Press Release

Commission on Human Rights
56th session
13 April 2000

    The Commission on Human Rights began debate tonight under its agenda item on "indigenous issues", hearing a series of countries describe national steps to better secure the rights of indigenous populations and comment on the progress of the International Decade for the World's Indigenous People and on long-running efforts to draft a declaration on indigenous rights and to establish a forum for indigenous peoples within the United Nations system.

    That discussion followed completion of debate on "specific groups and individuals", defined as migrant workers, minorities, persons caught up in mass exoduses, displaced persons, and "other vulnerable groups and individuals". Nearly 50 non-governmental organizations had something to say on the subject. Violations of the human rights of minorities and migrant workers were alleged in numerous countries, and such abuses were repeatedly cited as the cause of conflicts and as evidence of racism and intolerance.

    The slow pace of United Nations efforts related to indigenous matters drew remark from Denmark, speaking on behalf of the Nordic countries, which said the drafting of a declaration on the rights of indigenous peoples had been under way for too many years.

    Similarly, Malaysia expressed concern that the process of establishment of a permanent forum for indigenous peoples within the United Nations system seemed as if it might be bogged down and stalled for years.

    Ukraine contended that a declaration should provide for the comprehensive protection and promotion of the rights of indigenous peoples but should also include provisions which would strictly prohibit any actions designed to dismember or impair the territorial integrity or political unity and stability of sovereign States.

    Speaking at the night session, which concluded just before midnight, were representatives of the World Bank, Panama (on behalf of the Central American Group), Malaysia, Estonia, New Zealand, Denmark, Ukraine, South Africa, Switzerland, and the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO).

    The following non-governmental organizations provided statements: International Confederation of Free Trade Unions; Caritas Internationalis; Human Rights Watch; Caucasians United for Reparation and Emancipation; International Movement for Fraternal Union among Races and Peoples; International Save the Children Alliance; Minority Rights Group; Franciscans International; World Evangelical Fellowship; Interfaith International; South Asia Human Rights Documentation Centre; Human Rights Advocates; North-South XXI; Federal Union of European Nationalities; Movement against Racism and for Friendship among Peoples; International Human Rights Law Group; Pax Romana; World Federation for Mental Health; France Libertes; World Blind Union; Catholic Institute for International Relations; Federation of Associations for the Defense and Promotion of Human Rights; Third World Movement against the Exploitation of Women; International Educational Development; International Federation of Free Journalists; Indian Council of Education; Pax Christi International; Inclusion International; Afro-Asian People's Solidarity Organization; Netherlands Organization for International Development Cooperation; Association de Defense des Tunisiens a l'Etranger; Asian Women's Human Rights Council; World Muslim Congress; Muslim World League; Himalayan Research and Cultural Foundation; World Federation of Democratic Youth; Latin American Federation of Associations of Disappeared Detainees; International Peace Bureau; Worldview International; Asian Buddhist Conference for Peace; World Society of Victimology; and Association of World Citizens.

    Iran, Azerbaijan, and Iraq spoke in exercise of the right of reply.

    The Commission will reconvene at 10 a.m. Friday, 14 April.

    Indigenous issues

    Under this agenda item, the Commission has before it a report of the Working Group on indigenous issues (E/CN.4/2000/84). The report contains a summarized account of the group's general debate on the elaboration of a draft UN declaration on the rights of indigenous peoples. Statements made by indigenous representatives emphasized the need for the right to self-determination to be applied equally to all and on the basis of non-discrimination. The general feeling among indigenous delegations was that domestic legislation should not be an obstacle to the recognition to self-determination. Indigenous representatives also invoked international human rights instruments which contained the right to self-determination. Government representatives' concern that the right to self-determination could result in secession was responded to by some indigenous delegations who offered assurances that they did not want to secede. Question of land rights and natural resources were also addressed by the Working Group. There was considerable divergence in points of view on these topics, particularly because the notion of land was not the same for indigenous communities and the societies around them.

    There is a report of the High Commissioner for Human Rights on implementation of the programme of activities for the International Decade of the World’s Indigenous People (E/CN.4/2000/85), which reviews activities of the Indigenous Fellowship Programme; the Voluntary Fund for the International Decade and the Voluntary Fund for Indigenous Populations; including lists of contributions; notes that the fifth session of the working group of the Commission on a draft United Nations declaration on the rights of indigenous peoples was held in Geneva from 18 to 20 October 1999; and summarizes information received from Governments on steps taken in observation of the International Decade, in this case from Canada, New Zealand, and the Russian Federation.

    There is a report of the open-ended inter-sessional ad hoc working group on a permanent forum for indigenous peoples (E/CN.4/2000/86) on its session from 14-23 February 2000 in Geneva, which describes the general debate of the session and lists proposals for the possible establishment of such a forum, including ideas on the mandate and terms of reference for activities to be undertaken by a forum; membership/ participation; financial and secretariat implications; the United Nations body to which the proposed forum would report; location and name of the forum; and elements of a permanent forum. There is also a chapter on participation of indigenous people in the work of the United Nations system, including the role and function of the Working Group on Indigenous Populations.


    PETER F. WILLE, Chairperson-Rapporteur of the Working Group on a permanent forum for indigenous peoples, introducing the report of the group (E/CN. 4/2000/86), said that a total of 315 persons had attended the session, including representatives of 47 Governments, three specialized agencies and 59 indigenous and non-governmental organizations. The mandate of the working group was to submit one or more concrete proposals for the establishment of a permanent forum for consideration by the Commission.

    There was broad support to recommend that a forum for indigenous peoples be established. There were, however, differing views on the question of the name of the forum. Indigenous participants proposed that the name of the forum be "Permanent Forum for Indigenous Peoples". Some Governments agreed with this proposal while others preferred the term "Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues". The establishment of a forum would provide a welcome opportunity for Governments and indigenous peoples to work together. The establishment of the forum would fulfil one of the goals of the International Decade of the World's Indigenous People.

    LUIS-ENRIQUE CHAVEZ, Chairperson-Rapporteur of the Working Group on a draft declaration on indigenous rights, introducing his report contained in document E/CN.4/2000/84, said that much progress had been made in the Working Groups compared with previous years. A higher quality of ideas and dialogue had been heard in the debate. The experience of the Working Group this year would lay the foundation for future work. During past sessions of the group, some of the articles relating to the draft declaration had been thoroughly discussed.

    In the future, with the full and active participation of those concerned, real work would be done beyond the preliminary efforts of the past. It was essential that Governments, indigenous peoples and non-governmental organizations take part in the work of the group and contribute to its timely completion and success. States were particularly encouraged to participate in sessions of the Working Group. States were also urged to continue their contribution to the Voluntary Fund for Indigenous Populations.

