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Summary record of the 25th meeting, held at the Palais des Nations, Geneva, on Tuesday, 31 March 1998 : Commission on Human Rights, 54th session.

UN Document Symbol E/CN.4/1998/SR.25
Convention Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities
Document Type Summary Record
Session 54th
Type Document

20 p.

Subjects Persons with Disabilities, Prostitution, Trafficking in Persons, Terrorism

Extracted Text

Economic and Social
31 August 1998
Original: FRENCH
Fifty-fourth session
Held at the Palais des Nations, Geneva,
on Tuesday, 31 March 1998, at 3 p.m.
Chairman: Mr. SELEBI (South Africa)
later: Mr. HYNES (Canada)
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.98-11477 (E)
page 2
The meeting was called to order at 3 p.m.
ORGANIZATION OF THE WORK OF THE SESSION (agenda item 3) (continued)
Situation of human rights in Colombia
1. Mrs. ROBINSON (High Commissioner for Human Rights), introducing her
report on Colombia (E/CN.4/1998/16), said that the mandate of the Office which
had been opened in that country, as defined in the agreement concluded with
the Colombian Government, had been extended for a further year. That mandate,
which in her view was balanced, enabled the Office's experts to observe the
human rights situation and study the measures taken by the Colombian
Government to improve it. The Office was also providing the Colombian
Government with technical advice on the development and implementation of its
human rights policies and programmes. It was working closely with civil
society, nongovernmental
organizations (NGOs) concerned with human rights,
and the media.
2. The Office could not give useful advice unless it had a thorough
understanding of the situation in the field, which it could gain by
receiving complaints of human rights violations and breaches of international
humanitarian law. The Office as also coordinating its activities with
other United Nations agencies and programmes, including the Office of the
United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), and with the
International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) on the important issue of
internally displaced persons. Finally, it was liaising with and assisting the
human rights treaty monitoring bodies and the mechanisms of the Commission.
3. Following the renewal of the mandate of the Office in Colombia, it had
been agreed with the Colombian Government that the number of human rights
officers there would be increased to 12, which implied that additional
resources would have to be found. She thanked the Colombian Government for
its cooperation with the Office, which had also benefited from support from
numerous sectors of Colombian society. She also thanked the States and the
European Commission, which had funded the Office's operations for a whole
year, and looked forward to welcoming additional contributors. In conclusion,
she stressed the importance of the Office that had been established in
Colombia to promote the rule of law and respect for human rights, which
responded to the aspirations of the Colombian people and would be a crucial
contribution to efforts to achieve a just and stable peace in the country.
4. Mrs. ELJACH POLO (Observer for Colombia) said that the joint efforts
made by the United Nations and the Colombian Government to establish a special
mechanism for cooperation were beginning to bear fruit. The Office of the
High Commissioner for Human Rights in Colombia was helping to improve the
human rights situation in the country and was facilitating the quest for
peace. It had assumed greater importance in the eyes of Colombian public
opinion, having acquired a better understanding of the true situation in
Colombia following visits by its officers to the locations that were most
affected by the political violence and the internal armed conflict. As it had
stated in document E/CN.4/1998/135 containing its comments on the report of
page 3
the High Commissioner, the Colombian Government would continue to facilitate
the Office's activities, taking into consideration the concerns the latter had
expressed and the recommendations it had made.
5. However, the Colombian Government expected the Office to propose
practical solutions to ensure respect for human rights and international
humanitarian law. In that connection, it believed that the increase in the
number of officers would help to improve the advisory services furnished to
the authorities and civil society. In the face of an internal armed conflict
such as that which had been raging in Colombia for almost 40 years, the duty
of any democratic State was to persevere in the quest for a negotiated
settlement and, at the same time, to make tremendous efforts to guarantee and
protect the fundamental rights of its citizens. While ensuring full respect
for human rights should not be postponed pending the achievement of peace, the
establishment of peace would undoubtedly help to ensure respect for
fundamental rights. The Government and the people of Colombia were therefore
making every effort to achieve those two aims.
6. In conclusion, the Colombian Government thanked all those who had played
a role in the establishment of that innovative mechanism for cooperation with
the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights and urged them to
continue helping the Colombians in their quest for peace and respect for human
7. Mrs. LITTLE (Andean Commission of Jurists) welcomed the extension of the
agreement concluded between the High Commissioner and the Colombian Government
concerning the establishment of an Office of the High Commissioner in
Colombia, as well as the increase in the staffing of that Office. It was
essential that the latter should receive not only all necessary economic and
political support but also the requisite financial resources in order to
enable it to discharge its task effectively. There was also a need to
reaffirm its fundamental aims, which were to render advisory services on the
promotion and protection of human rights to the governmental institutions and
the representatives of civil society, and to monitor the human rights
situation. In that connection, the Commission on Human Rights should request
its various thematic mechanisms to continue to pay special attention to the
human rights situation in Colombia in their respective annual reports.
