Colombia + 4 more

High officials of seven countries address Commission on Human Rights

News and Press Release
Originally published
Laud Inauguration of International Criminal Court, Call for Rights-Based Responses to Terrorism

(Reissued as received.)

GENEVA, 17 March (UN Information Service) - High Government officials of Brazil, Latvia, Greece, Ukraine, Paraguay, Austria, and Colombia spoke before the Commission on Human Rights this afternoon, variously describing national measures to bolster fundamental rights and freedoms, expressing support for the recently established International Criminal Court, and cautioning that efforts to counter terrorism, while vital, must respect internationally established human rights norms.

The first meeting of the Commission's "high-level segment" - a series of addresses by officials holding high rank in governments and international organizations which will continue through Thursday -- also saw several pleas that international dedication to fighting poverty, improving the situation of women and children, and preventing such abuses as trafficking in human beings should not be forgotten at a time when attention was being focused on terrorism.

The International Criminal Court was cited several times as an effective new tool for preventing serious human rights violations and as an institution that could further the goals and deal with many of the concerns of the Commission on Human Rights.

Those government officials addressing the subject of terrorism said it was unacceptable under any circumstances and must be vigorously prevented and punished, but only through methods that respected long-established standards for human rights.

At the end of the meeting, representatives of Uganda and Palestine spoke in exercise of the right of reply.

The Commission will continue its high-level segment at 10 a.m. Tuesday, 18 March. Officials of nine countries, the Inter-Parliamentary Union, and the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) are scheduled to speak.


NILMARIO MIRANDA, Special Secretary on Human Rights of Brazil with ministerial ranking, said the election of the Chairperson of the Commission showed the importance now given to women in the Arab and African worlds.

The democratically elected Brazilian Government aimed to guarantee human rights to all its citizens, Mr. Miranda said. The end of the Cold War, nurtured in hearts and expectations, had given rise to hopes of a multilateral system, in which governments would cooperate and communicate freely. With the new instruments created over the last few years, the Convention on Migrant Workers for example, progress had been made towards creating greater guarantees for human rights globally. However, there had been setbacks, such as atrocities committed by terrorist groups, and these should be fought by legal guarantees and a net of international standards. Research into the causes and possible resolutions of conflicts should be resumed, notably in Palestine. Collective punishments of the civilian population of the occupied territories should come to an end.

Today, Mr. Miranda said, the international community appeared to have established the legal and moral parameters for the global fight against terrorism. The greatest damage terrorist groups could ensure was a disruption of the rule of law in democratically constituted countries. The difficulties of reconciling the fight against terrorism with guarantees of human rights had been identified, but not solved. The threat of outbreak of armed conflict in the Middle East could dilute discussions on human rights and anti-terrorism policies, and the events of 11 September had given fertile ground for racist discussions. The Brazilian Government would repudiate such arguments emphasizing cultural and religious differences rather than human resemblances. There was a risk of returning to a sterile time of increased polarization. The only justifiable war envisaged by the Brazilian Government was against hunger, poverty, illness, and AIDS in Africa. There was a need for greater political will to mobilize the international community in these fights, and to overcome the current impasse in which the developed world was the major beneficiary of what was undertaken in the developing world.

NILS MUIZNIEKS, Minister for Social Integration of Latvia, said that over the years the Commission had proved to be one of the most important forums for debate on human rights standards and for monitoring compliance throughout the world. The continued relevance of the Commission was attested to by the ever-increasing number of participants. Given the number of actors involved in human rights promotion and protection, coordination and a certain division of labour were essential. While overlapping mandates could strengthen compliance, they could also lead to inconsistency and confusion. For example, recently the United Nations Human Rights Committee, the European Court of Human Rights and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe all had given different evaluations regarding a particular human rights issue in Latvia.

