Press Releases

    28 October 2005

    Third Committee Hears Call for Sudan to Implement Peace Agreement, New Constitution without Delay, as It Continues Human Rights Discussion

    Reports also Heard on Rights to Development, Food; Human Rights Situations in Burundi, Myanmar, Democratic People's Republic of Korea

    NEW YORK, 27 October (UN Headquarters) -- The Sudanese Government of National Unity should implement the Comprehensive Peace Agreement and the new Interim National Constitution without further delay, focusing particularly on protecting and promoting Sudanese human rights, Sima Samar, Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Sudan, told the Third Committee (Social, Humanitarian and Cultural) today as it continued its debate on human rights questions.

    Sudanese officials should also work closely with the African Union Mission in Sudan (AMIS) to deploy police in vulnerable areas in Darfur to protect civilians, particularly in internally displaced persons camps, from harassment and murder, and prevent women from rape and violent attacks.  Moreover, they should work with civil society, independent experts, jurists and human rights constituencies to harmonize national laws with international human rights instruments ratified by the Sudan.

    Ms. Samar, who conducted a fact-finding mission to the Sudan from 15 to 22 October, said the country had embarked on a difficult path of peacebuilding, reconciliation and reconstruction, marked by delays in implementing the peace agreement and harmonizing national legislation with the Interim National Constitution, which recognized international human rights standards as integral.

    While noting progress made -- a new Government of National Unity, adoption of a new interim national constitution and peace talks on Darfur taking place in neighbouring Nigeria -- she said a culture of impunity for perpetrators of human rights violations still existed, particularly in Darfur.  While authorities had acknowledged the violence, they had contested the magnitude of the problem and steps taken to stop it had not produced tangible results thus far, she said, stressing that an end to impunity was vital to sustainable peace.  She urged authorities to coordinate with law enforcement and the judiciary to bring violators to justice, as well as ensure that detainees were not subject to ill-treatment and torture during pre-trial detention.

    Turning to the issue of the right to food, Jean Ziegler, Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food, said undernourishment was increasing in a terrifying way south of the Sahara.  In three years, the number of malnourished sub-Saharan Africans had jumped from 88 million to more than 200 million.  The international community had responded tragically slowly to the catastrophe, failing to mobilize food aid for 31 African countries, despite the fact that the Secretary-General had personally visited the Niger to understand and support a movement of solidarity, and Mr. Ziegler had also, at the request of the African Group, travelled to the Niger in July.

    Member States' promise to halve hunger in accordance with the Millennium Development Goals was clearly an honourable initiative.  But the reality was that 100,000 people were dying of hunger every day, and 856 million people, or one person out of six, in the world were undernourished.  That was occurring when world agriculture was capable of feeding 12 billion people, double the current world population.  In addition, he pointed to the one-third reduction in food rations to the world's 60 million worldwide by the World Food Programme due to drastic funding cuts.  Rations were now below the absolute minimum of calories set by the World Health Organization (WHO), making it impossible for food-aid groups to meet the minimum criteria for survival.

    Human rights must be a priority over all other rights, he said, stressing that human rights and the right to food must be a dominant norm and requirement for all inter-State organizations such as the World Trade Organization (WTO) and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and in all negotiations that States conducted within the framework of those organizations.  However, that was not the case, he said, urging all States to, in fact, respect international standards.

    Akich Okola, Independent Expert on the Situation of Human Rights in Burundi; Ibarahim Salama, Chairperson of the Working Group on the Right to Development of the Commission on Human Rights; and Paulo Sergio Pinheiro, Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Myanmar, also made statements and answered questions from Committee members.

    Vitit Muntarbhorn, Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Democratic People's Republic of Korea, also addressed the Committee and is expected to hear and respond to questions from Committee members tomorrow.

    The Committee will meet again at 10 a.m. on Friday, 28 October, to continue its debate on human rights questions.


    The Third Committee (Social, Humanitarian and Cultural) met today to continue its general discussion of human rights questions.

    For more background information, please see Press Releases GA/SHC/3828 of 24 October, GA/SHC/3829 of 25 October and GA/SHC/3830 of 26 October.

    Human Rights in Burundi

    Presenting his report, AKICH OKOLA, Independent Expert on the Situation of Human Rights in Burundi, said the document was based on his third mission to the country, which took place from 2 to 10 July 2005, coinciding with the legislative elections held on 4 July.  It covered the period from January to 15 August 2005, although he had undertaken a subsequent mission from 4 to 15 October.  In general, during the reporting period, the peace process in Burundi had been advancing steadily, he said.  There had been significant progress in the legislative process and the security and human rights situations had improved.  A new constitution had been promulgated on 22 March, following a referendum in which more than 92 per cent of voters had participated.

