Sumario: November 4, 2002: Statement by H.E. Ambassador Ellen Margrethe Løj, Permanent Representative of Denmark to the UN, on behalf of the European Union, on Human Rights Situations and Reports of Special Rapporteurs and Representatives. FIFTY-SEVENTH SESSION OF THE GENERAL ASSEMBLY - THIRD COMMITTEE: Item 109(c) (New York)
I have the honour to speak on behalf of the European Union. The countries of Central and Eastern Europe associated with the European Union - Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia, and the Associated Countries - Cyprus, Malta, and Turkey, as well as the EFTA country of the European Economic Area - Iceland - align themselves with this statement.
I shall not attempt to make a general survey of human rights situations in any part of the world. The various reports of the Secretary General, of the special rapporteurs and other human rights mechanisms amply testify to the diverse manifestations of grave, massive and persistent human rights violations in all human rights areas, which appear in different degrees and combinations in all parts of the world.
Some specific country situations, however, appear to justify particular reactions by the General Assembly. Therefore the European Union has presented draft resolutions on the human rights situations in the following countries: Iraq, Myanmar, Democratic Republic of Congo and Sudan. We shall revert to them in more detail when dealing with specific draft resolutions.
With regard to Iran, the European Union has decided not to present a draft resolution on the human rights situation in Iran at this year's session of the General Assembly. The European Union has decided to engage in an - hopefully intensive and fruitful - human rights dialogue with Iran, as a way to contribute towards a significant improvement of the human rights situation in Iran that continues to be of great concern to us.
In addition the European Union expressed particular concern about the human rights situation in Zimbabwe, Chechnya and parts of South Eastern Europe by presenting resolutions at the 58th session of the Commission on Human Rights. Furthermore I refer to the EU statement on human rights situations in the world at this year's session of the Commission on Human Rights, which still stands. Here the European Union expressed its particular concern for human rights in Afghanistan, in the Middle East, in North Korea and in China. I also wish to refer to the EU's Annual Report on Human Rights (www.eu.2002.dk). This report also lists EU's common positions on country situations as well as its demarches and declarations on human rights matters.
In this year's statement, Mr. Chairman, the main focus will be on freedom from torture and the abolition of the death penalty.
Torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment is a man made disease, which should be eradicated everywhere once and for all. Torture is one of the most nefarious violations of human integrity - and one of the most outrageous violations of human dignity - not only for the victim, but also for the perpetrators who bring shame upon themselves. It leaves broken bodies and shattered minds.
Prevention and eradication of all forms of torture and other inhuman and degrading treatment or punishment within the European Union and worldwide is a strongly held policy view of all EU Member States. The European Union expects all countries to comply with the unconditional prohibition of all forms of torture. It is in this context that the European Union in April 2001 adopted guidelines for a EU policy towards third countries on torture and other cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment or punishment.
Thus the European Union strongly supports the resolution on torture presented by Iceland and Costa Rica's proposal for an Optional Protocol the Convention Against Torture.
The Universal Declaration on Human Rights states that no one shall be subjected to torture or to cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment or punishment. The Declaration established an internationally recognised set of standards, which apply to all countries. There should be no exception to the implementation of the standard in respect of torture. Nor can cultural, religious or other reasons be invoked as a justification for inflicting torture. The Declaration is clear in its unconditional prohibition of all forms of torture and ill treatment. The European Union urges all states to respect it and is very concerned about the continuing reports of the Special Rapporteur on Torture of the Commission on Human Rights about incidents of torture in all parts of the world. It strongly encourages all governments to allow the Special Rapporteur free access to the countries he intends to visit and to give full and speedy follow-up to his recommendations.
The European Union urges all states, who have not yet done so, to become parties to the Convention Against Torture and other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment as a matter of priority and to co-operate with the relevant international mechanisms. The European Union welcomes the endorsement of the Draft Optional Protocol to the Convention Against Torture at the Commission on Human Rights and the Economic and Social Council. The European Union is convinced that this protocol will make an essential contribution to the prevention of torture worldwide and urges states to support its adoption by the General Assembly.
The prohibition of torture is absolute as underlined by article 4 (2) of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. No derogation is permissible. This also applies to the fight against terrorism in the wake of the cruel attacks on 11 September last year in the United States, in Bali on 12 October and in Moscow on 23 October this year. The Special Rapporteur on Torture has found it necessary to examine various anti terrorist measures in the light of the international protection of human rights in his interim report to this session of the General Assembly. This indicates a deeply disturbing trend. We must not fall into the trap of answering terrorist attacks by disregarding fundamental human rights principles.
Everybody rejects torture - even the very authorities, which instigate, accept or directly exercise torture. One consequence of this "consensus" is that where torture takes place it does so secretly and in spite of official denial.
