Human Rights · Riding A Dead Horse

Is the mirror to blame for the reflection? (or the Tenth Report on the 61st UN Commission on Human Rights, March 29, 2005.)

I was only able to attend the morning session of today’s meetings due to an overwhelming attack of rage. When I began to see myself like Uma Thurman in Kill Bill brandishing a Samurai sword and leaping from one government desk to the next slicing and dicing, I knew I could not go back until I found some peace. Peace was easier found by not going back into the Hellmouth. Last week I felt too little and now I feel too much; one of these days I will find the Middle Path on my spiritual journey, but I am afraid that today was not that day.

This morning’s session returned to discussion on Item 9, Question of the violation of human rights and fundamental freedoms in any part of the world, including a) Question of human rights in Cyprus, for the presentations of several Special Rapporteurs. The first Special Rapporteur to speak was Mr. Vitit Muntarbhorn, on the situation of human rights in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) or otherwise known as North Korea. Mr. Muntarbhorn noted that the DPRK is party to four human rights treaties and covenants, although rarely complies with them. He was not allowed access to the DPRK for a country visit, but was able to visit Japan and Mongolia where many North Koreans flee for asylum, or are trafficked and smuggled across the borders to escape from DPRK. Among many claims of human rights violations by the DPRK government were the improper distribution of food aid in the wake of several humanitarian crises, an unacceptable judicial and prison system which must be reformed (one of the problematic issues being collective punishment, meaning that an entire family can be punished for the alleged crimes of one of its members), the lack of freedom of movement for many citizens who must receive an exit visa in order to legally leave the country (and many of whom are imprisoned on reentry into the country if without), as well as the denial of the right to adequate health care, education, self-determination, freedom of religion and association, among other violations. The mention of the denial of the right to self-determination was very odd to me and I will need to read his report to find out what he was referring to. Mr. Muntarbhorn urged the DPRK to respect the rule of law, to reform their justice system and abolish capital and corporal punishment, to address the abduction issue with regards to Japan, and he invited the international community to ‘constructively urge’ the DPRK to comply with their international obligations. To me, it seemed as though there are far worse human rights violations taking place in the world in the USA and Australia for example than in the DPRK, lending further evidence that many of these special mandates of the CHR are politically motivated, rather than efforts in the promotion and protection of human rights. You will recall that George W. Bush had placed the DPRK in his so-called ‘axis of evil.’ Coming soon: an essay on the true Axis of Evil in the world…

The delegate of the DPRK angrily took the floor and testily remarked that they, as a sovereign nation, categorically reject not only the resolution put against them, but also Mr. Muntarbhorn’s report. They said that the report was an attempt at disseminating propaganda against the DPRK as well as psychological warfare waged by ‘enemy forces’ in the world. The DPRK raged that the Commission was being abused by ‘unilateralists,’ and how could there be a resolution against the DPRK when there is scant mention of the USA’s illegal war in Iraq nor the horrific crimes against humanity Japan committed in their abduction of millions of Koreans as well as their ‘drafting’ of Korean women as sexual slaves during WWII. Their criticism of the Special Rapporteur was harsh and scathing.

During the Interactive Dialogue, Luxembourg on behalf of the EU expressed their sadness that the DPRK would not allow a country visit of Mr. Muntarbhorn so that he could closer examine the human rights violations in their country. (I am so sick of Luxembourg; they just don’t shut up and have to speak no matter if they have something to say or not. They give me the creeps, but for other reasons.) They wanted to know more about how the DPRK stresses the rights of the authorities over the rights of individuals and groups. Canada supported both the mandate and report of the Special Rapporteur and was especially concerned by the DPRK’s treatment not only of minorities, but also women and children. Canada mentioned torture, trafficking and forced prostitution of women and children and wanted to know in further detail these violations (Maybe they should be more concerned with their own violations of their minorities before sticking their noses in other people’s business?). Canada also wanted to know if the Special Rapporteur on violence against Women would be discussing the situation in DPRK also. Japan chastised the DPRK for their harsh language towards the Special Rapporteur and noted their glowing support and agreement of his work. They called for his mandate to be extended since he has been unable to visit the country.

In his final remarks, Mr. Muntarbhorn pointed out to the DPRK that his mandate is an opportunity for them to engage constructively with the international community in the promotion and protection of human rights. He also gave information regarding how he is fully and totally neutral and independent in his mandate, contrary to the position that the DPRK has taken that he is a vicious propagandizer. He responded to the question of Luxembourg in a roundabout way and I personally did not hear any sort of concrete response. I was a bit bothered by the fact that Mr. Muntarbhorn referred to CEDAW as ‘The Women’s Convention’ several times, which seemed to me a bit strange and unprofessional when he could have easily referred to it by its real name. Again he encouraged the DPRK to reform their legal and judicial system, as well as to comply with the treaties they have ratified.

