25 October 2005
Speakers in Third Committee Stress Need to Reform National Reporting Process, Working Methods of Human Rights Treaty Bodies
NEW YORK, 24 October (UN Headquarters) -- The current reporting system for international human rights instruments should be streamlined to enhance efficiency and lessen the burdens on countries in compiling reports, several speakers told the Third Committee (Social, Humanitarian and Cultural) today, as it began its debate of human rights questions.
International human rights instruments had promoted and protected human rights, but the system for reporting on compliance with those treaties was overly complicated and burdensome, with overlaps between different bodies, China's representative said. Proposals to reform the system by the Secretary-General were indeed commendable, but they should not lead to even more complicated requirements for Member States, especially developing nations.
Treaty-monitoring bodies should consider States parties' reports through dialogue and a balanced exchange of views, adhering to the principles of objectivity and fairness, she added. Any complaints and criticisms against States based on groundless or distorted accusations must be avoided and outside information should be treated with caution. Moreover, conclusions and recommendations, which should consider actual situations in countries, must be focused and workable.
Echoing that claim, Japan's representative said that, under the current system, States parties tended to delay or even fail to submit reports because of the excessive burden in preparing them. The committees tasked with examining States' compliance too were overwhelmed by the volume of important work submitted. He wondered whether current efforts to streamline national reports were enough to revitalize the human rights treaty bodies, and suggested that drastic, long-term reform was necessary to ensure maximum effectiveness and efficiency.
Similarly, Liechtenstein's representative noted that the issue of non-reporting had yet to be adequately addressed. Country visits by members of treaty bodies could provide the necessary starting point for creating a dialogue between the State party and the treaty body, to then be followed up by a regular reporting process. The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), through its field presence and country visits, could also play a helpful role in that regard.
The representative of Suriname, speaking on behalf of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM), said reporting requirements under treaty provisions were an important means of monitoring implementation of instruments that embodied universal human rights and fundamental freedoms. However, such processes weighed heavily on the CARICOM members and other small States with limited human and financial resources, he said, calling for increased technical cooperation to help those nations expand reporting capacity or carry out the treaty bodies' recommendations. The treaty bodies, he stressed, should adopt a holistic approach to human rights to avoid duplication and conflicting interpretations of human rights provisions.
Also, Chile's representative called for reducing the time gap between presentation of the reports and the committees' analysis of them, as well as continued examination of the links between human security and human rights. Noting the need to promote processes to deal with human rights abuses, he said Chile had created a national committee on truth and reconciliation that held a round-table dialogue last year to discuss mechanisms for reparations to victims of human rights abuses.
Moreover, he added, the Commission on Human Rights had adopted a draft (2005/35), introduced by Chile, which promoted basic principles and guidelines for victims' rights to reparation and resources. Although the draft was not a legally binding document, it gave States a broad margin of flexibility for implementation.
Also today, Peru's representative introduced a draft resolution on the Programme of Action for the Second International Decade of the World's Indigenous People, and Bacre Waly Ndiaye, Director of the New York Office of the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, introduced the reports before the Committee.
The representatives of Indonesia (in his capacity as Chair of the sixty-first session of the Commission on Human Rights), Cuba, United Republic of Tanzania, Republic of Korea, Democratic People's Republic of Korea, Iraq, Australia, Honduras, Portugal and Uruguay also made statements, as did the representatives of the Inter-Parliamentary Union and the International Committee of the Red Cross.
The Committee will meet again at 10 a.m. on Tuesday, 25 October, to continue its discussion of human rights.
The Third Committee (Social, Humanitarian and Cultural) met today to begin its general discussion of human rights questions, including implementation of human rights instruments and comprehensive implementation of and follow-up to the Vienna Declaration and Programme of Action.
The Committee had before it the report of the Human Rights Committee (document A/60/40 (Vol. I) and (Vol. II)), a report of the Committee against Torture (document A/60/44) and a report of the Committee on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of Their Families (document A/60/48).
Also before the Committee was the Secretary-General's report on the status of the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (A/60/220), which discusses resolutions of the General Assembly and the Commission on Human Rights during the reporting period, as well as provides a status report of the Convention and the membership of the Committee against Torture.
Also before it was the Secretary-General's note on the situation of human rights in Burundi (document A/60/354), which transmits the interim report of the independent expert on the situation of human rights in Burundi, Akich Okola, which covers his third mission to the country, from 2 to 10 July 2005, and the period from January to 15 August.
