COMMISSION ON HUMAN RIGHTS BEGINS HIGH-LEVEL SEGMENT


Commission on Human Rights
AFTERNOON
14 March 2005



Hears Addresses from Eleven Dignitaries from Luxembourg, Sudan, Switzerland, Malaysia, Belgium, Costa Rica, Peru, Kyrgyzstan, Canada, Spain and France



The Commission on Human Rights began its high-level segment this afternoon, hearing addresses from two Deputy Prime-Ministers, seven Ministers for Foreign Affairs, one Minister for Justice, and one Vice-Minister for Foreign Affairs. Among the issues addressed by the speakers were the situation in Darfur, double standards in the application of human rights and the difficulties and opportunities presented by the possible reform of the Commission in the next few years.

Jean Asselborn, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Foreign Affairs of Luxembourg who was speaking on behalf of the European Union and associated countries, said achievement of universal and individual human rights was not only the responsibility of each country, but also a joint responsibility towards mankind. The fight against terrorism also required continued vigilance. Societies governed by the rule of law must not stoop to waging war on evil-by-evil means, which would lead to loss of the moral authority that allowed them to judge and punish those committing terrorist acts.

Ali Mohamed Osman Yassin, Minister of Justice of Sudan, said in spite of exceptional and unfavourable circumstances resulting from civil unrest in southern and western Sudan, the Sudanese people had managed to lay a solid foundation for a durable and lasting peace in the entire country. Sudan’s resolve and determination to seek peaceful and negotiated settlements to situations causing human rights violations had been demonstrated, and there was an intention to go forward, in the hope that a helping hand would be extended.

Micheline Calmy-Rey, Minister for Foreign Affairs of Switzerland, said in the long term, the Commission should be converted into a human rights council. This would reflect the importance of human rights for international peace and security and allow for issues to be considered all year long. Moreover, the Security Council should prohibit the use of the veto when addressing situations that gave rise to concern about serious violations of human rights, in particular, genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity.

Dato’ Seri Syed Hamid bin Syed Jaafar Albar, Minister for Foreign Affairs of Malaysia, said in the midst of an emerging wealth, as well as dynamic social, scientific and technological advancement, there were hundreds of millions who continued to subsist in situations of poverty, fear, discrimination, intolerance, oppression, violence and preventable diseases. A comprehensive approach to human rights issues required respect for all religious and cultural values. An effort to create new rights which were incompatible with religious values were viewed as divisive and confrontational and should be avoided.

Karel de Gucht, Minister for Foreign Affairs of Belgium, said the current discussion on human rights should serve to strengthen the Commission as a central pillar of the United Nations system. The international community’s responsibility was not just to prevent crises from breaking out, but also to rebuild in the post-conflict period. In that regard, the emphasis was on the need to serve justice and to fight impunity. At the national level, strengthening democracy and the rule of law and establishing an independent judiciary remained of particular importance.

Marco Vinicio Vargas, Vice Minister for Foreign Affairs of Costa Rica, said in recent history the world had been deeply transformed in strengthening the methods of human rights protection and promotion. However, human rights violations had continued in many parts of the world, with many individuals left vulnerable. Observance of human rights should be environmentally balanced. There should be a link between the respect of the environment and human rights. In all cases, human security should be at the heart of any kind of reform with regard to human rights.

Manuel Rodriguez-Cuadros, Minister for Foreign Affairs of Peru, said the protection of human rights required fairness, clarity and effectiveness. No organ of the United Nations demanded more legitimacy and authority than the Commission. Peru would submit an initiative to change the structure of the Commission on Human Rights so that it would no longer be made up of government representatives, but rather of independent experts and so that it would have a specific mandate of advice, coordination and functional integration with United Nations bodies with human rights mandates.

Askar Aitmatov, Minister for Foreign Affairs of Kyrgyzstan, said the struggle against all forms of intolerance was inseparable from the struggle for human rights in general. Western-centric approaches, double standards and unilateral attempts to impose democracy from outside were counter-productive. Democracy had to grow from inside a society, and correspond to the historical practice and experience of the country; it had to organically penetrate into people’s consciousness. Only in this manner could a democracy strongly take root in society.

