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Summary record of the 24th meeting, held at the Palais des Nations, Geneva, on Tuesday, 25 March 1997 : Commission on Human Rights, 53rd session.

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Economic and Social
22 May 1997
Original: FRENCH
Fifty-third session
Held at the Palais des Nations, Geneva,
on Tuesday, 25 March 1997, at 6 p.m.
Chairman: Mr. SOMOL (Czech Republic)
later: Mr. STROHAL (Austria)
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.97-12558 (E)
page 2
The meeting was called to order at 6.05 p.m.
SESSION (agenda item 16) (continued)
CN.4/Sub.2/1996/41, E/CN.4/1997/76, 77 and Add.1 and 2, 7881
and 108; E/CN.4/Sub.2/1996/6; A/51/309; A/52/56)
1. Mr. SEMASHKO (Ukraine) noted the important role played by the
in the human rights field, especially through its Working
Groups on Indigenous Populations and Minorities. His delegation in particular
supported the SubCommission's
activities and, in that
regard, drew attention to the work done by the Commission's Working Group in
elaborating a draft declaration on the rights of indigenous peoples on the
basis of a text adopted by the SubCommission
a few years previously. The
was of unquestionable value in considering matters such as
racism, racial discrimination, the protection of minorities and indigenous
peoples, and contemporary forms of slavery; its mandate had been steadily
expanded over the years, as was clear from the 12 draft decisions it had
recommended to the Commission for adoption, since only a few of them were
covered by its initial terms of reference. The SubCommission
was aware of
the problem and had made efforts to rationalize its methods of work,
restructure its agenda and achieve better coordination of its work with that
of the Commission on Human Rights and other human rights bodies. In that
connection his delegation welcomed its decision not to take action, at its
session, on human rights situations which the Commission was
already considering on the basis of its public procedure; that would avoid
duplication between the two bodies. The SubCommission
had also rightly
decided not to propose any new studies and to have only those working
documents that had no financial implications prepared. Yet it should also
ensure that any studies undertaken dealt with important human rights problems
or new issues which had not yet been tackled by other United Nations organs or
bodies. A large number of human rights standards had already been adopted,
and it should now ensure that they were effectively applied and respected
throughout the world. On the other hand, the SubCommission
must pay more
attention than previously to minority and indigenous problems, which had
recently assumed greater proportions.
2. It was also essential to curb the politicization which was at present a
hallmark of the SubCommission's
work and which was encouraged by the undue
attention it accorded to situations in certain countries. A body like the
consisting of independent experts should not adopt resolutions;
such action was of a political nature and therefore the prerogative of organs
such as the Commission, whose members were States. It would be better for the
to make recommendations on the basis of an indepth
analysis of
specific situations. It must preserve its independence in order to ensure the
efficiency of its work in promoting human rights in the world.
3. Referring to the 1503 procedure, under which the SubCommission
considered communications concerning human rights violations, he noted that
such complaints reflected individual violations rather than situations that
might reflect the existence of flagrant and systematic human rights
violations. The 1503 procedure was, moreover, extremely slow and usually
based on indirect sources of information. Lastly, it was inaccessible to
page 3
illiterate peoples who were unaware of United Nations procedures. It should
be backed up by more efficient machinery that enabled the SubCommission
to select cases of violations calling for action on the part of the
4. Ms. ANDERSON (Ireland), explaining that she wished to deal in particular
with the issue of persons with disabilities, noted that the various
international instruments which dealt with that question, and in particular
the Standard Rules on the Equalization of Opportunities for Persons with
Disabilities, conferred on such persons rights and not privileges which could
be withdrawn at the whim of Governments or suspended or reduced on grounds of
resource constraints. Respect for those rights meant that persons with
disabilities must be able to participate fully in all aspects of civil
society, including the political process. It also implied transparency in the
formulation and implementation of government policy so as to ensure that
persons with disabilities were fully aware of, and had a voice in, the steps
taken to ensure the full enjoyment of their human rights.
5. Two aspects of the disabilities issues were of concern to the
Commission. The first concerned causation, since very often human rights
violations, namely torture, malnutrition, lack of sanitation and proper
medical care, caused disabling injuries, either mental or physical. That
aspect of causation was dealt with under a number of items on the Commission's
agenda. The second aspect concerned the widespread evidence of systematic and
institutionalized discrimination against persons with disabilities which could
result in their marginalization or exclusion from society. In his report on
monitoring the implementation of the Standard Rules on the Equalization of
Opportunities for Persons with Disabilities (A/52/56) that was before the
Commission, the Special Rapporteur of the Commission for Social Development
noted that the human rights of persons with disabilities enjoyed only weak
protection in many countries.
6. Her delegation shared the Special Rapporteur's view that the Rules
should place greater emphasis on respect for fundamental rights and that
greater attention should be paid in future to the needs of women and children.
It was pleased that the Commission for Social Development had recommended the
renewal of the Special Rapporteur's mandate and hoped that he would be invited
to participate in the Commission's discussion of the question of the rights of
persons with disabilities at its fortyfourth
7. It was clear that violations of the human rights of persons with
disabilities could not be eliminated overnight. Yet there was no shortage of
material to work on. In his report on the question published as part of the
human rights study series under sales no. F.92.XIV.4, the SubCommission's
Special Rapporteur, Mr. Despouy, had submitted useful recommendations on the
subject as well as a proposal for the establishment of international
machinery, on which action should be taken. The role that could be played by
thematic and country rapporteurs should also be studied in addressing
disability and the importance of human rights education.
8. Mr. LEHMANN (Denmark) said it was of great importance that disability
issues should be viewed in a human rights perspective and figure prominently
on that agenda of the Commission on Human Rights. His delegation intended to
page 4
contribute actively to the drafting of a more substantive resolution on the
question at the Commission's fiftyfourth
session; it was in favour of
renewing the mandate of the Special Rapporteur on disability of the Commission
for Social Development and hoped that the Commission on Human Rights would
invite him to participate in its work in 1998.
