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Speakers warn against politicization of human rights issues on United Nations agenda, as Third Committee continues wide-ranging debate

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GA/SHC/3929

Sixty-third General Assembly
Third Committee
28th & 29th Meetings (AM & PM)

Member States advised caution against the "politicization" of human rights issues today in the Third Committee (Social, Humanitarian and Cultural), even as some delegates found themselves embroiled in a political discussion on the human rights situations in particular countries -- in some cases, calling for an end to juvenile executions, and in other cases urging greater freedom of expression and religious belief.

The representative of India, expressing a view that was echoed by several other speakers, noted that there had been regular attempts to subject individual countries to intrusive monitoring, so as to point out the failure of the State mechanisms to promote and protect human rights. The international community needed to reflect on whether such action had genuinely improved the human rights situation, she said, adding that instances of gross and systematic violations of human rights anywhere must be addressed collectively by the international community, based on dialogue.

As part of the general discussion on the promotion of human rights, the representative of New Zealand, speaking also on behalf of Canada and Australia, drew attention to five countries that continued to execute juvenile offenders, carrying out 32 such executions in the past three years. Those countries, identified in the report of the Secretary-General as Iran, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Sudan and Yemen, were urged to take steps to prohibit that practice. She also addressed the human rights situation in the Democratic People's Republic of Korea, where extrajudicial executions and torture were reported to be widespread. That country was believed to have imposed severe restrictions on the fundamental freedoms of belief, expression, peaceful assembly, association and religion.

The representative of France, speaking on behalf of the European Union, remarked that human rights in the Sudan continued to be flouted, leading him to urge the Government to implement the decisions made by the judges of the International Criminal Court with immediate effect. He also said that it should step up deployment of the African Union-United Nations Hybrid Operation in Darfur. In Belarus, he noted that the legislative elections in September 2008 had not met the democratic standards of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), leading him to call on national authorities to address those shortcomings.

He also raised concerns regarding the human rights situation in Sri Lanka, which he described as having "deteriorated". All concerned parties should be held responsible for taking concrete measures to guarantee the safety and freedom of movement of civilians and to enable humanitarian organizations to safely carry out their work. Turning to the situation in Zimbabwe, which he said had worsened since the first round of presidential elections, he called on national authorities to re-establish the rule of law. Noting that humanitarian aid to that country had been suspended at around that time, and as the European Union was the largest donor to Zimbabwe, he stressed the importance of maintaining unrestricted humanitarian access.

Canada's representative announced that the John Humphrey Freedom Award -- an award established by the International Centre for Human Rights and Democratic Development -- would be presented, later in the year, to the Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights organization, which had provided legal representation to victims of State-sponsored abuses and persecution in that country. Representatives of that organization often spoke out against human rights abuses at great personal risk, yet staff members continued to endure arrests, detentions, intimidation and assaults, while defending human dignity and the rule of law.

He explained that, last year, Iranian journalist and writer Akbar Ganji was given the same award after enduring six years in prison for exposing the complicity of Iran's regime in a series of murders of political dissidents and intellectuals. In 2006, the Award was presented to Su Su Nway, the first person in Myanmar to win a legal challenge against the use of forced labour, a long-standing and systematic practice of the reigning military regime. The purpose of the Humphrey Award was to demonstrate solidarity and appreciation for the efforts of human rights activists.

In response, the representative of Iran said the Government of Canada's attention should be focused on its own treatment of indigenous groups and other racial and ethnic minorities, and not on the human rights situation of other countries. He called on the Canadian Government to address cases of police brutality more seriously, especially the case of the Polish immigrant who had been detained, harassed and, as a result of interrogation, killed by security officials.

Ngonlardje Mbaidjol, Director of the New York Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, who introduced several reports of the Secretary-General on the promotion and protection of human rights earlier in the day, was prompted by a few delegates to defend the accuracy of figures used in some reports, which had come from non-governmental sources. As pointed out by the representative of the Sudan, the Secretary-General's mandate required him to submit a report based on information provided by Member States and, if information was meant to come from other sources, the mandate would have explicitly asked for "other stakeholders" to be included. Even if other sources were going to be included, it would be necessary to have standard criteria under which the authenticity and credibility of the information would be checked.

Throughout the discussion, delegates from all parts of the world called for better dialogue between States, as well as between States and United Nations human rights procedures mandate holders. The representative of Pakistan, for example, remarked that the Committee had listened to different Special Rapporteurs, but noted that many reports had been presented in a selective manner. There had also been a failure to discuss the criteria on which countries were selected for visits, with the Special Rapporteurs often only selecting invitations to developing countries.

Belarus' representative, whose country had drafted a resolution emphasizing the importance of dialogue and mutual respect, said country-specific issues should be considered by the Human Rights Council and not the Third Committee, which did not have the ability to consider those issues in-depth. He expressed hope that delegates would refrain from submitting country-specific resolutions, and that more emphasis would be placed on resolutions promoting social, economic and humanitarian rights.

Also speaking today were the representatives of Qatar (on behalf of the member States of the Cooperation Council for the Arab States of the Gulf), Papua New Guinea (on behalf of the Pacific Islands Forum), Cuba, Brazil, Bangladesh, Mexico, Russian Federation, Liechtenstein, Colombia, Maldives, Japan, Malaysia, China, Chile, Norway, Singapore, Georgia, Switzerland, Tonga, Morocco, Kazakhstan, Peru, Philippines, Togo and Nepal. The representative of the Observer Mission of the Holy See also delivered a statement.

Speaking in the right of reply were the representatives of the Sudan, Iran, Belarus, Sri Lanka, Democratic Republic of Korea, Russian Federation and Georgia.

Introducing the Secretary-General's report on the status of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities and its Optional Protocol was Maribel Derjani-Bayeh, Officer-in-Charge of the Secretariat for that Convention.

The Committee will meet again at 10 a.m., Wednesday, 29 October, to resume its discussion on the promotion and protection of human rights.

Background

The Third Committee (Social, Humanitarian and Cultural) met today to hear country statements as part of its general discussion on the promotion and protection of human rights (for background, please see Press Release GA/SHC/3925 of 22 October). The discussion is expected to focus on alternative approaches for improving the enjoyment of human rights, human rights situations and reports of Special Rapporteurs and Representatives, and the rights of disabled persons.

It was also expected to hear the introduction of two draft resolutions, on indigenous issues (document A/C.3/63/L.17) and on torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment (document A/C.3/63/L.18).

Introduction of Reports

NGONLARDJE MBAIDJOL, Director of the New York Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, introduced a number of reports, including reports of the Secretary-General on: the protection of migrant workers (document A/63/287); moratoriums on the use of death penalty (document A/63/293 and Corr.1); the right to development (document A/63/340); the protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms while countering terrorism (document A/63/337); combating defamation of religion (document A/63/365); the Subregional Centre for Human Rights and Democracy in Central Africa (document A/63/367); the situation of human rights in the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (document A/63/332) and in the Islamic Republic of Iran (document A/63/459). He also introduced the note by the Secretary-General on the pursuance by the Advisory Committee of the ongoing work done by the Sub-Commission on the Promotion and Protection of Human Rights on the right to development (document A/63/318).

Introducing the Secretary-General's report on the status of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities and the Optional Protocol thereto (document A/63/264 and Corr.1), MARIBEL DERJANI-BAYEH, Officer-in-Charge of the Secretariat for that Convention, said that the Third Committee had played, and would continue to play, a major role in the advancement of the rights of persons with disabilities in all aspects of development and human rights.

Questions and Answers

In a dialogue session following the introduction of the reports, the representative of Yemen said his delegation was particularly surprised by the information included in paragraph 43 of the report of the Secretary-General on the moratorium on the death penalty (A/63/293), which stated that Yemen was one of five countries who continued to implement the death penalty against persons under 18 years of age. That claim was "totally groundless" and had been based on information from a non-governmental organization and not from State figures. The Secretary-General's report on the issue should be based on State information and not on information from other groups or countries. Yemen had amended its crime and punishment law in 1994, and, currently, the maximum penalty against persons under 18 years of age in the country was imprisonment for a duration of 10 years. He called on the Secretariat to clarify the situation officially and asked for such misinformation to be avoided in the future.

Flagging the same report, the representative of Iran categorically rejected the claim made in paragraph 43 that Iran continued to use the death penalty against juveniles. Discussion surrounding the adoption of the General Assembly resolution on a moratorium of the death penalty had demonstrated the deep divide among Member States on that issue, and his delegation continued to hold strong reservations regarding the implications of a moratorium, as did many others. Those reservations aside, he said that persons in charge of preparing the report should have ensured that the information included was accurate. In the case of Iran, the information had come from a non-governmental organization and, before allowing those figures to be included in the report, the Secretary-General should have verified those figures with intergovernmental stakeholders or other officials within the country. At the very least, he added, the countries concerned should have been consulted on the information that was going to be included in the report.

Sudan's delegate, referring to the same report, said the Secretary-General had exceeded his mandate by including information from non-State actors. The moratorium on the death penalty was a controversial issue that had not achieved consensus. Member States had given the Secretary-General a mandate to publish a report on the implementation of the moratorium, but it did not include permission to base his reports on information culled from non-governmental organizations or civil society. Regarding the Sudan's inclusion in paragraph 43, he said that the information was incorrect and no penalties were applied to minors in the country, neither the death penalty nor any other. He asked Mr. Mbaidjol, who had provided the Secretary-General that information, why such groundless and inaccurate information was included in an official report. He also asked to be provided with the names of the minors that were alleged to have been executed in his country.

