Human Rights · Riding A Dead Horse · United Nations

Promoting and Protecting Human Rights through Talking (or the Twenty-second Report on the 61st UN Commission on Human Rights, April 15, 2005)

Item 14 regarding Specific groups and individuals was closed for discussion today after the few remaining NGOs on the speaker’s list took the floor for their interventions. Most notably, voting on Item 10, Economic, social and cultural rights, continued, and Items 15, 16,17 and 19 were tackled. Issues such as anti-Semitism, the situation of human rights in Burma, rights to sexual orientation, discrimination against people infected with HIV/AIDS, North Korea, Sudan, people with disabilities, and the current situation of human rights in Argentina were discussed by the remaining organizations on the speaker’s list.

The resolution on the right to education (E/CN.4/2005/L.23) was adopted without a vote, and it calls upon States to fulfill their obligations in providing education for all children in their nations, and indigenous children are mentioned specifically among a long list of other vulnerable groups.

The resolution on realization in all countries of economic, social and cultural rights (E/CN.4/2005/L.24) was adopted by a vote of 50 in favour, none against and 3 abstentions. The voting was like (but I will bet you have a good idea of who could be in the contrary group…):

In favour (50): Argentina, Armenia, Bhutan, Brazil, Burkina Faso, Canada, China, Congo, Costa Rica, Cuba, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, Egypt, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Finland, France, Gabon, 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, Sudan, Swaziland, Togo, Ukraine, United Kingdom and Zimbabwe.

Against (0)

Abstentions (3): Australia, Saudi Arabia and United States.

Australia claimed that even though they support ESCRs, they do not agree with the Optional Protocol, thus called for the vote and abstained. The USA does not believe there is such a thing as economic rights, and so abstained as they do each year with regards to this resolution. The USA found it too problematic to have international standards in the issues of development, adequate housing, etc and that these were issues to be dealt with by each country individually and with their own means. They also object to the questionable right to water which is detailed in the Optional Protocol to the Convention on ESCRs. I apologize for my country. You are going to be hearing this a lot I’m afraid. Cuba gave a statement on the importance of this text and urged Members to vote in favour.

Resolution E/CN.4/2005/L.27 on access to medication in the context of pandemics such as HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria was adopted without a vote, and this resolution encourages States to improve health care infrastructures to combat these diseases, among other issues such as improving access to medications and preventative measures. The USA had proposed a series of amendments to the text which were wholeheartedly rejected by the Commission in a vote of:

In favour (1): United States.

Against (51): Argentina, Armenia, Australia, Bhutan, Brazil, Burkina Faso, Canada, China, Congo, Costa Rica, Cuba, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, Egypt, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Finland, France, Gabon, Germany, Guatemala, Guinea, Honduras, Hungary, India, Indonesia, Ireland, Italy, Kenya, Malaysia, Mauritania, Mexico, Nepal, Netherlands, Nigeria, Pakistan, Paraguay, Peru, Qatar, Republic of Korea, Romania, Russian Federation, Saudi Arabia, South Africa, Sri Lanka, Sudan, Swaziland, Togo, Ukraine, United Kingdom and Zimbabwe.

Abstention (1): Japan.

How embarrassing, I do wonder if they can even see how ridiculous they come off as in these voting procedures.

The resolution on the right of everyone to the enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health was passed by a vote of 52 in favour and one against. I won’t even bother with the voting chart, of course it was the USA who voted against a simple resolution that states how everyone has the right to the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health, including women, minorities and especially handicapped peoples and that States should take this into account in their practices. The USA voted against the resolution because they had problems with language in pre-ambular paragraphs that had to do with rights to access of medications, and their concerns were not taken into account by the co-sponsors (I am so very sorry.). Canada had removed itself from the co-sponsors list because of additions to the text this year that made it unsupportable for them. The EU of course supported the resolution, but hoped that in the coming years there would be a mention of people with intellectual disabilities. Egypt also took the floor in support of the resolution.

The resolution on women’s equal ownership, access to and control over land and equal rights to own property and to adequate housing was adopted without a vote. The resolution affirms that women have rights to land and ownership and goes on to detail these rights. The USA said that even though they support women’s empowerment, there is not such thing as a right to adequate housing or housing rights in general. (Sorry!) But thankfully they did not embarrass themselves for these few moments and call a vote to vote against it, and I do wonder why that is. Is it because they feel this is a weak enough issue that it doesn’t merit the Against vote that most of the other controversial resolutions will receive?

