SYSTEM OF IMPUNITY MAKING MOCKERY OF SPECIAL PROCEDURES TO ADDRESS EXTRAJUDICIAL KILLINGS, RAPPORTEUR TELLS THIRD COMMITTEE
The abdication of responsibility by both the Human Rights Council and the General Assembly in enforcing the mandate of the Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions had rendered the mandate impotent, said Philip Alston, the current mandate holder, to the Third Committee (Social, Humanitarian and Cultural) today as it continued its review of human rights issues.
(Media-Newswire.com) - The abdication of responsibility by both the Human Rights Council and the General Assembly in enforcing the mandate of the Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions had rendered the mandate impotent, said Philip Alston, the current mandate holder, to the Third Committee ( Social, Humanitarian and Cultural ) today as it continued its review of human rights issues.
In a packed programme, the Committee heard from six experts, including Special Rapporteurs and Independent Experts, on topics ranging from executions to raids on migrants to the success of the latest donor roundtable in Burundi.
In a forthright presentation that reflected on the 25-year history of the mandate he now held, which was also the oldest of all the Special Rapporteurs, Mr. Alston said that uncooperative States were being rewarded and a system of impunity was being established in relation to the most serious concerns relating to extrajudicial killings. This made “a mockery” of the special procedures to address such killings. Addressing specific country situations, he named Iran as the country that executed more juveniles than any other, and also singled out the situations in the Philippines and Sri Lanka for special attention.
Jorge A. Bustamante, Special Rapporteur on the human rights of migrants told the Committee that, ironically, it was restrictive migration policies that were a fundamental cause of immigrants falling into patterns were they were trafficked and smuggled.
He said that children -- “little girls and little boys” -- used for the sex market in many countries was one of the worst cases of violation of human rights. Such a market was not an abstraction; it had a supply and a demand, but that demand had not been recognized. Recognition of that demand would require action by the United Nations. It would otherwise be hard to advance the overall defence of the human rights of migrants, he warned.
The Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, Vitit Muntarbhorn, told the Committee it was regrettable that, to date, the authorities in that country had declined to cooperate with him. But, on a constructive note, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea was party to human rights treaties; the six-party talks aimed at denuclearizing the Korean peninsula had made welcome progress; and the October 2007 summit between the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea and the Republic of Korea was a welcome development.
Yet the human rights situation remained grave, noted Mr. Muntarbhorn. The country was under a non-democratic regime that adhered to a “military first” policy that depleted resources and created budgetary distortions in favour of the ruling elite and militarization. On the issue of asylum, the Special Rapporteur said that many who left the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea due to hunger or economic reasons, could be seen as “refugees sur place”, as there was a threat of persecution or prosecution if they were sent back, on the basis of their having left without an exit visa. Those who sought refuge should not be treated as illegal immigrants; nor should they be detained. And the international community should help countries of first asylum to find durable solutions to the refugee problem.
Asma Jahangir, Special Rapporteur on freedom of religion or belief, pointed out that the right not to profess any religion or belief was also protected, and such persons should not be discriminated against.
Akich Okola, the Independent Expert on the situation of human rights in Burundi pointed out that the country had come a long way since only two years ago. Back then, his report had been concerned with child soldiers and demobilization and like matters. Today, the country was considering a steering committee to set up a truth and reconciliation commission.
Titinga Frédéric Pacéré, Independent Expert on the situation of human rights in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, highlighted numerous situations of concern: arbitrary executions, rape and inhuman and degrading treatment -- all taking place in a climate of impunity. The Armed Forces and police were notable among violators, he said.
The Committee also heard the introduction of a draft resolution by Mongolia on cooperatives in social development.
The Committee will meet again at 10 a.m. on Monday, 29 October, to continue its general discussion on human rights.
The Third Committee ( Social, Humanitarian and Cultural ) today continued its general discussion of human rights. For more background, please see Press Releases GA/SHC/3894 and GA/SHC/3893.
Extrajudicial, Summary or Arbitrary Executions
PHILIP ALSTON, Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions said his report to the General Assembly this year contained a historical review of the evolution of his mandate, and he had selected several specific themes to illustrate the ways in which that mandate had evolved to deal with changing threats and challenges. These threats and challenges included counter-terrorism, the protection of refugees and internally displaced persons, and the role of non-State actors. The Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions was the first human rights rapporteur to be appointed, 25 years ago on 11 March 1982.
He said the mandates of Special Rapporteurs like him had evolved in response to factors such as additional demands by States, new forms of violence, increasing public demands for effective responses, and the development of new techniques within the overall human rights regime. That ability to adapt and evolve was essential. In recent discussions on the reform of the system, it had often been alleged that many of the special procedures involved Western experts focusing on the problems of developing countries. In that light, he pointed out that he was the first Special Rapporteur on this mandate to come from a Western country, with his predecessors coming from Kenya, Senegal and Pakistan.
In his reports on country visits, he had been careful to respect the confines of his mandate while acknowledging the broader context. But despite efforts to improve that mandate’s functions, serious problems still persisted. In his efforts to respond to alleged killings, he had found that the majority of Governments were failing the basic test of accountability. 90 per cent of countries he had identified as warranting a country visit had failed to cooperate. And neither the Assembly nor the Human Rights Council had done anything in response. That “abdication of responsibility” had resulted in uncooperative States being rewarded, and a system of impunity being established in relation to the most serious concerns relating to extrajudicial killings. The impotence of the Special Rapporteur in such situations made “a mockery” of the special procedures to address extrajudicial killings.
