Press Releases

    HR/CN/1015
    2 April 2003

    Countries Trade Barbs Over "Selectivity" in Human Rights, Debate Justifications of War in Iraq

    Independent Expert on Extreme Poverty Presents Report to Commission on Human Rights

    (Reissued as received.)

    GENEVA, 1 April (UN Information Service) -- The Commission on Human Rights carried on this afternoon with its annual debate over alleged abuses anywhere in the world, hearing a series of complaints that the discussion amounted to unfair finger-pointing by Western democracies at less-developed countries, and that the current war against Iraq made a mockery of any criticism of Iraq's domestic human rights record.

    Questioning or outright condemning the Commission's methods in scrutinizing country-specific human rights situations were India, Algeria, China, Costa Rica, and Malaysia. A Representative of Cuba, summing up the mood in a right of reply, asked whether there was any point in responding to the attacks launched by Western States against developing countries. Did these countries have the moral authority to judge the Third World, he asked. Why did Canada not speak about the situation of its indigenous people? The only thing the European Union (EU) was united about was its criticism of developing countries. Why didn't the EU condemn the war against Iraq? Double standards were the common denominator of the Western group, the Cuban Representative charged.

    Among those criticizing the war in Iraq were Cuba, Egypt, Malaysia, and Iraq itself. A Representative of Malaysia said it was indeed strange that while Iraq had been deemed guilty of human rights abuses for the past decade, a superpower, assisted by its allies, had taken it upon itself to "liberate" the people of Iraq from the shackles of their current status by waging an unjust war against those same people.

    Representatives of the United States and Australia pointed to serious human rights abuses committed by the Iraqi regime, with the United States official saying that while the appalling human rights situation in Iraq had not led to the current military operations by the United States-led coalition inside Iraq, the effect of the outcome would most certainly be to improve that situation and to restore to the long-suffering Iraqi people their personal freedom and dignity.

    A Representative of Switzerland announced that the country would sponsor a second international meeting focusing on the safety of Iraq's civilian population.

    The Commission also was addressed by its Independent Expert on human rights and extreme poverty, Anne-Marie Lizin, who said among other things that expenditures on the war in Iraq by the coalition forces so far would have funded the construction of 50,000 schools, 5,000 hospitals, 120,000 health centres and more wells than all villages and quarters of Africa needed to drink from.

    She called among other things for the decentralization of poverty-eradication efforts and a greater commitment of resources to combatting the problem.

    Among those contributing to the general debate under the Commission's agenda item 9 were Representatives of Canada, Burkina Faso, Poland, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Japan, Norway, New Zealand, and Georgia.

    Syria, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Libya, Pakistan, Rwanda, Haiti, Togo, Zimbabwe, Iraq, Cuba, Viet Nam, and the Democratic People's Republic of Korea spoke in exercise of the right of reply.

    The Commission will reconvene at 10 a.m. Wednesday, 2 April, to carry on with its consideration of the question of the violation of human rights anywhere in the world.

    Economic, Social and Cultural Rights

    Debate under this agenda item was opened briefly to allow presentation of a report by Anne-Marie Lizin, Independent Expert on human rights and extreme poverty (document E/CN.4/2003/52). The report states that under new guidelines for her work, she is to bring out the connection between her mandate and the outcome of the World Conference against Racism and the World Summit on Sustainable Development, and to contribute to the midterm evaluation of the first United Nations Decade for the Eradication of Poverty. In accordance with this mandate, the Independent Expert identifies priorities for implementation for the benefit of the populations of the poorest countries a recommendation that appears in her previous report, namely the reorganization of civil registration services in countries which have neglected or abandoned them. The recognition of citizenship is a minimum condition for the exercise and enjoyment of many rights and its practical expression is the issuance of an identity document.

    A questionnaire addressed to national authorities concerning civil registration services is attached to the report. The report also stresses the importance for the implementation of public policies to combat extreme poverty of decentralization and the provision of resource levels recommended in the previous report. The Independent Expert proposes to gauge the extent of decentralization efforts by means of a questionnaire addressed to officials of decentralized local authorities, elected or otherwise. The report refers to an ongoing constructive dialogue with international financial institutions to persuade them to mainstream respect for all human rights into their activities. And it looks at migration that illustrates the despair of poor populations.