8. History had shown that the presence of United Nations missions and
offices in the field had a positive impact on critical situations when their
mandate and their working methods were clear and when the parties concerned
demonstrated their good faith. Accordingly, it was essential to intensify the
activities and improve the functioning of the Office in Colombia so that it
could make a noteworthy contribution to respect for human rights in that
9. Mr. ARTUCIO (International Commission of Jurists ICJ)
welcomed the
fact that the mandate of the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights
in Bogotá had been extended for a further year and that the number of experts
working there had been increased to 12. The International Commission of
Jurists also welcomed the report of the High Commissioner, which gave a clear
account of the human rights situation in that country. That situation had
deteriorated since 1997, as was shown by the increase in the activities of
page 4
paramilitary groups, the intensification of the phenomenon of forced
displacements of population and the persecution of human rights activists. An
average of 10 persons died every day in Colombia as a result of the
violence taking place. The paramilitary groups had been
responsible for 76.8 per cent of those deaths in 1997.
10. Noting that, in her report, the High Commissioner had expressed concern
at the ineffectiveness of the State's military bodies when it was a question
of actually opposing paramilitary groups in a resolute manner, the
International Commission of Jurists pointed out that the Human Rights
Committee had found links between those groups and members of the police
during its consideration of the report of Colombia. It also noted that, in
her report, the High Commissioner for Human Rights had urged the authorities
to take into account the recommendations made by the treaty monitoring bodies
as well as by the special mechanisms of the Commission on Human Rights. In
fact, the Colombian Government had not cashiered the members of the armed
forces who were closely involved in violations of human rights, as had been
recommended by the Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary
executions. It had not taken the requisite measures to ensure that acts such
as torture, extrajudicial executions and enforced disappearances were excluded
from the jurisdiction of the military tribunals, as had been recommended by
that Special Rapporteur and by the Special Rapporteur on torture. Finally, it
had not abrogated the presidential decree establishing the special private
surveillance and security services known as “Convivir”, as the Human Rights
Committee had recommended.
11. The International Commission of Jurists found it disturbing that the
Colombian Government had acted neither on those recommendations nor on those
of the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights in Colombia. For the
human rights situation to improve, the Colombian Government's cooperation with
that Office should lead to the adoption of measures and policies based on the
Office's recommendations.
12. Mrs. AVELLA (Women's International Democratic Federation WIDF)
that the violations of human rights in Colombia were increasing in magnitude
and the list of tradeunion
leaders, militants and members, as well as human
rights activists, teachers, men, women and children, who had been designated
as military targets was becoming longer every day. She noted that the various
Governments of Colombia had not acted on the recommendations made since 1990
by the Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions
concerning the need to cashier all the members of the police and armed forces
who were linked to paramilitary groups. On the contrary, officers such as
General Díaz, who had been accused of instigating or facilitating massacres,
had been acquitted by the military tribunals and General del Río, who had been
held responsible for numerous violations of human rights in the Uroba region,
had even been promoted. In Colombia, everyone was aware that the armed forces
were collaborating with the paramilitary groups and, consequently, violations
of human rights by the forces responsible for maintaining law and order had
not diminished, since those forces were acting through or in association
with those groups. The elimination of political opponents was also
continuing, and many of them, like Senator Motta, the SecretaryGeneral
of the Communist Party, had been forced to flee the country. During the
past 11 years, 4,000 persons, including Senator Cepeda Vargas, had been
page 5
assassinated. It was evident that the speciality of the armed forces was
the assassination of unarmed persons and the elimination of all those whom
they regarded as being internal enemies.
13. WIDF had been informed of the emergence of a new phenomenon in the
campaign, in which women had come to be regarded as spoils
of war. By sexually assaulting, illtreating
and threatening relatives of
the victims, the armed forces had succeeded in ensuring that no complaints
were lodged. Seven female tradeunion
leaders had been assassinated in 1997
and the lives of at least a dozen others were being threatened. Four of
the 20 human rights activists executed in 1997 were women. WIDF called upon
the Commission to investigate all those violations by appointing a Special
Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Colombia.
14. Mrs. JACQUES (Lutheran World Federation), speaking also on behalf of the
World Council of Churches and the World Alliance of Reformed Churches,
welcomed the work being done by the High Commissioner's Office in Colombia,
which merited the international community's active support. However, the
Office should be encouraged to intensify its contacts with NGOs and social
sectors in that country in order to promote respect for human rights and
international humanitarian law.
15. The High Commissioner's report on the situation of human rights in
Colombia highlighted numerous aspects of the crisis in that country and
emphasized, in particular, the crucial and complex problem of impunity, which
had been exacerbated by the fact that the military tribunals were vested with
extensive jurisdiction to hear even proceedings relating to violations of
human rights. It was therefore essential rapidly to draft and adopt
legislation which clearly excluded those matters from the jurisdiction of the
military tribunals and which stipulated that “due obedience” could not be
invoked as a line of defence in cases involving violations of human rights and
breaches of international humanitarian law. The problem of impunity was
aggravated by the indulgence that had been shown towards members of
paramilitary or “private justice” groups, even though the latter were believed
to be largely responsible for the abuses committed in the country in recent
16. The attacks and intimidation to which humanitarian workers and human
rights activists were being subjected, as well as the recruitment of minors
into the ranks of the guerrillas or the armed forces or groups, and the
increasing number of displaced persons due to the internal conflict, were
further matters of concern to which the Colombian Government and the
international community should give their full attention.
