UNITED NATIONS

Press Release



xxxxxxxxxx
HIGH COMMISSIONER FOR HUMAN RIGHTS
PRESENTS REPORT ON SITUATION OF
HUMAN RIGHTS IN COLOMBIA

xxxxxxxxxx
Commission on Human Rights
AFTERNOON
13 April 2005
Experts on Countering Terrorism; Human
Rights Defenders; Set of Principles to
Combat Impunity; and Rights of Migrant
Workers Address Commission


The Commission on Human Rights this afternoon heard the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights present her Office's report on the situation of human rights in Colombia. Also addressing the meeting were United Nations human rights officials who spoke on human rights implications in countering terrorism, the situation of human rights defenders worldwide, combating impunity for human rights violators, and the situation of migrant workers. The Commission then continued its general debate on specific groups and individuals.

In presenting her Office's eighth report on the situation of human rights in Colombia, Louise Arbour, the High Commissioner for Human Rights, said some achievements had been made since the previous year in the country, although the implementation process had been less consistent than desired. The persistence of the internal armed conflict had continued to impact civilian life negatively. The human rights situation in Colombia continued to be critical. Her Office had received reports of violations of the rights to life, integrity, liberty and security of person, due process, privacy, movement, residence, opinion and expression. More decisive action must be taken by the national authorities with regard to that situation which threatened the rule of law.

Speaking as a concerned country, Colombia noted the positive aspects in the report which served as clear evidence of the Colombian State's commitments to the promotion and protection of human rights and acted as a powerful incentive to continue working towards that aim. The Government had not ignored the serious problems that Colombia still faced, and felt profound pain and frustration when one of its nationals was the victim of a violation of any kind. Regarding human rights, Colombia did not just offer promises; it had results to show and was committed to continue working so that rights contained in the legal system were effectively guaranteed to the whole of the population.

Luxembourg (on behalf of the European Union), Canada, Norway, and Switzerland made statements on the report of the High Commissioner on Colombia. The following non-governmental organizations also addressed the Commission on this issue: Colombian Commission of Jurists (in a joint statement with International Commission of Jurists and Amnesty International); Franciscans International (in a joint statement with Lutheran World Federation); Commission of the Churches on International Affairs of the World Council of Churches and World Alliance of Reformed Churches; International Federation of Human Rights Leagues; Centre on Housing Rights and Evictions; World Federation of Trade Unions; Human Rights Watch; International League for the Rights and Liberation of peoples; Latin American Federation of Associations of Relatives of Disappeared Detainees; Women's International League for Peace and Freedom; International Work Group for Indigenous Affairs; Netherlands Centre for Indigenous Peoples; and Global Rights.

The delegation of Colombia exercised its right of reply.

Speaking under the Commission's agenda item on the promotion and protection of human rights were three human rights experts. Robert Goldman, Independent Expert on the protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms while countering terrorism, said that he condemned all acts of terrorism. They seriously threatened the exercise of human rights, the functioning of democratic institutions, and the maintenance of international peace and security. While expressing deep solidarity with the victims of terrorism and their families, he said the emergence of global terrorist networks intent on inflicting unprecedented loss of life required enhanced international and regional cooperation to prevent, punish and suppress terrorist violence. Success in that struggle, however, would require the international community both to respond to terrorism's violent consequences, and to uphold the rule of law while combating it.

Hina Jilani, the Special Representative of the Secretary-General on the situation of human rights defenders, noted that a large proportion of violations committed in the last year involved defenders working for the rights of indigenous populations, land rights, minority rights, or those striving to promote democracy and to end impunity. In attempts to silence them, those defenders were killed, tortured, beaten, arbitrarily arrested and detained, threatened, intimidated and harassed. Concerning her mission to Angola, she said while some human rights defenders, including journalists, had indicated improvement in their ability to exercise freedom of expression, others had continued to face obstacles. With regard to Turkey, she said her visit took place at a significant time for Turkey, marked by more vigorous efforts to strengthen democracy.

Speaking as a concerned country, Angola said the Special Representative had been able to witness the country's will to achieve development after 30 years of devastating, fratricidal war, and to see the real situation of human rights defenders in the country. With few exceptions, he added, there had been no serious violations of the rights of human rights defenders since the establishment of peace, and in the few exceptions, the Government had reacted swiftly and adequately to reduce the risk of abuse.

Also speaking as a concerned country, Turkey said it was pleased to note the positive findings in the report, not only on the situation of the human rights defenders, but also on the recent remarkable progress recorded by Turkey in the field of human rights in general. The Government of Turkey regarded the representatives of civil society, including human rights defenders, as important elements and partners in the democratic process, and would maintain the dialogue and cooperation with the Special Representative with this understanding.

The Independent Expert to update the Set of Principles to combat impunity, Diane Orentlicher, said that in the past eight years, there had been remarkable advances: a permanent International Criminal Court had been created and was now fully operational; prosecutions before international criminal tribunals had brought crimes of sexual violence out of the shadows; and States had cooperated to ensure prosecution in national courts of individuals against whom there was substantial evidence of personal responsibility for serious crimes under international law. Where necessary, the Principles had been revised to reflect these developments, she added. The revised Principles themselves recognised the importance of broad public consultations, in which the views of victims and survivors of human rights abuses were sought.

Speaking under the Commission's agenda item on the effective functioning of human rights mechanisms, Prasad Kariyawasam, the Chairperson of the Committee on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of Their Families, said the twenty-first century was becoming a century of immigration. In that context, he reckoned that the Convention on the Human Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of Their Families could become a primary tool for protection of migrant workers. However, the Committee recognized that in order for the Convention to be a meaningful instrument, it needed broad-based adherence encompassing all regions of the world. The reluctance and scepticism in accepting the Convention would weaken the entire system of human rights protection of the United Nations.

After hearing these presentations, the Commission continued its general debate on its agenda item on specific groups and individuals. The following non-governmental organizations made statements: Transnational Radical Party; International Association of Gerontology (in a joint statement with several NGOs1); Becket Fund for Religious Liberty (in a joint statement with World Evangelical Allliance); Human Rights Advocates (in a joint statement with National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers); Lutheran World Federation (in a joint statement with Asian Forum for Human Rights and Development; Habitat International Coalition; Jesuit Refugee Service and International Educational Development); and International Service for Human Rights (in a joint statement with Canadian HIV/AIDS Legal Network and Human Rights Council of Australia).