9. Integration, full participation and equal opportunities were the main
objectives, and it would therefore be useful if the resolution to be submitted
to the Commission at its next session were to cover elementary human rights
for persons with disabilities namely, the right to participate in all aspects
of society, the right to information, the right to form organizations of
disabled persons, the right to education, to work, to social security, to
housing, to development having
regard to their particular handicap as
as the right to equality and to enjoy certain privileges. The Commission was
under a duty to put an end to the unfair treatment of persons with
disabilities and to confirm that their place was everywhere.
10. Mr. VERGNE SABOIA (Brazil) noted with regret that the SubCommission's
report, which used to be one of the most important on the Commission's agenda,
had during the past few years been examined in a cursory fashion, as was clear
from the minimum amount of time allocated to the item at the current session.
There was a tendency at the present time not only to disregard the work done
by the SubCommission,
which had often managed to open up new avenues, but
also to deny the validity of its very existence. Such criticism was not new
and in some cases even justified, but in point of fact it called in question
the SubCommission's
independence. In the view of his delegation, any serious
criticism of the SubCommission
also entailed reflection about the work of the
Commission itself, since if the SubCommission
was beginning increasingly to
resemble the Commission the reverse was also true.
11. Efforts had admittedly been made by the two bodies to reform and
rationalize their methods of work, and specific measures had already been
taken to that end by the SubCommission,
as indicated in the report submitted
by the Chairman of its fortyeighth
session, Mr. Asbjørn Eide
(E/CN.4/1997/79). His delegation in particular welcomed the SubCommission's
decision not to take action on human rights situations that had already been
considered by the Commission at its latest session. It also supported the
idea, referred to in paragraph 20 of that report, that the SubCommission
should prepare a comprehensive report containing information on violations of
human rights wherever they occurred. The Commission could usefully provide
the SubCommission
with guidance on that point as the latter had requested,
since a report of that nature might well respond to the most frequent
criticism concerning selectivity directed not only at the SubCommission
also at the Commission.
12. One of the most impressive parts of Mr. Eide's report was paragraph 16,
which described in eloquent detail that the number of statements by observers
at the SubCommission's
sessions had increased to such an extent that little
time was left for the experts to discuss the issues under consideration. It
should therefore cause no surprise that the SubCommission
had become so
“politicized”. If the SubCommission
was no longer an expert body, that was
due not so much to the alleged lack of independence of its members but the
lack of adequate rules governing the participation of observers in its work.
page 5
Without such rules there was no escape for the SubCommission
from bilateral
disputes or other political grievances that could be better dealt with
elsewhere. The adoption of such rules would be much more feasible if the
Commission set the necessary guidelines.
13. The SubCommission's
record in defending human rights and its present
efforts to reform itself could not be overlooked by the Commission, which had
done so little in terms of reforming and rationalizing its own agenda and
methods of work. It was to be hoped that the Commission would take those
positive aspects into consideration when adopting any resolution on the report
of the SubCommission.
14. Mr. QUAYES (Bangladesh) noted with satisfaction the encouraging steps
taken by the SubCommission
to improve its methods of work and in particular
to rationalize its agenda. However he regretted that such measures did not
fully meet the concerns expressed by Bangladesh about the mandate and working
methods of the SubCommission.
Bangladesh had always attached special
importance to the work of the SubCommission
which was a unique body in that,
although a subsidiary body of the Commission, it was composed of independent
experts a
characteristic that endowed it with moral authority.
15. The SubCommission
had a large number of positive achievements to its
credit in its own mandated fields, such as racial discrimination, freedom of
expression, the right to a fair trial and the protection of minorities. Yet
it had also overstepped its mandate by adopting resolutions on certain
countries not as a result of research carried out by its experts themselves
but on the solicitation of special interest groups. That had resulted in the
politicization of its discussions and could compromise its independence and
divert attention from its principal task, namely, that of undertaking studies
on specific subjects and examining communications containing allegations of
human rights violations under the 1503 procedure. It was therefore vital that
the SubCommission
should once again concentrate on those two cardinal
functions. It should also strengthen its standardsetting
activities and in
particular consider the possibility of elaborating human rights instruments
for nonState
actors. It should keep under scrutiny more subtle contemporary
forms of human rights violations, such as racial discrimination, since the end
of apartheid in South Africa had not put an end to all the various
manifestations of racism. It could also make a closer study of ways of
protecting and promoting economic and social rights and make sure that they
were effectively implemented. It might be a good idea to establish a working
group to determine the areas on which it should focus.
16. Referring to the Commission's working groups, his delegation noted
that the two sessions of the Working Group on Minorities, whose establishment
had been authorized by the Commission at its fiftysecond
session, had
been held during the 19951996
period. That meant that
the SubCommission
had not had occasion to study the report on the
Working Group's first session and to provide it with guidance before its
second session; that was not in keeping with the mandate set forth in
Commission resolution 1995/24. His delegation regretted in that
connection that no account had been taken of the concern expressed orally
on that point by Bangladesh in the Commission and SubCommission
and in its
communications addressed to the High Commissioner for Human Rights and
page 6
Assistant SecretaryGeneral
for Human Rights. In the absence of any reaction
on their part, Bangladesh had decided not to participate in the Working
Group's second session despite the importance it attached to its work. His
delegation was also surprised by the indifference shown by the Centre for
Human Rights, the Working Group itself and the SubCommission
to the concern
expressed by a member of the Commission; its concern had been further
compounded by the fact that the report on the Working Group's first session
had been distributed at the Commission's fiftysecond
session in 1996 without
having been examined by the SubCommission.
His delegation therefore
considered that it would be premature for the Commission to extend the Working
Group's mandate for two years as recommended by the SubCommission,
since it
had only just received the Working Group's report. It also hoped that the
would consider the possibility of reconstituting the Working
Group so that, during its extended mandate, it would not be saddled with the
discrepancies that had so far marked its work.
