Iraq: Commission on Human Rights continues with high-level segment

Report
from UN Commission on Human Rights
Published on 20 Mar 2003
HR/CN/1000
Some Speakers Focus on Attack on Iraq, Call for End to Hostilities

(Reissued as received.)

GENEVA, 20 March (UN Information Service) - Senior officials from Honduras, Russian Federation, Algeria, Cuba, Republic of Moldova, and Rwanda, as well as the Director-General of the International Organization for Migration (IOM) this morning addressed the high-level segment of the Commission on Human Rights. A range of national and international human rights issues were addressed, but the focus was on the attack on Iraq.

Yuri Fedotov, Deputy Minister for Foreign Affairs of the Russian Federation, said the course of events in Iraq must be reversed back to the framework of the international legal order. The Russian Federation believed that involving all parties in the process of promoting human rights, rather than drawing lines of confrontation that divided States into "good" and "bad", could produce tangible results.

Mohamed Charfi, Minister of Justice of Algeria, said the war in Iraq was taking place in violation of international law and must cease immediately. Wars and internal conflicts, extra-judicial executions and arbitrary detentions violated civil and political rights, as well as economic, social and cultural rights. Such situations reinforced feelings of inequality, injustice and frustration among large parts of the world's population. At the time of heavy tensions in the Middle East and elsewhere, the Commission must ensure that the rule of law outweighed the use of or threat of force.

Felipe Perez Roque, Minister for Foreign Affairs of Cuba, said the illegal, unjust and unnecessary aggression against Iraq, already ruthlessly unleashed despite its near-unanimous international rejection, turned the right to self-determination and the sovereignty of peoples into a simple mirage. The implications of the ongoing assaults on international law, unprecedented statements and doctrines and the constant use of threats and military blackmail were yet to be fully fathomed. Peace was needed in order to tackle the real enemies -- famine, poverty, underdevelopment, the destruction of the environment, illiteracy, and diseases currently subduing the overwhelming majority of the population of the planet.

Jean de Dieu Mucyo, Minister of Justice and Institutional Relations of Rwanda, addressed the issue of the rule of law and human rights priorities in his country. Nine years after the genocide and the war of 1994, Rwanda had come a long way on the human rights path. Despite the weight of the above disasters, the Government had aimed to establish indispensable elements for good governance and the building of a lawful State to ensure the effective protection of human rights. The majority of the efforts had been centred on security, since Rwanda believed that this was a sine qua non condition for the construction of a State that guaranteed, protected and promoted human rights.

Jorge Ramon Hernandez Alcerro, Minister of Governance and Justice of Honduras, told the Commission about a serious problem which was particularly worrisome to his country -- a dramatic increase in gang violence. In the last four years, 744 young people under the age of 18 had been murdered in Honduras. A significant number of these killings could be attributed to a dramatic increase in gang violence over the last two years. The Government of Honduras did not tolerate, condone or promote this type of criminal act and was currently making great efforts to discover the truth behind these killings.

Nicolae Dudau, Minister for Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Moldova, highlighted the trafficking in human beings as one of the main issues of concern to his Government. In this regard, the implementation and observance of human rights were unfortunately far from perfect. Trafficking in human beings had become a real social plague in the country. The authorities had launched a number of activities to deal with this issue, including the creation of a governmental commission; the strengthening of punishments in the new Penal Code; and the adoption of a national plan of action for the prevention of trafficking.

The Director-General of the International Organization for Migration (IOM), Brunson McKinley, also addressed the Commission, stressing that migration policies and legislation must take into account the special circumstances of women migrants. Failure to do so could leave them more vulnerable to violence, exploitation and abuse. Smuggling and trafficking involved some of the most significant and systematic threats to human rights of migrants and IOM worked on counter-trafficking through prevention; protection and assistance; and capacity building.

Exercising their right of reply were representatives of Morocco and Uganda.

The Commission will reconvene today at 3 p.m. to conclude its high-level segment.

Statements

JORGE RAMON HERNANDEZ ALCERRO, Minister of Governance and Justice of Honduras, said that from 1998 to 2002, 744 young people under the age of 18 had been murdered in Honduras. These killings had taken place mostly in urban areas and so far the perpetrators of most of these crimes had not yet been apprehended. A significant number of these killings could be attributed to a dramatic increase in gang violence over the last two years. The Government of Honduras did not tolerate, condone or promote this type of criminal act and was currently making great efforts to discover the truth behind these killings.