When the Commission reconvenes at 10 a.m. on Thursday, 14 April, it will take action on a number of resolutions on racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and all forms of discrimination and on the question of the violation of human rights in the occupied Arab territories, including Palestine. It will then continue with its general debate on specific groups and individuals.

Document on Organization of the Work of the Session

Under this agenda item, the Commission has before it the report of the High Commissioner for Human Rights on the situation of human rights in Colombia (E/CN.4/2005/10) which indicates that in 2004, important indicators of violence, such as homicides in general, massacres and kidnappings, continued to decrease at the national level in Colombia compared to 2003. Nevertheless, the figures remained high. The illegal armed groups continued to fail to respect their humanitarian obligations and to ignore the recommendations of the High Commissioner. The report notes that violations continued to be recorded on the rights to life, personal integrity, freedom and security, due process and privacy, as well as of the fundamental freedoms of movement, residence, opinion and expression. No significant progress was observed in the field of economic, social and cultural rights. There was also an increase in reports of extrajudicial executions attributed to members of the security forces and other public officials. High levels of torture and forced disappearances continued. The FARC-EP and the paramilitaries continued to commit serious and numerous breaches such as attacks on the civilian population, hostage-taking, acts of terrorism, and the recruitment of minors, among other things.

The vulnerability of human rights defenders, including trade unionists, women's organizations and other social leaders, continued, due to threats and actions by the illegal armed groups, particularly the paramilitaries. Moreover, the downward trend in the number of newly displaced persons continued. At the same time, however, the total number of IDPs increased. The High Commissioner makes 27 concrete and priority recommendations addressed to the national authorities of the three branches of Government and the monitoring bodies charged with the protection and promotion of human rights, representative sectors of the civil society, the international community, and the illegal armed groups. The recommendations are grouped together under the following six headings: prevention and protection; the internal armed conflict; the rule of law and impunity; economic and social policies; promotion of a culture of human rights; technical cooperation and advisory services of the Office in Colombia.

Presentation of Report on Colombia by the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights

LOUISE ARBOUR, United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, presented the eighth report of the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights on the situation of human rights in Colombia, and said that some achievements had been made since the previous year, although the implementation process had been less consistent than desired. It was to be hoped that more consistent and sustainable results would be achieved in 2005 by early acceptance of and action on the report's recommendations. During 2004, her Office had continued to implement its mandate, as agreed with the Colombian Government, and had strengthened its presence in the country, including through the opening of a third regional office in the city of Bucaramanga. There had also been frequent on-site visits across the country, and interviews had been conducted with civil and military authorities of the State, and with victims and witnesses. The Office had continued to provide advice and technical cooperation to State entities, and to civil society organizations.

The Government's ratification of ILO Convention No. 182 had been a welcomed initiative, said the High Commissioner, as had its ratification of the protocol to the Convention on Transnational Organized Crime to prevent and suppress trafficking in human beings. The Constitutional Court had continued to render important judgments to safeguard the application of international law at the national level, and the anti-terrorist statute had been declared illegal due to procedural errors, which had prevented the implementation of an instrument seen by her Office as incompatible with international norms. However, the persistence of the internal armed conflict had continued to impact civilian life negatively. The illegal armed groups had completely ignored her recommendations, international humanitarian law, and respect for human rights. They had perpetrated acts such as homicides, hostage taking, terrorist acts, forced recruitment of minors, sexual slavery and the use of anti-personnel landmines. The FARC-EP, ELN and the paramilitary wing of the United Self-Defence Forces of Colombia (AUC) had continued to terrorize the civilian population.

Breaches of international humanitarian law by the country's security forces had also been registered, she said, including breaches of the principles of distinction, proportionality, limitation and immunity of the civilian population. There had also been instance of homicides, massacres, forced displacement, sex violations and pillaging. The policy on demobilization of the illegal armed group, and negotiations between the Government and the paramilitary groups of the AUC, had not prevented groups from committing serious breaches of international humanitarian law. The High Commissioner remained deeply convinced of the need for a negotiated solution to the internal armed conflict. That solution must also provide an appropriate legal framework for truth, justice and reparations for victims, one which promoted national reconciliation and sustainable peace. It must be compatible with international norms and principles and must take the cultural, ethnic and gender difference of victims into account. On the issue of judicial benefits for members of illegal armed groups, she said that they should be considered, but should depend on the sincerity of efforts to contribute effectively to justice, including for the clarification of what had occurred and the provision of reparations. There must be adequate measures to dismantle the structure that had allowed those groups to exercise power.

The human rights situation in Colombia continued to be critical, the High Commissioner concluded. Her Office had received reports of violations of the rights to life, integrity, liberty and security of person, due process, privacy, movement, residence, opinion and expression. Increasingly there had been allegations of security forces and other public servants committing extrajudicial executions, torture and cruel and inhuman treatment arbitrary detention and searches, tampering with evidence and witnesses, and threatening human rights defenders, trade unionists, people of African descent and indigenous people, women, and social leaders. Widespread impunity continued to be one of the biggest challenges facing the country, and the Office's monitoring activities had revealed that links between public servants and paramilitary groups continued. More decisive action must be taken by the national authorities in regard of that situation, which threatened the rule of law. And while indicators that showed that levels of violence, including homicides, massacres and kidnapping had declined, those indicators also indicated significant weaknesses and omissions, particularly with regard to the conduct of State agents.

The Government must ensure that its security policy complied with international human rights norms, Mrs. Arbour continued, and there was a need to ensure coherence and consistency in the State policy on human rights. Declarations by authorities questioning human rights defenders' work had a detrimental effect. The rule of law and security policy were both strengthened by active contributions from human rights defenders and their organizations, and the authorities must guarantee their participation in policy promotion.

