Report of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (A/59/36)

from UN General Assembly
Published on 04 Oct 2004
General Assembly
Official Records
Fifty-ninth Session
Supplement No. 36 (A/59/36)
I. Introduction

1. The present report is submitted pursuant to General Assembly resolution 48/141, establishing the post of United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights. It provides information on the activities of the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) over the past year and supplements the reports submitted earlier this year to the Commission on Human Rights (E/CN.4/2004/12 and Add.1-3) and to the Economic and Social Council (E/2004/89).

II. Urgent reporting by the High Commissioner to the Commission on Human Rights on conflict situations

2. It has long been the practice of the Commission on Human Rights to consider the state of respect for human rights and humanitarian law in conflict or urgent situations and the Commission has adopted resolutions and/or decisions on a number of conflict situations at each of its sessions. Treaty bodies and special procedures of the Commission have also addressed such issues and have developed appropriate methods of work in this regard. Similarly, and based on the general understanding of my mandate under General Assembly resolution 48/141, the High Commissioner bears specific responsibility for reporting on alleged grave human rights situations at her own initiative or at the request of competent bodies. Last year, my predecessor reported on an urgent basis to the Security Council in the case of Côte d'Ivoire and to the Commission on Human Rights on human rights violations in Liberia before the change of Government (E/CN.4/2004/5). During the reporting period, the Acting High Commissioner embarked on similar initiatives concerning Iraq and the Sudan (Darfur).

3. It is my firm conviction that such urgent reporting to the Commission on Human Rights and/or other United Nations bodies lies at the core of the High Commissioner's mandate as enshrined in General Assembly resolution 48/141. It is irreplaceable, both in terms of providing appropriate and timely information to United Nations bodies and of calling for proper and urgent remedial action by competent bodies when circumstances so require. It is my intention, if and when necessary, on the basis of these precedents, to draw attention to urgent situations and to invite those concerned to take the necessary measures to remedy gross and massive human rights violations.

4. The following is an account of relevant developments in the period under review.

5. Sudan (Darfur). The urgent report on the human rights situation in the Darfur region of the Sudan (E/CN.4/2005/3) was a summary of the findings of two missions dispatched by my predecessors in response to reports of allegations of serious human rights violations. The report highlighted the grave humanitarian consequences of the situation in Darfur and emphasized that numerous human rights violations had been committed by the Janjaweed militia with the active support of the regular army. The report described the responsibilities of the Government of the Sudan under international human rights and humanitarian law and outlined a disturbing pattern of disregard for basic principles of human rights and humanitarian law. The rebel forces also appeared to have violated human rights and humanitarian law, but the extent to which this was happening was difficult for the missions to ascertain. The report concluded that there was clearly a reign of terror in Darfur and that the missions had encountered consistent allegations of indiscriminate attacks by government and militia forces against civilians, rape and other serious forms of sexual violence, destruction of property and pillage, forced displacements, disappearances, and persecution and discrimination.

6. The Government of the Sudan was called upon, at the highest levels, publicly and unequivocally to condemn all violations of human rights and international humanitarian law, investigate those violations and bring the perpetrators to justice. In addition, the missions recommended, inter alia, that (a) the Janjaweed and other militias should immediately be disarmed and disbanded, and that humanitarian workers should be given full and unimpeded access to Darfur; (b) the Government should pursue a policy of national reconciliation, end impunity, and ensure the rule of law and the protection of minorities; (c) refugees and displaced persons should be permitted to return to their lands and homes voluntarily, and should receive restitution or fair compensation for their losses; (d) an international commission of inquiry should be established to examine the situation, identify the crimes that have been committed and their perpetrators, assess the responsibility of the authorities and recommend measures for securing accountability.

7. The Acting High Commissioner also reported directly to the Security Council on the situation of human rights in Darfur.

8. Iraq. The situation of human rights in Iraq has been a subject of concern in the Commission on Human Rights for a number of years. Its Special Rapporteur monitored the situation for over a decade and extensively documented violations committed by the regime of Saddam Hussein. The last Special Rapporteur submitted a report on past violations of human rights in Iraq to the Commission at its sixtieth session (E/CN.4/2004/36 and Add.1). Although the mandate of the Special Rapporteur was not renewed, the Acting High Commissioner decided that a report should be submitted to the Commission on the present situation of human rights in Iraq, particularly in light of increasing international scrutiny of violations of human rights and humanitarian law in conflict situations. An OHCHR team travelled to Amman in May 2004 to gather information for the report and met with more than 30 Iraqis. Further to reports in the media of ill-treatment and torture at Abu Ghraib prison, the witnesses also referred to arbitrary arrests and detentions. Other issues raised included restrictions on access to a range of economic and social rights (including education and health care), and increased harassment and mistreatment of women.

