ECOSOC ADOPTS TEXTS ON PREVENTION OF VIOLENCE, LEBANESE DETAINEES IN ISRAEL, AND HUMAN RIGHTS IN MYANMAR
Begins Consideration of Human Rights and Indigenous Issues
The Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) this morning began its adoption of texts recommended to it by the Commission on Human Rights with the adoption of a resolution concerning the right to the enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health and two decisions concerning, respectively, Lebanese detainees held in Israel and the human rights situation in Myanmar.
With its adoption, by a vote of 33 in favor, and one against, with 17 abstentions, of the resolution on physical and mental health, the Council recommended that the General Assembly declare 2007 the United Nations Year for Violence Prevention.
The decision concerning Lebanese detainees in Israel was adopted by a vote of 26 in favor, and 2 against, with 24 abstentions. Finally, on the subject of the human rights situation in Myanmar, the Council adopted, without a vote, a decision by which it endorsed the decision of the Commission on Human Rights to extend the mandate of the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Myanmar for a further year.
The Council also began its debate on human rights and indigenous issues.
Bertrand Ramcharan, Acting High Commissioner for Human Rights, introduced the report of the High Commissioner which provided information on developments in the human rights area likely to be of particular interest to the Council, including the human rights dimension of work on the Millennium Development Goals; poverty reduction; health; HIV/AIDS; education; food; housing; disability; trafficking in human persons; and globalization and trade.
Ole Henrik Magga, Chairman of the Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues, said that indigenous peoples were among the world’s most marginalized, poorest, least healthy, least educated and highly unemployed peoples. Yet indigenous peoples came before the international community, not merely to seek assistance, but to offer their experiences. The Permanent Forum was aware of the unique and challenging mandate entrusted to it by the Council; with the support of the Council, the Forum would maintain its important role providing a unique international space for dialogue between indigenous peoples and States.
Within the general discussion, speakers raised issues concerning the future working relationship between the Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues and the Working Group on Indigenous Populations, emphasizing that their mandates were complementary, not overlapping. They also addressed issues related to the work of the Human Rights Commission, highlighting its progress and expressing concern as to time constraints, increased politicization and selectivity in country-specific resolutions.
Addressing the Council this morning were the representatives of the United States, Ukraine, the Russian Federation, China, Syria, Cuba, Libya, Mexico, Egypt, Ecuador, Argentina, Brazil, Israel, Australia, Lebanon, Italy (on behalf of the European Union), Japan and Myanmar.
Also addressing the Council were representatives of the Indigenous World Association, Netherlands Centre for Indigenous Peoples, Indigenous Peoples' Centre for Documentation, Research and Information, the International Youth and Student Movement for the United Nations and the Juridical Commission for Auto-Development of First Andean Peoples.
Representatives of the following countries spoke in explanation of vote or of position: United States, Brazil, Israel, Australia, Lebanon, Italy (on behalf the European Union), Japan and Myanmar.
Speaking in right of reply were representatives of Zimbabwe, Israel and Lebanon.
The Council will meet again this afternoon at 3 p.m. to continue with the general debate and to take action on remaining draft resolutions.
Before the Council, there is a report of the Secretary-General on Information concerning indigenous issues requested by ECOSOC (E/2003/72) which states that comments made by States and indigenous and non-governmental organizations relate mainly to the mechanisms established to address indigenous issues in the United Nations Secretariat. These were the Working Group on Indigenous Populations, the Working Group on the United Nations draft declaration on the rights of indigenous peoples, the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights and fundamental freedoms of indigenous peoples, and the Permanent Forum on indigenous issues. Some States have expressed concern about possible duplication of indigenous issues, while indigenous organizations have signaled their unanimous support for the continuation of all existing mechanisms. There is an annex to the report which provides an outline of the mandates and outputs of the four mechanisms.
There is a report of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights to the Economic and Social Council (E/2003/73) which states that the role of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights is to help promote and protect all human rights, economic, social and cultural, and civil and political. The Office does this by seeking to contribute to the efforts of the principal organs of the United Nations. This report provides information on developments in the human rights area that are likely to be of particular interest to the Council. Taking into account the mandate of the Council, this report concentrates on the human rights dimension of the work in the following substantive areas: the Millennium Development Goals; poverty reduction; health; HIV/AIDS; education; food; housing; disability; trafficking in persons; and globalization and trade.