17. The Lutheran World Federation endorsed the request by many NGOs that the
High Commissioner for Human Rights should submit to the General Assembly, at
its 1998 session, a report on the activities of her Office in Bogotá and on
the human rights situation in Colombia. It hoped that the Bogotá Office would
continue to contribute to a resolution of the complex crisis in Colombia in a
manner consistent with its people's desire for justice and peace.
18. Mrs. PARES (Pax Romana) said that the Colombian Government appeared to
consider that the bodies and mechanisms established by the United Nations
page 6
lacked any legitimacy and authority. Accordingly, it had paid no attention to
the recommendations that had been made by, inter alia, the Commission's
Special Rapporteurs on torture and on extrajudicial executions, and by the
Human Rights Committee which, at its fiftyninth
session, had urged the
Government to put an end to the system of regional justice and “faceless”
judges and witnesses, and to guarantee the right to legal defence. The
regional tribunals were still operating, the right to due process was
constantly flouted and tradeunionists,
students and displaced persons who
were merely demanding the return of their land and their jobs were still being
prosecuted for terrorism.
19. Moreover, members of the security forces were still blatantly supporting
paramilitary groups and the “Convivir” associations, which enjoyed legal
recognition, which were responsible for 31 massacres in which 265 persons had
been killed in 1997 and which were operating mainly in highly militarized
zones. Far from being punished for their acts, the military personnel
involved had even been promoted, as in the case of General Rito Alejo del Río,
commander of the armed forces in the province of Uroba. Following numerous
appeals to remedy that impunity, the Colombian Government had finally
submitted two bills to Congress which made the enforced disappearance of
persons a criminal offence and excluded violations of human rights from
the jurisdiction of the military tribunals. However, according to the
High Commissioner for Human Rights, those bills were not in conformity with
the existing international norms in that regard and, for the moment, no action
was being taken against the Colombian military personnel responsible for
enforced disappearances.
20. In spite of the opening of the Office of the High Commissioner's Office
in Bogotá, the structures that facilitated the violation of human rights
remained unchanged, as the Colombian Government lacked the political will to
improve the situation. Consequently, the United Nations should insist that
the Government implement the recommendations addressed to it. Accordingly,
Pax Romana requested the High Commissioner to submit her report on Colombia to
the General Assembly and requested the Commission to instruct its thematic
mechanisms to continue to monitor the Colombian crisis closely and to appoint
a special rapporteur on the human rights situation in Colombia.
21. Mr. MONTIEL (Pax Christi International) expressed his deep concern
at the human rights violations committed in Colombia in 1997, which the
High Commissioner for Human Rights herself had described as serious, gross and
systematic in her report. Pax Christi was particularly concerned by the
situation of human rights activists, more than 20 of whom had been
assassinated in 1997, including Mario Calderón and Elsa Constanza Alvarado,
both of whom were active members of CINEP, and Jesús María Valle Jaramillo,
Chairman of the Human Rights Committee of Antioquia. Other human rights
activists had been the victims of enforced disappearance or had been subjected
to threats and acts of harassment which in some cases had forced them to leave
the country. Those acts formed part of a policy designed to criminalize the
activities of human rights activists by portraying them as collaborators with
the guerrillas. If nothing was done to put an end to the situation, it would
no longer be possible to defend human rights in Colombia.
page 7
22. Pax Christi therefore endorsed the High Commissioner's recommendation
No. 14 that the Colombian authorities should ensure proper recognition of the
right of human rights advocates to conduct their activities without
interference or unlawful hindrance and without fear for their lives, physical
integrity or freedom. That recommendation should be accompanied by measures
to strengthen the capacity of the Office in Bogotá. The High Commissioner
should also closely monitor the implementation of the recommendations made to
the Colombian Government by various United Nations bodies concerned with human
rights. Finally, Pax Christi International felt that the gravity of the human
rights situation in Colombia warranted the appointment of a special rapporteur
of the Commission on that question.
23. Mr. FAIRBAIRN (Canadian Council of Churches) said he shared the grave
concerns expressed by the High Commissioner with regard to the gross and
systematic violations of human rights that were being committed in Colombia.
The High Commissioner had noted, in particular, the existence of links between
paramilitary groups and the State security forces and the failure of the
Colombian Government to take measures to put an end to the activities of those
groups and their supporters. Although those links had been attested by
hundreds of eyewitness accounts, the Colombian Government still maintained
that it was not supporting paramilitary groups, even though the latter had
expanded throughout the country and were acting openly in highly militarized
zones. That applied in particular to the Uroba region, where the abuses
committed with full impunity by those groups selective
forced disappearances and massacres had
established a climate of terror that
had resulted in the forced displacement of tens of thousands of Colombians
in 1997 alone. During a visit to the region in October 1997, a delegation
from the Canadian Council of Churches had personally observed the open
collaboration between the security forces and paramilitary groups. Yet,
far from being removed from duty, General del Río, the army commander of
the region, had been promoted and transferred to Bogotá. In contrast,
Colonel Velasquez, his secondincommand
who had dared to denounce the
alliance in the region, had been accused of
insubordination and forced to resign.