    VICTORIA TAULI-CORPUZ, Chairperson of the Board of Trustees of the United Nations Voluntary Fund for Indigenous Populations, said the Fund was established in 1985 to provide financial assistance to representatives of indigenous organizations and communities to enable them to participate in the deliberations of the Working Group on Indigenous Populations of the Subcommission on the Promotion and Protection of Human Rights.

    Thanks to the donors, this Fund had been able to meet the increasing demands of indigenous communities and organizations to be heard and to contribute to discussions on their rights in these fora. This created a healthy environment for dialogue between Governments and indigenous peoples and was a step towards achieving justice, peace and development for peoples who had long been oppressed and marginalized. The Voluntary Fund had no doubt contributed to the present situation where there was the possibility of a permanent forum on indigenous issues. With the contributions received, the envisaged expenditure for 2000 had been covered. An amount of US$ 600,000 would be needed to cover foreseen expenditures for the year 2001.

    MICHAEL DODSON, Chairperson, Advisory Group, United Nations Voluntary Fund for the International Decade of the World's Indigenous People, said a detailed account of the Fund's situation could be found i documents E/CN.4/Sub.2/AC.4/1999/4, A/54/487, and E/CN.4/2000/85.

    At its current session , the group was analyzing 60 project proposals received from indigenous communities and organizations from all over the world. The proposed important activities under the Decade of the World's Indigenous People included project grants to indigenous communities and organizations, a Second Workshop for Indigenous Journalists, two sub-regional seminars in Africa on indigenous issues and a two-day workshop on indigenous children. Provided that those Governments that had pledged contributions would pay their pledges, the Fund might have sufficient money available this year to cover all its activities.

    ANNA BIONI, of International Confederation of Free Trade Unions, said the International Labour Office ( ILO) estimate of 200 million migrant workers did not take into account the millions of undocumented migrant workers living in difficult conditions and being discriminated against in several ways, sometimes even through legal bias. The debate on migrants and trafficking gave hope of looking at this issue in a new way. The question of migrant women required study of those migrant women who did not have the right to organize themselves. The first right to implement on their behalf was the right to speak for themselves. The standard of treatment of migrant women often reached open forms of discrimination.

    The maritime sector should also be targeted due to its nature and connection to trafficking. It had not been addressed comprehensively as yet. Effective and innovative strategies would include operating advice centres for the presentation of cultural information and knowledge about host countries, language groups and meetings in native languages, and training in collective bargaining and negotiation. It was also important to make sure migrants workers were represented in trade-union decision-making bodies.

    MARY TOM, of Caritas Internationalis, said that in this same conference room, ten years ago, a few NGOs had drawn attention to the high number of persons suffering throughout the world who had been forced to flee their homes and seek shelter and safety in other parts of their own countries. They were estimated to be more numerous than refugees who had crossed international borders. It was encouraging to learn that the Office of the High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) had recently indicated a commitment to greater engagement with internally displaced persons, in collaboration with other relevant organizations.

    Atrocities committed in the course of internal wars left such deep wounds that the process of healing was a long and painful one, but divided communities must be encouraged and helped to co-exist with each other. The challenge was daunting, but there was no choice -- the inherent dignity and the inalienable rights of each human being were at stake.

    MICKEY SPIEGEL, of Human Rights Watch, drew attention to urgent situations of forced displacement. More than 220,000 civilians had been displaced by war in Chechnya. Most had fled to neighbouring Ingushetia, others were displaced within Chechnya itself. Conditions for displaced people were deplorable. Some lived in makeshift tents or railway-carriage camps, others in abandoned buildings. The Russian authorities' responses had been severely lacking and humanitarian agencies had not had full access to displaced persons. In Burundi, 800,000 people were internally displaced, some by civil war, others by a more recent Government regroupment policy. In 1999 the Burundian Government forced over 350,000 civilians into regroupment camps as part of a counter-insurgency strategy to protect the capital, Bujumbura.

    Also, following the upheaval in East Timor, 100,000 refugees remained in Indonesian West Timor. Despite some improvement in security conditions, many camps and settlements continued to be controlled by the same militia groups that were responsible for forcing the refugees across the border in the first place.

    SIUS MUHAMMAD, of Caucasians United for Reparations and Emancipation, said so-called African-Americans were deprived of their mother tongues in violation of article 27 of the Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. This article stated that no State which consisted of ethnic minorities could deny the right to such minorities to speak their languages and practice their own religions.

    For African-Americans, it was too late, the United States had already taken these things away. The lost languages were more than 100 African languages and dialects. The inability to remedy this harm made it impossible to implement a remedy or pass any law protecting the right to speak and learn these languages. The United States should pay reparations to the so-called African-Americans, as they could never regain their mother tongues. The Commission should recommend that a reparation sanction be imposed on the United States.

    PAUL BEERSMANS, of International Movement for Fraternal Union Among Races and Peoples, said his organization was deeply worried about the situation of minorities in Jammu and Kashmir. The people of Kashmir were suffering most of all because they were victims of the worst form of fundamentalism. At the beginning of the last decade, hundreds of thousands of Pandits had had to flee the Kashmir Valley because they were the target of religious cleansing. They were still living in inhumane conditions in camps and waiting for better times to come. Recently a new dimension was added. Sikhs who had lived peaceably in Jammu and Kahsmir for years appeared to be the latest target. In the worst single attack on civilians in a decade of guerrilla war, unidentified gunmen massacred 35 Sikh men in Kashmir. In addition to Hindus and the Sikh community in Jammu and Kashmir, moderate Muslims who were propagating tolerance and peaceful coexistence were also the target of the so-called mujahideen.

    More than ten years of bloodshed and violence had proved that the gun only brought destruction and not freedom. The Governments of India and Pakistan were urged to respect conscientiously their mutual commitments and to resume bilateral and meaningful negotiations over Jammu and Kashmir. India and Pakistan would not achieve real security until they resumed dialogue to resolve their tensions. Finally, the Government of Pakistan was urged to stop the encouragement of terrorist operations in the Kashmir Valley.

    EVA-TORILL JACOBSEN, of the International Save the Children Alliance, said her organization was extremely concerned about the invisibility of children internally displaced as a result of armed conflict. That invisibility had resulted in the lack of protection and promotion of the rights of internally displaced children, their families and communities. The lack of coordination of humanitarian activities had led to a very short-term focus for planning.

    Some fundamental aspects of child rights should be safeguarded in
    long-term planning; the right to education and to play should be upheld. The ability to attend school or play groups provided a fundamental reference point of security and normality for children. Education was essential for a child's social and psychological development, yet schooling and leisure were rarely planned for in emergency situations. If schools were destroyed, booby-trapped, occupied by the military or armed opposition groups, it might take several months before the school building was once again available for use or an alternative established.

    ALAN PHILLIPS, of Minority Rights Group, said that without introspection and self-criticism by all, institutional racism would continue in most of the world, as research studies showed, and devastating conflicts such as those in Kosovo would continue unabated. Concerning Yugoslavia, immediate action was needed to strengthen alternative structures -- the independent media and civil society -- and to create economic incentives for stability and local democracy.