He then addressed specific country situations, starting with Iran, which executed more juveniles than any other country. Another major problem, he said, was that country’s application of the death penalty for a wide range of crimes which “by no reasonable measure” met international law’s requirements; that executions should be restricted to and applied to those guilty of the most serious crimes. Adultery, unlawful sexual relations, homosexuality, rape, insulting religions, acts against national security and abduction were among the crimes for which people had been executed. Laws that allowed adulterers to be stoned to death were “barbaric” by any standards, he said. It was long past the time for the Assembly to stand up and respond to those chronic violations of human rights.
Although his report on the Philippines had not yet been made public, he informed the Committee that he continued to receive deeply disturbing information, and he was concerned about a missing activist, Jonas Burgos, who might have disappeared or been killed.
As for Sri Lanka, he reminded the Committee that he had warned of an impending crisis last year. That crisis continued to worsen, and he believed that the establishment of an international human rights monitoring presence by the United Nations would significantly reduce the number of human rights abuses in that country.
It was time for the General Assembly and the Human Rights Council to act, he urged.
EDUARDO R. ERMITA, Executive Secretary of the Philippines, noted that the Special Rapporteur had concluded that there was no State policy in the Philippines either condoning or instructing extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary killings; both the independent Philippine Human Rights Commission and the Melo Commission had reached similar conclusions as well. Responsibility for such killings rested with rogue elements in uniform and members of insurgency groups. Two days ago, Philippines President Gloria Arroyo reiterated instructions for security forces to stop human rights violations by rogue men in uniform. Six persons had already been convicted but more convictions in significant numbers would send a signal that such killings would not be tolerated. Mr. Ermita went on to detail a number of steps that his country had been taking to address the matter.
The representative of Iran said that capital punishment had been recognized by his country and other States as effective. It was absolutely up to sovereign States to define the scope of serious crimes and it was outside the mandate of the Special Rapporteur to do otherwise. The way that Mr. Alston had been conducting his mandate was one of the main reasons why some countries had not been cooperating with him. Addressing the execution of juveniles, he said plenty of exaggerations had been made. Due process was abided by in Iran, where the courts proceeded guided by both domestic and international law. It was for States, however, to define the most serious crimes, he reiterated.
The representative of Portugal, on behalf of the European Union, asked the Special Rapporteur to outline the most significant developments vis-à-vis extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions. She also asked about the situation in Darfur, noting that the Special Rapporteur had submitted an interim report to the Human Rights Council, and about what steps could be taken to address the non-cooperation of States with special procedures mandate-holders.
The representative of Venezuela said that his Government hoped in the near future to act on the Special Rapporteur’s request for an invitation to visit his country; and Venezuela had not been making a mockery of Mr. Alston’s efforts. He went on to ask about the legal ramifications surrounding private actors hired by States during armed conflicts.
The representative of the Russian Federation said the use of private security units in military action had become the norm today, to ensure impunity for any violations of human rights and international humanitarian law. What could be done when such units were created to avoid shouldering responsibility for certain acts?
The representative of the United States said her country looked forward to the Special Rapporteur’s visit. She added that, as the Special Rapporteur himself had noted in his report, responsibility in armed conflicts could be a legally complex issue.
The representative of Indonesia said her country would love to invite as many mandate holders as possible, but it was a matter of timing so that as many stakeholders as possible could be involved.
The representative of Sri Lanka said that since last year, there had been several developments, including a recent visit by the High Commissioner for Human Rights, Louise Arbour, who herself had described that visit to the Committee as useful and constructive. Sri Lanka engaged with Ms. Arbour’s Office and other international parties vis-à-vis human rights, and it would make a more detailed statement at a later Committee meeting.
The representative of China said that his country had a complete set of domestic laws regarding extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions. He noted China’s membership in the Human Rights Council, adding that it had cooperated with several Special Rapporteurs.
The representative of Singapore said that his country neither committed nor condoned extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions; the integrity and transparency of its judicial system was well known and every capital case had to be proven beyond a reasonable doubt. Mr. Alston had used his position to actively campaign against death sentences handed down by the Singapore courts. International law did not prohibit capital punishment as long as it was imposed according to due process with judicial safeguards. There was no international consensus on whether capital punishment was a violation of human rights and the issue of capital punishment was a question that every State had the sovereign right to decide upon. Mr. Alston should not abuse the authority of his office to pursue his personal agenda, using limited United Nations resources.
The representative of Kenya said that his country would welcome a visit by the Special Rapporteur, but right now it was in the midst of a general election; that process would not settle down until early next year.
Mr. ALSTON began his answers by thanking the Philippines, adding that the country’s high-level presence today was important. While he, in his treatment of the issue in that country, would remain very critical, he said the invitation and the Government’s engagement on the issue was creditable. Turning to visits, he said he was very grateful to the United States for its cooperation, and he looked forward to a productive dialogue with the Government there. He appreciated Venezuela’s comments, and hoped that other countries’ comments were indications that they were giving careful consideration to the possibility of a visit.
He appreciated comments by countries about the need to balance the range of Special Rapporteurs who visited, and that timing was also up to Governments. But at the end of the day it was significant if a Government would not permit a visit by him. Although the human rights agenda was broad, concern about extrajudicial killings should be very high on the agenda. In response to countries that said his was just one of many issues, he stated that the international community needed to address that view.
He thanked Venezuela and the Russian Federation for raising the issue of non-State actors and the problems surrounding private contractors. Clearly, that was a major issue, and it was being considered by the Working Group on mercenaries, as well as by a number of key Governments. The host State had the primary responsibility for mercenary groups, and in that regard, the Iraqi Cabinet’s decision to rescind the provisions that gave contractors immunity and impunity was a crucial first step. The countries that sent mercenaries in should also ensure that human rights law was upheld. Those were issues that he would take up in future visits. State responsibility should not be evaded through the use of contractors, he noted, and where those contractors were accused of extrajudicial killings, the international community had to act.