The Honduran Minister said that last year, 66,021 crimes were reported to the authorities. Of these, 4,761 were homicides, and only 310 involved children's death. In order to investigate these crimes and create a plan of action to get to the root of the problem, a permanent commission for the protection of the physical and moral integrity of children was established. At present, the Ministry of Security had only 300 full-time field investigators. Each investigator had an average of 221 cases per year, whereas by international standards, there should be only 20 cases per agent. Of the 310 cases involving children, 74 involved gang violence. Investigators encountered several difficulties regarding cases reported prior to 2002, including the lack of a centralized database, a shortage of specialized investigators and a lack of equipment and logistical support for fieldwork.

The Government of Honduras accepted responsibility for the investigation of each and every one of these crimes and was committed to making every possible effort to prevent juvenile delinquency, to assure the respect of the human rights of young people, and to enforce the laws against those who violated them. The international community was urged to support Honduras in its investigation efforts and in strengthening the capabilities of its police forces.

YURI FEDOTOV, Deputy Minister for Foreign Affairs of the Russian Federation, said the task of human rights protection, development and strengthening of international cooperation in this field was one of the pillars of the twenty-first century world order, a world order that was based on adherence to law and justice, and on solidarity in the fight against new threats and challenges that had replaced the dangers of the period of block confrontation. Not only were these threats and challenges a serious trial for the emerging new system of stability on the planet, but they also hindered progress in the area of international human rights cooperation.

The goal of international institutions, he said, was to contribute by all means to strengthening the spirit of universal responsibility and interaction in tackling existing problems in the field of the promotion and protection of human rights. Involving all interested parties into the process of discussing and adopting collective decisions rather than drawing new lines of confrontation that divided States into "good" and "bad" could produce tangible results in making the high human rights standards a reality for everyone. Constructive and targeted assistance, inter alia, on the international arena, to countries with problems in the field of human rights protection had proved to be much more effective than politically motivated pressure and attempts to punish the "violators".

Among the threats and challenges to the international human rights protection regime was one which endangered each and every country, regardless of its geographical position and level of development, he said. This was a threat that undermined the stability of government structures, and caused immense suffering and hardship to ordinary people; the threat posed by terrorists and terrorist groups. This was a truly global threat, and the link between it and human rights had recently become even more evident.

There were well-founded reasons to believe that a military operation against Iraq without authorization from the United Nations Security Council and in a situation when the possibilities for a peaceful solution to the crisis had not been exhausted would lead to an increase of the global threat of terrorism. The Russian Federation regretted that despite the decision of the international community to pursue the process of disarmament as verified by the United Nations, missile and bomb attacks had started. This would inevitably lead to a significant number of civilian casualties, to the destruction of an already fragile civil infrastructure, as well as the possibility of a very serious humanitarian situation with grave consequences for the protection of human rights.

Mr. Fedotov said his country was of the view that the course of events should be reversed back to the framework of the international legal order.

MOHAMED CHARFI, Minister of Justice of Algeria, said the meeting of the Commission was taking place at a time when the war in Iraq was being seen live on television around the globe. This war, taking place in violation of international law, should cease immediately. Algeria had made it clear that this was its position since the beginning of the crisis, and the Commission should speak out in support of this stance.

Modern positive law had registered, decades ago, amongst the collective values of mankind, the respect of human rights. However, it was worth noting that this had happened after a lot of grief, and breaches to the dignity of human beings and to their sacred right to life. Only then had the collective consciousness developed with determination, thus conferring to the dignity of human beings, in all its forms, the status of higher value, the respect of which was imposed on all. Decades had passed by before the movement for the emancipation of human beings, which could not be isolated from the movement for the emancipation of peoples, had speeded up during the second half of the last century. This had given the opportunity to human rights to make historical changes in terms of international norms, as well as in States' practices, as much for the sake of their citizens as for their intrinsic relationships marked more and more by the willingness that aims at transferring the issue of human rights from the very isolation of national sovereignties to the open field of universal concerns, shared by the international community.

Wars and internal conflicts, extrajudicial executions and arbitrary detentions unfortunately violated every day civil and political rights, as well as economic, social and cultural rights, Mr. Charfi said. Poverty, extreme precariousness, difficulty of access to basic food, and absence of the most elementary care, all flouted economic and social rights, thus reinforcing the feeling of inequality, injustice and frustration among large parts of the world's population. At the time of heavy tensions in the Middle East and elsewhere, the solemn affirmation that law should outweigh force should solely guide the community of nations.