Statement by Concerned Country

CARLOS FRANCO (Colombia), speaking as a concerned country, said the Government of Colombia was grateful for the High Commissioner's report about the situation of human rights in that country, and expressed the hope that the work of the High Commissioner on this task would be fruitful. It was also hoped that the decisions taken in the Commission would bring about tangible results in the protection of human rights in the world. There were encouraging acknowledgements made in the report and these served as clear evidence of the Colombian State's commitments to the promotion and protection of human rights. They acted as a powerful incentive for Colombia to continue working towards that aim. The concerns expressed in the report were taken note of, and some had been highly prioritized and dealt with. Colombia would analyse, evaluate, prioritize and work together with the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights in Colombia regarding the recommendations in the report, with transparency and in good faith.

Regarding the situation in Colombia, there were two clearly contradictory messages heard about Colombia, the first was entirely positive, and the second indicated that serious violations of human rights were taking place as part of the Government's policies. Great confusion undoubtedly arose from these mixed messages, and the reality was not easy to grasp. In the first place, the Government had not ignored the serious problems that Colombia still faced, and felt profound pain and frustration when even one of its nationals was the victim of a violation of any right. It had a mandate to re-establish security, but it kept the doors open to dialogue with the illegal armed groups with only one condition: cessation of hostilities against the population. The Government was aware that there was a lot of work still to be done, and that there were great challenges to achieve a culture of human rights that would rule daily lives. Words were not enough to express the gratitude of Colombia to institutions and persons from all countries that had been sharing these challenges. Regarding human rights, Colombia did not just offer promises; it had results to show and was committed to continue working so that rights contained in the legal system were effectively guaranteed to the whole of the population.
General Debate on the Report of the High Commissioner on Colombia

JULIEN ALEX (Luxembourg), speaking on behalf of the European Union, said the Union welcomed the report of the High Commissioner for Human Rights on the human rights situation in Colombia. The Union also saluted the Colombian Government's commitment to maintaining a full and constructive dialogue with the Office of the High Commissioner in Colombia. The Union underlined the importance of the United Nations' presence in Colombia and hoped an agreement could be reached as soon as possible between the United Nations and the Government of Colombia to reactivate the good offices of the Secretary-General in seeking a peaceful solution to the current conflict in that country. In the last few weeks, the Union and the Government had held close consultations with the aim of drawing up a Chairperson's statement on the human rights situation in the country. The Union was closely following the Government's efforts to find a peaceful solution to the armed conflict raging in the country and to re-establish democratic values, good governance and respect for the rule of law and human rights throughout its territory. The Union would support the Government in its search for a lasting peace. It called on the Government to engage in direct talks with those illegal armed groups which might be prepared to negotiate and on the groups themselves to participate in such talks.

While welcoming the Colombian authorities' commitment to disarm and demobilize paramilitary groups, the European Union was of the view that the process could not take place without a complete cessation of violence by the groups concerned and the adoption of a suitable legal framework in the context of the mobilization process. Such a legal framework would make it possible to ensure that those responsible for serious violations of human rights and of humanitarian law would not go unpunished and to give full recognition to victims' rights to justice, truth and reparation. The Union also welcomed the involvement of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights in the process of demobilizing paramilitary groups. The Union noted the progress made during the last year in establishing a fully functioning democratic State. It strongly condemned all breaches of international humanitarian law arising from the conflict, irrespective of who was responsible for them. It also condemned the violations perpetrated against persons belonging to vulnerable groups.

PAUL MEYER (Canada) said the Colombian Government had undertaken obligations to promote and protect human rights through the international human rights instruments to which it was a party. The Government had further publicly committed to the implementation of the recommendations of the Office, and some progress had been made in this regard. The Government was urged to take a more systematic approach in 2005 to achieve more measurable results within a reasonable time frame. The Government of Colombia was to be congratulated for fulfilling its commitments under the Ottawa Convention and destroying the last of its stockpiled anti-personnel landmines, which was a significant achievement. However, the situation remained very serious, and it was urged that all Government policies should respect human rights and that security measures should meet Colombia's obligations under international law.

Violations of the physical integrity of the person continued daily and should be confronted. These actions particularly affected human rights defenders, trade unionists, community leaders, civil society groups and others suspected of subversion, and there was concern for the lack of progress in implementing strategies to reduce risks to these groups. The continuing culture of impunity was deplored, and there was grave concern regarding the situation of the large number of internally displaced persons. All illegal armed groups should stop targeting the civilian population through indiscriminate attacks and other means. The Government's goal of reaching, with help from the international community, a peaceful, negotiated solution to the internal conflict. There was a crucial and urgent need for a comprehensive legal framework for the disarmament, demobilization and reintegration of the illegal armed groups. Colombia was encouraged to maintain its efforts to resolve the internal armed conflict.

WEGGER STRØMMEN (Norway) said the report of the High Commissioner provided a useful and comprehensive review of the human rights situation in the country. Good channels of communication had been established between the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights and the Government of Colombia. An active engagement regarding the recommendations contained in the report was essential to improving the national human rights situation, and while the Government of Colombia had shown more interest in 2004 than in earlier years, Government efforts to implement the recommendations had remained sporadic, and had been characterized by delays and lost opportunities. The civilian population continued to bear the brunt of suffering from human rights abuses, and the Government must fortify its efforts to end the humanitarian crisis.

The Government's human rights and international humanitarian law policies were strongly influenced by the "democratic security" policy, he noted, but inconsistencies between policy objectives and end-results for the civilian population remained. The ultimate success of the policy would be measured in relation to how the population in general, and vulnerable groups in particular, were affected. The safety of human rights defenders was of great concern, and the Colombian authorities should ensure that any measures taken to combat terrorist acts were in accordance with international law. The irregular armed groups operating both within and without the law also continued to disregard the High Commissioner's recommendations by engaging in grave violations of international humanitarian law, demonstrating a complete lack of respect for human rights. These groups should immediately and unconditionally release all hostages and kidnapped persons, and should halt the appalling practice of recruiting children for armed combat. A speedy resumption of the political negotiating process was imperative, and human rights and international law must be the basis of that process.

JANINE VOIGT (Switzerland) said the Government of Switzerland continued to be concerned about the critical human rights situation, rule of law and the situation of international humanitarian law in Colombia. In that context, Switzerland would encourage the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights in Colombia and the Government to continue their collaboration. The constant dialogue between the Government and the international community was to be commended. Switzerland reaffirmed the importance of the declaration adopted in the context of the G-24 within the framework of the process of London and the recent conference of Cartage. Moreover, Switzerland encouraged the Government of Colombia and the civil society of Colombia to continue with constructive dialogues, which had started in 2004. The positive role played by the G-24 with the view to new confidence building was also to be praised.