Pierre Pettigrew, Minister for Foreign Affairs of Canada, said the progress made in the promotion and protection of human rights was still too little, and had been offset by incidents of horrifying atrocities. The multilateral system of human rights promotion and protection had been the target of recent criticisms, many of which were strong and pertinent. A strong multilateral system capable of addressing the whole range of interrelated contemporary challenges, from development of human rights to peace and security, was what was required.

Maria Teresa Fernandez de la Vega, Deputy Prime Minister of Spain, said terrorism could only be combated efficiently through respect of human rights. Promotion and protection of human rights continued to be a priority, and the international society had adopted a binding legal framework for this, and the codification of standards had had day-to-day impact on the lives of individuals the world over. However, the need to strengthen the entire fabric of universal human rights should be addressed.

Renaud Muselier, Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs of France, said the United Nations Organization had an irreplaceable legitimacy when faced with mass violations of human rights and needed to exercise its responsibility to protect victims of those violations. It was clear that if the United Nations as well as the Commission itself, in the field of human rights as in others, could not reform, then those who wished to avoid its rulings would simply go around it. To assure the pre-eminence of law, there was a need for universal ratification and the true application of existing conventions.

Exercising a right of reply at the end of the meeting was the delegation of Japan.

When the Commission reconvenes at 10 a.m. on Tuesday, 15 March, it is scheduled to hear from the Minister for Foreign Affairs of Finland, the Minister for Foreign Affairs of Armenia, the Secretary-General of the Organization of the Islamic Conference, the Minister of Justice, Legal and Parliamentary Affairs of Zimbabwe, the Human Rights Commissioner of Mauritania, the Minister for Human Rights of Yemen, the Minister for Foreign Affairs of Albania, the Chairman in Office of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, the Deputy Minister for Foreign Affairs of Mexico, the Minister for Foreign Affairs of Indonesia, the Minister for Foreign Affairs of the Netherlands, and the Minister for Foreign Affairs of Cyprus.

Statements

JEAN ASSELBORN, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Foreign Affairs of Luxembourg, speaking on behalf of the European Union and associated countries, said that respect for individual liberties would never become unshakably established in any country. The end of arbitrary behaviour, absolutism and sub-human treatment had not been seen, and could resurface in the fairest and most peaceful of societies in response to crises or threats, or as a result of laxity in the face of violations of the most elementary rights. Thus, achievement of universal and individual human rights was not only the responsibility of each country, but also a joint responsibility towards humankind.

Because human rights remained a value shared by all humankind, the European Union felt duty-bound to give individual consideration to the situation in all countries of the world, he said, so as to pass comment without favour, give warning without bias and discourage any temptation to encroach upon human beings’ rights. At times, worrying situations left no choice but to point the finger at the most serious violations, but the European Union never forgot that discrete, critical dialogue could provide strong encouragement to persevere in improving the observance of human rights.

The Commission’s work remained open to improvement, he stated. Proposals to make membership in the body universal, or to turn the Commission into a human rights council, were worth consideration in the broader context of United Nations reform. Championing and upholding human rights required providing the Office of the High Commissioner with necessary financial resources. Furthermore, the European Union felt that an annual report by the High Commissioner on the situation of human rights worldwide would provide a further basis for country resolutions, while also improving monitoring the implementation of past resolutions.

The temptation to infringe on the rights of the weak remained omnipresent, Mr. Asselborn noted, and thrived in conflict situations. In no conflict situation should non-belligerents find themselves in a lawless area, caught up in armed fighting and left unprotected. The fight against terrorism also required continued vigilance. Societies governed by the rule of law must not stoop to waging war on evil-by-evil means, which would lead to a loss of moral authority that allowed them to judge and punish those committing terrorist acts. Other priority concerns for the European Union remained to be the abolition of capital punishment and support for the International Criminal Court.
Ali MOHAMED OSMAN Yassin, Minister of Justice of Sudan said the attention paid by the Commission and the High Commissioner to the situation of human rights in the Sudan was welcomed by his Government as an encouraging step to redouble endeavours aimed at preserving human rights and creating conditions conducive to human security. The Sudanese people had managed to lay a solid foundation for a durable and lasting peace, although the situation in Darfur continued to be of deep concern to the Government. Armed conflicts in neighbouring countries had also contributed to the instability due to extended and porous common borders. The Government was particularly focused on the humanitarian situation in Darfur, and believed that the humanitarian protocols signed with the rebel moments addressed all aspects of the situation, and should be fully respected and duly implemented.