A frenzy began during the presentation of Mr. Adrian Severin, the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Belarus. Mr. Severin seemed to take it as a personal affront from the Belarusian government that he was not permitted a country visit, and his angry tone remained throughout his presentation. He stated that the situation of human rights in Belarus is deplorable and a threat to the security of the entire region. He claimed that deep reform and complete societal reconstruction were needed to fix the violent problems in Belarus, and he also claimed that there was an ‘identity problem’ in Belarus (which was not explained clearly in his presentation, I need to read his report again to understand) that was much of the cause of unrest. Mr. Severin growled out the deplorable fact that Belarus would not let him visit, and his distaste for the government was more than obvious (and quite embarrassing really). Mr. Severin reprimanded Mme. Arbour’s office for not providing ample resources for him to do his job properly.

When Belarus took the floor as a concerned country, they tore Mr. Severin’s report apart. They claimed that Mr. Severin’s report is ‘scandalously based’ on a recent report of the USA on the situation of human rights in Belarus, and they wanted to know why the USA has not taken up this issue as copyright infringement. Belarus angrily noted that the mandate of the Special Rapporteur is politically motivated out of revenge by the USA for the defeat of the resolution they put forward against Belarus last year at the 60th Session. Aside from a typical Defensive Statement on all that the Belarus government does to protect and promote human rights, they also implied that the USA funds militant Belarusian NGOs to attend the Commission and slander the government. They went so far as to call Mr. Severin a ‘puppet’ in a geopolitical game being played out over Belarus, and demanded that Mr. Severin publicly apologize for his insulting report, especially in saying that Belarus has an ‘identity problem’ among many other things.

Russia took the floor during the Interactive Dialogue in support of Belarus, further claiming that Mr. Severin had exceeded his mandate and made absurd comments. Russia claimed the report was severely exaggerated, and that Belarus is far from being a threat to the security of the region. He said that the hostility of Mr. Severin towards the Belarusian government was evident and inappropriate. They dismissed his claims as inadmissible in this light. They further slammed him by saying that his methods in general were unacceptable, the result of his work horrific, and they would like the Commission to discuss openly the damage that Mr. Severin has done to the credibility of the CHR. China also spoke in favor of Belarus and wanted to know who were the Belarusians the Rapporteur spoke with if he was unable to visit the country, and how did he know they were reliable sources. To say that Belarus has an ‘identity problem’ was far from appropriate, and China further pointed out that in many western nations, the so-called champions of human rights have far worse violations than what the Special Rapporteur mentioned in his report. China observed Mr. Severin’s negative judgments of the sovereign nation and criticized his absent objectivity. Cuba also noted the similarity between the USA report and Mr. Severin’s, as well as his obvious problems in his independence, objectivity and diplomatic decorum. Cuba called him a ‘political agitator’ and called for him to publicly apologize for his comments. The USA thanked Mr. Severin for his accurate and thorough report and they shared the concerns of gross human rights violations in Belarus. The USA supported all of Mr. Severin’s recommendations and went through each of them; they criticized Belarus for not cooperating with the Special Rapporteur. Luxembourg made their usual bland and inane statement. Canada supported the Special Rapporteur and agreed that Belarus has a serious lack of cultural identity. Canada went on to say that national identity and human rights are linked, and again that minorities must be protected from the gross human rights violations taking place (I will hold my tongue otherwise we’ll be here all day). Kenya hated the political nature of the report and advised Mr. Severin to be more objective and impartial in the future; countries should be engaged, not condemned.

In Mr. Severin’s heated response he stated that he could not accept any claims that he has been biased or disregarded neutrality. Any similarities between his report and others are ‘pure coincidence.’ (I don’t know about you but I don’t believe in coincidence, so where does that leave him?) Again, his personal outrage at not being allowed to visit Belarus became evident as he snidely commented that possibly he would have been able to mention more positive things in his report had he been allowed to visit Belarus. He did not think that his report was political in the least. There is in fact an identity problem in Belarus. He noted, rightly, that ‘our duty’ as Special Rapporteurs is not just to paint a picture, but to change the situations. He also stated that it is not the mirror’s fault what it reflects, and people should not be surprised when it reflects a different reality than what they imagine.

Paolo Sergio Pinheiro, the Special Rapporteur on human rights in Myanmar, was the next presenter and he noted that the situation of human rights has progressively worsened since the information contained in his report was published. He went on to give a very bland statement on technical assistance; he urged Myanmar to allow the UN access again; and made a quick mention of violence against ethnic minorities in the northwest, as well as sexual violence against ‘ethnic women.’ Myanmar’s path to democracy was not going very smoothly at all.

