Press Releases

     

    GA/SHC/3765
    14 November 2003

    THIRD COMMITTEE APPROVES 10 DRAFT RESOLUTIONS ON
    PALESTINIAN RIGHTS, USE OF MERCENARIES,
    REFUGEE ISSUES, MIGRANT WORKERS

    Reports Discussed on Violence against Women, Human Rights Defenders

    NEW YORK, 13 November (UN Headquarters) -- The Third Committee (Social, Humanitarian and Cultural) today approved draft resolutions on self-determination concerning the Palestinian people and the use of mercenaries.  The Committee also approved draft resolutions on the rights of migrant workers, the prevention of torture, assistance for refugees and internally displaced persons, and on actions affecting the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. 

    Also today, the Special Representative of the Secretary-General on Human Rights Defenders and the Special Rapporteur on violence against women presented their reports to the Committee. 

    The draft resolution on the right of Palestinian people to self- determination was approved by a vote of 159 States in favour to 2 against (United States and Israel) (see Annex I).  The draft would have the General Assembly reaffirm the right of the Palestinian people to an independent State and urge all States and the specialized agencies and organizations of the United Nations system to continue to support and assist the Palestinian people in realizing that right. 

    The representative of Israel, explaining his vote against the draft, said Israel recognized the right of peoples to self-determination throughout the world, including the Middle East.  However, self-determination did not justify violence and terrorism.  Furthermore, he said, the draft resolution prejudged the consultations on the implementation of the Road Map and was therefore not constructive.

    The Observer for Palestine stressed that the reaffirmation of the right to self-determination was essential for the resolution of the conflict in the Middle East.  He said the negative vote cast by Israel signified that Israel did not recognize a peace or mutual recognition. 

    The Committee also approved a draft resolution on the use of mercenaries as a means of violating human rights and impeding the exercise of the right of peoples to self-determination by a vote of 111 in favour to 23 against, with 27 abstentions (see Annex II). 

    The representative of Cuba, the main sponsor of the resolution, said the continued involvement of mercenaries in armed conflict and criminal activities made the issue more pressing today than ever before.

    The representative of Italy on behalf of the European Union, explaining its members’ vote against the resolution, said the European Union believed that the use of mercenaries did not fall within the mandate of the Third Committee and that its consideration of the issue and of elaborating a legal definition of the term “mercenaries” fell within the competence of the Sixth Committee.

    The representative of New Zealand, speaking also on behalf of Canada, Australia, Switzerland, Liechtenstein and Norway, said these delegations had voted against the draft as it was too narrowly focused on self-determination and did not address relevant criminal and human rights aspects related to mercenaries.

    Also today, six draft resolutions related to refugees were approved by the Committee, including on the assistance to refugees, returnees and displaced persons in Africa and on assistance to unaccompanied refugee minors.  A draft resolution on the Office of the United High Commissioner for Refugees was approved that would have the General Assembly urge all States and relevant non-governmental organizations and other organizations to cooperate and mobilize resources to enhance the capacity and reduce the heavy burden of countries that have received large numbers of refugees. 

    Draft resolutions were also approved on actions proposed by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees to strengthen the capacity of his Office to carry out its mandate and on the enlargement of the Executive Committee of the Programme of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. 

    Also approved was a resolution on the follow-up to the Regional Conference to Address the Problems of Refugees, Displaced Persons, Other Forms of Involuntary Displacement and Returnees in the Countries of the Commonwealth of Independent States and Relevant Neighbouring States. 

    A draft resolution was approved on torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment that would have the General Assembly urge governments to take effective measures to provide redress and to prevent torture and other cruel and inhuman punishment.

    The Committee approved a draft resolution on the International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of Their Families that would have the General Assembly call on States that have not yet ratified the Convention to consider signing and ratifying or acceding to it.

                                                                                                                                                 

    Prior to the actions taken on draft resolutions, the Third Committee was briefed by Hina Jilani, the Special Representative of the Secretary-General on Human Rights Defenders.  She highlighted concerns raised by human rights defenders across the world that national security legislation was having a negative impact on human rights and might actually be counterproductive in addressing terrorism. 

    The Committee also heard from Yakin Erturk, the Special Rapporteur on violence against women, its causes and consequences.  She addressed the specific situation of women and girls in Afghanistan and appealed to all States to take action to eradicate violence against women in Afghanistan as well as in all countries.  She stressed that all relevant actors and resources needed to be mobilized to realize the goal of increasing women’s participation in the shaping of Afghanistan’s future. 

    Speaking in exercise of the right of reply were the representatives of Zimbabwe, Syria, Colombia, Pakistan, Belarus, Togo and Uganda.

    The Committee will reconvene tomorrow, Friday 14 November, at 10 a.m., to continue its consideration of human rights questions, including alternative approaches to the promotion of human rights and fundamental freedoms and the report of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights.

    Background

    The Third Committee (Social, Humanitarian and Cultural) is expected to take action on draft resolutions concerning human rights, social development, refugees, torture and the right of peoples to self-determination.