In a Sub-Commission decision on corruption and its impact on the full enjoyment of human rights, in particular economic, social and cultural rights, they endorse the work of the Special Rapporteur on corruption and its impact on human rights, and this was adopted without a vote.

Also adopted without a vote was the Sub-Commission decision on study on non-discrimination as enshrined in article 2, paragraph 2, of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights. There will be a Special Rapporteur to undertake a study on this issue. There was a tiff between the USA and Cuba as the USA had an amendment which they were thinking about proposing, and before they had a chance Cuba noted they would vote against any amendments the USA proposes. In response, the USA said that Cuba ‘had enough fun for the week’ and so they decided not to propose their amendment.

A decision on the promotion of the realization of the right to drinking water and sanitation was adopted by consensus, and as a result the reports of the Special Rapporteur will be issued in all official languages of the UN.

There were several explanations of votes after the votes before voting on Item 10 was closed for the Commission. The EU, regarding the resolution on toxic wastes, claimed that this is an environmental issue and not a human rights issue. Saudi Arabia let the Commission know that had they been present, they would have voted in favour of the resolution on the dumping of toxic wastes. The USA wanted to point out the Millenium Development Goals are not agreed upon by all. (All meaning just them, I suppose, similar to how three nations during the Iraq invasion all of a sudden became a ‘coalition’)

There was a General Debate on Item 16, Report of the Sub-Commission on the Promotion and Protection of Human Rights, in which Egypt and Cuba spoke in support of the very important work of the Sub-Commission even though there were many States who would like to see the Sub-Commission disbanded. Venezuela expressed their support of the Sub-Commission and especially the work they have done with regards to transnational corporations and their responsibilities in the global community. NGOs took the floor today as well and discussed as well the issue of human rights violations and transnational corporations and the Sub-Commission’s work on discrimination based on work and descent.

Item 17, Promotion and Protection of Human Rights, a) Status of the International Covenants on Human Rights, b) Human rights defenders, c)information and education, d) science and environment, was then opened for discussion and had a long series of reports connected with its discussion. Here is the list of documents because they may be relevant to many people and their work.

The report of the Secretary-General on human rights and the environment as part of sustainable development (E/CN.4/2005/96).

The report of the Secretary-General on human rights and bioethics (E/CN.4/2005/93).

The report of the Secretary-General on public information activities in the field of human rights, including the World Public Information Campaign on Human Rights (E/CN.4/2005/92).

The report of the High Commissioner for Human Rights on the protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms while countering terrorism (E/CN.4/2005/100).

The report of the High Commissioner for Human Rights on the follow-up to the United Nations Decade for Human Rights Education (1995-2004), including the proclamation of the World Programme for Human Rights Education (E/CN.4/2005/98).

The report of the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights on a compilation of the essential aspects of replies received on the pre-draft declaration on human social responsibilities (E/CN.4/2005/99).

The report of the Seminar on good governance practices for the promotion of human rights (E/CN.4/2005/97),

The note by the Secretariat on views of States parties to the Convention on the prevention and punishment of the crime of genocide on the Secretary-General’s proposal that they consider setting up a committee on the prevention of genocide (E/CN.4/2005/46).

The document which contains the written submission by the United Nations Development Programme (E/CN.4/2005/133)

Egypt made a Pre-Emptive Defense about all they do in the promotion and protection of human rights. Cuba criticised the hegemonic plans of the USA within the UN and throughout the world, and how at every turn they are violating the rights enshrined in the UN Charter among other things. Chile on behalf of the Community of Democracies noted the importance of promoting democratization throughout the world. Pakistan commented on the credibility deficit of the Commission and how industrialized nations had been impeding the rights of poor nations with regards to poverty and exploitation. Mexico, on behalf of GRULAC, made a general statement in regards to the World Programme for Human Rights Education which had been adopted by the General Assembly.

In the afternoon, the Commission heard a presentation from the Minister of Justice and Public Security of Haiti, who stated that even though Haiti has had many problems in the past with regards to human rights violations, in this past year they have solved all the problems and this is evident in recent reports on human rights in Haiti, which have far less attributions these days to the Haitian government and more towards rebel groups.

Mr. Louise Joinet, the Independent Expert on the situation of human rights in Haiti presented a very intense report on the situation in Haiti in which he noted that impunity continues to be the biggest challenge facing the nation, and that throughout the nation a lack of security was prevalent and must be addressed by the government. He made several recommendations to Haiti, most notably in the area of judicial reforms and protection of judges. Most notably, the political will of the government was needed to improve the situation there.