    To help them participate in the Working Group on Minorities, funding should be urgently provided for minorities to attend the group's meetings. Governments also should strengthen their participation, and informal dialogues should be planned on the margins of these sessions . The deliberations of the Working Group on Minorities should contribute to the World Conference against Racism and the Working Group should be asked to support the implementation of the Conference programme of action over the years to come.

    JOHN QUIGLEY, of Franciscans International, said there was a great need among EU countries for consistent asylum procedures, a common operable definition of refugees, and decent reception conditions. Contrary to its fears, Europe benefited from migration. In fact, migration was a practical necessity that kept the human race healthy. It was therefore critical that prejudices and xenophobia be addressed, as Europe was replacing North America as the international destination of migrants. Governments responsible for the common welfare either had to address the need of people to move from their place of origin or to find ways to integrate these people into another society.

    In their own self-interest, European countries needed to implement a fair and consistent set of immigration standards and to dismantle uneven immigration legislation that encouraged and forced people to misuse asylum procedures. In the European Union, there was also a need for consistent and effective legislation to punish traffickers in persons. Finally, there was an inconsistency in the thinking of those who advocated a laissez-faire open market that eliminated tariffs so that money and goods could travel freely but then restricted the movement of labourers.

    ELIZABETH BATHA, of World Evangelical Fellowship, said that in southern Sudan, where an estimated 1.5 million persons had been killed and 5 million displaced among a population of 8 million, the horror of discrimination against minorities was seen clearly etched out in human tragedy. The present stage of the conflict had been sparked off by the attempt of the north to impose Sharia law on the whole country, including the Christian and animist minority.

    While ethnic and, increasingly, economic issues also fueled the fighting, it was clear that intolerance of minority religions had played a key role in the immense suffering arising from the war. The United Nations was urged to work with the Sudanese Government to alleviate the distress being experienced by ensuring protection under the law to all Sudanese citizens.

    SAIFLIDDIN SOZ, of Interfaith International, said that after long a spell of violence in Kashmir, people irrespective of origin showed revulsion at violations of human rights by a minority in the overall social milieu. The vast majority of the Muslims there no longer watched the violation of rights helplessly. The massacre of 35 innocent members of the Sikh community had been condemned as a heinous crime against humanity. There had been many setbacks to the process of normalization but the spirit of communal harmony was alive.

    As expected in a democratic State, the Government had held an inquiry and the incidents would be investigated by the National Human Rights Commission. The people of Kashmir would most resolutely work for harmony and human brotherhood against conditions that had been generated by the lack of good governance in the State.

    RAVI NAIR, of South Asia Human Rights Documentation Centre, related to the Commission a contemporary fable of the plight of illegal migrants. In the Thunder Dragon Kingdom, illegal migrants were accused of being illegal even though all of them had incontrovertible proof that they had lived a generation or more on the land. The tired and hapless expelled subjects first went to the adjoining land of the holy cow. Cows were holy there but people were not, so the expelled subjects of the land of the Thunder Dragon were herded out of the kingdom that was the abode of the Gods. The land of the bald eagle said it would help. But the eagle flew so high that it could not focus on the plight of lowly refugees.

    In the meanwhile, a big organization that was led by a lady from the Land of the Rising Sun said that she would help. The poor refugees, however, saw only the setting sun each evening as the days lengthened to months and months to years. The representatives of the refugees now came to a land not unlike theirs. This land even had cuckoo clocks. The new Knights of the Round Table sat there in a semi-circular room. The knights stated that they sought a new holy grail called human rights. The refugees might not go back home to their land as their plaintive voices were lost in this new tower of Babel. Or, in the words of Coleridge, "O Liberty ! with profitless endeavour have I pursued thee, many a weary hour".

    CYNTHIA SCRIBE, of Human Rights Advocates, said that in the United States, Government policies along the 2,000-mile United States-Mexico border had resulted in the deaths of hundreds of migrant workers by forcing them to cross the border at geographically remote and dangerous places. Since its inception in 1994, the border control strategy "operation gatekeeper" had caused the deaths of approximately 485 undocumented immigrants, representing a 400 per cent increase in border deaths.

    In Germany, in the past year, there had been allegations of police ill-treatment of foreign nationals. There were reports of foreign nationals being stopped at gunpoint and asked for identity papers and subsequently beaten and verbally abused. The treatment of migrant workers in Greece had deteriorated significantly in 1999 as the Government responded to rises in unemployment and crime by targeting migrants. Workers' groups in Israel continued to criticize Government labour policies which left foreign and Palestinian workers vulnerable to exploitation by employers and labour contractors. Malaysia, Saudi Arabia and Thailand also did not provide sufficient protection for migrant workers.

    JEAN-MARIE BENJAMIN, of North-South XXI, speaking on behalf of the Union of Arab Lawyers, said the no-fly zone had been implemented in Iraq to protect minorities in Iraq. But it was not protecting anyone and was a violation of international law and restricted the freedom of movement of minorities. The unilateral bombings were in total contradiction to human rights and a violation of the UN Charter, particularly its clauses on sovereignty and territorial integrity.

    The no-fly zone had added to the cruel impact of the economic embargo against Iraq. Under the embargo, 5,000 children died per month, and 53 per cent of children were not attending school, as more than a thousand schools and hospitals had been destroyed. Suffering was inflicted on the whole of the Iraqi population. The use of weapons based on depleted uranium had caused a disturbing radiocative impact on the ecological system with an increase in viral infections, leukemia and other cancer rates. The Oil for Food programme barely covered 40 per cent of the real needs of the population in terms of medicine and food. The Commission should intervene urgently to lift the embargo and the two no-fly zones.

    J.V.KOMLOSSY, of Federal Union of European Nationalities, said that NATO air strikes in Yugoslavia were over, but tension among the different ethnic groups remained. The civil war in former Yugoslavia had had serious political, economic and social consequences for all inhabitants of the country, but not in the same way and to the same extent. Several hundred thousand Serb newcomers had changed very drastically the ethnic structure of a considerable number of towns and villages, especially in the Vojvodina.

    To avoid further increases in ethnic tensions and to promote good neighbourliness among the different ethnic groups of the Vojvodian, immediate action should be taken, including the re-establishment of the OSCE Mission in the Vojvodina; the re-establishment of the territorial autonomy of the region; and the creation and development of a dense and intertwined network of OSCE missions covering the whole territory of the Vojvodina. Autonomy would foster democratization, pushing Serbia towards more decentralization and delegation of decision-making to lower levels.

    GIANFRANCO FATTORINI, of Movement against Racism and for Friendship among Peoples, brought to the attention of the Commission the plight of the Roma people, which had been of great concern to his organization. Fifty years after the Roma holocaust of Porajmos, the Roma people still remained marginalized in Europe with no possibility to live in dignity. State authorities in Bulgaria and the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia were often the authors of verbal and physical attacks as well as deaths which were rarely followed up by the judicial authorities.

