norway, which would be taking over the chairmanship of the Afghan Support Group in January 2002, said his country would look carefully within the United Nations system and at bilateral donors in order to ensure coordination of humanitarian and long-term development assistance in Afghanistan. In addition to massive violations of humanitarian law, the Taliban for years had shown a lack of respect for civil, political, social and economic rights. Women had been effectively excluded from participation in the country’s economic, social and political life. And because of the Taliban’s treatment of women, children subsequently suffered limited access to health care, education and food.

Fighting terrorism and promoting human rights and fundamental freedoms, Norway’s representative said, were part of the same effort to uphold the values on which all had built their existence. The delegate from Algeria agreed, stressing that the first right of any individual was the right to life. That was among the many reasons Algeria was committed to fighting terrorism, and why it called on the international community to mobilize against this phenomenon.

The representative of Algeria and other speakers stressed that all human rights needed to be respected. Referring to the 1993 Vienna Conference on Human Rights, he said the final documents stated economic and social rights should benefit from the same treatment and the same concern as the civil and political rights. An individual needed decent housing, sufficient food, minimal education and adequate health care -- rights enshrined in the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights -- before civil and political rights could be exercised or enjoyed.

Others taking the floor emphasized that respecting human rights meant respecting the unique cultures and heritages of all countries and regions. Human rights were not exclusive to one particular civilization -- they were shared, and no country had the right to give good grades to some countries while stigmatizing others.

Participating in today’s deliberations were representatives of Belgium (on behalf of the European Union), Uruguay (on behalf of Southern Common Market (MERCOSUR)), Sudan, Mexico, Saudi Arabia, Canada and the Russian Federation.

Also speaking were the observer of the Holy See and a representative of the European Community.

The Committee will reconvene at 3 p.m. to continue its discussion on human rights issues.


The Third Committee (Social, Humanitarian and Cultural) met this morning to begin its formal debate of human rights questions, including alternative approaches for improving the effective enjoyment of human rights and fundamental freedoms.

STEPHANE DE LOECKER (Belgium), on behalf of the European Union, said the Union was based on the principles of liberty, democracy and respect for all human rights. Since 1999, the European Council had published an annual report on human rights. That gave an idea about the policies within the European Union, as well as updates on the situation of discrimination, racism, and trafficking, among others, in the countries of the European Union. The abolition of the death penalty would help further respect human rights. The right to life was the most basic human right. The European Union was heartened to see some countries call for a moratorium for the death penalty, and the States that had not agreed to abolish it, or call for a moratorium, were asked to curb the number of executions as soon as possible.

Mr. De Loecker said the European Union expressed its concern about the human rights situation in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Sudan, Iraq and Iran. There was also concern about the grave violations in Afghanistan, and it condemned the practices of the Taliban. The European Union was gravely concerned about recent developments, such as arrests for religious practices. Women in Afghanistan had their rights systematically violated and cancelled. As winter was approaching, there was concern about the vulnerable people there. The Afghan transition had to include a full respect for human rights. The European Union called on the central Asian countries to fully respect human rights and fundamental freedoms, as the transition period set in in Afghanistan.

He said there could not be a military solution to the Burundi crisis. The European Union called upon the rebel movements that had not yet ceased fire to do so, and take part in peace negotiations. Ethiopia and Eritrea should both release prisoners of war. The European Union condemned the abandonment by Guinea of its moratorium on the death penalty, which had been in place in 1984. The European Union was gravely concerned about the human rights situation in Togo, and was also concerned about the situation in Zimbabwe. The agreement concluded by Zimbabwe had given hope the conflicts would end, but that had not yet been realized.

During the past year, the Israeli presence in the occupied Palestinian territory had led to human rights problems, he said. The European Union urged Israel to show restraint in its military force and condemned the limitation of movement of the Palestinian people and their treatment, as well as the violations of the international humanitarian law there. It called on the Palestinian Authority to do everything it could do to bring to justice the perpetrators of acts of terror, especially those who targeted civilians.

