A long day’s work for human rights (or Twenty-fourth Report on the 61st UN Commission on Human Rights, April 19, 2005)

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During today’s extended sessions, Item 18 on Effective functioning of human rights mechanisms: a) Treaty bodies, b) National institutions and regional arrangements, c) Adaptation and strengthening of the United Nations machinery for human rights was concluded with the last few NGO interventions. Many went through issues that had been touched upon during yesterday’s debate on Item 18, and once again human rights violations in Thailand, the USA and Australia were brought to the attention of the Commission. UN Watch spoke in favour of Kofi Annan’s UN reform plans and condemned the Commission for not having special mechanisms dealing with human rights violations in Zimbabwe and the Sudan.

Item 19, Advisory services and technical cooperation in the field of human rights was opened and there where four presentations from Special Rapporteurs, Independent Experts and Special Representatives of the Secretary General on the situation of human rights in Chad, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Cambodia, and Liberia. These presentations involved some horrific tales from these four countries of some of the most grotesque and brutal examples of human behaviour. The overarching criticism of all four governments was the widespread impunity for all levels of human rights violations and crimes against humanity, some of which stem from government action and others which involve non-State actors such as rebel groups and the like. The pervasiveness of violent ethnic conflicts is intensely brutal and the horrific tales of sexual violence against women and girls is simply ghastly. Ending impunity against those who perpetrate sexual violence against women and girls was one of the key recommendations of these presentations, also in terms of violence against women committed by UN and other ‘peacekeeping’ forces. As many of these nations were in post-conflict reconstruction or transition to democracy, it is certain that there will be problems, but it was clear that the governments were not doing enough to combat large scale human rights violations. It was also evident that the judicial systems in these countries need a lot of improvement in expanding their ability to prosecute criminals, especially those guilty of crimes against humanity such as violence against women. Chad, Congo and Liberia in responding as concerned countries for the most part agreed with the findings of the Rapporteurs and Special Representatives, although they did claim the situation was not as dire as painted by the various reports. Cambodia was the only nation to state that the report on their situation was wholly inaccurate and did not reflect the truth in their view. During the Interactive Dialogues, it was clear that for those who participated, the issue of violence against women and girls in these countries was a grave concern and this was made very clear to all governments present that violence against women is in fact a crime against humanity and must be treated as such. Impunity and corruption feed the evils of human rights violations.

After these presentations, the General Debate on Item 19 ensued with governments and NGO’s taking the floor for their interventions. The representatives from the EU, Egypt, USA, and the European Commission made very bland and general interventions about the importance of technical cooperation and the usefulness of this agenda Item. Cuba and India agreed that this agenda Item is being misused like Item 9 and is contributing to the politicisation and deficit in Commission credibility. Romania made a Pre-Emptive Defence Statement.

NGO’s who took the floor discussed the situation in the Congo, as well as stressed the importance of including a gender perspective in terms of technical assistance plans, and also one NGO criticised the Commission for never having placed a resolution against the genocide taking place in the Sudan.

At the end of the morning meeting, Indonesia took the floor in a Right of Reply to comments made by the EU with regards to Timor Leste and basically Indonesia told the EU to mind their own business and stop meddling in the peace process Indonesia and Timor Leste are working out amongst themselves.

The midday session had the task of taking action on resolutions regarding Item 11, Civil and political rights.

The resolution on human rights and forensic science was adopted by the Commission by consensus, and takes up the issue of principles and best practices for forensic experts working in the field of human rights. Also adopted without a vote was the resolution on enforced or involuntary disappearances, the resolution on arbitrary detention, the text regarding hostage taking, the resolution on the independence and impartiality of the judiciary, jurors and assessors and the independence of lawyers, the text on the incompatibility between democracy and racism,

The resolution text on strengthening of popular participation, equity, social justice and non-discrimination as essential foundations of democracy was adopted by a vote of 28 in favour, 14 against and 11 abstentions. This resolution states that democracy is based on the free will of peoples to determine their own economic, social, political and economic systems as they see fit and participate in kind. It goes on to note the importance of free and fair elections as well as other important facets of democracy. Yes, it would seem to be very straightforward but see how the voting went:

In favour (28): Bhutan, Brazil, Burkina Faso, China, Congo, Cuba, Ecuador, Egypt, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Gabon, Guinea, India, Indonesia, Kenya, Malaysia, Mauritania, Nepal, Nigeria, Pakistan, Qatar, Russian Federation, South Africa, Sri Lanka, Sudan, Swaziland, Togo and Zimbabwe.

