On April 7 and 8 the Commission continued discussing Item 12 on the Integration of the human rights of women and the gender perspective: a) Violence against women, and judging by the interventions made by both Member and Observer States, although violence against women is widespread and horrific, it doesn’t seem to happen in any of their countries. This was really a great thing to find out because it must mean that there is no violence against women in the world and we are just imagining the gruesome ideas of domestic violence, rape within and without war, trafficking of women for sexual slavery, prostitution, pornography, honour killings, female genital mutilation, rape and violence against women by ‘peacekeeping’ forces around the world, culture, religion and social practices being used to oppress women, the feminization of HIV/AIDS, and the overall unequal power balance between men and women that lead to violence on all levels. I have never heard so many Pre-emptive Defenses in my life and it was my most profound desire that what these Members and Observers were saying could be true.
Of course, once the NGOs began their intervention, we heard tale after grotesque tale of the most egregious violence against women that I have ever heard in my life. It is truly the stuff of the most horrifying nightmares, and yes nightmares re-entered my life since hearing some of these statements. There is such a marked difference between the real life experiences of women around the world from the very countries that claim that they have no violence against women nor discrimination against women at all. Impresionante, as they say in Spain. It leaves a mark on your mind, heart and soul. There were two incredibly powerful interventions. The first was from the International Educational Development (IED), who calculated the number of times the abducted Korean and other women by the Imperial Japanese Forces during World War II were raped during their ‘service’ as ‘comfort women’ to the Japanese armed forces. This came to, on average, 3540 rapes a year, for anywhere from 3-4 years, but very possibly more than this. Seeing that Japan has yet to pay substantial reparations for these atrocities, IED asked the governments delegates to think about how much it would be worth to them if this had happened to their daughters, and how unimaginable that Japan will not admit nor pay reparations for what they did. The Korean Women’s Associations United spoke on behalf of a former ‘comfort woman,’ or better termed sex slave of the Japanese army who is now in her mid-eighties. She did not read the statement but sat next to the woman who did, who was fighting back tears trying to read the intervention to the Commission. She talked about how Mme. Shin had been abducted from her family by the Japanese when she was 12 years old and spent 8 years as a sexual slave for the Japanese soldiers. The delegate went on to say that during the years that Japan was paying reparations, firstly they did not come from the government but rather from a private foundation set up by the Japanese government. Mme. Shin did not accept the money that was allotted to her as a former sexual slave of the Japanese government, but somehow her name appeared on a list of payees as if she had in fact accepted the money. After a horrifying legal ordeal for this elderly woman who has been through terrors and horror and butchering of her soul that I can not even begin to imagine, it turned out that someone had submitted the papers in her name and taken the money. Now, she did not want the money, but the point was that many former sexual slaves had this same thing happen and there are allegations against the Japanese government that they were in fact recycling the money back to Japan without it ever going towards reparations for these horrific crimes against humanity. Of course, when Japan took the floor they denied all of this and continued their sickening mantra that they have paid more than enough reparations and they would hope that people would just let it go.
Seeing Mme. Shin totally destroyed me. She held her head proudly, but her eyes were haunted. 80+ years old, having lived eight years of absolute brutality of rape and violence without recourse, to still be struggling for justice and to have to sit in the same room as delegates from the very government that robbed her of a decent life free of such trauma, and then hear them tell her that they have no further obligations for what they did. Those eyes carried such sadness, as if while she looks around the room she sees what is there, but also cannot escape the eight years of her slave cell, lying on a dirty cot while one after another soldier enters inter the room and rapes her. Over and over again, and then has to sleep in that room night after night until the next day when it begins again. Over and over and over again. Eight years of this. From 12 until 20, 3540 minimum rapes a year. I just don’t know what to do with that. I just don’t know. I don’t understand the inhumanity. And I wonder what happened to all of the soldier rapists who brutalized these children and women. Why are they not to blame for some of this? What happened to them? What do their wives and children think about them now that everyone knows what they did during those hateful years? Why does no one talk about their role in the large scale brutalization of a hundred thousand women? My heart is breaking.