    There is an addendum to the report (Add.1) on the Independent Expert's mission to the Dominican Republic. It states that she took away a favourable impression of the public policies being pursued by the Dominican Government to combat extreme poverty. The Government has committed itself to an ambitious programme aimed at improving the living conditions of the poorest members of society while also providing them with the means to break the vicious cycle of poverty through a concerted effort in the area of education. The Government is also trying to overhaul the purely security-related question of Haitian immigration, which involves a whole range of human rights abuses and violations, through a bill which is still encountering resistance. A source of concern is the impunity enjoyed by police officers, who are not subject to the jurisdiction of the ordinary courts. Here the Government should press ahead with efforts to ensure that all citizens can regard the police force as a democratic entity that genuinely serves their interests, the addendum states. The Government's social policy does promote the involvement of women in social, economic and political life, but the Independent Expert believes that more can be done to encourage birth control by legalizing abortion and abolishing or reducing marriage registration fees, for example.

    Presentation of and Response to Report on Extreme Poverty

    ANNE-MARIE LIZIN, Independent Expert on human rights and extreme poverty, presenting her 2003 interim report, said that the expenditures on the war in Iraq by the coalition forces, since its start, would have funded the construction of 50,000 schools, 5,000 hospitals, 120,000 health centres and more wells than all villages and quarters of Africa needed to drink from. There was an increasing awareness of extreme poverty in many parts of the world. Many countries had also attempted to implement measures to combat extreme poverty. Although the will to combat poverty was there, the lack of resources had slowed the fight. In her pervious report, she had recommended, among other things, decentralization to better fight the phenomenon. Extreme poverty and its negative effects were closely related as had been witnessed in some countries where families who had been discriminated against had died of hunger.

    Ms. Lizin said the fight against extreme poverty was primarily the responsibility of States. The problem of immigration to rich countries should also be considered. The examples of some countries that had few resources but were determined to pursue a positive trend in combating poverty were worth mentioning. During her visit to Saint Domingo in the Dominican Republic, she had visited places where disadvantaged persons were living and had noted the resolute steps taken by the Government to combat the scourge of extreme poverty.

    YSSET ROMAN MALDONADO (Dominican Republic) said the delegation had taken note of the report of the Independent Expert on extreme poverty. During her visit to the country, the Special Rapporteur was able to meet with representatives of the Government and civil society and had the opportunity to assess the policy pursued by the country to eradicate poverty. Various initiatives had been undertaken to combat poverty, including the granting of micro credit and the passing of a social security law. The Government was committed to combating extreme poverty and would continue to do its utmost to ensure the realization of all human rights. Without the assistance of the international community, however, it would be impossible to achieve this goal.

    General Debate on Question of Violation of Human Rights in Any Part of World

    CHRISTOPHER WESTDAL (Canada) said deplorable human rights violations in Iraq had concerned the Commission for decades. Canada unequivocally condemned the Government of Iraq's record of abuse: its torture, indiscriminate arrests, imprisonments and executions. Canada called on all parties to the current conflict to respect human rights, international humanitarian law and the Fourth Geneva Convention during the ongoing fighting. The rights of prisoners of war must be respected. Canada stood ready to help in recovery and reconstruction, in which Canada wanted the United Nations, the High Commissioner for Human Rights and his Office to play central roles. While Iraq might be at the forefront of global concerns, one must not forget issues elsewhere, such as in the Democratic Republic of Congo, Chechnya, Sudan, Uganda, Liberia, Israel and the occupied territories, Sri Lanka, and Indonesia, where human rights continued to be violated.

    The aftermath of conflict often left countries in periods of fragile transition from which they could either move forward to peace or fall back into violence. Situations in Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Serbia, Kosovo, Macedonia, Afghanistan, Cambodia, Viet Nam, Sierra Leone, and Côte d'Ivoire made it clear that responsibility, accountability and credible human rights infrastructure were crucial to attaining sustainable peace. In Haiti, Nigeria, Saudi Arabia, Zimbabwe, and Iran, it should be emphasized that when Governments abandoned human rights and turned to force and authoritarian dictate, a core mission of the United Nations was frustrated. Concern was expressed about the risks faced by human-rights defenders in Guatemala and Colombia, as well about infringements on freedom of opinion in Cuba, China, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Togo, Belarus, Turkmenistan, Pakistan, Burma and the Democratic People's Republic of Korea.

