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    For information only - not an official document.
      UNIS/GA/1721
        30 October 2000
     Third Committee Hears Report on Human Rights in Bosnia, Croatia, Yugoslavia
    In Aftermath of Recent Elections
     
     

     NEW YORK, 27 October (UN Headquarters) -- The people might not have known what they were demonstrating for, but they knew what they were voting against -- lawlessness and arbitrary rule -- the Third Committee (Social, Humanitarian and Cultural) was told this morning when it met to continue considering human rights questions.  The speaker was Jiri Dienstbier, Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Bosnia and Herzegovina, the Republic of Croatia and the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, who was speaking about recent elections within the area of his mandate.

    The outcome of the recent elections in the Former Republic of Yugoslavia boded well for the promotion of human rights, he continued.  That was true not only in Serbia, but throughout the region.  But now that the post-election euphoria had subsided, the realization had set in that the transition would not be an easy one.  Old structures clung to as much influence as they could.  The determination and integrity of President Kostunica would be the most important factor for stability.

    He said that the international community should do everything possible to support the democratic transition, which would be the only sure basis for the promotion of human rights.  That meant an immediate end to all sanctions, as well as support for investment and technical support for repairs to the infrastructure.  He also called for the country’s immediate and unreserved return to participation in international organizations.

     Taking part in the question and answer exchange with the Special Rapporteur were the representatives of Bulgaria, Croatia, Russian Federation and the United States.

    During the general debate on human rights, statements were made by the representatives of New Zealand, Venezuela, Sudan, Portugal, Singapore, Angola and Croatia.

     The Observer of the Holy See also addressed the Committee.

     The Committee will meet again at 3 p.m. to continue its consideration of approaches to human rights, human rights situations, the 1993 Vienna Declaration and the report of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights.

    Committee Work Programme

     The Third Committee (Social, Humanitarian and Cultural) met this morning to continue considering human rights questions, including alternative approaches for improving the enjoyment of human rights and fundamental freedoms.  The Committee is also expected to consider human rights situations and reports of special rapporteurs and representatives; implementation and follow-up to the Vienna Declaration and Programme of Action (1993); and the report of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights.  (For background, see Press Release GA/SHC/3603 of 24 October.)

     Also before the Committee is a report by the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Bosnia and Herzegovina, the Republic of Croatia and the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, transmitted by a note of the Secretary-General (document A/55/282).  In his report, the Special Rapporteur emphasizes that the problems in the countries of his mandate are best addressed from a regional perspective.  That had been one reason for the establishment of the Stability Pact, which had not yet succeeded in developing a strategic global programme for reconstruction and renewal in the Balkans.  Problems included the question of refugees and that of trafficking in human beings.  It was of concern that no country in the region had adopted a human rights approach to the trafficking of persons.  The creation of a task force would hopefully lead to that approach.

     For his report on the situation in Bosnia and Herzegovina, the Special Rapporteur visited there in January and June.  He concluded that the current political environment, lack of functioning institutions and a complicated constitutional and legal framework continue to be impediments to change, although there was more reason for optimism than a year ago.  The report outlines those challenges and hopeful developments.  Recommendations include gender-mainstreaming, new labour policies for Republika Srpska, international assistance, and the planning of local integration and settlement for minorities unwilling or unable to return. 

     On the Republic of Croatia, the Special Rapporteur outlines development from March to early July, paying specific attention to the key issues of refugee returns, minority rights and war-crimes trials.  Reviewing those developments, he concludes that despite remarkable political changes, human rights obligations were not being met.  He recommends the full use of the tripartite Croatian Economic and Social Council, comprised of government, trade union and employer representatives, in legislation-making and implementation, as well as in dialogue.  He reiterates a call for an unbiased resolution to the cases of missing persons, and emphasizes that war-crime prosecutions should aim at bringing all perpetrators to justice regardless of ethnicity.  Finally, he welcomes the June signing in New York of an agreement between Croatia and the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights.

