Summary: October 26, 2004: Statement by Mr. Piet de Klerk, Human Rights Ambassador, at the FIFTY-NINTH SESSION OF THE GENERAL ASSEMBLY - THIRD COMMITTEE, Item 105 (b), (c) and (e). Report of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights. Human rights questions, including alternative approaches for improving the effective enjoyment of human rights and fundamental freedoms; Human rights questions: human rights situations and reports of special rapporteurs and representatives (New York)
I have the honour to speak to you on behalf of the European Union. The Candidate Countries Bulgaria, Romania and Croatia , the Countries of the Stabilisation and Association Process and potential candidates Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, and the EFTA country Iceland, member of the European Economic Area, align themselves with this statement.
We have come a long way since the adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 1948. Over the years we have created a framework of human rights instruments that deals with the challenges of our times. The present day however confronts us with a new threat. While terrorism predates the horrible events of September 11th, 2001, never before did the perpetrators operate on such a world-wide scale and was the international community so united in the fight against the offenders. Facing this challenge, however, we have to ask ourselves the question how we deal with terrorists under international human rights law. It is the European Unions strong conviction that in dealing with terrorist threats human rights and the rule of law must be respected in compliance with States' obligations under international law, in particular international human rights, refugee and humanitarian law. We have committed ourselves since 1948 to universal standards, even in the fight against those who act in such violent manner.
It is impossible to present an exhaustive survey of the world-wide state of human rights within the limited time available to me. Some specific country situations, however, appear to warrant particular attention by the General Assembly. Therefore the European Union will table draft resolutions on the human rights situations in the following countries: Myanmar, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Sudan and Turkmenistan.
The European Union welcomes the adoption at the 60th Commission on Human Rights of its initiatives on the human rights situation in Colombia, Myanmar, North Korea, the Occupied Palestinian Territories and Turkmenistan. The Commission on Human Rights also adopted important initiatives by other members on the human rights situation in Belarus, Burundi, Cuba, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Haiti, Nepal, Sierra Leone, Somalia, Sudan, and Timor Leste.
In our statement, the main focus will be on the four themes on which the European Union has adopted policy guidelines serving as a framework for the protection and promotion of human rights in third countries. These four themes are the abolition of the death penalty, the prevention of torture, children and armed conflict, and the protection of human rights defenders.
However, I would like to emphasize that this focus does not exhaust other important human rights concerns of the EU, such as intolerance towards persons, which poses a constant threat. The EU is notably concerned to see recent instances of anti-Semitism as well as of discrimination against Muslims occur within its own borders and elsewhere in the world. We must all remain alert and ready to struggle against such phenomena, as recalled recently by UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan in his speech of 21 June. The EU has supported the initiatives of the OSCE in this field and the adoption at the conferences held in Berlin in April 2004 and in Brussels in September 2004 of declarations on intolerance, which condemned anti-Semitism, and all acts of racism, xenophobia, and discrimination. A further OSCE conference on anti-Semitism will be held in Córdoba in 2005.
I. Death Penalty
The abolition of the death penalty remains one of the fundamental goals of the human rights policy of the European Union. The European Union is opposed to the death penalty in all circumstances and considers its abolition a crucial step towards the advancement of human dignity and the progressive development of human rights. Or in the words of the UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan 'the forfeiture of life is too absolute, too irreversible, for one human being to inflict it on another, even when backed by legal process'. The European Union calls upon all States to abolish the death penalty or at least to establish a moratorium on executions in view of its abolition.
The European Union is pleased to note on balance a positive trend regarding the abolition of the death penalty over the last year. The European Union commends Armenia for abolishing capital punishment for ordinary crimes. We also commend Samoa and Bhutan for joining the growing number of countries who consider capital punishment a contravention of the right to life and human dignity. The establishment of a moratorium on the death penalty by Kazakhstan and Tajikistan is also warmly welcomed. The European Union was encouraged by the support it received for its resolution on the abolition of the death penalty at the 60th session of the Commission on Human Rights, which was adopted with a record margin and a growing number of co-sponsors. The world-wide abolition of the death penalty is of concern to civil society and governments alike, as was recently demonstrated at the Second World Congress against the Death Penalty in Montreal.
However, despite the growing number of countries that are either de jure or de facto abolitionist, the European Union remains strongly concerned about the continuing and repeated use of the death penalty in certain parts of the world. China is the country where the vast majority of death sentences and executions still take place. The EU calls upon China and other countries to start publicizing statistics on the use of the death penalty and announce intended executions publicly well before they are held.
The European Union calls upon retentionist states to at least respect certain minimum procedural guarantees for a fair trial. These are contained in articles 6 and 14 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the Safeguards guaranteeing protection of the rights of those facing the death penalty as set out in the annex to ECOSOC resolution 1984/50.