And on Thursday, we had the mother of all Pre-Emptive Defense’s in the piddly fifteen minute statement given by Mr. Kofi Annan, the Secretary-General of the United Nations, who graced Room 17 with his presence. Mme. Arbour also graced us with her presence for the 15 minutes that Mr. Annan was present (and the press, I might add, which would seem her inspiration to appear at the Commission more than the promotion and protection of human rights). Unlike her former counterparts, Mr. de Mello and Mr. Ramcharan who sat in on the Commission proceedings every day and all day, Mme. Arbour only deigns it worthy of her time on average of 20 minutes per week, and that is giving her far more credit than I would say she is due. Again, impresionante. It leaves a very strong impression, as isn’t she the High Commissioner for Human Rights? Isn’t this the big thing that her office does a year? Shouldn’t she be a visible figurehead for its work? Anyway, that is an article for another time. Mr. Annan took the floor and gave his condolences to the Vatican for the loss of the Pope, who was a man of peace and assisted the world in its struggle for social justice and human rights for all. Mr. Annan discussed the ‘appalling’ situation in Darfur, Sudan and noted that the Security Council has agreed to sanctions against individuals and others involved in the genocide, and encouraged the ICC to be utilized in ‘lifting the veil of impunity’ to prosecute those guilty of war crimes and crimes against humanity. He said that with the help of troops from around Africa, they are progressing towards some kind of settlement, but for hundreds of thousands of victims of the genocide, it is already too late. Mr. Annan moved on to spend a few moments thinking about all of the other people in the world who are suffering and are not in the news. The poor, the vulnerable the dispossessed, the struggling, and to say that no one has a monopoly on the enjoyment of human rights. Women continue to live in an unequal position to men. All humans deserve dignity and respect. Mr. Annan then went on to discuss his report ‘In Larger Freedom’ and the proposed UN reforms contained therein. He claims that unless we remake the machinery of the UN then human rights cannot be assured, and in his proposed reforms, he is centering human rights protection at the core of the UN. After 60 years of codifying, creating and standardizing human rights, we have now reached the era of action and implementation. He discussed his proposed reforms in three areas, 1) the human rights system, 2) the treaty bodies and 3) the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR). In terms of the treaty bodies, these are the guardians of rights and should be noted as guides for States in their obligations. Mr. Annan said that his reforms attempt to streamline and strengthen these systems so that they will be more effective. In terms of the OHCHR, he stated that its role has expanded greatly; beginning with a role of mainly advocacy, but now it is involved also in conflict prevention, crisis response as well as technical assistance in human rights protection. But, the OHCHR is ill-equipped in key areas, especially in terms of early warning systems which have not been possible, and taking into account that gross human rights violations are the first sign of the instability of a nation. By the 20th of May, Mr. Annan is expecting a plan of action from Mme. Arbour, and he noted that as of right now the OHCHR only uses 2% of the entire UN budget for its numerous duties. Most importantly and dramatically, he discussed his ‘bold’ ideas for the future of the Commission on Human Rights, which would transform it from its current state into a smaller body similar to the Security Council and would be called the Human Rights Council. He, and many others, feel that the Commission has become too politicized and undermined by country-specific actions that it has lost its usefulness and credibility. “The Human Rights Council will offer a fresh start.” It will be a standing body and will meet whenever needed, as opposed to the current 6 week session once a year. Its task would be to make sure that every State is fulfilling its obligations under all treaties, and every nation could come up for review. (Emphasis on the ‘could’). All rights will be considered on the same level, this meaning that Economic, social and cultural rights on the same level as Civil and political rights. It will offer technical assistance to nations, and will be able also to offer assistance when there are massive and urgent crises in the world. The Human Rights Council will be a ‘society of the committed’ and according to Mr. Annan it will be more accountable, more committed, and its membership will transparently arise through a 2/3 majority vote of the General Assembly. Of course, ‘a degree of tension is inherent’ in any human rights body, but in any case, he urged that UN Members accept his proposals for reform so that the UN could begin discussing the details. ‘Human rights are the core of the UN identity’ and he recognized that many people around the world believe that the UN can help to improve their lives and ease their pain. He warned that there is a huge gap between what we promise and what we do, and thus if we fail to act then those under our protection will be able to accept no excuses.