One of the major impediments to improving the security situation in Darfur had been the well-documented failure of rebel movements to abide by the cease-fire agreement and their refusal to move their forces into specified areas. Implementing and consolidating the federal system of the Government in the northern States would provide a real solution to the conflict in Darfur. The Government had taken serious steps to address the issue of human rights violations in Darfur and would continue to do so.

Sudan’s resolve and determination to seek peaceful and negotiated settlements to situations causing human rights violations had been demonstrated, and there was an intention to go forward in the hope that a helping hand would be extended. Uneven pressure and signals had exacerbated the already volatile situation in Darfur, and the international community should bear in mind that a Government of national unity should lead the country during the interim period. Any undue pressure on this Government would hinder its ability to implement the Comprehensive Peace Agreement, and this in turn would impede the benefits of peace from reaching the Sudanese people. Peace in Sudan should be given a positive environment in which to take root.

MICHELINE CALMY-REY, Minister for Foreign Affairs of Switzerland, said that situations such as those in Darfur and Nepal, the situations of numerous individuals who had suffered extrajudicial or arbitrary detention since 11 September 2001, and the devastation wrought by the 26 December 2004 tsunami in the Indian Ocean, again raised the question of how the international community could best improve action against the gravest of human rights violations.

Having made reform of the United Nations system in the area of protection of human rights one of its priorities, Switzerland intended, in the short term, to advocate revitalization of the Commission on Human Rights, she said. Thus, those States wishing to become members, as well as existing members, of the Commission should be asked to report on their concrete actions to promote human rights. The High Commissioner for Human Rights should be encouraged to publish a report on the human rights situation worldwide. And there should be support for an increase in the regular budget allocated to the Office of the High Commissioner.

In the long term, the Commission should be converted into a human rights council, she added, on equal footing with the Security Council and Economic and Social Council. This would reflect the importance of human rights for international peace and security and allow for issues to be considered all year long. Moreover, the Security Council should prohibit the use of the veto when addressing situations that gave rise to concerns about serious human rights violations, in particular, genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity. Furthermore, individuals sent into the field on human rights missions should have the proper expertise in human rights, as well as specific knowledge of the people and culture of the country to which they were sent. The Office of the High Commissioner should create a pool of employees and provide them with relevant training.

Finally, she recalled the initiative launched last year by Switzerland, which had brought together women ministers to give a higher profile to issues of violence against women. That informal network had identified the fight against trafficking in women and girls as a priority issue to be addressed. In that regard, attention should also be paid to structural factors contributing to trafficking, such as poverty and lack of economic opportunity. Another initiative involved training civil and military personnel working in the human rights field, including specific training on condemning all acts of abuse, particularly sexual abuse and human trafficking.

DATO’ SERI SYED HAMID BIN SYED JAAFAR ALBAR, Minister for Foreign Affairs of Malaysia, said in the midst of the emergence of an unprecedented wealth, as well as dynamic social, scientific and technological advancement, there were hundreds of millions of people who continued to exist in situations of poverty, fear, discrimination, intolerance, oppression, violence and preventable diseases; traditional threats had been exacerbated by new ones, including terrorism and new threats of conflict. A growing disparity and inequality, as well as plainly desperate circumstances, demonstrated that the world was no nearer to realising human rights for all without distinction; there was a need to strengthen the global partnership in dealing with the magnitude of the challenges ahead, and this should be undertaken in a sustained and focused manner.

It was the primary responsibility of States to promote and protect the human rights of all their citizens. However, there was a need to recognise that these rights could not be achieved when resources and technical capabilities were lacking. In such a situation, relevant actors within the international community, including civil society, had appropriate roles to play by contributing their efforts and resources to strengthening the capacity of national governments in ensuring that all people lived in dignity and freedom. Malaysia regarded the heightened interest on human rights in the world today as a positive development, but was concerned that certain countries exploited the issue to promote their narrow agendas. The international community should not be selective on which human right to promote and protect or on which country it targeted for alleged human rights violations while allowing others to act with impunity.