Turning to Singapore’s concerns, he said that during a visit to that country, he had read about developments vis-à-vis some of its citizens who had been sentenced to death in other countries for drug crimes. Those individuals were not kingpins or part of drug cartels, but just stupid people who had agreed to transport drugs. Now they were facing the death penalty in foreign countries. What that newspaper article should have said was that those people were far better off in foreign countries than in Singapore, he said, because in the latter they would be mandatorily executed for those crimes. The compulsory nature of the death penalty had led to many peoples’ execution in Singapore, in violation of international human rights law. The Singaporean Law Society had recently taken up the issue of mandatory death sentences, and cited the need to respond, not to the international community, but to emerging values in Singaporean society. That was why he hoped that country would take a different approach, adding that a nation which did so many things so well, would do itself proud by engaging in dialogue.
Replying to Portugal’s question which was also raised on behalf of the European Union, he said the group of experts was currently meeting on the Darfur issue and would later meet with the Government of Sudan in Geneva. He had been pleased at the Sudanese Government’s participation at the procedural level, and the way they had begun to address recommendations. The procedure was working effectively, and the Government was cooperating, but whether there would be substance to the participation was still the question.
In terms of visits, he thought Portugal’s representative was right, and it was incumbent on the members of the Human Rights Council to be seen to be engaging with the special procedures. The final word -- he very firmly believed that the special procedures were the crown jewel of the human rights system. Even if he appeared critical and combative, Governments sustaining that system and cooperating with Special Rapporteurs, as well as the new Human Rights Council’s renewal of the system, was very important and encouraging.
The representative of Singapore then took the floor again to say that the newspaper article the Special Rapporteur had talked about had referred to the plight of Singaporeans who had carried drugs into other countries. The Straits-Times was just a local newspaper and did not represent the Government’s views. His Government had always said that breaking the law in a foreign country was the responsibility of those citizens who had broken the law. The Law Society of Singapore’s debate was entitled to raise issues -- it was after all the Law Society -- and these issues would be discussed in Singapore. It was not for the Special Rapporteur, however, to tell his country what to do about the Law Society’s discussions.
Freedom of Religion or Belief
The Committee then heard from ASMA JAHANGIR, Special Rapporteur of freedom of religion or belief, who noted how such freedoms were a multifaceted human right. Creative initiatives by Governments could diffuse religious tensions. Specific attention should be paid to vulnerable groups, such as women, people deprived of liberty, refugees, children, minorities and migrant workers. Her report discussed the special vulnerability vis-à-vis refugees, asylum-seekers and internally displaced persons; it also addressed concerns raised by atheistic and non-theistic believers. An analysis of the drafting history of pertinent human rights standards showed that the right to freedom of religion or belief applied equally to theistic and non-theistic as well as atheistic beliefs; the right not to profess any religion or belief was also protected. Such persons should not be discriminated against.
Since the inception of her mandate 21 years ago, more than 1,100 allegation letters and urgent appeals had been sent to 130 States; the average rate of reply from Governments had been 63.6 per cent, she said. Twenty States had never replied to communications since 1986. This year, she had visited Tajikistan and the United Kingdom, and would visit Angola next month. Noting a thematic study that she had co-prepared for the Human Rights Council on incitement to racial and religious hatred, she said that body should call upon Member States to show firm political will and commitment to combat that problem.
Freedom of religion or belief was not a reality for many throughout the world, she said. Victims belonged to all religions and beliefs; at the same time, perpetrations had not been confined to one or a few identified religions or beliefs. Religious intolerance had increased, especially since 2001, and advocates of peace and tolerance had been marginalized. Ganging up on minority views could be detected at both the national and international levels. There should be no impunity when criminal acts that infringed on human rights were given a religious label; at the same time, all government actions should be law-abiding and proportional.
Elaborating on how Governments could act, she said that they should tackle underlying problems by taking well-thought-out steps, rather than resorting to knee-jerk reaction. Wise and balanced decision-making and non-discriminatory legislation were crucial; so too was an independent and non-arbitrary judiciary. States should be pro-active, identifying and addressing possible conflicts between communities. Interreligious and intrareligious dialogue should also be encouraged. Education could also play a preventative role, especially when it ensured respect for, and acceptance of, pluralism and diversity. The quality of education and learning materials was, therefore, crucial. There were several root causes of religious intolerance, varying from society to society. Political and religious leaders also needed to react in a balanced manner, as extreme measures would only give rise to further extremism.
The representative of Portugal wanted to know what obstacles were there to implementing useful alternatives to blasphemy laws, and what were the most urgent measures? She also asked the Special Rapporteur to elaborate on her comments about compulsory over-legislation. She further raised a question on extending rights to religions rather than to their members, and asked about the most effective measure to prevent a hierarchy of beliefs from developing.
The representative of the Russian Federation asked when the Special Rapporteur would define the appropriate role of Governments in balancing freedom of conviction and religion, and protection of religions and groups. He also asked about the responsibility of non-State actors on violations of human rights.
The representative of Canada asked if there had been requests made to countries of concern that had not been responded to. She also asked how the Special Rapporteur cooperated with other mandate holders.
The representative of Venezuela asked about non-State actors or religious groups who sought to change religious beliefs among indigenous communities. She also asked about definitions of “defamation of religion”, which Venezuela believed was a legal concept, whereas others said defamation was only applicable to a person and not a religion.
The representative of the United States asked if the Special Rapporteur had approached any Governments on the implementation of her recommendations, and also expressed opposition to the view that issues of “defamation of religion” could be seen in opposition to basic freedom of speech.
The representative of Indonesia wanted to know what difficulties the Special Rapporteur saw in accepting the concept of defamation of religion.
The representative of Philippines asked the Special Rapporteur to focus her attention on multilateral aspects as well and to elaborate on the role that interfaith dialogue played in promoting respect.
