Commission on Human Rights hears from Special Rapporteurs on situations in Burundi, Myanmar

News and Press Release
Originally published

Minister of Justice of Togolese Republic Speaks

(Reissued as received.)

GENEVA, 31 March (UN Information Service) -- The Commission on Human Rights heard this afternoon from experts assigned to investigate situations in Burundi and Myanmar as it carried on with discussion under its agenda item on the "Question of the violation of human rights and fundamental freedoms in any part of the world".

Marie-Thérèse A. Keita Bocoum, the Commission's Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Burundi, noted increasing acts of violence in the country over the past year, including killings of civilians, allegedly by State agents, torture and ill-treatment in prisons and detention centres, violence against women, and persisting conflict between the State and armed groups.

A Representative of Burundi questioned the reliability and objectivity of the information provided by the Special Rapporteur and said the Government had reservations about the figures advanced, adding that it should not be forgotten that Burundi had been suffering from a complex civil war since 1993 that had resulted in the loss of human lives, thousands of displaced persons, and destruction of social infrastructure. Despite this, the Representative said, the State continued to exist and the Government sought to fulfil its obligations.

Paulo Sergio Pinheiro, Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Myanmar, said while some progress had been made in the area of confidence-building, substantial progress on human rights had been very limited, the holding of political prisoners continued to be a cause for concern, poverty was endemic, and much remained to be done to create conditions for national reconciliation and the establishment of true democracy.

A Representative of Myanmar, responding, said progress in political, economic, social and cultural conditions in general and improvements in human rights in particular had been sustained, steady and significant in the country. He reported that the Government had released 45 prisoners on 16 March 2003, bringing the number of prisoners released in the past few months to over 1,000, and that there had been 12 meetings between a special team led by a cabinet-level representative and Daw Aung San Suu Kyi of the National League for Democracy (NLD).

The Commission also was addressed by Katari Foli-Bazi, Minister of Justice in Charge of the Promotion of Democracy and the Rule of Law of the Togolese Republic, who said Togo had ratified almost 50 international conventions since 1970s, had taken numerous steps to promote human rights, the situation of women, and democratization, and while the democratic process had been faced with difficulties, Togo had avoided war and was pursuing further efforts at democratic reform.

Earlier in the afternoon, the Commission completed debate under its agenda item on "the question of the violation of human rights in the occupied Arab territories, including Palestine", hearing from series of non-governmental organizations (NGOs).

Speaking were representatives of Amnesty International; International Commission of Jurists; Arab Organization for Human Rights; World Union for Progressive Judaism; Human Rights Watch; International Save the Children Alliance; World Federation of Trade Unions; Federacion de Asociaciones de Defensa y Promocion de Derechos Humanos; International League for the Rights and Liberation of Peoples; International Organization for the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination; Arab Lawyers Union; Simon Wiesenthal Centre; Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies; United Nations Watch; and Society for Threatened Peoples.

Representatives of the United States, Israel and the Syrian Arab Republic spoke in exercise of the right of reply.

The Commission will reconvene at 10 a.m. Tuesday, 1 April, to begin general debate on the question of the violation of human rights anywhere in the world.

Statement from Podium

KATARI FOLI BAZI, Minister of Justice, in Charge of the Promotion of Democracy and the Rule of Law of Togo, said human rights constituted a shared ideal of all peoples and nations. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights was the profound expression of the universal conscience of human beings. It represented true moral progress in the relations among human beings. While welcoming the efforts made by the international community in the promotion of human rights, one had to recognize that the protection and the promotion of human rights was part of a daily challenge -- a work that could never be completed. No country had fully or definitively spared itself from the phenomenon of violence. Humanity had in fact no colour, race or country; human rights were universal -- they were the rights of all people. There were only peoples living in continents and countries under determined historical contexts; and there were only continents which were touched by calamities -- one country having more problems than others.

The issue of human rights should not be used as an arm in the fight for political conquest, Mr. Foli Bazi said. In the same manner, it should not be used as an instrument to manipulate international opinion in order to obtain economic sanctions against a country. A year ago, at this same forum, Togo had denounced the use of human rights for political purposes. At the same time, Togo had expressed its political will to endeavour to restore genuine rule of law within a climate of peace. The Government of Togo attached a high price to the evolution of human rights in the country. The Head of the Togolese State had established a national commission for human rights in 1987, which was a decisive step towards the restoration of a rule of law in the country. Since 1992, that independent commission had been constitutionalized to promote and protect human rights.