There is a letter from the Secretary-General to the President of ECOSOC (E/2003/78) on the obligations of Malaysia, as reflected by the International Court of Justice, concerning Dato’ Param Cumaraswamy’s legal expenses.
There is a letter from the Chairperson of the fifty-ninth session of the Commission on Human Rights to the President of ECOSOC (E/2003/79) informing ECOSOC of two relevant new proposals adopted by the Commission this year. These are a resolution on the situation of human rights in Afghanistan in which the Commission requested the Secretary-General to appoint an independent expert for a period of one year; and a resolution on technical cooperation and advisory services in Liberia, in which the Commission decided to appoint an Independent Expert for an initial period of three years.
There is a note by the Secretariat (E/2003/92) which transmits information on the working paper prepared by the Special Rapporteur of the Sub-Commission on the Promotion and Protection of Human Rights on the Study on Treaties, Agreements and Constructive arrangements between States and Indigenous Populations.
Introduction of Report
BERTRAND RAMCHARAN, Acting High Commissioner for Human Rights, said the history of the United Nations had offered one important lesson: one could not achieve peace or development without respect for human rights - economic, social and cultural, and civil and political. The report which he had the honor of presenting to ECOSOC today provided information on developments in the human rights area that were likely to be of particular interest to the Council. Taking into account the mandate of the Council, the report concentrated on the human rights dimension of work on the Millennium Development Goals; poverty reduction; health; HIV/AIDS; education; food; housing; disability; trafficking in human persons; and globalization and trade.
Concerning poverty reduction, Mr. Ramcharan said the Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights had recently adopted a statement which defined poverty, for the first time, from a human rights perspective: a human condition characterized by sustained chronic deprivation of the resources, capabilities, choices, security and power necessary for the enjoyment of an adequate standard of living and other civil, cultural, economic, political and social rights”. He asked how this definition would feature in the work of ECOSOC and its deliberations. Also stressed to ECOSOC were new developments and their relationship to human rights with regard to health, HIV/AIDS, education, food, and housing. Concerning disability, it was highlighted that over 600 million persons – approximately 10 per cent of the world’s population – suffered from some type of disability and that over two-thirds of them lived in developing countries.
With regards to globalization and trade, the report stated that by linking the norms and standards of international human rights law to the processes of globalization and trade liberalization, a human rights approach sought to place the human rights of individuals and groups at the heart of economic processes so that globalization and trade could benefit all. In conclusion, he said that the links between social, economic and other spheres of the lives of individuals and society found their reflection in the Vienna Declaration and Programme of Action. The United Nations human rights programme was based on and implemented this concept. He was confident that ECOSOC would wish to do so as well.
SICHAN SIV (United States) said the United States set the highest priority to the protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms and was pleased with the steps a number of countries had taken in the direction of democracy and a culture of human rights. The United States continued to encourage and support initiatives designed to provide protection and quality of life. At the same time, many more Governments continued to roll back the progress and the United States strongly urged Member States to support and advance the work of related functional commissions of ECOSOC by continuing to hold countries accountable to their citizens. For every example of positive change, there were examples of work to be done; human rights that remained to be secured, and people’s voices that remained to be heard.
The people of Cuba continued to suffer under the oppressive dictatorship of a government-for-life. Unable to freely elect or change their leadership, they were denied the right to due and humane judicial processes. The situations in Chechnya, Belarus, and Turkmenistan were also raised. The citizens of North Korea suffered under severe repression and were denied their human rights by a government that starved and enslaved its own citizens. References were also made to the civil and political human rights situation in Zimbabwe and China.
M. SKURATOVSKYI (Ukraine) said that his Government attached great importance to the role played by international human rights instruments in promoting and protecting human rights, to which end Ukraine was striving to bring its legislation in the area of human rights into conformity with European standards. As a party to Optional Protocol 6 to the European Convention on Human Rights, Ukraine had abolished the death penalty and the Parliament had recently ratified Protocol 13 of the European Convention on the protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms regarding the abolishment of capital punishment under any circumstances. Moreover, Ukraine was in the process of ratifying the Rome Statute for the International Criminal Court. Within the context of the Commission on Human Rights, the activities of the special procedures mandate holders were very important and the international community should contribute to increasing awareness about their work within their respective nations’ civil society. Universal participation in and full implementation of the legal instruments in the field of human rights remained a cornerstone for ensuring an effective protection and global promotion of human rights and freedoms.