Against (14): Australia, Canada, Finland, France, Germany, Hungary, Ireland, Italy, Netherlands, Republic of Korea, Romania, Ukraine, United Kingdom and United States.

Abstentions (11): Argentina, Armenia, Costa Rica, Dominican Republic, Guatemala, Honduras, Japan, Mexico, Paraguay, Peru and Saudi Arabia.

Surprised? I was a bit, although with my government I really shouldn’t be surprised ever at the insanity they bring into the world. I would have thought that many of the nations in favour would have been against, seeing that many are not democratic systems, and the so-called champion democracies of the world were against this resolution. The irony is as thick as a German chocolate cake. The EU said they were against this resolution because it lacks an adequate definition of democracy. None of the other contradictory democracies had anything to say for their shameful selves.

The resolution on the integrity of the judicial system was adopted by a vote of 52 in favour, none against and one abstention. Anyone to take a gander at who abstained? I apologise for the embarrassing behaviour of the USA. I think they were sulking because they had proposed three amendments to the text, one of which sought to erase any mention of the International Criminal Court which they are wholeheartedly against (and understandably since their legal system is infallible and justice is served each and every day to every victim in the USA), but each of the three amendments were just as wholeheartedly rejected by the Commission. Although the USA had on its side with either in favour or abstaining votes from Australia, Canada, Eritrea, India, Pakistan, Burkina Faso, Congo, Egypt, Ethiopia, Gabon, Mauritania, Qatar, and Saudi Arabia. Anyone else noting Saudi Arabia’s presence in the USA’s voting patterns? I continue to find the USA’s relationship with Saudi distressing especially considering all of the information that has come out about September 11th perpetrators being of Saudi origin, as well as the information disclosed by Michael Moore regarding the Bush family ties to the Bin Laden’s. Cuba claimed that the proposed amendments was an attempt by the USA to legitimise their illegal activities in Guantanamo Bay. To me, the resolution seems very clear cut: that courts must be fair and legal, that people on trial have rights to defend themselves or with legal assistance, and also that convicted people still have rights under the law, etc. But as you can see, there is nothing clear cut in this process and politicisation emerges from all fronts to taunt this Commission with its demonic face.

The draft resolution on democracy and the rule of law was also brought to a vote and passed with 46 in favour, none against and 7 abstentions. Once again, this is a very basic resolution that details principles common to international law and standards such as equal protection under the law for all, condemnation of impunity, and the principle of non-discrimination, but was brought to a vote that went like this:

In favour (46): Argentina, Armenia, Australia, Brazil, Burkina Faso, Canada, Congo, Costa Rica, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, Egypt, Ethiopia, Finland, France, Germany, Guatemala, Guinea, Honduras, Hungary, India, Indonesia, Ireland, Italy, Japan, Kenya, Malaysia, Mauritania, Mexico, Nepal, Netherlands, Nigeria, Pakistan, Paraguay, Peru, Qatar, Republic of Korea, Romania, Russian Federation, South Africa, Sri Lanka, Swaziland, Togo, Ukraine, United Kingdom, United States and Zimbabwe.

Against (0)

Abstentions (7) Bhutan, China, Cuba, Eritrea, Gabon, Saudi Arabia and Sudan.

Cuba had made a few amendments which had been supported by China, among others, but the amendments were rejected by the Commission. Cuba felt the existing text demonstrated the hegemonic desires of the USA throughout the world. China felt that the resolution was incompatible with the true spirit of democracy. Romania spoke in favour of the resolution and its importance to promote democracy in the world.

The text on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions was surprisingly brought to a vote and ultimately was adopted with 36 in favour, none against and 17 abstentions. This resolution condemns these acts and urges that governments comply with international law in not supporting them in any case. It is also implied in the text that these actions tend to lead to genocide, mass murder and inter-ethnic conflicts. The vote went like:

In favour (36): Argentina, Armenia, Australia, Bhutan, Brazil, Canada, Congo, Costa Rica, Cuba, Dominican Republic, Ecuador,

Eritrea, Finland, France, Germany, Guatemala, Honduras, Hungary, Ireland, Italy, Japan, Kenya, Mexico, Netherlands, Nigeria, Paraguay, Peru, Republic of Korea, Romania, Russian Federation, South Africa, Sri Lanka, Swaziland, Ukraine, United Kingdom and Zimbabwe.

