UVA Law Logo Mobile

UN Human Rights Treaties

Travaux Préparatoires


Summary record of the 26th meeting, held at the Palais des Nations, Geneva, on Wednesday, 1 April 1998 : Commission on Human Rights, 54th session.

UN Document Symbol E/CN.4/1998/SR.26
Convention Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities
Document Type Summary Record
Session 54th
Type Document

15 p.

Subjects Disappearance of Persons, Indigenous Peoples, Persons with Disabilities, Humanitarian Standards, Women's Health, Impunity, Torture Prevention, Torture and Other Cruel Treatment

Extracted Text

Economic and Social
6 April 1998
Original: ENGLISH
Fifty-fourth session
Held at the Palais des Nations, Geneva,
on Wednesday, 1 April 1998, at 10 a.m.
Chairman: Mr. SELEBI (South Africa)
later: M. GALLEGOS CHIRIBOGA (Ecuador)
SESSION (continued)
This record is subject to correction.
Corrections should be submitted in one of the working languages. They
should be set forth in a memorandum and also incorporated in a copy of the
record. They should be sent within one week of the date of this document to
the Official Records Editing Section, room E.4108, Palais des Nations, Geneva.
Any corrections to the records of the public meetings of the Commission
at this session will be consolidated in a single corrigendum, to be issued
shortly after the end of the session.
GE.98-11567 (E)
page 2
CONTENTS (continued)
page 3
The meeting was called to order at 10 a.m.
SESSION (agenda item 15) (continued)
CN.4/Sub.2/1997/50, E/CN.4/1998/86, 87 and Add.1, 88 and 89;
E/CN.4/1998/NGO/1; E/CN.4/1997/80; E/CN.4/Sub.2/1997/11)
1. Mr. GARCIA (International Indian Treaty Council) said that his
organization supported efforts to create a provision for thirdparty
arbitration and a structure for settling disputes between Governments and
those claiming to have suffered discrimination, whether in the past or in the
present. Indigenous peoples needed access to a truly independent forum in
order to address issues such as land rights and reparations for past abuses.
He reiterated the call for a followup
visit and report by the Special
Rapporteur on religious intolerance in connection with the situation of
religious discrimination currently at issue in the United States of America at
Big Mountain, Arizona. His organization supported efforts to establish
readily comprehensible standards relating to discrimination and persons
suffering from discrimination and, to that end, supported proposals for the
provision of legal and technical assistance to Governments with a view to
ensuring that both Governments and human rights monitors were properly trained
and that the standards in question were adequately enforced.
2. Ms. NORDSTRÖM (World Blind Union), speaking also on behalf of the World
Federation of the Deaf and several other associations representing disabled
persons throughout the world, said that the Commission on Human Rights should
request the Special Rapporteur on disability of the Commission for Social
Development to compile a report on violations of the human rights of persons
with disabilities, with special focus on the problems of women and children
with disabilities, and to transmit it upon completion to the High Commissioner
for Human Rights.
3. The Commission on Human Rights should then take the initiative of
convening a conference to discuss the report's findings. She further proposed
that the Commission should develop strategies in connection with human rights
issues relating to persons with disabilities and, in particular, should look
into ways of involving nongovernmental
organizations (NGOs) active in the
field of disabilities more directly in its future work. All Member States
should ensure through legislation that disability was recognized as a human
rights issue. Persons with disabilities had to be offered equal opportunities
in all spheres of life.
4. Mr. WAHLSTROM (Inclusion International) said that the Commission should
do more to bring its decisions relating to persons with disabilities to the
attention of the NGOs active in that field. His own organization was
cooperating in the preparation of a report on violations of the human rights
of disabled persons, especially those with mental handicaps, which it hoped to
transmit to the SecretaryGeneral
in the summer of 1998. Part 2 of the report
would contain examples of good practice from countries in various parts of the
world. The efforts being made in South Africa and Romania to redress the
appalling situation of disabled people, particularly children, deserved
special commendation.