Many States failed to honour their reporting obligations to human rights bodies, and delays and backlogs in the work of various committees often resulted in the consideration of reports long after they had been submitted, Mr. Muiznieks said. The Latvian Government had implemented several measures to strengthen Latvia's reporting capacity. Thus, responsibility for drafting of the reports lay with a single unit under the auspices of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Moreover, all reports were made available to non-governmental organizations and independent researchers for comments and criticism whose feedback was often incorporated into the text of the reports before they were submitted to the United Nations.

Mr. Muiznieks said that in its effort to overcome the legacy of half a century of Soviet occupation, Latvia had not only sought to strengthen its own democratic infrastructure, but actively had cooperated with international human rights organizations. One example of successful cooperation was the technical assistance provided by the United Nations Development Programme to develop a long-term National Programme for Latvian Language Training. This programme was designed to assist Russian-speakering settlers to learn Latvian and integrate into Latvian society. The Government had strengthened dialogue with minorities and had implemented a policy aimed at combating all forms of racial discrimination. On 4 April, Latvia would hold a large conference on racism and intolerance in cooperation with the Council of Europe. This conference would be the first step in a dialogue that would result in a National Action plan against racism and intolerance.

TASSOS GIANNITSIS, Alternate Minister for Foreign Affairs of Greece, speaking on behalf of the European Union, said the Commission played a pivotal role in the promotion and protection of human rights. Through standard-setting and the establishment of monitoring mechanisms, significant progress had been achieved since the proclamation of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and one could take pride in the Commission=s unique contribution to this process. Yet, one must not become complacent. Human rights continued to be violated in many parts of the world B a fact that the international community had to confront and address. The European Union was, moreover, convinced that the protection and promotion of human rights contributed to peace, security, stability and to sustainable socio-economic development. Legal instruments, monitoring mechanisms and other measures adopted in this field, such as human rights education, were a necessity rather than a luxury for every human society.

The Commission's task of ensuring respect for human rights was most challenging, he said. It required facing reality, not only abroad, but also at home. No one could elude this obligation B human rights were universal rights. They were rights demanded by human dignity. For its part, the European Union had made a great effort to implement these universal rights and to improve its own human rights mechanisms. It had developed programmes and taken measures to combat at home scourges such as intolerance, racial discrimination and trafficking in human beings. Taking action to stop human rights violations was, however, not sufficient. Those responsible must be held accountable. Impunity would only fuel new violations. The European Union had expressed its conviction that the International Criminal Court, which was inaugurated a few days ago, would play a cardinal role in this respect.

The duty to promote and protect human rights required not only ensuring implementation of standards and improving the effectiveness of existing mechanisms, Mr. Giannitsis said. The international community must be alert and ready to respond to new challenges. Globalization brought opportunities for social and economic development, but it also entailed risks of exploitation, pauperization and exclusion that had to be tackled. The scourge of terrorism, which had taken on unprecedented proportions, must be confronted through the firm and concerted efforts of all members of the international community. Acts of terrorism were criminal and unjustifiable wherever and by whomever committed. It was well known that the universal abolition of the death penalty was among the top priorities of the European Union. Eradication and prevention of torture and ill-treatment were other major concerns of the European Union. No exceptions to the prohibition of torture were permitted under international law and all countries had the obligation to comply with the unconditional prohibition of all forms of torture and ill-treatment.

VOLODYMYR EL'CHENKO, State Secretary for Foreign Affairs of Ukraine, said it had become a sad tradition in recent years that the work of the Commission started in the shadow of tragic events, war or the threat of war, cases of mass and brutal violations of basic human rights. Ukraine unequivocally condemned international terrorism in all its forms and manifestations and stressed the need to consolidate efforts to prevent and counterattack terrorism. On the other hand, all States must ensure that any measures taken to combat terrorism complied with their obligations under international law, in particular international humanitarian law. This year his country and the world community would mark a sad anniversary -- 70 years since the great famine in Ukraine. The induced famine of 1932 to 1933 was an act of genocide against the Ukrainian people that had taken the lives of more than 7 million. Organized by the totalitarian Soviet regime and aimed at suppressing people in the regions that were in opposition to forced collectivization, the famine had been one of the most tragic events in human history.