Against (0)

Abstentions (17): Burkina Faso, China, Egypt, Ethiopia, Gabon, Guinea, India, Indonesia, Malaysia, Mauritania, Nepal, Pakistan, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, Togo and United States.

An amendment put forth by Pakistan was rejected along with another amendment by the USA. The EU discussed the importance of this resolution and of course support its content. Pakistan supports the spirit of the resolution, but they along with the Organisation of the Islamic Conference disagree with the listing contained in operative paragraph five as types of victims do not need to be described and if they are to be the list is far from complete, and thus abstained from the voting. The issue here is that the OIC is against any mention of sexual orientation linked with human rights, and Finland addressed the issue of arbitrary killings related to gender identity and sexual orientation, which is why it is of utmost importance to include the list of particularly vulnerable groups. The OIC has made it very clear that they feel this issue of sexual orientation is a Western ‘problem’ and representative of ‘disgusting cultural practices’ of the West, something I have heard them mention many times over the years in the Commission. The USA noted that they could not support the text without their amendment because they oppose any ‘positive reference’ to the International Criminal Court on principle. The USA also noted that the standard rules of treatment of prisoners is not binding, also that the legal system in the USA is more than capable of handling all claims in a non-discriminatory manner. Canada stressed the importance of the ICC in contributing to the end of impunity throughout the world.

In the resolution on the Basic Principles and Guidelines on the Right to a Remedy and Reparation for Victims of Gross Violations of International Human Rights Law and Serious Violations of International Humanitarian Law, it calls upon states to respect international law and implement its treaties and recommendations in the spirit of promoting and protecting human rights of all citizens. Reparations must be granted to victims of human rights violations, and States have obligations to uphold international human rights law. It is a very strong resolution that stresses the importance of recognised international law and standards and seeks to underscore its presence and validity in the protection of human rights worldwide. This was put to a vote and was adopted by 40 in favour, none against and 13 abstentions. The voting went as such:

In favour (40): Argentina, Armenia, Bhutan, Brazil, Burkina Faso, Canada, China, Congo, Costa Rica, Cuba, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, Finland, France, Gabon, Guatemala, Guinea, Honduras, Hungary, Indonesia, Ireland, Italy, Japan, Kenya, Malaysia, Mexico, Netherlands, Nigeria, Pakistan, Paraguay, Peru, Republic of Korea, Romania, Russian Federation, South Africa, Sri Lanka, Swaziland, Ukraine, United Kingdom and Zimbabwe.

Against (0)

Abstentions (13): Australia, Egypt, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Germany, India, Mauritania, Nepal, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, Togo and United States.

Mexico on behalf of GRULAC, the UK, Canada spoke in favour of the resolution and reminded the Commission that it creates no new obligations, nor anything that is legally binding under international law. Canada noted as well that there is no right to remedy for historical violations that were not considered violations under international law at the time they were committed. The USA regretted to abstain due to the mention of the ICC, and also pointed out that the principles carry no legal obligations nor do they require states to implement any of their international law obligations. Argentina stated that just because the ICC is mentioned should not prompt the USA to request a vote and the draft really should have been adopted without a vote.

Once the voting procedures were finished, the Commission took up Item 20, the rationalisation of the work of the Commission. Romania noted that the special procedures are the most important part of the Commission’s work, but they requested that the interactive dialogues should be longer allowing them to be more comprehensive and that time allocations for special procedures should be reviewed and extended. The International Service for Human Rights (ISHR) stated that in the remarks made by the High-Level Panel on UN reform, the problem lies not with the special mechanisms, but with the attitudes of Commission Members whose behaviours undermine the credibility of its work. South Asia Human Rights Documentation Centre (SAHRDC) pointed out that it was quite problematic that Mr. Annan was proposing these reforms at such a late time in his term, and that rushing through UN reform could not be a good way to proceed if strengthening the UN was in fact the goal, and that all reforms must be discussed thoroughly with the participation of civil society as well before any irreversible changes are made.