The observer for the Holy See said his delegation shared the Special Rapporteur’s concern for the most vulnerable groups, and supported the recommendation that States should provide pro-active strategies for dealing with discrimination. He also asked for more examples that could serve as models in that regard.
The representative of Viet Nam wished to clarify an issue in the footnotes of the Special Rapporteur’s report, and stated that there was ambiguity about whether his country had replied to the Special Rapporteur’s request for a visit. The delegation asked for an amendment to the report to clear up the issue, as he said Viet Nam had indeed replied.
The representative of Myanmar said his country was a model of religious harmony, and that the Special Rapporteur’s charges that citizens of his country were fleeing religious prosecution and going to Bangladesh were putting a wedge between two friendly, neighbouring nations.
The representative of Egypt said it was important for the Special Rapporteur’s work to also include the issue of religions defamation. A relative definition under the pretext of freedom of expression was a violation of the human rights of others, and Egypt believed that the promotion of some rights should not come at the expense of others.
The representative of Chile said that the Special Rapporteur’s report had warned of the situation of vulnerable groups, and asked for attention to be paid to the right not to have a religion. Chile supported the Special Rapporteur’s position on education and on the need for dialogue between different religions.
The representative of Libya commented that Muslims in some countries were facing difficulties, under the pretext that there was a connection between terrorism and Islam. This was false, so Libya hoped that the Special Rapporteur would continue her efforts to pursue dialogue between all religions, to safeguard the freedom of religion and conviction in all societies.
Ms. JAHANGIR referred to the report on incitement for the Human Rights Council that she had prepared with Doudou Diène, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on contemporary forms of racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance. She said that it had argued that defamation was a matter of legal terminology. It could range from an academic denunciation of a religion to an Article 20 violation of human rights under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. If it was defamation to say that one religion was better than another, the result would be the religious prosecution of those who embarked on intellectual analysis of religions or those who were within their rights to say that their religion was superior. Religion and race were different; the former could be criticised objectively, but criticism of race was subjective.
She said that she and her predecessor had looked at several blasphemy laws that had been used initially against vulnerable religious minorities and those who had been dispassionate about religion. It would be counterproductive if defamation at any level became a human rights violation, unless it led to violence. People might try to use defamation in such a case to provoke Governments. Sri Lanka had considered such legislation, but in its great wisdom, the Government had decided that it would be counterproductive.
Regarding defamation in the context of indigenous peoples, she said that another route had to be taken, rather than saying that such persons had been converted due to misuse of certain powers.
Addressing what Governments should be looking at, she said they should be thinking about the situation in the longer term, such as in 20 years. For instance, there had been a proliferation of new religions; what would be the space and respect afforded to them?
Turning to the action of groups during a humanitarian crisis, and whether proselytising should be limited at such times, she said a discussion on that matter was continuing among religious organizations. On good practices, she had seen many, citing Nigeria, Sri Lanka and to a certain extent Azerbaijan. Instead of calling in the police, communities had sat down and talked, with positive results.
Regarding mandate holders, she said that she and her counterparts worked together, meeting every June to discuss where they were going and drawing up a holistic picture of human rights. The feeling was that they needed good cooperation from Governments to ensure that respect for human rights was being taken into consideration very seriously.
The Human Rights of Migrants
JORGE BUSTAMANTE, the Special Rapporteur on the human rights of migrants, said that despite general agreement on the positive aspects of migration for development, the focus of States had largely been on controlling the movements of migrants, rather than on protecting their rights. There was a trend towards seeing migrants as commodities, rather than as people with rights afforded to them through the international human rights framework. He urged States to incorporate a human rights perspective into their discussions, whether they were countries of origin, transit or destination. Human rights could be part of the agenda at the regional, bilateral or global level.
At the national level, migrants were increasingly the subject of political considerations and portrayed as “black sheep”, he explained. State concerns about trafficking and smuggling had bred hostility towards foreigners among domestic populations. He urged countries to hold national debates on adopting the Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of Their Families, and to fully integrate migrants into their societies.
More than ever, migrants were increasingly subjected to discrimination and violence in both destination and transit countries, he continued. He had received numerous reports of non-citizens who had been detained for unlawfully long periods and who often lacked access to medical services or justice. Raids in migrant neighbourhoods, another trend among States, had led to the separation of children from their arrested parents, including children born in such countries. Moreover, he was concerned at the alarming number of migrants who had fallen prey to trafficking and smuggling networks. Irregular border crossings had produced a type of “debt bondage” which only expanded those networks. Ironically, restrictive migration policies were a fundamental cause of such patterns. He called on the global community to support countries of origin in creating favourable conditions for their nationals, and to allocate as many funds to development projects as were being spent for “building walls without success”. States should also cooperate with a view to fostering regular migration.
The representative of Portugal asked which activities the Special Rapporteur would focus on in the future.
The representative of the United States gave a brief statement about the situation of migration into the United States, and listed legal efforts to eliminate any discrimination against migrants. He also enumerated how many migrants had immigrated to the country, and how many refugees had been resettled.
The representative of the Philippines commented on the vicious circle of illegal migration, and asked if there was a risk that efforts by countries to prevent trafficking could negatively affect migrants. He wanted to know what could be done to make sure anti-trafficking did not affect migration.
The representative of Indonesia said her delegation supported the Special Rapporteur’s work, and asked if the Special Rapporteur had responded to issues such as discrimination and violence against migrants in his mandate.