The world had failed to respond to that tragedy, Mr. El'chenko said. The Ukraine therefore highly valued the entry into force of the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court -- the international judicial institution designed to protect and strengthen the principle of the rule of law, to eliminate impunity and to provide accountability for such serious criminal acts as aggression, genocide, crimes against humanity, and military crimes. Recognizing that the primary responsibility for the full enjoyment of human rights and freedoms lay with States, Ukraine did its utmost to ensure proper implementation of the principles of the rule of law, to create the conditions for economic growth and efficient functioning of the democratic institutions. This policy was part of Ukraine=s course towards European and Euro-Atlantic integration.

With regard to gender perspectives, there was much to be done in a number of areas, such as increasing women's participation at high levels of decision-making, ensuring equal opportunities in the labour market, improving reproductive health, fighting the growing spread of HIV/AIDS among women, and the preventing violence against and trafficking in women. Mr. El'chenko stressed the need to provide proper protection for children and said care for the young generation was a matter receiving special attention in Ukraine. A number of comprehensive national programmes were being implemented to that end. The Government was particularly concerned about children's health in the context of the consequences of the Chernobyl tragedy, as almost 2 million children in Ukraine had become victims of the world's worst nuclear disaster.

JOSE ANTONIO MORENO RUFFINELLI, Minister of Foreign Affairs of Paraguay, said Paraguay was committed to the promotion and protection of human rights and had made major efforts in the field over the past decade. Today's world was a complex one, marked by the threat of conflict in different regions that posed a risk to international peace and security. Paraguay called for a peaceful resolution of conflicts and respect for international law and human rights. Terrorism, drug trafficking, organized crime and corruption violated human rights and undermined democratic societies. Other threats to democratic stability, good governance and development which required greater coordination between States were the steady increase in extreme poverty, lack of social justice, intolerance, discrimination and protectionism. These called for greater attention, resources and efforts on the part of States and international financial institutions.

Mr. Ruffinelli said lopsided relations between States undermined the right to development and recalled that democracy, development and human rights were interdependent. There were indissoluble links between human rights and the foundation of a democratic society and the international community must therefore redouble its efforts to promote the realization of economic, social and cultural rights and balance them with civil and political rights in some regions. Paraguay believed that the adoption of an Optional Protocol to the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights could provide the human rights system with an effective mechanism for achieving the realization of these rights.

The promotion of a democratic political and institutional process was a fundamental and permanent task, Mr. Ruffinelli said. Democracy was indispensable for the effective enjoyment of fundamental freedoms and human rights, which were universal, indivisible and interdependent. The Government of Paraguay attached priority to the ratification of the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination, International Labour Office Convention 138, the Optional Protocol on Child Sale and Prostitution and the International Convention on the rights of migrant workers. Similarly, Paraguay defended and fostered the access of individuals to international human rights supervisory bodies and fully respected their jurisdiction. Paraguay was conscious that there was a deficit in human rights in the country, particularly economic, social and cultural rights. This state of affairs was due in part to a lack of infrastructure and financial resources but also to the impact of the regional financial crisis and imbalances in international trade. However, it also acknowledged that the State must improve its management ability, fight corruption and impunity, strengthen the judicial system and channel more resources to ensure the full implementation of economic, social and cultural rights.

JOHANNES KYRLE, Secretary-General for Foreign Affairs of Austria, speaking in Austria's capacity as Chair of the Human Security Network, an interregional group of 13 countries including Canada, Chile, Greece, Ireland, Jordan, Mali, the Netherlands, Norway, Slovenia, Switzerland, Thailand, Austria, and with South Africa as an observer, said the vision of the Human Security Network was a humane world wherein people could live in security and dignity, free from violent threats, poverty, and despair. In this spirit, the Network currently pursued such diverse subjects as human rights education, the protection of children affected by armed conflict, the control of small arms and light weapons, the universalization of the Ottawa Convention on Anti-personnel landmines, the struggle against HIV/AIDS, issues of international humanitarian law, and conflict prevention.