5. He appealed to the members of the Commission to respond positively to
the Economic and Social Council resolution on equalization of opportunities
page 4
for persons with disabilities, to make contributions to the United Nations
Voluntary Fund on Disability and to support the recommendations of the Special
Rapporteur on disability, especially that regarding a distinct disability
component in all the monitoring activities of United Nations human rights
6. Mr. SIMAS MARGALHAES (Brazil) said that the SubCommission,
which had
originally been established to provide the Commission with the necessary
technical expertise, should make every effort to avoid politicization and
duplication of the work of the Commission itself. Its decision, as reported
by its Chairman, to take no action on human rights situations that were
normally considered under the Commission's agenda was therefore very welcome.
7. His delegation also supported the SubCommission's
efforts to
rationalize its work. Many items, of both a procedural and a substantive
nature, could be grouped together without loss of quality as the Commission's
own practice demonstrated. The SubCommission
should also strengthen still
further its links with human rights NGOs, which could provide it with valuable
information on the situation of human rights in all parts of the world. His
Government stood ready to cooperate with the SubCommission
by supplying all
necessary information to its working groups and in connection with its reports
and studies.
8. Mr. LIU Xinsheng (China) said he noted that the SubCommission
had taken
a number of positive steps in response to Commission resolution 1997/22 and
expressed the hope that further practical measures to improve its working
methods would be proposed at its next session. He noted with concern,
however, that the consideration of country resolutions was still taking up a
great deal of the SubCommission's
time and he urged all its members to adopt
a prudent, objective and responsible position in that regard so as to limit
the random and selective nature of the exercise.
9. His delegation had reservations with regard to the SubCommission's
request for authorization to hold fiveweek
sessions in the next three years
(resolution 1997/17) since it believed that, instead of enhancing the
efficiency, such a step would merely add to the logistic and
financial burden upon the United Nations. The SubCommission
concentrate rather on making full use of the meeting time currently available
to it and should explore further ways of improving its efficiency. Provided
that it proceeded from current international realities and focused its
attention on major human rights issues of general concern to Member States,
particularly those connected with economic, social and cultural rights, the
would continue to fulfil its irreplaceable role as the
Commission's brains trust.
10. Mr. ZAKI (Pakistan), said that, in the 50 years of its existence, the
had become overextended
to the point of no longer being able
to concentrate on its primary task of serving as the Commission's think tank.
His delegation agreed with the view expressed in SubCommission
resolution 1997/17 that the time available to it did not permit an indepth
review and analysis of all the documentation and initiatives submitted for its
consideration. It thus supported efforts to rationalize the SubCommission's
agenda. The reduction of the number of agenda items from 23 to 14 and the
biennialization of certain subitems
had already helped to streamline the work
page 5
of the 1997 session, and yet more time could be gained by further
prioritization of issues, more concise documentation and strict enforcement of
the speaking time limits.
11. As for the SubCommission's
methods of work, his delegation took the
view that it was performing satisfactorily the tasks entrusted to it under
Economic and Social Council resolutions 1235 (XLII) and 1503 (XLVIII). Any
improvements in the confidential procedure would have to come through a review
of those resolutions. It appreciated the emphasis the SubCommission
placing on economic and social rights, welcomed the completion of two studies
under that heading, and thought that the SubCommission
could be entrusted
with additional functions in the context of the implementation of the right to
12. It looked forward to the completion of the ongoing studies and of the
working paper being prepared on article 7 of the International Convention on
the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination. While the initial
paper presented by the Special Rapporteur on human rights and terrorism was
useful, he thought that greater attention should be paid to the phenomenon of
State terrorism and the use of terrorism as an instrument of foreign
occupation. In addition, a greater effort should be made to establish a
distinction between terrorist groups and national liberation movements.
13. The SubCommission
should also devote special attention to the denial of
the right to selfdetermination
of peoples under foreign domination or
occupation. Suppression of that right was the root cause of many situations
of the most systematic and serious violations of human rights, of which
Palestine, Kosovo and Kashmir were examples.
14. His delegation entirely supported the SubCommission's
role in providing
an opportunity for NGOs to participate in United Nations human rights work,
and considered that the Commission could benefit from some of the procedures
adopted by the SubCommission
in that regard. In conclusion, he agreed with
the Chairman of the SubCommission
that its working groups were the strongest
pillars of its work (E/CN.4/1998/88, para. 13), adding that the question as to
how the discussions and outcomes of those working groups should relate to the
work of the SubCommission
in plenary could, perhaps, be answered by pointing
to the manner in which the SubCommission's
work was considered by the
Commission itself.