At the institutional level, Mr. Foli Bazi said, Togo had ratified almost 50 international conventions since 1970s, including the Convention on the Rights of the Child. In the area of the promotion and protection of the rights of women, the Government had set up a programme of action in accordance with the Beijing Declaration and Programme of action of 1995, and it had created activities intended to promote the rights of Togolese women. The teaching of human rights had been incorporated into the training given law-enforcement officials. The Togolese experience of democratic process had been faced with difficulties, accompanied by profound crisis. However, thanks to continued dialogue, Togo had avoided the phenomenon of war. The Government was now pursuing efforts to strengthen the democratic situation in the country.

Statements on Situation in Occupied Arab Territories

MME MELINDA CHING, of Amnesty International, said the situation in Israel and the occupied territories continued to be one of the most discussed but least acted on. The resolutions passed by the Commission last year had been disregarded, as had been scores of other UN resolutions passed over the past three decades. In the past year killings had escalated, with frequent bombardments, shelling and shooting by the Israel army into densely populated Palestinian refugee camps and residential areas, and recurring suicide bombings and shooting attacks by Palestinian armed groups against Israeli civilians. In the past two and a half years the killing of some 2,000 Palestinians, including some 350 children, and the destruction of thousands of Palestinian homes and large areas of agricultural land had not brought security to Israel. On the contrary, these violations had fueled the spiral of violence.

Curfews and closures had confined millions of Palestinian children and adults to virtual house or town arrest. By these sweeping measures of collective punishment, children and youth had been denied their right to education, the sick had been denied their right to medical care and workers had been denied their right to work. As a result, more than half of the Palestinian population was now living below the poverty line and malnutrition and other health problems had sharply increased. The impunity afforded to those responsible for human rights violations encouraged further violations. Israeli soldiers who committed gross violations and war crimes enjoyed impunity while Israelis who refused to serve in the occupied territories were imprisoned.

MME HASSIBA HADJ SAHRAOUI, of International Commission of Jurists, said that since the last session of the Commission, the situation in the occupied territories remained tragic and violations of human rights were carried out with impunity. The authors of such violations of human rights must be brought to justice. War crimes could not be committed in response to other war crimes, and the indiscriminate use of force was unacceptable.

Concern was raised about the fact that practices such as torture and extrajudicial killings were still carried out. Israel practiced a policy of sealing off areas of disturbance, enforcing a total ban of movement, which went against the right to movement as well as the fulfilment of economic, social and cultural rights of the Palestinian people. The ICJ commended Israeli conscientious objectors who refused to serve in the Occupied Territories. The Commission was urged to call upon both Israel and Palestine and remind them that they were responsible for war crimes. The Commission was also urged to establish an international monitoring mission in the Occupied Territories and in Israel.

M. MOHAMMED FAYEK, of Arab Organization for Human Rights, said Israeli occupation of the regions under the Palestinian self-rule had intensified since the end of the 58th session of the Commission. The vicious war against the Palestinian people to stop their protesting movement against the occupation had also escalated. Efforts to reach a peaceful settlement to the Middle East conflict had been all but frozen, by tying the settlements to impossible conditions and by diverting attention from the real problem, which was the occupation, to the issue of Palestinian reforms. The policy of Israel in the territories was characterized by killing and assassination of leaders, the destruction of buildings, arbitrary arrests, confiscation of land and other crimes against humanity.

The Commission was urged to demand the application of the Fourth Geneva Convention in the occupied territories, to demand the protection for civilians, and to condemn the Israeli occupation.

M. DAVID LITTMAN, of World Union for Progressive Judaism, said the miseries of the Palestinians resulted from a corrupt leadership. There had been many crucial moments when the road to peace was deliberately blocked by those leaders who never missed an opportunity to miss an opportunity. After deliberately igniting a second Intifadah instead of staying on the train of history when it stopped at Camp David, and again at Taba, Arafat preferred to welcome Hamas back into the fold.

The incumbent Palestinian leader had repeatedly sent warm greetings to Saddam Hussein, thanking him for praising the families of Jihadist bombers with $25,000 cheques. Yesterday, Islamic Jihad claimed responsibility for the bombing of a café in Netanya, calling this loathsome act a gift to the people of Iraq. The Palestinian Authority would only become a genuine partner with Israel if there was a radical break with Hamas and all ill-minded genocidal rejectionists and if a new genuine democratic spirit of mutual acceptance prevailed.

MME EMMANUELLE WERNER, of Human Rights Watch, said Commission members were acutely aware of the nature and extent of ongoing violations of human rights and of the laws of war in the Occupied Territories and in Israel. Last year's meeting had taken place during the pain, fear and anger caused by human rights and humanitarian law abuses committed during Israeli military operations in Jenin and other towns and villages in the occupied West Bank. Still, today, civilians were suffering repeated, egregious violations of international human rights and humanitarian law by the Israel Defence Forces and Palestinian armed groups.