During the reporting period, the peace process had steadily advanced, significant legislative reform had occurred and the security and human rights situation had improved. Despite those advances, human rights violations continued daily, and reforms in the judicial sector had had limited impact. The independent expert urges the parties in the ongoing conflict to negotiate and respect non-combatants; encourages Governments to press ahead with the reforms provided for in the Arusha Agreement; and appeals to the international community to support those efforts.
Also before the Committee was a letter dated 13 July 2005 from the Permanent Representative of Kazakhstan to the United Nations addressed to the Secretary-General (document A/60/129), which transmits the declaration by Heads of State of the members of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (Astana, 5 July) and a letter dated 6 September 2005 from the Permanent Representative of the Russian Federation to the United Nations addressed to the Secretary-General (document A/60/336), which transmits the statement by the Heads of State of Armenia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Russian Federation, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, Ukraine and Uzbekistan on the occasion of the sixtieth anniversary of the United Nations.
The Committee also had before it a note verbale dated 27 September 2005 from the Permanent Mission of Togo to the United Nations addressed to the Secretary-General (document A/60/392) on the final report of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights on the fact-finding mission intended to shed light on violence and allegations of human rights violations that occurred in Togo before, during and after the presidential elections of 24 April.
In addition, it had before it a letter dated 30 September 2005 from the Permanent Representative of Cuba to the United Nations addressed to the Secretary-General (document A/60/408-S/2005/626), which contains a press release from the Permanent Mission of Cuba to the United Nations. The press release deals with the decision of Judge William L. Abbott not to deport the terrorist Luis Posada Carriles to Venezuela or Cuba, as well as the petition of United States federal prosecutors in Florida to the Court of Appeals in Atlanta for a full review of the ruling in August by a panel of three judges to overturn the trial of five Cubans in Miami and to order a new trial.
The Secretary-General's report on the Status of the United Nations Voluntary Trust Fund on Contemporary Forms of Slavery (document A/60/273) describes the Fund's financial status and activities. The report states that in the view of the Fund's Board of Trustees, the Fund would need at least an additional $600,500 prior to the start of the Board's eleventh session in January 2006, to satisfy a sufficient number of the new applications envisaged for 2006 and to fulfil its mandate satisfactorily. It also invites donors to contribute to the Fund by the end of the year.
The Committee also had before it a note by the Secretary-General on Effective implementation of international instruments on human rights, including reporting obligations under international instruments on human rights (document A/60/278), which is a report of the chairpersons of the human rights treaty bodies on their seventeenth meeting, held in Geneva on 23 and 23 June 2005. The document contains the chairpersons' decisions and recommendations, including suggesting that United Nations specialized agencies, funds and programmes, as well as non-governmental organizations, be invited to submit their views to the Secretariat on proposals to reform the treaty body system. The meeting also reaffirmed the recommendation of the third inter-committee meeting that funds be made available to support interaction of special procedures mandate holders with treaty bodies.
The Secretary-General's report on the Status of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the Optional Protocols to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (document A/60/284) states that as of 2 August, 151 States had ratified or acceded to the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, 154 States had ratified or acceded to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, and 105 States had ratified or acceded to the Optional Protocol to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.
A note by the Secretary-General on Torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment (document A/60/316) transmits to the General Assembly the interim report of the Special Rapporteur of the Commission on Human Rights on the issue, who draws attention to continuing occurrences of such treatment or punishment. It also surveys the jurisprudence of international and regional human rights mechanisms, and concludes that any form of corporal punishment is contrary to the prohibition of torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment. The Special Rapporteur concludes that diplomatic assurances in the light of decisions of courts and international human rights mechanisms are unreliable and ineffective in protecting against torture and ill-treatment, and States cannot resort to them.
Also before the Committee was the Secretary-General's report on human rights and mass exoduses (document A/60/325), which emphasizes United Nations efforts to enhance protection of displaced persons due to mass exoduses and efforts to facilitate their return and reintegration, and improve the ability of the United Nations to avert new refugee and other displaced person flows.
In addition, the Secretary-General's report on the United Nations Voluntary Fund for Victims of Torture (document A/60/215) describes the recommendations for grants to beneficiary organizations that were adopted by the Fund's Board of Trustees at its twenty-third and twenty-fourth sessions and subsequently approved by the Secretary-General. It also provides information on the recommendations of the Office of Internal Oversight Services (OIOS) following a request by the Commission on Human Rights for an independent evaluation of the Fund's functioning, and describes the measures of the Fund's secretariat to implement them.