15. Mr. SEMASHKO (Ukraine) said that the SubCommission
should take care not
to overload its agenda and should avoid duplication of work and waste of
resources. It was noteworthy that only one of the 10 draft decisions
recommended for adoption by the Commission fell within the scope of the
original mandate. Questions relating to the illicit transfer
of arms or the injurious effects of antipersonnel
landmines were being
considered by other United Nations bodies and did not require SubCommission
attention. The SubCommission
was undertaking an excessive number of studies,
some of the proposed studies could be carried out by the Secretariat without
the appointment of a special rapporteur, certain studies stayed on the
agenda for year after year while others remained blocked, and
many of the studies that had already been completed were not adequately
page 6
16. So far as methods of work were concerned, he noted with satisfaction the
adoption of a greatly shortened agenda for its fortyninth
session. The decision to take no action in future on human rights situations
already under consideration in the Commission's public procedures was
particularly welcome, as was the fact that the SubCommission
had adopted only
three resolutions under the agenda item concerning the violation of human
rights in all countries, had rejected three draft resolutions under that item
and had decided to take no action on two further draft resolutions relating to
the human rights situation in specific countries.
17. Mr. NZIKOU (Congo) said that the SubCommission
had adopted its
resolution 1997/1 when civil war had been in progress in his country. Since
the end of the war, on 15 October 1997, the situation had improved
considerably. The new Government had taken steps to ensure the return of
displaced people; the free circulation of people and goods; the
of peace and security, through the reorganization of the
police, the dissolution of private militias and an armscollection
the restoration of economic and social activity, particularly the reopening of
hospitals and educational establishments; the restoration of legal action on
individual rights and freedoms; and the establishment of transitional
institutions to create the proper conditions for general elections.
18. While reiterating its appeal for technical assistance on human rights,
his Government requested, therefore, that the SubCommission
withdraw its
recommendation that the Commission should consider the situation of human
rights in the Congo at its current session.
19. Mr. PADILLA (Guatemala) said that his country was a multiethnic
multicultural society, as reflected in the democratization process, the peace
negotiations concluded on 29 December 1996 and the subsequent Agreement on the
Identity and Rights of Indigenous Peoples. Its experiences had led it to
understand the crucial importance of the Commission, at a time when most
conflicts arose as a result of discrimination against ethnic minorities within
States. The ideological confrontations of the cold war had been replaced by
confrontation based on cultural, religious or ethnic diversity.
20. That being so, the question arose as to what the SubCommission's
function should be. In the first place, it must establish an order of
priorities. It should work closely with other United Nations bodies on
procedures. It should then work for the establishment of
effective prevention mechanisms. The task was not an easy one, but there was
much expertise to draw on. Cooperation could also be sought with
international academic bodies specializing in research on peace.
21. Advisory services for countries like his own which had not yet overcome
all the problems associated with their past were greatly enhanced by reports
such as those on impunity and on terrorism, human rights and humanitarian law.
In that context, his delegation agreed that, while States had a duty to
respect fundamental freedoms and individual integrity, they also had an
obligation to protect individuals from attacks by other individuals or groups,
such as terrorists. It would be useful to have a statement of minimum
humanitarian standards, to counteract the difficulties arising in the
implementation of the Geneva Conventions.
page 7
22. Ms. CALLANGAN (Philippines) said that the SubCommission
had contributed
much to the cause of human rights, but it could still benefit from further
reform and rationalization. There was a particular need to focus on its
primary role as an advisory body of the Commission, to facilitate the
effective participation of NGOs and to improve consultations with the various
mechanisms of the Commission and other human rights bodies.
23. The gravity and urgency of the problem of trafficking in women and
children, particularly for sexual purposes, was such that her delegation would
again submit a draft resolution on the issue, stressing the need to eliminate
all forms of sexual violence and trafficking through the adoption of effective
measures at the national, regional and international levels. Concerted
action, with cooperation and political will on all sides, was required. As a
recent conference sponsored by her Government had concluded, the followup
mechanisms to the Declaration and Agenda for Action of the World Congress
against Commercial Sexual Exploitation of Children needed to be strengthened
and the relevant special rapporteurs and working group should continue to
treat the issue as a priority.