The representative of Sri Lanka commented on how the rights of migrants were getting less and less attention, and how migrants contributed to economic benefit. There was a lack of focus on migrants’ rights, he said. Only a few countries had ratified the International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of Their Families and the countries which had ratified it were all origin countries with the exception of Libya. He asked how the Special Rapporteur proposed to get more focus on rules-based and rights-based approaches to migration, not only in human rights forums but elsewhere as well. At a time when goods and services were passing borders freely, people were being treated worse than commodities. The international community needed to develop rules. Dialogue was not taking place, but instead rights were being “relativized”, which was of grave concern to countries that sent people abroad. He asked the Special Rapporteur what efforts he was making to get the Convention ratified more widely.
The representative of Mexico agreed with the Special Rapporteur that there was a need for development rather than walls, and that bridges for cooperation and mutual understanding had to be built.
The representative of Egypt said he joined voices in commending the Special Rapporteur’s work, and added his observation that there was a need for a comprehensive approach to assure protection for migrants. Only 37 countries had ratified the Convention addressing the rights of migrant workers, which had been adopted by the Assembly by consensus nearly two decades ago. How could more countries be convinced to ratify the Convention?
The representative of Nigeria said the Special Rapporteur’s report was one of the most important ones before the Committee. The human rights of migrants should be respected. He called for memorandums of understanding between sending and receiving countries, and increased funding for the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime and others that dealt with human trafficking.
The representative of China wanted to know what kind of steps Mr. Bustamante could take to cooperate with other Special Rapporteurs of the Human Rights Council to promote and protect the human rights of migrants.
The representative of Cuba said his country was in favour of legal migration, and said his delegation agreed in full with the Special Rapporteur’s commentary.
The representative of Libya praised the efforts of the Special Rapporteur in the interest of migrants and said his delegation was taking a keen interest in the matter, and emphasized the need to protect the needs of migrant workers.
Mr. BUSTAMANTE said that the world was divided over the issue of States that had ratified the International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of Their Families; that sad phenomenon was not an act of nature, but an act of power that the United Nations could address. There was a false belief in many countries that undocumented or irregular migrants had no rights. They did indeed have rights and all Member States should be obliged to make that fact public.
Many countries with de facto demand for migrant labour, both documented and undocumented, had been silent about the scale of the demand for such labour, he said. A consensus was needed on developing an objective measure of such demand. Such information would be a weapon against xenophobia, as it would respond to those who had been provoking racism and discrimination against migrants. It would be in the interest of everyone, except those who wanted to take advantage of the vulnerability of undocumented workers in order to maximize profits.
He said that children –- “little girls and little boys” –- used for the sex market in many countries was one of the worst cases of violation of human rights. Such a market was not an abstraction; it had a supply and a demand, but that demand had not been recognized. To recognize that demand, action on the part of the United Nations was needed. It would otherwise be hard to advance the overall defence of the human rights of migrants.
The representative of Mongolia then introduced, with oral amendments, a draft resolution titled Cooperatives in social development ( A/C.3/62/L.6 ). If approved for adoption by the Assembly, the text would urge Governments and relevant international organizations as well as the specialized agencies to give due consideration to the role and contributions of cooperatives in the implementation of the World Summit for Social Development and other major conference outcomes.
Mongolia’s representative said cooperatives had proven to be effective in generating employment opportunities, including to marginalized people who might be underserved by other businesses. Through participation in fair-trade arrangements, cooperatives had tapped into niche global markets. Due to the positive impact of cooperatives on economic and social development, the international community should promote their formation in new areas, she said. She then named the amendments to the text.
The Chairman then announced he had been informed by its main sponsor that the draft resolution entitled Improvement of the situation of women in rural areas ( A/C.3/62/L.19 ) would be introduced on Monday.
Democratic People’s Republic of Korea
VITIT MUNTARBHORN, Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, said it was regrettable that, to date, the authorities in that country had declined to cooperate with him. But on a constructive note, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea was party to human rights treaties; the Six-Party Talks aimed at denuclearizing the Korean peninsula, had made welcome progress; the October 2007 summit between the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea and the Republic of Korea was also welcome. Yet the human rights situation remained grave. The country was under a non-democratic regime that adhered to a “military first” policy that depleted resources and created budgetary distortions in favour of the ruling elite and militarization.
The country had been suffering from a serious food shortage since the 1990s, caused by natural disasters and mismanagement on the part of the authorities, he said. A two-year operation to reach 1.9 million people was started by the World Food Programme in 2006. However, outside aid had been less than forthcoming as a reaction to missile and nuclear tests, while severe flooding in August 2007 had aggravated the situation, with nearly one million people affected by deprivations. There had been some legislative improvements affecting the security of the human person, but there were also a large number of provisions concerning anti-State activities, some of which gave rise to the death penalty. Reports on the use of torture, public executions, persecution of political dissidents and substandard prison conditions continued to come in. Addressing the abduction of foreigners, he said five individuals had been returned to Japan, but other cases remained unsolved.
Turning to asylum, the Special Rapporteur said that many who left the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea due to hunger or economic reasons, could be seen as “refugees sur place” as there was a threat of persecution or prosecution if they were sent back, on the basis of their having left without an exit visa. Those who sought refuge should not be treated as illegal immigrants; nor should they be detained. The international community should help countries of first asylum in finding durable solutions to the refugee problem. Many of those who had sought refuge were women, including those who had been subjected to human smuggling and/or human trafficking. For children, there had been a decline in school facilities while the elderly and disabled faced mounting deprivations.
The responsibility of the authorities in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea had been raised by many sources, he said. Various missile and nuclear tests which led to Security Council sanctions had rendered the scenario more vulnerable. Ideas to address the responsibility of the country of origin had been put forward by the non-governmental sector. One study said that the misdeeds of the authorities had been tantamount to crimes against humanity. For the future, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea should take a number of measures. Those would include abiding by international human rights obligations; eliminating violence against the human person; not punishing those who left the country without permission; tackling the root causes behind refugee outflows and “criminalizing” those involved in human smuggling and human trafficking; protecting the rights of women, children and other vulnerable groups; carrying out substantive implementation of human rights in practice; enabling the Special Rapporteur to visit; engaging with human rights monitoring bodies; and seeking technical assistance from the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights ( OHCHR ) to promote and protect human rights.