     On the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, the report covers developments between March and July, beginning with cooperative relations with authorities and noting little contact between those in Belgrade, Podgorica and Pristina.  The Special Rapporteur notes that groups vulnerable to violations of human rights comprised the majority of the population.  Detailing those challenges, he noted that Serbia faced increasingly grave and violent violations of human rights and fundamental freedoms in the absence of law and due process, mainly because federal and republican authorities used the legal and judicial systems to legitimize political repression.  

    The challenges in Montenegro, according to the report, were mostly in the form of problems typical of a society in the initial state of transition to democracy and a market economy.  While human rights were generally respected, there was little knowledge of some international standards, while corruption and red tape impeded the efforts of authorities in the field of rights.  Kosovo, a year after the arrival of the Kosovo Force (KFOR) and the United Nations Interim Administration in Kosovo (UNMIK), had seen an improvement in human rights for persons of Albanian ethnicity, but had remained of concern for all others.

     Overall, the report concludes that a year after the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) campaign, the international community had still found no coherent Balkan policy.  International policy to address the lingering political, economic, security and social crises had simply stagnated.  The Special Rapporteur recommends a rigorous administration of justice, a cessation of repression, and special attention to the rights of the vulnerable.  Further, he recommends authorities to expand the competence of local government, representation of minorities, revamping of the judicial system, education and information campaigns to implant tolerance, and technical support.

     Introductory Statement, Special Rapporteur on Human Rights Situation
     in Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia, Federal Republic of Yugoslavia

     JIRI DIENSTBIER, Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Bosnia and Herzegovina, the Republic of Croatia and the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, introduced his report to the Committee (see Press Release GA/SHC/3601 of 23 October).  He warned the Committee, however, that owing to the recent dynamic developments in the Balkans, the report -- submitted nearly four months ago -- was now practically obsolete.  After the revolutionary days in Serbia, everything in the Balkans was upside down.  The changes in Belgrade had transformed the setting in the entire region.  But, ironically, as the region held its breath awaiting those changes in Belgrade, the general conclusions and recommendations detailed in his report were still basically valid.  He told the Committee that he would briefly highlight and update the situation in each of the regions under his mandate, including Kosovo.

     Turning first to Bosnia and Herzegovina, he said that almost 30,000 registered minority returns had taken place this year, even in the face of continuing return-related incidents.  There was a continuing concern for the sustainability of returns, sufficient funding as well as their access to basic utilities, health care and employment opportunities.  There was also concern for the welfare of those persons who refused to return.  Corruption and organized crime, particularly trafficking in women for forced prostitution, were also troubling.  And, sadly, discrimination continued in all areas of life -- there had even been recent demonstrations in Brcko, with students and their parents demanding segregation.  He noted that while there had been more normalcy with every passing year, no fundamental changes had taken place.  Hardly anything would have been accomplished, however, without the permanent pressure of the specialized agencies of the United Nations, particularly the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights  Some positive developments were partly due to changes in Croatia and the refusal of the new Croatian authorities to support the secessionist ambitions of Croat extremists.  A decisive breakthrough in Bosnia and Herzegovina depended on a similar approach to Serbian nationalism in Belgrade and on the normalization of relations among the post-Yugoslav republics.  To make the hard-won peace sustainable, Bosnia and Herzegovina needed the recognition of its neighbours, non-interference in its politics and regional cooperation.

     He said that there had been generally positive developments in Croatia since the elections.  Nevertheless many issues remained unresolved, especially in the implementation of governmental policy at local levels.  While there had been reports of an increase in the level of returns this year, returnees still faced problems in regard to property restitution and reconstruction assistance.  The sustainability of return to Croatia was also undermined by a lack of employment opportunities.  In key return areas, for example, the unemployment rate was 60 to 70 per cent higher than the national average.  The Government should take concrete action, particularly on the issue of property repossession, which was crucial to returns.  Any legal framework for property repossession should ensure that its implementation was not hampered by the actions of local authorities.  He went on to say that the continuing arrests of ethnic Serbs in certain areas for war crimes without formal investigation were seen as a final attempt to force the remaining Serbs to leave Croatia.  He commended the Government on its good cooperation with the Office of the High Commissioner.