    Also before the Committee today are reports of the Special Rapporteurs on violence against women in Afghanistan and on human rights defenders.

    A draft resolution on the International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of Their Families (document A/C.3/58/L.45) would have the General Assembly call on States that have not yet ratified the Convention to consider signing and ratifying or acceding to it.  It would also call upon States parties to the Convention to submit, in a timely manner, their first periodic report, as requested in article 73 of the Convention.

    A draft resolution on the Office of the United High Commissioner for Refugees (document A/C.3/58/L.39) would have the General Assembly urge all States and relevant non-governmental organizations and other organizations to cooperate and to mobilize resources with a view to enhancing the capacity of and reducing the heavy burden borne by countries that have received large numbers of refugees and asylum seekers.

    It would emphasize the obligation of all States to accept the return of their nationals and would call upon States to facilitate the return of their nationals who have been determined not to be in need of international protection.  It would also encourage the Office of the High Commissioner to continue to improve its management systems and to ensure effective and transparent use of its resources.

    A draft on implementing actions proposed by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees to strengthen the capacity of his Office to carry out its mandate (document A/C.3/58/L.41) would have the General Assembly remove the temporal limitation on the continuation of the Office of the High Commissioner contained in its resolution 57/186 of 18 December 2002 and to continue the Office of the High Commissioner until refugee problems are solved.  It would also have the High Commissioner report annually on an oral basis to the Economic and Social Council to keep it informed of the coordination aspects of the work of the Office, and to continue the existing practice of presenting an annual written report to the General Assembly.

    A draft resolution on the enlargement of the Executive Committee of the Programme of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (document A/C.3/58/L.40) would have the General Assembly increase the number of members of the Executive Committee of the Programme of the United Nations High Commmissioner for Refugees from 64 to 66 States.  It would also have the Economic and Social Council elect the additional members at its resumed organizational session for 2004.

    A draft resolution on the follow-up to the Regional Conference to Address the Problems of Refugees, Displaced Persons, Other Forms of Involuntary Displacement and Returnees in the Countries of the Commonwealth of Independent States and Relevant Neighbouring States (document A/C.3/58/L.43) would have the General Assembly invite the countries of the Commonwealth of Independent States to intensify bilateral, subregional and regional cooperation in maintaining the balance of commitments and interests in such activities.  These Governments would also be called upon to continue to strengthen their commitment to the principles underpinning the Programme of Action adopted at the Conference, in particular principles of human rights and refugee protection, and to lend high-level political support to ensure the implementation of activities undertaken in follow-up to the Programme of Action.

    A draft resolution on the use of mercenaries as a means of violating human rights and impeding the exercise of the right of peoples to self-determination (document A/C.3/58/L.32) would have the General Assembly urge all States to take the necessary steps and to exercise the utmost vigilance against the menace posed by the activities of mercenaries.  It would have States take legislative measures to ensure that their territories were not used for the recruitment, assembly, financing, training and transit of mercenaries for the planning of activities designed to impede the right of peoples to self-determination, to destabilize or overthrow the government of any State, or to impair the territorial or political integrity of sovereign and independent States.  Legislative measures should include a specific ban on the intervention of private companies in armed conflicts through the recruitment, training, hiring or financing of mercenaries by such companies.

    The above draft would also have the General Assembly call upon States to investigate the possibility of mercenary involvement whenever and wherever criminal acts of a terrorist nature occur and bring to trial those found responsible or to consider their extradition, if so requested.  It would also call upon all States that have not yet done so to consider acceding to or ratifying the International Convention against the Recruitment, Use, Financing and Training of Mercenaries.

    A draft resolution on the right of the Palestinian people to self-determination (document A/C.3/58/L.35), would have the General Assembly reaffirm the right of the Palestinian people to their independent State of Palestine and urge all States and the specialized agencies and organizations of the United Nations system to continue to support and assist the Palestinian people in the early realization of their right to self-determination.

    A draft resolution on torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment (document A/C.3/58/L.42) would have the General Assembly urge governments to take effective measures to provide redress and to prevent torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment, including their gender-based manifestation.  Governments would also be called upon to take appropriate effective legislative, administrative, judicial or other measures to prevent and prohibit the production, trade, export and use of equipment that is specifically designed to inflict torture or other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment.

    The Special Rapporteur would be invited to continue to examine questions of torture and related treatment directed against women and children, and conditions conducive to such torture, and to make appropriate recommendations for the prevention and redress of gender-specific forms of torture, including rape or any other form of sexual violence.  The General Assembly would also stress the importance of the work of the United Nations Voluntary Fund for Victims of Torture and its Board and appeal to governments and organizations to contribute annually to the Fund.  The General Assembly would also call upon all governments, United Nations bodies and agencies and non-governmental organizations to commemorate, on 26 June, the United Nations International Day in Support of Victims of Torture.

