4 August 1999
The Subcommission on the Promotion and Protection of Human Rights continued this afternoon with its annual review of human-rights situations in any country, hearing allegations of abuses in Sri Lanka, Indonesia, Vietnam, Columbia, Ecuador, Burma, China Ethiopia, Djibouti, Cape Verde, Belarus, Australia, the United States, Peru, Mexico, India, Pakistan, Iraq, Bahrain, Afghanistan, Bhutan and Japan.
Most of those addressing the meeting were representatives of non-governmental organizations (NGOs). They charged such violations as murder, torture, armed conflict, religious intolerance, racism and coerced confessions. Some NGOs lamented discrimination against indigenous peoples, while others described the effects of xenophobia and arbitrary arrests. Among countries taking the floor, Iraq contended, as in previous years, that the international economic embargo imposed upon it was having dire effects on the health and human rights of its citizens.
Representatives of several Governments also took the opportunity to announce human-rights advances in their countries. A representative from Bahrain said the disturbances that plagued that country for four years beginning in 1994 were over and a substantial number of detainees had been released. Indonesia, said its representative, had moved from mere political debate on human rights to concrete action. Bhutan said progress was being made in negotiations with Nepal to resolve a long-standing refugee problem between the two countries.
Addressing the Subcommission this afternoon were representatives of the NGOs International Educational Development; Survival International; World Evangelical Fellowship; International Confederation of Free Trade Unions; International Human Rights Association of American Minorities; Interfaith International; Lutheran World Federation; Indian Movement "Tupaj Amaru"; World Muslim Congress; Movement Against Racism and for Friendship Among Peoples; Pax Romana; and Asian Women's Human Rights Council.
Observer Governments also addressed the Subcommission, including Iraq, Bahrain, the Democratic Peoples Republic of Korea, Indonesia, Bhutan, Turkey, the Republic of Korea, Albania, China, Tunisia, Azerbaijan, Sri Lanka and Mexico.
Mexico also spoke in right of reply.
The Subcommission will reconvene at 10 a.m. Thursday, 5 August, to continue its review of the question of human-rights violations anywhere in the world.
Before the Subcommission under this agenda item was a note by the Secretariat (E/CN.4/Sub.2/1999/4) referring to violations of the rights of human-rights defenders in all countries, and citing incidents in Turkey, Tunisia, Colombia, Nigeria, Kosovo, Indonesia and the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
PARTHIPAN, of International Educational Development, said Sri Lanka’s genocidal onslaught on the Tamil people had been escalating over the last 16 years. During the conflict, the Government of Sri Lanka had failed to observe humanitarian and human-rights laws. The Sri Lankan Government continued to use food, medecine and other essential supplies, as well as rape, as weapons of war against the Tamil people.
The use of food as a weapon of war was a serious crime, as was the deliberate denial of medicine. Access to the war zone should be made available for food and medicine to be transported and patients to be rushed to hospitals by NGOs. Continued denial of access and continued the economic blockade and refusal of food and medicine was a horrendous crime against humanity.
LEONIE TANGGAHMA, of Survival International, said attention should be paid to the human-rights situation in West Papua, Indonesia. This province had engaged since last year in a process called the national dialogue with the Indonesian Government. There had been encouragement based on the positive steps the Indonesian Government had taken since last year's fall of the Suharto presidency. This included the signing of a Memorandum of Understanding by the Indonesian Government as well as adoption of an Indonesian National Plan for Human Rights. However, human-rights concerns were very urgent, in particular in areas such as West Papua, where up until now UN special rapporteurs and experts had been denied access. Again this year, blatant human-rights violations had occurred.
There had been many recent unprovoked killings of young Papuans by members of the Indonesian armed forces in several places in West Papua. On 7 June, a young man named Robert Yaung, aged 20, was shot by two members of the army strategic command. At first, the military tried to cover up the incident, explaining to the young man's family that he had died as a result of an accident, but his mother broke open the coffin and investigations showed that he had been shot.
