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Experts describe situations in Sudan, south-east Europe and Afghanistan

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HR/CN/1011
Commission on Human Rights Continues Debate on Occupied Arab Territories

(Reissued as received.)

GENEVA, 28 March (UN Information Service) -- Special Rapporteurs and a Special Representative summarized situations in the Sudan, Bosnia and Herzegovina and Serbia and Montenegro, and Afghanistan this afternoon as the Commission on Human Rights briefly took up its agenda item on the question of human rights violations anywhere in the world.

The subject was opened to allow these Commission experts, who were scheduled to leave Geneva, to speak. General debate on the matter will follow the conclusion of the Commission's discussion of the situation of human rights in the occupied Arab territories, including Palestine.

Gerhart Baum, Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Sudan, said that while some improvements had taken place as an effect of the ceasefire in Sudan, they had been insufficient, and human rights abuses had not decreased. Among other concerns, he cited the escalating conflict in Darfur, which affected 25 per cent of Sudan's population and urgently needed the implementation of serious measures of conflict resolution and reconciliation. The country needed not simply criticism, but help and encouragement, Mr. Baum said.

A Representative of Sudan said among other things that while the Government appreciated the mention of some positive developments in the report, an implication of the Special Rapporteur that the Government was involved in the fighting taking place in the Western Upper Nile through militias was misleading; claims of religious harassment were unfounded; and charges that the security forces sexually harassed women were categorically rejected.

José Cutileiro, Special Representative on human rights in Bosnia and Herzegovina and Serbia and Montenegro, said, among other things, that a state of emergency within Serbia had involved very substantial derogations from the country's human rights obligations, and that lack of progress and real commitment to investigate the mass graves discovered in Serbia was a matter of deep concern. Mr. Cutileiro said among other things that for Bosnia and Herzegovina to be able to progress in the wake of the conflicts of the 1990s, it must deal with the legacies of the war: returnees and internally displaced persons, the question of war criminals, persons who remained unaccounted for after the war, a damaged economy and organized crime.

A Representative of Serbia and Montenegro said, among other things, that, as evidenced by its recent invitation to join the Council of Europe as a full member State, there had been much progress in human rights in Serbia and Montenegro, although numerous challenges remained to be faced due to the complexity of substantial and comprehensive reforms under way of the entire socio-political and economic structure of the country.

A Representative of Bosnia and Herzegovina said, among other things, that the situation of human rights in the country had significantly improved, that authorities had started a comprehensive process of reforms and democratization aimed at establishing a politically stable state, that free and fair general elections had been held in October, and that there had been an outstanding improvement in the implementation of property laws.

Kamal Hossein, Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Afghanistan, said, among other things, that lack of security had led to terrible acts in the country, including recent killings of staff of the International Committee of the Red Cross, while on the positive side, it was to be noted that in Afghanistan 3 million children had gone back to school, including more than 1 million girls previously banned from education under the Taliban regime; and nearly 2 million refugees had returned to their homeland, 50 per cent of whom were women.

Delivering statements on the situation in the occupied Arab territories were representatives of Greece (on behalf of the European Union), Canada, China, South Africa (on behalf of the African Group), and Malaysia.

Representatives of Israel and Palestine spoke in exercise of the right of reply.

The Commission will reconvene at 10 a.m. Monday, 31 March, to continue discussion of the situation in the occupied Arab territories.

Question of Violation of Human Rights And Fundamental Freedoms in Any Part of the World

This agenda item was opened this afternoon to allow a Special Representative and two Special Rapporteurs to present their reports.