    A draft on assistance to refugees, returnees and displaced persons in Africa (document A/C.3/58/L.37/Rev.1) would have the General Assembly call upon States and other parties to armed conflict to observe scrupulously the letter and the spirit of international humanitarian law, bearing in mind that armed conflict was one of the principal causes of forced displacement in Africa.  The Assembly would further reaffirm that host States had the primary responsibility to ensure the civilian and humanitarian character of asylum, and call upon States to take all necessary measures to ensure respect for the principles of refugee protection and to ensure also that the civilian and humanitarian nature of refugee camps was not compromised by the presence or the activities of armed elements.

    Under the text, the Assembly would also condemn any exploitation of refugees, especially their sexual abuse and exploitation, and call for those responsible for such deplorable acts to be brought to justice.  The Assembly would also appeal to the international community to respond positively to the third-country resettlement requests of African refugees and call on it to provide assistance for the implementation of community-based development programmes which benefited both refugees and host communities.

    A draft resolution on assistance to unaccompanied minors (document A/C.3/58/L.38) would have the General Assembly stress the importance of providing adequate resources for programmes of identification, registration, documentation and tracing of unaccompanied minors and their reunification with their families.  The General Assembly would also call upon the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, in cooperation with other relevant United Nations bodies, to incorporate into its programmes, policies that aim at preventing the separation of refugee families, conscious of the importance of the family unit.  In addition, States and other parties to conflicts would be called upon to respect international humanitarian law and the provisions of the Convention on the Rights of the Child, which accord children affected by armed conflict special protection and treatment.

    The General Assembly would also condemn all acts of exploitation of unaccompanied refugee minors, including their use as soldiers or human shields in armed conflict and their forced recruitment into military forces.

    The Committee will also review a report of Hina Jilani, Special Representative of the Secretary-General on Human Rights Defenders (document A/58/380). The report addresses two related concerns -- the use of security legislation against human rights defenders and the role and situation of human rights defenders in emergencies.  Section II of the report provides a brief profile of security legislation.  While the Special Representative’s primary focus is on national security legislation, she also considers it important to examine related United Nations resolutions.

    She describes general trends indicating a significant increase in the use of security legislation, including in counter-terrorism policies and actions.  The report then describes how security legislation has been used to limit the possibilities for defenders to conduct their human rights work, and how such legislation has sometimes been used directly against defenders themselves.

    Section III of the report describes the essential role of human rights defenders in the context of emergency situations, including armed conflicts.  She notes that in emergencies, when human rights defenders are most needed, they are often prevented by some State and non-State actors from having access to the victims of violations or places where they occur.  Defenders are themselves targeted and are increasingly the victims of killings, torture, arrest, detention and other acts as a direct response to their human rights work.

    Section IV examines the Declaration on human rights defenders in the context of both security legislation and emergencies, and interprets the Declaration in the light of the wider international human rights legal framework.  Section V provides a brief conclusion and defines priority recommendations addressed to States, the United Nations, regional bodies, the media and defenders themselves.

    While recognizing and supporting the imperative need for States to ensure security and to end terrorism, including in the context of emergencies, the Special Representative expresses throughout her report deep concern that actions against defenders weaken accountability for human rights violations, contribute to impunity and could lead to a worsening of emergencies and the perpetuation of human rights abuses.

    Also before the Committee is a related report of the Secretary-General on national institutions for the promotion and protection of human rights (document A/58/261), which covers activities for the period from July 2001 through July 2003 and contains information on the activities undertaken by the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights to establish and strengthen national institutions; the measures taken by governments and national institutions in this regard; the support provided to regional activities of national human rights institutions; and the consultations held by treaty bodies and special mechanisms of the Commission on Human Rights with national institutions.  Information regarding the work of national institutions in respect of specific thematic issues is also included.

    The report concludes that the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights will continue to strengthen established national human rights institutions and provide support to Member States that are in the process of establishing such institutions.  Holding regional and international meetings of national institutions to promote the exchange of information and experience concerning the establishment and effective operation of such institutions has proved an effective mechanism for strengthening those institutions.

    The Committee will consider a report of Yakin Erturk, Special Rapporteur on violence against women, its causes and consequences, on the situation of women and girls in Afghanistan (document A/58/421).  The Special Rapporteur welcomes the ratification of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women by the Government of Afghanistan as a sign of its political will and commitment to end gender discrimination.  However, despite some progress over the last year, concerns remain.  The Special Rapporteur urges the Government to take steps to tackle impunity for perpetrators of violence against women, while at the same time establish the rule of law.  The need for legal and judicial reform, in line with international standards, is emphasized as a first step. 

    The report also recommends that the Afghan Transitional Authority ensure that harmful practices and rituals in the community that violate the human rights of women are eliminated and promote the full participation of women in the political, social and economic spheres of life of the country.  Concerning women victims of sexual offences, it is recommended that protective custody as a means of dealing with victims of gender-based violence should be replaced by alternative methods that respect women’s rights and freedom.