17. Mr. Strohal (Austria) took the Chair.
18. Mr. LIU Xinsheng (China) welcomed the first steps taken by the
to improve its methods of work in response to the Commission's
request in resolution 1996/25. It was particularly gratified by its decision
not to take any action at its fortyninth
session on human rights situations
that the Commission was already considering. In that way the Sub-Commission
would avoid duplication with the Commission and would be able to devote more
time to the consideration of important thematic subjects. He also noted that
the Sub-Commission at its last session had not proposed any new studies or new
reports with the exception of working papers without financial implications,
that it had not appointed any new rapporteurs and that it had entrusted an
expert with the task of preparing a working paper on its methods of work to be
discussed at its fortyninth
session. It was to be hoped that further reforms
would be formulated during the course of the present session.
19. In that connection, his delegation suggested that the Sub-Commission
should avoid further political confrontation and reduce the number of country
resolutions; experts should strictly abide by their independence and make
proposals rather than accusations. Moreover, the Sub-Commission should
strengthen its function as an expert and advisory body on human rights matters
and continue to emphasize the study of economic, social and cultural rights,
the right to development as well as issues relating to women, children, racial
discrimination and minorities, and submit actionoriented
proposals. It
should also, in a prudent, objective and pragmatic manner, choose fewer and
better subjects for study by according priority to new topics or questions of
concern to the developing countries that had not yet received adequate
attention by the Commission. Moreover, the Sub-Commission should refrain from
selecting subjects simply on the basis of the personal interest of experts and
avoid taking up issues that were covered by the terms of reference of other
United Nations bodies.
20. In his delegation's view, the Sub-Commission could effectively limit the
time allocated to the statements of non-governmental organizations (NGOs),
reduce the number of its agenda items and resolutions and improve its
efficiency by focusing on the consideration of thematic subjects; in that way
there would be no need to prolong its annual sessions.
page 7
21. Mr. SINGH (India) welcomed the fact that the Sub-Commission, which
played an important role as a think tank, had, in response to the concern
expressed by the Commission in its resolution 1996/25, embarked on the reform
of its methods of work as described in the report submitted by the Chairman of
its fortyeighth
session, Mr. Asbjørn Eide (E/CN.4/1997/79). His delegation
noted that the Sub-Commission had considerably rationalized its agenda, partly
through regrouping and biennialization. That solution was preferable to the
extension of its sessions, particularly at a time when the United Nations was
experiencing a serious financial crisis. The SubCommission's
decision not to
propose any new studies or reports, with the exception of those recommended by
a working group and working papers without financial implications which would
not necessarily lead to proposals for studies, was also welcome.
22. As regards country situations, his delegation considered that not only
should the Sub-Commission refrain from taking action on those that were
already being examined by the Commission but that, as a body of independent
experts, refrain completely from adopting resolutions on those questions;
such action was for the Commission and Third Committee of the General Assembly
to take. Moreover, the Sub-Commission should deal with country situations
only under the 1503 procedure and, on the basis of its mandate under
Commission resolution 8 (XXIII), it should act as a “facilitator” rather than
a “prosecutor”. Some aspects of that mandate should be reviewed, if necessary
by means of a formal decision by the Commission. The Sub-Commission should
continue to examine the human rights situation throughout the world but its
focus must be thematic, in other words, it should identify areas requiring
priority attention, such as the elimination of racism and all forms of
discrimination and intolerance, and propose effective solutions to certain
problems instead of making condemnations. While the Sub-Commission was
perfectly within it rights in making suggestions concerning studies to be
undertaken, it was for the Commission to take the necessary decisions and to
set priorities for it. It was obvious that much more needed to be done if the
Sub-Commission was to resume its role as a “think tank” of independent
experts, and it should act as a forum for exchanges of view on specific
subjects between experts, observer States and NGOs. Consideration should
continue to be given to reducing the length of its sessions.
23. His delegation attached importance to the Working Group on Minorities,
which sought constructive and practical solutions to minority problems with a
view to ensuring peace and harmony between nations, and strongly supported the
Sub-Commission's request to extend the Working Group's mandate for another
two years. It also considered that certain mechanisms, such as voluntary
funds, should be established only on the basis of demonstrated international
interest to avoid them meeting the same fate as the Voluntary Fund for
Contemporary Forms of Slavery which, for lack of resources, might have to be
wound up.
24. In conclusion, his delegation once again urged the Sub-Commission to
pursue its debate on the improvement of its methods of work and requested the
Commission to continue to take an active interest in the Sub-Commission, and
to provide timely guidance and direction, so as to ensure its effectiveness
and relevance.
page 8
25. Ms. LIMJUCO (Philippines), explaining that she would focus on the
question of traffic in women and girls, said that trafficking in persons was
the most dehumanizing form of human rights violation that deprived the victims
of their dignity and exposed them to other forms of violence and abuse.
Trafficking in children was a particularly heinous crime against humanity; it
was also a contemporary form of slavery that translated into huge profits for
traffickers but brought the victims nothing but shame, disease and very often
death. The studies carried out by the Commission's Special Rapporteurs on
violence against women and on the sale of children, child prostitution and
child pornography, as well as by the Working Group on Contemporary Forms of
Slavery, indicated that the victims were mainly women, usually young, who were
forced into prostitution in horrible conditions and earned virtually nothing.
The fear of AIDS had resulted in an increasing demand for very young girls, a
large number of whom were infected by the virus.
26. Her delegation therefore recommended that the Commission should give
priority to the ratification and effective respect of instruments on the
trafficking in persons and on slavery and slaverylike
practices and that
consideration should be given to updating the 1949 Convention for the
Suppression of Traffic in Persons and Exploitation of the Prostitution of
Others with a view to extending it to cover forced marriages and forced labour
and providing it with a monitoring mechanism. The Commission should also
support the envisioned optional protocol to the Convention on the Rights of
the Child, which would deal explicitly with the sale of children, child
prostitution and child pornography, and translate into action the
provisions of the Beijing Declaration and Platform of Action
as well as the relevant recommendations of other conferences and meetings,
such as the World Congress against Commercial Sexual Exploitation of Children.