    The Foreign Minister of Romania had been quoted as saying that 23 million Romanians had to be protected against a few thousand Roma who discredited the image of the country and hamstrung its efforts to escape the black list of the European Union. It was also astonishing that a schoolteacher in Hungary who attacked with a knife many Roma students could receive an award from the Ministry of Education. Roma people were also suffering from segregation in the Czech Republic and in Kosovo.

    MILDRED McCLAIN, of International Human Rights Law Group, addressed human-rights violations and environmental racism in the United States of America. Environmental racism consisted of any action or failure to act by Government or non-State actors that had negative environmental or discriminatory impacts which disproportionately affected minority communities. The US Government routinely approved the growth and expansion of polluting industries and new military facilities without regard to their impact on residential areas of predominantly people of colour who suffered severe deprivations resulting from industrial hazards, weapons disposal, incineration, storage facilities, and nuclear waste and production sites.

    The Commission should expand the mandate of the Special Rapporteur on toxic waste and promote a joint mission by the Special Rapporteur on racism and the Special Rapporteur on adverse effects of the illicit movement and dumping of toxic waste to examine the discriminatory impact of environmental racism on minority communities in the United States.

    KITE, of Pax Romana, said recent studies carried out by the United Nations revealed that in the coming decades the decline in the working population of many industrialized countries would be significant. This would result in a need for labour from other countries which could not offer work to their nationals within their borders. However, it seemed there was a lack of real will at the international level to address the issue. This grave lack of international commitment, together with other obstacles to an effective and full protection of the human rights of migrant workers, favoured xenophobia and racism in receiving countries.

    The episode that had occurred in El Rjido, in the south of Spain, in February, was a matter of great concern. The racial origin of the person who committed a crime (an Arab) provoked a violent reaction from the population against the Maghrebian community. This reaction, with its clear socio-economic background, had been caused by latent racism and by a new positive law on migrants recently passed in Spain. The life of this law was at stake, however. The political party that had won the last general elections had announced that one of the first things it would do was change the law.

    WILDA SPALDING, of World Federation for Mental Health, said it would take little time to choose to destroy life, to destroy centuries of the cultural richness of a whole people, to decide to discard the heart of years of advocacy for persons with disabilities. It would take only moments to disfigure the means, expressions and mechanisms important for mental, physical and spiritual health. It would take mere seconds to sign a humanity-insensitive business contract, to refuse dignity to a person with a disability, or to strike an official gavel affirming a vote resulting in forcible relocation.

    All such acts had profound psychological impacts. How curiously time could be seen and measured. The Commission was asked that when each of the agenda items was being considered -- whether it be the rights of the child or the implications of economic and cultural rights -- to use both the intellect and the heart and take into account the mental-health components of each item.

    MELANIE LEVERGER, of France Libertes, said non-Arabs expelled from Iraq since 1997 had been deprived of human rights, goods and property. They did not have the right to return and in some areas the ground had been mined to ensure the impossibility of return. Palestinian refugees had been installed and welcomed in these areas instead, and supplied with goods and property belonging to the Kurds. Statistics showed the systematic nature of the expulsion of Kurds and other ethnic minorities. The Commission should intervene with the Security Council to find a solution to the problem.

    A second cause for concern was East Timorese deportees in the western part of the island. There had been recent statements by Indonesia threatening to cut off assistance to them. This would lead to a humanitarian disaster added to the existing terror of the militias in the refugee camps. The international community should guarantee the safety and security of these people who had already suffered enough, and their safe return to East Timor should be guaranteed.

    KICKI NORDSTRÍM, of World Blind Union, speaking on behalf of six other organizations, said the human rights of persons with disabilities continued to be violated, despite global acceptance of international human-rights instruments. The Commission was urged to stage a special dialogue on disability and human rights as part of its official proceedings during its 57th session in the year 2001. International organizations of persons with disabilities in consultative status with ECOSOC should be given a prominent role in such a dialogue.

    The Commission was also requested to organize an international seminar where human-rights experts and disability advocates could exchange knowledge and experiences. It was further requested to establish a working group on disability and human rights, elaborate other instruments and protocols for protection of persons with disabilities, and investigate the introduction of new functions and tools for the protection of the human rights of persons with disabilities.

    CHRISTINE DEHOY, of Catholic Institute for International Relations, said Burma had become infamous as an exporter of refugees and migrant workers to other countries in the region. The root causes of this unprecedented migration were found as much in the economic breakdown due to the militarization of the Burmese economy as in human rights abuses such as compulsory labour. The provision of passports and travel documents was restricted and as a result most of those seeking a better means of livelihood elsewhere found themselves undocumented and in an irregular situation not only in their host countries but also when returning home.

    In Thailand, in addition to over 120,000 refugees living in camps along the border, up to 1 million Burmese migrants, most of them undocumented, were employed in low-paid jobs on construction sites, on farms, or in sweatshops. Thousands of Burmese women had also ended up in the sex industry.

    JOSE ANTONIO GIMBERNAT, of Federation of Associations for the Defense of Human Rights, said the events in Almeria, Spain, in which Moroccan immigrants were attacked could only be described as racist. The violent attacks had consisted of beatings, burning of property, destruction of property, and desecration of mosques. The discrimination was institutional, as security forces had acted passively. These incidents had their breeding ground in the living and working conditions of the Moroccan migrant workers, many of whom had entered Spain clandestinely. They therefore had no access to social security and no contracts, and faced social exclusion and discrimination. This was a real apartheid regime.

    Migrant workers could no longer be treated as cheap labour only. There had to be effective labour vigilance and the social heritage and dignity of migrant workers had to be protected. An investigation into the events at Almeria was required, and those responsible had to be brought to justice. No longer could migrants be reduced to mere functionaries; family reunions had to be facilitated and the contribution of migrant workers should be valued and coexistence strengthened.

    WIRITMADINATA, of Third World Movement Against the Exploitation of Women, said that since the beginning of the conflict in Aceh, many gross violations of human rights had been committed. The on-going reign of terror had yielded a flow of internally displaced people on a large scale, as a result of frequent security sweeps and the burning of houses by the military and police forces searching the area for freedom fighters. The number of displaced persons had reached a peak of 300,000 in June and August 1999 in the district of Pidie. While facing terror and violence in refugee camps, the internally displaced also experienced health and food problems.

    Another key problem was the poor quality of camp buildings and tents and sanitation. Social tensions were high because of the lack of economic activity and lack of education for children. Lack of the most basic needs had mostly hit women. Many of them also were victims of sexual violence. Volunteers and humanitarian workers in the camps were also frequently attacked and subjected to acts of terrorism and intimidation either by the State apparatus or groups of armed civilians. As long as violence between the armed Free Aceh Movement and Indonesian security forces continued, the humanitarian crisis of the internally displaced would also be prolonged and the provision of assistance would be made difficult.

