Press Releases

    3 April 2002


    Committee Also Hears Results of November 2001
    Madrid Conference on Education in Relation to Freedom of Religion

    NEW YORK, 2 April (UN Headquarters) --The Human Rights Committee met this afternoon to discuss how its work, and that of other human rights monitoring bodies, could help implement the decisions adopted at recent international conferences on racism and religious intolerance.

    The Committee’s 18 expert members -- charged with monitoring the implementation of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights -- were briefed on the outcome of the World Conference against Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and Related Intolerance, held in Durban, South Africa, from 31 August to 8 September 2001. They also heard a briefing on the results of the International Consultative Conference on School Education in Relation to Freedom of Religion and Belief, Tolerance and Non-Discrimination, which was held in Madrid from 23 to 25 November 2001.

    Committee Chairman Prafullachandra Natwarlal Bhagwati of India stressed that monitoring bodies must use their concluding observations and final recommendations as tools to help encourage States parties to implement the important human rights principles emphasized at those meetings. They must, with the help of non-governmental organizations (NGOs), educators and other civil society actors, raise awareness about the importance of ratifying international human rights treaties and covenants, as well as promote the critical work being undertaken by the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights.

    Hipolito Solari Yregoyen of Argentina, the Committee’s observer at the World Conference against Racism, highlighted the proceedings and negotiations in Durban. He said the Conference had approved two important outcome documents -- the Durban Declaration and Platform of Action -– and he felt it was important for the members of the Committee to use their particular expertise to assist all the efforts of Member States in the implementation of the principles outlined in those documents.

    He went on to recall that while press reports had highlighted the political difficulties surrounding the negotiation of various topics discussed at Durban -- particularly concerning the Middle East -- Mary Robinson, the High Commissioner for Human Right, had stressed that Durban was not the end but the beginning of a process that would jump-start an anti-discrimination agenda for the world.

    He drew special attention to the Programme of Action, which, in some sections, spoke specifically to the various international treaty-monitoring bodies, urging them, for example, to promote and apply the 1951 Guidelines Regarding the Treatment of Internally Displaced Persons, as well as to encourage broad ratification of the important legal instruments under their respective auspices. States were also urged to continue to cooperate with the monitoring bodies in order to promote, through constructive and transparent dialogue, the tenets of the relevant instruments.

    He added that the Plan also requested the High Commissioner to follow up with independent experts from each region with a view to ensuring that implementation initiatives could be included in her annual report to the General Assembly. He stressed that the Committee, along with other treaty bodies, must provide the information needed to assist Mrs. Robinson as the worldwide anti-discrimination agenda began to take shape.

    Maurice Glele Ahanhanzo of Benin, Special Rapporteur on Racism and Racial Discrimination, said Durban was an important turning point in the history of the United Nations. Regarding future action, he suggested that the Committee’s final comments be made public to inform the international community what the Committee had done. People tended to think it was just a privileged club.

    General comments should be collected and published in a book, so that they would be known, he continued. Conclusions and recommendations linked to recurring themes should also be published, so that universities in countries of the South would be aware of what the Committee did.

    Abdelfattah Amor of Tunisia reported on the Madrid Conference on School Education in Relation to Freedom of Religion and Belief, where he served as Chairman. That Conference had occurred at a special time, and many hopes had been voiced that it would have a positive outcome. It brought together 800 to 1,000 people from 80 States, several NGOs, intergovernmental organizations and several religious groups, as well as both conventional and unconventional human rights groups.

    The Conference’s draft outcome document was adopted by consensus on 25 November, and those with reservations made no statements against it. It contained a preamble about relevant international instruments and principles. The operative part dealt with education, particularly schoolbooks propagating intolerance and discrimination. Discussions noted that some countries needed teachers who were properly trained in educating children against discrimination.

    At the non-State level, several religious groups and NGOs had published the Madrid document, he continued. Human rights groups had issued manuals, and model text books were now being discussed to promote tolerance and non-discrimination. Non-governmental organizations had found the text useful in their work to promote non-discrimination. He added that the Madrid outcome document was in the form of a resolution, and the intention was to present it to the General Assembly.

    The Committee will meet again at a time to be announced.

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