27. At the national level, each country should adopt laws or strengthen
existing legislation to curb trafficking in persons and criminalize the
practice in all its forms. In that respect, her delegation commended the
Commission on Crime Prevention and Criminal Justice on its work against
organized transnational crime and was gratified by the proposal submitted by
the Polish delegation to the General Assembly at its fiftyfirst
session for
the elaboration of an international convention on organized transnational
crime which could prevent and combat trafficking in women and children.
Offenders and intermediaries must obviously be penalized but it was just as
important not to penalize the victims themselves; on the contrary, they should
be helped to return to their home countries and reintegrate themselves in
society. NGOs could play a valuable role in that respect. The abuse of
advanced information technology for trafficking purposes should also be looked
28. The task of dismantling all national, regional and international
trafficking networks could not be accomplished overnight and required the
cooperation of all States. The Philippine Congress was already considering
the adoption of a law to curb trafficking in women. Countries must all work
together in order to combat and hopefully
eliminate that
page 9
29. Mr. HELLBACH (Germany) said that during the previous 50 years the
had made an outstanding contribution to the development of
human rights law; during that same period new mechanisms and bodies had been
created and others, such as the Commission, had changed in nature and the
emphasis had shifted from standardsetting
to the implementation of existing
and highly complex human rights standards. The criticism to which the
had always been subjected had increased during the past few
years and had reached a point where it seemed inevitable that its role and
place within the human rights programme should be reviewed. The
had embarked upon that task in 1992 and had taken steps to
rationalize its methods of work; that was a first step in the right direction.
More farreaching
reforms were still necessary, however, if it was once again
to become a body of independent experts who engaged in reflection and research
on topical human rights questions which, for various reasons, could not be
dealt with in depth by others. His delegation was of the view that it was the
Commission that should initiate and guide SubCommission
reforms without
entering into the details of its mandate and working methods a
subject that
only the Sub-Commission itself could tackle.
30. It was above all in connection with the consideration of country
situations that the Sub-Commission's role should be reviewed as a matter of
urgency. That was not to say, however, that the Sub-Commission should in
future refrain from examining such situations or collecting information on
specific countries. It should simply analyse root causes of specific
situations, identify trends and search for practical approaches to prevent
violations and to solve crises. In exceptional cases, however, it should be
able to address new and particularly serious situations which had not been
considered by the Commission from a more political perspective, for silence on
its part could well call in question its credibility as a subsidiary body of
the Commission.
31. Those reforms could not be achieved overnight but must nevertheless
become a top priority for the Sub-Commission, which could no longer afford to
continue doing business as usual. His delegation was confident that it would
meet that challenge.
32. Mr. LOFTIS (United States of America) said it was inconceivable that
there were countries in the world where the abominable practice of slavery
still existed. A case in point was Sudan where, although prohibited by law,
slavery and forced labour were on the increase, where the slave trade was
alive and well, and where women and children from the South were sold in the
North as servants, labourers or concubines. Mauritania also tolerated
servitude, although to a lesser extent than Sudan, but as slavery constituted
a human rights violation of the worst order the Mauritanian Government must do
everything in its power to put an end to it.
33. Although outright chattel slavery had ended in almost every country of
the world, closely related practices, of which one of the most reprehensible
was trafficking in women and girls for sexual purposes, were not only
prevalent but also on the rise. Responsibility for that trend should be laid
at the door not only of those who ran the sex trade but also those who engaged
in sex tourism. The United States, which had always played an active part in
efforts to curb trafficking in women and children at the national as well as
page 10
the international level, was one of the few countries that had enacted a
statute prohibiting sex tourism. His delegation urged other countries to do
the same, and in particular called upon those in which that degrading practice
was still prevalent to adopt or amend laws on prostitution so as to put an end
to it by introducing severe penalties for all those responsible. The sale of
children also constituted a particularly odious human rights violation which
often had its origins in extreme poverty but which was nonetheless a practice
that could hardly be tolerated at the end of the twentieth century. The
solution to the problem was to be found in education and development, and in
the firm commitment of the countries concerned to put an end to it.
34. The Commission could no longer tolerate that human beings, in any
country, even the most undeveloped, should be reduced to slavery or become the
victims of contemporary forms of servitude. It had to do everything possible
to put an end to those inhuman practices if it did not wish to forfeit its
35. Ms. JANJUA (Pakistan) paid tribute to the work accomplished by the
since its establishment, particularly in respect of various
seminal studies on important human rights issues and the role it played in the
preparation of a number of human rights instruments. It would appear,
however, that over the years it had embarked upon activities which went beyond
its terms of reference and which had diverted it from its primary function of
working as a “think tank” for the Commission.
36. Her delegation therefore welcomed the steps taken by the Sub-Commission
to rationalize its methods of work, as described in the report of the Chairman
of its fortyeighth
session, Mr. Asbjørn Eide (E/CN.4/1997/79). Those
measures would to some extent enable it to overcome the problem of the lack of
time for an indepth
study of certain questions. Another possible solution
was not to extend the length of the session but to establish priorities,
request Governments and NGOs to show greater restraint, limit the size of
documents submitted and ensure that speakers did not exceed the time allotted
to them.
37. Her delegation considered that, generally speaking, the Sub-Commission
had done a good job in tackling the tasks assigned to it by the Economic and
Social Council in resolutions 1235 (XLII) and 1503 (XLVIII) and by the
Commission in resolution 8 (XXIII), through its Working Group on
communications. It therefore believed that the preparation of a comprehensive
report on human rights violations in the world would duplicate not only the
work of that Working Group but also the reports submitted to the Commission by
the ChairmenRapporteurs
of various working groups and the Special
Rapporteurs. Her delegation also welcomed the Sub-Commission's decision not
to examine situations already under consideration by the Commission and
appreciated the emphasis it had placed on economic and social rights. It
looked forward to the completion of studies on the question of the impunity of
perpetrators of economic, social and cultural rights and of human rights and
income distribution, as well as the working papers commissioned by the
at the last session.
page 11
38. The Sub-Commission had done and was still doing useful work in areas
within its competence. It was to be hoped, however, that it would not take
upon itself tasks that belonged to the Commission on Human Rights,
particularly by examining situations in specific countries.