VLADIMIR ZHEGLOV (Russian Federation) said the activities of the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights promoted human rights as a unifying factor in a divided world. Russia welcomed the efforts made by the High Commissioner in reforming the working mechanisms of the Office. Concerning plans for de-centralization, he believed the basic principle of interaction must be voluntary. No action must be imposed on States. It was also noted that recently increased attention had been given to economic, social and cultural rights. In spite of clear and positive changes, certain aspects such as the management culture needed further reform. The Russian Federation was concerned about the geographical distribution of the Office's staff and the dependence on voluntary contributions. The human rights situation in any given country might be a source of a concern for the international community. However, human rights situations must not be used to pressurize and intervene in other countries. The Russian Federation raised concern about the increased division of countries into “good” and “bad”. In this context, he stressed to the United States and other States that before lecturing others on democracy, they had to pay attention to violations of human rights in their own countries. The political divisions and tensions within the Commission on Human Rights, as a result of the country specific resolutions, undermined the credibility of this important instrument. Countries with human rights situations needed assistance from the international community, not judgment.
SHA ZUKANG (China) said the Commission had played an undeletable historical role in formulating international instruments. However, the Commission had been flawed by confrontation along political lines against the international background of fierce rivalry between the two major blocs. First, the confrontation between North and South was on the increase. Every year, the Western countries proposed many country resolutions directed at developing countries. Most of these resolutions were a result of political confrontation. Secondly, international instruments such as the Vienna Declaration reaffirmed that civil, political economic, social and cultural rights were of equal importance and that the right to development was an inalienable human rights. However, there existed a glaring imbalance in the treatment of the two categories of human rights by the Commission. Thirdly, the sessions of the Commission had suffered from an over-crowded agenda, a lengthy duration, disorganized proceedings and low efficiency. He stressed that what the United States had said about Tibet was a lie, a super lie. Being a super power, like the United States, did in no manner allow it to tell super lies.
MOHAMMAD KHAFIF (Syria) said the Commission approved about 100 resolutions and decisions each year that must be implemented. Standards of human rights showed that one must combat human rights violations. However, there was a concentration and selection on certain issues aimed at certain countries. In the long-term, this was harmful to human rights. In this connection, he stressed the need to be objective when addressing human rights issues and restoring the instrument of dialogue. He referred to resolution 10/2003 on the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea and said that Syria did not believe in the politicization of human rights issues aiming to interfere with sovereign States. Some questions were still pending in this regard, including the fate of missing persons.
RODOLPHO REYES RODRIGUEZ (Cuba) said that the inteational community was witnessing difficult times as a result of the dictatorial regime of Mr. Bush who had come to power through rigged elections. Not only did the United States limit civil and political rights on its own people, but it aimed to impose their repression globally. The US attempts to impose their Pax Americana could be seen in their attack on Iraq. The United States was called upon to end such attacks and halt military occupations which limited the expression of the right to self-determination. Furthermore, the situation of the prisoners in Guantanamo Bay needed addressing, he said. They deserved to be treated according to the rule of law. In this connection, the United States was also called upon to halt its genocidal blockade of Cuba. He called on the Office of the High Commissioner to undertake further work on third generation human rights work. These were human rights based on solidarity, recognizing that those who had benefited from conquests and colonialization held a moral responsibility to those countries.