24. Ms. AUSTAD (Observer for Norway), speaking on behalf of the Nordic
countries, said that the most serious violations of human rights and
most difficult to redress tended
to occur during internal conflict. The
analytical report (E/CN.4/1998/87 and Add.1) made a useful
contribution to identifying fundamental standards and setting out proposals.
25. Acts by private individuals were seen as crimes punishable under
national law rather than human rights violations. While armed groups were
bound by the provisions of international humanitarian law, there was a problem
concerning the adequacy of human rights law with regard to the activities of
actors, particularly when a Government was not in control of the
whole of its territory. Where there was a quasigovernmental
authority in
part of a territory, it should be held responsible for applying human rights
standards in that territory but, given the divergent views on the issue and
its complexity, further study was needed.
26. Derogation and other issues discussed in the report also required
further analysis and consultation. The Nordic countries intended therefore to
submit a draft resolution requesting the SecretaryGeneral
to continue
studying the issues identified for further clarification, in consultation with
the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), given the relevance of
international humanitarian law in that regard.
27. Mr. VIGNY (Observer for Switzerland) said that international protection
for the most fundamental human rights was sometimes inadequate, particularly
when countries were in crisis. The elaboration of minimum humanitarian
standards should redress the situation, particularly if they applied to all
parties, including not only State authorities but also nonState
armed or
unarmed groups, individuals and international organizations. His delegation
thus welcomed the SecretaryGeneral's
analytical report (E/CN.4/1998/87), to
which Switzerland had contributed, and supported, of course, the
recommendations it contained. A particularly appropriate recommendation was
that the views of Governments and other relevant actors should be requested.
Such consultations should include a request for written information from all
the parties concerned and there should also be informal meetings between
Governments, United Nations bodies, intergovernmental bodies, the ICRC and
page 8
others, which would extend the international community's awareness of the
issue. An informal seminar under the aegis of the Commission might also be
28. Mr. JEANNET (Observer for the International Committee of the Red Cross
(ICRC)) said that, while the SecretaryGeneral's
analytical report
(E/CN.4/1998/87) was a welcome contribution, further study was required,
particularly on the content, scope and status of any minimum humanitarian
standards and on the circumstances in which they would be used. At the same
time the distinction should be maintained between international human rights
law and international humanitarian law. They were currently complementary,
thus providing a better protection for fundamental rights, and any confusion
of the two in
relation to the use of armed force, for example would
regrettable. As the report stated, therefore, the international community
should proceed with caution and bear in mind that a listing of minimum
humanitarian standards did not necessarily amount to a standardsetting
29. It would also be useful to undertake a more systematic study of actual
situations of violence in order to achieve a better understanding of the
factors governing violations and the problems involved in implementing
existing standards and thus of what would be required in practice. As the
report noted (para. 87), ICRC was currently engaged in a study of the rules of
customary international law, which would be helpful in determining the final
form of the minimum humanitarian standards.
30. The report of the Special Rapporteur on the question of the impunity of
perpetrators of human rights violations (civil and political)
(E/CN.4/Sub.2/1997/20) was an admirable one. It should, however, be pointed
out that impunity was a problem in peacetime as well as during armed conflict,
on which the Special Rapporteur had concentrated his attention. ICRC believed
that consideration should be given to a broader application of international
humanitarian law to impunity, as was already the case with the basic
principles and guidelines on the right to reparation for victims of human
rights violations. The issue could be considered by a group of experts, in
which ICRC would gladly participate.
31. Lastly, he hoped that States would shortly demonstrate the political
will to move rapidly towards the establishment of a permanent international
criminal court which would be complementary to national jurisdictions and able
to prosecute people suspected of war crimes, whether in international or
internal armed conflicts. It would undoubtedly have a deterrent effect,
issuing a warning to those responsible for international crimes and a message
of hope for their victims.