He also outlined several recommendations for the international community. They included the continuation of food aid and other humanitarian aid; respect for the rights of refugees; engaging with the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea through dialogue; mobilizing the United Nations system to promote and protect human rights in the country; and supporting processes that would concretise the responsibility and accountability for human rights violations and end impunity.
The representative of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea said his country rejected the resolution establishing the Special Rapporteur’s mandate, and did not recognize the Special Rapporteur. The report was totally fabricated and hostile towards the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, human rights were not issues just to protect the rights and freedoms of its people, but they were part of the struggle to defend the sovereignty of the nation. The Democratic People’s Republic of Korea would strengthen its people-centred socialism which guaranteed the rights of the country.
Had the professor ever thought it would be more effective to address human rights issues in individual countries through normal procedures, he asked, instead of singling out a specific country to put pressure on it through a number of years, which added to mistrust between countries? He said the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea had had a wide range of experience regarding human rights, with visits from, among others, the Special Rapporteur on violence against women, and Amnesty International. But since the adoption of the resolution on the Special Rapporteur’s mandate, all these efforts had been stopped.
The representative of Portugal asked the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea to fully cooperate with the Special Rapporteur. In his report, the Special Rapporteur had said that North Korean authorities had allowed the presence of a number of United Nations agencies, but the human rights situation remained grave in a number of key areas, such as access to food. Could the Special Rapporteur tell the Committee how he expected the situation to improve? Had the trend changed since the Six-Party Talks, and in regard to third countries, what role could the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees play?
The representative of the United States asked if the Special Rapporteur could tell the Committee more about detention centres for political dissidents and others. He also expressed concern about the presence of what the Special Rapporteur had referred to as “intermediaries exploiting those who seek refuge”, particularly with regard to women and children.
The representative of Japan said his country welcomed the Special Rapporteur’s report, which was balanced and contained many valuable suggestions. He said the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea should abide by its international obligations, and allow the Special Rapporteur into the country. He referred to “abductions” by the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, and said that was a serious violation of human rights. As described in the report, five persons had returned to Japan and other cases remained unsolved. The Secretary-General’s report included the recommendation that the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea should address the issue of abductions.
He said Japan would work to normalize relations with the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea. The international community had been making efforts to improve the human rights situation there, but not enough progress had been made. In his report, the Special Rapporteur recommended that the international community should mobilize the whole system. The representative of Japan, continuing, asked what measures the international community should take, and -– as the European Union had also asked –- what the new situation was after the Six-Party Talks with regard to the human rights situation, and in particular relative to the abductions.
The representative of Canada said they regretted that the Special Rapporteur was still being denied access to the country, and wanted to know more about the policy options to support human rights work in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.
The representative of the Republic of Korea asked about recent developments on the Korean peninsula, and expressed hope that the Six-Party Talks would produce further progress. She asked what the Special Rapporteur’s views were on the terms “refugee surplus” and “non-refoulement principle”. Another question was: what was the needed dimension of regional involvement? In the area of human rights, all priorities should be to make a real change in the quality of life in the regions concerned. What was the Special Rapporteur’s suggestion for the most needed intervention?
Noting that it was the first time that he had heard from a representative of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea in the Committee since assuming his position, Mr. MUNTARBHORN stated that he had not lobbied for the resolution that had created his position. He had wanted to approach his mandate in a spirit of fairness and balance, and he had always tried to be polite and constructive with the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.
Responding to the European Union questions, he recognized that there had been good cooperation, especially on anti-flood measures. The Six-Party Talks offered opportunities to discuss human rights, as well as other matters such as abductions, family reunions and missing persons -– issues that sometimes went back to the Korean War.
Regarding refugees, he said that “we are in a state of flux” with a bigger number of arrivals having been seen in Southeast Asia, and urged strong support to OHCHR.
Turning to prison conditions, he encouraged contact with OHCHR. Regarding children, he said that those who were a part of the elite had been doing well, but others did not get food or protection against violence. That had been a factor in the exit of people from the country. Detentions had been an issue of some magnitude; those who were part of the “wavering class” or “hostile” had suffered the consequences of not being in the elite and could be classified as dissidents.
He said the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea had laws against human smuggling and human trafficking, and that there had been some implementation, but it was a problem that involved criminal elements. In that regard, protocols to the Convention against Transnational Organized Crime should be considered.
Commenting on the general situation this year, he said that developments had indicated a more auspicious situation. There had been more multilateral cooperation, with the presence of United Nations agencies in the country. The recent Inter-Korean Summit had been a welcome development and it had produced a declaration that made reference to the rights of overseas Koreans. Regarding food aid, he said it was also a matter of food security; in that context, environmental conservation such as watershed management and land management had to be looked into.
He recalled that the historic definition of a refugee had been someone who had left a home country out of a well-founded fear of persecution. What was in question now concerned those who left out of hunger; they could be classified as refugees if they faced persecution if they were sent back.
Regarding countries of first asylum, he said their concerns were best addressed by an expression of international solidarity and burden-sharing.
AKICH OKOLA, the Independent Expert to provide backing for the Government of Burundi in its efforts to improve the human rights situation, said his visit to the country had only one agenda item, namely solidarity with the people of Burundi in pursuit of their economic and social rights. Therefore, he had timed his visit to coincide with the round-table donor conference the Government had convened. That way, he could lobby Burundi’s development partners to assist the country in getting back on its feet, after a decade of conflict in which 300,000 people perished. The conference had been a success, and US$650 million had been pledged.