Although steps had been taken in Syria, the European Union noted an attitude among the civilian authorities of mistreatment of human rights defenders, he said. It urged Syria to adopt measures that would ensure an open and tolerant climate in the society. The European Union condemned violence against human rights defenders in Colombia, and was disappointed that the death penalty continued to be carried out in Guatemala. The situation in Haiti also caused concern.

The European Union noted with pleasure that the elections in Bangladesh had been held smoothly, he continued. It was pleased that China was committing to United Nations human rights agreements, but there was concern about its use of capital punishment. It was also concerned about the treatment of members of Falun Gong and refugees from North Korea. The situation of human rights in North Korea was as deplorable today as it was last year. In India, the local population in Kashmir continued to suffer from terrorist attacks, and the European Union was concerned about that violence. The European Union welcomed the new Indonesian Government, and encouraged it to speed up its work to ensure the promotion and protection of human rights. Human rights were still being violated in Laos. In Myanmar, the situation was very disturbing. There were executions, forced disappearances, mass arrests and rape and torture.

Turning to other situations, he said that in Nepal, the European Union called on the leaders to cease all violence in order to establish an atmosphere conducive to peace. The European Union welcomed Pakistan's scheduling of elections in 2002, but it was concerned about discrimination based on gender and religion. The situation of human rights in Thailand had stayed the same in the last year, but the country had ratified International Labour Organization (ILO) Convention 182 and established a national commission on human rights. In Saudi Arabia, the European Union deplored the use of inhuman sentences, and the difficulty prisoners had in accessing the legal system. It was also concerned about the treatment of women there. In Tunisia, although there had been positive changes, it had to be noted that the human rights situation did not improve significantly.

In Angola, there was far-reaching concern, he said, as the population still faced the harmful consequences of civil war. Also, the European Union was still concerned about the human rights situation in Cameroon, where there were still extrajudicial and illegal executions. In Kenya, there were questions about the independence of the judiciary, and the excessive use of force by the police. It was regrettable that Liberia had not taken steps to improve the situation for people in that country. In Uganda, there was concern that political parties did not have a chance to function. In Cuba, the European Union hoped the Government would sign certain human rights treaties and abolish capital punishment.

In the Russian Federation, the European Union welcomed the statement of President Putin against reinstating capital punishment, but it was preoccupied with the situation in Chechnya. There was persistent impunity among Russian security forces. Russia was called upon to improve the situation for humanitarian workers in Chechnya and in the surrounding areas. Freedom of expression, particularly freedom of the press, continued to be a problem in Ukraine. As Turkey was hoping to join the European Union, there was concern that capital punishment would still be applicable in times of war. The situation in Cyprus had unfortunately not changed. The European Union called upon all parties involved to participate in the negotiations so the conflict could be resolved.

The European Union, he said, welcomed the fact that Mexico did not interfere with the work of non-governmental organizations (NGOs). In Peru, the new President voiced political will to improve the situation of human rights. The European Union welcomed the fact that the new Government in Albania was committed to fighting corruption and the trafficking of human beings, particularly women. It hoped the situation in the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia could be improved with dialogue and negotiations. Even though there had been improvement, there was still concern about the human rights situation in Bosnia and Herzegovina. The European Union called upon all parties to support the agreed-upon peace accords. The European Union welcomed the progress in Croatia. The European Union congratulated the people and political leaders of the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia.

The union was also watching carefully and optimistically about the reforms taking place in Algeria, he said. Despite the incidents in Mozambique, which had cost many people their lives last October, the European Union was heartened to see that improvements were being made. In Sierra Leone, the European Union welcomed the role the United Nations was playing. There was a positive evolution of human rights in Cambodia, although weaknesses still existed.

FELIPE H. PAOLILLO (Uruguay), speaking on behalf of the Southern Common Market (MERCOSUR) and its Associated States, Bolivia and Chile, said his delegation had included in its charter its commitment to the protection and promotion of human rights, as well as defending democratic institutions. Those principles acquired binding force in 1998 with the adoption of the Protocol of Ushuaia, Argentina, or the "democracy clause of the MERCOSUR". That legal instrument highlighted the notion that respect for democratic institutions was an essential condition for promoting the process of integration between parties.