24. The Canadian Council of Churches urged that the Chairman's statement on
the situation in Colombia should faithfully reflect the grave concerns
expressed in the report of the High Commissioner for Human Rights on that
question, that the High Commissioner's Office in Bogotá should continue to be
strengthened and that the Office of the High Commissioner should make a
thorough report on the compliance of the Colombian Government with
recommendations 7 and 8 in paragraphs 197 and 198 of the High Commissioner's
report that the authorities should permanently disband paramilitary groups and
remove from the armed forces and police any persons found to have supported
paramilitary groups.
25. Mrs. CHURCH (Catholic Institute for International Relations CIIR)
welcomed the fact that, in her first report on the human rights situation in
Colombia, the High Commissioner for Human Rights had characterized the
violations committed in that country as “serious, gross and systematic” and
had pointed out that many of those violations had occurred outside the context
of the internal armed conflict and that the duty of the State to guarantee
human rights applied in all circumstances. It seemed clear, therefore, that
page 8
the Colombian Government could not invoke the internal armed conflict to
justify its failure to apply the recommendations made to it by international
26. CIIR also believed that the establishment of a just and lasting peace in
Colombia should be based on respect for basic rights and concerted action to
combat the impunity enjoyed by paramilitary groups. In 1997, the links
between those groups and the State security forces had become more evident, as
had paramilitary participation in the activities of the socalled
associations. It was essential that, as recommended by the High Commissioner,
the Government should carry out an effective policy for permanently disbanding
paramilitary groups and putting an end to the activities of “Convivir
associations” in order to eliminate their negative influence on the human
rights crisis and enable the State to have absolute control over the use of
force and weapons.
27. CIIR hoped that the Chairman's statement would reflect the content of
the High Commissioner's report and requested the Commission to consider
submitting that report to the General Assembly.
28. Mr. PEREZ (International Federation of Human Rights Leagues) regretted
that, in its reply (E/CN.4/1998/135) to the report of the High Commissioner,
the Colombian Government had rejected her conclusion that the violations of
human rights in Colombia continued to be serious, gross and systematic. The
International Federation rejected the explanations of the Colombian Government
which, in paragraph 2 of its reply, claimed to be unable to fulfil its
obligation to safeguard the fundamental human rights of its citizens because
of the numerous factors and parties involved, which were responsible for the
climate of violence, thereby attempting to give the impression that it was
itself a victim of the anarchy that prevailed in the country.
29. In reality, the lack of genuine political will on the part of the
Colombian Government to remedy the situation could be seen from the fact that
no member of the security forces had been dismissed from his post because of
participation in the criminal activities of paramilitary groups, and that the
latter were acting with the approval of the security forces. Moreover, the
military criminal tribunals were still acquitting military and police
personnel involved in assassinations or massacres committed by paramilitary
groups, in spite of the abundance of evidence against them, and the Government
had refused to disband the groups of armed civilians that were thus acting in
complete legality. The army also appeared to regard as “subversive” all those
engaged in what it called “political warfare” a
term that covered the
activities of NGOs, trade unions and some political parties, such as the
Communist Party and even traditional parties.
30. Consequently, the International Federation of Human Rights Leagues
requested the Commission to ensure that the High Commissioner's Office in
Colombia was strengthened, to urge the Colombian Government promptly to
implement the recommendations made in the High Commissioner's report, to
appoint a special rapporteur to monitor the human rights situation in Colombia
and, finally, to pay tribute to the memory of Jesús María Valle Jaramillo,
Chairman of the Human Rights Committee of Antioquia, who had been executed at
page 9
Medellín on 27 February 1998, and to that of all the other human rights
activists who had been assassinated in Colombia and elsewhere in the world.
NATRÁN (International League for the Rights and
Liberation of Peoples) said she rejected the internal conflict argument that
had been invoked by the Colombian Government to justify its failure to
implement the recommendations of the High Commissioner's Office at Bogotá.
The report of the High Commissioner clearly showed that the situation in
Colombia was far from improving. Membership of paramilitary groups was still
not regarded as a criminal offence, and the Government had vested those groups
with new legal status, thus showing that it had no intention to disband them
but, on the contrary, intended to use them, not only to combat the guerrillas,
but also in order to eliminate human rights activists and its political
opponents. Consequently, it was important to demand that the Government be
held responsible for the violations committed by those groups at its
instigation and with its and the army's approval.
32. Moreover, the degree of impunity in Colombia remained very high, owing
to the fact that the system of regional tribunals and faceless judges was
still in force, which enabled the Government to secure the conviction of all
those whom it regarded as subversives on the grounds of their political,
social or tradeunion
activities, and that the military tribunals, which
totally lacked independence and impartiality, were continuing to deal with
cases that should fall within the jurisdiction of the civil courts.
33. The activity of the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights in
Bogotá was limited by the lack of dialogue with Colombian social and political
organizations, such as trade unions, agricultural associations and indigenous
movements, which were in the best position to provide information concerning
the real situation of the economic and social rights of the Colombian people.