There is a report on the situation of human rights in parts of South-Eastern Europe by Jose Cutileiro, Special Representative on the situation of human rights in Bosnia and Herzegovina and the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia (document E/CN.4/2003/38). The Special Representative congratulates authorities of Bosnia and Herzegovina for well-organized, free and fair elections held in October 2002, and the movement towards establishing a more unified form of government through the creation of State ministries and a State court. He hopes the election of nationalist parties will not revive nationalist tendencies and exacerbate tensions since the majority of human rights concerns continue to be rooted in discrimination on the basis of ethnicity, political affiliation, or national origin. The Special Representative stresses the need to bring to trial persons indicted by the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia, and encourages the State and other entities to comply with their legal obligation to take all necessary steps to assist the families of those who went missing or were victims of forced disappearances as a result of the conflict. The Special Representative concludes that the overall situation of human rights in the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia (FRY) continues to improve -- albeit slowly and unevenly. A number of important legislative measures were adopted in 2002. He notes, however, that deep divisions remain within and between the various political parties in both Serbia and Montenegro and that this uncertainty continues to undermine the quality and pace of the substantive reform of key institutions of importance to human rights -- not least the judiciary, the police, the army, the media, and the social and welfare sectors. The report also accounts for the situation of human rights in Presevo, Bujanovac, Medvedja, and Kosovo.

There is a report on the situation of human rights in Afghanistan submitted by Kamal Hossain, Special Rapporteur (document E/CN.4/2003/39). The Special Rapporteur undertook three missions to Afghanistan during 2002 and his ninth report provides an overview of Afghanistan’s transitional progress initiated by the Bonn Agreement, with particular focus on its impact on human rights.

A summary of issues relating to human rights and cases of violations is provided under the four headings of discrimination against specific ethnic groups; human rights of women; cases of violence as a result of local conflict and extrajudicial execution; and the treatment of prisoners. As regards Afghan women, their low social status and the consequent power imbalances between women and men are the underlying reasons for harmful and discriminatory practices and physical and sexual violence against girls and women in Afghanistan, the Special Rapporteur contends. At the same time, and despite the horrors of war, many have emerged empowered. The centrality of the gender dimension is crucial in the processes of reconstruction. The report outlines seven key recommendations aimed at identifying priority areas where action needs to be taken for improving the human rights situation, ranging from ways to improve security to strengthening the national Human Rights Commission to enhancing national participation in the transition process.

There is a report on the situation of human rights in Sudan by Special Rapporteur Gerhard Baum (document E/CN.4/2003/42). The report welcomes the latest developments in the peace process, but warns that the overall human rights situation should not be overlooked and stresses the importance of placing human rights at the heart of peace talks, for a just and sustainable peace. The Special Rapporteur says that monitoring of the peace agreement to end the civil conflict in the country, both from within and from outside, is of paramount importance. To this end, the Special Rapporteur envisages a number of benchmarks, which are annexed to the report and are aimed at integrating a human rights dimension into the peace talks. In general, in spite of the commitments made, the overall human rights situation has not improved, he asserts. While civil society has become more pro-active and better organized, the security apparatus continues to operate with impunity, the report contends. The situation remains of concern also in areas controlled by the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement/Army (SPLM/A), where virtually no guarantees are set for the respect of basic rights and fundamental freedoms. The Special Rapporteur states that special courts in Darfur are not in keeping with international human rights standards and encourages the Government to explore alternative ways of dealing with the situation. Finally, he appeals to the donor community to gear its assistance to long-term development projects aimed at creating an environment conducive to peace in Sudan.

Presentations of Special Representative And Special Rapporteurs, and Country Reactions

GERHART BAUM, Special Rapporteur of the Commission on Human Rights on the situation of human rights in the Sudan, said that while some improvements had taken place as an effect of the ceasefire in Sudan, they had been insufficient. Human rights abuses had not decreased in either the north or south of Sudan. Human rights and democratization should be recognized as central aspects of a sustainable peace, in which respect the current report contained 12 proposals. All elements of civil society should be incorporated in the peace process, including those of the opposition, which were currently left out. The strengthening of civil society would be the key to the sustainability of the peace process.

There were two regions of particular concern, said Mr. Baum. The first was the Western Upper Nile, in which, despite the ongoing negotiations for peace, human rights abuses had continued to be perpetrated on the ground.