Iran's delegate, taking up the report introduced by Mr. Mbaidjol on the human rights situation in his country (A/63/459), said that the report did not faithfully reflect the actual situation in Iran. Rather, it resembled a "catalogue of poorly resourced and outdated allegations, projected with exaggerated scepticism". The report was not comprehensive, either, since it viewed various national developments negatively while turning a blind eye to a large number of achievements and positive developments in the country. A selective approach had been taken in regards to the reports submitted by the Government of Iran to treaty bodies and Iran's official responses to the special procedures had been completely ignored. The report also extended beyond the reasonable and conventional time framework of one year.

Continuing, he said human rights policies in Iran had consistently emphasized the significance of an interactive and cooperative approach towards the fulfilment of its human rights obligations. That target-oriented policy included, among others, measures designed to overcome obstacles and difficulties hindering the full enjoyment of human rights at the national level. His Government was firmly committed to the full realization of human rights based on constitutional law and a commitment to international human rights instruments, despite the strong criticism included in the Secretary-General's report.

Mr. MBAIDJOL thanked the delegates for their comments and underlined the fact that the report on the death penalty was principally based on reports submitted by Member States. It was general practice within the United Nations to use a variety of sources to arrive at final reports on human rights issues. Though there might be discrepancies between sources, the report tried to convey the overall result of that information to give a global sense of the situation on the ground. However, he noted that only 55 Member States had responded to the call for input on report A/63/293 and the report should, therefore, be seen as a "work in progress." He acknowledged how sensitive the issue could be.

As for the report on the human rights situation in Iran, he said that the draft report had been sent to the Government of Iran for comments and those comments had been incorporated in the text of the report. In particular, points of disagreement had been noted in the text.

Following those responses, the representative of Sudan clarified his earlier question and reminded Mr. Mbaidjol that his concern was in regard to the mandate given to the Secretary-General. Usually, the Secretary-General's mandate required him to submit a report on the implementation of the moratorium and that information was expected to come only from Member States. If the information was meant to come from other sources, the mandate would have explicitly asked for "other stakeholders" to be included. He added that, even if other sources were going to be included, it would be necessary to have standard criteria under which the authenticity and credibility of the information would be checked.

Mr. MBAIDJOL, in response, explained that it was normal United Nations practice to check "shadow reports" in compiling reports on human rights issues. That methodology had been used in the preparation of many of the Secretary-General's other reports and it was not out of the ordinary for the same approach to be used in report A/63/293. He added that he could not answer questions specific to the mandate, but said he had answered as best he could regarding the practice used in compiling reports.

Taking the floor once more, Sudan's delegate said Mr. Mbaidjol's follow-up response was unsatisfactory and reiterated his belief that the report before the Committee violated the resolution adopted by Member States. In addition, his question regarding the criteria used to verify the credibility of the information included remained unanswered.

The Chairperson of the Committee then attempted to close the question and answer session. On a point of order, Sudan's delegate expressed his delegation's desire to hear directly from Mr. Mbaidjol in response to his follow-up questions. After that request was initially denied, the representative of the Sudan raised another point of order asking, once more, for an answer to his questions.

Mr. MBAIDJOL, responding to that request, said that, though he was not in a position to address the issue of the mandate in a comprehensive manner at the current time, he believed that the Secretariat had the wisdom to interpret the mandate in a way that would allow the Secretary-General to work in a fair fashion and to allow him to put a credible report before Member States. He also emphasized that the report on the moratorium was a work in progress, due to the small number of Member States reporting. He welcomed the opportunity to enter into a bilateral discussion with the representative of Sudan on the issue.

Statements

PHILIPPE DELACROIX (France), speaking on behalf of the European Union, first took up the issue of the death penalty, saying the European Union was extremely committed to its abolition. Accordingly, that bloc had participated in bringing about a resolution at the General Assembly's sixty-second session calling for a moratorium on executions, with a view to its full abolition. It was thought that a moratorium would facilitate preparations for a reform of the criminal justice system, leading to capital punishment being abolished.

He then turned to freedom of religion, and commended the Special Rapporteur for his report on violations of that right and for offering solutions. The European Union urged all Member States to implement the Declaration on the Elimination of All Forms of Intolerance and of Discrimination Based on Religion or Belief. The bloc would submit a resolution to combat religion- or belief-based discrimination oriented along those lines. It was necessary to draw a distinction between criticizing religions or beliefs and incitement of racial hatred; the European Union would not seek to reduce religious tension by prohibiting the expression of ideas about religions and beliefs.

He next touched on gender-based discrimination and the need to create a complaints procedure in relation to the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights. Advancing women's rights was a priority issue for the Union, particularly as regards sexual violence in armed conflict. Violence against women was an issue to be taken up at the State level, and should not be viewed as a "private" phenomenon. Poverty, which was both a cause and consequence of human rights violations, called for a new regulatory process in economic, social and cultural rights, alongside civil and political rights. More than 100 million children had no access to primary education; 3 million people died of HIV/AIDS each year; and 850 million people suffered from hunger.

Finally, the Union voiced its condemnation of torture and welcomed two new international instruments whose implementation would significantly contribute to preventing torture, the International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance and the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. The Union was a strong supporter of human rights defenders, who exercised their freedom of expression to actively defend the human rights of their fellow citizens. Those might include non-governmental organizations, journalists, lawyers, doctors secretly treating torture victims and other ordinary citizens.

ROSEMARY BANKS ( New Zealand), speaking also on behalf of Canada and Australia, addressed the issue of the rights of persons with disabilities. Having chaired negotiations on the Convention on that right, she said her Government looked forward to representing the Western European and Other Group on the bureau of the Conference of States Parties, and would be drafting, again, a resolution on the Convention with Mexico for the General Assembly and next year's main session of the Human Rights Council. In addition, Australia's candidate to the Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities would be standing for election to the new treaty body on 3 November, and was the only non-European Union candidate standing in the Western European and Others Group. She urged the Committee to be attuned to the negotiating history of the text, in strengthening agreement for it.

She welcomed the joint statement of commitment to the Convention by the United Nations Inter-Agency Support Group, as well as the efforts of the Department of Economic and Social Affairs and the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) to support the establishment of the Conference of States Parties and the Committee. It was hoped that other United Nations agencies would join the inter-agency support group, including the United Nations Development Fund for Women (UNIFEM), the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS) and others. She was concerned that recent temporary renovations to United Nations premises had not ensured that the area was accessible and safe for all people, including people with disabilities, and called for improvements. She added that accessibility was also about how meeting agendas were organized and ensuring that information was always provided in an accessible format. She encouraged the Secretary-General to help create momentum to support the needs of persons with disabilities, so that they could participate fully and meaningfully in the United Nations system. Those issues demanded urgent attention from Member States as well, through the Fifth Committee (Administrative and Budgetary).

NASSIR ABDULAZIZ AL-NASSER (Qatar), speaking on behalf of the Member States of the Cooperation Council for the Arab States of the Gulf (GCC), said the promotion and protection of the rights and freedoms of people living in the Council States of the Gulf had become a national priority and was reflected in national constitutions, statutes and legislation. The States of the Council had also established national committees and specialized human rights departments in order to achieve the objectives set out in international conventions, and to bring national legislation in line with those obligations. They had also encouraged the establishment of local non-governmental organizations that dealt with human rights and the rights of the child, women and persons with disabilities. In addition, they were keen on improving communication between public institutions and relevant civil society organizations. The States of the Council had also committed themselves to submitting periodic reports on the implementation of the commitments stipulated by international conventions and to the follow-up on recommendations of convention committees.

Recognizing the importance of the special procedures, Member States of the Council had welcomed visits by a number of Special Rapporteurs, international representatives and independent experts, he said. They also attached great importance to the Universal Periodic Review mechanism and a group of Council countries had already undertaken the process of review through that mechanism. As part of international efforts to address the problem of defamation of religions, Council nations had categorically rejected all forms of incitement, discrimination, hostility, violence, and attempts to use freedom of expression as a justification for the distortion or "hostility-based incitement" of religions. Often, such acts were the root causes of violence. As such, Governments needed to address such conduct through legal and executive means, including by amending legislation that allowed for such practices in the name of freedom of expression and opinion. Aware of the need to address religious fanaticism stemming from ignorance, the Council had hosted many gatherings and conferences and one Council country, Saudi Arabia, would convene a high-level meeting of the General Assembly on interreligious dialogue, in November.

ROBERT G. AISI (Papua New Guinea), speaking on behalf of the Pacific Islands Forum, said many low-lying island countries within the Pacific region were particularly vulnerable to the impacts of climate change, which would exacerbate such problems as access to fresh water and vulnerability to cyclones, drought and flooding. Climate change was also an immediate problem that affected the human rights of many already vulnerable populations, and its human consequences were already visible and real, not only in the region but in many parts of the world.

He said the Pacific Islands Forum took the threat of climate change seriously and wanted to see the international community take effective action to reduce global greenhouse gas emissions. That placed a special responsibility on countries that were major emitters of greenhouse gases. But, everyone had to play their part.

He drew delegate's attention to the Declaration on Climate Change issued by Pacific Island Forum leaders following their meeting earlier this year on the small island of Niue, a copy of which he distributed to delegates. He said the Declaration registered deep concern at the serious and growing threat by climate change to the economic, social, cultural and environmental well-being and security of Pacific Island countries. An important and particularly unfortunate fact was that many of the least developed countries and small island states, which had contributed least to global greenhouse gas emissions, would be worst affected by climate change. He added that it was the poor and marginalized in society that were the most vulnerable. "This fact alone should compel us all to collective action", he said.