    The report further recommends that capacity be developed within law enforcement and judicial agencies to ensure that the criminal justice system is able to effectively bring the perpetrators of violence against women, including forced marriage and the sale of girls, to justice.  Affirmative measures are also needed to increase the number of female police officers, prosecutors and judges.  Steps must be taken to ensure that violence against women, including rape, the sale or handing over of women and girls to settle disputes or as compensation, and forced marriages are criminalized.  The Afghan Transitional Authority should abolish laws, including those related to “zina”, that discriminate against women and girls and lead to their imprisonment and cruel, inhuman and degrading punishment.

    In addition, the report recommends that the international community provide long-term assistance, as well as current budget support, for the expenses of the Afghan Transitional Authority, and for the social and economic reconstruction and rehabilitation of Afghan society, and to create sustainable change for women in Afghanistan.  The international community must continue to support the Security Council mandate for the engagement of the International Security Assistance Force, to allow for stabilization of the security situation and provide support for the central administration while national security forces are being developed.

    A note by the Secretary-General (document A/58/334) concerns the report of the independent expert on the situation of human rights in Afghanistan.  The note explains that, since mid-August 2003 the independent expert had yet to be appointed, he/she would limit him/herself to an oral presentation.

    Human Rights Defenders

    HINA JILANI, Special Representative of the Secretary-General on Human Rights Defenders, said defenders across the world had raised concern that national security legislation was having a very negative impact upon human rights and might actually be counterproductive in addressing terrorism.  Security legislation was being used against defenders for two main reasons.  Unfortunately, in some States, authorities appeared to consider that defenders and the human rights standards they advocated were obstacles to the implementation of measures being adopted to counter terrorism.  Secondly, some States were abusing security and counter-terrorism concerns to illegitimately target defenders. 

    Anti-terrorism laws had given law enforcement and intelligence agencies exceptional powers of surveillance and investigation without judicial review, a trend that was particularly disturbing given that security forces were the most common perpetrators of violations against defenders in the cases she received.  She said security legislation had been used to arrest and detain human rights defenders including trade unionists, student leaders, political activists, religious groups, academics, lawyers, journalists and non-governmental organizations workers in response to their human rights activities. 

    The second part of her report focused on the role and situation of human rights defenders in emergencies, she said.  Extrajudicial killings, disappearances, kidnapping, torture, rape, arbitrary arrest, the recruitment of children as soldiers and impunity were among the human rights concerns that were common to emergency situations.  In such situations, the role of human rights defenders was at its most crucial. 

    She expressed deep concern that, in many current and recent emergencies, at a time when they were needed the most, defenders were often prevented from conducting their human rights work.  In addition, defenders had themselves become the deliberate targets of human rights violations.  She recalled with deep regret the killing in Baghdad in August 2003 of Sergio Vieira de Mello, High Commissioner for Human Rights, and other United Nations personnel.  Those were, yet, more human rights defenders who had fallen victim to extremism and terrorism. 

    Interactive Dialogue

    Speaking on behalf of the European Union, the representative of Italy asked about regional approaches to protect human rights defenders.  In addition, he asked if the Special Representative had been in touch with the media in her work and whether she thought the media could play an important role in awareness rising on the role played by human rights defenders.

    Ms. JILANI said that the use of the media to protect human rights defenders was critical.  She informed the press of the objectives of her missions and reported to the press once a mission was completed.  It was important to raise awareness about human rights defenders for their protection as well as the promotion of human rights. 

    The representative of Cuba asked about the responsibility of individuals and groups in the protection of human rights defenders. 

    Responding, Ms. JILANI said that she had mentioned the responsibility of individuals, groups, institutions and non-governmental organizations in the report.  They played a role in safeguarding democracy and the promotion of human rights. 

    Norway was gravely concerned that in a number of countries, in all regions of the world, impunity for threats and acts against human rights defenders persisted, said a representative of that country.  She urged States to ensure that all measures to combat terrorism complied with international law and respected the rights of human rights defenders.  She asked how the United Nations could better integrate her findings and recommendations into its work to promote human rights and the rule of law. 

    Ms. JILANI said that her report addressed the role that could be played by the United Nations.  It was important that the special rapporteurs and representatives of the United Nations visited countries and analysed information received in order to shed light on what was happening on the ground.  All special rapporteurs attached great importance to the verification of the information received and its accuracy.  The role of the United Nations was critical and must not be underestimated. 

    The representative of Switzerland asked about the vulnerability of local human rights defenders in emergency situations.  Was there any strategy to increase the attention given to local defenders? 

    Responding, she said it was important that the freedom of movement of human rights defenders be ensured.  This was one way of making sure of both the safety of human rights defenders and the transmission of information.  She regretted that, in many cases, human rights defenders who had testified even to the United Nations had been harmed locally. 

    Could dialogue between human rights defenders and government authorities ensure the protection of defenders? asked the representative of Indonesia.