In the political context, during his visit, frequent strikes and growing discontent of civil servants were often motivated by widespread poverty, he said. But the overall human rights situation seemed to have improved, with the media able to report on a wide range of matters without Government interference. “Few cases of human rights violations had been committed by military personnel,” he said. Most human rights violations related to cases of ill-treatment, and sometimes torture, of suspects by police officials and procedure violations by judicial and police officials.
With regard to summary executions, he said that following an outcry by the international community and by Burundians, the Government had established four separate commissions to carry out investigations into the circumstances of the massacre of civilians in the province of Muyinga. But no report had been made public. All those involved in the massacre had to be brought to justice in order to stem the culture of impunity which had been so deeply ingrained in the politics of Burundi. With regard to sexual violence, he said the recent figures represented a “steady trend” in the number of cases reported.
Food security had worsened during the first five months of the year, and the country required international humanitarian assistance until it recovered from cyclical famine. As for the implementation of the ceasefire agreement, he said the Government and the Front National pour la Libération ( PALIPEHUTU-FNL ) were deadlocked on the issues of power-sharing and demobilization, which in turn had led to deterioration of security in parts of the country.
The Independent Expert had, during his visit, brought the issue of delays in the implementation of transitional justice mechanisms to the attention of the authorities. They informed him that the High Commissioner on Human Rights and the Burundian Government had agreed that the national consultations process would be led by a Steering Committee. There would be no amnesty for war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide committed during the conflict. However, the question of the relationship between a truth and reconciliation commission and the special tribunal had yet to be resolved, though.
In conclusion, he urged the Government to speed up the process of establishing a truth and reconciliation commission and a special tribunal, and also that it should release the reports of its investigation into the Muyinga massacre and bring to justice all those implicated. The authorities should also fully investigate incidents of sexual violence and bring to justice those responsible.
The representative of Burundi said it had been the subject of an Independent Expert’s report because it had needed special attention. In its 45 years since independence, it had lived through despair, hatred, suffering and bloodshed. For years, no one had raised a finger; hundreds of thousands had been shot, others killed with other kinds of weapons; people had been made to lie down on the road where military trucks rolled over them. In some places, the dead had just been dumped.
The generation in power in Burundi had survived that period, he said. Only two years after the Government took power, enormous progress had been made vis-à-vis human rights. What now was needed was assistance; feeding the people was part and parcel of human rights.
The representative of Portugal said the European Union had been following developments in Burundi very closely. It welcomed the commitment of the President not to grant amnesty to those who had been involved in serious crimes during the armed conflict. She asked questions regarding the Steering Committee, what the international community could do to encourage the Government to act in the case of two serious massacres, progress on judicial reform, laws regarding sexual violence, and to address unwillingness to deal with perpetrators of human rights violations.
The representative of Guinea-Bissau said that to better understand the situation, appreciation had to be given to what had been done so far. He added that Independent Experts should stay longer in the countries they monitored, and return more often. It was suggested that they go twice a year before preparing their report. The authorities in Burundi needed to be helped, so as to improve what remained an imperfect situation.
The representative of the United Republic of Tanzania asked the Independent Expert what, in his view, was the role that had been played by regional groups in the peace process, and what role could they play in the future.
The representative of the United States expressed concern that a paragraph in the Independent Expert’s report stating that a “few human rights violations have been committed by military personnel” downplayed the situation.
The representative of Cameroon voiced support for the statement made by his counterpart from Guinea-Bissau, and also his counterpart from Burundi for the clear explanation of the situation in that country. The generation in power in Burundi had come from a situation of ongoing human rights violations; they were committed to the promotion of human rights. More help needed to be given to countries emerging from conflict; help had to be extended to Burundi so that it could rebuild.
The Independent Expert thanked the representative of Burundi for his comment, and said it was true that the current Burundi had to be seen in context of what the country used to be like. Only two years ago, no institutions necessary for a modern State could be seen. In 2005, the country had managed to stage elections that had led to institutions being put in place. The country had also managed to comply with the requirements set out in the Arusha Peace and Reconciliation Agreement for Burundi, where recognition had to be given to ethnic groups and the role of women in Government.
Two years ago, his report had been concerned with child soldiers, demobilization and other things that were no longer on the agenda. The international community had to show its support for Burundi for the measures it had taken to restore a state of normality. The country had come a long way in a short period of time, and relative peace now existed in the country. Although the Government sometimes faltered, one could see a sense of commitment on its part to do things well, he said. Looking at Burundi now, there were fewer violations than there had been two years ago.
Responding to the question by the United States about a possible contradiction, he said there was no contradiction, so he was not downplaying the problems of military forces. Addressing Portugal’s questions about the Steering Committee, he said the mere establishment of the Committee was still under discussion, so it did not have a timetable or terms of reference. Its main objective would be to bring reconciliation to the Burundian community. There was a problem in terms of whether or not the matter would begin and end with the establishment of a truth and reconciliation council, or if there would be other tribunals.
More dialogue had to take place between the international community and Burundi to bring out the truth. The criminal court was still under review. Regarding reform of a law to address sexual offences, the President of Rwanda, Paul Kagame, had recently made a public announcement that the law had to take its course. The system of forgiveness could not be substituted.
Addressing Guinea Bissau’s comment about how some rights could not cancel other rights, he said as far as he was concerned, they were all important. Burundi had to be helped to reconstruct itself, so he was grateful for the international community’s pledges.
The Steering Committee would lead to national consultations on the truth and reconciliation commission and the tribunal. There was a clear division of opinion between Burundi and the United Nations on the need for a special tribunal. That was something that Burundi ought to recognize as something important for reconciliation, he concluded.