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 make certain that any person who encourages, orders, tolerates or perpetrates acts of torture is held responsible and brought to justice.
The United Nations Manual on the Effective Investigation and Documentation of Torture and other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment - the so called "Istanbul Protocol" - describes in detail the measures to be taken by investigators and medical experts to ensure prompt and impartial investigations of complaints and reports of torture. It is a very important source of inspiration for all lawmakers and law enforcement agencies.
The concerns of torture victims must get our full attention. All States must ensure that an infrastructure is in place to enable torture victims to obtain restitution, redress and compensation and receive adequate medical and social rehabilitation. They should support the establishment and independent functioning of rehabilitation centres for this purpose.
Human rights defenders
Another consequence of the "consensus against torture" is that the activities of human rights defenders who expose and denounce torture and who are engaged in the rehabilitation of torture victims are all the more important. These people and institutions deserve our full respect and protection.
However, these human rights defenders are often subjected to persecution. Legal proceedings have been brought against medical personnel on rehabilitation centres, but we have also received disturbing reports of extra judicial persecution from many parts of the world. Human rights defenders should not suffer for exposing violations of human rights.
The obligation to combat - indeed to eradicate - torture is incumbent on Governments and Government agencies, but special tribute should be paid to all the dedicated individuals and NGOs who - often at great risk - actively join the "consensus against torture" and work selflessly to bring cases and patterns of torture to the attention of the international community and to assist victims of torture. Without the dedicated involvement of many sectors in civil society, including NGOs, professional engagement by lawyers, medical personnel, reporters and educators, torture would prevail.
Torture by default
Only seldom is torture a deliberate policy adopted in spite of the "consensus against torture." Torture or other abuses often reflect poor and inefficient law enforcement. When police and other law enforcing agencies lack the skill, training and resources to investigate crime properly they may rely on torture to extract confessions, which may or may not be true, and they may apply torture as a general means of intimidation.
In addition to the proper training of law enforcement personnel, the exposure to scrutiny and inspection of places where people are deprived of their liberty is an invaluable measure to prevent torture. We look to the mechanism envisaged under the Draft Optional Protocol to the Convention Against Torture as a key tool to assist Governments and the international community in this regard.
Corporal punishment of children
In his interim report to the General Assembly the Special Rapporteur on Torture has highlighted a widespread problem: Corporal punishment of children. Such punishment in the family, in State institutions, in schools, in penal institutions for juvenile offenders and other institutions appears to be widely accepted. In its annual resolution on torture the Commission on Human Rights reminds Governments "that corporal punishment can amount to cruel, inhuman or degrading punishment or even torture." The European Union joins the Rapporteur on Torture in calling upon States to take adequate measures to ensure that the right to physical and mental integrity of children is well protected in the public as well as in the private spheres.
Capital punishment ought to be a feature of the past. The right to life is indeed a human right. The European Union believes as a matter of policy that the death penalty is a contravention of the right to life and calls for its abolition.
The United Nations has established strict conditions only under which the death penalty may be used. The Second Optional Protocol to the Covenant on Civil and Political Rights provides for states to commit themselves to permanent abolition of the death penalty. The European Union has moved beyond this and espouses abolition for itself and others.
In resolutions sponsored by all EU countries the Commission on Human Rights calls on countries, which maintain the death penalty, progressively to restrict the number of offences for which it may be imposed and to establish a moratorium on executions with a view to completely abolishing the death penalty.
The European Union considers that the abolition of the death penalty contributes to the enhancement of human dignity and the progressive development of human rights. Our position is rooted in our belief in the inherent dignity of all human beings and the inviolability of the human person.
Consequently the death penalty is abolished in all Member States of the European Union. But the reasons for doing away with this form of penalty apply to every person in any part of the world. Universal abolition of the death penalty is thus a strongly held policy view shared by all Member States of the European Union.
The European Union regrets that this view is not shared universally.
Every execution is one too many. But fortunately the global trend is against the application of the death penalty. The European Union warmly welcomes the abolition of the death penalty in Turkey. It also welcomes the decision by the Philippines Government to maintain its moratorium on the death penalty while awaiting a decision by parliament. The European Union hopes that the Philippines will decide to join the ranks of countries that have abolished the death penalty.
It is worth noting that the international community has excluded the use of the death penalty when establishing international courts and tribunals with competence to try the most heinous crimes such as genocide and crimes against humanity.
Despite these positive trends there have also been worrying trends over the last year. The European Union is particularly concerned about countries where there have been negative developments, such as re-instatement of the death penalty, lifting of moratoria, disregard of international safeguards, and about countries where large numbers of executions take place. Over the past year the European Union has made demarches with Barbados, Belize, China, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Japan, Lebanon, Nigeria, Palestinian Territories, Saudi Arabia, Thailand and the United States of America.