Switzerland took note of the efforts undertaken by the Government of Colombia in its implementation of the recommendations of the High Commissioner for Human Rights and requested it to pursue those efforts in order to achieve results. The destruction of the anti-personnel mines by the Government was a welcomed measure, however, Switzerland condemned the violation of international humanitarian law committed by the various armed groups, particularly the taking of hostages, assassinations and the use of landmines.

ANDRES SANCHEZ THORIN, of Colombian Commission of Jurists, in a joint statement with International Commission of Jurists and Amnesty International, delivering a joint statement, said there was no adequate system of statistics in Colombia covering human rights violations. Some incidents had not been considered as serious violations, such as murders of trade unionists. Thirty trade unionists had been killed so far. It was important to draw inferences from statistics, but only with accompanying information. The human rights situation remained critical, and the violations against civilians by paramilitaries were covered up. There had been reports of increased arbitrary detentions, indiscriminate bombings, use of minors and of schools by the army, as well as other human rights violations. These needed to be addressed and it was important to have absolute demobilization, and no amnesties for paramilitaries. Failure to observe human rights was an ongoing practice of the Government, which should honour its commitments to ensure that this gigantic operation of impunity that was underway did not come to fruition.
ALESSANDRA AULA, of Franciscans International, in a joint statement with Lutheran World Federation; Commission of the Churches on International Affairs of the World Council of Churches and World Alliance of Reformed Churches, delivering a joint statement, expressed profound indignation over the systematic persecution by armed groups of communities which were crying out for neutrality. The construction of a global peace strategy in Colombia required the effective dismantling of paramilitary structures, yet an expansion of the paramilitary structures was being experienced. This reflected the lack of rule of law in the country, and the introduction of a social and political model based on fear. The Government remained in a precarious position with regard to combating paramilitarism. There had been impunity for crimes committed for more than a decade. The role of the international community must not exacerbate the conflict, nor must it promote a militaristic solution. The growing United States participation in the armed conflict, reflected in the presence of United States troops and private military contractors, was of concern. Colombia was presently the second largest recipient of military aid from the United States. Moreover, the Government's social and economic policies did not lead to decreases in the inequality gap, confronting extreme poverty, decreasing illiteracy and unemployment, or increasing access to healthcare and housing. The conflict had produced one of the world's worst internal displacement crises, with over three million displaced persons.

SORAYA GUTIERRES, of International Federation of Human Rights Leagues, said Colombia was living in a climate of social and armed conflicts that had gravely escalated with systematic violations of human rights and which had resulted in a humanitarian crisis that had affected countless civilians. As of 2002, 33 human rights defenders had been assassinated and others had been persecuted. About 6,500 arbitrary detentions had been made and approximately 688 trade union activists had been attacked. The systematic practice of torture and enforced disappearances of persons had increased. The policy of the "democratic security" of the Government had undermined the armed conflict by focusing on acts of terrorism. The implementation of international humanitarian law standards had not been respected. The Government should continue to demobilize the paramilitary groups and return confiscated lands. It should also provide compensation to victims of human rights violations.

MEGHNA ABRAHAM, of Centre on Housing Rights and Evictions, said there was grave concern about the increasing number of internally displaced persons in Colombia, and the housing rights and other violations that characterized this displacement process. At least one in every 40 Colombians had been forcibly displaced, with the majority being women and children, who were particularly vulnerable to discrimination and violence once they were displaced. Afro-Colombian and indigenous peoples were also disproportionately represented among the internally displaced persons population. Despite the introduction of progressive legislation and domestic policies regarding internally displaced persons, the Government had failed to comply with its international obligations to prevent forced evictions and the displacement of people and to provide protection and assurance to its internally displaced populations. Respect for human rights should be at the centre of any effort to resolve the current armed conflict.

AIDA AVELLA, of World Federation of Trade Unions, said the situation of workers in Colombia remained extremely serious. Human rights violations and impunity had increased in the past year, contrary to Government statistics. There had been an increase in murders by three per cent, in forced disappearances by 16 per cent, and in arbitrary detention by 57 per cent. Moreover, threats against trade unionists had increased by more than 50 per cent and there had been increased criminalization of trade union activity. There was no limit on violations of trade unionists' rights in Colombia, she said, and social and human rights leaders and trade union activists had been investigated to put an end to their activities. Crimes against humanity could not continue to go unpunished in Colombia, and the Commission must act to protect the brave trade union movement in Colombia.

EMMANUELLE VERNER, of Human Rights Watch, said Colombia's forty-year internal armed conflict continued to be accompanied by widespread violations of human rights and international humanitarian law. Both guerrillas and right-wing paramilitary groups committed serious violations, including massacres, targeted assassinations and kidnapping. As a result of the conflict, Colombia had one of the largest populations of internally displaced persons in the world. It also had one of the world's highest numbers of child combatants, with over 11,000 children belonging to guerrilla and paramilitary groups. Human rights defenders, journalists, academics, indigenous leaders and labour union leaders were frequently targeted for their work. Units of the armed forces had historically maintained close ties to military groups, and had been implicated in the Commission of atrocities in collusion with such groups. However, the Government had yet to take credible action to break those ties.

VERENA GRAF, of International League for the Rights and Liberation of peoples, said the massacre perpetrated in which eight persons were murdered with brutality had included four minors and an 18-month old baby. It had been an act of terror which shook the world. Units of the national army were alleged to be the perpetrators of this massacre, despite demands and recommendations and resolutions for protection of the members of the community. Enforced disappearances, arbitrary detentions, pillage of collective or family property necessary for subsistence, acts of terror, acts of torture, blackmail, military seizures, collective disappearances, illegal sponsorships, economic or food blockades, burning of houses, illegal searches and others had all been committed by members of the national army.