JORGE VINCENTE VAILLANT ( Cuba) said people of the "third world" were being ignored by the world, and the "exclusion" of their countries jeopardized their enjoyment of their most elementary rights. The actions of richer countries brought pollution and unsustainable consumption patterns, and some industrialized countries could be seen "drifting away" from the Vienna Declaration and Programme of Action, by tacitly rejecting to promote dialogue and by contradicting the principles of objectivity, impartiality and non-selectivity. They did not recognize the diversity of cultures and political, economic and social systems. They minimized or disregarded objectives important to the promotion and protection of human rights, such as the eradication of poverty, equity and social justice, the full participation of all human beings and peoples in the decision-making process at the national and international levels and the right to peace and development.

He said industrialized countries engaged in demagoguery regarding freedom and political rights, while doing nothing to effectively promote the development of 80 per cent of the world's population, who were poor and suffered from malnutrition and bad health. To continue their "totalitarian" aspirations, they promoted draft resolutions against underdeveloped countries, conducted massive bombings against civilian facilities, committed unilateral aggression and engaged in torture in detention facilities. There were numerous references to violations in the South, as if there were no problems in the countries of the North. The work in the human rights area was not limited only to developing countries; there was also much to do in industrialized countries to ensure the universal enjoyment of all human rights. Cuba, which would continue working with the General Assembly and the Human Rights Council on the issue of human rights, was not seeking an endorsement for its statement, nor would it relinquish its right to have an opinion. Rather, its willingness to debate and cooperate on the human rights issue was its way of exhibiting solidarity with others in protecting and promoting those rights.

MARIA NAZARETH FARANI AZEVEDO ( Brazil) said the human rights dimension of the current food crisis was of great concern and, as such, the commitments contained in the New York Declaration on Action against Hunger and Poverty in 2004 should continue to be implemented. In September, the Foreign Minister of France and the Presidents of Brazil, Chile and Spain reaffirmed their commitment and called on other countries to seek new mechanisms to finance the fight against hunger and poverty. The link between land rights and the right to food should not be overlooked. National efforts to improve agricultural production had shown that it was possible to combine large scale agriculture and competitive production with the full guarantee of land rights, the right to food and human rights for all. The fight against hunger was the central axis of a national strategy entitled "Zero Hunger", which provided for structural and emergency actions to ensure the right to food, based on the assumption that combating poverty was an essential element of such efforts.

The food crisis was the result of a combination of factors, she said, including a rise in oil prices, lower crop yields and adverse climate change. The production of biofuels was not one of those factors. Rather, it could be an important means of economic and social development and could help lift countries out of food and energy insecurity. In Brazil, there were 340 million hectares of agricultural land. 7 million hectares were dedicated to sugar cane production and only 1 per cent of that 7 million was used for ethanol production. A successful conclusion to the Doha Round talks would also contribute to the elimination of food insecurity. It was essential to eliminate subsidies that distorted trade and to guarantee market access for the agricultural production of developing countries.

Turning to the right to development, she said that, as President pro tempore of the Southern Common Market (MERCOSUR), Brazil supported the recommendation to include the regional bloc in the agenda of the Task Force of the Working Group on that issue. He also touched briefly on the issue of migrants, repudiating the "directive on return of migrants within the European Union". While recognizing the sovereign right of States to adopt national legislation, Brazil firmly believed the international community should maintain a human rights perspective on the issue.

TAREQ ARIFUL ISLAM ( Bangladesh) said his Government's position on human rights was based on the principles of universality, non-selectivity, impartiality and objectivity, and the right to enjoy them was guaranteed in the Constitution. Bangladesh was party to all core international human rights instruments. In addition, the Government believed that the promotion and protection of human rights could be fulfilled through the practice of democracy, the rule of law and the pursuit of justice and peace. For that reason, it strived to strengthen democracy in the country from a human rights perspective and appreciated the technical assistance received from the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights to that end.

Turning to the specific situation in his country, he said a new Right to Information ordinance would help increase transparency and accountability, and a Truth and Accountability Commission provided a forum where people could voluntarily admit acts of corruption and receive mercy, by depositing their ill-gotten wealth in the state exchequer. Special training courses on human rights had been introduced for members of the law enforcement agencies and army personnel, and the judiciary had been separated from the Executive Branch to ensure rule of law.

On the right to development, he said Bangladesh would urge that it be pursued from a rights-based approach, while keeping the specific needs of the developing countries in mind. The rapid response capacity of the Office of the Commissioner of Human Rights, through its Peace Missions Support and Rapid Response Unit, should be put to use. In light of the global food crisis, it was also hoped that the Special Rapporteur on that right would come up with recommendations to ensure access to food for all. He said to the politicization of human rights was an obstacle to the non-selective and universal application of human rights standards, and so called for "a convergence of political willingness" to curb human rights violations.

ENRIQUE OCHOA ( Mexico) said Mexico had strengthened its cooperation with the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights by signing a new agreement that guaranteed the continuity of the work of the High Commissioner's local representative until 2012. Last August, the national programme for human rights 2008-2012 had come into force, which set out several plans of action to ensure the full respect for human rights in the country and in its public policy. The programme institutionalized legal mechanisms for the consolidation of human rights and ensured the compliance of national law with international standards.

Issues regarding the rights of migrants required international attention and support, he said. Policies must address both the causes and the consequences of migration, in order to ensure a comprehensive response. Nationally, Mexico had recently decriminalized undocumented migration into Mexico. Internationally, he called on Member States to put an end to the arbitrary arrests and detention of migrants and to defend any illegal violation of their rights. He said that his delegation had been particularly pleased with the adoption of the draft Optional Protocol to the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights. That Protocol would strengthen the implementation of those rights and would place them on the same level as civil and political rights, which already had an accountability mechanism attached to them. In closing, he called on all countries to adopt that Optional Protocol by consensus and to ratify the Convention on the Rights of Disabled Persons as quickly as possible. His Government would continue to act to ensure that the rights of those persons were covered, in a comprehensive manner, in the work of the United Nations, and would also continue to support efforts for a moratorium on the death penalty, with a view to its abolition.

BORIS V. CHERNENKO (Russian Federation), taking up the issue of the rights of disabled persons, said the Convention on that right constituted an important instrument for eliminating loopholes in national law that encouraged discrimination against the disabled community and their families. His Government had supported the development of that Convention and had played a hand in crafting the text. The Foreign Minister had signed it on 24 September, launching the country towards the full guarantee of a decent standard of living for disabled persons and ushering in their complete integration into society. The Government had a policy on disabled persons, developed in cooperation with civil society organizations and with persons of disabilities themselves, whose main goal was to provide equal opportunities to the 12 million strong community, or 8 per cent of the Russian population, to enjoy their civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights.

He said that a 1995 law on social protection of peoples with disabilities was further strengthened by a Presidential decree of 13 May granting additional social protection measures for caregivers. The city government of Moscow, the most populous city in the Russian Federation, launched a "Year of Equal Opportunities" campaign in support of the disabled community, and a Russia-wide children's paralympic games were held near Moscow in October. His country's signing of the Convention on the rights of disabled persons would soon be followed by the establishment of laws and regulations to further promote those rights. It would include measures at the federal level to extend social protection to disabled persons, including by requiring medical institutions to install modern equipment and technology, to make the housing and transportation sectors more disabled-friendly, and to make appropriate changes to programmes governing education and employment. His country's signing of the Convention was a response to the Secretary-General's appeal to all Members States to expand their commitment to human rights, and was a contribution to the United Nations campaign for human rights on the occasion of the sixtieth anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

PHILIPPE DELACROIX (France), speaking on behalf of the European Union and associated countries, took up a number of country situations in his second address to the Committee. In particular, he drew attention to the ongoing human rights violations in Myanmar and the Democratic People's Republic of Korea and the need for the General Assembly to act urgently to address those issues. In Myanmar, the population faced an extremely difficult situation that had only been worsened by Cyclone Nargis. The situation of political prisoners and the lack of cooperation shown by the authorities of Myanmar were also matters of great concern. The human rights situation in the Democratic People's Republic of Korea continued to be marked by serious and systematic violations of all civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights. The situation surrounding that country's refugees was of particular concern and he called on all host countries to comply with their commitments with respect to international humanitarian law. He also called on authorities of the Democratic People's Republic of Korea to cooperate with the relevant United Nations mechanisms.

The situation in Sudan was worrying and human rights there continued to be flouted, he said. The principle of cooperation with the International Criminal Court was non-negotiable and the Government of Sudan should implement the decisions made by the judges of that Court immediately. In addition, it should step up deployment of the African Union-United Nations Hybrid Operation in Darfur (UNAMID). In Sri Lanka, the human rights situation was deteriorating and all parties in the conflict should be held responsible for taking concrete measures to guarantee the safety and freedom of movement of civilians and to enable humanitarian organizations to safely carry out their work. He welcomed the cooperation shown by the Government of the Democratic Republic of the Congo to the International Criminal Court, though he also expressed the European Union's deep concern over continued violations of human rights in the country, especially the widespread and systematic nature of sexual violence against women. Turning to Iran, he said the growing number of executions in the country was alarming, as was the ongoing discrimination against certain minority groups. Severe restrictions on the freedom of expression and the press and violence against women were also issues that needed to be urgently addressed.