    He said he had paid special attention to the issue of the Truth Commission in his meetings with Government officials, as well as in meetings with civil society, including the clergy, but there was no clarity on how the process would develop and what should be done with the truth.  Prisons were overcrowded, and among the many people in the overcrowded prisons were a number who had spent up to 10 years without knowing why they were in prison, and had neither been charged nor tried.  That was an unacceptable situation.  The security situation had improved, although the Forces nationales de liberation (FNL) had still not joined the negotiations and continued to inflict brutality on the civilian population.  According to information that he had received, the FNL operated virtually as a terror organization.  Banditry had also increased due to the proliferation of small arms and increased poverty.  It was committed mainly by the military and ex-combatants.  To their credit, the current Government and the past interim Government of Burundi had tried to create a national army, and that had worked fairly well, although they continued to experience difficulties.

    During his visit, he had noted that numerous violations of the right to life were continuing, and that would remain the case so long as there was not complete peace in Burundi.  As observed in previous reports, the overwhelming majority of the people who were caught in the crunch between the FNL and the national army were civilians.  Regrettably, most perpetrators were not prosecuted, particularly where the military was involved.  Those violations that were reported were not necessarily the only ones, because many people did not report them for fear of reprisals or because of a lack of confidence in the judicial system.  Furthermore, the violations of the right to liberty, security and inviolability of the person still abounded.  Sexual violence, including gang rapes, continued to be a problem in the country, with the victims being mainly female minors, some as young as two, but also young boys.  The number of displaced persons remained high, exceeding 116,000 persons spread among 160 sites.

    There had been some progress in women's representation in the legislative bodies after the elections, he said.  However, children's fundamental, civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights continued to be violated on a regular basis.  Furthermore, he could not report on any improvement in the situation of economic, social and cultural rights in the period concerned, although he had been informed of measures aimed to improve governance and combat corruption.  Burundi continued to be among the five nations with the lowest human development index in the world.  In light of his findings, he urged that the Government and the FNL negotiate, and that the Government take appropriate steps to combat impunity for sexual violence, among other actions.  He also urged the international community to participate in the process of reconstruction, and to disburse their pledges as soon as possible.


    In the discussion following Mr. OKOLA's statement, representatives questioned him on such issues as the Truth and Reconciliation Commission in Burundi and assistance to alleviate human rights violations in the country.  Specifically, the representative of Chile asked how the international community could contribute to the process of truth and reconciliation in Burundi, while Indonesia's representative asked for elaboration on how such a Commission would contribute to the promotion of human rights.

    In response, Mr. OKOLA said he had had many meetings with Government officials in Burundi on the subject.  A Truth Commission could not be imposed on them from the outside, and they must be comfortable with it on their own.  It should, however, meet certain standards.  What had emerged during his meetings was that everybody had agreed that there was a need for such a mechanism, but not everyone agreed on what to do with the truth.  He believed that Burundi was still trying to digest the question of what to do with the truth.

    Burundi's representative said his delegation understood that a report of the nature of Mr. OKOLA's clearly could not praise a country that was only just recovering from about 10 years of civil war.  However, it believed that there was a way to have a more positive reading regarding the most recent developments in his country.  Many things had changed in the country since the start of the peace process, and although some progress had been mentioned in today's oral presentation, that did not change the content of the written report.  Highlighting several examples in the report that needed to be clarified, he said his Government would nonetheless take into account all of the recommendations made.  While the report was not without merit, the Independent Expert's next report should be more up to date than this one, because the current one that had been submitted just included facts before August 2005.

    In response, Mr. OKOLA said his report needed to be supplemented by today's oral presentation because a number of things had clearly happened in Burundi, since the submission, that must be read together for a complete understanding of the situation.  The report needed to be submitted within a specific time frame under the regulations established by the United Nations, and therefore he had had no choice but to submit it.  He had tried in his oral presentation to provide an update on those areas where he thought changes had taken place, such as an improvement in the situation regarding child soldiers, but that did not mean that there was not a number of things that were still happening that needed to be called to the attention of the Government, such as the fact that the number of rapes was rising.  While he acknowledged the fact that many positive things had happened, there were still certain things that the Government of Burundi needed to do.

    Answering a question by the representative of United Republic of Tanzania on specific interventions that should be made to alleviate human rights abuses in Burundi, Mr. OKOLA said that what needed to be done in concrete terms by the international community was to hold the FNL accountable.  The international community needed to intervene, and it had a responsibility to make sure that the FNL either negotiated or was dealt with in some appropriate manner.  Another way that practical assistance could be given was through development assistance, and, as he had mentioned, Burundi could not do it on its own.