The Commission, continued Dr. Kyrle, had an important part in building human security; its role was the promotion and protection of human rights worldwide. The interregional character of the Human Security Network could bring to the Commission a new channel for dialogue and the capability of understanding complex phenomena such as the inter-relatedness between poverty, security, and human rights. There was no global security without effective means and political will to fight poverty. A human security perspective, taking the latter into account, therefore encouraged development which was sustainable.

Governments applying a human security policy should actively support the promotion of human rights, the fight against impunity, processes of democratization and the consolidation of the rule of law, Dr. Kyrle said. Human rights education was also a priority, since it raised awareness of the common basis inherent in the protection of human dignity and of human security. The quest of every human being for security and safety was deeply rooted in universal human rights and their implementation. Human rights belonged to the people, and the work of the Commission could make a real difference to people's lives when it came to promoting their rights and freedoms.

FRANCISCO SANTOS CALDERON, Vice-President of Colombia, said the enforceability and doctrine of human rights was a leading item on the Colombian agenda. Shared international responsibility had helped to improve the situation of human rights in Colombia and elsewhere. However, due to the situation in Colombia, the concept of human rights needed to be looked into further. Within the human rights community, it had often been claimed that only States could be responsible for the violations of human rights. The situation in Colombia challenged this viewpoint since armed groups, guerrilla movements and transnational organized crime groups abused human rights on a daily basis. In this connection, he welcomed the debate within the Subcommission on the Protection and Promotion of Human Rights, which had established that entities other than the States were capable of human rights violations and must not enjoy impunity.

The international human rights community must focus more attention on the definition of human rights abuses, Mr. Santos Calderon said. Were human rights a legal phenomenon alone, or was it time to include social and political realities in dealing with human rights abuses? In this connection, he wished to point to the link between transnational organized crime, drug trafficking and terrorism. The role of the international community was important for eradicating such scourges. The Government of Colombia had been asked to provide security for its citizens and to ensure their human rights. Yet, the Government had been condemned in its attempts to do so.

Colombia, as many other States, was a victim of terrorist activity which affected the lives of innocent civilians through abductions, killings and kidnappings. In fact, more than one and a half million Colombian men and women were internally displaced and uprooted as a result of such groups. Other illegal activities undertaken by such groups included the use of car bombs, explosive charges, death threats, displacement, and extrajudicial executions. In dealing with this situation, the Government was upholding all human rights. The armed forces and law-enforcement personnel had been given clear instructions to respect human rights at all times. The situation in Colombia could not be resolved if the Government itself did not respect human rights, he said. The international community could help the situation by realizing the struggles the Government of Colombia was dealing with, as opposed to criticizing its important moves to protecting its citizens.

Rights of Reply

A Representative of Uganda, speaking in right of reply, said the representative of Austria, speaking on behalf of the Human Security Network, had called for the appointment of a special envoy for abducted children in Uganda. But the Network was a new organization, and its aims were as yet unclear to the Government of Uganda. The Network had approached the Government on this point offering support, and the Government had taken this into consideration. The Commission had in the past denounced the activities of the Lord's Resistance Army in Uganda, with the aim of bringing the activities of the rebel group to an end. Uganda was very pleased with the way in which the Commission had treated the issue. The Government of Uganda did not believe that there was a need for more reports, but there was a need for action. This action should be undertaken on the basis of reports already in hand. Uganda would not support any suggestions for further reports.

A Representative of Palestine, speaking in right to reply, said the Commission was used to hearing rights of reply, and these mostly contradicted what had been said earlier. Regarding the statement made this morning by the High Commissioner for Human Rights, in which he said he hoped to visit Palestine following the session, it was hoped that this was an already planned meeting, and that the High Commissioner understood the threats to human rights in Palestine due to the actions of the current power there. The Commissioner would undoubtedly receive a warm welcome from the Palestinian Authority and from the Palestinian people on his arrival.