In Zimbabwe, he continued, the human rights situation had worsened since the first round of presidential elections, and humanitarian aid to the country had been suspended since the summer. He called on national authorities to re-establish the rule of law and, as the European Union was the largest donor to Zimbabwe, stressed the importance of maintaining unrestricted humanitarian access. Violence in Somalia persisted, despite the prospects of a ceasefire, and the human rights situation in Eritrea was also in decline. In Belarus, he noted, the legislative elections in September 2008 had not met the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) democratic standards and he called on national authorities to address those shortcomings. The European Union remained concerned about the human rights situation in Uzbekistan and appealed to authorities there to fully comply with their international obligations in that regard. Finally, he welcomed Cuba's efforts in the area of economic, social, civil and political rights and welcomed the European troika with Cuba, which took place in Paris in October and which was the first step in the process resuming a comprehensive and open dialogue on all matters of common interest, especially human rights.

CHRISTIAN WENAWESER ( Liechtenstein) stated that the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights was established 15 years ago and it was thus appropriate to think about its future. First, it was difficult to imagine the UN without the High Commission, as it had become an in indispensable part of the organization. At the same time, the Office should have a stronger impact on policy-making in New York, both in the Secretariat and in intergovernmental bodies. However, he noted that not much progress has been made in the "mainstreaming" of human rights -- the inclusion of the human rights dimension in other areas of the Organization's work -- and in some cases steps had been taken backwards in that respect. To get back on track, Mr. Wenaweser urged the elevation of the Office of the High Commissioner in New York to the Assistant Secretary-General level. Further, the human rights dimension must be included in intergovernmental bodies' decision-making. It should be standard practice, for example, for the High Commissioner to address the Security Council, when the issue warrants.

On the relationship between the General Assembly and the Human Rights Council, Mr. Wenaweser raised several practical questions to be addressed, among them, the technical issue of how the Council report is taken up by the General Assembly, the preservation of Council autonomy in decision-making, and more awareness of its decisions in the Assembly.

The best way to celebrate the sixtieth anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, he stated, was with a focus on the implementation of current human rights standards. Recent, important, standard-setting work could be used in this endeavour, especially in the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. At its first meeting of States Parties, it plans to deal with substantive matters, particularly in relation to implementation of the Convention, which is a significant improvement that may translate to other human rights treaties, as well.

In her second address to the Committee, ROSEMARY BANKS (New Zealand), also speaking on behalf of Canada and Australia, said that the United Nations needed to "return to basics" on human rights since, too often, delegations in the Third Committee were engaged in a backward-looking process of questioning and defending agreements that had already been endorsed by Member States. Major summit outcomes provided practical blueprints for the promotion of human rights and should be reaffirmed by Member States. In addition, States should heed the call of the High Commissioner for Human Rights to achieve a consensus on the critical challenge of racial discrimination at the Durban Review Conference in April next year.

"The most egregious form of legally-sanctioned violence is the death penalty," she continued. In 2007, New Zealand had co-sponsored the General Assembly resolution calling for a moratorium, which represented a significant milestone in the quest for its eventual abolition. Five countries continued to execute juvenile offenders and had carried out 32 such executions in the past three years. She urged those States to take immediate steps to prohibit that practice by law and, while such efforts were ongoing, to adopt a moratorium on all executions of juvenile offenders. An exclusive focus on civil and political rights had often concealed major human rights failures that required the attention of the United Nations, such as the high rate of maternal mortality and disability. In the Pacific Islands region, countries had made the least progress on Millennium Goal 5, on maternal mortality.

Turning to a number of country situations that continued to be of concern, she said that the most worrisome was the situation in the Democratic People's Republic of Korea. Extrajudicial executions and torture were reported to be widespread and there continued to be severe restrictions on the fundamental freedoms of belief, expression, peaceful assembly, association and religion. The situations in Myanmar and Darfur were also of concern and she urged both countries to cooperate more fully with the United Nations and the Special Rapporteurs. In Zimbabwe, she called on all parties to the power-sharing agreement to immediately honour their commitments and establish a government that reflects the will of the people. On the situation in the occupied Palestinian territories, she drew attention to Israel's ongoing blockade of Gaza and the extension of the separation wall, and called for Israel to abide by its legal commitments. In Iran, she noted her delegation's concerns regarding stoning, the execution of minors, restrictions on the freedom of religion and discrimination against ethnic and religious minorities. Finally, on Afghanistan, she expressed New Zealand's strong support for the Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission and its concern over reports that the Commission had been forced to tone down its work, because of the threatening political and security environment.

CLAUDIA BLUM ( Colombia) highlighted her Government's national initiatives undertaken to further protect human rights in the country, in cooperation with civil society and other relevant stakeholders. National strategies focused on: strengthening the human rights culture; providing protections for the lives and the integrity of all individuals; developing policies against discrimination; developing other diverse social and judicial policies; and the administration of justice. One of the priorities for Colombia was the implementation of democratic and security policy to strengthen the human rights environment and to improve the performance of democratic institutions. The Government had also focused its efforts on the disarmament, demobilization and reintegration process and now guaranteed restitution and redress for victims of illegal armed groups.

Institutional and budgetary strengthening of the judiciary was also a priority for Colombia and protections for victims had been strengthened, she said. Furthermore, the new criminal law system, implemented in 2005, had made it possible to improve efficiency and effectiveness in the administration of justice. Strategies to prevent human rights violations had also been established, and she highlighted, in particular, her Government's efforts in fighting against impunity for crimes against trade unionists. Thanks to efforts over recent years, 199 persons had been convicted for the murder of workers, up from only 2 convictions for similar crimes between 1991 and 2001. Recently, Colombia had convened a regional conference on media education, culture and human rights, with the support of United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) and in celebration of the sixtieth anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. In closing, she stressed the need for objective cooperation at the international level, based on the recognition of national realities, to ensure the full realization of the rights and liberties of all persons.

ABDUL GHAFOOR MOHAMED ( Maldives) described the activities being pursued by his country to improve human rights standards. He said the national human rights reform agenda, launched in 2004 and accompanied by a roadmap and deadlines, foresaw a completely new Constitution with full separation of legislative, executive and judicial powers and brand-new institutions and bodies, including a Supreme Court, a Judicial Services Commission, a Prosecutor-General's office, a Human Rights Commission, a Civil Service Commission, and an Anti-Corruption Commission. It also included stronger safeguards through a new Bill of Rights and accession to eight of the nine international human rights Conventions; the introduction of a party system in politics; a stronger and more independent press; and the establishment of a framework for the development of a vibrant civil society.

He said the people were in the process of electing a President for the next five years, and had just completed a second round of Presidential elections, which saw a huge voter turnout. The reform agenda would transpose the International Bill of Rights into national legislation. For example, the right to equality before the law would be constitutionally guaranteed, regardless of nationality, gender, colour, race or origin. The right to vote and run for public office, which came to life during the current elections, had seen seven candidates vie for presidential office and witnessed an 85 per cent turnout. Freedom of expression was a reality of daily life, with 12 daily newspapers, four private television stations, seven private radio stations and a myriad of magazines and other publications for a country of 300,000 people. Freedom of association was currently being enjoyed by twelve political parties and a huge array of civil society organizations, and freedom of assembly without prior consent was a constitutionally-guaranteed right. Further, the right to a fair trial was protected by a new Supreme Court, and freedom from torture and cruel treatment was being guarded by an independent Human Rights Commission.

NOBUKO KUROSAKI (Japan) said that Japan had engaged in "dialogue and cooperation" with more than ten countries, principally in Asia, to deepen the understanding of each other's human rights situations and efforts for improvement, as well as to share recognition of the challenges ahead. Those dialogues had contributed to concrete cooperation, such as assistance for judicial reform.

At the ninth session of the Human Rights Council, she said, Japan had presented a resolution, "Advisory services and technical assistance for Cambodia", which had resulted from human rights dialogue between Japan and the Royal Government of Cambodia. That resolution was adopted by consensus. Japan would continue cooperation with Cambodia to implement the civil code and code of civil procedure that had been drafted with Japan's assistance, and to complete the legal process under the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia. Japan was also ready to work with other countries to promote human rights and attached importance to their long-term commitment to achieving that end.

Human security required a society in which people could realize their full potential and live their lives with dignity through the protection and empowerment of individuals and communities, she said. That was a pillar of Japan's foreign policy. She encouraged the United Nations to take such an approach in many areas, including peace and development. Japan itself was working domestically and in international forums to advance women and expand protection for vulnerable groups, such as the elderly, children and persons with disabilities.

Japan also had presented a draft resolution on the "elimination of discrimination against persons affected by leprosy and their family members", which was adopted by consensus at the eighth session of the Human Rights Council. The Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights would be holding a follow-up meeting in January, which would be important to achieving the resolution's goal. She called on Member States and non-governmental organizations to make that meeting a success. She said further that the rights of those suffering from emerging diseases, such as HIV/AIDS, must also be respected and noted that Japan had contributed to global efforts for their rights to health, mainly through the Global Fund, as well as to domestic efforts to ensure their rights.

She then spoke of Japan's policy on persons with disabilities, which aimed at the realization of a society in which all persons, with or without disabilities, would mutually respect each other's personalities and individualities. The Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities would do much towards that goal, and she expressed satisfaction that it had come into effect in May of 2008. Japan, which had signed the Convention in September 2007, was now working for its ratification.

SERGEI RACHKOV ( Belarus) said the issue of human rights was a multidimensional one. It was also a sensitive issue that was open to politicization. What some States believed was the only fair way to arrive at a solution, might seem unacceptable to others. For true international cooperation to take place, the importance of dialogue between States and within the United Nations human rights system must be more fully appreciated. Belarus drafted a resolution emphasizing dialogue and the principle of mutual respect. While it was justifiable and legally sound to table resolutions on a variety of issues, delegates must think practically about outlining the competencies of the Third Committee and the Human Rights Council, and which had the institutional framework necessary to consider human rights situations in specific countries.