(World Health Organization) said that WHO wished to
extend its participation in the area of women's health in the SubCommission
to the question of safe motherhood, one of many important aspects of women's
health. Half a million women or more died every year from the complications
of pregnancy and childbirth, the majority in Asia and subSaharan
Africa, and
50 million more suffered from ill health and disabilities from the same
causes. Maternal mortality showed the widest discrepancy between developing
and developed countries, and within developing countries there were
significant dispartities between urban and rural areas; yet almost all those
deaths could be prevented at a relatively low cost. WHO estimated that basic
page 9
maternal care, including skilled attendants, prevention and treatment of
complications, family planning and basic neonatal care would cost about US$ 3
per person in lowincome
countries. Less than half the women in the world had
access to such essential care. Communities, health centres and hospitals
should be linked, in order to provide care when and where women needed it
33. The situation ran counter to the guarantees contained in the Convention
on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women. Moreover,
when a woman died from pregnancyrelated
causes, it was not only a preventable
individual tragedy but a social and economic loss to families and communities.
There was a need for significant change in the way maternal health care was
provided and in the priorities of Governments, agencies and NGOs, with the
establishment of a proper legal policy and regulatory framework. The
political will, the necessary resources and strong concerted action were
required. WHO requested the Commission to recommend to the SubCommission
that, together with WHO, it should prepare a report on women's reproductive
health to draw attention to the need for action on the matter.
34. Ms. SPALDING (World Federation for Mental Health) said that Commission
decision 1997/107 had been the answer to her plea to build bridges with the
Commission for Social Development. The substantive link between the two
Commissions was indeed coming about and she urged that a joint rapporteur be
assigned to the two Commissions under a combined, streamlined budget for
mutually mandated work. Such an appointment, together with the establishment
of an ombudsman, would facilitate the accountability and measurable
implementation of standards within the United Nations system.
35. Ms. BAUTISTA (Latin American Federation of Associations of Relatives of
Disappeared Detainees) said that impunity for crimes against humanity was the
crime of the century and the biggest obstacle for countries in transition,
since it made it impossible to build a truly democratic society. The issue
was still very much alive in Argentina, Uruguay, Chile, Brazil, Guatemala and
Peru, all of which had introduced impunity laws, of varying degrees.
Investigations had not been reopened; and decrees promulgated by dictators had
been handed on to the successor democracies. Similar problems of impunity
were encountered in Mexico and Colombia. It was essential therefore that the
Commission should adopt urgently a set of principles to protect and promote
human rights by combating impunity.
36. Mr. NARANG (European Union of Public Relations) said that there were two
opposing trends in contemporary society: globalization in the name of higher
economic growth and justice for all and the assertion of diversity and
dignity. Economic development and social transformation had, contrary to
expectations, increased rather than diminished the intensity of ethnic and
regional consciousness, a consciousness that, in many cases, related to
questions of political autonomy and selfdetermination.
Another aspect of
that conflict was the compatibility of group rights with individual rights.
Respect for cultural identity could imply a violation of universal human
rights and measures to guarantee minority rights had produced a backlash that
damaged relations with the majority.
37. One of the challenges facing the human rights community in coming years
was thus the need to define processes to mitigate ethnic conflicts and begin a
constructive dialogue. That could best be accomplished by a body of experts
page 10
acting with objectivity and a commitment to the human rights of all, a role
which the Working Group on Minorities had begun to fill and should be
encouraged to continue.
38. Mr. NAQVI (World Muslim Congress) recalled a statement made by one of
the members of the SubCommission
at its fortyninth
session when introducing
a draft resolution on the human rights situation in India. That statement had
listed a vast number of human rights abuses and cases of discrimination, which
he quoted at some length. That draft resolution and the facts supporting it
were an indictment of the human rights situation in the socalled
democracy in the world”. Members of the Commission should be aware of that
situation and do everything in their power to put an end to those systematic
violations of human rights by India.
39. Mr. BENGOA (Chairman of the SubCommission
on the Prevention of
Discrimination and the Protection of Minorities) said that, he had noted four
main areas of response to the work of the SubCommission.
First, he had been
encouraged that the rationalization of its work was proceeding in the right
direction and should continue. Next, various speakers had referred to the
functions and mandate of the SubCommission
and had raised some challenges
that would give rise to discussion at its next session. The importance of the
relationship between the SubCommission
and NGOs had also been highlighted,
together with the need for increased participation of the sectors of civil
society which they represented. He had taken note of the suggestion that the
should appoint a special rapporteur for economic, social and
cultural rights. Much interest had also been expressed in the studies, and he
asked the Commission to inform the SubCommission
of the topics for further
studies that it considered useful.