Myanmar justified their denial of UN entrance to the country because they felt that the ‘timing has not been appropriate.’ They went on to give Mr. Pinheiro a glowing recommendation for a good three or four minutes, going through all of his credentials and work in support of human rights and social justice. (Avoidance Intervention if there ever was one.) The delegate then went on to note that there is absolutely no discrimination whatsoever in Myanmar and went on to ‘clarify’ the situations noted by Mr. Pinheiro. They denied all claims that sexual violence had been used against ‘ethnic women’ in government policies as well as other things. (Total lie, in the last two years I have heard several NGOs speak about how the government soldiers are encouraged to gang rape and many times, to display authority, the general or leader of a troop will rape a women in front of all of them, usually these being ‘ethnic’ or tribal women. The soldiers are then encouraged to rape her afterwards. Can you imagine. This whole ‘ethnic women’ wording is bugging me also. Racist, no?)

Luxembourg took the floor (again) during the Interactive Dialogue to thank Mr. Pinheiro blah blah blah, and by this point my liver was seriously spasming from repressed anger.

Mr. Pinheiro took the floor in his closing remarks to urge Myanmar to allow him to visit, especially since they are a Commission Member State, and further pointed out that their denial of a country visit contributes to the weakening of the credibility of the Commission.

Item 9 was then closed by the Chairman and Item 10, on Economic, social and cultural rights (ESCRs), was opened.

M. Okechukwu Ibeanu, the Special Rapporteur on the adverse effects of the illicit movement and dumping of toxic and dangerous products and wastes on the enjoyment of human rights, gave a bizarre presentation in which he discusses his first report and plan of action for his time as Special Rapporteur. He mentioned a few areas on which he will focus, the first being the illicit transfer of pesticides by State and non-State actors, the transfer of old products such as mobile phones and computers through illegal transnational movement, as well as the issue of transnational corporations in the extraction industries working in developing nations.

Turkey took the floor; I think as a concerned country but am not sure. They mentioned something about the former Special Rapporteur’s work, but I have to investigate to find out what that was about. Turkey noted that they are a ‘transit nation’ for the illicit movement and dumping of toxic wastes, and that the nations of Spain and Germany will be re-receiving wastes they had dumped within Turkey’s borders. Claims against Italy are still pending and they encourage Italy to take back these wastes.

During the Interactive Dialogue, Cuba was the only government who took the floor and although they agreed with the three areas posed by the Special Rapporteur for his future work, they encouraged him to not limit himself to these three areas in his tenure.

Mr. Ibeanu responded by saying that of course he will add new themes as issues arise, but his concern was not to repeat previous work done by the former Special Rapporteur. In his concluding remarks he encouraged governments with allegations against them brought to the attention of the Special Rapporteur should respond to his office and also allow country visits.

The Chairman let the Commission know that the rest of the Special Rapporteurs on Item 10 scheduled for today would speak in the afternoon, and thus opened up discussion for the Member State interventions.

Libya on behalf of the Arab Group, Pakistan, Mexico on behalf of GRULAC, Luxembourg on behalf of the EU, Egypt, Cuba, Congo, and India discussed the importance of poverty reduction, how all human rights are equal and indivisible, how Economic, Social and Cultural Rights were necessary to have Civil and Political Rights, as well as specific mentions of endemic diseases, poverty, malnutrition, worldwide hunger and deaths by starvation, among other issues. Everyone but the EU mentioned that globalization is feeding poverty while it starves third world citizens and developed nations grow fat and complacent on their suffering (well, not exactly in those words). Everyone but the EU encouraged rich nations to help the poor nations cut their external debts and uphold development pledges. Development assistance should not be given with an arrogant sense of altruism, but rather in the spirit of collective responsibility and global obligation to help those most in need. Many noted how ESCRs are placed in a hierarchy by certain developed nations, and that this is wholly inappropriate. Again, that all human rights are equal and indivisible.

Mme. Arbour, in a Right of Reply, rejected the claims of the Special Rapporteur on Belarus that her office did not provide all the support granted to him in his mandate. She noted that there are 42 special mechanisms for which her office is responsible, and everyone receives what they are mandated to receive equally and without favor. She was also surprised and regretful at all of the negative comments made about several Special Rapporteurs today that expressed doubt about their abilities, objectivity and professionalism.

This is all for now, folks. As I did not attend the afternoon session, please refer to the website or for their updates on what occurred. I feel a bit sad I missed the talks of the Special Rapporteurs on adequate housing, the right of everyone to the enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health as well as the right to education. But in the spirit of my own mental health, I had to take a time out, and will make some brief comments on their reports in the upcoming days. Be back tomorrow in a much better mood, I promise.

In honour of Tony Black Feather,



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