CECILIA TOLEDO, of Latin American Federation of Associations of Relatives of Disappeared Detainees, said human rights organizations had noted that more than 6,000 people had been murdered or had disappeared on the fringes of the combat between 2002 and 2004. The civilian population had to flee to urban areas to escape the violence, which had impacted social organization and life in the country. Governmental organizations showed no shame about destroying the fabric of social life. The number of enforced disappearances had not declined, but instead the persecution of trade unionists had been stepped up. The Commission should increase pressure on the Government to end this situation.

ANA VERA, of Women's International League for Peace and Freedom, said women in Colombia had been converted into military objects, dominated by the armed groups. They had been reduced to simple objects and their human rights had been seriously violated. The Special Rapporteur on violence against women had asserted that this was situation in 2002 and the High Commissioner for Human Rights had also affirmed this in 2005. Sexual violence committed against women constituted a form of violation to the right of life, to the integrity, dignity and liberty of women. The paramilitaries and armed groups used women as objects and they sexually abused them. Women's rights to freedom of movement had been restricted because of the armed activities. About three million Colombians had been internally displaced, of which 76 per cent were women and children. The current efforts of dialogue between the Government and the armed groups should not ignore that those responsible for serious human rights violations had been living their lives in impunity.

LUIS EVELYS ANDRADE, of International Work Group for Indigenous Affairs, said the ancestral rights of the indigenous peoples of Colombia had often been rejected. No one should be deprived of his or her existence. Despite efforts made by the Government, which took the form of the adoption of interim measures insisted on by the international courts and of pressure by the indigenous community, this problem persisted. The Government and the armed groups had been urged to meet the provisions of international humanitarian law, but the situation had not improved. There was a tendency to increased violence and displacement, which implied a loss of ancestral lands. Most murders involved paramilitary groups and the list of murders, forced disappearances, restriction on freedom of movement and access to education that prevailed in many communities testified to this. In this situation, the High Commissioner should urge the Government to comply with the recommendations of the United Nations and follow up the peace process and address the situation facing indigenous communities.

LEONOR ZALALOCITA TORRES, of Netherlands Centre for Indigenous Peoples, said that four indigenous peoples lived in the region of the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta of Colombia. They had been seriously affected by the cultivation of illicit crops in the region, and by the actions of illegal armed groups, including murders, forced disappearances, killing of indigenous leaders, and limitations on freedom of movement. These violations affected the peoples' enjoyment of basic rights such as the right to life and health. The presence of security forces to combat illegal armed groups had led to constant clashes in the area, which also endangered the situation of the indigenous people, and the natural resources upon which they depended. The presence of these armed parties, and the permanent armed conflict, meant that the community was being pressured to serve as informers for both parties, and there had been forced recruitment of minors and sexual exploitation of women.

EMILIANA BERNARD, of Global Rights, called the attention of the international community to the fate of Colombians of African descent who had been the subject of serious human rights violations. They were subjected to displacement, abduction and sexual exploitation. That group of Colombian citizens had been discriminated and marginalized in all aspects. The armed conflict had seriously affected their lives and the paramilitary and armed guerrillas were mainly responsible for the intensive violations of the human rights of that group. Colombians of African descent, who amounted to 12 million in the population, did not enjoy equal rights as others in Colombia. A policy should be designed to allow the equal participation of the black community in the affairs of the State.

Right of Reply

CARLOS FRANCO (Colombia), speaking in exercise of the right of reply, said the comments on the report had been very interesting, and the appeal sent to the various paramilitary groups to release all hostages was underscored. Even though the Government had felt the effects of the widespread violence on the human rights situation, it did not want to shirk its responsibilities on these rights by disclaiming these. The Government was prepared to have direct meetings with the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, as the High Commissioner had pointed out, and also with the representatives of FARC. It was preparing to initiate and pursue a peace process. The discussions in the country had been transparent and autonomous. The path that had been opened up was a good one and the best possible one in the context of democracy. The priority of the Government as a national objective was to dismantle the groups, and this was seen as a collective objective that would benefit the whole country. The Government was firmly committed to addressing the question of what happened in San Jose, and the Office of the Prosecutor was called on to visit the area.

Documents on the Promotion and Protection of Human Rights

Under its agenda item on the promotion and protection of human rights, the Commission has before it several documents for its consideration.

There is also the report of the Independent Expert on the protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms while countering terrorism, Robert Goldman, (E/CN.4/2005/103). The report addresses how to strengthen the United Nations human rights mechanisms in protecting human rights and fundamental freedoms while countering terrorism. It acknowledges that significant steps have already been taken by the United Nations human rights system to address the protection and promotion of human rights in the struggle against terrorism. Nevertheless, the Independent Expert concludes that, given the gaps in coverage of the monitoring systems of the special procedures and treaty bodies and the pressing need to strengthen human rights protections while countering terrorism, the Commission should consider the creation of a special procedure with a multi-dimensional mandate to monitor States' counter-terrorism measures and their compatibility with international human rights law.

There is the report of the Special Representative of the Secretary-General on the situation of human rights defenders, Hina Jilani, (E/CN.4/2005/101), which describes the Special Representative's activities during the course of 2004. As summarized in this section, these activities included raising individual cases of concern with Governments, country visits to Angola and Turkey, as well as a follow-up visit to Colombia, and collaboration with United Nations bodies, regional intergovernmental institutions and with non-governmental organizations. It analyses trends and patterns in the cases of concern taken up by the Special Representative with States over the year. In 2004, 316 communications were sent to Governments concerning reported violations against 895 human rights defenders and 165 non-governmental organizations (NGOs), in connection with their human rights work. It also analyses the situation of human rights defenders in the 13 countries concerning which she has sent the highest number of communications during 2004. Moreover, the report examines the situation and role of human rights defenders in the context of international peace and security. The Special Representative argues that, by exercising their right to promote and strive for the protection and realization of human rights, human rights defenders play an important role in the promotion of peace and security.

The first addendum to the report (Add.1) provides summaries of the communications on specific cases addressed by the Special Representative to Governments, as well as summaries of the replies by Governments that she has received and her observations thereon. In all, the report contains the information coming from 69 Governments.