    KAREN PARKER, of International Educational Development, said her organization had raised the issue of military slave portage and other grave violations of humanitarian law in Burma for a number of years. It had also urged the United Nations to give the seat of Burma to the lawful Government and said the failure to do so contributed to the continued pattern of slavery, war crimes and mass exoduses of Burmese and various ethnic nationalities from Burma. Japan had also been asked for many years to pay compensation to its World War II sex slaves.

    Japan justified its refusal to pay compensation on its 1951 treaty with the Allied powers, which excused Japan from further war reparations. Japan should not be allowed to play any role in international affairs until the victims were fully paid up.

    ALGIS TOMAS GENIUSAS, of International Federation of Free Journalism, expressed concerned over violations of the human rights of minorities and journalists. Repression and prevention of expression of the truth was commonplace. This crime was particularly serious when the repression was carried out by the State. More attention needed to be paid to political and religious repression, most particularly to situations in Tibet, East Timor and Kashmir. The Government of Belarus was increasingly repressive and had responded to peaceful demonstrations with beatings and arrests.

    The Russian Federation was pressuring the Baltic States to block their accession to the European Union. The Baltic minorities in Russia were treated with severe discrimination and repression, particularly the Lithuanian minority. The Russian use of disproportionate force against Chechnya was not a battle against terrorism but a planned genocidal war. The Commission should use its influence and authority to ensure the Russian Federation ended the Chechen conflict and allowed international humanitarian aid to reach those who needed it. The Commission should mediate a peaceful settlement to the conflict and conduct an investigation of gross human-rights abuses in Chechnya.

    A.S.NARANG, of Indian Council of Education, said the world continued to grapple with threats and challenges both to new and old vulnerable groups as well as from existing violators and new actors. The rights of innocent people, particularly those belonging to minorities, were today in far greater danger from the incessant eruption of inter-State and intra-State conflicts, resulting in the absence of peace and security. These conflicts also resulted in large-scale displacements and a large number of people seeking political asylum in other countries. Such situations were increasingly born of the economic ambitions of some States which tried to impose their will on others and create problems for them in efforts to achieve political advantage.

    The very diversity of human beings which should be relished was today the cause of sharp conflicts in different parts of the world. Influenced by misconceived concepts of homogeneity, some groups engaged in the task of ethnic cleansing. It was imperative to recognize the dangers of chauvinism among majority communities and sectarianism among minorities. Pluralism was the way to achieve harmonious coexistence.

    DENNIS B.WARNER, of Pax Christi International, said that during recent decades, foreign labour migration had developed internationally into a major economic factor involving an estimated 130 million persons who left their countries as either legal or illegal migrant workers or dependent family members. Migrant workers were frequently subjected to slave-like working and living conditions, often accompanied by cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment.

    Foreign migrant workers were basically powerless. Their rights were poorly protected and often violated. Their wages were well below established minimum standards. Among migrant workers, domestic workers, especially girls and young women, were a particularly vulnerable group. Another vulnerable group was young women who worked in the sex industry as so-called entertainers or prostitutes.

    NANCY BREITENBACH, of Inclusion International, said the United Nations standard Rules on the Equalization of Opportunities for Persons with Disabilities had played a significant role in making disability visible. There was a strong need for progress to continue, because people with disabilities continued to be marginalized. The Commission should follow through on Resolution 1998/31 by transforming the informal working relationships which existed into a more tangible form in order to increase their effectiveness.

    Resource allocations for disability issues needed to be strengthened, a Disabilities Ombudsman should be appointed and an advisory group, including disability NGOs, should be set up. It would be a good idea to create a working group charged with analyzing the options available.

    M.QURESHI, of Afro-Asian People's Solidarity Organization, said minorities in many parts of the world were becoming vulnerable groups whose human rights were violated. One such case was in Pakistan. During the Government of Zia-ul-Haq, a programme of Islamization was given concrete shape. The Ulema were given enormous ideological leverage over television, educational institutions and valuable Government property. The Ulema, in conjunction with the ruling group, saw to it that their version of Sharia prohibitions and penalties were placed into law.

    Thus, since 1974, persons accused of committing blasphemy had often been arrested without warrant and imprisoned for many years. Non-Muslim prisoners who had been sentenced to death were not allowed the normal relief available through Pakistan's criminal procedure code. Nor could they have advocates to plead their case from among the members of their own communities. Subjected to social isolation and legal apartheid, minorities felt extremely alienated. Attacks on Ahmediyas, Hindus and Christians were rampant. Finally, no minority person could aspire to the highest office of the land

    NUR AMALIA, of Netherlands Organization for International Development Cooperation, focused on the Indonesian islands of the Moluccas. Since the outbreak of conflict on the main island of Ambon on 19 January 1999, a series of conflicts had spread to North Maluku, Ternate, North Halmahera, Central Maluku and other areas.

    Those conflicts had led to the immense destruction of social and cultural life in the Moluccas, affecting the economy, education, public services and local security. Violence, killings and other atrocities had been rampant, taking thousands of lives, and resulting in many injuries as a result of shootings. The religious and ethnic conflicts in the region had involved violence on a massive scale.

    NEFISSA MILED, of Association de Defense des Tunisiens a l'Etranger, said protection of migrant workers was essential. They had the right to education, health, housing, family reunions and freedom of movement. An ILO document proved that a third of employers systematically discarded applications by persons of different ethnic origin. Legal texts should be prepared to combat discrimination in an institutional manner by making discrimination and racism illegal and allowing victims legal recourse. Family reunions were necessary. The Commission should adhere to resolutions already adopted in this context.

    Many Tunisians working outside the country lived in terrible conditions, without access to health care or social services. Many African migrant workers were subjected to this treatment in their host countries. The Commission should examine methods for protecting minorities and this issue should have an important place in the discussions of the Preparatory Committee for the World Conference against Racism.

    SAITO KUMIKO, of Asian Women's Human Rights Council, in a joint statement with Korean Group of Former Internees in Siberia and All-Japanese Association of Former Internees, said that for the past twenty years former POWs had appealed to the Japanese Government to adhere to the standards of international law by providing veterans with compensation for the period of their forced labour in Siberia. To date the Japanese Government had refused to do so.

    At the end of World War II, an army of almost 610,000 Japanese soldiers was taken prisoner by the Soviet Union and deported to Mongolia and Siberia where they were compelled to perform forced labour. Almost 10 per cent of the prisoners died due to the poor living conditions and hard labour. None of the prisoners was ever paid for his labour nor given any compensation, in clear violation of the Geneva Conventions. Further, while the Japanese Government denied the request of the Siberian POWs for compensation, it granted compensation to POWs in other regions. The Japanese Government was required to mitigate the tragedy by assuming its moral and legal responsibilities. The Commission was urged to make the necessary investigation into the violations of the rights of the Siberian POWs and to make recommendations regarding their compensation.