Human Rights Watch strongly deplored actions by the State of Israel that disproportionately harmed civilians. It also condemned in the strongest terms the resort by armed Palestinians to suicide bombings deliberately aimed at Israeli civilians. No matter how desperate or helpless the situation, there must be a permanent halt to such attacks. International human rights monitors must be dispatched urgently to Israel and the occupied territories to restore respect for human rights and humanitarian law standards, and to better protect civilians. The Security Council must be authorized to establish an international observer mission without further delay.

International Save the Children Alliance expressed concern about the situation of Palestinian and Israeli children. All parties to the conflict were ignoring children’s rights. The increasing violence affecting civilians, including children, the tightened closures and curfews, and the worsening economic situation were resulting in increasing poverty, chronic deterioration of service provision and the undermining of national institutions. The Palestinian Authority was barely able to provide emergency service and increasingly Palestinians were dependent on international humanitarian assistance for their survival. This was jeopardizing children’s human rights.

The Alliance wished to bring to the attention of the Commission this deteriorating situation affecting Palestinian children, particularly their rights to protection, health and education, with special regard to children with disabilities. Save the Children called on the Commission to insist on the Israeli Government acting in accordance with its obligations under international human rights law and international humanitarian law; to request that Israeli military forces withdraw from Palestinian areas and put an end to the policy of closures and curfews affecting Palestinian children; and to urge the Government of Israel to immediately withdraw from schools currently used as military bases or detention centres and to ensure full and safe access to schools for all children.

World Federation of Trade Unions said that for his organization, the death perpetrated by Israel against the Arab population in the occupied territories was a deliberate act. On the international scene, one was also witnessing threat and aggression by a North American State against Iraq, with the connivance of the Zionist authorities and to their benefit. Workers and their families were among the population killed daily. Regrettably, the media was silent on the issue.

The Federation had witnessed the violence perpetrated by Israel against the population in Gaza and West Bank since 12 April 2002, which had drawn the attention of the Commission last year. Israel had reoccupied the main Palestinian cities and had even besieged the offices of President Yassir Arafat, and had destroyed many of the buildings. The acts of Israel could be equated to State terrorism.

Federation de Asociaciones de Defensa y Promocion de Derechos Humanos said numerous resolutions by the Security Council on the occupied territories had not been implemented, thus undermining the credibility of the Council and discrediting the message of the United Nations in the eyes of international public opinion. Israel continued to turn a deaf ear to the will of the international community and had demonstrated that it had no intention of implementing the Oslo Agreements.

Israel had intensified its occupation through the expansion of settlements, the destruction of agricultural land, the confiscation of lands, the imposition of closures and by violation of the right to freedom of movement. The lack of a negotiating spirit on the part of Israel demonstrated that it had not the least intention of respecting the agreements that it had signed. The United Nations should set up an urgent mechanism to uphold international legality and force Israel to withdraw from the Palestinian territories.

International League for the Rights and Liberation of Peoples said that for many years resolutions had been passed by the Security Council, incidentally also by the Commission, calling upon Israel to stop its arbitrary practices and to withdraw. From 1951 to 2003, 73 resolutions had been passed, but alas, to no avail. The Israeli troops continued to occupy virtually every Palestinian population centre on the West Bank and to maintain a system of checkpoints, security cordons and curfews in the rest of the Palestinian territories. Military attacks against Palestinian economic establishments, installations and houses continued and people were prohibited from leaving their homes to go to work or to shop. The transport of relief provisions had been made difficult, if not impossible, and the same applied to medical treatment. Land had been confiscated for the expansion of settlements. All this had occurred amidst the indifference of the international community.

Little wonder then that the Palestinians had reacted to this increasing violence by resorting to retaliation and to bloodshed. The Commission had a duty to transcend the situation as it appeared today and reach down to its roots. It must be clear that the horrendous escalation in the conflict was mainly engendered by the disproportionate and repeated use of the mighty Israeli weaponry against civilians.

International Organization for the Elimination of all forms of Racial Discrimination said that in accordance with the gloomy events and insane trends that had been taking place, especially during the last few months, one could anticipate a disaster to hit humanity as long as things continued to run in this twisted fashion, which strayed from all concepts and principles of rationality and good judgement. The speaker admitted that he no longer understood anything in relation to where the world was being led. By playing the war drums day and night, what were the objectives that the United States and Britain wanted to achieve in Iraq and other Arab countries? Why did they spread fear and injustice in that region and the rest of the world? Was it for oil? Oil, which they got cheaper than bottled water? Did they want to control the oil resources in order to control the future of the whole world and fulfil their arrogant objective of achieving hegemonic domination in order to serve their ill-motivated self-interest?

Those who were leading the war campaign must tell the world why they kept silent about Israel’s weapons of mass destruction and its huge stock of nuclear, biological and chemical weapons. Why did they not stop Israel from killing the helpless Palestinians, invading their towns and villages, bulldozing their homes and uprooting their trees? Civil society and non-governmental organizations must take up the challenge of asking for answers, and jointly voice their strong opposition by saying no to double standards, no to war, no to destruction and hegemony.