He said country-specific issues should be considered by the Human Rights Council and not the Third Committee, which did not have the ability to consider those issues in-depth and often acted as a prosecutor, rather than an impartial body. Country situations should be studied on the basis of expert analyses. The Third Committee should focus rather on standard setting. There was less tension in Third Committee compared to previous sessions, because delegates had refrained from submitting country-specific resolutions. It was hoped that such a sensible approach would prevail at the present session, since it would contribute to conditions that advanced human rights, rather than politicize human rights issues. It was also hoped that more emphasis would be placed on promoting social, economic and humanitarian rights, and that countries did not adopt a political slant in the consideration of human rights issues.

Introduction of Draft Resolutions

The Committee paused in its discussion on human rights to hear the introduction of two draft resolutions. The draft text on indigenous issues (document A/C.3/63/L.17) was introduced by the representative of Guatemala. She said the draft would encourage constructive dialogue between the Special Rapporteur and the General Assembly on the effective enjoyment of human rights for indigenous people, on the basis of annual oral reports by the Rapporteur. It would further request the Assembly to adjust the mandate of the United Nations Voluntary Fund for Indigenous Populations to take account of a Human Rights Council resolution that provided for the creation of an expert mechanism on the rights of indigenous people.

The representative of Denmark then introduced the draft resolution on torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment (document A/C.3/63/L.18). She said freedom from those forms of punishment were non-derogable rights that must be protected under all circumstances, with no exceptions. The resolution would condemn all forms of torture and called on all Governments to fully implement that prohibition. It would focus on the need for States to implement effective measures to prevent torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment, and to be alert to the risk of torture in places of detention. The resolution would welcome the important work being done by the Committee against Torture and the Special Rapporteur, acknowledge the relevance of the Optional Protocol to the Convention against Torture, and welcome the entry into force of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, while pointing to the need to integrate the rights of persons with disabilities in torture prevention and protection.

SEYED HOSSEIN REZVANI ( Iran) said strengthening cooperation in the field of human rights helped promote mutual understanding and good neighbourliness among States. Due to different historical, regional, religious, cultural and national particularities, as well as differences in social systems, levels of development and concepts of value, it was only natural to have different views on human rights. Countries should be allowed to take measures to protect and promote human rights, while taking into account their own national conditions. It was neither practical nor feasible to demand that all countries adopt the same development model. The international community should, on the basis of mutual respect and through dialogue, deepen their mutual understanding and cooperate more to promote human rights. Cultural diversity should not be a cause for division within the international community, but should be viewed as an asset that enriched the common heritage of all peoples. In light of that, advancing a "policy of cultural hegemony" should be avoided. The practice of listening to others, rather than confronting or offending them, should be cultivated among those participating in international politics.

He said repressive measures in an increasingly globalized world could take the form of disinformation through the global media. Religious intolerance, including Islamophobia, was the result of an aggressive media policy that sought to demonize particular cultures and religions, leading to hatred and "exclusion". Countries should cooperate to reduce such intolerance. The United Nations human rights mechanisms must be used impartially, and allow countries to gather to pool their wisdom and make concrete contributions to the cause of human rights. Regrettably, some countries operated on double standards, tabling resolutions on individual countries, so as to turn the United Nations into an arena for political and ideological struggles.

Addressing the right to development, he said the international community should cooperate to provide the mechanisms needed to narrow the gap between rich and poor. At the moment, there was a sort of negligence in upholding cultural rights, and he encouraged relevant bodies to devise some specific measures and initiatives to promote respect for cultural rights in the work of human rights mechanisms. Preserving cultural and religious identity and rights of individuals required further attention, in light of attempts at cultural domination and religious defamation. The right to freedom of expression carried with it special duties and responsibilities and, for that reason, the Government of Iran would support the resolution on combating defamation of religions as presented by the Organization of Islamic Conference. He also welcomed initiatives by the High Commissioner on Human Rights to hold expert seminars on the issue of freedom of expression.

HENRI-PAUL NORMANDIN (Canada) announced that on the sixtieth anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the John Humphrey Freedom Award -- an award established by the International Centre for Human Rights and Democratic Development -- would be presented to the Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights organization, which had provided legal representation to victims of State-sponsored abuses and persecution in that country. Representatives of that organization often spoke out against human rights abuses, at great personal risk, and several lawyers have had to flee the country or go into hiding. Yet, staff members continued to endure arrests, detentions, intimidation and assaults, while defending human dignity and the rule of law.

The Iranian journalist and writer Akbar Ganji was honoured with that award in 2007, after enduring six years in prison for exposing the complicity of Iran's regime in a series of murders of political dissidents and intellectuals, he continued. In 2006, the award was presented to Su Su Nway, the first person in Myanmar to win a legal challenge against the use of forced labour, a longstanding and systematic practice in the reigning military regime. The Humphrey Award recipients were just a few examples of how individuals across the world were striving to ensure that dignity and justice won out over tyranny. The international community had a responsibility to highlight and address situations of human rights violations to ensure that those individuals were not pursuing that goal in isolation, to demonstrate solidarity and appreciation for their efforts, and to allow them to carry out their work without personal risk of harm.

NASHARUDIN MAT ISA ( Malaysia) said the promotion and protection of human rights needed to be undertaken by all countries, with full respect given to national and regional particularities and various historical, cultural and religious backgrounds. However, too often political considerations came into play in debates on economic, social and cultural rights, and some countries continued to pick and choose among the rights, in terms of whether they would highlight those rights and how they would be enjoyed. The Government of Malaysia had tried to create an environment where all citizens could exercise their fundamental freedoms and rights, and guaranteeing those rights was a cornerstone of governance. The implementation of civil and political rights could only be fully exercised in a democratic environment. The national legal framework in respect to civil and political rights was compatible with international norms and standards, and the expression of those rights could be seen in the vibrant political discourse in Malaysia. As a multiracial country, Malaysia recognized the importance of economic, social and cultural rights as equal in importance to civil and political rights.

She expressed her delegation's acute concern over the increase in incidences that pointed towards Islamophobia and incitement to racial and religious hatred. She disagreed with the notion that the defamation of religions was not an infringement of the human rights of the individual. Such acts had increased in recent times in many parts of the world, including in intellectual and political circles. Notions of defamation of religion and freedom of opinion were not mutually exclusive, but could be balanced in conceptual, legal and practical terms. Also, the issue of the death penalty threatened to detract from the work of the Committee. The long debates held in the previous session were a clear indication that there was no international consensus on the issue. No country could claim a moral superiority over any other and the issue should be treated as a criminal justice matter, to be debated and acted upon by countries themselves. The report of the Secretary-General on the issue used language that suggested value judgements and, in the future, such reports from the Secretariat should strive to be more objective and apolitical. In addition, it was clear that the wider membership of the General Assembly was increasingly opposed to country-specific resolutions and the Universal Periodic Review could serve as a good alternative to country-specific reports, in the future.

LIU ZHENMIN (China) said the United Nations had made considerable achievements in the field of human rights over the course of 60 years: it had a comprehensive international human rights instruments system based on nine core human rights conventions; it developed over 30 human rights special procedures covering economic, social, cultural, political and civil rights; and it rebuilt the Commission on Human Rights in the form of a Human Rights Council, with its Universal Periodic Review process. In order to avoid the pitfalls of the Commission on Human Rights, the Council should move away from politicization, selectivity and double standards. It was regrettable, however, that the Council was repeating the same mistakes of the Commission, with some countries still keen on selectively naming and shaming other countries.

He said developing countries were underrepresented in the United Nations, and that was particularly serious in the composition of the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights. Some special procedures had long been held by candidates from western countries, and the work of special procedures, in general, had not given sufficient consideration to the specificities of different cultures and legal systems. Not many non-governmental organizations from developing countries participated in international human rights activities, making it difficult for the aspirations of their citizens to be reflected in the relevant activities. The United Nations system must fully implement the principle of equitable geographical representation, and continue to help with the capacity-building of non-governmental organizations from developing countries. He noted that the aspiration of developing countries for the right to development was far from being realized.

He said his Government attached great importance to protecting and promoting human rights and consistently putting human life above all else, as demonstrated through its quick response to the earthquake that hit Wenchuan earlier in the year. In less than 30 years, the Government had reduced the number of people living in absolute poverty from 250 million to around 15 million; achieved free compulsory education for the first nine years; and established a health care system in the rural area benefiting 800 million farmers. China would undergo the Universal Periodic Review mechanism in February 2009, and had set up a drafting working group on the national human rights report, led by the Minister of Foreign Affairs. It was aware that development between rural and urban areas was uneven, and would continue to strive towards a more harmonious society.

ALFREDO LABBÉ VILLA ( Chile) said that the entry into force of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities -- "the first human rights instrument of the twenty-first century" -- would be a model for the negotiation of future conventions, since it had been created through a highly participatory process. Chile had ratified the Convention and its Optional Protocol, and recognized the importance of international cooperation in support of national efforts to put the goals of the convention into practice and to ensure proper follow-up and reporting. At the national level, the Government was implementing an Action Plan for the Social Integration of Persons with Disabilities, which detailed the work that each public sector was committed to undertake to satisfy the rights of persons with disabilities. In addition, the plan would promote proactive policies for the integration of persons with disabilities in education, employment and social arenas.