The second addendum to the report (Add.2) provides information on the mission of the Special Representative to Angola in August 2004. The report describes the legal and institutional environment in which human rights defenders work in Angola. She emphasizes that applicable laws in the field of freedom of expression, information and association continue to demonstrate numerous weaknesses which adversely affect human rights defenders. The Special Representative also examines the capacity of human rights defenders in Angola. She notes that despite the presence of many NGOs in the country, the defenders' capacity to raise human rights issues remains weak, particularly outside of Luanda. She points out the need for additional training and increased cooperation between existing organizations. In the report she welcomes the relative improvement of the situation of defenders since the end of the war. She regrets, however, that State authorities continue to consider human rights defenders with hostility and to assimilate their action with political opposition. Defenders continue to face serious obstacles to the creation, registration and operation of NGOs and their limited access to justice adversely affects their work, the report notes.

The third addendum to the report (Add.3) concerns the mission of the Special Representative to Turkey in October 2004. Within the report, the Special Representative welcomes the extensive reform process undertaken by the Government, especially in the field of freedom of expression, assembly and association. She underlines the need to deepen this process and extend it to laws regulating foundations and trade unions. She also welcomes the significant improvement in their situation but notes that despite changes in the legal environment, defenders continue to face obstacles to their work, in particular in the area of publicizing human rights concerns, forming NGOs and in accessing information and funding. The Special Representative expresses her concern about the number of prosecutions and heavy fines that human rights defenders face and about the mindset of some Turkish authorities, many of whom continue to perceive defenders as adversaries. The report concludes by welcoming the improvement in the situation of human rights defenders in the past four years and notes that the reform process has a strong potential to change the situation of human rights defenders and perceptions about human rights organizations within the country. The report ends with a series of recommendations to ensure the implementation of the reform at the local level and thereby address remaining obstacles to the activities of human rights defenders.

There is the report of the Independent Expert appointed by the Secretary-General to update the Set of Principles for the protection and the promotion of human rights through action to combat impunity, Diane Orentlicher, (E/CN.4/2005/102). It notes that relevant in international law have on the whole strongly affirmed the Principles while providing further clarification of the scope of States' established legal obligations. While some revisions reflect developments in substantive international law, some reflect major institutional developments since the Principles were proposed, such as the emergence of a new breed of court comprising both national and international elements. In larger perspective, the developments underlying revisions to the Principles represent remarkable advances in national and international efforts to combat impunity, the report notes.

The first addendum to the report (Add.1) contains the updated Set of Principles for the protection and promotion of human rights through action to combat impunity. In all, it contains 38 principles.

Presentation by the Independent Expert on the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms while Countering Terrorism

ROBERT GOLDMAN, Independent Expert on the protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms while countering terrorism, said he condemned all acts of terrorism. They seriously threatened the exercise of human rights, the functioning of democratic institutions, and the maintenance of international peace and security. He also expressed deep solidarity with the victims of terrorism and their families. The emergence of global terrorist networks intent on inflicting unprecedented loss of life required enhanced international and regional cooperation to prevent, punish and suppress terrorist violence. Success in that struggle, however, would require the international community both to respond to terrorism's violent consequences, and to uphold the rule of law while combating it.

Mr. Goldman said his report noted that the struggle against terrorism and the protection of human rights were not antithetical but complementary responsibilities of States, he said. International human rights law struck a realistic balance between the requirements of national security and the protection of fundamental rights and freedoms. However, States might conceive of the struggle against terrorism, when that struggle triggered or amounted to armed conflict, international humanitarian law became applicable to and governed the conduct of hostilities. Although humanitarian law proscribed terrorism, the fact that terrorist acts were committed during an armed conflict did not alter the legal status of the hostilities, of the parties involved, or of the duty of those parties to observe humanitarian law. No person, however classified, could legally be placed beyond the protection of international humanitarian law in any armed conflict. Humanitarian law, if observed and properly applied, took adequate account of issues of terrorism during all armed conflicts.

International human rights law did not cease to apply during situations of armed conflict and occupation, he added, but applied cumulatively with international humanitarian law. The two bodies of law constituted a complementary and mutually reinforcing regime of protections that should be interpreted and applied as a whole. Even when an armed conflict constituted a genuine emergency, a State could never legally suspend non-derogable rights, including the right to life, the prohibition against torture and cruel, inhuman or degrading punishment or treatment, and the prohibition of abductions and unacknowledged detentions. Before and after 11 September 2001, many States had sanctioned counter-terrorism measures and practices inconsistent with internationally recognized human rights.

Other issues of concern included indefinite, prolonged or incommunicado detention of terrorist suspects, he continued, unacknowledged or secret detention, and detention of children in connection with anti-terrorist measures. Guaranteeing terrorist suspects a fair trial remained critical to ensuring that anti-terrorism measures respected the rule of law. The structure of processes used by certain military tribunals was inconsistent with internationally-recognized fair trial standards. Various States had used measures that served to undermine the prohibition of torture and cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment, and there had been instances of "rendition" – the transfer of foreign terrorist suspects by certain States to other countries, in disregard of the principle of non-refoulement. Other problematic issues included the erroneous placement of persons and groups on terrorist lists, unreasonable intrusion on the right to privacy, and racial profiling.

Presentation by the Special Representative of the Secretary-General on the Situation of Human Rights Defenders

HINA JILANI, Special Representative of the Secretary-General on the situation of human rights defenders, noted a disturbing lack of tolerance by States for activities of defenders on a range of issues. A large proportion of violations committed in the last year involved defenders working for the rights of indigenous populations, land rights, minority rights, or those striving to promote democracy and to end impunity. In attempts to silence them, those defenders were killed, tortured, beaten, arbitrarily arrested and detained, threatened, intimidated and harassed. She had received reports of 47 human rights defenders who were killed in 2004, a majority of them working on labour rights and on environment and land issues. She also drew attention to the increased targeting of journalists reporting on human rights concerns and the continuing trend of attacks on humanitarian personnel in conflict regions.

In 2004, Ms. Jilani said she focused her efforts on Africa. She conducted an official visit to Angola. While some human rights defenders, including journalists, indicated improvement in their ability to exercise freedom of expression, others continued to face obstacles and were, sometimes, obliged to exercise a level of self-censorship to protect themselves from adverse actions by the authorities. Legislation with regard to freedom of expression, information and association was weak and deprived of essential support in the conduct of their human rights activities. Institutional weaknesses such as a lack of the physical presence and capacity of the judiciary were obstacles that could impede defenders access to justice.