Arab Lawyers Union said the world was witnessing a grave situation of a social and economic nature, in addition to the violation of human rights of Palestinians. The situation in the occupied Palestinian territories had deteriorated and the aggression by Israel had continued, with the connivance of the present superpower. The State of Israel had employed all means to curb the Intifada and to demolish the Palestinian Authority. It had also made all efforts to discredit the Authority.

Only withdrawal from the Palestinian territories by Israel could enable Palestinians to establish their own State. Israel should also withdraw from the Syrian Golan Heights, which it also was occupying by force.

Simon Wiesenthal Centre said a UN agency -- the UN Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) -- was the only key service provider to much of the population in the Palestinian territories, whose population was being deprived of its human rights. After 55 years of stagnation, it was time to ask whether UNRWA had not served to perpetuate Palestinian refugee status by discouraging self-development and preventing international, including Israeli, efforts during the Oslo process to provide the infrastructure for normalization. It was time to ask if, rather, UNRWA was serving the policies of Arab neighbours opposed to integration of the refugees in order to stoke the ever-festering conflict. Discouraging resettlement, the agency had kept the refugees and their descendants in a frozen state of limbo.

The United Nations had every interest in abating the funds granted to UNRWA, when other Palestine Authority budgets, in turn, were siphoned off for terrorism, hate-programming in schools or to Arafat regime officials' offshore accounts.

Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies said Israel did not have legitimate status under international law as a belligerent occupier, and its ongoing illegal occupation violated Palestinians’ rights, including their right to self-determination. The illegality of Israel’s occupation was evidenced primarily by the illegal purposes used for the occupation, namely the illegal annexation of Palestinian land for Israel. It was also evidenced by the gross violations of international human rights, humanitarian and criminal law committed by the occupation forces.

The factual evidence of the illegal annexationists’ designs included Israel’s prolonged occupation, the confiscation of land and water supplies, the establishment and expansion of settlements, and war crimes perpetrated against civilians. The Commission was urged to reaffirm the illegality of the occupation and to call for an end to Israeli denial of Palestinian rights.

United Nations Watch said Israel alone was scrutinized and condemned under item 8. The rest of the world was examined under item 9. There was no justification for this separate treatment, only an explanation -- it served the political interests of an influential number of the members of the Commission. The Commission was asked to imagine what other issues might be considered, issues of greater importance to a greater number of people. If this Commission was concerned about human rights -- including the right to life -- then item 8 might instead be devoted to the pandemic of AIDS in sub-Saharan Africa. Since September 2000, almost 3,000 Israelis and Palestinian had been killed. By comparison, almost 6 million African had died from AIDS over the same period, and over 29 per cent of Africans were living with HIV/AIDS today.

What about hunger? Was it necessary to remind the Commission that 38 million Africans were in the grip of a vast hunger crisis? Yet the Commission spent more time talking about the status of the Golan Heights than the imminent threat of mass starvation -- one topic of many under item 10. Throughout the world, there were 25 million internally displaced persons and 20 million refugees whose fate would be discussed under subsection C of item 14. The Commission was urged to deal with the Arab-Israeli conflict in an appropriate, non-political manner under item 9.

Society for Threatened Peoples, said that the Society was extremely concerned by the current human rights situation in the Israeli-occupied areas of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip and the autonomous areas under Palestinian rule. The Society condemned all violations of human rights by both parties to the conflict. All Palestinians were suffering greatly as a result of restrictions on their freedom of movement. Deaths had resulted because medical treatment had been delayed or obstructed.

The Fourth Geneva Conventions prohibited collective punishment, yet the Israeli army destroyed houses, used bulldozers to lay waste to agricultural land, and uprooted trees, That was a violation of article 53 of the Fourth Geneva Convention, which prohibited the destruction by an occupying power of movable or immovable property. The construction of Israeli settlements in the occupied territories had without doubt been a decisive fact in the intensification of the conflict and ran counter to the principles of international law enshrined in the Convention.

Rights of reply

A Representative of the United States, speaking in right of reply, said President Bush had reaffirmed his commitment to two States. However, this vision, outlined in the Road Map Plan, could not materialize as long as violence continued. The actions of the Commission, which cast all blame on Israel, were unfair and unbalanced. Furthermore, the United States did not believe that the Commission should devote a separate agenda item to Israel. Its decision to appoint a Special Rapporteur with an open-ended mandate to investigate violations of human rights only by Israel and not by the Palestinian Authority, was also unbalanced. The actions of the Commission and the inflammatory and reckless language used here would not advance the cause of peace, but only foment hatred.