40. Mr. LINDQUIST (Special Rapporteur on disability of the Commission for
Social Development) said that he welcomed the increased visibility given to
disability at the current session and the increased presence of NGOs for the
disabled. From the general debate, he had noted the close link between the
situation of disabled people and the protection of human rights and the
undeniable link between poverty and disability. There was clearly a need for
a deeper understanding of the topic, and he would do what he could to promote
the human rights dimension of disability in the effort to move towards a
society of inclusion.
page 11
(agenda item 8) (E/CN.4/1998/5, 3235,
36/Rev.1, 37 and Add.1, 38 and Add.1
and 2, 39 and Add.1 and Add.35,
40 and Add.1 and 2, 4143,
44 and Add.1
and 2, 111, 129 and 139; E/CN.4/1998/NGO/82; A/52/387)
41. Mr. TOSEVSKI (Chairman/Rapporteur of the Working Group on Enforced or
Involuntary Disappearances), introducing the Working Group's report
(E/CN.4/1998/43), said that he wished to highlight two issues of major
concern: the question of compensation and the worsening conditions under
which the Working Group was obliged to function within the United Nations
42. Since its establishment in 1980, the Working Group had transmitted
over 47,000 cases of alleged disappearances to 76 countries. Only
some 2,800 of them had been clarified and, though every case clarified must be
seen as a success, the almost 45,000 cases outstanding was not encouraging.
Although many of the unresolved cases dated to the 1970s or early 1980s and
most of the victims were probably long since dead, the Working Group required
that the exact fate and whereabouts of the victim be established beyond
reasonable doubt in order to clarify a case.
43. Brazil had adopted a new approach, namely, a law that recognized as dead
persons missing in connection with their political activities during the
period 1961 to 1979 and thus allowed their relatives to obtain death
certificates and to receive compensation from the State. Application of that
law had led to the clarification of 49 out of 56 outstanding cases. Another
method of clarifying old cases was the exhumation and identification of
remains from mass graves and other places of clandestine burial. That method
had allowed the Government of Chile to identify 231 persons who had been
killed more than 20 years previously.
44. The Working Group recommended that all States with a considerable number
of outstanding cases should develop a comprehensive programme of forensic
activities and should compensate the families of deceased victims of enforced
45. The Working Group was seriously concerned at the current situation of
its secretariat and the prospects for the near future. Its working methods
were labourintensive
and required confidentiality, extensive support,
interest in the subject matter and consistent legal expertise from the
Secretariat. In the past, a small team of human rights officers and
secretarial staff had been assigned exclusively to the Working Group but,
during the past five years, the tasks had been distributed among staff members
servicing other thematic mandates or even field missions. As a result, those
staff members could handle only about 65 per cent of the Group's total
workload, thus greatly hampering its dialogue with Governments and NGOs.
46. A recent internal redistribution of tasks in the Office of the
High Commissioner had made the situation still worse and the credibility of
the Working Group was declining and its activities becoming marginalized.
page 12
Unless decisive action was taken, the achievements and impact of the Working
Group since 1980 would be dissipated irretrievably and it looked to the
Commission to take such action.
47. Mr. ALVAREZ (Observer for Costa Rica), referring to the draft optional
protocol to the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or
Degrading Treatment or Punishment, said that the Working Group to prepare that
instrument had met five times since its establishment in 1992, and had made
major progress at its latest session. The draft optional protocol was
intended to establish a preventive mechanism based on cooperation,
confidentiality, independence, impartiality and universality. It would not
undertake the consideration of individual cases but would evaluate the
prevailing conditions in places of detention and make recommendations to
improve practices.
48. His delegation believed that it was essential to establish a financial
mechanism to provide funding for the technical cooperation needed to carry out
such operations and it supported the proposal to establish a voluntary fund
for the purpose. It was of the utmost importance that the mechanism should
enter into force and the mandate of the Working Group should thus be extended
so that it could work out the remaining difficulties and be in a position to
submit to the Commission a final text ready for signature.
49. Ms. BARNES de CARLOTTO (International Movement for Fraternal Union Among
Races and Peoples), speaking as President of the Association of the
Grandmothers of the Plaza de Mayo, said that justice for the
30,000 individuals detained and disappeared during the military dictatorship
in Argentina had still not been achieved. The impunity laws passed by the
Government violated the many international human rights instruments to which
Argentina was a party, since States were currently obliged to harmonize their
domestic law with international law and actions such as genocide, torture and
enforced disappearances had thus to be considered as crimes against humanity
under domestic law.