    The representative of the United Kingdom asked what could be done to improve the situation in Burundi, especially regarding reinstating confidence in the judiciary and combating the phenomenon of sexual violence cases that were not reported, while Canada's representative asked to what extent development of a lasting peace in Burundi depended on the progress of addressing impunity.

    Mr. OKOLA said that as long as there were people walking around in Burundi who had done bad things, the impression that the international community was going to create was that it was comfortable with such actions.

    Human Rights in the Sudan

    SIMA SAMAR, Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Sudan, said that during her visit to the Sudan from 15 to 22 October, she had met with senior Government official, civil society representatives and the diplomatic community, including the Vice President, in Juba in southern Sudan and local officials and representatives of the African Union and civil society in Nyala, Darfur.  She also visited the Kalma camp outside Nyala for internally displaced persons, the prisons of Juba and Kober prison in Khartoum.

    She said the Sudan had embarked on a difficult path of peacebuilding, reconciliation and reconstruction.  She noted positive political developments, including inauguration of a new Government of National Unity, adoption of a new interim national constitution, and peace talks on Darfur taking place in Abuja, Nigeria.  The new Government of Southern Sudan had been sworn in on 24 October.  However, there were delays in implementing the Comprehensive Peace Agreement, particularly setting up various Commissions, and the process of harmonizing national legislation with the Interim National Constitution, which recognized international human rights standards as integral.

    The right to life continued to be violated, particularly in Darfur, and numerous case of killings and harassment of civilians in villages and internally displaced persons camps in Darfur's three regions had been recorded, she continued.  Rape and sexual violence against women continued with impunity, particularly in Darfur and in internally displaced persons camps.  While authorities had acknowledged the violence, they had contested the magnitude of the problem, and steps taken to end it had not produced tangible results thus far.  Sustainable peace was not possible without justice and reconciliation.  Ending impunity and ensuring accountability were vital.  The Sudanese Government's commitment to bring the perpetrators of human rights violations to justice had yet to be confirmed.  The Government and other relevant actors, including civil society, should address truth and reconciliation in Southern Sudan and Darfur.

    She said she had visited the Juba prison and the Kober prison in Khartoum and had been informed that the United Nations Mission in Sudan (UNMIS) had been granted access to many detention facilities throughout the country, including in Darfur, but was denied access to national security facilities, except some in south Darfur.  Several cases of arbitrary arrest and detention had been documented during the last three months.  In addition, she had met with several non-governmental organizations, civil society groups and media representatives who had expressed concern that the Provisional Decree issued 4 August on the Organization of Humanitarian Voluntary Work Act 2005 violated guarantees under the Interim National Constitution in is article 109 (1 and 2) and did not comply with international human rights conventions to which the Sudan was a party.  Media representatives also expressed concern that legislation regulating their work had been revised in line with the new Constitution.

    Harassment and attacks by armed men continued to be reported outside internally displaced persons camps in the regions of south Darfur she had visited.  The attempted relocation of Soba camp residents on Khartoum's outskirts in May had led to violent riots, and she called attention to incidents in the Shikan camp in August.

    She urged all parties to the conflict to cease hostilities, resume negotiations and respect international humanitarian law and human rights law, particularly regarding the protection of civilians.  She also strongly encouraged the Government of National Unity to implement the Comprehensive Peace Agreement and the new Interim National Constitution without further delay, with a special focus on protecting and promoting Sudanese human rights.  She also urged the Government to cooperate and coordinate closely with the African Union Mission in Sudan (AMIS) to effectively deploy police in vulnerable areas in Darfur to protect civilians, particularly in internally displaced persons camps, and prevent attacks on women.

    Further, she called on officials to carry out comprehensive law reform to harmonize national laws with international human rights instruments ratified by the Sudan.  That reform should be inclusive, involving all parties to the peace agreement, civil society, independent experts, jurists and human rights constituencies.  Noting that she had received conflicting information from Government officials concerning their intentions to ratify the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women, she urged the Government to accede to it and ratify the Convention against Torture and other Cruel, Inhuman and Degrading Treatment or Punishment without reservations or further delay.

    She also urged the Government to reform the National Security Act as per the provisions of the Interim National Constitution and to provide unrestricted access for the UNMIS human rights officers to national security facilities.  She also called for ending the culture of impunity for perpetrators of human rights violations and effective coordination with law enforcement and the judiciary to bring violators to justice, to ensure that detainee were not subject to ill-treatment and torture during pre-trial detention, and to ensure fair trial standards.  She also strongly encouraged the creation of an independent human rights commission in line with the Paris Principles.