ELIZABETH BATHA, of World Evangelical Fellowship, said a number of concerns regarding restrictions on fundamental freedoms and human rights of religious communities had been raised following the Special Rapporteur’s visit to Vietnam. Serious limitations remained on the religious communities freedom to worship without restrictions. Christian ethnic minorities were facing, in addition to harassment, house arrest, detention and other restrictive measures, the destruction of places of worship and other ill treatment aimed at forcing the minorities to abandon their newly adopted faith. The United Nations should urge the Government of Vietnam to investigate reported incidents of harassment, ill-treatment and destruction of places of worship among the Christian ethnic minorities, particularly those of Hong and Mnong origin, and to take prompt action to bring those responsible to justice.
ANNA BIONDI, of International Confederation of Free Trade Unions, said the Subcommission should denounce the fact that being a trade unionist and defending legitimate rights could still mean risking life, liberty and employment in too many countries on the eve of the new millennium.
Colombia remained the most dangerous country by far, with at least 35 trade unionists killed since the beginning of 1999, and with torture and death threats commonly used against trade unionists. Burma and China also had human-rights violations committed against trade unionists, as did Ethiopia, Djibouti, Cape Verde, Belarus, and Australia.
COLIN MACNAUGHTON, of International Human rights Association of American Minorities, said that in the United States there was an increasing tendency to hide racial and colonialist policies under the guise of so-called privatization and integration. Human-rights violations in Peru were increasing at an alarming rate. The Government of Mexico was not improving the situation in that country by creating and supporting new paramilitary groups.
The people of Kashmir’s basic human rights and fundamental freedoms had been obliterated by the occupation forces of the Indian Government and its policies. The Kashmiris deserved the right to determine their future for themselves. The Subcommission should act in a positive and forceful manner to pass a resolution which would create impetus for the Security Council and the involved countries of India and Pakistan to grant the promised plebiscite to the people of Kashmir.
CHARLES GRAVES, Interfaith International, said the organization felt continued concern over the violation of human rights in Iraq, particularly of the Arab Shi'a majority in the country and of Kurdish and Turcomen peoples in the north. The religious and cultural rights of theologians and students of theology in the holy cities of Najaf and Kerbala should have been inviolable, and the religious rites and holy places of the Shi'a community in Iraq, as well as all religious communities, should have been respected.
Interfaith International was preoccupied with the treatment of members of the political opposition in Bahrain. Reports had reached the group that with the advent of the new ruler, some of those who had been militating for the democratization of that country and the return of the suspended Parliament would be granted amnesty, and others would be allowed to return to the country on the condition that they confess their anti-Government activities and submit to the ruling family. Interfaith International called on the Government of Bahrain to admit the legitimate political and civil rights of those who called for a return to Parliamentary procedures in the country and an end to demands for confessions in return for amnesty.
PRISCILLA SINGH, of Lutheran World Federation, said there were serious human-rights implications to the situation in Bhutan. Bhutanese refugees living in Nepal and India could not return home. No technical assistance had been requested by Bhutan in relation to the specific issue of establishing an impartial verification exercise for the refugees based upon accepted principles of international human rights law.
The Bhutanese refugees remained without a voice in their future, forgotten by the international community. The Subcommission should break this silence and promote real progress towards a just and durable solution for the Bhutanese refugees.
LAZARO PARY, of Indian Movement "Tupaj Amaro", said that on the verge of a new millennium, people were facing the scourge of weapons of mass destruction, transnational organized crime and corruption. The Movement could not keep silent on the human-rights tragedy in the Balkans. NATO had launched a most ferocious attack against Yugoslavia in March. It was a unipolar world where a single power used its power over others. NATO, led by the United States, had caused the deliberate destruction of a developing nation. The bombing of a train, of a hospital, dozens of bridges and roads had occurred. NATO's war was the main cause of the massive refugee exodus that had led to a humanitarian catastrophe.
The US and NATO wanted to wipe off the face of the earth all developing countries that would not bend to their political will. NATO's action violated the UN Charter and the Geneva Conventions.
M. AHMAD, of World Muslim Congress, said there was a pattern of consistent gross and apparently state-supported violations of human rights in Kashmir which had persisted for the last ten years. The denial of human and democratic rights to people continued to add to the pain and misery of the inhabitants. The soldiers of the Indian Army were guilty of gross human-rights violations. During the last ten years, the Indian Government had contravened practically every human-rights norm and had liberally sanctioned violations. India had built the use of force into a cardinal factor in its domestic and regional policy. Its control over Kashmir was a military occupation.