The afternoon session continued adopting a few more resolutions and decisions on Item 11, Civil and political rights, Item 12 on violence against women, and Item 13 on rights of the child, as well as Item 14 on special groups and individuals.

Under Item 11, civil and political rights, the resolution on promoting the rights to peaceful assembly and association was adopted by a vote of 45 in favour, none against and 8 abstentions. Voting went like:

In favour (45): Argentina, Armenia, Australia, Brazil, Burkina Faso, Canada, Congo, Costa Rica, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, Egypt, Ethiopia, Finland, France, Gabon, Germany, Guatemala, Guinea, Honduras, Hungary, India, Indonesia, Ireland, Italy, Japan, Kenya, Malaysia, Mauritania, Mexico, Nepal, Netherlands, Nigeria, Pakistan, Paraguay, Peru, Republic of Korea, Romania, South Africa, Sri Lanka, Sudan, Swaziland, Togo, Ukraine, United Kingdom and United States.

Against (0)

Abstentions (8): Bhutan, China, Cuba, Eritrea, Qatar, Russian Federation, Saudi Arabia and Zimbabwe.

I must say I found it odd that the USA was in favour of this resolution because there no longer exists the right to freely assemble in the United States on account of the Patriot Act II, Homeland Security and media blackouts on all voices contrary to that of the current administration. How odd are these voting patterns. Russia made two amendments which were both rejected by the Commission.

The resolution on the right to freedom of opinion and expression was adopted as orally revised and by consensus. The mandate of the Special Rapporteur was continued for another three years within this resolution.

Also adopted by consensus was the resolution on torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment, whereby all forms of these horrific treatments were condemned by the Commission.

In its resolution on elimination of all forms of intolerance and of discrimination based on religion or belief which urges States to guarantee freedom of thought, religion, etc without discrimination was also adopted without a vote.

The Sub-Commission decision on the issue of ‘Terrorism and human rights’ was adopted by a vote of 40 in favour, 2 against and 11 abstentions. This report will be published within the UN Human Rights Study Series and the vote went as such:

In favour (40): Argentina, Armenia, Bhutan, Brazil, Burkina Faso, China, Congo, Costa Rica, Cuba, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, Egypt, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Gabon, Guatemala, Guinea, Honduras, India, Indonesia, Japan, Kenya, Malaysia, Mauritania, Mexico, Nepal, Nigeria, Pakistan, Paraguay, Peru, Qatar, Russian Federation, Saudi Arabia, South Africa, Sri Lanka, Sudan, Swaziland, Togo, Ukraine and Zimbabwe.

Against (2): Australia and United States.

Abstentions (11): Canada, Finland, France, Germany, Hungary, Ireland, Italy, Netherlands, Republic of Korea, Romania and United Kingdom.

The USA felt that the scant resources of the Sun-Commission should be wasted in publishing this report. Pakistan, Russia, Cuba, and Mauritania spoke in regards to the importance of the decision and had hoped there would be no vote, but since a vote had been called by the USA they would vote in favour.

Item 11 was closed for discussion by the Commission after closing comments by Germany and the USA, although nothing very interesting or inflammatory for a change.

Resolutions under Item 12, the integration of the human rights of women and the gender perspective, were taken up for consideration by the Commission. The resolution on violence against women was adopted without a vote, and through this text the Commission condemned all forms of violence against women and girls from all segments of society. This includes domestic violence and harmful cultural practices that affect the health and lives of women and girls. There was also mention of women and girl’s particular vulnerability on account of gender-based violence to HIV/AIDS infection along with other sexually transmitted infections. Amazingly, marital rape was included among the crimes that must be punishable in State legislation. The Organisation of the Islamic Conference (OIC) proposed an amendment which was rejected by the Commission, as did the USA which was likewise turned down. The OIC objected to the mention of marital rape and they felt it should have been replaced by ‘domestic sexual violence.’ They also felt that references to same-sex sexual relations should be omitted. Canada pointed out that the Special Rapporteur had made specific references to marital rape and HIV/AIDS in her report and in this vein it is wholly appropriate to maintain this language in the resolution, and the Netherlands agreed stating that marital rape is a crime that should be prosecuted. The USA was opposed to paragraph 20 which mentions access to abortions in discussing reproductive rights of women and would like the paragraph deleted. Costa Rica, Guatemala also had problems with the mentions of abortions, and they had reservations on anything that limits the right to life, however they would not stand in way of consensus. Ecuador spoke in favour of the original draft of the text and would support that version only. Honduras had withdrawn its support as a co-sponsor because there were provisions that problematise their own position as a government. The USA came back again in an explanation of vote that they do not recognise abortion as a valid form of family planning, nor as a reproductive right of women to choose, furthermore they do not recognise same-sex marriages either. In any case, the resolution was adopted by consensus.