The European Union further would like to emphasize that, where capital punishment does persist, it should be carried out so as to inflict the minimum possible suffering and shall not be carried out in public or in any degrading manner. The European Union therefore urges Saudi Arabia, Iran, Kuwait, Nigeria and Sudan to end cruel and inhuman practices. The performance of executions in public and the display of the lifeless bodies as deterrence should have no place in the twenty-first century. The same goes for stoning, which is still imposed on people in some countries. The EU urges all countries that still maintain this inhuman, cruel and degrading form of the death penalty to abolish it by law as a matter of priority.
Moreover the EU once again reiterates, that capital punishment may not be imposed on persons below 18 years of age at the time of the commission of their crime, pregnant women, new mothers or persons with mental disorders.
The European Union regrets that the new government of Iraq has reintroduced capital punishment. Similarly, Afghanistan has missed the opportunity to break with the past and join the growing number of abolitionist states. We are deeply concerned at the lifting of the moratorium on the death penalty in Chad, India, Indonesia and Lebanon. We also note with deep concern the debate on the moratoria on the death penalty in the Philippines and Sri Lanka, and encourage both countries not to lift them.
The European Union notes a worrying trend in which the death penalty is included in new anti-terrorism laws. The fight against terrorism should not be abused as an excuse to reintroduce capital punishment, facilitate its application or lift existing moratoria.
Since the last session of the General Assembly, the European Union brought the issue of capital punishment to the attention of governments in a long list of countries. Apart from the countries mentioned earlier, this list consists of Japan, Jordan, Libya, Mali, Myanmar, the Philippines, the United States, Vietnam, Yemen, and Zambia.
The prevention of torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading punishment or treatment is the second theme I would like to address.
The prevention and eradication of all forms of torture and other inhuman and degrading treatment or punishment within the European Union and world-wide is a strongly held view of all EU Member States. The European Union expects all countries to comply with the unconditional prohibition of all forms of torture and urges countries, that haven't already done so, to ratify the Convention Against Torture and other cruel, inhumane or degrading treatment or punishment and to consider signing and ratifying the Optional Protocol to the Convention.
Despite the fact that an ever-growing number of countries has ratified the Convention, torture remains endemic even among States that have become party to the very same convention. The European Union calls upon these States to make clear to all public officials, including members of the police, military and other security forces, and persons acting in an official capacity that torture and ill-treatment will never be tolerated, and that no exceptional circumstances or any other public emergency, may be invoked as a justification of torture. Governments must ensure that statements and other evidence obtained through torture may not be used in any proceedings, except against a person accused of torture as evidence that the statement was made.
This is one reason why all allegations of torture should be investigated and prosecuted diligently and without delay. A culture of impunity and indifference must not prevail. We expect all States to ensure that any person who encourages, orders, tolerates or perpetrates acts of torture is held responsible and brought to justice. And we urge all governments to agree to requests by the Special Rapporteur on Torture to visit their country, and fully co-operate with him. The EU therefore calls upon Algeria, Egypt, India, Indonesia, Israel, the Russian Federation and Tunisia to extend an invitation to the Special Rapporteur on Torture. The European Union is disappointed that the envisaged visit of the Special Rapporteur on Torture to China was postponed several times by the Chinese authorities. The EU expresses its hope that the visit can take place without further delay. The European Union also calls upon Uzbekistan to give follow-up to the recommendations made by the Special Rapporteur in his latest report, which was endorsed by the Commission of Human Rights in 2003.
The humiliating images of prisoners in the Abu Ghraib detention center in Iraq just recently led to a world-wide public condemnation, including by the former Occupying Powers, who have committed themselves to investigate fully allegations of mistreatment. We have to remind ourselves that most incidents of torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment are committed in secrecy, under circumstances where the victims are kept in solitary confinement and prolonged incommunicado detention, kept away from the public eye and deprived of guarantees and rights normally granted to other prisoners. The sense of loneliness aggravates the plight of victims. As the outcry of public opinion over acts of torture is the worst enemy of the perpetrators, the European Union is persistent in condemning all acts of torture wherever they occur in the world. Over the past year, the EU has expressed its concern about cases of alleged torture in a number of countries, including Belarus, Cuba, Iran, Myanmar, North-Korea, Pakistan, Saudi-Arabia and Zimbabwe, and discussed the issue in the framework of the human rights dialogues and troika meetings.
A culture in which the practice of torture can prevail, is often an illustration of a weak judicial system, poor and inefficient law enforcement, and lack of skills, training and resources to conduct proper investigations. In this respect the European Union continues to co-operate with all interested States in order to eradicate torture, also by means of technical assistance. The European Initiative for Democracy and Human Rights has a sustained history of supporting projects by NGOs, international organizations and rehabilitation centers, such as the International Rehabilitation Council for Torture Victims in Copenhagen, to prevent and support torture victims. 16 million Euro will be devoted to such projects this year.
III. Children and Armed Conflict
The promotion and protection of the rights of children who are affected by armed conflict is a third theme I would like to raise.
