Defeat and a very meagre harvest at the Commission on Human Rights :The 58th session gives a blank cheque to the oppressors

22/04/2002
Press release
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The Commission on Human Rights has just finished a chaotic session, during which the direct witnesses of the Human Rights violations, i.e. the independent NGOs and the Commission’s investigation mechanisms, were given extremely limited speaking time, and at times none at all. The eternal excuse of additional financial costs deceives no one. The Member States of the Commission were thus able to do without their testimonies and analyses. The victims were muzzled. At present, in the Commission, the States are the sole judges of the violations they perpetrate themselves. Article 1.3 of the United Nations Charter, according to which respect for Human Rights is one of the essential aims of the Organisation, is paid little more than lip service.

The session ends on the same bitter note that was prevalent throughout: for Human Rights, a crushing defeat. A draft resolution presented by Mexico and supported by the European Union called on the High Commissioner to submit a report on the violations of Human Rights committed in the fight against terrorism. This was pursuant to the urgent appeal addressed by five independent Human Rights NGOs (Amnesty, Cairo Institute for Human Rights, the I.CJ, the FIDH, and Human Rights Watch) to the international community to confront the multiple abuses and excessive practices carried out in the framework of anti-terrorist legislation and measures. The same concern was expressed by the High Commissioner and constituted the central theme of Koffi Annan’s speech to the Commission. Blocked by the United States, the Organisation of the Islamic Conference led by Algeria, and India, the co-sponsors today withdrew the draft at the last minute, having failed n their attempts at negotiation. The tragedy of September 11 and its anti-terrorist sequels have confirmed, had it been necessary, the urgent need for the Commission to assert the imperative nature of respect for Human Rights. This year the Commission has accomplished nothing more than last year!

Likewise, regarding the discussions on situations, the session ended with a very meagre harvest for the victims, and a blank cheque for the oppressors. Voting on the country resolutions led to unprecedented rejections. Resolutions on the Human Rights situation in Iran, in Chechnya, in Zimbabwe and in Equatorial Guinea, involving allegations of Human Rights violations that are among the most preoccupying in the world, were deliberately rejected. The situation in China was not even put on the agenda: no text had been submitted, neither by the United States, nor by the European Union, nor by any other Member State of the Commission, which shows their unwillingness to combat Human Rights in that country also.

By a subtle use of political pressure the States authors of the most serious Human Rights violations succeeded in mobilising around them more or less systematic opposition to any initiative condemning the Human Rights situation in a given country, with the exception of the Middle East. Their adroit campaigns accused any attempt to examine the situation in a country of being a selective, biased approach, an attack on the country’s "development". The imperative need to fight terrorism, proclaimed by the Americans and by many other States, including Western States, in point of fact meant absolving the authors of Human Rights violations, in Chechnya, for instance.

This session has confirmed that the States authors of the most serious Human Rights violations have now succeeded in taking possession of the ultimate, and main body for the defence of Human Rights in the United Nations. It is now no more than a platform for the spokesmen of the authoritarian or freedom-denying regimes of Algeria, Saudi Arabia, China, Libya, Cuba, Syria, the Russian Federation, Iran, Iraq, Sudan, etc.

Practically only consensus texts, supported by the violating States, seem to be assured of being adopted. The "political dialogues", developed for that purpose between the European Union and several such countries, which were supposed to allow an open and frank evaluation of the Human Rights situation, have shown their limits. The results are extremely disappointing, as shown by the resolutions on Columbia, Burma, and the Democratic Republic of Congo. They only achieve an extremely weak assessment of the situation and timorous recommendations.

The European Union has defaulted on its commitment, albeit asserted with force in the decision of the General Affairs Council of 11 March 2002, to promote as a priority during this session "the permanent duty of all States to protect and promote Human Rights", in particular in the context of the fight against terrorism.

The attitude of certain Latin American States was particularly open to criticism and controversial. Chile, Guatemala, Uruguay and Brazil, for instance, gave irregular support to resolutions, based not on an evaluation of the Human Rights situation, but on political considerations.

The African group distinguished itself by adopting self-protecting positions, in the name of regional solidarity based on purely political considerations.

The Asian group was remarkable in its unrelenting opposition to any independent evaluation of the Human Rights situation - with the notable exception on some occasions of Thailand, Japan and the Republic of Korea - in particular when it was a question of silencing independent voices in the civil society.

Regarding the thematic resolutions, several positive steps must be welcomed. The adoption of the additional Protocol of the Convention against Torture, for instance, if it is ratified, will make possible impromptu visits to detention centres and police stations. A working party has been set up to adopt a draft normative instrument on forced disappearances. Economic, social and cultural rights do not however figure prominently in the achievements of the session. While it will be possible to appoint a rapporteur on the right to health, the debate on the justiciability of economic, social and cultural rights has again been postponed.

In the context of this session however, the few positive elements highlight the general lack of achievement. Despite the disappointment felt at the end of six weeks’ meetings, the FIDH is more than ever determined to continue to fight so that the voice of the victims be heard, and that the repression to which they are subjected be effectively countered.

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