34. In conclusion, the International League requested the Commission to take
a position on the question of the human rights situation in Colombia by
appointing a special rapporteur on that question and by strengthening the High
Commissioner's Office in Bogotá. It would also be useful if the High
Commissioner were to visit the country periodically in order then to report on
the activities of the Bogotá Office to the General Assembly. Instead of
abandoning Colombia to its fate, the international community should demand
that the Government implement, as a matter of urgency, the recommendations
addressed to it.
35. Mr. MOTTA (American Association of Jurists AAJ)
said that he was a
senator, a member of the Colombian Communist Party and, like many other
Colombians, a political exile. A reign of terror prevailed in Colombia,
maintained by the army, groups of armed civilians known as “Convivir”
associations and paramilitary groups which, under the pretext of combating the
guerrillas, were engaged in the systematic elimination of political opponents,
trade unionists, social workers and human rights activists who, according to
them, were waging a “political war”. In reality they were practising real
State terrorism by invoking defence and national security against an internal
enemy as their justification, a doctrine that was incompatible with respect
for human rights and international humanitarian law.
page 10
36. The Government continued to speak of the rule of law, when it was in
fact maintaining a system of secret tribunals and faceless judges, enacting
laws restricting public freedoms and refusing to approve the draft law on
enforced disappearances because it would limit the jurisdiction of the
military tribunals.
37. The Association also denounced the “Destructor II” operation being
carried out by the Colombian army against the Revolutionary Armed Forces of
Colombia with military help from the United States in regions where indigenous
persons lived. Interference by foreign countries in the Colombian conflict
certainly did not help to promote peace there. A full account was given of
the worsening human rights situation in Colombia in the High Commissioner's
report (E/CN.4/1998/16), and the AAJ hoped that the Commission would appoint a
special rapporteur on the question and strengthen the High Commissioner's
Office in Colombia.
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)
38. Mr. LINDQVIST (Special Rapporteur of the Commission for Social
Development on Disability), introducing his report (A/52/56), said that under
his mandate, he had been working very closely with a group of experts
consisting of 10 people from six major international organizations in the
disability field having national affiliates in more than 160 countries. The
exclusion which characterized the situation of disabled people took several
forms, the most common of which was lack of access to certain services or
programmes, as their particular needs were not taken into account, or
placement in institutions, which reduced their opportunities for social
integration and increased the risk of degrading treatment, sexual abuse and
other forms of violence. The responses to the requests for information
addressed to States in 1996 on legislation to protect the rights of disabled
people had shown that in many countries there were legal provisions,
regulations and practices which explicitly deprived various groups of disabled
people from such fundamental rights as access to courts of law, political
rights, property rights and the right to marriage and parenthood.
39. Since the drafting of the World Programme of Action concerning Disabled
People, considerable progress had been made in recognition of the rights of
the disabled following the study by Mr. Despouy, Special Rapporteur of the
on human rights and disabled people, whose report had been
published in the early 1990s. General comment No. 5 of the Committee on
Economic, Social and Cultural Rights should be mentioned in that regard, as
should the increased attention being paid to the situation of disabled
children by the Committee on the Rights of the Child, the recent work of the
Commission on the Status of Women and Commission on Human Rights
resolution 1996/27. Some countries had also adopted antidiscrimination
legislation in the disability field. Followup
to implementation of the
Standard Rules on the Equalization of Opportunities for Persons with
Disabilities had indicated the importance of coordinating social development
and human rights activities. With regard to the drafting of a convention on
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the rights of disabled people, before making such a proposal it would be
better to see whether tangible results could be achieved through the use of
existing instruments.
40. A disability component should be included in all relevant monitoring
activities of the United Nations human rights bodies and a report should be
produced on the situation of disabled people based on information from NGOs
and the Special Rapporteur. The Office of the High Commissioner should offer
information and training in human rights to international NGOs dealing with
disability questions. Communication and cooperation between those NGOs should
be improved. An international conference on human rights and disability
should be convened in order to bring together human rights experts and
representatives of the organizations in the disability field for more open
discussion and mutual understanding.
41. Mrs. ANDERSON (Ireland), focusing her remarks on the human rights of
persons with disabilities, said that Mr. Lindqvist's report reinforced the
point that treatment of persons with disabilities came fully within the human
rights agenda and should not be approached exclusively in a social welfare or
social development perspective characterized by an emphasis on providing
assistance to persons with disabilities. The two approaches should go hand in
hand, as they were complementary. Nevertheless, as Mr. Lindqvist had pointed
out, the word best describing the situation of disabled people was
“exclusion”. Disabled people lived in grim conditions in developing
countries; they were relegated to institutions in many countries in transition
and were still marginalized in developed countries, where they experienced
many difficulties, particularly in finding employment.
42. One of the most effective tools for combating that marginalization and
exclusion was the Standard Rules on Equalization of Opportunities for Persons
with Disabilities, the implementation of which should be closely monitored.