    MICHEL KAFANDO (Burkina Faso) said the war in Iraq was dramatic and without doubt causing a humanitarian tragedy. Burkina Faso was mainly concerned with the fate of the victims of the war. Burkina Faso was also concerned about the dramatic crisis in Africa, where political instability, extreme poverty, disease and ethnic tensions were prevailing. Since the events of September 2002 in Côte d'Ivoire, Burkina Faso had noted the human rights violations in that country. Regrettably, the events had produced a xenophobic reaction against foreigners and particularly against citizens of Burkina Faso. A high number of persons from Burkina Faso had been living in Côte d'Ivoire since the colonial period, when the two countries were situated in the same territory.

    A number of United Nations agencies had lamented the human rights violations occurring in Côte d'Ivoire. The Commission should condemn these abuses. No one should have impunity for such offences. The Ivorian authorities should assume their responsibilities. The Commission, for its part, should assume its responsibilities so that a tragedy such as that committed in Côte d'Ivoire would not be repeated, and to allow a new hope for peace to be born in that country.

    It was an illusion to speak of African union when one person perceived the other as a "foreigner", as seen through a deformed prism.

    MIKE SMITH (Australia) said egregious human rights violations had been the hallmark of Saddam Hussein's regime for the past quarter century. This regime had ruthlessly attacked its own people with chemical weapons, and had tortured, brutalized and dehumanized its own people, particularly its minorities. Australia had been and was committed to securing a future where the Iraqi people could live without fear and could embrace freedom, justice and peace. The tragic loss of life and injury had gone on for far too long in Israel and Palestine. There must be an end to the terrible suicide bombings. Australia condemned the shocking violence perpetrated by the Mugabe regime in Zimbabwe against the political opposition and civil society, including the beating of children and the sexual assault of women by soldiers. Australia was deeply concerned that many had been charged with terrorism in China for exercising their rights to freedom of expression and assembly. The human rights situation in the Democratic People's Republic of Korea gave cause for serious concern. Australia urged the Burmese Government to release all political prisoners and encouraged Burma to work more closely with the International Labour Office to eradicate forced labour and to agree to an independent international assessment of reports about rape committed by military personnel.

    Australia urged the Cambodian Government to ensure an environment free of intimidation. The parties to conflicts in Sri Lanka and Nepal were urged to avoid human rights abuses and negotiate in good faith towards durable peace agreements. While welcoming progress made in Iran, Australia remained concerned at violations of due process in the judicial system and attempts to suppress freedom of the press. Australia urged the Transitional Administration in Afghanistan to address the human rights of women as a matter of priority. Australia remained deeply concerned about the case in Nigeria of Amina Lawal, who was sentenced by a provincial Sharia court to death by stoning. Concern was also expressed over the situation in the Sudan.

    HARDEEP SINGH PURI (India) said this agenda item caused dismay and negatively impacted the Commission's credibility and effectiveness, since this item had become an instrument for advancing the political objectives of those who controlled the purse strings. This impression was reinforced when the Commission was used for selectively condemning those who were out of favour with the powerful, while others guilty of far more serious violations were protected, essentially because they were viewed as allies. Selective application of any principle could not but spread contempt for an institution. If the Commission came to be viewed as the handmaiden of the powerful, it would do irreparable damage to the cause of human rights. One could not, for example, pronounce adversely on the alleged failure of democracy in one country and bring resolutions against it and, at the same time, overlook the contempt with which democracy, equality and the rule of law continued to be trampled with impunity by the military rulers of Pakistan.

    To avoid politicization and to promote durable solutions, instead of condemnation, the Commission must focus on dialogue, persuasion, introspection and technical cooperation. The annual ritual of handing out report cards or sitting in judgement over others did not move the Commission towards its desired goal. Naming and shaming through country-specific resolutions only served to create acrimony and confrontation.

    MOHAMED-SALAH DEMBRI (Algeria) said Algeria believed the work of the Commission should be conducted in a positive way instead of the finger-pointing approach that was year after year harming the Commission's credibility.

    The Algerian delegation had already drawn attention to the risk that loomed over attempts to introduce new criteria of eligibility for participation in human rights bodies. There was a recurrent and obsessive tendency among some countries to set themselves up, as the conscience of humanity and to scourge whatever did not fit in their line. That caricatured and reduced the boundaries of a more complex reality; it amounted to a new attempt to divide the international community, to draw a line between a "free" and "democratic" sphere and a so-called uncivilized world; it threatened a new era for implementing new crusades and "civilizing" missions. The situation had hindered some people even from speaking about their sufferings and their aspirations for freedom and justice, whereas it granted others the right to a selective confiscation of those rights and also the exclusive duty to blame others.