9. The report (E/CN.4/2005/4) was released on 4 June 2004. It contained a number of critical recommendations that guide OHCHR in its planning of human rights activities in Iraq. These include: (a) the promulgation by the Interim Iraqi Government of a human rights policy for Iraq; (b) the establishment of a national human rights institution; (c) the establishment of an Iraqi legal and judicial reform commission to recommend reform of Iraqi laws that are inconsistent with international human rights standards; (d) an assessment of the need to establish an Iraqi truth and reconciliation commission; (e) the strengthening of the Ministry of Human Rights; (f) the extension of support to Iraqi civil society organizations for the promotion and protection of human rights; and (g) the provision of human rights training for officials of the Government of Iraq, judges, prosecutors and lawyers, as well as representatives of non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and civil society.

III. Sixtieth session of the Commission on Human Rights

10. The sixtieth session of the Commission on Human Rights (15 March-24 April 2004) was attended by over 5,000 participants, including representatives of Member States, intergovernmental organizations and NGOs, United Nations entities and national human rights institutions. The high-level segment attracted a record 88 ministerial-level participants and saw an informal initiative by the Minister for Foreign Affairs of Switzerland resulting in the adoption by women foreign ministers of a declaration on violence against women. Interactive dialogues with mandateholders of the Commission's special procedures and representatives of NGOs, as well as focused meetings with representatives of national human rights institutions highlighted the increasing importance of such actors in the work of the Commission. The Commission also commemorated the International Day of Reflection on the 1994 Genocide in Rwanda and heard the Secretary-General announce his Action Plan to Prevent Genocide.

11. The Commission adopted a record 120 resolutions, decisions and Chairperson's statements on both country-specific situations and on a broad range of cross-cutting human rights issues, such as HIV/AIDS, gender equality, violence against women, rights of the child, disabilities, poverty eradication, the right to development and terrorism. Reflecting the increasing politicization within the Commission, however, the sixtieth session saw not only a marked increase in block voting by regional groups, but also a general increase in voting on proposals. Country-specific resolutions remained a concern for some countries and, continuing the trend of previous years, consideration of such resolutions was increasingly moved from agenda item 9, "Question of the violation of human rights and fundamental freedoms in any part of the world", to item 19, "Advisory services and technical cooperation in the field of human rights". Despite these challenges, the Commission established five new country mandates, on the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (resolution 2004/13), Belarus (resolution 2004/14), Chad (resolution 2004/85) and the Sudan (decision 2004/128), and established a mandate on Uzbekistan under the confidential procedure under Economic and Social Council 1503 (XLVIII).

12. Creating mechanisms for the protection of victims of human rights abuses continued to be one of the main achievements of the Commission. In resolution 2004/87, entitled "Protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms while countering terrorism" - a prominent issue at the sixtieth session - the Commission decided to designate, for a period of one year, an independent expert to assist the High Commissioner in ongoing work on the issue, taking fully into account the study requested by the General Assembly in resolution 58/187, as well as the discussions in the Assembly and the views of States thereon. In addition to terrorism, the Commission established a new mandate of Special Rapporteur on trafficking in persons, especially women and children, to focus on the human rights aspects of the victims of trafficking (decision 2004/110). The Commission also requested the Secretary-General to appoint an independent expert, for a period of one year, to update the 1997 Set of Principles for the protection and promotion of human rights through action to combat impunity (resolution 2004/72). A/59/36

13. At its substantive session of 2004, the Economic and Social Council approved all the new mandates proposed by the Commission.

14. The Commission also continued to take important initiatives in the promotion of human rights. It decided to establish a high-level task force on the implementation of the right to development, as recommended by the Working Group on the Right to Development (resolution 2004/7); endorsed the recommendation of the Sub-Commission on the Promotion and Protection of Human Rights to establish a voluntary fund on minority-related activities to facilitate the participation of minority representatives and experts from developing countries in human rights meetings (decision 2004/114); adopted a new resolution relating specifically to neo- Nazism (resolution 2004/16); and recommended, as a follow-up to the United Nations Decade for Human Rights Education, 1995-2004, that the General Assembly proclaim at its fifty-ninth session a world programme for human rights education, to begin on 1 January 2005 (decision 2004/121).

15. Finally, as part of the ongoing process of reform that began in 1998, the Commission continued to re-examine its working methods over the past year, even though the reform proposals put forth by the Expanded Bureau this year did not find consensus and were not endorsed in the plenary session. The Commission, as the principle United Nations body dealing with human rights matters, should further the reform process in order to respond more adequately to the challenges it faces. Among the issues of concern mentioned by my predecessors (see, inter alia, A/57/36, paras. 55-58) were the marked increase in block voting by groups and the preference for taking no action if consensus was not possible. More recently, questions have been raised regarding the precise role to be played by the Commission in denouncing gross human rights violations in countries, and the interconnection between items 9 and 19 of its agenda. Such matters should be addressed while bearing in mind the critical role the Commission has traditionally played in dealing with massive violations of human rights under Council resolutions 1235 (XLII) or 1503 (XLIII). This historical background, as well as the ideas evoked by the Secretary-General in his addresses to the Commission and in his reports to the General Assembly, and the proposals and initiatives put forth by my predecessors, should serve as the setting for any new initiatives.

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