    Ms. JILANI said that one could never underestimate the importance and efficacy of dialogue between persons.  However, dialogue had to be undertaken with good faith and sufficient flexibility on both sides in order to strengthen prospects for the respect of human rights.  She stressed that such a dialogue must be between equals.  It was the role of the State to initiate and ensure such dialogue. 

    Violence against Women, Afghanistan

    YAKIN ERTURK, Special Rapporteur on violence against women, its causes and consequences, presenting her report, addressed the specific situation of women and girls in Afghanistan and appealed to all States to take action to eradicate violence against women in Afghanistan as well as in all countries.  Women around the world continued to suffer violence in the home, in the community, in detention, in armed conflict and within the context of terrorism and the war on terror. 

    She welcomed the positive steps that had been taken in Afghanistan this year, including the ratification of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women and the pioneering work of the Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission and the Ministry of Women’s Affairs.  It was encouraging that large numbers of women had sought to participate in public consultations for the drafting of the new constitution.  As the transitional process continued, she said measures needed to be taken to ensure the full participation of women in the Constitutional Loya Jirga and in all phases of the process of review and adoption of the constitution. 

    Outlining the many challenges still to be overcome in Afghanistan before women there would be able to live free from violence, intimidation and subordination, she said the forces that benefited from maintaining a war economy and destabilizing the country were still active.  This situation undermined efforts to create an environment that was free of intimidation, harassment, oppression and violence. Moreover, there were great disparities between the situation of women and girls in Kabul and the rest of the country, as well as between the conditions in rural and urban areas. 

    Impunity and political instability created conditions for the emergence of new forms of violence and discrimination against women, she continued.  Women outside Kabul were threatened by the influence of local commanders who reportedly committed acts of extortion, looting, harassment, kidnapping and sexual abuse of women with impunity.  The expansion of the central Government’s authority over the provinces was essential. 

    The prevalence of conservative attitudes and discriminatory practices also served to perpetuate multiple forms of discrimination and violence against women.  Women were also denied access to justice and were discriminated against by the justice system.  She stressed that all relevant actors and resources needed to be mobilized to realize the goal of increasing women’s participation in the shaping of Afghanistan’s future. 

    Interactive Dialogue

    The representative of Italy, speaking on behalf of the European Union, asked the Special Rapporteur to address how she envisaged her future work.  Had she planned a mission in Afghanistan?  What would be the programme of work on this mission?  Noting that her delegation shared the Special Rapporteur’s concerns that a large number of women should be consulted for the drafting of the constitution in Afghanistan, she asked the Special Rapporteur whether she thought the current draft included enough safeguards for the promotion and protection of women’s rights to ensure they would have equal rights with men. 

    Ms. ERTURK, responding, said she would be carrying out a mission in Afghanistan, but specific plans had not yet been made.  That was indeed something she needed to do to support her report, so that it could include her own observations.  Regarding the current text of the draft constitution, she said some initiatives had been taken, but the current wording lagged behind the aspirations of Afghan women and existing international norms on women’s rights.  Women’s groups were working hard to ensure women would have a greater voice in drafting of the Constitution so that sufficient equality provisions would be integrated. 

    The representative of Afghanistan expressed his gratitude for the Special Rapporteur’s report and said his delegation endorsed its recommendations.  He reiterated that his Government was committed to respect, promote and protect human rights instruments, especially those concerning women and girls.  The consolidation of peace and security and the realization of human rights, including the human rights of women, had been initiated two years ago, and his Government continued to be fully committed to the full realization of those rights. 

    The representative of Canada asked the Special Rapporteur for her recommendations on practical steps the international community could take at this stage to help Afghan women increase their participation in the drafting of the constitution.  Regarding the report’s discussion of the need to implement international commitments to eliminate gender-based violence, what were her preliminary plans for the first year of her term as Special Rapporteur?  She also asked the Special Rapporteur to discuss her views on violence against women and how they related to the fight against HIV/AIDS. 

    Ms. ERTURK, responding, said the international community had done much to support women in Afghanistan, both at governmental and non-governmental levels, and she welcomed initiatives of women non-governmental organizations around the world that were supporting the aspirations of Afghan women.  A dialogue between Afghan women and women from other Muslim countries could provide guidelines in resolving problems in Afghanistan.  Major challenges lay in turning established standards into concrete action. 

    Regarding efforts to combat violence against women, she said she saw four main strategies:  the adoption of gender perspective in all policy-making; the elimination of all forms of discriminatory provisions and practices from legislation and society; the design and implementation of programmes to increase women’s empowerment, which was key to fighting violence against women; and the continuation of a dialogue with men and alliance with like-minded men to address issues related to gender equality. 

    The representative of Liechtenstein asked the Special Rapporteur what channels she was using to bring the information in her report to the attention of the Security Council.  Did she have sufficient access to the Security Council to bring the outcome of her work to the attention of that body?  How did she intend to contribute to the ongoing process concerning women, peace and security based on resolution 1325?

    The representative of Iran expressed his delegation’s concerns that all manifestations of violence against women around the world be given equal importance. 