    She called on members of the international community to honour their pledges at the Oslo Conference and other bilateral agreements; provide assistance and monitor progress in implementing the peace agreement; and to strengthen technical assistance, including capacity-building, training and human rights awareness activities for national institutions and civil society.


    In the ensuing discussion, Ms. SAMAR asked delegates to refer to the entire text of her written statement for answers to some of their questions, as she had only read certain parts during the current session in order to save time.

    The representative of Canada asked whether the United Nations was engaging with the Sudanese Government to ensure that the Provisional Decree was in line with human rights standards and whether she had any recommendations on enhancing safety for civilians and humanitarian workers.  Ms. SAMAR said the United Nations was in fact involved and was working to try the change law.  Attacks had continued on civilians and humanitarian workers, and the perpetrators must be brought to justice.  The African Union did not have enough staff to protect civilians in Darfur, she said, noting the importance of that issue and the fact that her office had condemned the killing of African Union soldiers.

    Responding to a query from the representative of the United Kingdom, speaking on behalf of the European Union, on the Sudanese Government's efforts to tackle impunity, adhere to Security Council resolution 1593 and cooperate with the International Criminal Court to end impunity against perpetrators of attacks on civilians and humanitarian workers, Ms. SAMAR said the Government had attempted to find a solution with the Court.  It had set up a national commission on inquiry on Darfur and a commission for compensation of losses, which fielded complaints, and attempted to promote reconciliation in some small villages.  The Special Court for Darfur had put some people on trial, but most cases did not pertain to war crimes, but other crimes like armed robbery.

    Regarding steps to disarm the Janjaweed militia in Darfur, she said not much had been done in terms of disarmament, demobilization and rehabilitation, and added that it was important to disarm other military groups as well.

    Regarding ending the widespread use of torture and detention, she said there should be a proper investigation of officers who committed torture and made arbitrary arrests.  During her visit, she saw some cases of heavy beatings and torture of students by national security forces.  Authorities had said the beatings were likely committed by low-rank officers, to which she responded that all perpetrators should be held accountable for such violations regardless of rank.

    Concerning the comment from the representative of Libya that the Sudan needed sufficient time to implement the Comprehensive Peace Agreement, she said it was important to try to implement the agreement as soon as possible, and that the international community should provide support for its implementation and assistance for the establishment of the required commission between north and south.

    The representative of the United States asked about the status of the Commission for Rights of Non-Muslims intended to ensure that non-Muslims were not subject to official discrimination.

    The representatives of Iran and Cuba also noted that Sudanese authorities should be given adequate time to implement the peace agreements and ensure the effectiveness of that implementation.

    Responding to the query from the representatives of China, Cuba and Egypt on how the international community could help the Sudanese Government ensure social, economic and cultural rights, she said the Sudan was a least developed country, and economic problems were one cause of the conflict there.  She noted that the international community was obligated to support and reduce that reason for conflict.

    The representative of the Sudan said that although the report noted several positive aspects of the Sudanese Government's efforts, he pointed to a large number of official efforts in peacebuilding, justice and legal reform that had not been noted in the report and expressed his concern that the Special Rapporteur's final report should give adequate coverage to positive developments.  Ms. SAMAR said that most of the information on her findings was in her full paper, including positive developments, which she did not want to take the time out to fully read.  She urged delegates to read the entire document.

    Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food

    JEAN ZIEGLER, Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food, said that the promise made by Member States to halve hunger in accordance with the Millennium Development Goals was clearly an honourable initiative.  But, the reality of the statistics contradicted the Millennium Development Goals.  According to statistics from 2004, 100,000 people were dying of hunger every day, and 856 million people, or one person out of six, in the world were undernourished.  All of that was taking place in the world year after year, although world agriculture could nourish 12 billion people without a problem, if there was a different order in the world.  There was no objective reason that children were dying from hunger as he was speaking.  The current order was not only lethal, but absurd.  It killed, and it killed without any need.  The world was crushing under its own wealth.

    Regarding Africa, he had travelled urgently, at the request of the African Group, to the Niger from 8 to 12 July 2005.  In three years, the number of undernourished people in sub-Saharan Africa had gone from 88 million to more than 200 million people, so that under-nourishment was increasing in a terrifying way south of the Sahara.  He said the international community's response to that catastrophe had been tragically slow.  The mobilization that was necessary for 31 African countries affected by under-nutrition had not taken place in the community of nations.  Commending the Secretary-General for personally going to the Niger to understand and support a movement of solidarity, he said that mobilization had not materialized.

