18 August 1998
Committee Hears Report on Situation in Rwanda,
Adopts Concluding Observations on Report of Jordan,
Considers Report of Tonga
The Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination this afternoon expressed its deep concern about reports of massacres and other grave human rights violations in the Democratic Republic of Congo by Government forces.
In a decision adopted without a vote, the Committee further expressed concern that recent developments had again led to grave human rights violations committed by all factions involved in the conflict which were directed against particular ethnic groups.
Also this afternoon, the Committee adopted its concluding observations on the report of Jordan, recommending that the Government present in its next report information on the number of complaints, judgements and compensation awards arising from racist acts, regardless of their nature.
It also considered a report from the Government of Tonga on its efforts to implement the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination in the absence of a delegation from that country.
Under its early warning and urgent procedures mechanism, the Committee also heard a report by one of its members on the situation in Rwanda, where as of 31 March 1998, the United Nations Field Operation in Rwanda estimated that the total detainee population was 125,763.
Official, printed versions of the concluding observations on the various country reports the Committee has considered in the past two weeks will be issued Friday, 21 August, the final day of its three-week session.
The Committee will reconvene at 10 a.m. on Wednesday, 19 August, to continue adopting its concluding observations on country reports.
Decision on Situation in Democratic Republic of Congo
The Committee expressed concern over reports of massacres and other grave human rights violations, including violations of the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination, by Government forces in the Democratic Republic of Congo. It further expressed concern that recent developments had again led to grave human rights violations committed by all factions involved in the conflict which, according to reports, were directed against particular ethnic groups.
The Committee deplored the restrictions imposed by the Government on the work of the Special Rapporteur and on the Secretary-General’s Investigative Team established in accordance with a Security Council decision on 8 July 1997. It called upon all participants in the conflict to immediately end all fighting and, in particular, cease all attacks on or harassment of particular ethnic groups; urged the Government to work closely and strengthen further its cooperation with the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights; further urged the Government to allow the Special Rapporteur to resume his investigation; and called on the Government to undertake all efforts to provide for the safe return of all refugees and displaced persons to their homes and property.
Concluding Observations on Report of Jordan
In its concluding observations on the report of Jordan, the Committee noted that among factors and difficulties impeding the implementation of the International Convention was Jordan's difficult economic situation. However, the Committee recommended that Jordan's next report clarify whether article 12 of the Labour Act, derived from an agreement concluded between members of the League of Arab States, was applicable to all citizens of those States irrespective of their ethnic or national origin.
Among positive aspects in the report were efforts made by the State to host Palestinian refugees, and to facilitate their integration while retaining their identity.
The Committee also recommended that the State party should present in its next report information on the number of complaints, judgements and compensation awards arising from racist acts, regardless of their nature.
Report of Tonga
The thirteenth periodic report of Tonga (document CERD/C/319/Add.3) notes that although the Government recognizes the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination, it has yet to be incorporated by the Legislative Assembly as part of the country's law. Tonga was an island with a population of 97,446 inhabitants with a monarch as Head of State. The report says that the ethnic characteristic of the country are homogenous and the Government possesses no information on ethnic differences. It affirms that Tonga is racially and ethnically homogenous and so racial discrimination seems to be non-existent. Thus, there are no specific measures which relate to the eradication of the incitement to or acts of racial discrimination. The five-page report reviews measures undertaken in the field of education and teaching, culture and mass media.
Discussion on Report of Tonga
CARLOS LECHUGA HEVIA, the Committee expert serving as country rapporteur to the report of Tonga, said that once again the report contained insufficient information. Unlike many other countries, Tonga continued to send periodic reports on a regular basis. However, the report lacked information on the measures adopted by the State party to implement the provisions of the International Convention. Despite that, the report partially followed the Committee's revised general guidelines for the preparation of reports.
The other major problem faced by the Committee was that in addition to insufficient information in the report, each time a representative of the Government was not available to provide additional explanations and to answer oral questions from the Committee experts, Mr. Lechuga Hevia said. Although the geographical distance and limited resources of Tonga were understandable, many questions still remained unanswered.