    For ten years, the international community had followed a system of cooperation which banned the east-west ideological antagonism, but the recourse to a "catalogue" of charges of human-rights violations in a univocal way would constitute a backward movement to those positive changes. The international community's concern was that it might dilute responsibilities and that current and urgent violations would not be given attention. The international community was in a great need of a World Conference on Human Rights "Vienna plus 10" to guide its future actions.

    JEANE J. KIRKPATRICK (United States) said Saddam Hussein's absolute personal power had been characterized from the beginning by extreme brutality. The Special Rapporteur of the Commission observed in October 1999 that citizens lived in a climate of fear and that the mere suggestion that someone was not a supporter of the President carried the prospect of the death penalty. The Government of Iraq had for decades conducted a brutal campaign of murder, summary execution, and protracted arbitrary arrests. Shi'a organizations, as well as those of other religious minorities, were not recognized by the Government. Those Shi'a who continued to endeavour to exercise their religious beliefs faced ongoing repression and harassment by the secret police and by death squads. The Kurdish community of northern Iraq had fared no better. Kurdish areas had been subjected to forced population transfers. The brutality of the suppression of the Kurdish uprising following Iraq's defeat in 1991 was televised throughout the world and led the Security Council to adopt a resolution which, for the first time, declared massive violations of human rights to be a threat to international peace and security.

    Under of the pretext of fighting prostitution, units of Saddam's Fedayeen death squads had publicly beheaded more than 200 women throughout the country, dumping the severed heads at the doorsteps of the victims' families. The Iraqi Government used rape and sexual assault of women to extract information and force confessions from their family members, to intimidate members of the opposition by sending them videotapes of the rapes of their female relatives, and to blackmail Iraqi men into future cooperation with the regime. Saddam Hussein reinforced his system of fear, intimidation and repression with an iron grip on the political process within Iraq. Engaging in political dissent meant a risk of death, torture, imprisonment or simple disappearance for oneself or one's family members. The appalling human rights situation in Iraq was not the cause of the current military operations by the United States-led coalition inside Iraq. But the effect of the outcome would most certainly be to improve that situation and to restore to the long-suffering Iraqi people their personal freedom and dignity.

    SHA ZUKANG (China) said the item on country situations had been included in the agenda of the Commission in 1967. As a result of the impact of the Cold War, the deliberations on this item had become the flash point for sharp political confrontation between the two superpowers and the two big blocs. Since then, the world had undergone significant changes; now there was only one superpower and one major bloc. Regrettably, the Cold War, which had been characterized by political confrontation, still persisted in the United Nations and particularly in the Commission. It was important to note that in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, almost the same group of Western countries told others that the wars of colonialism and aggression launched by them -- severely violating human rights -- were to introduce civilization to the barbarian regions. Today these same countries were still trying to convince other countries that naming and shaming developing countries -- the erstwhile colonies -- was for the sole purpose of helping them to improve their human rights standards. Today, the accused and targeted countries were almost with no exception former colonies and today's developing countries. Today, some Western countries -- the erstwhile colonial masters -- were supposedly the best and most qualified lecturers.

    China used to be a semi-colonial country. Today, it was independent, large and fast growing. Its people had become masters of their own fate. A peaceful, stable and progressing China had made a few Western countries feel uncomfortable. As a result, they had been slandering China. The human rights situation in China today was its best in history and would become even better. It was the Chinese Government who cared most for the human rights of the 1.3 billion Chinese people, and these people were satisfied with the Chinese Government. So long as they were satisfied, the Chinese Government would not change its policy. No one on this planet could hold back the Chinese people from marching forward along the path of their choice.

    KRZYSZTOF JAKUBOWSKI (Poland) said that despite progress made in recent years in strengthening human rights, the international community was still facing too many challenges. Human rights were being violated in many parts of the world. The tragic evidence of such violations could be seen in information coming from many countries. To devise effective strategies to respond to allegations of gross human rights violations and to prevent them from occurring was one of the greatest problems facing the international community. The Commission provided a unique opportunity for drawing attention to victims of human rights violations. Their fate was the Commission's legitimate concern and that concern was sometimes the only way in which one could express solidarity with their struggle for dignity and fundamental rights.