39. Mr. Somol (Czech Republic) resumed the Chair.
(Mexico) recalled that the great majority of the
States Members of the United Nations had come out in favour of nuclear
disarmament and that they were required, under international law as
emphasized by the International Court of Justice in its advisory opinion of
8 July 1966 to
embark upon negotiations to that end. For that reason his
delegation approved the recommendation made by the Sub-Commission in
resolution 1996/14 to the effect that the Conference on Disarmament should
immediately start negotiations on nuclear disarmament to reduce nuclear
weapons globally within a phased programme, thereby contributing to the
enhancement of international peace and security and the protection of human
rights and fundamental freedoms and above all the right to life. It also
supported the Sub-Commission's request to the Secretary-General in its
resolution 1996/16 to collect information from Governments, the competent
United Nations bodies and agencies on the use of nuclear weapons, chemical
weapons and biological and other weaponry, on their consequential effects and
on the danger they represented to life, physical security and other human
rights. It would be well in that connection if the Centre for Human Rights,
in preparing that report, were to contact the International Committee of the
Red Cross (ICRC) which had considerable experience in the matter.
41. His delegation also welcomed the fact that the Sub-Commission had dealt
with the effects of antipersonnel
landmines, which claimed 25,000 victims
each year throughout the world and whose use constituted a flagrant violation
of international humanitarian law. Mexico neither produced nor imported
landmines and the Government exercised strict control over
Mexican enterprises and companies that used explosive devices. It was one of
the countries that advocated the prohibition of such devices and had urged
States which had not yet done so to accede to or ratify the Convention on
Prohibitions or Restrictions on the Use of Certain Conventional Weapons Which
May be Deemed to be Excessively Injurious or to Have Indiscriminate Effects
and the Protocols thereto. He agreed with the SubCommission
that a solution
had to be found to the problems posed by the use, stockpiling, production and
transfer of antipersonnel
landmines before the year 2001, when the Review
Conference of the States parties to the 1981 Convention was to be held. That
was why Mexico was participating actively in the negotiations initiated in
October 1996 at Ottawa with a view to the conclusion of a legally binding
international agreement on the complete prohibition of antipersonnel
landmines, in accordance to the decision adopted at the Ottawa International
Strategy Conference and approved by the United Nations General Assembly in
resolution 51/45 S.
42. Ms. ZUREK (Observer for Poland) said that violence against women was a
major obstacle they encountered in their efforts to achieve full enjoyment of
human rights on an equal footing with men. It was therefore gratifying that
the Commission on Human Rights had tackled the problem and had appointed a
Special Rapporteur to study the problem in depth. Trafficking in and the
page 12
forced prostitution of women, which was one aspect of violence against women,
was a serious problem that was becoming worse in many countries, including
Poland. Her delegation congratulated Ms. Coomaraswamy, the Special
Rapporteur, on the results of her work and assured her that Poland would
actively follow up the recommendations she had made in the report on her visit
to Poland (E/CN.4/1997/47/Add.1).
43. It must not be overlooked that, as had been reaffirmed at Vienna by the
World Conference on Human Rights, all human rights were interdependent and
that the right to development was an integral part of fundamental human
rights. Any denial of human rights therefore constituted an obstacle to
development. Women's economic independence and their right of access to
resources and power, as well as their participation in decisionmaking,
essential if they were not to become the first victims of the poverty that
prevented them from genuinely exercising their rights, including the right to
development. In that connection her delegation appreciated the report of the
Intergovernmental Group of Experts on the Right to Development and expressed
the hope that the gender perspective would be featured in its work.
44. The Vienna Declaration and Programme of Action stressed that women
should make effective use of existing procedures under international human
rights instruments as well as of new procedures so as to be able to enjoy the
rights to which they were entitled under such instruments. Poland therefore
welcomed the elaboration of an optional protocol to the Convention on the
Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women by the Commission on
the Status of Women. There was currently no specific procedure within the
United Nations system for considering individual cases of violations of the
human rights of women; the optional protocol would make good that shortcoming,
facilitate the implementation of the Convention and contribute to the
realization of the high expectations expressed at the Vienna and Beijing
45. Her delegation was of the view that all human rights mechanisms,
including treaty bodies and special rapporteurs, should focus on the rights of
women in their work and their reports. The Centre for Human Rights should
cooperate closely with bodies dealing with the rights of women within the
United Nations, and in particular with the Division for the Advancement of
Women. Similarly, the Commission on Human Rights should increase its
cooperation with the Commission on the Status of Women, which had been
established to monitor the situation of women and to promote their rights.
46. Mr. WILLE (Observer for Norway), speaking on behalf of the Nordic
countries, said that the most serious violations of human rights tended to
occur during internal conflicts, particularly when generalized violence led
the Government of a State to make derogations from certain obligations it had
assumed under international human rights law. The General Assembly had on
several occasions emphasized that, as stated in article 4 of the International
Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, such derogations were extraordinary
measures which were allowed only in times of an emergency threatening the life
of the nation. Additional difficulties occurred when the State in question
was not a party to the relevant international instruments, and a further
problem was raised by violations committed not by agents of the State but by
groups that considered themselves free from any obligations whatever.