The resolution on integrating the human rights of women throughout the United Nations system was also adopted without a vote. This text encourages gender mainstreaming within the UN and that more women be encouraged to apply and be granted higher positions of power within the organisation.

Furthermore, the Commission adopted by consensus a decision from the Sub-Commission which approved the appointment of a Special Rapporteur on detailing a study regarding the difficulties of establishing guilt and/or responsibilities in terms of crimes of sexual violence.

Resolutions on Item 13, Rights of the child were then brought to the attention of the Commission, and the first was regarding the abduction of children in Africa, and it was adopted without a vote. This resolution condemns the abduction of children for trafficking purposes or for forced participation in armed conflicts.

The omnibus resolution on the rights of the child was adopted by a roll-call vote of 52 in favour, 1 against and no abstentions. This is so embarrassing but yes, the USA voted against rights for children. The resolution discusses the Convention on the Rights of the Child as well as its Optional Protocol in protecting children from trafficking, forced recruitment, prostitution and pornography, all forms of physical and sexual violence, and notes that children are also entitled to all human rights without discrimination. The USA had proposed an amendment which was rejected by the Commission. Mexico on behalf of GRULAC, Canada, spoke to the importance of the resolution as well as the Convention on the Rights of the Child and urged the Commission to adopt this resolution by consensus. The USA stated they could not support the resolution but of course are in full support of the rights of children. (They did not say this but they do not support the Convention on the Rights of the Child and they are one of 2 nations who has yet to ratify it, the other being Sudan. They do not support it because it states that minors may not be sentenced to the death penalty, as well as mentions of the ICC within its operative paragraphs, coupled with the fact that they believe their national legislation is sufficient to protect all American children.) . The EU noted that the American amendments severely damage the rights of children and the EU along with the co-sponsors of the resolution would vote against it. How embarrassing once again that the USA makes themselves so obviously the horse’s ass of the Commission proceedings. I mean, honestly, who votes against the rights of children? And they still have the nerve to call themselves the world’s champions of human rights? Give me a break.

Resolutions under Item 14, Specific groups and individuals, were taken up for action during the last hours of today’s session. The draft resolution on human rights and arbitrary deprivation of nationality was adopted without a vote, and encourages States to excursus non-discrimination under the law especially if practices may deprive an individual of nationality or formal links to their State.

Also adopted by consensus was the resolution on internally displaced persons, which highlights problems faced by this vulnerable group in access to all forms of assistance and further leaves them open for all measures of human rights violations. India and the USA made very bland statements about the importance of this resolution and how they are in favour of its adoption by consensus.

Human rights of migrants, a resolution that denounced all forms of discrimination against migrants, including racism and racial discrimination, xenophobia, and other related intolerance and violence against migrant communities. Although the USA went along with the consensus, they wanted to note several concerns of areas mentioned in the text as not being appropriate for the Commission to take up within its mandate, and furthermore they had problems with the mention of the International Criminal Court as well as a paragraph that refers to treaty rights, all of which should have been deleted.

The resolution regarding human rights and mass exoduses was adopted without a vote, and is a text that encourages States to address the various human rights abuses/situations that may have led to mass exoduses and to deal with these in a manner suitable to international humanitarian law. The resolution also tackles the issue of refugee rights and the human rights of asylum seekers.

The Sub-Commission decision on the issue of discrimination based on work and descent was also taken on by consensus, and this decision appointed two Special Rapporteurs to prepare a comprehensive study on this issue.

Item 15 on Indigenous issues had come up towards the end but as the governments were not prepared to discuss and vote on the resolutions, it was postponed until tomorrow.

In honour of Tony Black Feather,

Sezin

Thoughts?