With regard to Turkey, she said her visit took place at a significant time for Turkey, marked by more vigorous efforts to strengthen democracy. She appreciated the creation of national mechanisms to address human rights issues. However, she emphasized that the potential that those processes created could only be fully realized if the enabling environment was allowed to develop more fully and if efforts in that direction were not weakened by the pockets of resistance existing within the State, especially at the provincial and local level, where a change in attitudes should accompany the reforms in order to bring about the practical result of the reform process. In practice, defenders continued to encounter difficulties in areas such as publicizing human rights concerns through public statements, reports or demonstrations. Defenders were also reported to be facing massive numbers of prosecutions and investigations because of their human rights activities. Such prosecutions had been filed against lawyers, physicians, journalists, trade unionists and civil servants. While most of those proceedings had resulted in acquittal, it was a form of intimidation that had brought defenders under stress and diverted time and resources away from their human rights work.

Statements by Concerned Countries

JOAQUIM BELO MANGUEIRA (Angola), speaking as a concerned country, said that the Government had promised to submit final comments on the report of the Special Representative in due time. The Special Representative had been able to witness the country's will to achieve development after 30 years of devastating, fratricidal war, and to see the real situation of human rights defenders in the country. The Government wished to develop democratic and transparent governance with protection of human rights. The Special Representative had made encouraging statements, and had noted positive trends in human rights. Most international human rights institutions had also recognized that positive development. With few exceptions, there had been no serious violations of the rights of human rights defenders since the establishment of peace, and in the few exceptions, the Government had reacted swiftly and adequately to reduce the risk of abuse.

Aware of the gap between principle and practice, the Government had proposed that a national human rights ombudsman be elected by the Parliament, he said, and had undertaken to establish a national human rights institution. That process would take on a new scale with the forthcoming elections in 2006. The Constitution was being revised in the run up to the election and would update human rights legislation, including those which covered freedoms of the press, opinion and expression.

Some points in the report did not correspond to reality, he noted. There was no conflict between human rights defenders and the Government, no hostility towards human rights defenders, nor any tension between the Government and the defenders. The country had seen progress in respect for human rights, and civil society was actively involved in social and political life. The press published all kinds of articles and the freedoms of opinion, expression and the press had been ensured. Since peace arrived in 2002, the Government had worked for democracy, and was the country's greatest human rights defender. Progress had been made with regard to women's rights, the rights of the child and economic, social and cultural rights. Despite continued flaws, there had been positive developments. While the Government did share some concerns with the Special Representative, it could not accept interference in the country's internal affairs. However, he reaffirmed Angola's intention to cooperate with the United Nations to arrive at a real understanding of human rights in the country.

TURKEKUL KURTTEKIN (Turkey) said Turkey was among the relatively limited number of United Nations Member States which had extended a standing invitation for special procedures of the Commission to visit the country. The Special Representative had enjoyed full cooperation by the authorities during her mission. She had been given the opportunity to establish a wide range of contacts, and these had made it possible for her to conduct her mission in an effective manner. Turkey was pleased to note the positive findings in the report, not only on the situation of the human rights defenders, but also on the recent remarkable progress recorded by Turkey in the field of human rights in general. The assessment of the Special Representative that the number, scope and pace of reforms had made it difficult to monitor all developments was an accurate evaluation. Of particular satisfaction was the stress by the Special Representative that she was encouraged by the genuine efforts of the Government to move forward with reforms in the field of human rights.

Some of the observations, criticisms and recommendations in the report should be seen in light of the fact that the new Law on Associations had not been enacted at the time of the visit, and this law had already addressed a number of the shortcomings referred to in the report. Some of the recommendations had thus already been addressed and the remaining observations, conclusions and recommendations would be examined with a view to benefiting from them. Regarding one particular issue mentioned in the report, it should be noted that the PKK [Kurdistan Workers' Party] was among the terrorist organizations listed by the European Union and the United States. The Government regarded the representatives of civil society, including human rights defenders, as important elements and partners in the democratic process, and would maintain the dialogue and cooperation with the Special Representative with this understanding.

Presentation by the Independent Expert to Update the Set of Principles to Combat Impunity

DIANE ORENTLICHER, Independent Expert to update the Set of Principles to combat impunity, said that starting with relevant developments in international law since 1997, these had on the one hand been quite profound, and yet on the other hand had strongly affirmed the Principles as a whole. In the past eight years, there had been remarkable advances: a permanent International Criminal Court had been created and was now fully operational; a fundamentally new breed of court, which embodied a new partnership between the international community and local communities had come into being in Sierra Leone, East Timor, Kosovo and Bosnia and Herzegovina; prosecutions before international criminal tribunals had brought crimes of sexual violence out of the shadows; and States had cooperated to ensure prosecution in national courts of individuals against whom there was substantial evidence of personal responsibility for serious crimes under international law.

Where necessary, the Principles had been revised to reflect these developments. Similarly, they had been updated to reaffirm the importance of ensuring compliance with obligations that States could have assumed under applicable treaties to cooperate with international or hybrid courts. In updating the Principles, the implicit premise underlying the mandate had been followed: that guidelines which were not of themselves legally binding should nonetheless reflect and be consistent with relevant standards of international law. This was done to reflect recent developments in practice as well as in law, taking particular account of best practices of States in combating impunity.

The revised Principles themselves recognised the importance of broad public consultations, in which the views of victims and survivors especially were sought, in respect of decisions to establish, design and implement specific measures for combating impunity, such as the establishment of truth commissions. Also, categorical language had been avoided in respect of questions whose resolution was appropriately left to national deliberations while seeking to distil generally helpful insights from States' recent experiences with truth commissions and other measures for combating impunity. The Principles themselves had a profound influence in shaping major advances in international law and practice.

Presentation by the Chairperson of the Committee on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of Their Families

PRASAD KARIYAWASAM, Chairperson of the Committee on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of Their Families, said the Committee recognized that in the face of the relentless globalization, the twenty-first century was becoming a century of immigration. In that context, it reckoned that the Convention on the Human Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of Their Families could become a primary tool for the protection of migrant workers. However, the Committee recognized that in order for the Convention to be a meaningful instrument, it needed broad based adherence encompassing all regions of the world. The Convention had so far only attracted 28 States parties, which made it the least ratified Convention of the seven core United Nations human rights treaties. There seemed to be a certain reticence among authorities of some States about ratifying the Convention on Migrant Workers. It appeared that xenophobic tendencies and discriminatory practices still created barriers on adherence to that Convention. The reluctance and scepticism in accepting the Convention would weaken the entire system of human rights protection of the United Nations.