page 13
47. All those issues had been examined at the International Workshop on
Minimum Humanitarian Standards that had been organized by the Nordic countries
in cooperation with ICRC at Cape Town (South Africa) from 27 to
29 September 1996; the report of the Workshop had been issued as document
E/CN.4/1997/77/Add.1. Participants had agreed that the Commission should
request the SecretaryGeneral,
in coordination with ICRC, to undertake an
analytical study of the issues addressed by the Workshop. The Nordic
countries therefore intended to prepare a draft resolution requesting that a
study of that nature should be undertaken and examined at a seminar convened
under the auspices of the Commission on Human Rights. The issue should be
thoroughly discussed in a humanitarian and pragmatic context and care be taken
not to erode the legal standards contained in humanitarian and human rights
48. Ms. MILLER (United Nations Children's Fund) emphasized that trafficking
in women and children constituted a serious breach of international human
rights standards and a violation of inherent human dignity, since in that
context the victims were treated as commodities rather than people. It was
therefore vital that the international community should deal with that problem
as a matter of urgency and endeavour to find effective solutions. The
Declaration and Agenda for Action adopted at the recent World Congress against
Sexual Exploitation of Children held at Stockholm in August 1996 provided
guidelines for efforts to combat that scourge. Several countries were
preparing national action plans in accordance with those guidelines, which
should pave the way for the enhanced protection of women and children from all
forms of sale and trafficking.
49. The Convention on the Rights of the Child and the Convention on the
Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women also envisaged
specific measures to combat trafficking in women and children. The large
number of countries that had ratified those two instruments should now ensure
their effective implementation and act on the commitments they had assumed.
Specifically, they should strengthen existing legislation, adopt new laws,
increase educational opportunities for disadvantaged children and
particularly girls introduce
social reintegration programmes for children
who had experienced trafficking, provide suitable training for police officers
and judicial officials and organize awarenessraising
campaigns. UNICEF
supported the initiatives taken in that connection by Governments and NGOs,
such as those in Cambodia, Nepal and Thailand.
50. The Commission on Human Rights should continue its examination of the
issue and ensure that the work of the Special Rapporteur on the sale of
children, child prostitution and child pornography, as well as the Special
Rapporteur on violence against women was fully supported. For its part,
UNICEF would continue to seek local solutions to such problems that took into
account the many economic, social and cultural factors that contributed to
that modern form of slavery.
51. Mr. BONNARD (International Committee of the Red Cross) reaffirmed ICRC's
wholehearted support for all initiatives aimed at strengthening the protection
of individuals in situations of internal violence. It was in that spirit that
it had cooperated closely with the International Workshop on Minimum
Humanitarian Standards held at Cape Town in September 1996. ICRC fully
page 14
endorsed the idea of having the SecretaryGeneral
draft an analytical report
on the question on the basis of information supplied by humanitarian
organizations working in the field, focusing his attention on specific areas
of concern, especially those which were insufficiently covered by existing
norms of international law. There was no doubt that an approach based on
practice and centred on the needs of the victims of internal violence would be
more likely to stimulate the search for solutions to the problem; ICRC was
prepared to contribute actively to that task.
52. Mr. VIGNY (Observer for Switzerland) said he was gratified by the
organization in Cape Town by the Nordic States and South Africa, in
cooperation with ICRC, of a Workshop intended to make the international
community aware of the extremely serious violations of human rights and
humanitarian law that could be committed by States or armed groups and
individuals in crisis situations or in internal conflicts. Participants had
in particular discussed the desirability or need to draft a declaration on
minimum humanitarian standards without weakening international law, and had
recommended that Governments and international organizations, as well as NGOs
and civil society, should promote a discussion of the minimum humanitarian
standards that should be applicable in all circumstances and at any time and
particularly of specific measures to protect the victims of extremely serious
violations of human rights and humanitarian law.
53. His delegation hoped that, in accordance with another recommendation
contained in the report on the Workshop (E/CN.4/1997/77/Add.1), the Commission
on Human Rights would request the Centre for Human Rights to undertake, in
coordination with ICRC, an analytical study of all the issues connected with
minimum humanitarian standards, and that the results of that study would be
examined at a seminar held under the auspices of the Commission.
54. Ms. SPALDING (United Towns Agency for NorthSouth
Cooperation) said she
was most concerned by the extremely serious shortage of financial support for
United Nations voluntary funds. An eloquent example of the situation had been
provided by the Chairman of the Board of Trustees of the Voluntary Trust Fund
on Contemporary Forms of Slavery which had been virtually without resources
since 1995, and was likely to disappear if nothing was done. It was
admittedly encouraging that at least five voluntary trust funds were at
present being managed by the Centre for Human Rights. The restructuring of
the Centre should make it possible not only to improve internal administrative
cohesion but also to streamline the contributions process. However,
additional efforts were necessary if fundraising
campaigns were to be better
organized. One solution would be to appoint someone who would be responsible
for fundraising
on a fulltime
basis, as was the current practice in the
Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights and other United Nations
bodies. She hoped that the idea would be endorsed by the new
and the future High Commissioner for Human Rights. The
combination of inhouse
streamlining of the administration of the funds as
well as an inhouse
department would go a long way in
correcting the present deplorable situation.
55. She also mentioned the initiatives taken during the previous few years
by nonprofit
and profitmaking
groups to establish financial machinery with a
page 15
view to contributing, on a partnership basis, to the protection of human
rights, predominantly through the voluntary trust funds. The fiftieth
anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights would offer an
occasion for strengthening that partnership.
56. Ms. AVELLA ESQUIVEL (Women's International Democratic Federation), drew
the Commission's attention to the situation of women and girls who were
exploited, usually for sexual purposes, in the context of international
trafficking in persons, and said that the Convention for the Suppression of
the Traffic in Persons and of the Exploitation of the Prostitution of Others
should be provided with a permanent monitoring mechanism. All States should
launch information campaigns to warn women of the danger and take effective
measures to protect them.