    Another problem covered in his report was that of 60 million refugees worldwide, he said.  The World Food Programme had experienced a drastic reduction in funding, and as a result of that shortage, it had had to reduce its rations by one third.  That was below the absolute minimum of calories set by the World Health Organization (WHO).  That meant that the minimum criteria for survival that the organizations had set and were responsible for, could not be respected or met.

    The issue of indigenous peoples and their right to food was another problem referred to in his report, he continued.  The report attempted to deal analytically with the main things being done regarding the right to food, and he hoped there would be a codification of the right to food.  Since 1995, there had been a draft declaration of the Commission on Human Rights on indigenous people.  While some States had made national progress on the issue, such as Venezuela, Chile, China and others, from the point of view of the international community, the declaration had been blocked, which was a tragedy.  The reforms needed on the issue included economic self-determination of indigenous peoples.  Furthermore, the blockade on the declaration should be lifted, and the standards corresponding to it should be internationally implemented.

    Traditionally, since the very beginning in the debate on human rights, States had been obliged to respect human rights, he said.  When a national State that had signed the human rights declaration acted as a member of the World Trade Organization (WTO) or the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and took decisions in those contexts, they had to respect all human rights, including the right to food, in their respective territories.  However, that was just not working.  Human rights must be a priority over all other rights, and human rights and the right to food had to be accepted as a dominant norm for all inter-State organizations and in all negotiations that States conducted within the framework of inter-State organizations.  Special Rapporteurs such as himself were really nothing, and had no power or influence, because the only people who could overcome the contradictions with regard to food were States, he added.

    Right to Development

    IBARAHIM SALAMA, Chairperson of the Working Group on the Right to Development of the Commission on Human Rights, said change in terms of the right to development started at home.  Trade, development and human rights were interrelated.  The Declaration on the concept of the right to development had been conceived 20 years ago, but globalization had forced the international community to focus more closely on the right to development.  It was agreed that a new approach to that right was necessary, as it was no longer valid to decide development policies and norms in isolation.  The impact of trade and development policies and norms on human rights must be assessed on a case-by-case basis.  Many groups were working to develop tools to assess that impact.  The United Nations had several mandates that involved the right to development, such as the mandate governing the right to food, and the priority of eliminating extreme poverty.  International cooperation was necessary to ensure effective implementation of the mandates.


    Responding to a query from the representative of the United Kingdom, on behalf of the European Union, concerning the question of legally binding standards on the right to develop, Mr. SALAMA supported coordination among the six bodies looking at the same subject, including the right to development, food and the need to end extreme poverty, but noted that there was no legally binding norm to determine that cooperation.

    Responding to a query from the representative of China about his mandate in terms of the WTO and the upcoming ministerial congress, he said that for the first time, the WTO had been asked that its trade review process bear in mind human rights questions when formulating trade policies.  He was an unrecognized partner of the WTO, and the fact that the WTO agreed to participate in the forum was a step forward.  The social impact assessment of human rights and trade policy creation had huge potential.  It established empirical evidence and convinced people in the outside world.

    Regarding the inquiry from the representative of Cuba about progress made in taking into account various opinions on in the right to development, he said human rights mechanisms were still preaching to each other, but had begun to bring outsiders into the debate.  There had been no impact so far.  He also reiterated that Member States should invoke resolutions of the Commission on Human Rights in other forums.

    Discussion on Right to Food

    In the discussion on the morning session's presentation by Jean Ziegler, the Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food, questions were asked by the representatives of Tunisia, China, Sudan, Venezuela, United States, United Kingdom, Niger, Togo, Guatemala, India, Democratic People's Republic of Korea, Cuba, Iran, Norway, Switzerland and Canada.  Many representatives saluted Mr. Ziegler for his relentless efforts to alleviate the food crisis, and said they were convinced that international solidarity must be boosted and the existing mechanisms on the issue improved.  They asked for comments on the fact that famine continued and was not decreasing in any way; on the link between the non-attainment of the right to food and the structural policies of many financial organizations; on collaborations with civil society; and on the mismatch between food production and the continued increase in hunger and malnutrition, among other issues.