Government-aligned militias were responsible for recent attacks in this region. The second area of concern was that of Darfur. The ongoing conflict, which had been characterized, among others, by attacks against civilians, the targeting of local tribes, mass executions by armed forces and massive bombardments, had a high potential to destabilize the country; the region of Darfur was not covered under the current peace negotiations.

The overall human rights situation in Sudan had not improved, said Mr. Baum. The country remained under the iron-tight grip of its security apparatus. Moreover, the Government had failed to comply with international obligations.

It had not signed either the Convention against Torture or the Convention on the Protection of Women. Among others, censorship of the press, curtailments on the freedom of movement, the prevention of members of the political opposition from travelling and, while there was no religious war, discrimination against churches had continued.

The situation in Sudan had evolved in the past few months, noted Mr. Baum. The current peace process had raised high expectations, which should not be destroyed. Sudan had a chance to achieve both peace and democracy, and for this reason, its human rights situation should remain on the Commission's agenda. Among other concerns, the escalating conflict in Darfur - which affected 25 per cent of Sudan's population - urgently needed the implementation of serious measures of conflict resolution and reconciliation. The country needed not simply criticism, but help and encouragement.

IBRAHIM MIRGHANI IBRAHIM (Sudan) speaking as a concerned country, said that the Government of Sudan appreciated that the Special Rapporteur had welcomed the latest development undertaken by the Government within the peace process; remarked that civil society had become more proactive and better organized; welcomed the commitment of the Government and the progress achieved on the issues of access to the humanitarian operations and the provision of humanitarian assistance to the needy population; and had welcomed the signature by the Government of the Machakos Protocol in November 2002. The Special Rapporteur had also reacted positively to the discussion on the creation of a national human rights institution; and the progress made in the field of eliminating abduction of women and children. Sudan was pleased to see the Special Rapporteur devoting a separate section in his report to the violations of human rights in the SPLM/A rebel-controlled areas. The rebel-controlled areas suffered the absence of civil society; the enormous grip of the power of the security forces; the restriction on the freedom of opinion and expression; and the forced recruitment of children around 15 years old, and the recruitment of demobilized children.

The indication made by the Special Rapporteur that the Government was implicated in the fighting taking place in the Western Upper Nile through the militias was rather misleading. The militias were tribal military men who used to be in the SPLM/A and had defected from the rebel movement after tribal clashes within the movement. Nothing joined them with the Government except the common enemy of the SPLM/A. Any assumption that such groups enjoyed Government support or control represented a totally denial of reality. The Special Rapporteur had given considerable attention to the situation in Darfur. It was imperative to say that the unfortunate situation unfolding in Darfur was the result of environmental degradation and desertification causing a scarcity of pasture, pitting nomadic tribes against farming tribes.

The Special Rapporteur had referred to specific individual cases labelled political detainees. While disagreeing with the Special Rapporteur, it was important to state that individuals who used political covers to commit criminal acts aimed at undermining security and stability in the country were usually prosecuted by fair courts. It was inaccurate to depict them as political prisoners. Alleged incidents of torture, which were attributed to security forces, were thoroughly investigated and impunity was vigorously fought.

In section E of the report, the Special Rapporteur had indicated that cases of discrimination and harassment on the basis of religion had been reported. The Government categorically rejected these allegations. Discrimination was a crime punishable by law and no cases of discrimination had been reported to the judiciary. The Special Rapporteur was assured that the Medical Specialization Council had directed all health personnel to observe the law and report on anyone performing female circumcision. In conclusion, the assertion that the security forces sexually harassed women was categorically rejected. It seemed this allegation had been written without any verification.