57. Her organization shared the concern expressed by the SubCommission
regarding states of exception and supported its recommendations on the
subject. The international community should remind the Governments of States
which claimed to be democratic but which in practice failed to guarantee the
fundamental freedoms of their citizens of their obligations. A striking
example was offered by Colombia, where the state of exception had become the
norm and the normal was the exception, since Colombians had lived for 37 of
the 47 previous years under a state of siege which, since 1991, had been
called “a state of internal disturbances”. Yet it was obvious that such
exceptional measures had never solved problems connected with the maintenance
of public order but had, on the contrary, weakened the democratic system,
fostered State terrorism and had provided the perpetrators of human rights
violations with even greater impunity. The Government was at present seeking
to introduce constitutional counterreforms
intended to deprive the judiciary
of any control over the proclamation of a state of exception and attribute
criminal investigation service functions to the armed forces, which was
contrary to democratic principles.
58. Since the abusive and repeated proclamation of a state of exception in
Colombia had had the effect of weakening democratic institutions, the
Commission should adopt a resolution condemning the Colombian Government's
draft constitutional reform, whose application would make it even more
difficult to ensure respect for the fundamental rights of Colombian citizens.
59. Ms. LAROCHE (International Federation of Human Rights Leagues) said that
there were very few countries in the world where there was no trafficking in
persons and particularly in women either
countries of origin or countries of
60. In China, thousands of women were victims of that practice each year and
were taken to other countries where they were forced into prostitution or sold
as wives to farmers. Most of them were young, often poorly educated, from
rural areas and in search of jobs; they had been abducted or deceived by
traffickers, usually in collusion with corrupt officials, who provided them
with false papers such as marriage certificates. Since the victims were
illegally in the countries to which they had been brought and without
resources they were all the more easily victimized and were unable to return
to their country of origin on their own. In most cases, if they managed to be
repatriated with the help of certain NGOs, they received no assistance with a
view to their rehabilitation or social reintegration.
page 16
61. The same was true of the thousands of Russian women victimized by
organized trafficking networks throughout Europe, Asia, the United States and
Canada. They were not only forced into prostitution, usually without pay, but
were also exposed to physical and psychological violence and threatened with
reprisals if they put up any resistance. They were deprived of information
and medical care, and were therefore at particular risk of contamination by
sexually transmitted diseases. Moreover, since they had no passport or proper
papers, they were often arrested, detained or expelled by the authorities of
the countries which they had entered illegally.
62. Her organization therefore called upon the Commission to adopt a
resolution on the trafficking in women and young girls for sexual purposes
that would urge all States to refrain from regarding the victims of such
trafficking as illegal immigrants, to establish international standards
providing severe punishment for traffickers, to take energetic steps to combat
organized crime in that connection and to ensure that security and police
forces, both on the national as well international level, looked upon
trafficking in women just as much of a crime as drug and arms trafficking.
63. Mr. CHAKMA (Asian Cultural Forum on Development) condemned the inability
and unwillingness of Governments to prosecute the perpetrators of human rights
violations, particularly in countries where legislation had been adopted
providing lawenforcement
officials with impunity from prosecution during
states of emergency or internal armed conflicts.
64. On 17 November 1993, for example, members of the Bangladesh Army had
with complete impunity massacred about 40 members of the Jumma community. If
it wished to dispel the doubts of the international community about the health
of democracy in Bangladesh, the Government of Bangladesh should make public
the report of the Commission of Inquiry set up to look into the matter and
prosecute the perpetrators in civilian courts.
65. Moreover, planned population transfers and the settlement of persons on
the land thus depopulated constituted one of the most serious forms of human
rights abuses, and an expert seminar had been organized on the question by the
Centre for Human Rights in 1997. Such population transfers, far from
facilitating the settlement of disputes, in point of fact jeopardized many
peace processes, and had constituted one of the most contentious issues in
negotiations between the Government of Bangladesh and the political
organization representing the Jummas who had been expelled from their land in
the Chittagong Hill Tracts to make way for illegal settlers from the plains.
Such transfers must be regarded as a form of genocide. The Government of
Bangladesh might do well to resolve that conflict by seizing the opportunity
offered to it by the European Parliament when it recommended making the
European Commission's funds available to assist persons from the Chittagong
Hill Tracts to settle elsewhere.
66. Although it was gratified by the work done by the SubCommission's
Working Group on Indigenous Populations, his organization was of the view that
a permanent forum for indigenous people should be established in the
United Nations to examine all aspects of discrimination against them. The
Commission should also appoint a special rapporteur on indigenous peoples.
page 17
Lastly, the question of minimum humanitarian standards should be analysed in
greater detail, particularly as they were violated not only by State but also
by nonState
67. Ms. HAWKE (Women's International League for Peace and Freedom) said that
her organization firmly supported SubCommission
resolution 1996/14, whose
basic thesis was that complete nuclear disarmament was a necessary
precondition for the protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms, for
international peace and security and, above all, the right to life. Everyone
was aware of the negative impact that the production and use of nuclear
weapons had on the right to health, the right to a sustainable environment,
and, indeed, the right to life. It was therefore for Governments to redress
the injustice that nuclear policies had created over the past decades by, for
example, compensating the victims of nuclear tests in the Pacific Islands,
Japan, the United States, Kazakstan and China and restoring their natural
environment. The mining of uranium as the source material for nuclear weapons
resulted in the violation not only of the right to health but also of other
cultural rights when the deposits being exploited were situated on sacred
sites and indigenous lands. The dangers presented by nuclear power plants
were also well known. Her organization congratulated the Special Rapporteur
on the adverse effects of the illicit movement and dumping of toxic and
dangerous products and wastes on the enjoyment of human rights on having
included in her report (E/CN.4/1997/19) the discharge of radioactive waste
from uranium mines, the problem of nuclear waste from nuclear power plants and
the impact of contaminants on the human rights of indigenous communities,
particularly in North America and the South Pacific. She supported the
Special Rapporteur's appeal to Governments that they should strengthen
national and international regulations on the subject by effective control and
implementation mechanisms and endorsed the recommendation that victims should
have access to the administrative and judicial procedures of the exporting
68. Her organization called upon all Governments to dissociate themselves
totally from the nuclear industry in order to move towards the goal of nuclear
disarmament and thereby strengthen international peace and security and the
protection of human rights. Finally, she emphasized the direct link between
military activities, and therefore war, and human rights, which was
perpetuated by the militaryindustrial
economy and the nuclear industry in
many countries of the world.
