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High Commissioner for Human Rights challenges nations to build on commitments of last 50 years

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Points to Situations in Chechnya, East Timor, Kosovo, Sierra Leone and Great Lakes Region of Africa as Evidence of Work Still to Be Done
United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Mary Robinson said today the countries of the world face a major challenge on the eve of a new millennium: to ensure that major progress in human rights over the last half century translates into a difference in the lives of people throughout the world.

'I regard the prospects for human rights in the next century with a mixture of hope and apprehension', the High Commissioner said. 'There are strong grounds for optimism in the powerful base of human rights legislation and norms set over the past fifty years, starting with the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. We will enter the new century with a level of support for human rights principles that is unparalleled in human history'.

But, she continued, hope is tinged with apprehension in the face of many gross violations of human rights around the globe. 'We are reaching the end of a very bloody century with conflicts still claiming lives in the Great Lakes region and other parts of Africa, with violence in Indonesia, continuing attacks against the Serb and Roma minorities in Kosovo, and with the people of East Timor facing fresh evidence of mass killings perpetrated there. This is the sad evidence that we have yet to make the slogan 'All human rights for all' a reality', she said.

Mrs. Robinson said her thoughts went especially to the civilian population of Chechnya, 'who face great trials and danger as a result of the fighting'.

(More) 'The legitimate goal of combatting terrorism does not remove the responsibility to observe the human rights and humanitarian conventions designed to protect civilians and to which the Russian Government is party', she said. 'I call again on the Russian Government to take urgent measures to ensure the safety of the civilian population of Grozny and of those areas under their control. I also urge them to pursue all possible means of reaching a peaceful resolution of this situation which would avoid further civilian casualties'.