     Turning to the situation in the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, he said the days of revolution had been days of euphoria and hope.  He was pleased to have witnessed the recent events in Belgrade.  But, sadly, it was now thought that people had voted and demonstrated without knowing what they had demonstrated for. They knew well what they voted against, however.  They had refuted lawlessness and refused arbitrary rule.  That boded well for the promotion of human rights not only in Serbia, but throughout the region.  The transition would not be an easy one.  Consolidation of power would take a long time.  Old structures tended to hang on to as much influence as they could.  The determination and integrity of President Kostunica would be the most important factor for stability.  He noted that the strong independent media remained broadcast and unchanged.  It would also be important for the relationship between Montenegro and Serbia -- as political entities unto themselves -- needed to be resolved before the parties could even begin to determine the nature of their federal relations. 

    During his recent visit to Montenegro, he had been able to discuss the situation not only with the President but with parliamentary groups and representatives of non-governmental organizations.  All had assured him that they would work to solve their problems through democratic dialogue.  He said that the international community should do everything possible to support the democratic transition, which would be the only sure basis for the promotion of human rights.  That meant an immediate end to all sanctions, as well as support for investment and technical support for repairs to the infrastructure.  He also called for the country’s immediate and unreserved return to participation in international organizations.

    Turning finally to the situation in Kosovo, he said that UNMIK had organized municipal elections scheduled to take place tomorrow.  That was viewed as a significant move towards fulfilling relevant Security Council resolutions, as well as a positive step toward Kosovo-wide elections next year.  But given the persistent disarray of Kosovo’s post-conflict environment, serious concerns remained over the lack of minority participation, registration glitches and the troubling persistence of political violence and intimidation.

    There were several basic challenges.  While elections were an instrument of democracy, they could only be effective when all participants respected the democratic process, as well as the results.  That could hardly be expected of those who had chased 200,000 non-Albanians out of Kosovo and robbed them of their property.  There was a danger that the elections would be a de facto sealing of the ethnic cleaning that took place after the NATO campaign.  The UNMIK and KFOR had not prevented it and must accept responsibility for such a huge violation of human rights.  Arguments about revenge, or even “understandable revenge”, only encouraged criminals.  If the elections were to be the beginning of the democratic process, the international community must take a principled stand, organize the return of the non-Albanians, and guarantee their security and return of their property.  It must also challenge all those who did not respect those initiatives. 

    Questions and Answers

     In response to a wide range of questions -- which centred on regional issues with the representatives of Bulgaria and Croatia, while those of the Russian Federation and the United States focused on the democratic process in the area -- Mr. DIENSTBIER said there were so many problems in the region that one report could not encompass them all.  That did not mean, however, that attention was not being given them.

    The problem of normalizing relations among the post-Yugoslav republics was that, even with the recent election, everyone in the electoral region who had not been part of the regime had been suppressed.  To make the peace sustainable, the new Government must be recognized by its neighbours.  The new regime had made contact with Bulgaria, and Croatia had recognized Bosnia and Herzegovina without supporting Croat nationalist extremists.  However, even last year Mr. Tudjman had still been thinking of the Herzegovina Croats and supporting the secessionists.  Hopefully, the same stability would now obtain in the former Republic of Yugoslavia. 

     With regard to the apparent lack of Albanian enthusiasm for the election, the main problem had not been a lack of support but rather a fear of those in power.  If the international organizations responsible for Kosovo were ready to carry out their mandate, reconciliation in the region would be possible and would not take as long as expected.  Mr. Kostunica had a very reasonable approach to the question of ethnic integration:  everyone would not be returned to their own homes all at once; rather, there would be a gradual return to villages in ethnic areas and society would start to mix again.