50. For 20 years, the Grandmothers of the Plaza de Mayo had dedicated their
lives to restoring to their stolen grandchildren their rights and especially
their identity. Although the impunity laws excluded pardon for those who had
abducted children, it was unjust that, when located, those children should be
told to forget about their parents.
51. Ms. LACROIX (World Organization against Torture) said that, although
freedom from torture was a nonderogable
right explicitly affirmed in several
international human rights instruments, it continued to occur on a daily basis
in many parts of the world. Corporal punishment imposed for criminal offences
in the Islamic Republic of Iran constituted torture and contravened
international law, as did the “moderate physical pressure” during
interrogation authorized by the Government and Supreme Court of Israel.
Impunity for acts of torture was a major problem, and she mentioned the
glaring examples of Mexico and Peru. The only solution was the full,
universal and prompt ratification of the Convention against Torture and Other
Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment.
52. Ms. DOWD (International Pen) said she wished to draw the Commission's
attention to a widespread pattern of violation of the right to freedom of
expression in the name of national security. Legislation allegedly aimed at
page 13
protecting State sovereignty was all too often used to stifle the peaceful
expression of views in general and by journalists in particular. In the end,
such action exacerbated difficult situations, increased misunderstanding and
further destabilized the State. While her organization welcomed some recent
encouraging developments in that regard in Turkey, Peru and the Republic of
Korea, the legislation in each of those countries still needed to be
so that its scope to proscribe free expression might be
53. Mr. Gallegos Chiriboga (Ecuador), ViceChairman,
took the Chair.
54. Mr. TEITELBAUM (American Association of Jurists) said that, in its
written statement (E/CN.4/1998/NGO/20), which was unfortunately available in
Spanish only, his organization had expressed a generally positive view of the
draft set of principles for action to combat impunity (E/CN.4/Sub.2/1997/20)
but had highlighted some important omissions and deficiencies and had
submitted proposals to remedy them. Impunity was still, alas, the dominant
note with regard to human rights violations, and he mentioned cases in Brazil,
Chile and Colombia.
55. A number of Argentine soldiers who had taken part in the
Falkland Islands (Malvinas) war in 1982 were still missing, and their
relatives had been unable to obtain information concerning their fate. He
appealed to the Governments of Argentina and the United Kingdom to assist the
Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances to clarify those
56. Mr. MENDEL (Article XIX: the International Centre against Censorship),
having welcomed the report of the Special Rapporteur on freedom of opinion and
expression (E/CN.4/1998/40), said that his organization wished to emphasize
the right of citizens to information held by the State and the duty of
broadcasters funded by States, to ensure that issues of public interest were
reported in a balanced and fair manner.
57. While the use of new information technologies to disseminate racist and
sexist views, and pornography, was very troubling, the tendency of Governments
to regulate and control access thereto was even more so. His organization
fully agreed with the Special Rapporteur's recommendation that no measures be
adopted going beyond the restrictions on freedom of expression and information
permitted under international law.
58. Criminal defamation laws were unnecessary to protect reputations or
public order which, in most countries, were adequately protected by civil
defamation and general public order laws. While democratic societies were
increasingly accepting the principle that public figures must tolerate a
greater degree of criticism than private citizens, criminal defamation laws in
many countries afforded special protection to senior political figures and
were used to punish or stifle legitimate criticism and dissent. In view of
the difficult questions raised by such laws, his organization urged the
Special Rapporteur to include in his next report a commentary on both criminal
and civil defamation actions and their effects on the right to freedom of
opinion, expression and information.
59. Mr. ÖZDEN (Centre EuropeTiers
Monde) called on the Government of
Tunisia to release immediately and restore his rights to the VicePresident
page 14
the Tunisian League for Human Rights, Mr. Khémaïs Ksila, who had been given a
heavy prison sentence on 11 February 1998 for defamation against public order
and constituted bodies, disseminating false information to disturb public
order, and inciting citizens to break the laws of the country. The charges
related to a statement, which had not been published, denouncing the
harassment of himself and his family and expressing his opinion about the
human rights situation in Tunisia.