A Representative of Israel, speaking in right of reply, said Syrian claims that Israeli Arabs could not build houses were ludicrous. Some speakers had referred to a double standard at the United Nations. Indeed, there was a double standard, one standard for all and another standard regarding Israel. Many examples of this double standard had been manifested in recent days. When discussing self-determination, there was one standard, which recognized self-determination for all, except the Jewish people and for the State of Israel. When discussing human rights violations in the world, there was one standard for 192 member States of the United Nations under item 9, whereas a separate standard was created for one country alone -- Israel. When nominating a Special Rapporteur, there was one standard for all, but when concerning Israel, the mandate was open-ended, one-sided and inherently flawed. The principle of "no naming and no shaming" applied to all delegations with the exception of Israel. There was also a double standard regarding regional groupings. Israel had been excluded from equal membership to any regional group. Also, when a country implemented a United Nations resolution it was duly commended in this hall, but such standards did not apply to Israel. There was a double standard concerning the definition of terrorism. When civilians were attacked anywhere on the globe, it was terrorism. When Israeli children were blown to pieces, it was described by some as legitimate resistance.

A Representative of the Syrian Arab Republic, speaking in right of reply, said that it was unfortunate that Israel was celebrating "Land Day", while many Arabs were deprived of land and houses. The houses of the Arab-Palestinians were built long ago and they were not recent. When an American woman was attempting to protect a Palestinian house from being demolished, she was killed. Israel was continuously misleading its friends by accusing Syria of receiving terrorists and providing arms to Iraq. The Arab Summit held in Lebanon had offered an initiative which might have led to a peaceful settlement of the question of the occupied territories.

The Representative of Israel, in a second right of reply, responding to the statement by Syria, said that indeed Israel wanted to make peace with Syria and the Arab world, but not on unilateral terms. The fact that the Arab League presented an initiative did not mean that Israel had to accept it unconditionally and without negotiation. The Commission confused the true nature of Israeli society. Israeli Arabs had marked land day since 1967, not since 1948. It was necessary to ask members of the Commission whether they could cite the last date of a demonstration in Syria against the regime. Rather than make eloquent speeches against terrorism, Syria should arrest and close the offices of terrorist organizations operating in Damascus. Such measures would be much more constructive than rights of reply given in the Commission.

The Representative of Syria, in a second right of reply, responding to the statement made by Israel, said the Israelis were denying the fact that the people they were talking about were Palestinians, not Arab Israelis. These were the people who had been deprived of their right to build their houses by the occupying power. Israel did not recognize them, and they did not even receive power supplies. Why were these people celebrating the land day? It was because Israel had deprived them from land, and when they had protested they had been met with bullets. Israel wanted peace on its own conditions, not on the conditions of the United Nations. The land being discussed had been occupied since 1967 despite all the United Nations resolutions.

Question of Violation of Human Rights in Any Part of the World

Under this agenda item, in addition to reports already summarized on 28 March and several reports to be noted upon introduction at a later date by Special Rapporteurs, the Commission has before it a series of documents.

There is a report by Special Rapporteur Paulo Sérgio Pinheiro on the situation of human rights in Myanmar (document E/CN.4/2003/41), which says that a rational discourse on effective policy and strategy alternatives is necessary to help enhance the dialogue between all political actors in Myanmar. Member States and international organizations should follow the lead of domestic actors concerning political transition and work within the compromises and negotiations defined by the National League for Democracy (NLD) with other political parties and ethnic and civil groups. The peoples of Myanmar should not be held hostage to a slow and tortuous political transition; the international community should engage with Myanmar, through elements such as dialogue, support for change, empowerment of community, strengthening of autonomous civil society elements and the enlargement of the presence and capacity of United Nations agencies, even before the State Peace and Development Council (SPDC) introduces democratic reforms, the report states.

The report states that if the SPDC sincerely wants to promote the cause of peace, it must look into allegations of the rape of women in Shan State and of other human rights violations against civilians living in ethnic minority areas affected by armed conflict. The SPDC should establish effective mechanisms for holding army personnel accountable for alleged human rights violations. The United Nations and the international community must be consistent in dealing with human rights violations: there should not be one set of standards for the SPDC and another for armed groups. It is time for the stalemate between the SPDC and the NLD to end, in which regard greater progress in the promotion and protection of human rights would be conducive to breaking the impasse, the report contends.

There is a report of the Secretary-General on the situation of human rights in Myanmar (document E/CN.4/2003/33). The report is based on efforts undertaken by the Secretary-General and his Special Envoy in facilitating national reconciliation and democratization in Myanmar. The discussions that the Secretary-General and his Special Envoy have had separately with the Myanmar authorities have focused on the issues of how the United Nations can be of assistance in moving the confidence-building talks, which started between the Government and NLD Head Daw Augn San Suu Kyi in October 2000, to a more substantive dialogue. The report notes, among other things, that some significant developments have taken place, including the restoration in May 2002 of Daw Aung San Suu Kyi's freedom of movement, but that substantive dialogue between the Government and Daw Augn San Suu Kyi has yet to take place.