     Asked about the allegedly irregular elections and the value of such elections, he said 900,000 Albanians had been registered to vote but registration had been difficult.  Very few Serbs had registered and even fewer Turks.  The Secretary-General had been asked to appoint minority leaders, but that would be an -– which the representative of the United States had brought up as a possibility.  However, all elections were difficult.  Perhaps this one would freeze the results of the ethnic cleansing temporarily, but it was the beginning of the democratic process.  The international community must take a principled stand and the process would continue.

     Basically there were two aspects to what would happen as a result of the democratic process.  The Albanian minority in southern Serbia would be treated differently now.  Secondly, the situation would be affected by the reaction of those who were responsible for Kosovo.  If they destabilized the situation, that would cause problems, because what happened in Kosovo affected the other areas.

    On the presence of criminal activity other than the documented trafficking in persons, he said those who had been in power before were continuing to operate.  The iron network of power that had enmeshed Kosovo had also affected Albania.  Albanians were responsible for 40 per cent of drug trafficking in Europe.  A firm stand must be taken against those criminal activities.  

     Finally, he said the return of refugees to Croatia was now a matter of local governmental power.  In some regions, the same old nationalists were in office, and they tried to influence the make-up of their area.  Hopefully, there would be positive changes.  With regard to what could be expected in the post-Milosevic years, he said that despite the recent spotlight on Milosevic, ultimately he was just another of many dictators in the Balkans.  The primary result would be the ability to implement some new approaches and policies.  Milosevic had been a barrier to reasonable policy, and that barrier had now been removed.

    Statements

    MICHAEL POWLES (New Zealand) said the year 2000 had seen valuable additions to the tools available to the international community for the collective promotion and protection of human rights.  In that regard he welcomed the forthcoming entry into force of the Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women, as well as the opening for signature of the two Protocols to the Convention on the Rights of the Child.  The international community must strive to match the elaboration of human rights standards by ensuring that all people in all countries fully achieved those standards.  It was the duty of States, regardless of their political, economic and cultural systems, to promote and protect all human rights and fundamental freedoms.  In no State had that objective been fully achieved, including his own.  The reality was that despite having endorsed the fundamental precept of the inviolability of human rights, many States had fallen far short of international standards. 

    Those challenges had manifested themselves in New Zealand’s home region.  While much had been done with the invaluable help of the United Nations to stabilize the situation in East Timor, problems persisted.  He called on the Government of Indonesia to fully implement Security Council resolution 1319 and disarm and disband the militias in West Timor.  He also called on that Government to ensure security in refugee camps as well as the safety of humanitarian workers.  There was more unrest even closer to home, he continued, as he highlighted the events surrounding the violent overthrow of the elected Government of Fiji last May.  He was concerned that the interim Government was bent on introducing a new constitution that would promote certain rights for indigenous Fijians over the fundamental human rights of other races living in those islands.  His delegation condemned the violence and hoped that the Fiji Human Rights Commission could maintain its strength at a time when its work was needed most.  After briefly noting the negative impact on human rights in the Solomon Islands -- due to the fighting between the people of Malaita and Guadalcanal -- he turned to recent events farther from his homeland that were also of concern.  Those included the situation in the Middle East, Africa, the Balkans region, Mynamar, Cambodia and China.  He also expressed disappointment the General Assembly had not denounced the death penalty and called on all States to abolish the practice.  He also called for increased support for the Organization’s treaty bodies.

    SAYED DURAN (Venezuela) began by highlighting the process her country had gone through to undertake the elaboration of a new Magna Carta which embodied the fundamental principles of human rights, including respect for dignity, respect of person and respect for freedom of development.  With that process complete, there was now a new constitution aimed at strengthening the principles of human rights and bringing the country’s body of law into line with views prescribed by international human rights instruments and conventions.  Venezuela’s intention was to give broad application to human rights standards, so that all citizens would be protected and any violations investigated, perpetrators punished and reparations made to victims.  She said that the establishment of responsibilities and penalties, at all levels, was also important.  Most courts had been given competence to hear cases of human rights violations, and ombudsmen had been established to deal with impunity and cases of torture.  The new constitution also ensured that the rights of the indigenous community were protected.