To the people of Kashmir, this was illegitimate and unacceptable. To deny their demand for self-determination, they had been denied civil liberties and other democratic rights. The basic issue was the determination of the Kashmiri people to live in an open environment, free of coercion and manipulation.
ALEJANDRO CRUZ-LOPEZ, of Movement Against Racism and for Friendship Among Peoples, said that on 15 April 1998, two members of the group had been arrested in Mexico. Information on their whereabouts could not be obtained. They were considered disappeared. On 17 April, three brothers were arrested. Authorities had been asked where they were located. The state Government would not react to requests, and it was assumed that they had lost their lives. On 18 April, hundreds of judicial officers and police arrested dozens of people, including women, children and elders. One women suffered a miscarriage. Those arrested were mistreated. These acts amounted to torture, over and over. Food and water were denied.
Peaceful action eventually had led the release of the arrested members. But to date, nothing had been done to the people who had carried out the oppression. Some of those responsible had even been promoted. The National Commission of Human Rights in Mexico was not up to its task.
VERENA GRAF, of International League for the Rights and Liberation of Peoples, said the right of peoples to self-determination needed an update. This update should include the right of a people, especially an ethnic group, to take relevant action when it was subjected to years of gross human-rights violations by a Government, when it had exhausted all reasonable peaceful means of redress and when there was no realistic expectation of improvement without drastic measures. Examples of this included the struggle of Kosovo Albanians and of the Tamil people.
Now the Sri Lankan Government had adopted a new strategy against the Tamil people, using food and medicine as weapons of war, to the point where people were dying from starvation and denial of access to health care.
KEVIN AHERN, of Pax Romana, said Pax Romana felt solidarity with the people working for the promotion and protection of human rights in Mexico. It requested the Subcommission to keep developments in Mexico under review and to request the Commission to designate a Special Rapporteur to investigate the situation, particularly concerning indigenous peoples.
In Indonesia, despite a number of encouraging steps taken by the new Indonesian Government under President Habibie, such as the recently launched technical cooperation with the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, in practice much still remained to be done. In Aceh, there had been the torture of 40 civilians accused of being members of the Free Aceh Movement. In the case of Peru, Pax Romana expressed concern over the continuing deterioration of the protection of human rights. Recent developments indicated that Peru had withdrawn its acceptance of the compulsory jurisdiction of the Inter-American Court of Human Rights.
KIM SUN YONG, of Asian Women’s Human Rights Council and the Korean Student’s League in Japan, said Koreans in Japan were still suffering form various violations of human rights. They took the form of discrimination permitted by the Government, with Korean children denied their rights to learn their own culture and history and to cultivate ethnic pride as Koreans. Many Korean children did not know Korean culture, language or history, did not know why they lived in Japan, and suffered from a discriminative environment.
The Japanese Government should consider its discriminatory policy against Korean schools and students, and take immediate action. The Subcommission should pay attention to this issue in order to solve systematic discrimination. It should conduct an investigation so that there would be further improvement in the educational environment in Japan.
TAHA SHUKER MAHMOOD, (Iraq) said that as this session was being held, the comprehensive economic embargo imposed on Iraq had entered its tenth year. The suffering of the people of Iraq due to this embargo had become well known to everyone, since it had deprived the Iraqi people of all fundamental needs after the American warplanes and missiles had destroyed all that Iraq had constructed throughout the years. Between 16 January and 27 February 1991, some 88,000 tons of bombs had been dropped on Iraq, the explosive power of which was equal to that of seven atomic bombs of the type dropped on Hiroshima.
One of the main targets of the aggression was Iraq's civil infrastructure. The intent was to take the country back to the pre-industry era, as publicly stated by James Baker, the former US Secretary of State. The Iraqi Government had always been keen to advance and protect human rights and had made use of all availability capabilities to achieve this goal despite the conditions resulting from the embargo, which had never been imposed before on any other people in the world, and which had devastatingly affected the entire collective and individual human rights of Iraqis. It had become almost impossible to provide Iraqi citizens with their basic needs for food and medicine, resulting in the deaths of large numbers of the Iraqi citizens, mainly among the most vulnerable groups.