He said his delegation was also convinced of the importance of strengthening international mechanisms for the protection of human rights, especially within the framework of the United Nations. To that end, last October, MERCOSUR had held a workshop in his country that addressed the question of the application of international human rights norms by national tribunals and courts. That had been the first project in the field of cooperation between MERCOSUR Member States and the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights. The specific objectives of that meeting included, among others, promoting application of international human rights laws at national levels and facilitating the exchange of national experiences on techniques that could be used to achieve that goal.

He said that work in the field of human rights, including the promotion of democracy and strengthening the rule of law, was an ongoing task. If the global community wished to ensure the effective fulfillment of international obligations guaranteeing genuine enjoyment of human rights for all, it was essential to further develop cooperation. The efforts of MERCOSUR at the national and regional levels to that end must be complemented by the cooperation of the United Nations.

RENATO R. MARTINO, Observer for the Holy See, said his delegation was pleased with some aspects of the report prepared by the Special Rapporteur on freedom of religion or belief, particularly the identification of situations where positive improvements had been made in curbing intolerance and discrimination. He was concerned, however, that the report revealed, in many parts of the world, persistent discriminatory policies or practices in States having an official religion, the increase of extremism and the gradual shift towards non-belief within broader society.

At the heart of every culture was the attitude humanity took toward the greatest of all mysteries -- the mystery of God. Indeed, he continued, different cultures throughout history and throughout the world testified to the many and varied ways in which people faced the question of the meaning of existence. Religion expressed the deepest aspirations of human persons and shaped worldviews and relationships with others. Therefore, religious freedom was at the very heart of human rights. With that in mind, it was sad that there were still many places in the world where the right to gather and worship was either not recognized at all or was limited to members of one religion.

He went on to say that, despite the various national and international declarations proclaiming the right to freedom of religion and conscience, there were still too many cases of religious repression. It was common knowledge that there were many nations in which individuals as well as families and groups were discriminated against and marginalized because of their beliefs. That was a grave violation of fundamental rights. Still, he renewed his delegation’s conviction that resorting to violence in the name of religious belief was a perversion of the very teachings of many religions. Any strategy to quell such violence must assist believers to recognize with joy the religious values people had in common. The commitment to religious tolerance and collaboration must be based upon the conversion of hearts and upon prayer, which would lead to the necessary purification of past memories.

ABDELOUAHAB OSMANE (Algeria) said the Vienna Conference on Human Rights was important, since it reaffirmed the universality of human rights. The Conference also stated that economic and social rights should benefit from the same treatment and the same concern as civil and political rights, since an individual needed decent housing, sufficient food, minimal education and adequate health care before he or she could exercise her civil and political rights. Human rights and democracy were a long-term process that required a favourable socio-economic climate. Human rights did not belong to one particular civilization –- they were shared, and no country had the right to give good grades to some countries and stigmatize others. The graders also had a way to go to fully respect human rights. Development aid and assistance that tried to influence governments did not further the cause of human rights, and it did not help suffering populations.

Algeria, he continued, had ended one party rule in 1989. Democratic pluralism was the rule of law, and market economics was the commitment of the Government. At the same time, Algeria had to combat terrorism. The right to life was the first right of any individual, and Algeria waged a battle to protect itself against terrorism. Algeria called on the international community to mobilize against that phenomenon. His Government had ratified all international instruments on human rights, and had regularly submitted its periodic reports. Algeria encouraged visits of all human rights NGOs, and wanted transparency. Despite its hardships, Algeria was committed to political pluralism, and it would continue to go in that direction at its own pace.

ARNE HONNINGSTAD (Norway) said the events of the last few months had significantly altered the world situation. Terrorist attacks on New York and Washington, D.C., had been attacks on human dignity everywhere. Indiscriminate killing of innocent human beings could never be justified, no matter the objective or the cause. Under those new and difficult circumstances, it was imperative for the international community not to lose focus and to continue its efforts to promote and protect human rights and fundamental freedoms. Fighting terrorism and promoting human rights and fundamental freedoms were part of the same effort to uphold the values on which all had built their existence.