The Committee also had before it a report of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights on Equitable geographical distribution in the membership of the human rights treaty bodies (document A/60/351), which provides information on the system for the election of treaty body members. It also includes an analysis of the past and present membership of each treaty body by geographical region.
Introduction of Draft Resolution
ROMY TINCOPA (Peru) introduced a draft resolution on the Programme of Action for the Second International Decade of the World's Indigenous People (document A/C.3/60/L.23). She said the countries co-sponsoring the resolution were focused on moving forward decidedly on the issue of defending and promoting indigenous peoples, as the issue was crucial to understanding the character of their people. It was also linked with sustainable development, democracy and human rights. The draft resolution's main goal was the adoption of the Programme of Action by the General Assembly. It also focused on the achievement of five key goals, the most important of which was international cooperation in order to confront and solve the problems of indigenous peoples. She added that the group was currently in consultations, and would probably issue a revised text.
Introduction of Reports
Introducing the reports on human rights issues before the Committee, BACRE WALY NDIAYE, Director of the New York Office of the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, said that the Secretary-General's report on the status of the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Punishment indicated that 139 States had accepted the Convention and 10 had ratified its Optional Protocol. Since submission of that report, three more States had ratified the Optional Protocol, which required 20 signatures for entry into force.
As noted in the Secretary-General's report on the Voluntary Fund for Victims of Torture, the Fund's Board of Trustees, at its last session, implemented one of the most important recommendations of the OIOS regarding change in the funding cycle, he said. A total of $8.5 million was allocated to 186 projects in 68 countries for the January 2005-June 2006 period. During its April 2006 session, the Board would allocate grants for another 18-month period.
As noted in the report of the Committee on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers, the Committee had decided to hold a day of general discussion on migration and development during its third session in December in order to contribute to the 2006 General Assembly high-level dialogue on those issues. The report of the chairpersons of the human rights treaty bodies, annexed to which was the report of the fourth inter-committee meeting of human rights bodies, noted the bodies' efforts to develop common working methods and a comparative analysis of existing methods.
YASUSHI TAKASE (Japan) said the United Nations human rights treaty system played a pivotal role in protecting and promoting human rights. Japan was party to all six core human rights treaties, and believed that all countries that had not yet joined them should do so. However, the mere act of concluding a treaty was not a goal. What was of fundamental importance was that every country guaranteed that the rights described in those treaties would actually be respected and enjoyed. In that regard, the reporting system was essential to the implementation of human rights, as it not only enabled the committees to monitor a State party's fulfilment of its obligations and ensured that it met the standards the treaties set, but also provided a valuable opportunity for periodic dialogue on human rights between State parties and the committees, as well as for interaction with civil society.
There were, however, serious problems with the present reporting system of the main human rights treaties. There was duplication of the information included in reports, and State parties tended to delay or sometimes failed to submit reports because of the excessive burden represented in preparing them. The committees, for their part, were unable to keep up with the volume of important work before them, and it was also often pointed out that a gap persisted between the recognition of treaty bodies and the actual treaty implementation at the national level. His Government wondered, at the same time, whether current efforts to streamline treaty reports were enough to revitalize the human rights treaty bodies. Drastic, long-term reform would seem to be needed in order to give the current system maximum effectiveness and efficiency. Japan was ready to participate actively in the discussion on how to bring about such reform, he added.
MAKARIM WIBISONO (Indonesia), speaking in his capacity as Chairperson of the sixty-first session of the Commission on Human Rights, said the session in March and April had attracted some 4,000 participants and had included meetings by non-governmental organizations, Governments and national human rights institution. As an intergovernmental body and a universal human rights forum, the Commission had often been characterized by a substantial degree of political tension and controversies in its deliberations on various human rights issues. In this year's session, however, delegates had made good efforts to try to focus on the merits of human rights, and that constructive tone had greatly contributed to fruitful discussions and more decisions.
The Commission set up several new special procedures' mandates, including an independent expert on minority issues and an independent expert on human rights and international solidarity, he said. It also set up a special representative of the Secretary-General on human rights and trans-national corporations, a special rapporteur on the protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms while countering terrorism, a special rapporteur on the human rights situation in the Sudan, an independent expert on the human rights situation in Uzbekistan, and a working group on the use of mercenaries. Further, it extended mandates of the special rapporteurs on racism, freedom of opinion and expression, human rights of migrants, and the independent experts on the human rights situations in the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Somalia.