The National Disability Fund provided funding for the purchase, by third parties, of technical devices to assist low-income persons with disabilities, he continued. It also helped fund plans, programmes and projects implemented by third parties, with a view to prevention, diagnosis, rehabilitation, training, and the provision of equal labour opportunities for persons with disabilities. Chile had also undertaken initiatives to raise public awareness, including the production of a handbook for journalists and the dissemination of the Convention to children and young people. In closing, he drew attention to the presence of Chile's nominee for the Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, María Soledad Cisternas, a lawyer and academician who played an active role in drafting the Convention, and thanked all those who had made the adoption of that landmark document possible.

MONA JUUL ( Norway) said the Universal Declaration of Human Rights was a "monumental achievement" in the history of human rights and, since its adoption, an impressive normative framework had been created. It was unacceptable then that the vast majority of people across the globe were unable to realize those rights, and were, in some cases, unaware they possessed these rights at all. The great challenge faced by the international community 60 years after the adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights was to live up to its promise of making human rights a reality for all. Furthermore, it was first and foremost a national responsibility to see that these principles were acted on.

She said that human rights defenders shed light on situations that would otherwise pass unnoticed by both national authorities and the international community. These were not only part of the democratic process, but their presence and activity in a State was, in itself, an indicator of democratisation. Establishing, promoting and sustaining democracy, maintaining international peace and security, and providing or advancing a people-oriented agenda for development could not be accomplished without the contribution of civil society actors. Those actors defended civil and political rights and contributed to poverty alleviation, humanitarian assistance and post-conflict reconstruction.

The report of the Special Rapporteur stated that women defenders were at a greater risk to certain forms of violence, and were targeted in various parts of the social and political establishment with forms of prejudice, exclusion, and repudiation, in particular when they work in the area of women's rights. It was, therefore, essential to protect those female human rights defenders from harassment, intimidation and reprisal, so that they could carry out their vital work.

She expressed deep concern at the increasing restriction of rights imposed by states on the freedom of association, opinion, and expression, including freedom of the media. In many countries, people were attacked, intimidated or imprisoned for expressing their opinion. These rights were the prerequisite for the rule of law, as people must be able to "speak without fear" in order to fight hunger, discrimination, corruption, persecution and suppression. Further, in today's interconnected world, the coexistence of religions and the importance of tolerance has become increasingly relevant, both between and within religions. It was not a religion, but human beings that brought about intolerance, fear and violence. There can be no freedom of religion without freedom of expression. How to balance freedom of expression while still respecting the diversity of a multicultural world was a challenge that all must address.

SANGEETA KUMARI SINGH DEO ( India) recalled that the Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food had said that the number of victims of hunger and malnutrition around the world was steadily increasing. That situation was made worse by the ongoing international food, financial and energy crises, making it urgent for developed and developing countries to cooperate in providing additional financing, and in facilitating the transfer of technology to those who needed it. In addition, India supported efforts by the Working Group on the Right to Development to mainstream that concept into the activities of multilateral, financial, trade and development institutions.

She noted that the world had not yet attained a global culture of human rights that could serve as a unifying force, rather than a divisive force. Attempts were regularly made to subject individual countries for intrusive monitoring and to point out the failure of the state mechanism to promote and protect human rights. "We need to reflect on whether such international action had forced Member Sates to accelerate appropriate activities at the domestic level and has genuinely improved the human rights situation," she said. Instances of gross and systematic violations of human rights anywhere must be addressed by the international community, collectively, and in a holistic manner. An approach based on dialogue, consultation and cooperation had a better chance of leading to genuine improvement, as opposed to dealing with specific countries with a specific bias.

She said the Durban Review Conference provided an opportunity to take stock on progress made in fighting racism, racial discrimination and xenophobia, and India would work actively towards a successful outcome. India also looked forward to the first meeting of the States Parties to the Convention on the rights of disabled persons, which was expected to take place later in the week, as a way to help secure the full enjoyment of the rights enshrined in that Convention. Membership to that treaty body was expected to be settled through elections next week.

CHAN YU PING (Singapore) said that finding a common core of values for humankind had been a complex task, and that 15 years after the 1993 Vienna Conference on Human Right, a consensus had not been found on a group of "core rights" that were truly universal. A cynic might conclude that citizens should only seek United Nations recourse as a last resort. He wanted to suggest a more pragmatic and hopeful viewpoint. To reiterate the objective opened by Singapore at Vienna, the aim should be to promote humane standards of behaviour without at the same time claiming special truths. In order to achieve that "we must be realistic, sincere and above all, humble". Universal recognition of the ideal of human rights could be harmful if this same universalism was used to deny the reality of diversity and difference in the current United Nations membership, she said.

Diversity in and of itself was no excuse for the violation of human rights. But, a myriad of natures results in each seeking to uphold human dignity in their own way and rights. Patience and encouragement should be used in dealing with parties in their quest for development and social justice. As it had taken the United Kingdom, France and the United States 200 years or more to evolve into full democracies, it was not reasonable to impose the same standards on developing countries that faced more pressing economic, educational and social concerns.

She said order and stability were essential to development, and the right to development was essential since economic growth was the necessary foundation of any political system that claimed to advance human dignity. Singapore's history and cultural context had made its social arrangements unique, she said, and the exercise of rights must be balanced with the shouldering of responsibility. Societal rights needed to be protected along with the rights if the individual, and she said that "speaking as a young Singaporean" her country was "loosening up" but made no apologies for evolving at its own pace and direction.

The 10 countries of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) were working towards the establishment of an ASEAN human rights body, as outlined in the Charter signed last December. She said the endeavour was a practical exercise in humility. While a country could certainly "share" its views on what it thinks is best for everyone, it should calibrate the "intensity" of its sharing. "We cannot expect others to be grateful for what is tantamount to an imposition of one's views." Unfortunately, that had been the modus operandi of some delegations in the Third Committee. If the momentum of international cooperation was to be preserved, it was important to be motivated by more than "mere zealotry". A resolution could be forced through by sheer numbers, but that was not the way to change a State's views or promote genuine respect for human rights.

MAIA SHANIDZE ( Georgia) said that since Russia's invasion and occupation of Georgia, the international community had confirmed "unprecedented" ethnic cleansing of Georgians in the villages of South Ossetia, in adjacent villages of the Gori and Kareli Districts, and in Kodori Gorge/Upper Abkhazia. The Georgian Civil Registry Agency of the Minister of Justice had registered 127,589 internally displaced persons, with the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees estimating 192,000 internally displaced persons, including 35,000 in North Ossetia.

She said that the policy of ethnic cleansing carried out by the Russian military threatened tens of thousand of ethnic Georgians in villages near the districts of Gori and Akhalgori, and some of those villages were currently under Russian occupation. Such policies, she continued, combined with the 26 August recognition of the separatist regimes by the Russian Federation, had made it impossible for ethnic Georgians to return to their homes. Approximately 42,000 ethnic Georgians in the Gali district of Abkhazia were under further threat of expulsion. The Gail district was now isolated from the rest of the country due to the closure of the administrative border , and residents had reported being harassed and threatened with expulsion if they did not accept Russian passports.

While describing further abuse of the population, she said it was impossible to estimate the casualties, as Russian forces prevented entry into areas of the "security/buffer zone" to identify and bury corpses. Some were "secretly" buried inside houses, as reports had been made of those conducting outdoor burials being killed by Russian-allied militias. She said Human Rights Watch researchers had documented the use of cluster munitions by Russia during the conflict, refuting that country's earlier denials. Human Rights Watch had also confirmed that Russian aircraft had dropped RBK-250 cluster bombs on the town of Ruisi in the Kareli district, killing three and wounding five. On that same day, a similar strike in Gori killed at least eight civilians and injured fifteen. Use of cluster munitions was also confirmed by the Netherlands upon the killing of Dutch cameraman Stan Storimans in Gori.

Further reports by human rights groups had reported that ethnic Georgian villages had been "practically burnt to the ground", with the final houses being torched a month after military operations, and armed irregulars had been seen looting. "Another corner of Europe has been ethnically cleansed", with the murder of young men, the expulsion of old women from their lifelong homes, and the plunder and torching of villages. The violent crimes had been perpetrated by Russian troops, she said, and their proxies were now unilaterally "rebranded peacekeepers by the simple expedient of being given blue helmets".

JEAN-DANIEL VIGNY ( Switzerland) said the international community had succeeded in creating a solid normative architecture that covered many aspects of human rights protection. At the institutional level, the Office of the High Commissioner had made it possible to institute a number of special procedures and specialist field missions that could help strengthen local capacities. The Human Rights Council made it possible to carry out in-depth work throughout the year, to increase the level of protection for all. However, the international community had yet to strike a suitable balance between the Council and the General Assembly that would allow the system to reach an optimum level of efficiency and credibility. While it was true that there had been progress in terms of the implementation of the various human rights instruments, serious obstacles remained to the full enjoyment of all rights in different parts of the world. He invited States to step up their implementation efforts and meet their obligations under those instruments.

Human rights education and learning were now recognized as important aspects in the promotion and protection of human rights, he continued. Citizens who were aware of their rights would be better able to demand respect for them. The draft Declaration on Human Rights Education and Training, currently before the Advisory Committee of the Human Rights Council, would certainly improve the level of awareness. All efforts made in the areas of training, education and raising public awareness would help ensure greater respect for human rights. To that end, he announced his delegation's initiative to draft a human rights agenda for the coming decade. At the invitation of Switzerland, an expert panel had been given the task of identifying, studying and defining specific subjects in the area of human rights and establishing a thematic agenda to be presented in Geneva on 5 December and submitted to the international community shortly after.