AHMAD AL HADDAD, (Bahrain) said Bahrain was a highly organized and advanced developing country, and its Government was fully and absolutely committed to the protection of human rights. A raft of measures had been laid down to address the challenges of the 21st century. To meet these challenges, the Government had developed a coordinated strategy based upon policies of consultation and cooperation at home and abroad. It had requested the cooperation of the Office of the High Commissioner of Human Rights.
Bahrain would continue to fully cooperate and to affirm its absolute cooperation in the promotion of human rights within its coordinated strategy for the development and progress of the Bahraini nation into the 21st century.
RI TCHEUL, (Democratic People’s Republic of Korea) said the Government regarded human rights as independent rights of the people. It held to the principle that the popular masses should be placed at the centre in all its activities and that everything served the people. Genuine enjoyment of the right to vote and to be elected, freedom of political activities, ownership of the means of production, stable employment, universal compulsory eleven-year free education for all children, free medical care, abolition of taxation, reduced work time for women, sufficient paid leave before and after child-bearing, special status accorded to the children -- all these practical measures in force served to guarantee human rights.
The Government regarded human rights as sacred rights that nobody could infringe upon, and constantly developed policies for the protection of human rights. During the past year, a series of measures had been taken for further promotion and protection of the rights and freedoms of citizens through revision and supplementation of the Constitution. The law on elections, the law on publication and about 80 other laws and regulations had been either revised or supplemented.
HASSAN WIRAJUDA, (Indonesia) said the Subcommission needed to give full attention to its own process of reform, especially in dealing with this agenda item. The role of the body was not to point fingers at countries based on superficial reviews of selective facts but to contribute to a deeper process of study with a view to making constructive contributions towards the realization of human rights for those who lived in those countries. Gross and systematic violations of human rights in any given State should not only be condemned, but recognized as serious problems which needed solutions and remedies, taking into account the social, cultural and historical aspects of the country concerned. If these problems were not addressed appropriately, there could be no improvement in human rights in any given State.
In less than 15 months, Indonesia had witnessed very substantial progress in the promotion and protection of human rights. The course of human rights had been moved from mere political debate to concrete action. The ongoing democratic process and the country’s economic recovery would provide more political stability and the necessary conditions for the realization of all human rights.
BAP KESANG,(Bhutan) said the Government had taken several substantive initiatives towards finding a solution to the problem between Bhutan and Nepal, as called for by the Subcommission last year.
The problem of the people in the refugee camps in eastern Nepal was very complex. At the heart of it was the serious threat posed by a rising tide of illegal immigration to the survival of Bhutan, a small Himalayan country, and a sovereign independent State. Its legitimate efforts to deal with the problem had been politicized and portrayed as human-rights violations by illegal immigrants and their supporters. Bhutan and Nepal agreed to classify people into four distinct categories. The ongoing dialogue between the two countries was seeking to reach agreement on each of them. This would provide the basis for a just and enduring resolution of the problem.
BOLENT MERIC, (Turkey) said the Secretariat’s note under this agenda item made only mention of the appeals of the High Commissioner and various mechanisms related to human rights but did not mention the Governments’ response to these appeals. Akin Birdal had been sentenced to one year imprisonment and a fine. The sentence of the Court of First Instance had been appealed twice. In the second appeal, the Supreme Court had upheld the original judgement.
The sentence had been postponed for four months, and Mr. Birdal was now serving his sentence. This was due to his inciting the public to racial hatred. He was receiving treatment for injuries due to an assassination attempt. Equality before the law was one of the prime functions of justice. Human-rights defenders had no right to contravene national law or to imperil the State.
MAN-SOON CHANG, (Republic of Korea) said that even in this increasingly globalized world, where democracy and human rights were recognized as universal values, there still remained totalitarian regimes that denied the basic human rights of their people and ignored international human rights standards. No particularities of race, culture or religion could warrant human-rights violations. Korea urged the leaders of those repressive regimes to take measures to ensure the fundamental human rights of their people.
As the 21st century dawned, it must not be allowed to follow the troubled path of the previous century. Strong measures must be taken to prevent and forestall situations where human rights violations occurred. The recent Kosovo conflict clearly demonstrated that domestic violation of human rights could be a threat to international peace and security. To prevent such future developments, a culture of tolerance must prevail at the national, regional and global levels. It was hoped that the 2001 United Nations World Conference against Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and Other Related Intolerances would establish the groundwork towards achieving this goal.