69. Ms. SAMBO DOROUGH (Indian Law Resource Centre) said that the study on
indigenous land rights proposed by the SubCommission
in resolution 1996/38
was particularly important because indigenous peoples in many countries
continued to be dispossessed of their lands and resources. Most of the
social, economic and cultural problems encountered by the indigenous peoples
were connected with land rights disputes that had never been settled. Many
concerns had been expressed by indigenous peoples in connection with the draft
declaration on the rights of indigenous peoples, and it was obvious that the
proposed study would help to clarify the land rights provisions of the draft.
70. The SubCommission
would now have more time to devote to the study of
indigenous land rights because the various other studies on questions
page 18
concerning indigenous populations that it had embarked upon had been
completed. The Commission should therefore approve the SubCommission's
recommendation concerning that study.
71. Mr. KANE (African Commission of Health and Human Rights Promoters)
condemned the maintenance of slavery in Mauritania despite the fact that it
had been prohibited by the Mauritanian Constitution in 1961 and by
Order No. 81231
of 9 November 1981. It was explained by the fact that the
Government lacked the political will to adopt the legislative and
administrative measures necessary to eliminate the practice completely. The
“slaves” in Mauritania were deprived of their belongings and of any right to
land, and their children belonged to their masters. The United States
Congress itself had asked the Government of the United States to suspend
assistance to Mauritania until that practice, which affected some
100,000 persons, had been ended. The Mauritanian Government continued to turn
a deaf ear to the numerous appeals addressed to it on behalf of the victims of
slavery. His organization therefore proposed the establishment of a human
rights observatory for Mauritania to follow the situation in that country.
72. Mr. VIDYASEKER (International Progress Organization) said that religious
persecution was often encouraged by the discriminatory nature of a State's
constitutional and legal institutions. In Pakistan, for example, only Muslims
were recognized as true citizens under the Constitution, and a succession of
constitutional amendments and laws had in effect reduced its minorities to the
status of secondclass
citizens. The more extreme elements of the majority
community were thus able to conduct a sustained campaign of oppression against
the minorities with impunity. Their targets were Muslim sects and the
defenceless minority communities of Hindus and Christians, whose places of
worship were destroyed on the flimsiest of pretexts, and their members accused
of blasphemy, prosecuted and killed. Quite recently, a Christian community in
a town in Punjab had been attacked by a mob of 30,000 fundamentalists with the
connivance of the local police authorities. That resurgence of religious
intolerance would be felt far beyond the borders of Pakistan and the
Organization of Islamic Conference would do well to remind its members that
the harmonious and peaceful coexistence of all religious faiths was an
essential principle of Islam.
73. Only democracy could enable the members of various religions to enjoy
the same rights without distinction. His organization therefore urged the
Commission to use its influence to impress upon States the need to consolidate
democratic processes and ensure that all minorities enjoyed equal rights.
74. Mr. WATCHMAN (International Indian Treaty Council) welcomed the
adoption of resolution 1996/31 in which it recommended that
the Working Group on Indigenous Populations should address environmental, land
and sustainable development issues at its future sessions, and that
intergovernmental organizations and NGOs should provide information and data
concerning those questions on which the survival of the indigenous peoples
75. He also noted with satisfaction that the SubCommission,
resolution 1996/36, attached importance to the spiritual connection that
indigenous peoples had with the land and welcomed the recommendation that the
Commission's Special Rapporteur on religious intolerance should study the
page 19
impact of outside influences on the ability of indigenous peoples to practise
their religion. In that connection his organization regretted that the
Special Rapporteur on religious intolerance had not yet taken action on its
request that he should examine the problem of the forced displacement of the
Navajos and the implications of their displacement for the exercise of the
right of such communities to practise their religion. He urged the Special
Rapporteur to examine the specific problems of indigenous peoples, such as the
Dines in the United States, whose religion was connected with the land.
76. His organization also called upon the Commission to take action on the
recommendation contained in its resolution 1996/38 concerning
a study of indigenous land rights. Lastly, in view of the range of problems
faced by indigenous peoples throughout the world at the present time, he urged
the Commission to adopt the SubCommission's
draft decision on the
establishment of a permanent forum for indigenous people and to consider the
appointment of a special rapporteur on the situation of indigenous peoples.
77. Mr. LEMINE (Observer for Mauritania), speaking in exercise of the right
of reply, said he was surprised that the United States representative had seen
fit to raise the issue of slavery in Mauritania, since it had been analysed in
depth by the SubCommission,
as a result of which the Commission had decided
to remove it from its agenda. He recalled that the Mauritanian Constitution
guaranteed to all Mauritanian citizens, without distinction as to race,
religion and social status, equality before the law, and that the Mauritanian
Labour Code prohibited any form of servile or forced labour. In view of the
history of the United States, which had known the most abject form of slavery,
namely, one based on race, it was easy to understand why certain segments of
American society should be upset by the persistence of the practice elsewhere;
the Government of that country should be aware that the Mauritanian Government
had spared no effort to do away with vestiges of its past.
78. He hoped that the United States representative was not echoing the ideas
of certain NGOs or unscrupulous individuals for whom the issue of slavery was
a “business” and who were endeavouring to stir up western public opinion,
forgetting that slavery when
it had been practised in Mauritania had
nothing to do with the distinction made between people on the basis of race
and had never attained the same proportions as in the United States. They
were trying to perpetuate that myth to promote their personal interests.
79. In view of the positive developments in Mauritania, where the rule of
law had been established and democratic principles were well rooted in the
life of society, it was, to say the least, unwarranted to revert to a matter
that had been duly examined in detail and objectively and put to rest.
80. The CHAIRMAN said that the Commission had completed its consideration of
agenda item 16.
The meeting rose at 9.05 p.m.