JOSE CUTILEIRO, Special Representative of the Commission on Human Rights in Bosnia and Herzegovina and Serbia and Montenegro, introducing his report to the Commission, said the proclamation on 12 March 2003 of a state of emergency within Serbia had involved very substantial derogations from the State's human rights obligations. The lack of progress and real commitment to investigate the mass graves discovered in Serbia was also of deep concern. The human rights situation of ethnic minorities living in Kosovo and for those displaced to other parts of Serbia and Montenegro was still cause for very serious concern. There had been some improvements in some areas but overall, the security situation for minority populations in Kosovo was poor, despite the presence of a large international police and a peacekeeping force. There were frequent incidents of violence, harassment and intimidation, most ethnic minorities did not enjoy freedom of movement and encountered severe discrimination in access to public services, healthcare, employment opportunities and the enjoyment of basic property rights. For as long as this deeply unsatisfactory situation existed, displaced persons were unlikely to be able or willing to return in any significant numbers.

Mr. Cutileiro said that the problems faced today by Bosnia and Herzegovina were direct consequences of the internal conflicts of the 1990s. To be able to progress, Bosnia and Herzegovina must deal with the legacy of the war: returnees and internally displaced persons, the question of war criminals, persons who remained unaccounted for after the war, a damaged economy and organized crime. Implementation of property laws had progressed. Bosnia and Herzegovina had now achieved a rate of 72 per cent repossession of pre-war property. However, the repossession was largely technical, with property owners not actually returning to their pre-war residences. The climate of security had not been assured for returnees. Eight years after Dayton, those who chose to return to their pre-war homes faced problems of threats or outright violence, as well as discrimination in obtaining documentation, finding employment in a generally depressed economy, accessing health care, and access to education for their children. In some areas, separate schools for different nationalities existed despite efforts by the international community and Government to come up with a common curriculum for all schools.

To date, there had been few national prosecutions in Bosnian courts, Mr. Cutileiro said. Government officials agreed that there was a lack of qualified judges to deal with domestic war crimes cases and individuals were afraid to come forward and testify. Relatives of the missing and of victims of enforced disappearances had reported that their repeated requests for information from local authorities on the whereabouts of their loved ones had remained unanswered. These problems also affected the prosecution of other crimes, such as trafficking in women, corruption and organized crime.

MILOS VUKASINOVIC (Bosnia and Herzegovina), speaking as a concerned country, said that the situation of human rights in Bosnia and Herzegovina had significantly improved and had gone a long way from its tragic past. After signing the Dayton-Paris Peace Agreement, the authorities of Bosnia and Herzegovina had started a comprehensive process of reforms and democratization, aimed at establishing a politically stable state. In this context, for the first time since the war, the authorities had organized free and fair general elections in October. Furthermore, Bosnia and Herzegovina had accelerated the process of legal reforms. The new laws on the Council and State Ministries defined new ministries such as the Ministry of Justice and the Ministry of Security.

There has also been an outstanding improvement in the implementation of the property laws. Property repossession was a precondition for the return of refugees and internally displaced persons. In order to achieve self-sustainable return, the authorities were undertaking additional efforts to provide a secure environment and the protection of the social and economic rights of returnees. The authorities also fully cooperated with the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) and had established the Court of Bosnia and Herzegovina and its Special Council should start processing war crimes next year with the ICTY approval. Trafficking in human beings was one of the important regional issues that also affected Bosnia and Herzegovina. In order to tackle the problem, the Council of Ministers of Bosnia and Herzegovina had adopted the Action Plan for the Prevention of Trafficking in Human Beings.

MILORAD SCEPANOVIC (Serbia and Montenegro), speaking as a concerned country, said that as evidenced by its recent invitation to join the Council of Europe as a full Member State, there had been much progress in human rights in Serbia and Montenegro; Serbia and Montenegro had signed and ratified all key international conventions in the field of human rights, reaffirmed that the country continued to be a party to all international conventions on human rights assumed by the former Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia and undertaken a series of measures in the field of domestic legislation with the aim of providing full respect for international standards in the field of human rights and discarding the shortcomings of the past.