KSENOFON KRISAFI, (Albania) said the situation of the human rights of Kosovar Albanians was important for Albania for several reasons. Albania had given refuge to 1.5 million Kosovars, showing a spirit of sacrifice and humanity. Neither appeals nor resolutions had halted the human-rights violations that had taken place in Kosovo once Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic and his clique had gained power. Fortunately the work of the session of the Subcommission had coincided with a great period of change in Kosovo.
It was with great regret that a few voices were heard that condemned the action the international community had taken to preserve the lives of the Kosovar people. The conscience of these persons was appealed to, so that they too would condemn the crimes against humanity that had taken place. The actions of the United Nations were commended, and it was hoped that the situation of human rights in Kosovo would never again merit the attention of the international community.
QIAD ZONGHUAI, (China) said practice indicated that the correct way to promote human rights was to develop dialogue and cooperation on the basis of equality and mutual respect. It was clear that the Subcommission had played a constructive role in this regard. The Chinese Government had always attached importance to protection and promotion of human rights and fundamental freedoms, and had adopted forceful measures to improve the enjoyment of civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights by its people.
The Chinese Government, according to law, protected citizens freedom of speech, assembly, association and belief, but at the same time disallowed anybody or any organization to spread fallacies, hoodwink or hurt people, incite or create disturbances or jeopardize social stability.
RAOUF CHATTY, (Tunisia) said Tunisia had continued its work to protect and promote human rights and fundamental freedoms. Reforms had taken place at several levels of Tunisian society and legislation had been passed with the goal of improving the situation. Links had been established between human rights, economic progress and democratic openness. A constant and progressive evolution in rights and freedoms in all areas had been chosen as the best path. Reforms had covered almost all legislation in effect and had reinforced political pluralism, freedom of expression and of association. They had also touched upon education, health, the emancipation of women, housing, and the protection of the child, as well as the fight against poverty and social exclusion.
Human rights were nobody’s exclusive domain. An NGO at this forum continued to propagate unfounded allegations against Tunisia. These were due to political motivations. Tunisia had never pretended to have attained all its goals in the area of human rights, and would continue to reinforce its mechanisms and improve its performance.
TOFIG MUSAYEV, (Azerbaijan) said international terrorism had become one of the most serious threats to the generally accepted concept of human rights and fundamental freedoms, as well as to the security and territorial integrity of States.
The Government fully shared the constantly growing concern of the international community at the alarming upsurge of acts of terrorism and the increasing number of innocent persons killed, massacred and maimed by terrorists.
HEWA PALIHAKKARA, (Sri Lanka) said the Sri Lankan Government had consistently followed an open policy with regard to the promotion and protection of human rights. International measures taken in the field of human rights were underpinned by this policy. Information on the progress made as well as problems that were still confronted had been freely shared. While there was naturally room for improvement, a significant preventive effort had been accomplished in the country and should be built upon. The Government had continued to provide humanitarian services, food and other essential supplies to people in areas affected by terrorism.
The Government’s policies and operational programmes on human rights and humanitarian work undertaken should be seen in the context of the extraordinary security threat brought about by the terrorist group LTTE. If the LTTE demonstrated its readiness to renounce its violent campaign for a mono-ethnic separate state in Sri Lanka and joined with other political parties, then a negotiated political solution could be found within a specific time frame.
ANTONIO DE ICAZA, (Mexico) said the Government and most of the population shared the opinion that it was only through democracy that far-reaching changes could be achieved. Democracy required respect for human rights. There was no rule of law without a system of justice and a well-trained judiciary. Strengthening the rule of law included battling impunity. The rule of law also meant implementation of human rights, and their constant promotion.
In order to defend human rights, a culture of respect for human rights must be created. At the Governmental level, tens of thousands of civil servants had taken part in human-rights training. The poverty that affected the country’s indigenous populations deeply hurt, and there was hope that it could be overcome.
Right of reply
ALFONSO MARTINEZ, (Mexico), speaking in right of reply, said the integrity of the delegation had been called into question. Two representatives of NGOs had accused the delegation of having brought national legislators of a political party with them, of having financed them and of having granted them facilities. This was untrue. No distinction was made between legislators in terms of their political parties or ethnicity.