    Ms. ERTURK said she had not yet had a meeting with the Security Council, but it was on her agenda.  She would also be meeting with NGO working groups on women to work on issues of peace and security.  She noted peace was one of the weakest areas in the Beijing goals and still posed a major challenge to the international community. 

    Violence was engrained in inequality, she continued, and gender inequality was the most pervasive.  Violence took different forms, and certainly one should not be blind to other forms of violence while prioritizing others. 

    Action on Draft Resolutions

    The Committee had before it a draft resolution on assistance to refugees, returnees and displaced persons in Africa (documentA/C.3/58/L.37/Rev.1). 

    The draft was approved without a vote.

    Also approved without a vote was a draft resolution, as orally revised, on assistance to unaccompanied refugee minors (document A/C.3/58/L.38). 

    Before it was approved, the representative of the United States commented on an amendment made to the draft.  Additional time to consider the revision would have been useful.  Her delegation had consistently stated that international humanitarian law governed the conduct of States in armed conflict.  The reference to international humanitarian law, international human rights law and refugee law in the draft risked blurring important legal concepts. 

    The representative of Switzerland said she was pleased to see the revision to the draft and appreciated that such language had been included. 

    A draft resolution on the Office of the High Commissioner for Refugees (document A/C.3/58/L.39) was also approved without a vote. 

    The Committee approved, without a vote, a draft resolution on the enlargement of the Executive Committee of the Programme of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (document A/C.3/58/L.40).

    After the approval of the draft, the representative of Egypt thanked delegations for approving the draft and said he hoped for their support for the election of Egypt and Zambia. 

    The Committee had before it a draft resolution on implementing actions proposed by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees to strengthen the capacity of his Office to carry out its mandate (document A/C.3/58/L.41).

    The draft resolution was approved without a vote as orally amended by the representative of Denmark.

    The Committee also approved without a vote a draft resolution on the follow-up to the Regional Conference to Address the Problems of Refugees, Displaced Persons, Other Forms of Involuntary Displacement and Returnees in the Countries of the Commonwealth of Independent States and Relevant Neighbouring States (document A/C.3/58/L.43).

    Resuming its consideration of the right of peoples to self-determination, the Committee had before it a draft resolution on the use of mercenaries as a means of violating human rights and impeding the exercise of the right of peoples to self-determination (document A/C.3/58/L.32).

    In a general statement before the vote the representative of Cuba said that today it was more important than ever before to deal with the use of mercenaries violating human rights and impeding the right of peoples to self-determination.

    In explanation of vote before the vote the representative of Italy, speaking on behalf of the European Union, said the European Union shared concerns about the impact of mercenary activities on the duration and nature of armed conflict and condemned mercenary activities wherever they occurred.  However, it could not support the draft resolution, as it continued to have doubts on whether the Third Committee was the right forum to deal with the problem of mercenary activity and whether the High Commissioner for Human Rights should be asked to devote priority attention to this subject.

    The European Union questioned whether the use of mercenaries should be dealt with primarily as a human rights problem and as a threat to the right of peoples to self-determination.  That did not seem to fall within the mandate of the Third Committee.  The European Union believed that the consideration of the use of mercenaries and the question of elaborating a legal definition of the term “mercenaries” fell within the competence of the Sixth Committee.

                                                                                                                                                 

    The Third Committee approved, with 111 votes in favour, 23 votes against and 27 abstentions, the draft resolution on the use of mercenaries as a means of violating human rights and impeding the exercise of the right of peoples to self-determination (see Annex I).

    The representative of Argentina, explaining his delegation’s vote after the vote, said his delegation had voted in favour of the resolution but regretted that the relevant resolutions on decolonization were not mentioned in the text.

    The representative of Armenia, explaining her delegation’s vote after the vote, said the situation of mercenary recruitment in the south Caucasus had been aggravated by religious conflict and because of its concerns regarding this situation her delegation had voted in favour of the draft resolution.

    The representative of New Zealand, speaking also on behalf of Canada, Australia, Switzerland, Lichtenstein and Norway, explaining their vote after the vote, said the draft resolution was narrowly focused on self-determination and continued to be politically motivated.  The use of mercenaries was a growing international problem that raised complex issues.  Because the resolution failed to address criminal and human rights aspects related to mercenaries, these delegations had voted against the draft and believed the time had come to redraft the resolution. 

    The representative of Azerbaijan, explaining his delegation’s vote after the vote, said Azerbaijan voted in favour of the draft resolution since it believed the right of the Azerbaijani people was violated by the aggression of neighbouring States.  His delegation would like to draw attention to the aggression of a neighbouring State against Azerbaijan.  He reiterated his delegation’s view that minorities should not refer to the rights of people to self–determination as a justification for destroying the territorial integrity and sovereignty of States.

    The Committee had before it a draft resolution on the right of Palestinian people to self-determination (document A/C.3/58/L.35).

    A recorded vote had been requested by the United States.