Armed conflict, or looming conflict, as well as its aftermath, has a particularly harsh effect on the lives of children. Children have special needs, which are often overlooked. In order to focus its policy efforts, the European Union adopted Guidelines on Children and Armed Conflict in December 2003, which were drafted in collaboration with the UN Secretary-General's Special Representative for Children and Armed Conflict, UNICEF and a group of NGO experts. The objective of these Guidelines is that the EU addresses the short, medium and long-term impact of armed conflict on children in an effective and comprehensive manner, making use of the variety of tools at its disposal. In this, the European Union intends to pro-actively contribute to and work with all relevant actors to ensure that the existing international safeguards relating to the rights of the child are strengthened and effectively implemented. In this regard, the EU will continue to co-operate with the Special Representative of the Secretary General for Children and Armed Conflict.
The European Union is presently working on the implementation of these Guidelines. Regular monitoring and reporting will take place, on the basis of which the European Union will determine where EU action, both politically and practically, can have a clear added value. A concrete example of the way in which the EU Guidelines could be implemented, is through projects like the EU Presidency recently started in Northern Uganda.
This situation in Northern Uganda is particularly troubling. According to a UNICEF estimate over the past two years at least twelve thousand boys and girls have been abducted there by the Lords Resistance Army and used as child soldiers or were otherwise abused. The EU calls upon the Government of Uganda to ensure protection for children who risk being abducted.
Furthermore, the EU expresses its deep concern about the vulnerable situation of children, in particular young girls, in armed conflicts in Afghanistan, Burundi, Colombia, DRC, Ivory Coast, Liberia, Myanmar, Nepal, the Philippines, Sri Lanka, Somalia and Sudan.
Special mechanisms are crucial for the protection of human rights, but need to be enforced in practice. The Convention of the Rights of the Child is almost universally ratified, but by no means universally applied. Particularly in situations of armed conflict, children suffer disproportionately. The impact of armed conflict on future generations may sow the seeds for future conflicts or cause conflicts to re-emerge. The Optional Protocol on the Involvement of Children in Armed Conflict aims to counter this situation. The EU therefore urges countries, that have not already done so, to ratify the Optional Protocol, so it will come into effect as soon as possible.
IV. Human Rights Defenders
As a fourth and final theme I would like to draw your attention to the concerns of the European Union regarding human rights defenders. Since the European Union already dedicated a separate statement on this issue, I can be brief.
The European Union believes that human rights defenders play an essential role in the protection and promotion of human rights. Therefore special tribute should be paid to all the dedicated individuals and NGOs who - often at great personal risk - are committed relentlessly to the cause of the promotion and protection of human rights, be they civil and political rights or social, economic and cultural rights. The EU strongly supports the Special Representative of the Secretary General for human rights defenders, whose work is vital to international efforts to protect human rights defenders. The EU is deeply concerned about the continuing threats, attacks and acts of intimidation conducted against human rights defenders in many countries. The European Union is particularly worried about the situation of human rights defenders in many countries including Cuba, Belarus, China, Iran, Myanmar, Syria, Uzbekistan and Zimbabwe.
Apart form these four themes mentioned, allow me to draw attention to the importance of the efforts that are being made towards the realization of economic, social and cultural rights, which are an integral part of the wider action for the promotion and protection of human rights. Human rights are universal, indivisible, interdependent and interrelated, and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights is a fundamental legal instrument. We urge States that have not yet done so to sign and ratify or accede to it. Equal emphasis is to be given to the realization of economic, social, cultural, civil and political rights.
As the EU has expressed consistently, international human rights instruments already apply in their entirety to persons with disabilities. But evidence has shown that persons with disabilities still face denials of their rights. The main focus of the convention being negotiated in the Ad Hoc Committee must therefore be to bring about a situation where persons with disabilities can fully and equally enjoy the full range of human rights without any discrimination. The EU will therefore continue its active involvement, in close co-operation with other delegations, as well as NGOs, in the Committee.
The promotion and protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms need our undivided dedication. As we agreed in Vienna, the promotion and protection of human rights is a legitimate concern of the international community. The acting High Commissioner for Human Rights, Bertrand Ramcharan told this year's Commission on Human Rights that 'if you ever dilute the protection role of the Commission, history's judgement will be harsh. For it is the people who suffer when there is silence in the face of atrocities.' Let this be a message not only to the Commission but to the United Nations as a whole. We do have a responsibility to protect. We need to speak out against gross violations of human rights. We commend, in this regard, the work of the many special procedures of the Commission on Human Rights that play an important protective role through country visits and responding to urgent appeals. We call upon all delegations to welcome the special procedures of the Commission into their countries. We also wish Ms Louise Arbour and her new deputy Ms Mehr Williams Kahn success in continuing to strengthen the protective role of their Office and thank acting High Commissioner Ramcharan for his excellent work in the last year.
Human rights violations occur time and again and ask for urgent action, where other abuses linger for years and seem inert to international pressure. No country has an immaculate human rights record, but it is only through our common efforts that we can make improvements in the world-wide human rights situation last. Sometimes it may seem we are facing an uphill battle, but the promotion and protection of human rights is worth fighting for.
Thank you, Mr./Mme Chairperson.