TIAN NI (China) said that international human rights instruments had actively promoted and protected human rights, and that human rights bodies had performed useful work. However, the current reporting system was overly complicated and burdensome, with overlaps between different bodies. Recommendations by the Secretary-General and inter-committee meetings of human rights bodies for change were commendable, but reform should avoid adding even more complicated requirements for Member States. The reporting system should be streamlined to enhance efficiency and lessen report compiling burdens for States, especially developing nations. More time between reports under some conventions could be considered, and new human rights treaty bodies should not be established without special need.
Consideration of States parties' reports by human rights treaty bodies should consist of dialogue and exchange of views on an equal footing between relevant bodies and States, adhering to the principles of objectivity and fairness, she stressed. Any complaints and criticisms against States based on groundless or distorted accusations must be avoided. Information from external sources should be treated with caution to separate truth from falsehood, and should not be used by entities or individuals with ulterior motives. Conclusions and recommendations, which should consider actual situations in countries, must be focused and workable.
ILEANA NÚÑEZ MORDOCHE (Cuba) said States were meeting once again within the framework of the Committee with the hope that the analysis of the promotion and protection of human rights would not serve the geopolitical interests of a powerful few. States would also adopt in the next few days a group of important initiatives on human rights matters. Much had been said this year about the reform of the human rights machinery, which the powerful manipulated at their whim. The closer States got to the moment of seriously discussing the terms of reform, the more evident became the objective of the rich: to strengthen their court, to establish the self-bestowed role of inquisitors, and to legalize their plans of economic and military domination, in accordance with the right to intervention that they had already codified for themselves.
For the first time, she continued, Cubans had built their own political, economic and social system, which was founded on deep and genuine respect for their historical heritage and the values of full and effective democratic participation and independence. The sovereign decision of the Cuban people had been subjected to one of the most intense aggression campaigns promoted and financed by the successive United States administrations. The reach for such aggressiveness was obvious: the Cuban example was dangerous. On the international level, she said that the strengthening of international cooperation in terms of human rights would not be fully achieved if its pillars were not constituted by the principles of universality, objectivity, impartiality and non-selectivity. A new and real political will for dialogue and mutual respect among countries in the North and South was imperative. The reform of the human rights machinery would only make sense if double standards, politicization and extortion in the adoption of so-called resolutions were brought to a halt, she added.
PATRICK RITTER (Liechtenstein) said intense discussions and negotiations on strengthening the United Nations human rights machinery had so far produced two significant results, including the doubling of resources for the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) over the next five years and the decision to establish the Human Rights Council. The 2005 World Summit Outcome Document reflected a commitment to strengthen the treaty body system, another essential building block in overall reform efforts. Much emphasis was placed on improving the reporting process used to assess achievements and identify gaps in national implementation. He called for more focused reporting and increased country-level engagement by the OHCHR to ensure that treaty bodies made recommendations that could be implemented.
He noted a large degree of consensus on the treaty monitoring system's basic reporting, including overlaps, delayed reports, non-reporting and backlogs. There was room for streamlining and harmonizing the treaty bodies' working methods and reporting requirements. However, the issue of non-reporting had yet to be adequately addressed. Countries visited by members of treaty bodies could provide the necessary starting point for setting up a dialogue between the State party and the treaty body, to then be followed up by a regular reporting process. The OHCHR, through its field presence and country visits, could also play a helpful role in that regard.
FREDERICK WEREMA (United Republic of Tanzania) said his Government was unequivocally committed to upholding human rights for all people, as set out in the various international instruments. It also recognized that ratification of instruments did not necessarily accord people the enjoyment of their human rights. Parties to the conventions must, therefore, move beyond ratification and take concrete steps to implement the standards set in those instruments. The Government also recognized its obligation to provide an effective framework to ensure the realization and effective enjoyment of human rights for all people. In that regard, it was undertaking legal sector reforms with a mission to achieve social justice, equality and the rule of law through quality, accessible legal services for the poor and the disadvantaged. The mission was underpinned by shared values that included fairness, basic human rights, equality and social justice, and the rule of law.