    MOHAMMED SARAF, of World Muslim Congress, said a deliberate effort was being made by India to depict the Kashmir freedom struggle as fundamentalist and terrorist. In that connection, repeated mention had been made of the so-called expulsion of Pandits from Kashmir by the freedom fighters. Those were serious charges, and their implications were grave.

    The tragic displacement of the Kashmiri Pandits had to be seen in its proper context: their tragedy was but part of the broader, continuing tragedy that had engulfed and overwhelmed the whole of Kashmir since 1990 and had affected Kashmiris of all religions and backgrounds. Most of them were united in their resentment of the Indian security forces.

    SAEEDAH SHAH, of Muslim World League, said the 1992 Declaration on the Rights of Persons belonging to National or Ethnic, Religions or Linguistic Minorities had created obligations for States to promote and protect equal treatment. These objectives had not been achieved. The rise of the ultra-right in India with the BJP political party in power had led to the propagation of the Sangh Parivar ideology, imposing the will of the Hindu population on all minorities in India. This ideology had many similarities with Nazi ideology.

    The treatment of Christian and Muslim minorities in India was a cause for concern. The percentage of Muslims serving in the civil and foreign services was almost negligible. Communal riots were the gravest threat to the Muslim minority. These riots entailed massacres of thousands of Muslims and destruction of their properties . All States had to be accountable on the basis of the standards of international human rights. The Commission could not allow such blatant violations to continue.

    K.WARIKOO, of Himalayan Research and Cultural Foundation, said the forced displacement of the entire Kashmiri Pandit indigenous minority, who were terrorized, killed and hounded out of Kashmir by Islamist terrorists in the name of Jehad, presented a classic case of ethnic-religious cleansing with long term implications for the composite socio-cultural set up and secular polity in Kashmir. This minority community was agonizing in its eleventh year of displacement. The Pandits had lost their land, property, homes, educational and employment opportunities. They had suffered the break-up of families and of social and cultural ties.

    Not content with cleansing the Kashmir valley of its ethnic and religious minorities these Islamist terrorists, who were sponsored by Pakistan, had been training their guns on the Hindu minority in Poonch, Rajouri, Udhampur and Doda districts of Jammu province. These terrorists had masterminded mass killings of more than 300 Hindus in several parts of this region, leading to forced exoduses of about 8,000 surviving members of Hindu minority community in search of safer places. The people living near the line of control in Jammu had also been bearing the brunt of severe shelling from across the border, forcing 55,000 to flee their villages. Similar had been the fate of the Shia population of Kargil, 32,000 of whom had been displaced as a result of Pakistani shelling.

    OM GURGONG, of World Federation of Democratic Youth, said there had been discrimination by the British Government against the Gurkha soldiers of Nepal. The Gurkha were Nepalese nationals employed as soldiers by the British imperialist colonial military machinery since the First World War, when they were first recruited by the British-Indian army of the time. Since then they had constituted an integral part of the British armed forces though they were usually referred to in derogatory terms such as mercenary troops.

    Despite all the sacrifices and services that these soldiers had so valiantly provided to the British Government and to the world community, by serving as UN peacekeepers, the Gurkhas were blatantly and persistently discriminated against by the British army on the mere fact of their national origin and of being non-white and non-European.

    EANETTE BAUTISTA, of the Latin American Federation of Associations of Relatives of Disappeared Detainees, said forcible displacement was a violations of human rights and international law. Yet in Colombia more than 2 million people were affected by this acute situation. These people were often poor and disadvantaged. Forcible displacement was a deliberate war strategy whereby brutal crimes left people no choice but to flee. Impunity was another concern. As the Special Rapporteur had said, the forces of public order rarely engaged these groups militarily. There were warrants issued by the human rights unit of the country for the arrest of those responsible for such crimes, but they seemed to be left on the desks of the security forces.

    In the meantime, the displaced persons had their families broken up and their civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights violated on a systematic basis. The situation in Mexico and Guatemala was also of concern, and again it was the poor who were affected in their fight for better socio-economic conditions. The United Nations must play a stronger role in preventing the systematic violation of human rights, particularly in Guatemala, where there was still a United Nations body to take these issues up.

    AYE HLA PHYU, of International Peace Bureau, said the situation of internally displaced persons in Burma was one of the worst in the world. There were approximately 2 million internally displaced persons in Burma and more than 1 million consisted of persons belonging to ethnic minorities. The internally displaced persons, for instance in ethnic Karen areas, were literally chased by the SPDC troops, since they were considered the enemies of the military after their refusal to go to relocation sites designated for them by the SPDC. The troops also burned down entire villages and set landmines in hidden places.

    The Commission was urged to call on the SPDC to stop its atrocities against these helpless displaced persons immediately and the High Commissioner was urged to call on the SPDC to respect and protect the human rights of the internally displaced who were already in a most vulnerable situation because of the armed conflicts between the SPDC and ethnic resistance groups.

    LAI THI, of Worldview International Foundation, said minorities in Burma suffered from several forms of social and cultural injustice in the context of human rights violations perpetrated by the regime in power.

    When one belonged to certain minority groups, one became a target of the Government automatically and was subjected to many forms of discrimination at the least. Just because a person belonged to a minority group, it did not justify any violation of human rights. Until and unless the potentials of Burmese minorities were fully recognized and their human rights respected, the rights spelled out in the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights would not mean anything to them.

    M.A.SIDDIQUI, of Asian Buddhist Conference for Peace, said the Working Group on Minorities had placed emphasis on the importance of helping each minority group maintain its identity and character. The Mohajirs were the largest ethno-linguistic minority in Pakistan and were subjected to repression, discrimination and isolation in the urban centres of Sindh. The Mohajirs had become victims of wilful disregard of human-rights norms because of the arrogance and hegemony of the ruling group of Punjab.

    The Government of Pakistan was urged to end its policy of repression, oppression and persecution against the Mohajir nation and the Sindhi nation. Pakistan should withdraw its Punjabi forces from the region and return to true democracy in letter and spirit. It should end the unlawful occupation of Sindh and resolve the Sindh issue through meaningful and sincere dialogue in a democratic process.

    WILLIAM CANNY, of Global Campaign for Ratification of the Convention on the Rights of Migrants, said that given the deterioration in the treatment of migrants and other foreigners in numerous places around the world, there was an urgent need for wider adoption of the International Convention which specifically provided standards for the extension of human rights protection for persons especially at risk because they did not have the protection of nationals in countries where they lived. The slow pace of ratification of the Convention was frustrating.

    The human rights of migrants were to be advanced not only through legal standards. It was also essential to recognize and dignify migrants through other means, particularly by opinion makers and by social, political, cultural and educational institutions such as the communications media. Statements of political leaders and political parties, as well as characterization in news media and schools, could be especially important in shaping the respect -- or lack of it -- afforded to groups at risk in each and every country and society.