The link between disability and poverty should also be recognized, and
bilateral and multilateral development cooperation programmes should include
disability measures in their overall approach. The fundamental rights of
persons with disabilities should be systematically included in all monitoring
activities of the United Nations human rights entities, as was already being
done by the Committee on the Rights of the Child, which in October 1997 had
hosted a general discussion on the rights of children with disabilities and
continually raised the question of disabled children during its consideration
of States parties' reports.
43. Ireland was aware of the need for action on behalf of persons with
disabilities. It was in that spirit that it had developed a comprehensive
database on the service needs of all mentally handicapped persons in the
country and how to meet those needs. A new education bill containing
particular provisions on the needs of students with disabilities was planned,
and training and employment services were being restructured in an effort to
deal with high rates of unemployment among disabled people.
44. It was important not to talk of disabled persons as victims; they should
themselves participate in developing strategies on their behalf. Human rights
institutions and Governments could cooperate with NGOs active in the
disability area which possessed a tremendous depth of knowledge and
page 12
experience. Her delegation would be presenting a draft resolution on the
human rights of disabled persons which it hoped would be adopted by consensus.
45. Mr. KALLEHAUGE (Denmark) said that the disabled community was the
largest minority in the world today. Unlike women and children, refugees and
victims of racial and religious persecution, disabled people had no automatic
right to protection under international law. That was why the organizations
of disabled people urged the Commission to take action at the present session
by adopting a resolution with a clear and direct message to all nations that,
individually and collectively, persons with disabilities had a right to equal
opportunities and to nondiscrimination.
Human rights were universal and
applied to all human beings, including persons with disabilities, because all
people were born equal and had the same inalienable right to life, education,
work, independent living and access to active participation in society. Any
discrimination against persons with disabilities would be inconsistent with
the Standard Rules on Equalization of Opportunities for Persons with
Disabilities and would therefore be an infringement of their human rights.
46. Under those rules, persons with disabilities individually had a right to
effective medical care and rehabilitation services to enable them to reach and
sustain their optimum level of independence and functioning. They were also
entitled to live independently and to participate actively in society, as well
as to have access to the physical environment, information and communication,
shelter, infrastructure, public transport services and all other basic
services. They should furthermore have access to education and studies at all
levels and to employment, and should enjoy the same social security benefits
as the rest of the population. Lastly, they had the right to participate
fully in the development process. Unfortunately, all those rights were still
but a dream for most disabled persons around the world. That situation would
not change unless Member States acknowledged the unequal conditions under
which the disabled community lived. Persons with disabilities must make
themselves heard as an integrated group in order to attract the attention of
the politicians. The integration of disabled people into political life was
the best way to create equality of opportunity.
47. Individually and collectively, persons with disabilities had the right
to found and belong to representative organizations, as well as to participate
in rehabilitation programmes and regional, national and local plans concerning
all target areas for equal participation, in accordance with Rules 1 to 12.
Persons with disabilities should be included in all strategies aimed at
eradicating poverty, promoting education and enhancing employment.
48. Three principles of interpretation should always be borne in mind when
dealing with disability issues. First, it was incumbent upon anyone
who did not respect the Rules to substantiate that that treatment did not
constitute discrimination against disabled persons. Secondly, no national or
international legal instrument must be interpreted to place persons with
disabilities at a disadvantage or offer them less protection than was offered
to other persons. Thirdly, whenever a particular group of vulnerable,
marginalized or impoverished persons was mentioned in a human rights
instrument, the text should be read to include persons with disabilities as
belonging to the group. Observance of those three principles would contribute
page 13
considerably to the mainstreaming of the human rights of persons with
disabilities in all the human rights activities of the United Nations and most
of its Member States.
49. Mr. DRZEWICKI (Poland) said the Polish delegation had always been in
favour of further examination of the issue of minimum humanitarian standards.
Such standards could help to offset the failures of existing legal instruments
and consequently help to minimize untold human suffering. It welcomed the
report of the Secretary-General (E/CN.4/1998/87 and Add.1), which helped
significantly to clarify the issue of the applicability of minimum standards
and set the framework for future discussions. As to the terminology, it was
better to speak of “standards of humanity” than “humanitarian standards”, and
he also did not object to replacing “minimum” by “fundamental”, although the
term might generate unnecessary discussion on those standards which might not
be considered fundamental. His delegation welcomed the focus in the report
on human rights abuses in situations of internal violence. More information
should be collected in order to gain a fuller picture of such abuses
(E/CN.4/1998/87, para. 37). However, the report underestimated the need to
promote universal ratification of the two international Covenants on human
rights, merely stating that they had been ratified by a “solid majority of
Member States”.
50. Fundamental standards were needed to remedy the failure of the
international community to come to an agreement on the scope of the escape
clauses in international human rights treaties. Poland, which had had its
own experience with martial law in 1982, was wellplaced
to know that the
provisions of international instruments could be bypassed. In a broader
context, the proclamation of states of emergency had become a regular practice
after the Second World War, to the extent that some nations had lived longer
under states of emergency than under a democratic system. Furthermore,
international supervision in that field was particularly weak. The next
report should pay particular attention to that problem.