    In response, Mr. ZIEGLER said that as everyone was aware, there were two camps of ideas, the first of which said that there could be no right to food, education or work, or any economic or social rights that could possibly exist, and that there was only the free market, which would decide the right price.  Such ideas were advocated by the United States, Australia and other Governments, as well as by international organizations.  Those ideas, called the Washington Consensus, consisted of four pillars for liberalization of all movements of capital and goods and services, and for the privatization of all sectors, as well as for budget reduction.  For example, according to those who upheld the neo-liberal Washington Consensus, hunger would gradually be resolved, since the world's food market became completely free.  Also, under that treaty, all the sources of water, for instance, would be privatized, and thus subject to the law of profit and exploited in a more rational way.

    On the other hand, he continued, those who favoured economic and social rights said there must be laws and rights that corrected the market.  The United States Government had voted against a resolution that had established a mandate on the Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food, and had therefore voted against each and every one of the reports on the subject.  That was not because the United States was cynical or ignorant of the daily catastrophes and toll of hunger, but because it believed in the idea that if all human activities were privatized, capital would always go where the maximum profits and wealth would be made, and that was the fundamental affirmation of the Washington Consensus.

    Globalization had created wealth as never before on this earth, but the problem, of course, was monopolization, he continued.  Only the markets could solve the question of hunger in the world, and if the market was dysfunctional, then humanitarian aide had to come into play sometimes.  As the United States representative had stressed, the United States was helping greatly, providing more than 75 per cent of funds at the humanitarian level.

    The theory of the Washington Consensus was a completely coherent theory entirely, he said.  However, it was completely rejected by those in favour of the normative approach.  The paradox was that structural adjustment programmes were destroyed every year by what had been carried out by the financial institutions.  In the case of Niger, the IMF had demanded the privatization of transportation and food offices, which previously were State institutions in the country.  While that was a decision by the Washington Consensus, the IMF, in all good faith, was conducting a catastrophic policy.  Wherever structural adjustments had been imposed by the IMF, famine and hunger had increased and reduced the actual food production.

    Regarding the increase of hunger and structural adjustments, a relationship of course existed, he said.  There were two types of hunger, namely the kind that was visible, including tragedies and disasters, such as locust infestations or an economy simply breaking down, and that was where humanitarian assistance should enter.  There was also a structural, invisible aspect that was implicit in national structures that were insufficiently developed.  As to the breaking down of an economy, it was necessary to make humanitarian assistance far more effective.

    In conclusion, Mr. Ziegler said that the relationship between Special Rapporteurs and civil society was essential and, in fact, rapporteurs were told in their mandates that they should listen to civic society.  Non-governmental organizations were essential for the functioning of the United Nations and for complying with the demands of the Charter and the Universal Declaration on Human Rights.  They were also laboratories for social thinking so that Special Rapporteurs and delegates could move forward in the struggle for a worldwide system of social justice.

    Human Rights in Myanmar

    PAULO SÉRGIO PINHEIRO, Special Rapporteur on the Situation of Human Rights in Myanmar, said that he was addressing the General Assembly for the final time, as his mandate expired in April of next year.  He expressed frustration at not having been able to fulfil his duty as he had wished.  Throughout his mandate, he had received many reports documenting violations of the Government's pledge to institute democratic reform and respect for human rights.  He had attempted on many occasions, through different means, to be allowed to visit the country in order to verify those reports, but the Government had not given him the opportunity.  In that way, the Government was missing the opportunity to have its views and policies reflected in his report.

    While the Government's pledge regarding democratic reform and respect for human rights had been reiterated since the 1990 elections were cancelled, freedom of assembly and association were still not respected or guaranteed, he said.  Almost all of the offices of political parties, such as the National League for Democracy, had been shut down, and press censorship seemed to be worsening.  Furthermore, the Government's road map to democracy had no time frame or scale.  The loose mentions of a referendum and political elections had not yet been clarified, and the political transition process had become a long and winding road with no clear end in sight.

    The level and consistency of abuses committed against Myanmar's ethnic communities was of grave concern, he continued.  It was reported that some ethnic groups were reconsidering ceasefire agreements, as the agreements had failed to bring about any improvement in their day-to-day lives.  In some instances, and despite those agreements, there had been an increase in the Government's military presence in certain ethnic areas.  Moreover, the political concerns of ethnic communities appeared to be unaddressed in the deliberations of the National Convention.  There was a risk that, should the Government continue to ignore those ethnic concerns including the alleged gross violations committed against ethnic communities and the duty to arrest and detain those responsible, those fragile agreements might unravel.