    Poland was convinced that every State was the primary duty holder for implementing and ensuring full recognition of the human rights of each of its citizens. When the State -- for whatever reason -- was unable to fulfil its duties, it should be helped by the international community. Only in a spirit of cooperation and understanding could one make an effective contribution to the cause of human rights. Poland strongly believed that constant, bilateral and multilateral constructive dialogue, cooperation and technical assistance could bring about substantial progress.

    CARMEN ISABEL CLARAMUNT-GARRO (Costa Rica) said that Costa Rica firmly believed in the role of the United Nations system in protecting human rights. In particular, the tasks of the Commission on Human Rights, the Sub-Commission on the Promotion and Protection of Human Rights, the Working Groups and other special procedures were of vital importance in advancing the cause of human rights. However, these mechanisms needed to be strengthened and improved. It was no secret that the debate in the Commission was often far removed from human rights concerns. The politicization of the items and debates undermined dialogue and cooperation between States.

    The original intention behind the creation of the Commission must be borne in mind in order to enable this body to fulfil its mission. Serious human rights violations in any part of the world must be denounced, but the Commission must adopt criteria of objectivity, transparency and equal treatment for all. Indeed, Costa Rica was convinced that the Commission could examine the human rights situation in more countries. The Commission should furthermore ensure that it had reliable information on specific country situations. Costa Rica also supported the proposal of the High Commissioner for Human Rights for self-evaluation by countries.

    IVAN MORA GODOY (Cuba) said while Member States were gathered in Geneva listening to pious pontificating intended to put developing countries on the dock, these self-appointed judges and prosecutors were paying no attention to the bombs that were killing innocent civilians and trampling on international law.

    The self-appointed defenders of world peace were dropping their deadly bombs over Baghdad causing the death of civilians. Double standards had never before presided over this system to such a degree and brazenness. Those who had advanced the terrifying doctrine of "pre-emptive and surprise war", claimed the right to define an "Axis of Evil" and proclaimed themselves as champions of human rights, were the same who condoned Israel's genocidal military actions against the Palestinian people; fostered xenophobia; tolerated the commercial sexual exploitation of children; and accepted discrimination against their indigenous people.

    Cuba was a victim of the double-standard policy imposed on this body by the Government of the United States. Once again, an anti-Cuban initiative had already been concocted. It was a futile and unnatural creature just like all the previous ones. The actual text which embodied this new anti-Cuban manoeuvre was not important. Regardless of the actual wording of the draft resolution that would be submitted for voting -- whatever its actual wording might be -- it would be unacceptable to Cuba. Whatever decision this Commission might take against Cuba, it would continue to be the result of manipulation, pressure, selectivity, and Washington's sole "excuse" to attempt to justify its aggressive policy and its criminal blockade imposed on Cuba for over 43 years now. Would the Commission allow this kind of hypocrisy to be the point of reference for its work? This Commission must not be the instrument of the interests of the mighty who imposed dictatorial doctrines and ignored people's longing for and dreams of a world without selfishness and imperial design.

    HUSSAIN RAJMAH (Malaysia) said "agenda item 9" was the infamous agenda item of the Commission which over the years had been attributed as being the cause of the politicization of the Commission. Agenda item 9 had been the avenue for the developed countries of the West to push for the adoption of politically-motivated country-specific resolutions vilifying developing countries for policies which were not to their liking. Much criticism had been leveled at what had been called the "name and shame" game by the West which had so politicized the Commission.

    It was high time that agenda item 9 was used responsibly by member countries to address the real issue of the violation of human rights and fundamental freedoms in any part of the world, rather than being a political tool for the West. Selectivity should be avoided, especially when some countries of the West were just as guilty of many human rights abuses which had been neatly swept under the carpet and kept away from international condemnation.