A comprehensive approach to human rights issues required respect for all religious and cultural values. Malaysia believed that any effort to create new rights which were incompatible with religious values should be viewed as divisive and confrontational, and should be avoided. The promotion and protection of human rights was a continuous process. Given their national circumstances and level of development, some countries had done better than others, but none could claim a perfect record. There was always room for improvement, and therefore all should work together constructively to realise the ideals that individuals aspired to.

KAREL DE GUCHT, Minister for Foreign Affairs of Belgium, while recalling that the Commission on Human Rights had been one of the first bodies established by the United Nations, said there had been much thought recently on the role and functions of the body following the publication of the report by the Secretary-General’s High-level Panel on Threats, Challenges and Change. Belgium supported enshrining the key role of human rights in confronting the challenges facing the international community, and believed that credible and effective institutions capable of achieving results on the ground must be the priority of that strategy. Thus, while noting that much had been accomplished in terms of standards setting, putting existing standards into practice must now be the highest priority.

The current discussion on human rights must serve to strengthen the Commission as a central pillar of the United Nations system, he continued. It must be given an appropriate structure to fulfil its mandate, which meant that the body’s membership must either be made universal, or that clear human rights commitments must be required in order to become a member. Regular financing from the budget of the United Nations should be increased for the Office of the High Commissioner, and other United Nations bodies should better incorporate human rights perspectives in their work. Moreover, the High Commissioner should become more closely involved in the work of the Security Council.
While underlining the importance of early warning mechanisms and the establishment of the Special Advisor to the Secretary-General on the Prevention of Genocide, Mr. De Gucht stressed that the international community’s responsibility was not just to prevent crises from breaking out, but also to rebuild in the post-conflict period. In that regard, the emphasis was on the need to serve justice and to fight impunity for which the International Criminal Court provided an appropriate tool. Alternatives which did not provide the same guarantees must not be accepted. At the national level, strengthening democracy and the rule of law and establishing an independent judiciary remained of particular importance for the Office of the High Commissioner.

MARCO VINICIO VARGAS, Vice Minister for Foreign Affairs of Costa Rica, said in recent history, the world had been deeply transformed in strengthening its methods of human rights protection and promotion and States had been reinforcing their legal protection systems. However, human rights violations had continued in many parts of the world, making many individuals vulnerable to such acts. Hunger and other phenomenon had also been increasing. The debate on reform of the Commission, which was one of the main human rights organs, should be based on human security. In all cases, human security should be at the heart of any kind of reform with regard to human rights. Human security should also be part of a solution to international security. The reflections expressed by the High-Level Panel, particularly concerning the Commission, would be an opportunity for change, he added. The change would further guarantee effectiveness in the Commission’s actions in its efforts to promote and protect human rights and it would promote its professionalism. Costa Rica believed that the reform should be aimed at ensuring the effectiveness of the Commission and making its composition universal. Moreover, the countries wishing to join the Commission as members should be seriously committed to upholding human rights principles.

The observance of human rights should be environmentally balanced and there should be a link between the respect of the environment and human rights, the idea of which was supported by many countries. Costa Rica also expressed its support for the respect of the rights for victims of human rights abuses and their compensation. Mr. Vargas said he hoped that the work of the Commission would contribute to its effective functioning, which would thus contribute to peace and security.

MANUEL RODRIGUEZ-CUADROS, Minister for Foreign Affairs of Peru, noted that the High-Level Panel on Threats, Challenges and Change had reported that the Commission on Human Rights had suffered from a loss of authority and legitimacy; this was a serious matter for an organ in charge of protecting human rights in the world. No organ of the United Nations demanded more legitimacy and authority than the Commission. The United Nations system for the promotion and protection of human rights, which included the Commission, the human rights treaty bodies system and the mechanisms that had been established as a result of the application of the United Nations Charter, resulted in problems including a duplication of efforts, a lack of complimentarity between the actions of protective mechanisms and a lack of effectiveness. The protection of human rights required fairness, clarity and effectiveness. The Government of Peru was convinced that the dilemma confronted by the Commission’s reform today was the same to that which took place in 1946 following the recommendations of the "nuclear Commission on Human Rights" which was composed of nine individual members.