Norway had been distressed for years by widespread violations of human rights in Afghanistan, he said. Taking the Chair of the Afghan Support Group in January 2002, Norway would look carefully within the United Nations system and at bilateral donors in order to ensure coordination of humanitarian and long-term development assistance in that country. Norway’s efforts would also focus on ensuring a political process that would lead to restoration of a civil society with respect for human rights. The Taliban did not only violate humanitarian laws; for years, lack of respect for civil, political, social and economic rights had been the rule in Afghanistan. Women had been effectively excluded from participation in the country’s economic, social and political life. Because of the Taliban’s treatment of women, children subsequently had suffered limited access to healthcare, education and food.

He went on to highlight his Government’s concern for the human rights situations in several other countries. On Myanmar, he urged the restoration of democracy, the pursuit of national reconciliation and the protection of human rights. Norway had been cautiously encouraged by the improvement of the political climate over the past few years. In Iraq, grave violations of human rights were also a concern, particularly reports of extra-judicial killings, torture and lack of freedom of expression. He implored the Government to initiate reform in order to improve the living conditions of the Iraqi people and to cooperate with the United Nations at all levels, particularly with respect to implementation of relevant Security Council resolutions. He also expressed concern about the situation in Cuba and Cambodia.

Norway was concerned with the situation on the African continent as well, he said. Disarming rebel groups in the Democratic Republic of the Congo had proved a particularly complex challenge. On Ethiopia and Eritrea, he urged the respective Governments to fulfill their commitments as stipulated in the Algiers agreement and to release all prisoners of war. The high level of politically motivated violence and the deteriorating humanitarian situation in Zimbabwe was also disturbing.

Throughout the years, his country’s ongoing dialogue with China had been most constructive, he said. Norway appreciated China’s efforts to improve its legal system and human rights standards, as well as social and economic conditions for its citizens. There was still room for further improvement however, particularly the country’s treatment of prisoners, freedom of speech and association, and the extensive use of the death penalty. The human rights situation in Tibet was also a cause for concern.

OMER BASHIR MANIS (Sudan) said his Government believed in the inter-dependence and the inter-relatedness of all human rights. His Government had moved towards giving all human rights constitutional legitimacy. A Constitutional Court had been established which would protect the rights enshrined in the Constitution. More than 30 political parties had been registered in the country, and they had started their work. It was cooperating internationally as well. His Government this year twice received the Special Rapporteur on human rights in Sudan. It also welcomed a United Nations mission to help with technical assistance. And the Government was visited by the Special Rapporteur on children in armed conflicts. Sudan submitted its reports to the various human rights treaty bodies, and it participated in regional forums, as well.

He said his Government had tried to find a peaceful solution to the conflict with the south. Sudan had declared a complete cease fire and had offered amnesty for all who bore weapons. This was what needed to be done to establish a just and permanent peace. His Government had responded to all regional peaceful initiatives, as well and wanted to find solutions to the war. It was regrettable that the rebel movement had not accepted those overtures. The fact the terrorist rebel movements refused to reach agreements with his Government proved it only wanted to prolong the war. Rebels regularly attacked United Nations personnel and humanitarian and military convoys.

He said there was no State free from human rights excesses or violations. The culture and diversity of States had to be respected when dealing with human rights. Care should be taken so no State was belittled. The potential of people had to be built up. The real and important test for each State was to make sure it respected and protected human rights itself.

JORGE EDUARDO NAVARRETE (Mexico) said his Government recognized in the notion of respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms a universality that should be equally respected and shouldered by States and the international community as a whole. As in the past, Mexico would submit two draft resolutions with the objective of expressing the will of the international community to ensure the protection of the rights of migrants and to achieve the entry into force of the Convention on the protection of migrant workers and their families.

Unfortunately, he continued, migrant workers continued to suffer grave violations of their human rights as well as discrimination and marginalization. The international community should support the implementation of instruments with the sole aim of improving the living conditions of migrants and protecting their families.