    Much attention was given to the issue of human rights in Iraq, under agenda item 9. It was indeed strange that while Iraq had been deemed guilty of human rights abuses for the past decade, a superpower, assisted by its allies, had taken it upon itself to "liberate" the people of Iraq from the shackles of their current status by waging an unjust war against those same people. Since the start of the illegal military aggression, the people of Iraq had been subjected to the horrors of daily bombings and attacks; the destruction of homes and property; and the killing and maiming of innocent men, women and children. The human rights of Iraqis had been violated as a result of the war. The people of Iraq had suffered for 12 years from the debilitating economic sanctions imposed on them. Was it not strange and ironic that the superpower and its allies who wanted to "liberate" and bring human rights to the people of Iraq could give a child sweets with one hand while taking civilian lives with the other? Was it not strange that the "liberators" had become the aggressors and the invaders and yet still expected the Iraqi people to dance in the streets?

    SHOTARO OSHIMA (Japan) said that Japan was concerned about a wide range of human rights violations and restrictions on fundamental freedoms reportedly taking place in North Korea. Japan called upon Pyongyang to heed the concerns of the international community and to fully cooperate with the United Nations for the purpose of improving its human rights situation. In this connection, Japan raised the issue of abductions of Japanese nationals. Ever since their sudden disappearance some twenty years ago, families had been desperately searching for their missing loved ones. In a summit meeting with Prime Minister Koizumi, the leader of North Korea acknowledged that these abduction cases were carried out by agents of North Korea and expressed his apologies. While five of the victims had come back to Japan in October, their families were still held in Pyongyang. Also, little information had been disclosed with respect to those victims whose fate and whereabouts had not yet been confirmed. This was why the Government of Japan had reported these cases to the Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances last November.

    Japan hoped that the war in Iraq would end as soon as possible with minimum casualties and that the threat Iraq posed to the international community would be removed. Iraq must be rebuilt as quickly as possible so that its people could live peacefully in a free and prosperous society that respected their human rights. To that end, the cooperation and support of the international community toward the rehabilitation and reconstruction of Iraq was essential.

    SVERRE BERGH JOHANSEN (Norway) said all States had an obligation to protect and promote human rights. All States must rise to this responsibility and must cooperate fully with the special procedures of the Commission. Norway congratulated all States that had so far extended open invitations to the special procedures of the Commission and called on others to follow suit. Concern was expressed about the situation in some parts of Africa, including Zimbabwe, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Sudan, Ethiopia and Eritrea. Human rights and fundamental freedoms abuses in Belarus, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan, and Chechnya were also highlighted. Norway remained concerned about the human rights situation in many parts of the Middle East and was disturbed by violations of fundamental human rights such as freedom of expression, liberty and security of person, and the right to a fair trial. In parts of the region, cruel and degrading punishments were metered out, including the death penalty. Concern was also expressed about the situation in Cuba, Iraq, Myanmar, China, North Korea, and Afghanistan.

    Respect for human rights was a national responsibility, but also a legitimate international concern. No country was beyond accountability. It was the obligation of this Commission to address and focus on critical human rights situations wherever they arose. Cooperation would promote respect for human rights and ultimately help to improve the lives of all those men, women and children whose human rights were denied today.

    TIM CAUGHLEY (New Zealand) said New Zealand was deeply concerned about the implications of the war in Iraq for human rights. It was imperative that all parties demonstrate respect for international human rights and humanitarian law. The pernicious violation of human rights in Iraq was also a long-standing concern. New Zealand was also concerned about a number of States in which there were limitations on a range of political and civil rights. Attention was drawn to situations in Zimbabwe, Myanmar, Iran, the Democratic People's Republic of Korea, Nigeria and China. Cambodia was urged to continue its efforts at reform and increased respect for human rights.

    New Zealand wished to underline that there were certain human rights that were considered so fundamental that there were no scope for derogation. It was also particularly concerned about the impact on human rights of the conflicts in Israel and the occupied territories, Chechnya, Sudan, and parts of Indonesia.

    New Zealand was encouraged by progress towards rehabilitation in the aftermath of conflicts in Afghanistan and Timor Leste.

    NAELA GABR (Egypt) said that the people of Iraq were living one of the most difficult times in their history. Years of embargo had depleted the resources of the country. Today, the people of Iraq were being subjected to a hail of bullets and bombs. They were paying with their blood for a barter for which they were not a party. Their country was in ruins and they had become refugees in their own land. What was the loftiest of all United Nations bodies, the Commission on Human Rights, doing towards the protection of the rights of Iraqis, rights which were being violated every day? After many long days of arguing the Commission might agree on a statement, but this would not resurrect the dead.