NAJAT AL-HAJJAJI (Libya), addressing ECOSOC in her capacity as the Chairperson of the Commission on Human Rights, presented a brief overview of the fifty-ninth session of the Commission. The session had been characterized by time constraints. While some forewarning had allowed the expanded Bureau to prepare for the situation, there were still consequences. A proposal to hold a special session on events in Iraq had not been approved by members, she said. She added that the nature of documentation had been more focused than in previous years. The Commission had adopted a large number of resolutions, decisions and Chairperson’s statements. She highlighted some of the most notable resolutions approved. Turning to country-specific work, this year the Commission had considered three new country situations, and had terminated one geographic mandate. She noted that the Commission continued to supervise the work of the Sub-Commission on the Promotion and Protection of Human Rights. This year, a number of important Sub-Commission decisions were endorsed, including that to convene a second Social Forum. Others related to new studies, such as those on human rights and small arms and discrimination in the criminal justice system. Despite achievements outlined, the Commission faced a high number of challenges. As a body, it had suffered considerable criticism in the media that it could be more efficient and effective in fulfilling its mandate. The most recent progress on this issue had been undertaken by the Expanded Bureau that had considered the level of politicization in the Commission, the length and periodicity of its resolutions, the Commission’s agenda, the role of partners and special procedures; the use of limited resources; and the question of country-specific work. The next Expanded Bureau would continue this important work.
ARTURO HERNANDEZ-BASAVE (Mexico), speaking on behalf of a number of members of the Group of Countries of Latin America and the Caribbean (GRULAC), said the Working Group on Indigenous People, currently meeting in the building, had been undertaking significant work over the past decades to improve the human rights of indigenous peoples. It was important that ECOSOC not prejudge the outcome of the Working Group before taking its decision on its continued work. It was important that the mandate of the Working Group be extended further and Mexico and GRULAC supported the adoption of a resolution to this effect. At the same time, it was important to avoid duplication of work. In this context, he stressed that the Permanent Forum was authorized to act as a key component within the United Nations to study the economic, social, health, and environment of indigenous peoples. It was more that anything an advisory body to ECOSOC. The Working Group must develop and follow up new developments in the standards of human rights of indigenous peoples and it was empowered to receive individual communications and make visiting missions. There was therefore a distinct difference between the mandates of the Permanent Forum and the Working Group. ECOSOC’s study on this matter must look at all programmes on indigenous issues. In considering these various mandates, it was necessary that the outcome did not result in a zero-sum game that would only punish indigenous peoples.
MOHAMED MOUNIR LOUTFY (Egypt) expressed appreciation for the work undertaken by the Office of the High Commissioner and agreed with the conclusions of the report. It was important to guarantee the participation of all actors and societies in the promotion of human rights, whilst taking into consideration contemporary issues. In this context, he mentioned the work undertaken by the Egyptian National Human Rights Commission in terms of human rights. It was stressed that further attention needed to be focused on technical assistance, as well as the realization of economic, social and cultural rights. Egypt was the first developing country to support the consolidation of the mandate of the Commission so that it would include economic, social and cultural rights and would continue to support its work. Independent experts had highlighted the challenges facing developing countries. Economic and material assistance was needed in order to ensure the realization of the right to development. In this context, the Millennium Summit had made it clear that all countries must apply themselves to ensure the right to education, the right of women, the right to food, the right to development and other rights. The right to food must also consist of neutral and objective international food aid.
HERNAN ESCUDERO MARTINEZ (Ecuador) wished to comment on the outcome of the session of the Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues and the decision that was to be taken in the plenary of ECOSOC in this connection. He reiterated the importance attached to indigenous issues by the Government of Ecuador which hoped that the Working Group would continue to exist. It carried out extremely important work, which did not duplicate work, but added and spearheaded the work on indigenous issues, including ancestral rights. Ecuador believed that the United Nations must proclaim a further decade on indigenous issues, and renew the momentum and support of activities that had not been completed within the first decade.
NORMA NASCIMBENE DE DUMONT (Argentina) said that the report of the High Commissioner for Human Rights should have dealt better with the essential subject of the right to development, in that it could have included the recommendations of the Independent Expert on this subject, among other improvements. Moreover, the question of the liberalization of trade and the enjoyment of human rights within the context of globalization should have received less partial treatment. The elimination of barriers to agriculture was a basic need of developing countries as the key to generating the resources required for the full enjoyment of their peoples economic, social, cultural, political and civil rights.
OLE HENRIK MAGGA, Chairman of the Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues, said that it was hoped that indigenous issues would become a new priority for the international system. Indigenous peoples were among the world’s most marginalized, poorest, least healthy, least educated and highly unemployed peoples. Yet indigenous peoples came before the international community, not merely to seek assistance, but to offer their experiences. Among other problems plaguing the advancement of indigenous peoples was the lack of data collection and disaggregation of information – given that in many parts of the world there were no reliable statistics on indigenous people. In approaching its mandate, the Forum had employed the holding of high-level panels and dialogues; last year’s theme was thus “indigenous children and youth,” and next year’s would be “indigenous women.” A major challenge to the Forum was that aspect of its mandate to integrate and coordinate indigenous issues in the United Nations system.