There is a report on the situation of human rights in Iraq, submitted by the Special Rapporteur Andreas Mavrommatis (document E/CN.4/2003/40). The report states that during the period under review, the Special Rapporteur mainly focused his efforts on preparations for his second visit to Iraq, and especially on its programme and contents, and was hence not in a position to visit other places. Various letters were exchanged between the Special Rapporteur and Iraqi authorities in relation to the duration of the visit and its scope, the composition of the delegation accompanying the Special Rapporteur, as well as the range of officials and representatives of civil society to be met during the visit. Regarding the dates for the visit, the Special Rapporteur is carefully watching current developments and will consult as appropriate, in particular with the Iraqi authorities, in order to reach a decision as soon as possible. He was pleased to hear about the resumption of work of the Technical Sub-Committee, discontinued since 1998, following an agreement reached by the Tripartite Commission on Missing Persons. The Special Rapporteur is of the view that only full and unreserved compliance by Iraq with all its obligations under binding human rights treaties, as well as Security Council resolutions, will peacefully resolve the current crisis in the best interests of the Iraqi people.

An addendum (Add.1) states that owing to the circumstances surrounding Iraq, the Special Rapporteur decided not to undertake his second visit to Iraq as initially planned. The Special Rapporteur recognizes that cooperation with Iraq has been a slow, painstaking process, and that the many years of one-party authoritarian regime account for the absence of a human rights culture, functioning democratic institutions, and effective mechanisms geared towards protecting individual rights and freedoms. The international community, in particular the Office of the High Commissioner and the Special Rapporteur, have a crucial role to play in drawing the road map for the way to achieve greater respect for basic human rights and freedoms and for human dignity in Iraq, the addendum states.

There is a note by the Secretary General on the question of human rights in Cyprus (document E/CN.4/2003/31). The note, which includes a report prepared by the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, covers the period up to January 2003 and indicates, among other things, that the human rights concerns in Cyprus derive predominantly from the division of the island and the political situation which remains unresolved. Cyprus’ continuing division has consequences on the enjoyment, on the whole of the island, of a number of rights such as freedom of movement, property rights, freedom from discrimination, freedom of religion, freedom of expression, voting rights, economic, social and cultural rights, and the human rights issues pertaining to the question of missing persons, the report notes.

There is a report of the Secretary-General on the human rights situation of Lebanese detainees in Israel (document E/CN.4/2003/32) which explains that the Secretary-General had been requested to bring a resolution by the same name to the attention of the Government of Israel and that a note verbale had been sent to the Minister for Foreign Affairs of Israel, requesting information concerning the extent of the implementation of the resolution. No reply had been received at the time of the preparation of the present report.

There is a report of the Secretary-General on cooperation with representatives of United Nations human rights bodies (document E/CN.4/2003/34). This report follows a resolution of the Commission reiterating concern at continued reports of intimidation and reprisals against private individuals and groups seeking to cooperation with the United Nations and representatives of its human rights bodies. The report refers to information gathered, describing situations in which persons have reportedly been intimidated or suffered reprisals for having cooperated with the United Nations. The report mentions situations of such practices in Afghanistan, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Guatemala, Honduras and Tunisia.

There is a note by the Secretariat on the situation of human rights in Cuba (document E/CN.4/2003/36) which refers to a resolution that requested the High Commissioner to take steps necessary to send a personal representative with a view to cooperation between the Office and the Government of Cuba in the implementation of the resolution. Pursuant to this request, the High Commissioner designated Ms. Christine Chanet as his personal representative for Cuba on 27 January 2003.

There is a note by the Secretary-General concerning the mission report of the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, the Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions and a member of the Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearance (E/CN.4/2003/44), which indicates that owing to the non-availability of financial resources and growing insecurity in some areas, the joint mission mandated to investigate alleged human rights violations and breaches of international humanitarian law in the Democratic Republic of Congo between 1996 and 1997 by resolution 2002/14, was not able to proceed. Relevant information would be found in the next report of the Special Rapporteur at the Commission's fifty-ninth session.

Introduction of and Response to Report on Situation of Human Rights in Burundi

MARIE-THERESE A. KEITA BOCOUM, Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Burundi, introduced her sixth report (document E/CN.4/2003/45), saying among other things that she had noted an increase in acts of violence and the number of victims among the civilian population. The country's cease-fire had not been fully respected because of the refusal by the FNL to joint the peace settlement and the persistence of the armed conflict between State forces and armed groups. The continued violence had made the good functioning of the institution of transition a delicate one, and it had hampered the full implementation of the Arusha Peace Agreement. In November 2002, the Government had been confronted with radical political opposition from the group of the former State President who had been placed under house arrest at the beginning of November.