51. The Polish delegation welcomed the report's establishment of guidelines
for the identification of customary rules. The study on the question
currently being carried out by the ICRC should be duly taken into account
in the course of further discussions by the Commission. Some of the new
developments indicated in the report were encouraging, such as the emergence
of case law from the International Criminal Tribunals established for the
former Yugoslavia and Rwanda, which demonstrated that minimum standards
applied in all situations, particularly in internal conflicts, in which human
dignity was threatened. Poland held high hopes for the Diplomatic Conference
to be held in Rome in June and July 1998 and which would most likely address
the question of violence in situations of internal disturbances and
responsibility for human rights abuses within the framework of the creation
of an international criminal court. The Vienna Declaration and Programme of
Action had called on the international community to support the strengthening
and promotion of democracy, development and respect for human rights and
fundamental freedoms throughout the world. Those fundamental objectives would
not, however, be achieved unless fundamental standards of humanity were
applied to all Governments, all other entities and all situations. In that
page 14
spirit, Poland lent its support to the proposal that the Secretary-General,
in coordination with the ICRC, should be requested to continue his study of
fundamental standards of humanity.
52. Mr. ALFELD (South Africa) welcomed the Secretary-General's analytical
report on fundamental standards of humanity (E/CN.4/1998/87 and Add.1), which
contained a lucid listing of the advantages and disadvantages of such
standards. That listing would ease the task of those responsible for
education in the field of human rights, which was a matter of crucial
importance. His delegation was particularly in favour of the use of the
expression “fundamental standards of humanity”, which would not only avoid
the negative and misleading connotation of the term “minimum humanitarian
standards” but would also serve as a reminder that the purpose of the exercise
was definitely not to place a limitation on existing standards.
53. He recalled that the participants in the International Workshop on
Minimum Humanitarian Standards, held in Cape Town in September 1996, had
encouraged Governments, international and regional organizations, as well
as NGOs and civil society, to promote a debate on the need for the use of
fundamental standards of humanity applicable in all circumstances, as well
as on practical measures aimed at the improvement of the situation of those
affected (E/CN.4/1997/77/Add.1, annex). The situation of those exposed to
extreme suffering because of inadequate protection was too often overlooked.
It was clear that existing international law relating to human rights and
humanitarian norms applicable in armed conflicts did not adequately protect
human beings in situations of internal violence, disturbances, tensions or
public emergencies. It was well documented that the majority of presentday
conflicts fell into exactly that category. The international community should
take action to address those shortcomings.
54. A logical first step would be to ensure that all countries had
appropriate national legislation for dealing with situations of internal
conflict and to attempt to improve the promotion, implementation and
observance of existing standards, inter alia by urging the universal
ratification of international human rights treaties and of the 1949 Geneva
Conventions and their 1977 Additional Protocols, including the acceptance of
the competence of the International FactFinding
Commission established under
article 90 of Additional Protocol I. Such measures relied heavily on the
provision of legal and technical assistance to Governments, especially those
in the developing world, with a view to capacityand
those spheres. He commended the good work done by the Advisory Services Unit
of the Office of the High Commissioner and by the ICRC. On the African
continent, the move towards establishing an African Court of Human Rights and
the strengthening of the conflictprevention
mechanisms of the Organization of
African Unity (OAU) were positive developments in that regard. South Africa
strongly supported the creation of an independent and effective international
criminal court.
55. It was clear that fundamental standards of humanity should not preclude
simultaneous efforts to address the root causes of conflict, such as poverty
and underdevelopment. It would be regrettable for the debate to become bogged
down in consideration of the possible effect of the standards on the
sovereignty of States. The potential beneficiaries of those rules, the
page 15
unprotected victims, deserved a better response from the international
community. South Africa supported Switzerland's proposal that the
analytical report be discussed at a seminar to be
organized by the Commission on Human Rights.
56. Mr. SINGH (India) said that he welcomed the steps taken by the
to reform its working methods. It was important that the
process should continue so that the SubCommission
could fulfil its role as
a “thinktank”.
Rationalization of the SubCommission's
agenda should be
followed up with better time management, as over 60 per cent of the time
during the fortyninth
session had been taken up with interventions by
observers and NGOs. That would be a way of reestablishing
the primacy of
the SubCommission
as a forum of experts. His delegation also encouraged the
to examine how discussions in the Working Groups on minorities,
contemporary forms of slavery and indigenous populations could be better
followed up. India fully supported the proposal of the SubCommission
extend the mandate of the Working Group on Minorities, which had identified
constructive and practical solutions that could bring about meaningful change
on the ground. The SubCommission
should examine practical measures to
promote tolerance and pluralism as a means of strengthening democracy and the
enjoyment of all human rights, as well as combating prejudice, discrimination
and intolerance.
57. Efforts to prioritize, focus and systematize the conduct of studies had
got off to a good start. The concise reports prepared after each session,
analysing the plenary debate on each of the working papers, would enhance the
understanding of Member States of current developments in the field of human
rights. The Indian delegation commended in particular the working paper on
terrorism and human rights and supported the SubCommission's
that a fullfledged
study on the subject should be conducted. The
should strengthen and expand its work in the area of the right
to development and economic, social and cultural rights, preparing a draft
declaration on human rights and extreme poverty which would highlight the link
between development and human rights.