    He said he had stressed in his report the record of widespread and systematic violations of human rights in Myanmar, and the consistent failure of the Government to protect its citizens.  The Government had shown little interest in examining allegations of serious human rights abuses by its forces against its own citizens.  The culture of impunity was such that complaints brought to the attention of authorities were frequently met with threats and reprisals.  Widespread reports of forced labour were commonplace; the forced relocations of entire villages by Government agents continued; and trafficking was a pressing problem.  Urging the international community to step up its assistance and to not retreat from supporting the people of Myanmar, he said there was a duty to the hungry and suffering people to overcome those difficulties.  The transition to a full, participatory and democratic system in Myanmar must not be postponed.


    Opening the discussion that followed Mr. Pinheiro's presentation, the representative of Myanmar said it was important for the Special Rapporteurs to stay within their mandates and to act on the basis of objectivity, non-selectivity and impartiality, despite the fact that they came under tremendous pressure from various quarters to go beyond their mandates and tread into the internal political affairs of countries concerned.  The Special Rapporteur's report presented to the General Assembly was very intrusive and tried to intrude in the internal domestic politics of his country, and even prescribed unwarranted advice on its political process.

    He said his delegation found the report completely lacking in important attributes, such as objectivity, non-selectivity and impartiality.  Stressing that peace and tranquillity existed in the country, he assured delegates that his Government was committed to promoting human rights, and added that no country was perfect in doing so.  Although his Government could not accommodate a visit by the Special Rapporteur at this time, its commitment to cooperate with the United Nations remained unchanged as long as its national interests and sovereignty were not infringed upon.

    Turning to relationships with non-governmental organizations, Venezuela's representative asked what sources had been used to obtain information on Myanmar, and questioned the accuracy of information when non-governmental organizations were financed by countries that made selective judgments.  The representative of United States asked whether the United Nations was planning to address the restrictions on humanitarian assistance of non-governmental organizations in the country.

    Mr. PINHEIRO said he never published a list of his sources.  What was written in his reports was his responsibility, though he did not hold any secrets.  His first source was the United Nations country team in Myanmar, which had met him in other capitals when he was not able to enter the country.  He also relied on writers from agencies from around the world, as well as on the international non-governmental organizations interested in Myanmar.  He knew how to validate the information provided, and was very careful, such as by not making allegations freely.  Furthermore, he did not have a conspiratorial attitude toward civil society, although all of the information provided by organizations could not always be accepted.

    The representative of Canada, who was reproached by the representatives of Cuba and Myanmar for incorrectly referring to Myanmar as Burma, questioned Mr. PINHEIRO's approach in his relationship and communication with the Government of Myanmar, as did the representative of United Kingdom.

    Mr. PINHEIRO said he did not believe in isolating countries, but instead believed in dialogue.  Everyone knew what the Government and human rights problems were like in Myanmar, but it was necessary to move forward.  The time had come for coordination and assistance, and the Government should not be isolated.  He was not enemies with the representative of Myanmar, and had learned that one could be firm but polite and courteous.

    Responding to a question by Indonesia's representative on HIV/AIDS, Mr. PINHEIRO said the decision of the global fund to terminate grants to the country was most regrettable.

    Answering a question by the representative of Sweden on the ethnic communities of Myanmar, he said that with more access, he would have reliable numbers, and thus the possibility of assisting the population would be much greater.

    Thanking the representative of China for expressing the need for continued assistance to the people of Myanmar and to work in partnership with the Government, Mr. PINHEIRO said the Government of China had collaborated with his mandate.  Along those lines, he thanked the representative of Japan for issuing a call to the international community to maintain a persistent dialogue with Myanmar.

    Responding to a question from the representative of the Democratic People's Republic of Korea on how he tried to solve differences with Myanmar in his work, Mr. PINHEIRO said his main purpose was to take into account the interests of the Government, and of the people of Myanmar.  Special rapporteurs were a strange group, he said, because they were not non-governmental organizations or envoys of the Government.  They acted based on universal principles that Governments had accepted, not that they had invented.  He was not acting against the interests of Myanmar, and shared with the Government some requirements that would facilitate their pledge to go to democracy.  The Government had decided to enter that process, and he had not proposed their road map.

    Asked by Cuba's representative to what extent he had been able to see proof of foreign interventions improving the living conditions of the people of Myanmar, Mr. PINHEIRO said there was no foreign element involved in his statements.  Regarding the manipulation of foreign agents that would create obstacles to human development in Myanmar, there was a clear will from the countries in the region to work with Myanmar and, in the international community there were sincere attempts to contribute to the development of the country.  More dialogue and cooperation would facilitate such work.

    In response to the comments made by delegations, the representative of Myanmar said his Government remained committed to cooperate with the United Nations.  Furthermore, it had allowed the Special Rapporteur to visit the country six times since his appointment, and the Special Envoy 14 times.  It also remained committed to cooperation with the International Labour Organization (ILO), although it must be free from politics.