Mr. Lechuga Hevia said during its consideration of the report of Tonga in 1993, the Committee considered that the legislation of the country did not fulfil the requirements of some articles of the International Convention. It also noted that the information provided in the report was insufficient for an overall evaluation of the State party's implementation of the other provisions of the International Convention. The Committee had regretted the absence of information in the report on the general political structure, the general legal framework within which human rights were protected, and the overall economic and social situation of the country.
Mr. Lechuga Hevia further said that the affirmation in the report that the ethnic characteristics of the country were homogenous and that the Government possessed no information on ethnic differences demonstrated the situation that the provisions of the Convention were not fully implemented. Although the country's Constitution established a legal framework which expressly discouraged and prohibited any form of racial discrimination, the provisions of the Convention were not directly invoked in courts.
According to the report, the Kingdom of Tonga had no express policy on the elimination of racial discrimination, but the Constitution expressly prohibited the practice of racial discrimination, Mr. Lechuga Hevia said. Nevertheless, it did not declare as an offence punishable by law all dissemination of ideas based on racial superiority or hatred, incitement to racial discrimination as indicated in article 4 of the Convention. Furthermore, the State party did not declare illegal and prohibited organizations and all other propaganda activities which promoted and incited racial discrimination, he added.
Review of Situation in Rwanda
GAY McDOUGALL, Committee expert serving as country rapport to the situation in Rwanda, recalled that by mid-July 1994, the Tutsi-dominated Rwandese Popular Front (RPF), which had launched an all-out civil war to end the genocide and had taken control of the Government and much of the country. The hard-line Hutu Government in Kigali had fled the RPF advance, either destroying or taking most of the country's infrastructure and financial reserves with them as they retreated. Clearly, the most massive human rights violations in the conflict, including a brutal, well-documented campaign of genocide, were specifically directed at the Tutsi population by Hutu-extremists. Nonetheless, a UN Commission of Experts that was charged with investigating the crisis found that both sides were responsible during the course of conflict for crimes against humanity.
Ms. McDougall said that a number of human rights groups had grown increasingly discouraged by the level of ongoing ethnic violence in Rwanda. Nonetheless, The Government of Rwanda remained optimistic, pointing to the progress that was being made in overcoming complicated security concerns, human rights and humanitarian law violations. It had taken some steps to raise the awareness of human rights issues within national and local institutions, and among the general public. Although it had not yet begun its work, the Government had also established a National Human Rights Commission. In addition, the Government had announced broad national education programmes in the field of human rights; and it had sought to combat impunity for the 1994 genocide and to overcome the dangerous overcrowding in prisons and detention centres.
While the Government of Rwanda had made some progress, a significant number of concerns should be addressed by the Committee, Ms. McDougall said. One non-governmental organization pointed out that "by seeking to eliminate virtually all public discussions of ethnic divisions, the Government damaged its own domestic credibility by denying the reality of ethnic tensions every Rwandan knows to exist." Another potential area of concern related to the "re-education camps" that were established in Rwanda following the mass repatriation of refugees in 1996 and early 1997. Those camps were established to promote ethnic unity and the reconciliation programme of the current regime, and many Hutu students and Hutu professionals had been required to attend. Although attendance was not mandatory, it was suggested that in many cases it had in fact been mandatory in a de facto sense while seeking Government employment.
With regard to prison conditions, Ms. McDougall said that the most pressing humanitarian problems in detention facilities included severe overcrowding, poor sanitation, and lack of sufficient food and health care. Such inadequate conditions had sometimes resulted in the deaths of detainees. Credible reports suggested that a total of 860 detainees might have died in 1997 from preventive diseases and other effects of overcrowding. In addition, reports suggested that detainees were also increasingly subjected to cruel and unusual punishment, including rape, torture, and denial of food, she added.
As of 31 March 1998, the United Nations Field Operation in Rwanda estimated that the total detainee population in Rwanda was 125,763, she said. Those figures represented a slight, although largely insignificant, decrease in the prison population from earlier in the year, she added.
Ms. McDougall concluded by saying that current ethnic violence in eastern Congo seemed to be following a remarkably predictable pattern. Despite repeated denials concerning Rwanda's involvement in the overthrow of former regime of Mobutu, the Government had ultimately admitted its involvement.
Other members of the Committee also expressed concern over the situation in Rwanda and urged the Government to increase its cooperation with the United Nations system.