    Explaining the vote before the vote, the representative of Italy, speaking on behalf of the European Union, said the European Union would vote in favour of the draft.  The European Union was committed to enabling the Palestinian people to fulfil their unconditional right to self-determination, including the possibility of establishing a sovereign State. 

    The representative of the European Union warmly welcomed the fact that the international community, including the Middle East Quartet, had affirmed the objective of two States, Israel and Palestine.  The right to self-determination included the holding of elections within the framework of a democratic society.  The European Union strongly supported the Palestinians in their efforts to hold free and fair elections as early as possible in 2004. 

    The representative of Rwanda informed the Committee that he had by mistake pressed the wrong button when voting on L.32.  He had meant to vote in favour of the draft.

                                                                                                                                                 

    The draft resolution on the right of the Palestinian people to self-determination was then put to the vote and approved in a vote of 159in favour and 2 against (Israel and the United States) (see Annex II).

    After the vote, the representative of Israel explained his vote against the draft.  Israel recognized the right of peoples to self-determination throughout the world, including the Middle East.  Israel did not want to dominate the Palestinians and did not want to control their future.  Israel supported the Road Map proposed by President Bush.  Self-determination was, however, not a blank cheque and did not justify violence, terrorism or the killing of innocent civilians.  He stressed that the draft resolution prejudged the consultations on the implementation of the Road Map and was therefore not constructive.

    The representative of Canada said his country supported the right of the Palestinian people to self-determination.  Even though Canada had voted in favour, he believed that the fulfilment of this right would best be served through the negotiations between Israel and Palestine. 

    A representative of Australia said that Australia had consistently supported the Palestinian right to self-determination.  Australia would have preferred it if the draft had made reference to the internationally recognized Road Map.  He added that the Palestinians must ensure the end of violence in order to attain their right to self-determination. 

    The Observer for Palestine thanked delegations for their votes and stressed that the reaffirmation of the right to self-determination was essential for the resolution of the conflict in the Middle East.  The negative vote cast by Israel signified that Israel did not recognize a peace or mutual recognition.  The vote by the United States against the right to self-determination was sending mixed signals.  Voting against the resolution brought into question the capability of the United States to serve as an honest broker in the peace negotiations.

    The representative of Egypt said he hoped that it was the last time the Committee would have this question before it.  Egypt was committed to the right of self-determination and would continue to put forward this resolution until Palestine was free.  One day Palestine would move from the Observer seat to a Member seat. 

    It was regrettable that human rights matters were used to achieve political and social interests, said the representative of Yemen.  Because of special political interests some situations were highlighted and others ignored.  The delegation of Yemen believed that there was a total lack of transparency in country-specific draft resolutions and would therefore refrain from taking part in the voting on any such draft.  

                                                                                                                                                 

    The Committee then adopted a draft resolution on torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment (document A/C.3/58/L.42) without a vote. 

    Before the Committee there was a draft resolution on International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of Their Families (document A/C.3/58/L.45).

    The draft was approved without a vote.

    Statements in Exercise of Right of Reply

                                                                                                                                                 

    At the beginning of its afternoon meeting, the Committee heard statements in exercise of the right of reply.  A representative of Zimbabwe, exercising the right of reply in response to a statement made by the representatives of the United States and Canada, said his country was concerned about the respect for human rights.  Zimbabwe was party to several human rights instruments and was willing to cooperate   It was regrettable that a few self-appointed monitors used human rights as a pretext for their own political interests.

    The United States had referred to an “economic meltdown” in Zimbabwe.  However, the United States had forgotten to mention that the United States was partly responsible for this situation through unilateral economic actions.  The United States was shedding crocodile tears for the situation in Zimbabwe.  He added that the United States must not criticize other States’ respect for human rights, when its own record was shady.  The treatment of minorities in the United States was renowned.  In addition, the United States was the only country that applied the death penalty to children below the age of 18 years of age.  The United States had also violated civil and political rights in preventing the demonstrations in New York a few months ago. 

    Regarding the statement made by the representative of Canada, he stressed that Canada’s record in the treatment of minorities left a lot to be desired.  Human rights must be applied in a non-selective manner and not be used as a political tool.

    A representative of Syria, exercising the right of reply, said that human rights must not be used to criticize other Member States.  It was regrettable that meetings on human rights issues had recently become increasingly politicized.  Some of the countries that had appointed themselves as the protectors of human rights were themselves violating human rights. 

    Addressing the United States, she said that country was violating human rights throughout the world.  Turning to assertions made by the representative of Canada, she clarified a situation involving a Canadian-Syrian person, who was now residing in Canada.

    The representative of Colombia said he strongly rejected the assertions made earlier in the week by the representative of Canada.  His Government was democratically elected and enjoyed popular support.  The stability of this democracy had faced serious threats from armed bands of both the extreme right and the extreme left.  He stressed that there were no connections between his Government and those illegal armed groups.  The Government was fighting and punishing them.  As part of its efforts to promote human rights and eliminate impunity the Government had set up a new inter-sectoral commission to investigate and define cases and develop evidence. 