    SUN ZHONGHUA, of the China Disabled Persons Federation, said the organization had always supported the implementation of equal opportunities for the disabled. No other instrument could replace the Convention on the rights of disabled people. The Special Rapporteur on the subject had rightly recommended implementation of the provisions of the Convention. States should listen to the voices of the disabled persons under their jurisdictions.

    In another matter, the harm inflicted against persons by the Falun Gong movement had been disastrous. Some quarters wrongly believed that Falun Gong practices were good for health, but according to statistics available to the Federation, about 650 persons had so far been mentally deranged by these practices.

    REFAQUET ALI KHAH, of World Federation of Trade Unions, said that in Pakistan the plight of Ahmadis, Christians and Hindus continued to worsen. More and more, Pakistan was becoming a closed, inward looking State where anybody who did not belong to the Muslim mainstream lived on sufferance as a second-class citizen. Pakistan continued to operate a separate electorate system for its religious minorities which maintained segregation and ensured that minorities remained without effective representation in the administration.

    Islam in itself did not sanction inferior treatment of minorities, it was during the days of Zia-ul-Haq that a Federal Sharia Court was assigned to identify rules and laws contrary or repugnant to Islam. The Pakistani Government should adhere to the draft resolution on tolerance and pluralism, a measure that should be adopted by the Commission by consensus.

    D.R.SAINI, of International Institute for Peace, said that some States were encouraging, abating or supporting religious fundamentalism and extremism, thereby making minorities as well as secular-minded majority citizens vulnerable. All religions, Asian, African and European, were passing through a phase of fundamentalism. However, a serious threat for minorities and common citizens had emerged from so-called Jehadis. While Islam was a religion of compassion, justice and equality, these individuals had sought to project it as an emblem of defiance, intolerance and crude militancy. Their names evoked images of car bombs, holy wars and historic revenge.

    Islamic terrorists aimed at nothing less than the extirpation of all manifestations of Western and secular intrusion in Central Asia, Chechnya, Dagestan, Algeria, Kashmir and Egypt. Hence the campaign to kill writers, unveiled women, foreigners, etc. Innocent citizens were caught in the cross-fire of a dreadful war not of their making. To the West, Islam replaced the communist threat in the post-Cold War era, and the new enemy was Islamic fundamentalism. However, there was no use drum beating. Extremism and terrorism had nothing to do with Islam or any other religion.

    SYED NAZIR GILANI, of World Society of Victimology, said that over the decades, India and Pakistan had failed in their obligation to protect refugees. The irony was that the situation in Jammu and Kashmir had ever since 1990 caused a loss of home to all communities. Displaced people had either moved to India or remained internally displaced in Jammu province. Others had crossed the cease-fire line supervised by United Nations observers since one minute before midnight on 1 January 1949 into Azad Kashmir. And cross-border shelling had caused internal displacement in Neelum. Over 2 million people had been displaced across the line of control.

    To arrest the steady stream of displacement, it was important that the people of Kashmir have a role in the conduct of public affairs. Free will was the basis of governance.

    DAVID LITTMAN, of Association of World Citizens, said the Copts were a long-suffering people, as they were forbidden to call themselves a "minority" by their dominators, even though this prohibition had been denied by Egypt. A translation was available to all Arabic speaking delegates of the "Appeal to the Egyptian Nation" if the authenticity of this statement was doubted.

    Iran had just postponed the "trial" of 13 Jews accused of espionage, nicely balanced with eight Muslims suspects for the media. No outside lawyer or observer had been accepted and the court-appointed lawyers had been quoted as saying that their clients were guilty. Ten of the accused had not had access to independent lawyers since their arrest. The remnant of the ancient Jewish community of Iran was in danger of grave discrimination, decimation and even destruction as a religious group. Commission resolution 1999/13 welcomed the commitment made by Iran to promote respect for the rule of law, including the elimination of arbitrary arrest and detention. The Commission should ensure that Iran acted in accordance to the resolution before the Jewish community was transformed into a hostage and scapegoat community, as in the grim past.

    ALFREDO SFEIR-YOUNIS, of the World Bank, said the institution was assisting many countries in improving the welfare of indigenous populations, protecting their environments, developing institutions, combating acute poverty and addressing problems of property rights. To ignore indigenous cultures was like burning the library before reading the books. The Bank was the first multilateral financial institution to introduce a special policy for the treatment of indigenous or tribal peoples in development projects. For that reason, the Bank had designated its policy as one of its safeguard policies, which should be strictly complied with by all Bank-financed projects.

    The Bank was fully aware of the multiple dimensions and roles that land played in the lives of indigenous peoples. Land was not just a factor of production. Access to land was more than just a means for the accumulation of wealth, although that was an important consideration. There was a very sacred, spiritual, and unique relationship between the land and indigenous peoples. Any policy on indigenous peoples should be linked to development and poverty reduction. In addition, legal measures should be taken to protect their rights to their land, cultural, religious and sacred values, and their customary possessions, occupations, and use and access to natural resources.

    ANEL BELIZ (Panama) in speaking on behalf of the Group of Central American States, said the rights of indigenous peoples were of the highest importance. It was essential to ensure such rights, particularly when States were multi-ethnic in nature. The International Decade for the World's Indigenous People consisted of undertakings ranging from projects on behalf of indigenous groups to the consideration of the establishment of a permanent forum for indigenous peoples within the United Nations system. Once the forum was established it would be necessary to review the mandate and functions of the Working Group on Indigenous Issues.

    Members of the Central American Group were at all times seeking to guarantee on a regional level the rights of the entirety of their populations. Particular focus had been placed on education. The development of provisions to protect the rights of indigenous peoples was integral to their development. Member States had already undertaken several legislative steps to provide this protection. The international community was urged to earmark more funds to the United Nations Fund on Indigenous Peoples. Member States of the Central American Group reaffirmed their commitment to achieving effective integration of indigenous peoples within a framework of sustainable development. This International Decade could create opportunities for everyone.

    ZAINAL RAA NUSHIRWAN (Malaysia) said it had always attached a great deal of importance to indigenous issues since it they first had been raised in the United Nations. Its concern arose not due to a black spot in its history which needed to be remedied, but because Malaysia saw itself as a county in which indigenous peoples had regained their self-esteem and had confidence in their futures.

    It could be difficult to achieve progress on a draft declaration on the rights of indigenous peoples if the document was aspirational -- that was, if it set standards higher than reality would allow. Whether the draft should be adopted unchanged or with modifications would also determine progress on the issue. Malaysia shared the concern expressed by some delegates that the process of establishment of a permanent forum for indigenous people might be bogged down and stalled for years. Malaysia believed that further discussion on the matter should be based on the principles of broad consultation, representativity, transparency and equal opportunity.