The Government of Peru proposed to restructure the Commission on Human Rights so that it would stop being integrated by Government representatives and begin to be composed of independent experts. The new Commission would be composed of 53 independent experts, 40 of whom would be elected by the General Assembly and the other 13 to be elected by the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights in consultation with non-governmental organizations on the basis of equitable representation. The new Commission would have the functions to increase and extend the normative scope of the protection of human rights; would have a protection and monitoring function; would recommend courses of action to other organs of the United Nations system; and would have a specific mandate of advice, coordination and functional integration with United Nations bodies with human rights mandates, and particularly with peacekeeping missions mandated by the Security Council.

The proposal submitted by the Government of Peru was an expression of its democratic position and was aimed to open a dialogue on the immediate future of the United Nations system in the area of the protection of human rights.

Askar Aitmatov, Minister for Foreign Affairs of Kyrgyzstan, said the situation in the field of human rights in many regions of the world was still daunting. International law was often interpreted in global politics for the benefit of geo-strategic interests of individual States or groups of States. Interpretations for the benefit of geo-strategic interests eventually would harm the principle of its universality. There were contradictory and ambiguous approaches in finding solutions to international problems that complicated human rights activities in the world. Negative aspects of the globalization process became more apparent and resulted in spillovers of destabilising factors of regional and global security. These complex global problems had a negative impact on the world situation in the field of human rights protection and basic freedoms. International terrorism was one of the most acute challenges requiring the constant attention and global coordination efforts of the international community.

The struggle against all forms of intolerance was inseparable from the struggle of human rights in general. The success of this process was mainly dependent upon strict implementation of the commitments by the United Nations Member States in the framework of existing universal human rights laws and regulations. Democratic processes could not be realised in isolation from international cooperation and comprehensive dialogue, however, at the same time, subjective and one-sided approaches through the prism of abstract standards and requirements without taking into account the socio-political, cultural-historical peculiarities of countries could only be rejected. Western-centric approaches, double standards and unilateral attempts to impose democracy from outside were counter-productive. Democracy had to grow from inside a society, correspond to the historical practice and experience of the country, and had to penetrate into people’s consciousness. Only in this manner could democracy strongly take root in a society.

PIERRE PETTIGREW, Minister for Foreign Affairs of Canada, noted the democratic advances made in recent decades, but also the proliferation of intra- and interstate conflicts and the rise of terrorism as a method for obtaining demands. In that context, the progress achieved in promoting and protecting human rights was still too little. Indeed, it had been offset by incidents of horrifying atrocities, which had too often led to dire situations where crimes against humanity had been committed. In recent weeks, there was a new promise of peace in the Middle East. Canada was encouraged by the positive developments made in the region, which would set the scene for more constructive action on human rights. Still, the situation in certain States remained a serious concern for Canada. After two General Assembly resolutions and several visits by United Nations Special Rapporteurs on human rights, Iran continued to fail to implement many of its international obligations with respect to human rights; the time had come for Iran to show its willingness to address its human rights records. The human rights violations in Iran were serious and they should be stopped.

Canada continued to promote a strong multilateral system capable of addressing the whole range of interrelated contemporary challenges, from development of human rights to peace and security. The multilateral system for promotion and protection of human rights had been the subject of much criticism recently, much of it highly relevant. The credibility of the Commission, in particular, had been challenged. The report of the High-Level Panel addressed that question very eloquently. Canada would support all measures to achieve greater integration of human rights into the work of the United Nations and the strengthening of human rights structures. But there was also a need to ensure that the international community had both the will and capacity to respond effectively and quickly to crises where crimes against humanity and war crimes were committed and where the protection of civilians was threatened and human rights were violated.