Mr. Charfi said that marked at the outset by the reaction to numerous exactions and breaches to dignity that human beings had suffered from, the sensitivity to the issue on human rights should today be changed. It should no longer be assessed according to obligations stemming from the term of governance and the status of citizenship, but instead should be evaluated from economic and social development. Human rights were not a simple requirement of protection of freedoms and rights, but had become factors of global development; just as for the accumulation of capital, countries needed to ensure an accumulation of human rights in view of encouraging the establishment of the rule of law, which was the sole framework likely to guarantee the transparent use of resources and the mobilization of human energies around a consensus conducive to the achievement of societies' projects. Today, he said, people dreamed of the rule of law, they dreamed of democracy and prosperity. To this end, the international community should be attentive to the efforts deployed by the nations in transition for democracy so as to encourage and help them succeed all the sooner.

FELIPE PEREZ ROQUE, Minister for Foreign Affairs of Cuba, said he was not going to use these minutes to denounce the high-handed and disreputable attempt to concoct and forcefully impose a condemnation of Cuba in this Commission in order to justify the genocidal blockade enforced against his people by successive United States administrations for over four decades. Today, the priority must be another - to save the United Nations and its collective security mechanisms from collapse and to address the deliberate lack of respect for the principles of its Charter. The illegal, unjust and unnecessary aggression against Iraq, a third world country, already ruthlessly unleashed despite the unanimous rejection of the public opinion around the world, turned the right to self-determination and the sovereignty of peoples into a simple mirage. After such a war, a new world order would emerge in which old aspirations for the planet to be governed by the rule of law would have been overridden by the imposition of an order governed by the rule of an empire.

Not even the old allies of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) could now elude the threat of military aggression, he said. Could anyone imagine the United States proclaiming under the law the right to even invade The Hague, in the centre of Europe, if any American were taken to the International Criminal Court? Could one have anticipated that not even the European Union -- as a wise and patient exercise of integration, visibly fragmented today -- was going to be able to curb the war mongering and hegemonic designs of the United States Government. The implications of ongoing assaults on international law, unprecedented statements and doctrines and the constant use of threats and military blackmail were yet to be fully fathomed. A whole planet had become hostage to the whimsical decisions of an unbridled power that disregarded any international commitments and acted only in conformity with its own interests and unique concept of national security. The dilemma and the challenge of the international community were to jointly face a peril menacing everyone.

Cuba firmly believed that there was a powerful reason to feel optimistic -- no tyranny or empire with hegemonic designs had managed to prevail over the aspirations of justice and freedom of peoples. Cuba believed that the work of the Commission must go from the futile confrontation between the North and South to the joint struggle for a world of peace, justice and equality -- whose existence was currently endangered not only for the countries in the South but also those in the North. "We are not alone -- and we are also the majority", he said and referred to the support of the ever-increasing sectors of the American people, the enormous mobilization around the planet in opposition to an unnecessary war against Iraq, and France's courageous position and that of other countries for the possibility of a world governed by law and not by war. The world needed peace in order to be able to focus on its intelligence and resources on combating the real enemies -- famine, poverty, underdevelopment, the destruction of the environment, illiteracy, and diseases currently subduing the overwhelming majority of the population of the planet.

BRUNSON MCKINLEY, Director-General of the International Organization for Migration, said the IOM had always played a strong role in providing assistance in emergency and post conflict situations. This came in many forms, such as the provision of transportation to safety for refugees and internally displaced persons, resettlement, repatriation, return and reintegration. Another element was the integration of former combatants into civilian life -- an essential element of any post-conflict situation if peace was to be given a chance to take root.

Increasingly, Governments were recognizing the importance of orderly labour migration schemes, he continued. The current focus was on particular skills at the top end of the labour market, but gaps between supply and demand for labour existed at all levels. Services in the area, such as recruitment, consular services, family reunification, documentation, health assessments, cultural orientation and language training, facilitated migration. They also remained important to the protection of the rights of migrants and could play a crucial role in ensuring effective integration of migrants in their new communities. It was stressed that controlling borders was in no way incompatible with respect for the rights and dignity of migrants. Each State had the right to determine who entered or remained on its territory. The IOM was committed to the principle that humane and orderly migration benefited migrants and society. Migrants in irregular situations were vulnerable to exploitation and discrimination, and the perception in host communities that migration was out of control could feed xenophobic and racist attitudes, putting all migrants at risk. The events of September 11 had exacerbated these tendencies, increasing suspicion and fear of migrants and doubts about government's capacities to manage migration.

Mr. McKinley stressed the importance of migration policies and legislation taking into account the special circumstances of women migrants, since failure to do so could leave them more vulnerable to violence, exploitation and abuse. Smuggling and trafficking involved some of the most significant and systematic threats to human rights of migrants. The social, economic and human rights situation in countries of origin, especially for women, could affect the susceptibility of potential migrants to falling prey to smugglers and traffickers. IOM worked on counter-trafficking in three principal areas: prevention; protection and assistance; and capacity building. A significant element of training went into these activities, including the training of law enforcement officials in the sensitive and humane treatment of victims.