Particularly cruel forms of execution
There are particularly cruel forms of execution, such as stoning, which cause excessive suffering. The European Union considers that these forms of execution not only violate the right to life, but constitute cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment. The use of stoning or other particularly cruel and inhuman punishment must be prohibited and prevented.
Increasing the level of brutality
The European Union realizes that in some countries there is still popular support for the death penalty. The European Union in no way wishes to interfere with the democratic process of other countries. But we find that - contrary to what was intended - capital punishment tends to further a casual attitude to the right to life. Capital punishment increases the level of brutality in society and may - inadvertently - legitimise the taking of lives. A state that endorses the death penalty sends the message that killing is an acceptable way of solving social problems. Violence begets violence.
No legal system is immune to miscarriages of justice. They are the result of human - or sometimes technical - errors, which no one can rule out. Legal errors also happen in the legal systems of the Member States of the European Union. This is another reason why the death penalty was abolished by all EU Member States.
It is not possible to redress a mistake after application of the capital punishment. With the death penalty any miscarriage of justice is perpetuated. The most tragic miscarriages of justice can never be redressed.
Furthermore the application of the death penalty denies the possibility of rehabilitation and resocialising, core notions in modern justice systems.
No deterrent effect
We do not accept the argument that the death penalty is a deterrent to violent or any other forms of crime. In our countries the evidence simply does not support that claim. Deterrence is linked to the risk of being caught rather than the severity of the sentence.
The United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child has almost universal application. Under the Convention capital punishment must not be imposed for offences committed by persons below 18 years of age. Practically a universal ban on capital punishment for juvenile offenders. We wish today to make a strong appeal to all States to make this ban universally applied.
The death penalty is often applied in circumstances or against persons suspected of particularly abominable crimes when there is considerable pressure to apply this ultimate sanction. But it is precisely in these circumstances that full respect for all legal safeguards are all the more necessary.
Capital punishment must only be carried out pursuant to a final judgement rendered by a competent court after a legal process, which ensures all possible safeguards for a fair trial, including the right of anyone suspected of or charged with a capital crime to adequate legal assistance at all stages of the proceedings. Anyone sentenced to death shall have the right to seek pardon or commutation of the sentence of death. The death penalty must not be imposed for non-violent acts such as financial crimes, non-violent religious practise or expression of conscience and sexual relations between consenting adults.
We welcome the report of the Special Rapporteur on extra-judicial, summary and arbitrary executions of the Commission on Human Rights, which highlights the very serious problems caused by lack of respect for the rule of law when Governments condone or engage in taking people's lives. We reaffirm our condemnation of extra-judicial, summary and arbitrary executions including targeted killings.
The European Union strongly appeals to all Governments to desist from carrying out the death penalty in whatever form, to progressively restrict the use of the death penalty, to introduce and maintain moratoria on executions and eventually to abolish the use of the death penalty in their domestic legal systems. The aspiration of the European Union is to see the death penalty abolished in law and in practice in every country of the world.
Before concluding, Mr Chairman, allow me to mention some related issues, to which the European Union attaches particular importance:
Women's rights are human rights. That includes respect for the personal integrity and freedom from assault. Violence against women both violates and impairs or nullifies the enjoyment by women of their human rights and fundamental freedoms. But domestic violence - and other forms of violence and degrading treatment against women, including torture-like practices - abounds, even to the extreme of murder and mutilation. Denying women equal rights with men render women more vulnerable to physical, sexual and mental abuse. In this regard, too, empowerment of women is an important tool to achieve gender equality. Raising awareness about violence against women is a precondition to eliminating such violence. It is essential, therefore, that the UN system continues to collect all available data on assaults on women: Family-based, local community-based, internationally based and during armed conflicts. Worldwide dissemination of such information is crucial in order to change attitudes, combined with educational efforts starting at primary school level or even before.
The European Union welcomes the report of the Secretary General on efforts to eliminate violence against women committed in the name of honour and fully shares his conclusion that States must criminalize all forms of violence against women and girls committed in the name of honour. Those deliberately participating in such acts should be brought to justice. The European Union also welcomes the report of the Special Rapporteur on Violence Against Women and strongly supports her proposal to have a comprehensive policy drawn up to abolish practices that impinge upon the life of any person purely based on sexual distinction.
The European Union will be unrelenting in its pursuit of a world free from torture and capital punishment. We reject the cynical view that, because we cannot make the world perfect, we should stop trying to make it better. Because we cannot do everything does not mean we should do nothing.
Thank you, Mr. Chairman.