His Government acknowledged that the promotion of the enjoyment of human rights required not only an institutional framework, but also the awareness of such rights by all people. In that regard, promoting awareness of human rights among law enforcement, especially the police and public servants, was of paramount importance. The Government had, therefore, started to sensitize the police on the human rights aspects of its work. Civil society and the media had played a crucial role in educating the people of their human rights. His Government believed that good governance was key to the realization of human rights. Laws had been enacted in the country, regulations had been promulgated, and transparency had been enhanced in relation to Government functions for that purpose. Furthermore, his Government recognized that the system of reporting to treaty bodies remained the central element in monitoring full and effective implementation of human rights standards. It would urge, however, for treaty bodies to explore alternative working methods that would shorten the amount of time between the submission of reports and the consideration by the Committee, as well as urge Member States to identify, encourage and nominate competent women for the treaty bodies.
ALFREDO LABBE (Chile) said an important issue discussed during the June meeting on human rights in Geneva was United Nations reform, particularly concerning human rights mechanisms and the proposed creation of a unified system of human rights bodies. He supported efforts to rationalize the different requirements for presenting human rights reports to those treaty bodies and thereby easing the burden on Member States. He supported reducing the time gap between presentation of the reports and the committees' analysis of those reports. He also welcomed the decision to increase effectiveness and create better and more simplified reporting procedures, to provide technical assistance to States and to continue examining the links between human security and human rights.
Chile had contributed to the international community's efforts to promote human rights at the international level, he continued, adding that it made concerted efforts towards human rights and the adoption of international instruments that enhanced human dignity. That was fundamental in Chile, where massive human rights violations had occurred. Noting the need to promote processes to deal with human rights abuses, he said Chile had created a national committee on truth and reconciliation that held a round-table dialogue last year to discuss mechanisms for reparations to victims of human rights abuses. Chile's Congress was discussing creation of a human rights institute. He also noted the decision of the United Nations Commission on Human Rights to adopt a draft (2005/35) introduced by Chile, which promoted basic principles and guidelines for victims rights to reparation and resources in line with international norms. Although the draft was not a legally binding document, it gave States a broad margin of flexibility for implementation.
SHIN KAK-SOO (Republic of Korea) said that, while he supported the idea of an expanded core human rights document that would streamline the reporting process, the specificity of each treaty body must be preserved. Also, reduced reporting obligations must not reduce the integrity or content of the reports and must not overlap or duplicate the work of the proposed Human Rights Council. The double problem of backlogs on reports and non-reporting must be addressed, in part by harmonizing the reporting process to make it easier both to comply with obligations and to review the reports and their follow-up.
Continuing, he said technical assistance to meet reporting obligations must be provided to States needing it, while States should also be encouraged to regard reporting as a positive and constructive process. The terminology between the treaty bodies should be standardized with more recommendations being country-specific to bridge implementation gaps. Consideration should be given to a standing treaty body to consolidate the work of the existing ones. Above all, follow-up must be carried out. Without that, the lofty objective to promote and protect human rights rang hollow.
SIN SONG CHOL (Democratic People's Republic of Korea) said human rights instruments contained guiding principles for promoting and protecting human rights, and treaty bodies were think-tanks that provided valuable advice to States parties. Treaty bodies maintained the principle of non-politicization, impartiality, non-selectivity and non-interference in the internal affairs of other countries in their activities, and that encouraged State parties to conduct constructive dialogue and to accept and implement their recommendations in an open manner. In that regard, his Government had presented its reports on the implementation of four human rights instruments since 2000 and had them considered in the respective treaty bodies. According to the requirements of the human rights instruments and recommendations of the treaty bodies, the minimum age for the death penalty in the country's civil law had been amended from 17 years of age to 18, and many articles of various national laws were amended, supplemented or enacted.
Treaty bodies should make a number of improvements in their activities, in order to obtain further support and cooperation from States parties, he continued. Furthermore, reports of States parties should be considered on a timely basis, and unreliable information should not be used in the dialogue with States during consideration of their reports. The participation of non-governmental organizations in the meetings of the treaty bodies and dialogues with experts was useful, but unreliable information provided by such organizations should not be absolute in such dialogues. Such approaches diminished the confidence of States parties in the impartiality of treaty bodies. Concluding observations should also be drawn on the basis of dialogue with official delegations of respective States. Substantial steps should be taken to provide prudence and objectivity in adopting concluding comments, he added.