Numerous challenges remained to be faced, admitted Mr. Scepanovic, due to the complexity of the substantial and comprehensive reforms of the entire socio-political and economic structure of the country. The process of establishing the rule of law, including international standards of protection and implementation of the individual and collective human rights, had been rendered more difficult by the heavy burden of the past, which lay on the country and the region.

His country continued to shelter over 350,000 refugees, primarily from Bosnia and Herzegovina and Croatia, said Mr. Scepanovic. In accordance with the general obligation to respect the right of return of refugees, Serbia and Montenegro was ready to intensify the dialogue with its neighboring countries and relevant international bodies. Moreover, results in Kosovo and Metohija had proved far from satisfactory, especially in ensuring the security of the Serb and other non-Albanian population and the safe return of over 230,000 mainly Serb internally displaced persons. These areas required a more intensive and substantial cooperation between all responsible parties. The Government also remained firmly committed to the continuation and promotion of cooperation with the Hague War Crimes Tribunal.

Furthermore, organized crime of all kinds was one of the most serious forms of violations of human rights, said Mr. Scepanovic, and due to protracted conflict constituted a great regional evil, as evidenced by the recent assassination of the Serbian Prime Minister, Zoran Djindjic. The immediate and resolute measures undertaken by the Government of Serbia, including the introduction of a state of emergency, were exclusively aimed at punishing the perpetrators and settling scores with organized crime in the country as a whole.

KAMAL HOSSEIN, Special Rapporteur of the Commission on Human Rights on the situation of human rights in Afghanistan, said that the lack of security in Afghanistan had led to terrible acts in the country, including the recent killing of ICRC staff. On the positive side, it was to be noted that in Afghanistan 3 million children had gone back to school, including more than 1 million girls previously banned from education under the Taliban regime. Nearly 2 million refugees had returned to their homeland, 50 per cent of whom were women. For the first time in two decades, progress in the status of women could be recorded. Women were re-emerging as a political and economic force, and had entered the work force. They were also participating in decision-making on the peace process and in the reconstruction of the country, and for the first time in 20 years, they were being appointed to Government. The report of the Special Rapporteur had focused on reports of cases involving human rights violations in the context of discrimination against specific ethnic groups; human rights of women; cases of violence as a result of conflict and extrajudicial execution; and the treatment of prisoners.

Of continuing concern was the fact that women in many parts of the country still suffered serious violations of their rights and that restrictions similar to those under the previous order continued to be applied to women in some parts of the country by local leaders. According to aid agencies, between two and four million Afghans -- 8 to 16 per cent of the population -- were considered highly vulnerable and needed food, clothing and blankets. Most residents faced a difficult daily struggle just to survive. A further 1.2 million refugees and 300,000 internally displaced persons were expected to return home in 2003. All these pointed to the magnitude of the resource deficiency. The pledge by the international community of $4.5 billion over five years appeared to have been based on cost estimates in unidentified countries which received international assistance in the range of $40 to $80 per capita annually for post-conflict recovery programmes. The Finance Minister of Afghanistan had estimated that up to $20 billion would be needed to enable Afghanistan to get back on its feet in the next five years.

The Special Rapporteur recommended that security be improved so that the Transitional Administration could exercise effective authority throughout Afghanistan. This was imperative and must be accorded the highest priority. The Transitional Administration must be given full support to enable national demobilization, disarmament, and reintegration programme to be implemented as expeditiously as possible. Every care must be taken to arm regional and local commanders in a way that might hinder the progressive development of the Afghan national army. The National Human Rights Commission must be enabled, through the provision of adequate resources, to develop its capacity at an accelerated pace in order to be able to build a progressively more effective role in investigation and monitoring of human rights violations. The role of the media in raising people’s awareness of their rights, as well as of the formidable challenges that had to be faced and overcome could also be valuable.