    She went on to say that she was concerned at the “political spin” now being given to human rights issues.  That view was often contrary to the notion that human rights should be viewed with objectivity and non-selectivity.  Cooperation and not condemnation must prevail, she said.  The aim of the international community should always be to promote development and the spirit of non-intervention and respect for sovereignty.  The right to development was an inviolable human right linked to the idea of social fairness.  It was also the solid foundation for the development of democratic governments.  Development efforts must always place citizens at their centre.  Finally, she said that while globalization was not an excuse, the effects of that phenomenon on certain economic areas could not be ignored.  Globalization, accompanied by the added weight of external debt, often mitigated the efforts of governments to attend to the needs of their people. 

     RENATO MARTINO, Observer of the Holy See, said the persistence of abject poverty violated the dignity of humans and put them in a situation that impeded the exercise of their rights.  The fact of abject poverty in a world of huge scientific progress posed the great ethical challenge of the time.  Fighting poverty was not just a question of increasing the economic income, but involved the potentialization of all God had meant people to be, the ability to exercise their talents and potentials, and finally, the ability to overcome circumstances to make themselves and their societies more secure.

     Therefore, he said, the concept of development implied respect for all universally recognized human rights and fundamental freedoms.  Realization of those rights, however, was not simply a matter of coordinating the efforts of many different actors in the health, education and other fields.  A fresh approach to development posited a new framework, integrating the efforts of both the human rights and the development communities.  It involved new societal actors, including the business community.  Finally, it related to the entire person and the person’s integrity.

     Protecting human rights, he concluded, must now move beyond juridical terms to address a broader social, economic and cultural context within which that protection is to take place.  The individual’s cultural situation constituted the environment in which human rights passed from the theoretical to the practical understanding.  It then by necessity encompassed the spiritual and religious dimensions of individuals and communities.  

     Mr. AL-MUFTI (Sudan) recalled that the neutrality of human rights was as important as their indivisibility.  The treatment of human rights at the international level was indispensable, but it also had to be handled at the national level.  Sudan had been making a transition to a democratic form of government since its new constitution was adopted two years ago.  Its legislation guaranteed equality with regard to elections and opportunities.  Thirty-three political parties had been registered, but even those not registered were active and supported by the Government, which had taken such measures as restoring properties that had been taken from them.

     The Special Rapporteur had been welcomed by Sudan during his visit, he continued, and the Special Representative on slavery was visiting at the Government’s invitations.  The Government was cooperating on delivery of humanitarian assistance.  The Special Representative on children and armed conflict had been received, as had Human Rights Watch and others.  Sudan was cooperating with regional human rights bodies, including the African Human Rights Commission.  The ceasefire was enabling the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) to carry out its vaccination programmes.

     In addition, steps were being taken to find a peaceful solution to the situation in the South, he said.  The Government had announced its readiness for a permanent ceasefire.  It had agreed to the right to self-determination for the South.  At this point, the rebels alone were responsible for human rights violations.  He appealed to the international community to apply pressure on the rebels to bring them into compliance.

     ANTONIO MONTEIRO (Portugal) said human rights education was essential for the promotion and protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms worldwide. It was important for all persons at all levels of society to be fully aware of their own rights, the rights of others, and the mechanisms available to safeguard and ensure respect for those rights.  It was also fundamental to guarantee that human rights education constituted a lifelong process with an effective impact on the attitudes and behaviours of all, thus promoting a universal culture of human rights.  Such education could not merely consist of teaching human rights and the contents of human rights instruments:  it should rather be aimed at developing and enhancing respect for those rights.  