The Chairperson called on the States parties to the Convention to submit their initial reports under the Convention without delay. The Committee would hold a meeting with States parties at its upcoming session at end of April in order to discuss the modalities of reporting with a view to establishing an effective reporting system.

Continuation of General Debate on Specific Groups and Individuals

UMAR KHANBIEV, of Transnational Radical Party, said that after six years of war, the situation in Chechnya was disastrous. There had been an alarming rise in the number of refugees and internally displaced persons. Acts committed against the civilian population had forced hundreds of thousands to flee their homes and abandon their livelihoods. Current figures put the number of refugees at 200,000 to 250,000. The situation was also gravely threatened by the absence of prospects for a political solution to the conflict, and by the spreading of violence in the region. The killing of the legally-elected Chechen President by Russian special forces in March 2005 could further aggravate the situation, worsening conditions for vulnerable groups and individuals in the region. The current Chechen leader continued to advocate the line of searching for a peaceful solution to the conflict by opening negotiations to bring the war to an end and solving the mounting problem of the refugees. The Commission should take note of the human rights situation of the Chechen people, and should appeal to the High Commissioner for Human Rights to take urgent measures to redress the situation.

ASTRID STUCKELBERGER, of International Association of Gerontology, in a joint statement with several NGOs1, in joint statement with 15 non-governmental organizations, said the Commission should recognize and mainstream older persons in its agenda and should adopt a declaration on the rights of older persons. Older persons were no longer a minority; thanks to the success of human development and longevity, they were becoming a majority. Despite those facts and the progress in some United Nations documents, ageing was still absent on the agenda and priorities of the United Nations and the Commission. Older persons were not only unrecognised but also more and more excluded from their active role in society. In all issues, the right to development should carefully take into account old age and the generation-specificities of development over the life span and until the end of life. What was missing was the recognition that older persons had rights.

PENG VOONG, of Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, in a joint statement with World Evangelical Allliance, in a joint statement, said there was concern about the proposed anti-conversion law in Sri Lanka which unfairly targeted the country's small Christian minority. This minority had been the subject of over 160 incidents of violence and intimidation over the last two years. The Government of Sri Lanka defended its law by saying that it was needed to protect religious freedom, but laws protecting religious freedom should protect religious minorities, not discriminate against minority groups in favour of majority religions. Rather than the Government of Sri Lanka building on the sentiment of mass unity resulting from the tsunami, it was about to pass a law that would usher in more religious strife. The proposed law would endanger religious minorities in Sri Lanka and fuel religious intolerance. The Government should withdraw this legislation, and the Commission should protect the rights of religious minorities to freely practice their beliefs by providing assistance to others without the threat of criminal penalties.

ANA GEGAJ, of Human Rights Advocates, in a joint statement with National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, delivering a joint statement, said that undocumented migrants were subjected to human rights violations as they crossed borders, and when they began work in receiving countries. Many States' immigration policies criminalized migrants in an attempt to stop the flow of undocumented migrants. Yet the flow had not stopped. Policies that criminalized migrants caused human rights violations; their right to life was being violated as they died in ever more dangerous attempts to cross borders. The immigration policies of many nations also subjected migrants to arbitrary detention. Once in a receiving country, undocumented workers accepted lower wages and slave-like working conditions rather than reporting abuses because they feared deportation. Ensuring migrant workers the right to organize could solve the problem of workplace abuse, but both the United States and Spain had blocked the right of undocumented workers to organize. The Commission should call on all countries to assess and reduce the ways in which their immigration policies increased border deaths and arbitrary detention, and affirm the right to organize without distinction as to immigration status. The Special Rapporteur's mandate should also be renewed.

MICHELLE TONISSEN, of Lutheran World Federation, in a joint statement with Asian Forum for Human Rights and Development; Habitat International Coalition; Jesuit Refugee Service and International Educational Development, in joint statement, said Bhutan had repeatedly refused to allow the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees to exercise its proper role in the negotiation, verification and repatriation process of refugees, effectively blocking progress towards a just and durable solution for the refugees. With the increasing instability in Nepal, making their situation even more precarious, the refugees had been left between a rock and a hard place. And now, even the material support that the refugees had received during their long exile was apparently under threat. In October 2003, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees had announced its intention to gradually withdraw from the camps in view of the lack of progress in negotiations with Bhutan. The refugees had indeed noticed reductions in the material support being provided to them.

CHRIS SIDOTI, of International Service for Human Rights, in a joint statement with Canadian HIV/AIDS Legal Network and Human Rights Council of Australia, said human rights were intended for all human beings, but lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and inter-sex persons did not usually enjoy these fundamental freedoms. No State considered it acceptable that persons were subjected to discrimination on the basis of their sexuality, and that they were denied access to healthcare and housing. Persecution, as well, understood under international law on the basis of sexual identity, should be condemned by the Commission, and it should be dealt with under international law. It only required the initiatives of a few States to begin discussions on the commonalities regarding this issue. For example, South Africa, Uruguay, Brazil, and Canada, had all spoken out and/or implemented legislation for the protection of the rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and inter-sex persons. A statement of principles to address persecution based on gender and sexual identity could be a good way forward. A resolution should be prepared for the Commission in 2006 so that it could address this issue that it had ignored for far too long.

* *** *


1Joint statement on behalf of: International Association of Gerontology; Society for the Psychological Study of Social Issues; Pan Pacific and South East Asia Women's Association; Worldwide Organization for Women; World Movement of Mothers; International Association for Counselling; International Council of Jewish Women; Brahma Kumaris World Spiritual University; Women's World Summit Foundation; Institute for Planetary Synthesis and International Federation of University Women; International Inner Wheel; International Council of Nurses; World Union of Catholic Women's Organizations; Interreligious and International Federation for World Peace and International Council of Women.

For use of information only; not an official record