FEKITAMOELOA `UTOIKAMANU (Tonga) associated herself with the statement made by Papua New Guinea on behalf of the Pacific Islands Forum (PIF) Group. She noted that hers was the first government of the Group to undergo the Universal Periodic Review by the Human Rights Council. In preparation for that event, Tonga conducted consultations through the Civil Society Forum, which comprised 49 civil society organizations operating within the country, as well as with church leaders, the Tonga Chamber of Commerce and the Tonga Media Council, incorporating the media and business sector into the process.

Among issues discussed were: land rights for women; difficulties experienced in the reporting of conventions; and the ongoing process of constitutional and political reform. The patrilineal ownership of land and its effect on women's rights had been a subject of debate, she said. As a first step towards addressing that issue, the Government enabled women access to the leasehold of family land.

She said that there was "a direct link between safeguarding… human rights and the need to address… climate change", a cross-cutting issue with serious implications for sustainable development, energy, human rights, security, gender and many other questions of concern. Labelling climate change solely as a development issue neglected and endangered the fundamental human rights of her people. She called the resolution on climate change and human rights, adopted by the Human Rights Council this year, a landmark. It signified the willingness of the international community to recognize the cross-cutting nature of climate change.

As a member of the Pacific Small Island States, she advocated for the security implications of climate change, as well. She urged all Member States to support the resolution on security and climate change that was tabled 24 October 2008 in the General Assembly, which highlighted the serious security implications of climate change and the ways in which it might threaten the sovereignty of many low-lying and island States.

On other matters, she was concerned with the recent global food and financial crises, noting that food was fundamental to the sustainable development of all nations. Access to cheap and affordable food was a fundamental human right. There was also a direct link between trade and the basic right to development. She expressed great concern at the halt to the Doha development round. She hoped that talks would continue and that the global economic crisis would not deter the international community's determination and political commitments towards the common goal of financing for a common, sustainable global economy.

CELESTINO MIGLIORE, Observer Mission of the Holy See, said many people were unable to exercise their most basic rights, despite notable progress in a number of areas. Last year, the Committee had called for a moratorium on the use of the death penalty, which marked a step towards fuller respect for the right to life. However, it was only the beginning of the necessary efforts that must be undertaken to create a society in which life was respected at all stages of development. He said societies must recognize human dignity and rights to be at the core, rather than a consequence, of policy decisions.

The current global economic collapse highlighted, and would surely exacerbate, the plight of the bottom billion. With government spending focused on fixing the financial meltdown, social sectors such as education and healthcare would be further downsized and underfinanced. While the economic crisis presented a number of challenges for the entire global community, the international community must not lose sight of those who lived with little hope for a decent future. To that end, the report of the Independent expert on human rights and extreme poverty had rightly recognized that, in addressing the plight of the bottom billion, the realization of human rights and the elimination of extreme poverty were mutually reinforcing endeavours. He also welcomed the entry into force of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities and voiced hope that all States would accede to that instrument. The fundamental right to life that stood at its heart was to be respected and promoted for all people with disabilities, at every stage of life.

HAMID CHABAR ( Morocco) said that globalization had not allowed for the enjoyment by all persons of their fundamental rights and freedoms, especially in regard to the right to education. In particular, he drew attention to the impact that the burden of excessive debts had on the ability of many countries to fulfil their human rights obligations to their citizens, particularly in developing countries. The risks associated with clandestine migration flows were also of concern and had a similar impact on a country's ability to fulfil human rights obligations. As such, his delegation fully supported the recommendations contained in the report on the protection of migrants. At the national level, a number of national public policy initiatives had been implemented that supported the mainstreaming of the culture of human rights into all levels of society. It had also adopted a number of reforms, specifically addressing human rights issues in relation to families and the status of women.

In 2001, the national Human Rights Advisory Council had been restructured to better manage national institutions working on human rights issues, he continued. The restructuring had led to the formulation of a number of reforms, including the establishment of a national strategy to fight impunity and a revision to penitentiary legislation. In addition, Morocco had established an ombudsman position to mediate disputes between citizens and the administration. To date, more than 23,000 cases had been addressed through that office. His Government had also recently streamlined provisions in its penal code to ensure that it was in line with international norms and standards and to deal with corruption issues. As well, it had undertaken concrete measures to prevent torture and other cruel or inhuman treatment. In conclusion, he expressed his Government's continued commitment to promoting human rights education, in an effort to build a human rights culture shared by all.

BYRGANYM AITIMOVA ( Kazakhstan) said the Universal Declaration of Human Rights was a key source of international law and had laid the foundation for her country's national constitution. That constitution recognized that education in the field of human rights was essential for individuals to fully exercise their rights. Her Government had achieved significant progress in the implementation of international treaties and agreements, including those concerning slavery, corruption and transnational organized crime. In addition, Kazakhstan was preparing to sign the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. The gradual elimination of the death penalty in the country was also under way. Since 2003, a moratorium on the death penalty had been in force and it was expected to stay in place until an official declaration on the abolition of capital punishment was issued. The death sentences of 31 prisoners had been converted into sentences of life imprisonment.

Judicial reform and the advancement of fundamental human rights in relation to participation in public and political life were also top priorities, she said. The Government programme entitled "The Way to Europe" included measures that would improve legislation surrounding the holding of elections and reform public services, the judicial system and other spheres of public administration. It also provided for the exchange of lessons learned between State bodies and for improvements in criminal legislation. Drawing attention to the issue of religious intolerance, she said that her Government strongly believed that discrimination based on religion or other beliefs was unacceptable. In Kazakhstan, representatives of more than 3,000 religious associations, representing over 40 faiths, peacefully co-existed and such a situation should serve as an example to other countries. It was impossible to regulate human rights issues with national legislation alone, and she called on all State, civil society and human rights organizations to work together towards the full enjoyment of human rights by all persons.

EDGARD PÉREZ ALVÁN (Peru), addressing the issue of human rights and extreme poverty, said that, despite important advances, extreme poverty continued to be a very serious problem, affecting about 1.4 billion people, according to the World Bank. The energy, food and financial crises had made that situation more alarming, as those crises restricted the capacity of States to reverse the situation. More political commitment was needed to eradicate poverty, along the lines of already agreed-to international goals, such as the Millennium Development Goals. Peru called on all States, the United Nations systems and international financial organizations to strengthen their cooperation in helping build the capacity of developing countries to tackle poverty.

He said he was aware of a need to concentrate efforts to advance the rights of women, who constituted a majority of the world's poor. Special attention should be given to children, people with disabilities and to indigenous groups. He expressed agreement with the Independent expert on human rights and extreme poverty in thinking that poverty was not a question of charity, but a pressing human rights issue. It was the responsibility of States to adhere to the principles of equality, non-discrimination, participation and transparency, as well as to respect national legal frameworks and international human rights law. If those norms and principles were applied, it would be possible to empower people living in extreme poverty and to include them in the decision-making process.

HILARIO G. DAVIDE ( Philippines) said the main challenge now facing the international community lay in the need to address the gap between human rights standards and implementation and in the need to genuinely mainstream a culture of human rights in national laws, policies and programmes, and in everyday life. A strong political will was required to meet such a challenge, along with a firm and genuine commitment by all stakeholders to safeguard and guarantee the fundamental human rights of all. Catastrophic upheavals -- brought about by violence, oppression, wars, civil conflict, terrorism, "lethal forms of structural violence" that denied the poor their right to life, climate change, and the food and energy crises -- made the protection and promotion of human rights even more difficult. A genuine political commitment to human rights meant more than just signing or ratifying treaties and conventions, and included an intrinsic drive to translate lofty ideals into palpable and concrete actions.

A genuine political commitment would also mean providing the capacities and resources to make human rights a reality on the ground, he continued. Such a commitment must also recognize the need for open, objective and apolitical evaluations of progress and the need for States to encourage and assist one another during times of crisis. At the national level, the issue of politically motivated and extrajudicial killings had seized the attention of the Government and, following a condemnation of those crimes, it had implemented a series of institutional, operational and judicial actions to address the issue. In addition to swift Government action, the Philippines had continued to cooperate with the Special Rapporteur on the issue and had established an inter-agency Task Force Against Political Violence in November 2007. His Government's commitment to human rights remained paramount, even in the midst of securing peace in the country. International human rights and humanitarian law had been incorporated in the work of the Philippine security forces, and the Philippine Human Security Act of 2007 included strong legislative safeguards against human rights violations.

FARUKH AMIL ( Pakistan) remarked that the Committee had listened to different Special Rapporteurs, but noted that many reports had been presented in a selective manner. There had also been a failure to discuss the criteria on which countries were selected for visits, with the Special Rapporteurs often only selecting invitations to developing countries, when those visits should take place in all parts of the world. He said the growing trend of racism and racial and religion discrimination was threatening to certain societies. The challenge of defamation of religion could not be seen through a political lens alone; defamation was a "creeping malady" that sought to vilify an entire religion and its followers, against a backdrop of fear and hate. "How many times have we heard 'never again'?" he asked.

He said the international human rights framework had drawn a relationship between civil and political rights on the one hand, with economic, social and cultural rights on the other. But, unless international human rights instruments were fully implemented, millions of people would continue to suffer under brutal conflicts, sparked by the politics of greed and exploitation. Millions still would continue to suffer under the heel of foreign occupation, denied their right of self-determination. For its part, Pakistan was party to several human rights instruments and had a separate Ministry of Human Rights to address human rights violations and trends, with special reference to women, minorities and vulnerable segments of society. Earlier in the month, the federal cabinet had approved the draft bill for the establishment of a National Commission on Human Rights, in accordance with the Paris principles. Pakistan had been among the first countries to undergo the Universal Periodic Review process, which had helped raise awareness of human rights issues within the country. The country was determined to pursue the legacy of tolerance espoused by former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto, who had worked to uphold human rights and struggled against the forces of extremism and terrorism all her life.