Rather than focus on the human rights situations in other countries, he would highlight his own country’s efforts to ensure fundamental rights and freedoms for its people. Mexico’s commitment to that goal had been reflected in many recent initiatives, particularly in his Government’s decision to open the archives of State security agencies. That would facilitate clearing up past and present actions concerning the country’s human rights efforts. Broad cooperation with the international community in all Mexico’s efforts would be crucial. His Government had signed a technical agreement with the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, and its offer to set up an Office within the country had been accepted.

Mexico’s efforts and actions demonstrated the political will of the present Government to radically transform the situation of human rights, he continued. He was aware that efforts had been clouded by the recent assassination of Ms. Digna Ochoa, a well-known human rights defender within that country. That act had been barbarous and particularly unfortunate at a time when the country had made so much progress in the area of human rights. The President had condemned the killing and had initiated a broad investigation aimed at identifying and punishing those responsible for that reprehensible act. He hoped to have a visit from the Special Representative of the Secretary-General on human rights defenders very soon. Mexico was aware that there was a long road ahead to build and sustain a democratic environment that could ensure broad protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms. His Government was committed to achieving that noble goal.

KHALID ALSELMI (Saudi Arabia) said international efforts to protect human rights did not take into account the different cultures and heritages that were prevalent around the world. Often the human rights bodies missed opportunities to take advantage of the practices of the diverse communities all across the world. Important to the concept of human rights was the principle of universal tolerance. Values should not be exported -- they should not be a model to be imitated. The universality of rights necessitated that the culture, historical and religious differences of each community be taken into account. They could not be forced on people who found them alien.

In Saudi Arabia, the Government was working to safeguard human rights and human dignity, he said. Those rights were sacred, and they could not be abrogated, amended or suppressed. The Government had faith in the principles and noble concepts contained in the human rights instruments -- that was why it had adopted four of the international human rights mechanisms. Saudi Arabia ensured the protection of its citizens, and the people who lived and worked in its territory. The principle of free association was guaranteed. Human tolerance was a necessary condition for the protection of human rights. Although the people of Saudi Arabia followed Islam, Islam dictated the respect of other religions, and the rights of non-Muslims in Saudi Arabia were protected.

The respect for human rights was a collective responsibility, he said. It was not to be monopolized by one. Saudi Arabia was committed to serious work in this area. All countries should work toward protecting human rights in all parts of the world, and particularly in the Occupied Palestinian Territory. It was important to have a realistic approach to human rights issues that took into account the cultural uniqueness of people. Human rights should not be used as a pretext for unjustified interference in a country's sovereign affairs.

GILBERT LAURIN (Canada) said the events of 11 September had led to the exacerbation of feelings of fear and intolerance throughout the world. The international community must respond with renewed commitment to ensure the tenets of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Although it was for different reasons that the world was now focused on Afghanistan, Canada continued to condemn the human rights record of the Taliban regime. That regime had officially sanctioned the oppression of women and girls and had engaged in systematic policies of repression resulting in appalling, widespread suffering and displacement of persons. He urged the global community to do all it could to alleviate the suffering of the Afghan people and to help them find a way forward to ensure their security, provide better governance and offer greater assurances of respect for human rights.

He went on to highlight human rights situations in various other countries which had drawn Canada’s attention. On Iraq, he said the Government continued to show complete disregard for the rights and dignity of its citizens. He urged Iraqi authorities to end arbitrary detention and torture, and to end execution of political or religious opponents. In Burma, Canada remained concerned at the authority’s particularly harsh treatment of ethnic minorities and those living in border regions. However, he had been encouraged by some positive developments in that country, including the release of some political prisoners and the reopening of some of the National League of Democracy (NDL) offices.

He said Canada was also heartened by the re-election of Iranian President Khatami. But that clear expression of a will to change stood in stark contrast to the steady deterioration in the human rights situation in the country over the past year. He also welcomed Pakistan President Musharraf’s announcement of a "Roadmap for Democracy", as well as that country’s efforts to develop long-term reform. While recognizing the burden both Pakistan and Iran shared with respect to Afghan refugees, he urged both Governments to continue to offer protection to those Afghans in need consistent with international humanitarian and refugee laws. He further welcomed China’s ratification of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights but regretted the accompanying reservation which weakened the effect of that ratification.