Statements on Question of Violation Of Human Rights in Occupied Arab Territories

TASSOS KRIEKOUKIS(Greece), on behalf of the European Union, said over the past year, again, violence and violations of human rights committed by the two parties to the conflict had persisted, leading to a vicious circle of pain and suffering. The Israeli presence and military operations in the Occupied Territories, including the illegal presence of Jewish settlers in those territories, had led to repeated human rights violations and the killing and injuring of many innocent civilians. Notwithstanding its right to fight terrorism, Israel bore the full responsibility for preventing, investigating and sanctioning such violations. At the same time, terrorist attacks by Palestinian groups, indiscriminately killing and injuring innocent civilians, had continued. The European Union reiterated its strong and unequivocal condemnation of Palestinian terrorist acts. As the legitimate authority, the Palestinian Authority bore the full responsibility for fighting terrorism with all the legitimate means at its disposal.

The European Union continued to believe that the mandate of the Special Rapporteur must be brought into line with other special mechanisms created by the Commission, -- notably it should be made subject to regular renewal. Nevertheless, the European Union regretted the failure of the Israeli Government to cooperate with the Special Rapporteur, as well as other relevant thematic rapporteurs, and called on Israel to do so. The European Union expressed concern about the Israeli settlement policy; called for the immediate cessation of the construction of a so-called security fence within the Palestinian Territories and other illegal activities such as the confiscation of land and the demolition of houses; stressed that numerous checkpoints and blockades of cities had suppressed the free movement of the Palestinian people; emphasized the need for the provision of essential services, such as education and health assistance; condemned extrajudicial killings carried out openly by Israel; and the disproportionate and indiscriminate recourse to force, as well as the use of human shields. The European Union also expressed concern for the overall human rights situation under the Palestinian Authority, including arbitrary arrests, the absence of due process, cases of torture against detainees, the unexplained deaths of detainees, and the death sentences pronounced pursuant to unfair and summary processes by the State Security Courts. Freedom of expression had been breached by the Palestinian Authority and there was still censorship that prevented journalists from freely carrying out their work. The European Union deemed necessary a rapid advance in the Palestinian reform process that would enhance democracy and respect for human rights. The European Union reiterated its conviction that there could be no military solution to the conflict. Peace and security could only be achieved through negotiations.

CHRISTOPHER WESTDAL(Canada) said resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict was a necessary condition for ensuring stability across the region.

It was hoped that the appointment of Mahmoud Abbas as the first Palestinian Prime Minister would help to rebuild the trust and confidence necessary to resume the dialogue between Palestinians and Israelis. While member States of the Commission had an obligation to nurture such positive constitutional reforms, the Commission should focus on its task of protecting and promoting human rights. Declarations singling out one party to the conflict did not contribute to its resolution. Moreover, the past tendency to allocate so much time to the consideration of one specific regional conflict had detracted from critical international consideration of other issues and areas in need of attention, in which context Canada welcomed effort to promote the reform of the Commission.

Unequivocally condemning terrorist attacks and calling on all parties to condemn them, Canada stressed that there were no "legitimate" targets for actions in violation of the standards of international law. While the Palestinian Authority's record on human rights was a matter of serious concern, non-State actors also had an obligation to uphold the norms of international humanitarian law. In preventing or responding to suicide and other attacks against civilians, Israel needed to conform to the standards of international humanitarian law, including the principle of proportionality. In accordance with its obligations under international law, Israel needed to facilitate the delivery of humanitarian aid and to ensure the Palestinians' unhindered access to basic needs such as food, water and medical supplies. Moreover, Israeli settlements were contrary to international law and unproductive for the peace process. A durable, just solution to the conflict would not come at the expense of either side's fundamental needs.

HUANG HE (China) said that over the past three years, the international community had witnessed ever-escalating militant actions and incessant vicious terrorist attacks, causing a large number of casualties of innocent civilians. The prolonged bloodshed had brought about innumerable losses of lives and properties to both Palestinians and Israelis and had inflicted irremediable psychological trauma. The key to a lasting peace in the Middle East lay in an early end to the conflict, the restoration of all legitimate rights of the Palestinian people, including their right to national self-determination, and a just and fair settlement of the Palestinian question. The Chinese Government believed that the use of force could not resolve any problem and that to counter violence with violence would only end up with deepening mutual hatred and distrust.