    The representative of Pakistan, responding to statements made earlier in the week by Canada, said the statements regarding human rights were characterized by self-righteousness and double standards.  Canada said nothing about human rights violations against Kashmiris and the impunity with which those violations were committed.  The perpetrators of those violations also had a caste system that was practised in accordance with blatant institutionalized racism.

    He quoted findings of the latest report of the Committee on Elimination of Racism and Racial Discrimination that showed Canada had denied children of migrants the right to education and had discriminated against minorities, foreigners and refugees.  He pointed out that honour killings in Pakistan were considered culpable homicide under his country’s law. 

    A representative of Belarus, exercising the right of reply in response to statements made by the representatives of the United States and Canada, said that assertions made were false and unjustifiable.  Belarus was party to several international human rights instruments and attached high priority to the promotion of human rights.  He added that he would inform the representatives of the United States and Canada about the true situation in Belarus before the Third Committee at a later time.   

    A representative of Togo, exercising the right of reply in response to a statement made by the representative of Canada, said that Canada had made assertions about the arbitrary arrests of journalists and political opposition in Togo.  Those assertions demonstrated the pronounced tendency of some countries to use human rights for political purposes.

    He told the Committee that Togo observed the right to freedom of expression and that there were a multitude of daily newspapers.  His Government simply wished to avoid the media inciting tribal violence, excess and fabrications.  Members of the opposition party had not been threatened or harassed and were free to express their political opinions.

    Looking at the freedom of press in Canada, he said it was clear that Canada should not be preaching to other States.  The Canadian treatment of its indigenous people was an example in itself of major human rights violations.  

    The representative of Uganda said she was responding to Canada’s statement that Uganda was placing children abductees in northern Uganda at risk.  Uganda had appealed to the international community to come and help free those children.  If Canada wanted to help in this case its assistance would be welcome.  But it served no purpose to burden the Committee with unnecessary and untrue details.

    (annexes follow)

     

         

    ANNEX I

    Vote on Draft Resolution on Mercenaries

    The draft resolution on mercenaries as a means of violating human rights (document A/C.3/58/L.32) was approved by a recorded vote of 111 in favour to 23 against, with 27 abstentions, as follows:

    In favour:  Afghanistan, Algeria, Angola, Antigua and Barbuda, Argentina, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Bahamas, Bahrain, Bangladesh, Barbados, Belarus, Belize, Bhutan, Bolivia, Botswana, Brazil, Brunei Darussalam, Burkina Faso, Burundi, Cambodia, Cameroon, Cape Verde, Chile, China, Colombia, Comoros, Congo, Costa Rica, Côte d’Ivoire, Cuba, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Djibouti, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, Egypt, El Salvador, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Fiji, Gambia, Ghana, Grenada, Guatemala, Guinea-Bissau, Guyana, Haiti, India, Indonesia, Iran, Jamaica, Jordan, Kenya, Kuwait, Lao People’s Democratic Republic, Lebanon, Lesotho, Libya, Madagascar, Malawi, Malaysia, Maldives, Mali, Mauritania, Mauritius, Mexico, Mongolia, Morocco, Mozambique, Myanmar, Namibia, Nepal, Nicaragua, Niger, Nigeria, Oman, Pakistan, Panama, Papua New Guinea, Paraguay, Peru, Philippines, Qatar, Russian Federation, Saint Lucia, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, Samoa, Saudi Arabia, Senegal, Sierra Leone, Singapore, Somalia, South Africa, Sri Lanka, Sudan, Swaziland, Syria, Thailand, Togo, Trinidad and Tobago, Tunisia, Uganda, Ukraine, United Arab Emirates, United Republic of Tanzania, Uruguay, Vanuatu, Venezuela, Viet Nam, Zambia, Zimbabwe.

    Against:  Belgium, Bulgaria, Canada, Czech Republic, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Hungary, Iceland, Israel, Italy, Japan, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Monaco, Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Rwanda, Sweden, United Kingdom, United States.

    Abstain:  Andorra, Australia, Austria, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia, Cyprus, Greece, Ireland, Kazakhstan, Latvia, Liechtenstein, Malta, Nauru, New Zealand, Portugal, Republic of Korea, Republic of Moldova, Romania, San Marino, Serbia and Montenegro, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Switzerland, The former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, Timor-Leste, Turkey.

    Absent:  Albania, Benin, Central African Republic, Chad, Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, Dominica, Equatorial Guinea, Estonia, Federated States of Micronesia, Gabon, Georgia, Guinea, Honduras, Iraq, Kiribati, Kyrgyzstan, Liberia, Marshall Islands, Palau, Saint Kitts and Nevis, Sao Tome and Principe, Seychelles, Solomon Islands, Suriname, Tajikistan, Tonga, Turkmenistan, Tuvalu, Uzbekistan, Yemen.

       

    (END OF ANNEX I)