OMER BERZINJI (Iraq) reasserted Iraq's determination to respect international covenants on human rights, and supported proposals to remove obstacles to implement those laws. The draft Iraqi constitution included respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms of its citizens in line with international treaties and covenants, particularly in article 44. The Iraqi Government was determined to respect international human rights commitments and sought to include them in its laws. It had set up several committees to carry out studies to recommend to legislative bodies how to best ensure respect and ratification of national human rights covenants.
Awareness-raising was also necessary to ensure promotion and protection of human rights, he continued, stressing that many people were not aware of their rights and freedoms. It was important to review human rights situations in a broader context in order to shed light on them. He stressed the importance of safeguarding fundamental rights and of having measures to punish violators. He called on the international community to reassert the need to respect all people regardless of their race, language, colour or beliefs and for international cooperation to ensure respect of human rights commitments.
EWALD LIMON (Suriname), speaking on behalf of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM), said the CARICOM countries were collectively guided by the fundamental principles of good governance, the rule of law and respect for the fundamental rights and freedoms of all. They recognized that human rights were essential for human survival, physical security, liberty and dignity, all of which were inherent to every human being. They also acknowledged the responsibility of all national Governments to guarantee that human rights and fundamental freedoms, as laid down in several international instruments, were fully upheld. They also believed that neither the cause of development nor that of security could be advanced without respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms. The international community must seize the opportunity to better the situation of millions of people worldwide. It was necessary to move from rhetoric to implementation, and make human rights a true reality for all, and it was unquestionable that international cooperation in that endeavour was of the highest importance.
Although reporting requirements under treaty provisions were an important means of monitoring the implementation of instruments that embodied universal human rights and fundamental freedoms, it weighed heavily on small States, such as the CARICOM members, which already had limited human and financial resources. It was, therefore, important that the treaty bodies adopt a holistic approach to human rights, so as to avoid duplication and conflicting interpretations of human rights provisions. The further streamlining and harmonizing of treaty bodies, which were considered to be the cornerstone of the human rights machinery, should eventually facilitate States parties in fulfilling their reporting requirements. The CARICOM, therefore, reiterated its call for increased technical cooperation to assist States in enhancing their reporting capacity or in carrying out the recommendations of the treaty bodies. Attention should also be given to the fight against terrorism and the impact of globalization, as well as to the importance of education, he added.
ANDREW SOUTHCOTT (Australia), also speaking on behalf of Canada and New Zealand, said he was concerned with the overlap in the work of the committees, and supported reducing duplication where possible. He commended High Commissioner Louise Arbour's "Plan of Action" to establish a single treaty body, but pointed out that establishing such a body would involve extensive organizational changes, as well as a need for sufficient budget resources. However, he stood ready to assist the High Commissioner in her efforts to achieve greater efficiency in the operation of the United Nations human rights system.
He said there was a key role for treaty bodies in addressing the "implementation gap" referred to by the High Commissioner. However, there was a need to further examine improvements in the harmonization of the committees' practices, in reducing duplication in their work, in establishing reporting schedules that take into account the capacity of the committees to consider reports and in consistency and transparency in their dealings with material supplied by non-governmental organizations. Also, States had a responsibility to nominate experts who had the relevant human rights expertise, whose skills were relevant to the work of the committees and who were truly independent and had a high degree of integrity.
KENY BENDECK (Honduras) said today began a national week of human rights in her country, created by the national Congress to ensure that the authorities, including the Commission of Human Rights and the Secretariat for Justice, launched joint projects so that local authorities could launch projects on the issue. Fundamental human rights were inherent and inalienable. They should be applied to all people, and recognized, respected and promoted by all. It was necessary to apply treaties in a just way, and to promote and defend human rights, because it was only in that way that the objectives of the United Nations Charter could be ensured. Her Government sought to ensure human rights, in keeping with the situation in the country. It was not easy for developing countries, which had fragile economic structures, to take into account the rules of the international community. There were various levels of culture, religion and morality that influenced each country, and local authorities often disregarded the fundamental rights and freedoms of peoples.
It was necessary to have stronger and better international cooperation to combat international crime and to strengthen the rights of citizens, she continued. Such problems as crises in families, lack of employment and lack of opportunities for the poor pushed young people to join gangs, as was seen in Central America, and that affected all sectors of society. Her Government intended to combat delinquency at all levels for the benefit of all, in full compliance with human rights. Her Government also supported the creation of the Human Rights Council. Human rights issues were very broad, she added, and her Government would continue to participate in all committees that dealt with the issue in the hope that there would be a world free of violence one day.