The most urgent task was to stop immediately all violence and to improve the humanitarian situation in the Palestine-controlled territory so as to create conditions for the resumption of peace talks. It was China’s hope that the new Israeli Government would immediately end its military action and economic blockade in the Palestine-controlled area so that the two parties could settle their disputes through political negotiations on the basis of relevant United Nations resolutions and the principle of land for peace.

PITSO D. MONTWEDI (South Africa), speaking on behalf of the African Group, said the Group was deeply concerned at the continued destruction and devastation of Palestinian society and of the Palestinian Authority by the Israeli occupying forces since 29 September 2000. The African Group also condemned the systematic human rights violations and reported war crimes that had been committed by the Israeli occupying forces against the Palestinian people. These violations included the willful killing of Palestinian civilians, including extrajudicial, summary and arbitrary executions, excessive and indiscriminate use of force resulting in extensive loss of life and mass injury of civilians, humanitarian workers, women and children, the wanton destruction of homes, infrastructure and agricultural lands, detention and imprisonment of thousands of Palestinians without trial and the imposition of collective punishment on the entire Palestinian population, including severe restrictions on the movement of persons and goods, resulting in the socio-economic debilitation of the Palestinian people.

The African Group was concerned that the policies and practices of the Israeli Government had undermined the Oslo Agreements, halted the peace process and obstructed efforts to end the tragic situation on the ground. The implementation of the Mitchell recommendations had not been successful largely because of the non-cooperation of the Israeli authorities. The African Group reiterated its support for the right of the Palestinian people to national independence and their exercise of sovereignty in their own State, namely Palestine, with East Jerusalem as its capital. The restriction of the movement of President Arafat was deeply regretted. The Israeli Government was urged to treat President Arafat humanely and with the respect and dignity he deserved as an elected leader of his people. The African Group believed in the importance of an international presence in the occupied territories in order to provide the necessary protection for the Palestinian civilian population and to help the parties to implement all agreements reached previously.

HUSSAIN RAJMAH (Malaysia) said Malaysia was deeply concerned with the continuing deteriorating human rights situation faced by the Palestinians in the Occupied Territories. It was indeed frustrating that for over 50 years the international community had been ineffective in addressing this problem. The injustice and indignities perpetrated against the Palestinian people by Israel had been repeatedly voiced in the Commission and other United Nations bodies. Countless resolutions had been passed and reports issued. The media continued to report the atrocities of the Israelis against the Palestinians and the sad state the Palestinians were living in resulting from these atrocities. Still, the persecution and humiliation of the Palestinian people continued unabated.

The Palestinian people had suffered enough. They had been killed, driven out of their homes, humiliated, harassed and continuously deprived of their basic human rights.

Since September 2000, nearly 2,200 Palestinians had been killed, including 384 children. More than 40,000 had been wounded. The Palestinian problem had been with the international community for far too long and it remained the root cause of instability in the Middle East. The international community must endeavour to find a final solution to end, once and for all, this grave injustice inflicted on the Palestinian people. It was necessary to approach the problem with a greater sense of urgency and commitment. In this regard, Malaysia called on President Bush to make good his recent announcement to unveil a road map for peace in the Middle East, including the establishment of an independent Palestinian State by 2005.