    MERIKE KOKAJEV (Estonia) said the rights of indigenous peoples, including their linguistic and cultural rights, continued to be at risk in many parts of the world. The establishment of a permanent forum for indigenous peoples within the United Nations system would be a significant contribution by the Commission and ECOSOC to the realization of the objectives of he International Decade of the World's Indigenous Peoples.

    Estonia welcomed the growing consensus about the need to establish such a forum and to bring it into existence in the near future. A forum was essential for safeguarding the effective participation of indigenous peoples and should have a broad mandate to enable it to fulfil the purpose of promoting indigenous rights within the UN system.

    ROGER FARRELL (New Zealand) said that indigenous peoples comprised the most vulnerable peoples in society. In New Zealand, many activities had been undertaken to bridge the social and economic gap between the Maoris and New Zealanders. A Cabinet Committee had been set up for this purpose alone. The Government of New Zealand was committed to fulfilling its obligations as a treaty party. One of the main practical activities in New Zealand had been the settlement of claims and the building of an economic basis for claimant groups. In celebration of the Decade, New Zealand had focused on the development of the Maori language. The Government was also seeking advice from Maori groups on the potential ratification of the ILO Convention 169 on indigenous and tribal peoples.

    Internationally constructive consideration of indigenous issues was necessary and it was necessary to provide practical benefits to indigenous peoples. New Zealand had contributed to United Nations Funds on Indigenous Peoples and supported the concept of a permanent forum. The international community had to redouble its efforts in good faith. It was the mid-point of the International Decade; much had been achieved but more needed to be done. However, creating a human-rights culture began at home and New Zealand was trying to create an environment where the Maoris could have more control over their own affairs.

    TYGE LEHMANN (Denmark), speaking on behalf of the Nordic countries of Finland, Iceland, Norway and Sweden, said the Nordic countries strongly supported indigenous peoples' aspirations worldwide and viewed the International Decade as a welcome opportunity for promoting recognition of and respect for their rights within a framework of partnership in action. In the second half of the Decade, it was pertinent to point out that concrete results did not have to wait to the very end of the Decade in 2004. This went in particular for the establishment of a permanent forum and the drafting of a UN declaration on the rights of indigenous peoples.

    Regrettably, the drafting of the declaration had been under way for too many years. The emerging consensus among Governments and indigenous peoples in the Working Group was that the draft declaration must be built upon. This could be done by reviewing the existing draft with the aim of improving and strengthening the text and accommodating the reasonable concerns of interested parties while maintaining and respecting the spirit of the draft declaration.

    VLADYSLAV ZOZULIA (Ukraine) said adoption of a draft UN declaration on the rights of indigenous people as well as the establishment of a permanent forum were the two central objectives of the International Decade. Bearing in mind the sensitivity of indigenous peoples' issues, Ukraine strongly believed that the declaration should provide comprehensive protection and promotion of the rights of indigenous peoples. It should also include provisions which would strictly prohibit any actions designed to dismember or impair the territorial integrity or political unity and stability of sovereign States.

    Since becoming an independent State, Ukraine had been safeguarding the rights of indigenous peoples, national groups and citizens that had been disrupted by the previous policy of colonialism under the previous rulers of the country. Now, the legislation of Ukraine had created a solid basis for the free development of all its citizens.

    HAIKO ALFRD (South Africa) said it was surprising to learn in the report of the Working Group on Indigenous Populations that there were no indigenous peoples in Africa and Asia. The civilization of Africa was based on the original presence, cultures, languages and technology of the San (or so-called Bushmen). It was only under colonization that the aboriginal African populations were brutally suppressed. South Africa was embarking on a process of systematic, consultative Constitutional accommodation of its indigenous peoples. The Constitution extended equal rights to all citizens. The 1996 Constitution specifically included references to indigenous Khoi, Nama and San languages. The Bill of Rights prescribed that persons belonging to cultural, religious or linguistic communities were not to be denied the right to enjoy their cultures or languages or to form, join and maintain cultural, religious and linguistic associations and other organs of civil society. Practical steps had been taken for the establishment of legislative provisions to that end.

    On the international level, South Africa looked forward to increasingly contributing to the progressive and constructive consideration of indigenous issues in the United Nations system.

    PIERRE FOUX (Switzerland) said the only universal instrument which currently protected indigenous peoples was ILO Convention 169. The establishment of a permanent forum was necessary to enable Governments and indigenous representatives to discuss measures in the area of sustainable development, the protection of the environment, the fight against poverty and discrimination, and the promotion of indigenous rights.

    Switzerland supported the establishment of such a framework, which would offer a broad view of problems and help coordinate action in favour of indigenous peoples within the UN specialized agencies.

    M.CASSAM, of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), said UNESCO had been long advocating the rights of indigenous populations to human dignity. It had also recognized the value of the diversified cultures and social forms of these "first nations", as well as their contribution to peace and the socio-economic, cultural and environmental progress of the world.

    Peace on the planet, allowing for cultural diversity and the existence of a multi-cultural world, would create great dynamism. The world constituted individuals with 5,000 languages and a similar number of different cultures.

    Rights of reply

    A representative of Iran, speaking in right of reply, said the statement delivered earlier in the day by the Foreign Minister of Canada had referred to the human-rights situations in several countries, including Iran, and had been counterproductive and confrontational. It would have been appropriate if the Minister had avoided mentioning certain States such as Iran. Although the improvement of the human-rights situation in Iran had been commended by the international community, the Minister had chosen to maintain an attitude of finger pointing. The politicization of human-rights issues should be avoided. At the threshold of the third millennium, the international community needed to update its approach on human rights and adopt a mindset conducive to genuine dialogue.

    A representative of Azerbaijan said the statement made by the delegation of Armenia had used the term genocide in a way that had long ago converted the term from a legal concept into an abstract phenomenon, unique to that country. That would seem to be a phenomenon not easy for a normal intellect to grasp, especially as it sometimes spilled over into elementary hysteria, but in fact it served a single purpose which was not hard to discern; it served an effort by Armenia to justify its own crimes. It was to recalled that Azerbaijanis had been annihilated and driven in great numbers from their historical lands since the Armenians began to settle in Transcaucasia in the first half of the 19th century, and down to the present. In 1988-1989, over 200,000 Azerbaijanis had been forcibly expelled from Armenian-occupied parts of Azerbaijan.

    A representative of Iraq said the allegations made by France Libertes concerning the Kurds and other minorities in Iraq had repeatedly been refuted by Iraq. This was an attempt to undermine the unity of the Iraqi people. Iraq was the only country in the region which had given Kurds every possible right under the Constitution. They could live anywhere and enjoy civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights without discrimination. Their freedom to exercise their cultural rights and heritage was part of the cultural heritage of Iraq. Twenty years ago, some administrative departments had changed their names; this was related to the nationalization of oil, not discrimination. Allegations made relating to Palestinians were absolutely false.

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