The Chairman of the Committee, RAYMOND WOLFE ( Jamaica ), noting his country’s membership in the United Nations Peacebuilding Commission, recalled a mission that that Commission had made to Bujumbura, in which he had participated. He was conscious of the efforts that Burundi had been making. The Committee had heard a stirring presentation.
TITINGA FRÉDÉRIC PACÉRÉ, Independent Expert to provide assistance to the Government of the Democratic Republic of the Congo in the field of human rights, said the human rights situation in the country remained worrying. Serious violations included arbitrary executions, rape and inhuman and degrading treatment. Those were still being committed, particularly by the armed forces and the police, in a climate of impunity.
Following the country’s first democratic elections in 2006, political violence –- characterized by massive human rights violations -- escalated in southern Congo and Kinshasa, he said. During the first half of 2007, the situation worsened in the east, particularly in northern Kivu province, which was the scene of serious violations including the massacre of 15 people in Buramba in March by a mixed Bravo Brigade. The Government’s “mixing” process had allowed senior officers loyal to former dissident General Laurent Knunda, who was responsible for serious human rights violations, to be incorporated into the army. In southern Kivu, much of the province was still controlled by armed Rwandan Hutu armies, he continued. In the most serious incident on 26 to 27 May, 17 civilians were knifed to death; some 27 people were wounded and at least seven women were taken by a militia group to Kanyola. The assailants left a note stating that the violence was retaliation for the operations by the Forces Armées de la Républic Démocratique du Congo ( FARDC ) against them.
Sexual violence continued throughout the country, he said, adding that less than 1 per cent of the cases recorded in the 2005 to 2007 period had been brought before a court. The prison system was characterized by overpopulation and a lack of hygiene. Further, most serious human rights violations were not being investigated, mainly because of interference by political and military actors in the administration of justice. Such impunity was the focus of a visit in May by Louise Arbour, United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights.
He said authorities must demonstrate zero tolerance for human rights violations. To combat impunity, they should give priority to issues such as: endowing the judiciary system with the sufficient means and budget to guarantee its efficiency; ensuring no amnesty for war crimes, genocide and crimes against humanity; adopting a law to apply the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court; giving support to the mapping team; and establishing a “vetting” process for defence and security forces. Moreover, the massacre at Buramba must be investigated, and the disarmament process in southern Kivu accelerated. He called for independent judiciary investigations into incidents in Bas Congo and Kinshasa in the January to March 2007 period.
The representative of the Democratic Republic of the Congo commented that the Independent Expert’s report was the same as last year. But this year, it seemed to be one-sided, and did not place things in context. His President, Joseph Kabila, in his statement to the General Assembly, had talked about the path to end the conflict in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and said that it was laden with obstacles. Efforts were under way to remove insurrection, and in the President’s statement, he had called for voluntary disarmament. The current Assembly was not like the last, because there was rule of law emerging, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo had held its first free democratic elections after 40 years. The country was now headed towards reconstruction and development.
He said the international community had to be aware of the momentum in place to deal with sexual exploitation, adding that strengthening the rule of law continued to be a major challenge. No State could address the challenges in a post-conflict society alone, which explained his country’s commitment to international justice and to the International Criminal Court. The Democratic Republic of the Congo’s faith in international criminal justice would never make the country lose sight of its own justice system. Beyond the speeches heard in this room, the Democratic Republic of the Congo needed specific actions that would restore the country after years of war. With the setting up of the universal periodic review mechanism, his country could be reviewed like others.
The representative of Rwanda said that the report before the Committee deserved to be more complete by dealing with the root causes of the situation, particularly the actions of the Forces Armées de la Républic Démocratique du Congo, which were forces made up of those responsible for the Rwanda massacre in 1994. They continued, with impunity, to commit murder in the Democratic Republic of the Congo while preparing to return to Rwanda. The lack of depth in the report could be seen in its recommendations, the Independent Expert had not issued any recommendation addressing those forces. For the report to be useful, it should tackle the root causes of human rights violations in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
The representative of Guinea-Bissau expressed his regret at the descriptive nature of the Independent Expert’s report. He said he knew that in legal analysis, one had to make all the elements in question available to those who were expected to judge. He said he did not hear any reference in the statement to the United Nations Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. He said he wanted to know if the Independent Expert had talked to the Mission about the deplorable conditions he was describing.
The representative of Canada said the Democratic Republic of the Congo had recently ratified a pact on stability in the Great Lakes region. How could regional and international support for the implementation of that pact impact the human rights situation in the Democratic Republic of the Congo?
The representative of the United States said he shared the Expert’s concern about the state of human rights in the Democratic Republic of the Congo; a more proactive approach had to be taken to end the high incidence of unlawful killings, disappearances, torture, arbitrary arrests and detentions. The resurgence of violence and lawlessness in the eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo had destabilized the Great Lakes region. The United States had noted “with dismay” that, according to the report of the Independent Expert, in 2007, 86 per cent of human rights violations in the Democratic Republic of the Congo were committed by the Congolese army and police.
The representative of Portugal asked for the Independent Expert’s assessment of the current situation in the Democratic Republic of the Congo and wanted know how it was impacting on the human rights situation. The United Nations Children’s Fund ( UNICEF ) had learned of very serious sexual violence problems. She asked how much of an issue did the Independent Expert assess sexual violence to be in the region, and had his recommendation for a special tribunal been discussed with the Government?
The representative of Burundi said the Democratic Republic of the Congo was a neighbouring country, and a very large and in some ways wealthy one, with a very difficult past and a dubious form of governance. The report should have mentioned the most recent successful elections in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. “With respect to our region”, he said, “we are making progress to recover security.”
Responding to the questions that had been put to him, Mr. PACÉRÉ underlined that the Democratic Republic of Congo was a big country that was roughly the size of Western Europe. It would be difficult to tackle every field in a single report. His report had focused this year on crimes by the police and ot
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