    The Commission could lose much of its credibility because of its failure to fulfill its role of protecting human rights without discrimination and double standards. The question of military operations could be discussed in other United Nations bodies, but the human rights and humanitarian situation in Iraq was the responsibility of the Commission. The Commission was called upon to shoulder its responsibility in order to preserve its credibility in the eyes of the world.

    ALEXANDER CHIKVAIDZE (Georgia) said the most acute and painful issue for Georgia was the fate of more than 300,000 of its citizens ousted from their homeland and deprived of their basic human rights as a result of the conflict in Abkhazia, Georgia. For the past ten years, the prospect of their return home had failed to go beyond fruitless discussion. While still looking to the United Nations mechanisms to help resolve this problem, Georgia had some serious concerns with the workings of the very mechanisms used by the United Nations.

    First, Georgia's proposal to move the bulk of the work of the joint UN/OSCE human rights field office in the Abkhazia region from Sokhumi to Gali had been aimed at making its work more efficient. The obstructionist Abkhaz position had blocked this. Second, reports of the Secretary-General to the Security Council reported a modest improvement in the human rights situation. It was hard to understand what improvements were seen when mass abuses of the human rights of ethnic Georgians continued and the separatists insisted that Georgian children study Georgian as a foreign language. Third, the tragedy in Abkhazia had been repeatedly and rightfully assessed by the OSCE as "ethnic cleansing". To the astonishment of the Georgian people, the United Nations had been reluctant to make the same obvious assessment.

    JEAN-DANIEL VIGNY (Switzerland) said that the serious human rights situation in Iraq had continued for a number of years, taking on a new dimension since 19 March. Switzerland was profoundly concerned about the fate of the civilian population. Switzerland had already shown its determination by reacting in favour of the civilian population and vulnerable groups by organizing a forum for a dialogue on 15 and 16 February. A follow-up meeting of the "Humanitarian Issues Group Iraq" would take place tomorrow, 2 April, to consider the humanitarian situation on the ground.

    The Geneva Conventions on the protection of civilian populations in time of war should always be respected in all circumstances. In addition, protected persons should be saved from being victims, including women, children, patients and old people. Switzerland hoped that the Special Rapporteur on the human rights situation in Iraq would continue his work by considering the protection of the economic, social, cultural, political and civil rights in the event of invasion or the setting up of a new government in Iraq.

    Rights of Reply

    A Representative of the Syria, speaking in right of reply, said the Israeli Ambassador had continued to misguide and deceive the Commission, including his own friends. Why didn't Israel erect its "Wall of Shame" on Israeli land? The Israeli Ambassador had asked whether three days of debate under agenda item 8 were not enough to attack Israel, but he had forgotten that Israel had been resorting to State terrorism and attacks for more than 55 years. Syria called on Israel to withdraw from the territories it occupied and to restore to the inhabitants their rights. This would halt the bloodshed on all sides. Continued occupation would not be met with flowers. Security and peace would not come about as long as occupation continued.

    A Representative of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, speaking in right of reply in response to statements made by the Special Rapporteur, the European Union and Norway, said human rights were universal and interdependent. Yet some Western countries were engaging in judgemental and selective finger-pointing masquerading as a spirit of altruism and international responsibility. These judgements were selective and depended on the political determination of the Western countries in question. It was clear that civil and political rights would be difficult to achieve without an enabling environment of social, economic and cultural rights. These latter rights could not be achieved in developing countries if there was not a radical change in the current international economic order. How dare these countries finger-point, when the Government of the Democratic Republic of the Congo was struggling to achieve the realization of human rights, including civil and political rights? The working methods of the Commission must change; demonizing and finger-pointing must be replaced by technical assistance and increased focus on the right to development.

    A Representative of the Libya, referring to the statement made by Greece on behalf of the European Union, said Libya was shocked by the approach taken and rejected the statement, which had referred to Libya. Libya was fully abiding by international norms and was submitting periodic reports to human rights treaty bodies in compliance with its international obligations. It had also responded favourably to requests forwarded by some international organizations. Many non-governmental organizations had been able to visit the country without any hindrance. Libya would continue to abide by international conventions and would implement their provisions.

    A Representative of Pakistan, speaking in right of reply to a statement made by India, said that a regime that slaughtered Muslims was preaching human rights in the Commission. While it was true that India had the second largest Muslim population in the world, the number of Muslims there was declining as result of massacres perpetrated against them. Pakistan was accused of everything that was wrong in India. Were occupation, a caste system and massacres democratic?