He went on to say that his Government was deeply concerned about Cuba’s use of detention, harassment and imprisonment of individuals for activities that were completely legitimate with respect to the country’s international human rights commitments. He expressed concern for the human rights situation of many countries on the African continent, including Zimbabwe, Ethiopia, Eritrea, and Côte d’Ivoire. The dramatic deterioration in the Middle East had demonstrated all too clearly the fragility of the peace process there, as well as how respect for human rights could easily give way to violence and terrorism. Canada urged the Israeli Government and the Palestinian Authority to use the recommendations of the Mitchell report as a basis to end the cycle of violence. He said that no country in the world was beyond criticism for its human rights violations, even his own. However, in the present uncertain times Canada reaffirmed its commitment to the protection and promotion of human rights.

VLADIMIR A. PARSHIKOV (Russian Federation) said the Committee’s debate was taking place at a turning point for humankind. The tragic events of 11 September had highlighted the notion that it was time to rethink many long-standing positions and beliefs. It was clear that the international system for ensuring human rights and freedoms was not capable in coping with new challenges. Stereotypes and short-sighted opinions held over from the past had kept the international community from forecasting recent changes in the world situation. Priority steps should be taken, including recasting existing instruments and mechanisms to take into account terrorist activity, impunity and other realities of the day.

He said the policies of the Taliban authorities had caused Afghanistan to become a centre for terrorist activity, violation of human rights and drug trafficking, among others. The Special Rapporteur on the human rights situation there had identified sadistic torture and mass killings, even the skinning of children. There was no excuse for such barbarism. That regime had even refused to turn over those responsible for the horrendous terrorist attacks of 11 September or to ensure the disbanding of identified terrorist actors. The Taliban also exploited religion with the aim of spreading hatred and intolerance. The future of the country depended on ensuring the creation of a fully representative and participatory Government that could protect and promote the needs of its long-suffering people.

Russia was also concerned with the human rights situation in a number of Balkan countries. Despite progress in some areas, the rights of Russian speaking populations had been infringed upon. There was a similar concern at the negative trends in the Commonwealth of Independent States where the Russian way of life was being hampered. Overall, he said, to make democracy universal it was necessary to make development universal. At least, all could sincerely work to close the gap between rich and poor. What was needed was not political lynching but international cooperation; not new "iron curtains" but painstaking work to find honest solutions to some of the most troubling issues of the day.

PAOLA AMADEI (European Community) said last June, the European Union General Affairs Council had endorsed the European Commission communication on the role of the European Union in promoting human rights and democratization in third countries. In this communication, the human rights policy of the European Union for the short-to-medium term was set out in a clear and comprehensive way. Lines of contact between the European Union institutions were being strengthened to improve the consistency and coherency of European Union policy on human rights.

Human rights, she said, did not exist in a vacuum within institutions -- it was through dialogue and agreement that the cause of human rights was advanced. The European Union had made a clear commitment to improve existing dialogues on human rights with third countries and would continue its efforts to reinvigorate discussions on human rights with partners at the regional level. Dialogue had coalesced into concrete undertakings in the form of the human rights clause which was included systematically in all Community agreements since 1995. The clause was a mutual recognition that respect for human rights was an essential element of those agreements, and was intended to provide both a positive means of encouragement and, in the event of a serious breach, restrictive measures.

Non-governmental organizations (NGOs), she said, were principle recipients of Community human rights funding under the European Initiative for Democracy and Human Rights. Resources available for such assistance were limited and should be focused as effectively as possible. To that end, the European Initiative for Democracy and Human Rights had been targeted on four key themes -- support to strengthen democratization; good governance and the rule of law; activities to support the abolition of the death penalty; and support for the fight against torture and impunity. In addition, funding under those priorities would be concentrated on a smaller number of countries which had been selected after extensive consultations with European Union Member States, and with a view to maintaining geographical balance. Focusing the thematic and geographic scope in this way did not imply that other human rights issues or countries no longer concerned the European Union, but rather acknowledged that action must bring a tangible contribution to efforts to advance a coherent European Union human rights policy.

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