    Mr. PINHEIRO stressed that he had never been denied access to any region or person that he wanted to contact or have access to during his past visits to Myanmar, which he had always recognized in his reports.  Had he been invited recently, however, his latest report would not have the inaccuracies that Myanmar's representative had pointed out, because they would have had a dialogue in Yangon as opposed to New York.

    Situation of Human Rights in Democratic People's Republic of Korea

    VITIT MUNTARBHORN, Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Democratic People's Republic of Korea, said thus far the Korean Government had not cooperated with the mandate, and he had not been invited into the country.  His report was based on information from Government, intergovernmental and non-governmental sources.  On the constructive side, the country was party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, the Convention on the Rights of the Child and the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women.  It had also cooperated with various United Nations agencies on children's rights and had some legal and operational infrastructure to promote and protect human rights.

    There were specific challenges concerning the right to food and the right to life, he said, noting a drastic shortage of food produced inside the country and outside humanitarian aid.  Last year, Korean officials indicated the Government was no longer willing to continue with the Consolidated Appeals Process through which United Nations agencies raised aid for the country.  While some checks to monitor distribution of food aid were in place, the Government still did not permit random checks by foreign humanitarian organizations.  He also expressed concern over reports that authorities were planning to stop food aid from humanitarian organizations by the end of 2005, based partly on their claim that the harvest would improve by year's end, and that they aimed to end the presence of several humanitarian organizations in the country.

    In terms of the right to security of the person, humane treatment, non-discrimination and access to justice, he said there were alleged transgressions often linked with laws and institutions, particularly prisons and detention centres that were below national and international standards, including detention without access to credible courts.  Several sources documented collective punishment based upon "guilt by association", in which a person was punished for political or ideological crime and so were his relatives.  Penal code reforms last year had increased penalties for anti-State crimes and had created new categories of crime such as crimes involving national defence management and crimes damaging socialist culture.  In addition, there were mandatory death sentences for "conspiracy to overturn the State", "terrorism", "treason against the fatherland", "treason against the people" and "premeditated murders".

    Regarding the right to freedom of movement, asylum and protection of displaced persons, he said the generally strict controls over people's movement imposed by authorities had been relaxed recently to a limited extent.  Political constraints, persecution and food shortages had led many Koreans to seek asylum to other countries.  This had resulted in clamp downs such as arrest and pushing people back to their country of origin, which was contrary to the principle of non-refoulement for people seeking asylum and refugee protection.

    He said the right to political participation was not respected and while authorities claimed there were rights to access to information, freedom of expression, association and religion, in reality that was often not the case, he said.  For example, it was still illegal to listen to foreign radio without official permission.  Political dissidence was not tolerated and was severely punished.  There was repression of worshippers and religious personnel, including reported cases of persecution and abduction.

    Turning to the rights of women and children, he said women had limited access to key decision-making positions in politics, the judiciary and civil service.  One third of mothers were found to be malnourished and anaemic in 2004, a situation which obviously affected their children.  Domestic violence and institutional violence, particularly in prisons and other closed institutions, was occurring.  Malnutrition rates remained high; 37 per cent of children had stunted growth; 23 per cent were underweight; and 7 per cent were wasting.

    He also expressed concern of Japan's claims that several Japanese nationals abducted by Korean officials were still alive and should be returned to Japan immediately and safely, and be given access to justice.  Mongolia should continue its humanitarian policy and practice of sheltering Korean refugees, accede to the Refugee Convention and its Protocol, and adjust domestic policies and laws accordingly.

    He made several recommendations to promote and protect human rights in the Democratic People's Republic of Korea.  For example, it should abide by international human rights standards, including the four human rights treaties to which they are party; follow up the recommendations of those treaties' monitoring committees; uphold human rights, democracy, peace, sustainable development and demilitarization; respect the rule of law, particularly promotion of an independent, transparent judiciary; and reform the justice system, improve the prison system and abolish capital punishment.

    Further, he recommended they address the root causes of displacement, prevent persecution of displaced persons and guarantee freedom of movement without imposing sanctions on those who moved without permission.  He called on the Government to ensure that humanitarian assistance, including food, was sustained and reached targeted groups, with unimpeded access and transparent monitoring and accountability.  It should also invite the Special Rapporteur to visit the country to take stock of the human rights situation and recommend reform.  In addition, he called on the international community to influence Korean officials to follow those recommendations, protect Korean refugees and provide long-term solutions to help refugees, and ensure that aid was sustained and reached vulnerable groups.

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