Ms. Keita Bocoum said the right to life had been violated both by State and non-state agents, including unknown perpetrators. Between July and September 2002, a number of civilians had been killed, including women, children and the elderly, allegedly by State agents. The rights to freedom, security and physical integrity had continued to be violated. The provisions of the Penal Code were not respected concerning terms of provisional detention of suspects. Illegal detention centres within the military camps and insecure places continued to exist. In addition, torture and other cruel, inhuman treatments or degrading punishment continued to be inflicted in different police stations and underground detention centres. Law-enforcement agents had been accused of practicing torture against civilians. Violence against women had also continued. With the coming of the date of power rotation between Tutsi and Hutu Presidents, to take place on 1 May 2003, the political situation was clouded with concern.

A representative from Burundi said the Government was aware that it was first and foremost its responsibility to respect the rights of all the inhabitants and citizens of Burundi. However, it should not be forgotten that Burundi had been suffering from a complex civil war since 1993. The war had resulted in the loss of human lives, thousands of displaced persons, destruction of social infrastructure, etc. Despite this situation, the State continued to exist and the Government must fulfill its obligations and uphold the rule of law, maintain public order, ensure safety for all and protect human rights.

It questioned the reliability and objectivity of the information provided by the Special Rapporteur and had reservations about the figures advanced and responsibilities attributed. To the knowledge of the Burundian delegation, no trade union activist had been jailed for trade union activities. Cases of misconduct by the armed forces were investigated and those responsible punished. Reports that displaced persons were afraid to visit health and relief centers were part of a campaign launched by certain Burundian political circles and rebels who tended to demonize the army. The National Commission for the Rehabilitation of Disaster victims, established under the Arusha Accord, had started its work on 25 March 2003. The Government was making all possible efforts to improve the situation of the poor and of AIDS victims, despite the limited resources at its disposal. Reforms of the justice system had also been undertaken. Burundi furthermore stressed that the recruitment of youths under the age of 18 into the army was prohibited by law and that a project of demobilization, disarmament and social and professional integration of child soldiers was being put in place with the support of UNICEF.

Interactive Dialogue on Burundi

In a question-and-answer session, a Representative of Greece, speaking on behalf of the European Union, asked if the Special Rapporteur had decided when to visit Burundi next. What was her assessment of the peace process?

A Representative of the United States said racial and ethnic tensions were the root problems in the country. What was the Special Rapporteur's assessment of the current state of ethnic and racial tensions?

Ms. Keita-Bocoum, Special Rapporteur, said she intended to go to Burundi as soon as possible. With respect to progress in the peace process, she had noted some improvements. However, the civilian population still could not feel the full effects of real peace. She mentioned the serious nature of attacks against civilians, including women and children, and said she wished that a special inquiry could be carried out so that the real truth would come out.

Concerning the question posed by the United States, she stressed that ethnic issues underlay all political, social and economic issues in Burundi. There would be a system of rotation in the leadership of the country, which hopefully would reassure all ethnic groups. The role of the High Commissioner for Human Rights was very important in this regard and the support of his office needed to be strengthened.

A Representative of Uganda asked the Special Rapporteur whether in her interaction with the leaders of rebel groups, she had detected a willingness on their parts to respect human rights.

The Special Rapporteur said this was precisely the point. It had not been possible for her to meet with the rebel groups, as she had hoped. Therefore the only appeal that she could make was through the recommendations in her report. All armed groups must respect human rights.

Introduction of and Response to Report on Situation in Myanmar

PAULO SERGIO PINHEIRO, Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Myanmar, said he had intended to work in Yangon for one week. However, he had been obliged to interrupt his mission on the third day due to a "listening device" incident, affecting the standard operating procedures relating to the conduct of his fact-finding missions. The Government had expressed regrets, apologized and pledged to investigate the incident and take action against those found responsible. His activities before the suspension of the mission pointed to the fact that the war killed and hurt civilians as well as soldiers. His meeting with the State Peace and Development Council (SPDC) Secretary had been frank and constructive, and he had found support for his proposal to assess allegations of human rights violations in ethnic areas, including Shan State.

Other positive steps in the area of building confidence at the international level were human rights workshops sponsored by the Australian Government, and SPDC assurances to facilitate the operational environment of international non-governmental agencies in Myanmar and to continue cooperation with the International Labour Office (ILO). While certainly welcome, those initiatives were no substitute for real advancement on substantial human rights issues where the progress had regrettably been very limited and not at the pace or level that he had expected.