Mr. Wibisono, the Chairperson of the Commission, thanked him for his statement and the depth of his thinking. And with that he was gone along with most of the room that had filed in and lined the back walls even though it was impossible to hear without an earpiece. It was a sorely disappointing 15 minutes, even though on some level it was really cool to be in the same room as the Secretary-General of the United Nations. I felt more so than before that these reforms are so very problematic when the real issue at hand that makes the United Nations wholly ineffective is the fact that firstly there is no political will, secondly the UN decisions are not enforced nor binding for the most part, and thirdly the combination of the above two factors makes for an organization that can talk a lot but without the power to do anything. To rework the mechanisms of the UN without the crucial element of either political will or binding legal obligations of States makes any reforms wholly cosmetic, and demonstrate the numerous hidden agendas of Nations such as the USA in their plans for global military domination. There was no mention by Mr. Annan of the plan that the Human Rights Council members could only be from nations with a democratic governmental system, nor mention of this problematic as there still is no true democracy in this world.
This same day, there was voting for Item 5, The right of peoples to self-determination and its application to peoples under colonial or alien domination or foreign occupation. Two resolutions were on the table, one regarding the Situation in occupied Palestine and the other regarding The use of mercenaries as a means of violating human rights and impeding the exercise of the right of peoples to self-determination. The resolution on the Situation in occupied Palestine passed with 49 in favour, 1 against (USA), and 2 abstentions (Costa Rica and Burkina Faso). The thing to remember is that the USA each year, with ‘economic aid packages’ (anywhere else known as bribes), will manage to get nations to abstain or vote ‘no’ against resolutions they do not agree with. There is always curiosity about who are the ones for the current year, and when things come to a vote it is most obvious. During the discussion, Israel interestingly (and oddly) said that they do in fact support self-determination of the Palestinian people but that the resolution is unfair and should be dropped. So Palestine responded by asking Israel if they support the self-determination of Palestine, why would they not support this resolution? In any case, the resolution was adopted. The resolution on mercenaries was a bit more complex apparently, and although it passed it was by a vote with 35 in favour, 15 against, and 2 abstentions. The ‘against’ nations were the EU who feel that mercenaries are not a human rights issue, and also Canada, South Korea, Australia, Japan and a couple other American lapdogs. The two abstentions came, interestingly enough, from Saudi Arabia (can you say ‘OIL’?) and Honduras. A very interesting research project would be to investigate the bribe packages that these abstaining-from-voting nations receive from the USA either before or just after the Commission. I wonder if anyone has ever researched this.
On Friday the 8th, Item 13 on the Rights of the child came up, but unfortunately due to prior obligations I was unable to attend these sessions. I am positive the same pattern as we have been seeing emerged, of States saying that there are no problems and then NGOs and Special Rapporteurs noting the most ghastly and sickening of events. But worse this time because it is against children. Some small part of me is very glad that I didn’t hear it because, to be perfectly honest, I am not feeling good about being in this Commission at all. I am thinking that if I am to work in human rights, I would rather be in a community helping people one to one, instead of feeling so helpless at all the horrors that I seem to only be here to write about. If I were in a community I would know that the work I am doing is having an effect, even if in only the smallest way, and I could feel good that I was doing something pro-active. Here, I feel I am participating in the total detachment of these serious issues from their reality on the ground, and I don’t like it. I just feel there is more that I could be doing than writing reports. But anyway, this is my spiritual struggle and I know that I am doing this for a reason even though it may not be clear to me right now. Grampa Tony, please be with me and help me through this, oh I miss you so very much and love you even more. Grampa, help me find your strength. Please be with me, I need you.
In honour of Tony Black Feather,