Haiti as a concerned country, of course thanked the Special Rapporteur for his work and pointed out to the Commission that this year’s report clearly demonstrates the progress made by the Haitian government in human rights protection as Mr. Joinet’s report notes it is no longer the government responsible for large scale violations, and now it is recognized to be armed gangs and former soldiers. With regard to violence against women and children, these had not improved very much but the government was working very hard to improve legislation to protect these vulnerable groups.

Mr. Cherif Bassiouni, the Independent Expert on the situation of human rights in Afghanistan detailed the current status of human rights in this nation undergoing democratic transition at the moment. But ongoing is the issue of rule of law and justice within the nation with regards to the promotion and protection of human rights, and so Afghanistan must work harder in its role as the guarantor of human rights in the nation. He did go through some positive achievements of the Afghani government, but maintained that there are still a multitude of violations occurring in Afghanistan on many levels. Arbitrary detentions, abuses by military forces (including foreign security forces), threats to human rights on basis of the growing drug industry, and also repression by commanders who are beyond control of the government.

The delegate from Afhanistan speaking as a concerned country gave a Defense Statement in which they detailed all of the progress in democracy, protection legislation and the like and detailed all of the positive steps the nation has been taking in all areas of human rights. Very bizarre. Not a mention of any of the negative comments made by the Independent Expert at all. It reminds me of children who think that when they cover their eyes and can’t see, that they become invisible as well and whatever they are hiding from will just go away because the child is not there anymore. Many would agree that the behaviour of States in the Commission mirrors children in the early developmental or teenage years. But this a topic for another time.

Mr. Ghanim Alnajjar, the Independent Expert on the situation of human rights in Somalia noted that during the peace process, there does seem to be a growing awareness of human rights in Somalia, and this was thanks to all of those who had been involved in the peace negotiations over the years. Slowly, the status of women in Somalia is improving and their rights are being increased, but not so much in terms of economic powers nor their participation in government and the social sphere. (So where exactly are the rights improving?) But the Independent Expert gave quite a positive reading of the progress of Somalia and encouraged all nations to assist the Transitional Federal Government financially and otherwise in these key moments so that human rights will take a forefront in the new Somalia. As a concerned nation, Somalia did not speak, and I suppose after that quite glowing report they really wouldn’t need to. Goddess forbid that they contradict the Independent Expert and go through all the human rights violations that he forgot to mention. Boy, that would have been something! Can you imagine? ‘I am taking the floor as a concerned nation at this point to remind the Independent Expert that he did not mention the extrajudicial killings perpetrated by our government, nor the systematic torture within our prison systems, coupled with impunity and corruption…’ I think only in my dreams.

The General Debate on Item 17 continued and States made very general comments on the Promotion and Protection of Human Rights, which sounded scarily like statements made under many of the other agenda Items. One difference is that most States touched upon the issue of human rights defenders and the importance of their protection throughout the world, as each day more and more attacks on their lives and dignity are reported. Several nations also discussed the issue of the World Programme for Human Rights Education and their support of this General Assembly plan as it will further the awareness and promotion of human rights throughout the world. Paraguay, on behalf of MERCOSUR, detailed their resolution on the ‘right to truth’ in light of nations formerly under dictatorial powers allowing for all victims and families to have the right to know what happened to the missing in past years. This is a very interesting resolution for many groups of society, and I would say especially for indigenous peoples because I would imagine that if the resolution is passed, in future years language could be added to support the right to truth in education and other spheres of life in general, where in many nations such as the USA there is no right to accurate portrayals of history in schoolbooks, etc. Very provocative idea and one that should be followed up on in future Commission meetings. During the general debate the issue of capital punishment, transnational corporations, sexual orientation, freedom of expression, human rights and the fight against terrorism, problematics of upholding the non-binding aspects of international humanitarian law, good governance, combating corruption,

There were a few Pre-Emptive Defense statements thrown into the mix as usual, the most strong being the statement made by China in which they noted their commitment to the Universal Declaration on Human Rights and how hard they work to uphold these rights for every citizen in their nation. Also one from Indonesia which criticized nations who criticize capital punishment, and basically said that they should mind their own business and allow nations to do things as they see fit.

Iraq took the floor at the end in a Right of Reply to say they had been hurt by the comments made by the World Union for Progressive Judaism in comments made about the situation in Iraq’s past, and they urged the NGO to remember that presently in Iraq there is freedom, democracy and equality for all. The organization would be more helpful if they would congratulate Iraq on its current successes rather than drag up their horrific past. Spoken like a good colonial puppet if I do say so myself.

In honour of Tony Black Feather,