60. The former president of the Council of State of Geneva, who had attended
Mr. Ksila's trial as an observer, reported, after analysing the charges in
detail, that they did not hold water and that the trial had shown that Tunisia
did not respect the fundamental principles of human rights, especially those
contained in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
61. Mr. ROMO (Franciscans International) said that torture was still part
and parcel of the administration of justice in many countries. In Mexico, for
example, the practice of torture to secure confessions or information was
increasing and went hand in hand with the selective application of justice for
political cases, which led to a high degree of impunity. The corruption of
the justice system produced a lack of trust so that people took the law into
their own hands. His organization thus endorsed the recommendations contained
in the report on his visit to Mexico (E/CN.4/1998/38/Add.2) of the Special
Rapporteur on questions relating to torture.
62. In Colombia, one of the main factors in human rights violations was the
justice system itself, there being a general presumption of guilt. Prisons
in that country were appallingly overcrowded and did nothing for the
rehabilitation of convicts. Criminal procedures permitted pretrial
in most cases, which could be extended for up to two years. Some 45 per cent
of the country's prison population was awaiting trial. Although various
United Nations bodies had made recommendations to the Government of Colombia,
it had not so far taken the necessary measures. The report of the 1996 visit
to Colombia by the Special Rapporteur on the independence of judges and
lawyers had still not been published. Consequently, the Commission should
urge the Government of Colombia to implement immediately the recommendations
that had been made for the improvement of the justice system and request the
Office of the High Commissioner to keep a close eye on the situation there and
to publish immediately the Special Rapporteur's report on his visit.
63. Ms. GUILLET (International Federation of Human Rights Leagues) said that
her organization and its affiliate, the Mauritanian Association for Human
Rights (AMDH), appealed to the Commission to condemn such serious attacks on
human rights defenders as the trial and sentencing of four of them in
Mauritania. The presidential pardon which had freed them a few days
previously was to be welcomed, but it did not erase their iniquitous
sentencing after a parody of a trial.
64. Her organization and its affiliate, the Belarus Human Rights League,
were very satisfied with the report on his visit to Belarus by the Special
Rapporteur on freedom of opinion and expression (E/CN.4/1998/40/Add.1) and
appealed to the Belarusian authorities to implement the Special Rapporteur's
recommendations as soon as possible. The Commission should continue to
monitor the situation in Belarus.
page 15
65. Her organization and its affiliate, the Viet Nam Committee for the
Defence of Human Rights, reiterated their concerns regarding the deliberate
stifling of freedom of opinion and expression in the Socialist Republic of
Viet Nam and requested the Commission to do its utmost to ensure that the
visit by the Working Group on Arbitrary Detention would take place
during the current year.
66. Her organization and its Northern Ireland affiliate, the Committee for
the Administration of Justice, welcomed the report of the Special Rapporteur
on the independence of judges and lawyers on his visit to the province
(E/CN.4/1998/39/Add.4) and called on the Government of the United Kingdom to
respond rapidly to his recommendations and, in particular, to establish an
independent judicial inquiry into the murder of the wellknown
Mr. Patrick Finucane.
67. Her organization and its various Peruvian affiliates welcomed the
abolition of the socalled
“faceless” tribunals and the first releases of
innocent prisoners, but were concerned at the worsening human rights situation
in other respects in Peru and called upon the Commission to continue to follow
closely the human rights situation in that country.
68. Ms. PARES (Pax Romana) said there were still far too many places in
which arbitrary detention and illicit methods of obtaining information were
employed on a daily basis by forces supposed to be upholding order and
justice. Her organization shared the concern expressed by the Special
Rapporteur on questions related to torture in the report on his visit to
Mexico (E/CN.4/1998/38). In East Timor, the Indonesian authorities continued
to disregard and violate international standards, despite Commission
resolution 1997/63.
69. In the Republic of Korea, a human rights defender had recently been
prosecuted on the basis of the National Security Law, whose repeal had been
recommended by the Human Rights Committee. The 1996 recommendation by the
Committee against Torture to the Government of the Republic of Korea that an
independent body should inspect detention centres and prisons had not yet been
complied with.
70. A new policy in Peru of building prisons in unsuitable locations was
causing grave concern. In the case of one prison, the Human Rights Committee
had concluded that conditions there violated several articles of the
International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.
The meeting rose at 1 p.m.