ABRA TAY ( Togo) said, despite the adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and a number of international human rights instruments and mechanisms, the human rights situation across the world continued to be of great concern and only national, regional and international efforts would turn the noble ideals of the Declaration into concrete actions. Good governance and the rule of law at national and international levels were essential to ensure sustainable development and the elimination of extreme poverty and hunger. As such, Togo had placed human rights as the cornerstone of the rule of law and democracy. The presence of an Office of the High Commissioner of Human Rights in Lomé was central to national efforts. That Office had supported national initiatives regarding education, training and awareness on human rights issues, in addition to having offered technical assistance as part of a national reconciliation process and during the legislative elections in October 2007.

Togo was also implementing administrative reforms to better ensure the security and protection of the rights and freedoms of all citizens, she continued. In terms of deepening democracy, her Government had decided to operationalize the financing of political parties and was promoting freedom of speech among the population at large. Political will and action would be needed at national, international, and regional levels, based on a true partnership among Governments, civil society, and non-governmental organizations. In closing, she expressed her delegation's appreciation for the decision of the United Nations Fund for Democracy to grant a subsidy to Togo to allow the Government to implement the "Rights and Freedoms for All" project, which would provide democracy training to all levels of the population.

RITA DHITAL ( Nepal) said her country attached great importance to the work of the United Nations and its mechanisms in the protection and promotion of human rights, including through the Human Rights Council, the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, and various treaty bodies and special procedures. But she stressed that the Special Rapporteurs and procedures should exercise their mandates more objectively and "without indulging in political finger-pointing to individual member countries". The Third Committee should engage more constructively in the development of thematic issues and in matters suggested by the Human Rights Council and other human rights bodies. It should not engage itself in "re-doing things that we have already seen at the Human Rights Council".

She said Nepal endorsed the view that peace and security, development and human rights were inextricably linked to each other and neither could be sustained in the absence of the others. The protection of human rights was indispensable to peace, security and development. The realization of human rights should also encompass poverty alleviation and social equity, and the "right to development" must be viewed in a holistic manner. Nepal's political transformation in recent years had created new opportunities for the fulfilment of the rights and freedoms of its people. Its Constituent Assembly was one of the most inclusive assemblies in the world, while the Interim Constitution provided for all the civil liberties and fundamental political, social, cultural and economic rights to the citizens. Further, the Government was determined to bring an end to an environment of impunity and was committed to resolving the issue of disappearances during the conflict. It was also envisaging the establishment of a National Truth and Reconciliation Council.

She voiced appreciation for the help provided by the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights to her Government, and expressed her country's need for cooperation from the international community to build and develop the nation's capacity to achieve its human rights goals.

Right of Reply

The representative of Sudan, speaking in exercise of the right of reply and in response to the statement made by France's delegate on behalf of the European Union, said that the European Union regularly "looked down upon" other Member States and targeted developing countries, issuing directives to those countries to have them improve their human rights situations. However, the European Union should look at its own situation first, including the record of many European countries in dealing with the situation of immigrants and their exclusion from cultural and political life. Indeed, the incidents that took place on the outskirts of Paris two years ago were indicative of the ongoing discrimination in France.

There was no State that could claim an absolute absence of human rights violations within its borders, he continued. Sudan had a good record of cooperation with human rights instruments, and was working with the United Nations and African Union, within the framework developed, to solve the problem in Darfur. The Government, in partnership with Qatar and the Arab States, had initiated a dialogue with rebel groups towards the completion of the peace process. France's role in such negotiations had been in supporting the rebels and inciting them to reject the peace process. France should be encouraging those groups to seek a speedy resolution to the peace process and, more generally, it should refrain from ordering developing countries to "do this and not do that" in regards to human rights.

Turning then to the statements made by the representative of New Zealand, who was also speaking on behalf of Canada and Australia, Sudan's delegate said that the comments made indicated an ignorance of what was actually taking place on the ground. New Zealand would be better off looking into its own internal affairs, instead of poking into the internal affairs of others.

Also in reply to the statement made by France's delegation, the representative of Iran said his delegation categorically rejected the allegations made regarding the execution of minors in his country. As a party to a number of major human rights instruments, Iran had ensured compliance with its international commitments, particularly with regard to restricting the application of the death penalty to the perpetrators of only the most heinous crimes. In addition, there had been no cases of death sentences carried out by stoning in his country in recent years, since a moratorium was in place to prevent such actions. The degree of freedom of expression in the country was evident in the publication of more than 300 news dailies, as well as other forms of media, which were all free to discuss and debate a wide range of political issues in the country.

If the European Union was genuinely concerned with human rights, he suggested that France, as chair of the Union, should include the names of European countries first, including France itself, where the rights of racial, religious and ethnic minorities were "flagrantly violated". Those groups suffered from various forms of discrimination and marginalization. As well, Islamophobia had become a prevailing phenomenon, and had even infiltrated political circles. Across Europe, discriminatory acts carried out by Governments and limiting the freedom of Muslims were on the rise.

In regard to the statements made by the representative of Canada, the delegate from Iran said that the human rights record of Canada revealed police brutality, social exclusion policies, and the harassment of religious minorities and indigenous groups, among other violations. He called the reference to Akbar Ganji in relation to the human rights situation in Iran "ironic" and said the Government of Canada's attention should be focused on its own treatment of indigenous groups and other racial and ethnic minorities, and not on the human rights situation of other countries. As well, he called on the Canadian Government to address cases of police brutality more seriously, especially the case of the Polish immigrant who had been detained, harassed, and, as a result of interrogation, killed by security officials.

Also speaking in exercise of the right of reply and in response to the comments made by the representative of France, Belarus's delegate said that his country had undertaken significant measures to ensure that the recent elections were held in a fair, transparent and objective manner. Election monitors had been deployed across the country, from non-governmental organizations and from other local and international monitoring groups. In addition, candidates from all political parties had been granted permission to intervene on television and radio throughout the campaign, to speak to the entire population. He drew attention to the fact that the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe report referred to in France's statement was only an interim report and the final report was still not released. Finally, he said that the individuals referred to as political prisoners in the statement made by France had been released on the eve of the elections, on the basis of clemency.

Referring to the same statement made by France, the representative of Sri Lanka said that his Government had undertaken effective measures to safeguard the rights of all individuals, even in the face of serious security concerns. National mechanisms towards that end were firmly in place and the Government had maintained a constructive engagement with the United Nations and its special procedures. Indeed, several Special Rapporteurs and other special representatives had been invited to the country on visits and, in May, Sri Lanka had submitted itself to the Universal Periodic Review mechanism. He expressed his delegation's regret over the "highly generalized and ill-conceived" comments on the deterioration of the human rights situation in the country. A number of initiatives had been implemented to ensure humanitarian assistance for those most affected by terrorist actions. As well, he stressed that the recruitment and use of child soldiers was done by illegally armed terrorist groups and not the State, which had a zero-tolerance policy on child conscription by any group. In conclusion, he said that any comment on human rights matters in Sri Lanka must also refer to the numerous cooperative and investigative measures undertaken by the Government, which were in keeping with long-held tradition of cooperation in such matters.

The representative of the Democratic People's Republic of Korea also exercised the right of reply in response to the statements made by the representative of France. That statement was "full of lies, distortions, and contradictions", and, before addressing issues in other countries, the European Union should first examine its own member states and their discriminatory policies and actions of police brutality. To that end, he asked why the representative of France had not mentioned killings in Iraq and Afghanistan that had been committed by members of the Union and its partners. The European Union was criticizing the human rights situations in "small and weak" countries, while keeping silent about the situations in "big and strong" countries. That proved that the Union was more concerned about the promotion and protection of political interests and not human rights. The allegations made against the Democratic People's Republic of Korea reflected the European Union's ignorance of the real situation on the ground, and he urged the Union to implement a policy of equitable treatment in regard to the human rights situation of all countries. Touching briefly on the statement made by the representative of New Zealand, he said his delegation would not respond to the "preposterous and political allegations".

In response to the statement made by Georgia, the representative of the Russian Federation said that the data presented was extremely exaggerated and Georgian authorities constantly revised those numbers. Though he did not want to enter into a long polemic on the situation in August, he said that the accusations made by some Georgian authorities and some media regarding the initiation of the war were completely unfounded. The barbaric manner in which the Government of Georgia acted against the people of South Ossetia was well known and examples could be found easily by a quick search of the Internet. The methods used by Georgia to carry out war were specifically aimed at destroying civilians in South Ossetia, and Georgia's propaganda machine was trying to "pull the wool over the eyes" of the international community and Georgians themselves.

He listed a number of examples of human rights violations committed by Georgian authorities and said that reports by the treaty bodies and other international organizations had shown that the Government of Georgia had tried to suppress national democratic efforts by some political groups. Indeed, the suppression of a number of freedoms had led to the creation, in 2006, of a committee of local human rights organizations who were dedicated to raising awareness about the presence of political prisoners in the country and helping to free them.

The representative of Georgia, in reply to those comments, said that the Russian Federation had "groundlessly and shamelessly" accused Georgia of having started the war, since the very beginning of the conflict. As well, she called the human rights organizations that the delegate of the Russian Federation referred to in his comments "elusive" and suggested that the representative take a look at some more credible studies and reports from international human rights organizations on the brutality with which the Russian Federation had conducted the war.

For information media • not an official record