    If this was democracy then perhaps the Commission should devise a new name for democracy.

    A Representative of Rwanda, speaking in response to a statement made by the representative of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, rejected the allegation of the presence of Rwandan troops in the DRC. In accordance with the Lusaka Agreement, signed by Rwanda, the Government had withdrawn all of its troops as of 5 October 2002, under the supervision and monitoring of independent observers.

    A verification mechanism under the aegis of the African Union had confirmed the withdrawal of Rwandan troops from the DRC. It was stressed that for peace to be lasting, there had to be implementation of the recommendations of the Special Rapporteur and those of the Security Council.

    A Representative of Haiti, referring to statements by the delegations of Greece, on behalf of the European Union, and by Canada, said that all countries, when faced with problems, should shoulder their responsibilities. Haiti had been endeavouring to promote and protect human rights despite the difficulties encountered for many years. Through its democratization process, it had been strengthening its judicial and legislative regimes. After the illegal coup d'état, a general consultation and reconciliation process had been taking place in the country.

    A Representative of Togo, speaking in right of reply, said Togo was committed to the protection of human rights. Canada was advised to focus on countries that needed more attention. The European Union would do better to resume cooperation with Togo so as to demonstrate that it gave equal attention to civil and political rights, on the one hand, and economic, social and cultural rights, on the other.

    A Representative of Zimbabwe, in response to statements made by Representatives of the United States and Australia, said the United States was so misinformed that the speaker had not even realized that her dear opposition party that she had referred to had in fact retained two seats in the election, as announced yesterday. The United States was not exactly an example when it came to elections. Perhaps it would have been better if President Mugabe also had had a younger brother to assist him? It was stressed that there was no truth in the allegations made by the Australian Representative -- a Representative of a racist regime that had been violating the rights of Aborigines and of asylum seekers. Zimbabwe would take no finger-pointing or lessons from a convict colony.

    With regard to allegations about food distribution, the Commission was assured that representatives of the World Food Programme had seen no evidence of such practices. Such Western slander must stop.

    A Representative of Iraq said that for the last 40 years, the United States had been violating the human rights of the developing countries. It was the United States that had dropped atomic bombs on the Japanese towns of Hiroshima and Nagasaki and had killed and contaminated thousands of people who were still suffering from the effects. Was it a surprise that United States interests around the world were being attacked, its flag being burned by people in the streets? Why was it that the United States was launching prohibited chemical bombs at the innocent Iraqi people? Was it to "liberate" the people of Iraq by exterminating them? One could see how atrocious was the United States bombing of the people of Iraq. Was the devastating attack on Basra to "free" the people once they had perished?

    A Representative of Cuba, speaking in right of reply, asked whether there was any point in responding to the attacks launched by Western states against developing countries. Did these countries have the moral authority to judge the Third World? Why did Canada not speak about the situation of its indigenous people? The only thing the European Union was united about was its criticism of developing countries. Why did the EU not condemn the war against Iraq? Why did Norway, which condemned scores of other countries, not discuss racism and xenophobia in Norway itself? Double standards were the common denominators of the Western group. Developing countries should wake up and join together in action since they were in the majority.

    A Representative of Viet Nam, responding to the statement made by Greece, on behalf of the European Union, and by Canada, said he welcomed their interest in the protection and promotion of human rights in Viet Nam. However, some clarification was needed. The Commission must be a forum for constructive dialogue, and only through dialogue could countries cooperate with each other.

    In this spirit, Viet Nam had been carrying out a human rights dialogue with the European Union. He therefore had been surprised to hear about Viet Nam's supposed violations of freedom of association and freedom of expression as judged by the European Union. For the last decade, there had been great achievements in human rights in Viet Nam. No one could deny that. The Representatives of Canada and the European Union were invited to speak with the Vietnamese delegation so that they could obtain more information about the human rights situation in Viet Nam.

    A Representative of the Democratic People's Republic of Korea said his delegation categorically rejected the statements made by the United States and Japan. Their statements were uncivilized. It was the United States that had divided Korea in half. The United States should first wash its hands of its own violations of human rights. What it was doing in Iraq was another testimony of its human rights performance. With regard to Japan, Japan was responsible for serious violations of Koreans' rights by making them slaves during the last war. Japan was accountable for its past violations against humanity.

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