Promoting a responsibility to protect human rights was at the heart of the reform of the United Nations. Canada was very pleased with the contents of the report of the High-Level Panel in that regard, which recommended among other things, that the justification for the use of force be embodied in relevant United Nations resolutions. Canada believed that next fall’s United Nations Summit declaration should include the recognition of sovereignty as a responsibility and to signal that sovereignty would entail not only rights, but also obligations, especially for the protection of civilians. In addition, Canada believed that it was critical that the Security Council negotiate and adopt a resolution that would embody the guidelines for the use of force recommended by the High-Level Panel.

MARIA TERESA FERNANDEZ DE LA VEGA, Deputy Prime Minister of Spain, recalled that just over one year ago, her country had been subjected to a horrific terrorist attack. Since then, Spanish society had shown its political and moral maturity in refusing to allow that attack to shake its democratic institutions. Instead, Spain continued to hold that terrorism could only be combated efficiently through the respect of human rights. Noting that international society had adopted a binding legal framework for the protection and promotion of human rights in the 60 years since the establishment of the Commission, she affirmed that the codification of standards had had day-to-day impact on the life of individuals the world over. Yet, turning to the future, and reflecting upon the recommendations contained in the report of the High-level Panel on Threats, Challenges and Change, her Government held that both the question of strengthening the Office of the High Commissioner, as well as the entire fabric of universal human rights, must be addressed.

The protection and promotion of human rights remained one of her country’s priorities, the Deputy Prime Minister of Spain said, while noting the Spanish President’s recent proposal to create an alliance of civilizations to be based on understanding, tolerance and respect for others, in order to ensure that terrorism was never linked with any culture or religion. Spain, which was party to virtually all international human rights instruments, offered effective collaboration to all the procedures established in regard to those instruments. The country had increased its financial support for human rights, including to the Voluntary Fund for Victims of Torture, and had undertaken legislative support of draft resolutions addressing other priority concerns such as forced disappearances, indigenous rights, economic, social and cultural rights, the right to reparation, and the rights of persons with disabilities.

Not limiting itself to mere declarations of support for human rights, she added, the Government of Spain had worked to combat discrimination, including through policies of equality and positive discrimination. One of the priorities of the first year of legislation had been to act in favour of gender equality. Other recent initiatives addressed the issues of gender-based violence, migration, religious tolerance, effective development of economic, social and cultural rights and the eradication of torture. Spain also wished to play a more active role in the work of the Commission; in that context, the Deputy Prime Minister also announced the candidacy of her country for membership on the Commission for the period 2007-2009.

RENAUD MUSELIER, Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs of France, said as its composition was universal, and its mandate global, the United Nations Organization had an irreplaceable legitimacy when faced with mass violations of human rights and it needed to exercise its responsibility to protect victims of those violations. The Commission had a role as a vigil; when the voice of human rights defenders was not heard, it was up to the Commission to alert the international community which was a large responsibility. The Commission had occasionally failed in the past. To play this role and sound the alarm, the Commission had useful indicators, such as the various conventions for the protection of human rights, and the mechanisms established by the Commission to oversee the respect of these international norms.

It was clear that the instruments which the international community had at its disposal were not sufficient to fulfil all needs. Between the path of force and coercion, and a simple acknowledgement of powerlessness, there was a path of strength, founded on responsibility and on the collective will to serve human rights, and thus, to serve peace. The Commission was at the centre of this path, and its authority should be reinforced. It was clear that if the United Nations as well as the Commission itself, in the field of human rights as in others, could not reform, then those who wished to avoid its rulings would simply go around it.

To assure the pre-eminence of law, there was a need for universal ratification and the true application of existing conventions, in particular the Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women, and also the Convention on the Fight against Organised Crime. Furthermore, attention should be paid to all manifestations of religious intolerance, anti-Semitism and racial discrimination. Concerning the universality of human rights, France was not convinced by those who spoke about the clash between civilizations and cultures. There were many examples against this, including the responsible action by regional and international actors who worked for the establishment of legitimacy in Togo.

Right of Reply

YUSUKE ARAI (Japan) said in exercise of right of reply that the Japanese Government agreed with the Government of Peru that punishment should be meted out in cases of serious crime. However, with respect to the ex-President of Peru, Alberto Fujimori, his Government was carefully considering the Peruvian request to hand him over and had requested additional information from the Peruvian Government.

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