JOÃO SALGUEIRO (Portugal) noted that the 1993 Vienna Declaration and Programme of Action and the 2005 World Summit had reaffirmed that all human rights were universal, indivisible, interdependent and interrelated and must be treated in a fair and equal manner, and on the same footing and with the same emphasis. However, economic, social and cultural rights had been treated as poor relatives of the human rights family. At the international level, victims of torture, arbitrary detention, violations of freedom of speech or religion could file complaints. However, there was no right to petition at the international level for victims suffering from chronic malnutrition, seriously inadequate healthcare or lack of access to educational opportunity or a combination of the three.
All too often breaches of economic, social and cultural rights were tolerated while violations of civil and political rights continued to be treated as though they were far more serious and intolerable, he said. However, a positive evolution was taking place. Socio-economic rights had the status of binding law under several international human rights treaties and some had been universally ratified. In the Americas, Africa and Europe, regional human rights systems were in place to ensure redress of human rights violations. The constitutions of many countries, including Portugal, had provisions consecrating economic, social and cultural rights. Also, courts in different parts of the world were playing an increasingly vital role in enforcing socio-economic rights.
DANIELA PI (Uruguay) stressed the importance of instruments dealing with the disappearance of persons, such as the Inter-American Convention on Forced Disappearance of Persons, which States adopted at the regional level in 1994. At the international level, the Statute of the International Criminal Court had included in its jurisdiction the trial of crimes against humanity, among them the forced disappearance of persons. The draft United Nations international convention on the protection of all persons from forced disappearance would serve as an additional and effective weapon for combating the horrendous crime of forced disappearance. The draft defined forced disappearance; described its systematic and massive practice as a crime against humanity; and, in certain isolated cases, made it a serious offence to be tried by national courts.
The draft convention provided for "universal jurisdiction", stipulating that alleged authors of the crime of enforced disappearance might be prosecuted anywhere in the world, she said. Under its provisions, every State party should take measures to establish jurisdiction when an offence was committed within its territory, and also when the alleged perpetrator was within its boundaries, and not extradited to a requesting State. When the political situation or the laws in the requesting State prevented extradition, States must also prosecute the alleged perpetrator as if the offence had been committed within their jurisdiction.
ANDA FILIP, speaking on behalf of the Inter-Parliamentary Union, said that on any subject, the work of parliament -- particularly its legislative work -- had a direct or indirect impact on the ability of the people effectively to enjoy their fundamental rights. In order for those rights to be given their due, the Union encouraged parliaments to establish bodies to deal specifically with human rights. The surveys the Union had carried out since 1993 indicated that an increasing number of parliaments had done so in recent years. Furthermore, the terms of reference and functioning of parliamentary human rights bodies varied considerably, which had consequences for the effectiveness and impact of their human rights work.
The Union was convinced that all regional and international human rights mechanisms, and especially treaty bodies and special rapporteurs, had a great deal to gain from cooperating more closely with parliamentary human rights bodies, and where there were none, with the competent parliamentary committees. Therefore, it was working to establish or strengthen such cooperation by various means, including by holding regular seminars and publishing a series of handbooks for parliamentarians. That included a new handbook for parliamentarians on human rights, published by the Union and the OHCHR, whose aim was to familiarize parliamentarians with the framework established since 1945 by the United Nations and regional organizations to promote and protect human rights.
DOMINIQUE BUSS, International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), said that the ICRC had helped 2,700 people dispersed by armed conflict to re-establish contact with their families, and had issued travel documents that enabled almost 10,000 people to return to their home countries or to settle in a host country. It was pleased that the Agenda for Humanitarian Action, which was adopted by the twenty-eighth International Conference of the Red Cross and Red Crescent, gave prominence to the question of missing persons.
He welcomed the recent conclusion of the drafting of a convention protecting persons from enforced disappearances, and commended the achievement of the working group to elaborate a legally binding normative instrument for the protection of all persons from enforced disappearances. Persons deprived of their freedom must be allowed to communicate with their families. Even with legitimate grounds for detention, there was no right to conceal a person's whereabouts, to keep secret whether someone was alive or dead, or to deny that he or she was being detained. In 2004, the ICRC saw 571,000 detainees in 2,400 places of detention; persons visited had been registered to keep track of them, and 29,000 such persons were registered during that period.
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