NICOLAE DUDAU, Minister for Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Moldova, said that in Moldova, respect for human rights was the key premise that undermined the consolidation of the democratic political system, which was based on the rule and supremacy of law. Moldova had taken measures to establish a correlation between the national legal framework and international standards and rules adopted by international treaties. The Constitution stipulated that its provisions on human rights and freedoms were interpreted and applied according to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and other international instruments to which Moldova was a party.

Mr. Dudau said that in order to eliminate the incompatibility between national and international laws on human rights, Moldova had launched extensive legislative reforms, including the adoption of new penal and civil codes. An important mechanism of human rights protection was the creation of the institution of ombudsman and a national center for human rights. In the past year alone, the ombudsman had examined over 1,200 petitions and more than 3,000 complaints. A large number of non-governmental organizations were active in the country and the Government was promoting dialogue and cooperation with them. Special human rights training programmes were also created to spread information on human rights and human rights protection mechanisms.

Mr. Dudau said, however, that the mechanism for the implementation and observance of human rights was far from perfect. Trafficking in human beings had become a real social plague in the country. The State authorities had launched a number of activities to deal with this issue. Thus, a governmental commission for combating trafficking in human beings was created, the new Penal Code provided more severe punishment for trafficking in human beings and a national plan of action for the prevention of trafficking was adopted. Another serious problem was the issue of separatism. Within the so-called "transdniestrian region" a discrimination policy was promoted by the separatists against the Moldavian population, which constituted 41 per cent of the total population. This policy directly affected the right of the native population to be educated in their mother tongue, prohibited social and political plurality and imposed different restrictions on their freedom of association. Local authorities continued to subject political prisoners to torture and degrading treatment.

JEAN DE DIEU MUCYO, Minister of Justice and International Relations of Rwanda, said two years ago the Commission had decided to take the important decision of dispensing Rwanda from being constantly under the observation of a Special Rapporteur. At the time, factors linked to the security of the country, the extreme difficulty of setting up and making operational democratic institutions in a post-genocide society and undergoing a transitional period had imposed on the Rwandan Government and people an extreme caution concerning the far-reaching reforms which needed to be engaged with the aim of building, for the first time in Rwandan history since its independence, a truly lawful State. The majority of the efforts were centred on security, since Rwanda believed that this was a sine qua none condition for the construction of a State that guaranteed respect and protection for human rights.

Nine years after the genocide and the war of 1994, he said, Rwanda had come a long way along the human rights path. Despite the weight of the above disasters, the Government had not ceased to establish, as shown by its actions, texts and projects, all the indispensable elements for good governance and the building of a lawful state, and also to ensure the effective protection of human rights in all their aspects. Without the problems of security which persisted a long time and the majority of the effects of the 1994 genocide, Rwanda could serenely envisage coming out of transition and the future of the rights of its inhabitants over the entirety of its territory.

It should, however, be noted that the evolution in the field of human rights since the genocide was thanks to the actions of several organizations, including the Commission on Human Rights, as well as others who had not ceased to accompany Rwanda in its efforts to protect human rights, even immediately after the tragedy, and Rwandan thanked all those who had participated in making Rwanda a country where human rights were respected.

Rights of Reply

A representative of Morocco, speaking in a right of reply, said the Minister of Justice of Algeria had spoken this morning about the Moroccan Sahel. These reflections should be condemned, since there were camps in Algeria in which thousands of Moroccans had been kept hostage for decades, hostages for political reasons. The Moroccan delegation would have liked, at a period of great challenges in the region, to ask the Algerian Minister to show a lofty spirit and be objective, without speaking of outdated issues, since great progress had been made in the region of the Sahel, under the aegis of the Secretary-General and the United Nations. Morocco would affirm today, in a spirit of responsibility, that there was a wish to face up to these crucial times by sparing no effort with regard to finding a final solution to this problem, and to tackle the problems of the greater Maghrebin region, which was an issue dear to the heart of many Moroccans.

A representative of Uganda, speaking in exercise of right of reply in response to a statement made by the Minister of Justice and Institutional Relations of Rwanda, said that Uganda's presence in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, in particular, in the Victoria Lake region, was in accordance with agreements signed in 2002 and 2003. The concern expressed about the presence of Ugandan troops in that region was unfounded and Uganda did not pose any threat to Rwandan security. Uganda was committed to withdrawing its troops from the Democratic Republic of the Congo and to making all efforts to normalize relations with all countries in the region in order to ensure peace and prosperity.