The Permanent Forum, he said, was aware of the unique and challenging mandate entrusted to it by the Council. It welcomed opportunities to meet with the Council’s Bureau and hoped that the close interface would continue and that the Chairperson of the Forum would be able to address the Council on a regular basis. With the support of the Council, the Forum would maintain its important role in continuing to provide a unique international space for dialogue between indigenous peoples and States. It would also be a creative tool for catalyzing public policies and action to end the discrimination and marginalization of indigenous peoples.
KENNETH DEER, of Indigenous World Association on behalf of the Indigenous Peoples Caucus, said indigenous people were working for their future generations, common goals and aspirations. Their identities as peoples were still unrecognized in many countries of the world. Indigenous rights, conventions and standards needed to be strengthened including territorial rights and trade rights. Indigenous peoples supported the Permanent Forum, as well as the broad mandate of the Working Group which had promoted cultural understanding. In its twenty years of operation, it had served as a tangible instrument of the United Nations Charter regarding the equality of rights of indigenous peoples. It must not be penalized for its success. It was therefore a matter of deep concern that some Governments sought to terminate the work of the Working Group, particularly as the mandate of the Working Group and the Permanent Forum complemented each other and did not duplicate each other. Indigenous people, by general consensus, were strongly in favor of extending the first decade on indigenous peoples being extended and a second decade being proclaimed. A second decade was needed to ensure that elements so far unimplemented remained a priority for the international community,
miram anne frank, of the Netherlands Centre for Indigenous Peoples, speaking on behalf of a number of non-governmental organizations, said that although several States considered the recent establishment of the Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues as making the Working Group redundant, the mandates of the two organizations were different. Within the context of the Working Group, there was still work on universal standard setting on indigenous rights to be done. The work of the Permanent Forum and Working Group was to be complementary and mutually supportive. Finally, part of the mandate of the Permanent Forum was to act as an advisory body to the Council, its role should be recognized, respected and strengthened.
PIERRETTE BIRRAUX-ZIEGLER, of Indigenous Peoples' Centre for Documentation, Research and Information, said all indigenous organizations that had been given information on the writing of the report on the Review of Mechanisms regarding indigenous issues, had spoken in favor of the continuation of the Working Group. This led to the conclusion that such a decision had to be taken by ECOSOC during this very meeting. The whole process had been built gradually, and not without difficulty, with the help of friendly Governments and the European Initiative for Human Rights and Democracy. The United Nations could not ignore such huge efforts at a time when the question to reinforce its links with civil society was becoming more and more relevant. To ignore such efforts was a considerable waste.
JAN LONN, of the International Youth and student Movement for the United Nations, said that the right to peace was a fundamental right recognized by the United Nations. This right had been demonstrated by the massive protests that occurred in February and March of 2003; there was no doubt that military occupation by foreign forces constituted the gravest of breaches under Article 1 of the Charter of the United Nations. The armed attack on Iraq, in contravention of the United Nations Charter, had resulted in death, destruction and serious violations of human rights. Thus, the International Youth and Student Movement for the United Nations wished to express its concern over the new mandate of the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Iraq, who, it seemed, had been requested to turn a blind eye on those events that had occurred as a result of the armed attack against Iraq and to concentrate only on violations perpetrated by the former region. No matter how powerful the perpetrators of violations of human rights were, their actions should be held up to examination.
RUBEN ORTIZ, of Juridical Commission for Auto-Development of First Andean Peoples, said he represented the Maya people and represented the indigenous caucus in Geneva. Although there had been considerable progress, indigenous peoples were still not recognized for differential treatment in many countries on issues to do with land, trade and ancestral heritage. With regard to the Working Group, he said it had become the body for the protection of indigenous rights. The mandates of the Permanent Forum and the Working Group were complementary. With regards to the decade on indigenous issues, he stressed the need not to interrupt ongoing process and proclaim a second decade on indigenous issues.