Mr. Pinheiro reiterated that political prisoners were not limited to politicians only -- in fact, the majority of them were students, teachers, lawyers, and other individuals arrested arbitrarily under security laws in connection with the peaceful exercise of their basic civil and political rights. According to the latest information received from the Home Minister, there remained only 101 detainees who were members of political parties. However, 90 per cent of them were members of the National League for Democracy (NLD). The others were from other political groups. The release of the largest batch of prisoners, amounting to 115, announced on 21 November 2002, had been confirmed. Compared with last year, the pace of releases had markedly decreased, which appeared to indicate a linkage between releases and lack of progress in the political dialogue. This suggested that releases were perhaps used as bargaining tools between the SPDC and the NLD. If this was true, it was unacceptable and cruel. He had been encouraged to learn about some improvements with regard to the situation of the Muslim population in Northern Rakhine State.

Poverty was particularly acute and affected all strata of the Myanmar population, Mr. Pinheiro said. Malnutrition was rising, and currently over a third of Myanmar children under age five were moderately or severely under-weight. He was convinced that real progress in all human rights would not come about unless genuine progress towards national reconciliation occurred. Efforts must be made to address this situation, as there was a huge expectation on behalf of all the peoples of Myanmar that dialogue, leading to a durable national reconciliation and democratization, would take place.

A representative from Myanmar said progress in political, economic, social and cultural conditions in general and improvements in human rights in particular had been sustained, steady and significant in the country. The Special Rapporteur had highlighted a number of very important positive developments in his report and in his presentation. The Rapporteur had also made positive comments on the increased presence of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) in Myanmar and on progress in cooperation between the Government and the Office of the High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) in northern Rakhine State. The Special Rapporteur also had noted as a positive step the visit of the representative of Amnesty International to Mynamar in February 2003. Those were most credible and well-documented facts, cited from the progress report and the oral report of the Special Rapporteur. They were eloquent testimony to positive developments in Myanmar and to the significant achievements of the Government in the field of promotion and protection of human rights.

Since the Special Rapporteur had submitted his progress report, the Government had released 45 prisoners on 16 March 2003. The number of prisoners, including NLD members, released in the past few months had risen to over 1,000. There were misconceptions about the current status of the national reconciliation process in Myanmar. There had been 12 meetings between a special team led by a cabinet-level representative and Daw Aung San Suu Kyi of the NLD. There had also been meetings between the two sides at other levels. The national reconciliation process was a homegrown process based on the country's traditions. The Government of Myanmar hoped that the Special Rapporteur would maintain and carry forward his constructive and positive approach in representing the human rights situation in Myanmar.

Interactive Dialogue on Situation in Myanmar

A Representative of Norway asked the Special Rapporteur how he planned to examine the question of the recruitment of children into the army and armed groups.

A Representative of India welcomed the liberation of Daq Aung San Suu Kyi and asked the Special Rapporteur whether he subscribed to the view that a solution for an internal problem must come from within and that external pressure would only be counterproductive. In other words, did the Special Rapporteur believe that a policy of engagement and cooperation with Myanmar rather than sanctions would be more productive?

A Representative of Greece, speaking on behalf of the European Union, asked the Special Rapporteur whether he agreed with the assessment of the ILO that meaningful progress in the situation in Myanmar was dependent on a process of national reconciliation and democracy. The Representative also asked the Special Rapporteur whether he had received assurance that Daw Aung San Suu Kyi would not be subjected to harassment in the future. And he asked whether a timetable for the release of political prisoners could be established.

A Representative of Myanmar asked whether the meeting that the Special Rapporteur had held with SLPD's Secretary of the State Council was positive.

A Representative of Australia noted that Australia had been calling for an independent report on cases of sexual violence, including by the military in Myanmar, and asked the Special Rapporteur whether he could expand on discussions he had held on the matter in Myanmar.

A Representative of Brazil noted that the Special Rapporteur estimated there were between 1,200 and 1,300 political detainees in Myanmar. Given that the release of political detainees had always been essential to strengthening the transition to democracy and the plan for national reconciliation, could the Special Rapporteur explain what prevented the adoption of this measure in Myanmar?

Mr. Pinheiro, the Special Rapporter, said at the moment he had only secondary information about the recruitment of children into the army. He subscribed to the view that solutions must come from within. However, given that human rights were universal and did not know national frontiers, events in other countries concerned the entire international community. The Special Rapporteur said the question of sanctions was not within his mandate. In every political transition, the release of political prisoners was essential for democratic progress. The Special Rapporteur did not believe that the release of political prisoners would be a threat to the security of Myanmar. On the contrary, it would foster national reconciliation. Myanmar was facing a delicate moment and it was crucial for the international community to support the Special Envoy of the Secretary General in his efforts to bring about national reconciliation. The international community must convey to the Government the message that every obstacle could be overcome through cooperation with the Special Envoy.