Right of Reply

A Representative of Israel, speaking in right of reply, said that, yesterday, allegations and insults and references to racist Zionist movements had been heard. These statements had not been withdrawn and not addressed by the Chairperson. Some delegations had raised the issue of the security fence being built by Israel. Israel was compelled to consider various ways to defend herself against the onslaught of terrorism and the attempt by Palestinian terrorist groups to infiltrate suicide-bombers into Israel, taking the lives of innocent civilians, as well as their own. In Israel’s view, this represented the best preventive measure to stop would-be terrorists in the absence of effective undertakings by the Palestinian Authority to limit the ability of would-be suicide bombers to enter into Israel proper. Preventing suicide bombers was actually a way to reduce the tension between Israel and Palestine as there would be no casualties on either side and dialogue could resume. Were the speakers who condemned the fence so concerned about its being erected that they would contribute, perhaps in a meaningful way, to the elimination of the phenomenon of suicide bombings? Arab delegations could call upon would-be suicide bombers and upon those who sent them to cease their murderous activities and they could label suicide bombings murder. Other concerned delegations could appeal, on behalf of the Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC), to those who sent suicide bombers and to those who initiated these massacres, stating that such actions contradicted every tenet and moral principle which the OIC stood for.

A Representative of Palestine, speaking in right of reply, said he had indeed made an appeal to the world to put an end to the racist Zionist movement, during which the Zionist movement had been compared to Nazism. The Zionist movement in Israel had, for decades, gone beyond the acts of the Nazis. For this reason, Zionism should be brought to an end. The Palestinians were the first victims of Zionist crimes. No one in the world knew the effects of Zionist crimes like the Palestinians. Palestine was opposed to the erection of Israel's "protective" fence on their land, which had been stolen by Israel.

The Representative of Israel, in a second right of reply, reproached the Chairperson for not interrupting the Palestinian Representative when he had called for an end to the "racist Zionist movement", that is, to the State of Israel and its national movement. That was what had been said in the Commission, and both the Chair and the Commission had remained silent. Would the Commission have remained silent if such a statement had been made against another State? The Commission should reflect on what the representative of the Palestine had said. This was the kind of violent language that could lead to suicide bombings of the sort Israel faced daily.

The Representative of Palestine, in a second right of reply, defended the comparison of Zionist Israel and the Nazis, saying that Palestinian blood was as red as Jewish blood. Both the Nazis and Israel had burned people, committed massacres and conducted terror attacks against humankind. Zionism was racist and had been so since its creation. The father of Zionism, Theodore Herzel, had stated the desire to create a clean Jewish State with no non-Jewish individuals in it.

Corrigenda

In press release HR/CN/03/20 of 27 March, the statement by the Representative of Bahrain on page five should read as follows:

A Representative of Bahrain said his country's position was well known and national authorities had already made it clear. In case the special sitting was held, Bahrain thought that it should concentrate on discussing human rights and humanitarian issues, relating to human rights in Iraq in the context of the current situation there. Bahrain believed that political issues were not within the mandate of the Commission.

In press release HR/CN/03/15 of 24 March, the statement by the Representative of the Russian Federation on page 9 should read as follows:

ROMAN ROMANOV (Russian Federation) said it was a source of regret that racism continued to be widespread in the world, since racism had the ability to trigger violence and conflict. This was why the international community must implement the recommendations contained in the Durban Declaration of Action. For the Russian Federation, one priority was the creation of harmony in inter-ethnic relations. In Russia, there was a legislative base which provided a base for the respect of economic, social, political and civil rights irrespective of a person's ethnic origin. In this context, the Commission was informed about the establishment of regions of ethnic and cultural autonomy in the Russian Federation. However, no situation was perfect and problems persisted. This was why the Government had enacted a law in 2002 which punished the incitement of ethnic discrimination.

While talking of discrimination, it was important to note the worrisome situation of discrimination against Russians in Latvia and Estonia. Russia denounced the marginalization of Russians in these two countries. In Latvia, persons applying for naturalization were faced with restrictions concerning knowledge of the language and the history of the country, which affected many older persons. Restrictions against former members of the Soviet armed forces were also denounced. These countries were applying political discrimination against persons who did not have the nationality.

(For the press releases mentioned above, please consult www.unog.ch and select ‘United Nations News from Geneva’.)