     Portugal fully endorsed the objectives of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and to that end had established a National Commission for the commemoration of the fiftieth anniversary of the Convention as well as the Decade for human rights education.  The Commission focused on initiatives undertaken by schools, municipalities, local human rights organizations and the media.  Those initiatives focused on such activities as organizing seminars and workshops on related human rights topics, distributing the texts of human rights instruments free of charge, and publishing material on human rights education.  At the mid-term of the United Nations Decade for Human Rights Education, Portugal was committed to further developing its efforts to promote an effective human rights education for adults and children alike. 

    KISHORE MAHBUBANI (Singapore) said on 26 April an innocuous resolution entitled "Human Rights and Responsibilities" was tabled at the Commission on Human Rights.  The text stressed the "urgent need to give practical effect to the specific responsibilities defined in all human rights instruments".  The resolution also requested the Sub-Commission on the Promotion and Protection of Human Rights to undertake a study on the issue of human rights and responsibilities.  The text was adopted but it was a close shave.  The voting showed a clear North-South divide -- the South in favour and the North against.  That vote was puzzling on several counts.  Firstly, one of the cardinal doctrines of liberal thought is that all ideas should be fully discussed so that "we can freely ascertain which ones are right and which are wrong".  Yet, it was the North which voted against a discussion and study of human responsibilities.

     What was even more puzzling was that the notion of exploring the links between human rights and human responsibilities did not come from a developing country.  The key promoter of the idea was a former Chancellor of the Federal Republic of Germany, Helmut Schmidt, who also chaired the Interaction Council whose members included former Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Fraser, President Jimmy Carter, and former United Kingdom Prime Minister John Major.  The Council carefully studied the issue of Human Rights and Responsibilities.  At the end of their deliberations, a draft entitled the "Universal Declaration of Human Responsibilities" was given to the General Assembly for consideration.  The 19 articles of that draft declaration reflected commonly held beliefs. 

     Three years had gone by since the Declaration was circulated.  None of the traditional defenders of the right to discuss new ideas chose to sponsor it for discussion.  They tried to suppress it instead.  For humanity in the twenty-first century, the achievement of a proper balance between rights and responsibilities was important.  "I have a right to do as I please, may be feasible in an empty world", he said.  Where one had luxury of space and unlimited resources, each might live to suit himself.  "But in a world of 8 to 10 billion human beings, a dogmatic insistence on rights will lead us all to perdition."  One of the greatest conceits of the twentieth century was the belief that modern people had liberated themselves from the closed minds of their ancestors.  "But our inability to allow a study or discussion of the Declaration on Human Responsibilities shows that we have a long way to go", he said.  He hoped that when the Sub-Committee completed its study, it would encourage and not suppress discussion of the study. 

     ANTONIO LEAL CORDEIRO (Angola) said that regardless of armed conflicts in the new millennium, the international community must continue to denounce violations of rights and promote respect for human dignity and mutual respect among different people.  The right to development was the path to achieving fundamental freedom within social and economic development.  It was also the way to promote the new economic order, such as that needed for the “development compacts” that the Independent Expert on the right to development had discussed.  To gain the attention of the international community for that direction, the Committee must adopt the resolution on the right to development by consensus.

     His country had suffered many human rights abuses since the start of hostilities by the National Union for the Total Independence of Angola (UNITA) in 1992.  However, the Government had taken steps to improve conditions.  In one project, law graduates would be placed in police stations of Luanda to strengthen human rights.  In another project, police officers and military personnel were improving their civic knowledge and commitment to people and human rights.  Finally, a course had been introduced in the primary school curriculum which reinforced human rights values and enhanced the ability to resolve conflicts Non-violently.

     DUBRAVKA SIMONOVIC (Croatia) noted the progress made in her country because of cooperative projects with the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights.  Under a technical cooperation project, civil servants and non-governmental organizations were given in-depth training in human rights.  In October, a United Nations Human Right Documentation Centre had opened in Zagreb.  As a gesture of support, Croatia had responded to the High Commissioner’s appeal with a financial donation to her Office.

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