58. The status of contributions to the United Nations Voluntary Fund on
Contemporary Forms of Slavery was a matter of concern to India, which urged
the Office of the High Commissioner to intensify its efforts to remedy the
situation. The SubCommission
should continue to seek “constructive
solutions” for the different human rights problems, by providing a forum for
the exchange of information on “best practices” in different parts of the
world. The SubCommission
could thereby play a dynamic role in advancing
the cause of human rights.
59. Mrs. MARKUS (Observer for the Libyan Arab Jamahiriya) said there
were 500 million disabled men, women and children throughout the world.
Despite the many instruments referring to the rights of the disabled, from
the 1969 Declaration on Social Progress and Development to the Beijing
Declaration and Platform for Action of 1995, that 10 per cent of the world's
population was still living in difficult conditions that prevented them from
exercising their fundamental rights and deprived them of the possibility to
participate in society. Islam and Sharia clearly emphasized the need to
provide assistance to needy persons. That was why Libya had initiated the
page 16
General Assembly's proclamation of 1981 as the International Year of Disabled
Persons, which had been focused on the prevention of disability and the full
participation of disabled persons in society. In its resolution 37/53 on the
implementation of the World Programme of Action concerning Disabled Persons,
the Assembly had urged the organizations of the United Nations system to
recognize the needs of disabled persons. In that connection, Libya believed
it was necessary to create a body that, under the supervision of the Office
of the High Commissioner, would be in charge of monitoring respect for the
fundamental rights of disabled persons. A convention should also be drafted
on the subject.
60. Mr. Hynes (Canada) took the Chair.
61. Mr. ROMARE (Observer for Sweden) said that Sweden had always actively
supported United Nations activities in the field of disability. It had, for
example, initiated the drafting of the Standard Rules on the Equalization of
Opportunities for Persons with Disabilities, adopted by the General Assembly
in 1993, which complemented the World Programme of Action concerning Disabled
Persons, adopted by the General Assembly in 1982. The rules were aimed at
helping disabled persons to take charge of their lives.
62. Two thirds of the disabled persons of the world lived in developing
countries where the services they needed to assist them were scarce or
Their human rights were being violated. Many of them were
among the poorest of the poor, and women with disabilities were triply
handicapped. Their need for gender equality and for empowerment was
particularly urgent. Children with disabilities were also especially
vulnerable. All too many of them did not go to school because they lacked
transport facilities, or simply because teachers did not want them in the
classroom. Special attention should also be given to persons with psychiatric
disabilities, as they were more vulnerable than other disabled persons and
were less able to defend their rights.
63. In view of the importance of the work of NGOs on behalf of the disabled,
in particular the organizations of the disabled themselves, the Swedish
delegation fully supported the recommendations of the Special Rapporteur
to create closer cooperation between NGOs, the United Nations human rights
entities and the Standard Rules monitoring mechanism.
64. Mr. ROSSI (International Association for Religious Freedom), before
referring to the question of minorities, said that, contrary to what had been
asserted, to his great astonishment, by an expert of the SubCommission
at its
last session, any group that professed a faith different from that of the
majority of the population, even if it had the same ethnic, linguistic or
other characteristics, must be considered a religious minority under national
and international law. It was essential to protect such minorities against
religious extremism.
65. In India, for example, Hindu nationalists wanted to turn the country
into a Hindu State, which raised fears among the Muslim minority. In the
State of Jammu and Kashmir, on the other hand, where the population was mostly
Muslim, it was the Hindu minority that was having difficulties. The Hindu
community of the Pandits, which had been settled for centuries in the
page 17
Kashmir valley, had for several years been the target of ethnic and religious
cleansing. On 25 January 1998, terrorists had massacred 23 Pandits, including
nine women and four children, in the village of Vandahama, near Srinagar.
Before leaving the village, the terrorists had set fire to the small Pandit
66. The Association therefore urged the Commission to recommend to the
and its Working Group on Minorities to pay closer attention to
the situation of religious minorities. It also called upon the SubCommission
to urge the Governments of Pakistan and India to spare no effort to find a
political solution to the problem of Kashmir, to reject all forms of violence
and ethnic and religious cleansing and to guarantee respect for the rights of
all minorities, including the Pandit minority, which should be able to return
to the Kashmir valley and live in peace with the Muslim majority.
67. Mr. TEITELBAUM (American Association of Jurists) called the attention
of the Commission to the case of Waldo Albarracín, President of the Permanent
Human Rights Assembly of Bolivia and a member of the American Association of
Jurists, who had been invited by an NGO, Oxfam Quebec, to go to Canada
in 1998. When the aeroplane carrying him from Bolivia to Canada had stopped
in Miami, he had been treated as a criminal by the United States authorities.
After subjecting him to a body search and taking away all his personal
effects, he had been forbidden to continue his journey and had been sent back
to Bolivia, even though all his papers and tickets were in order. That
constituted a flagrant violation of article 12 of the International Covenant
on Civil and Political Rights, on the right to freedom of movement, to which
the United States was a party. He pointed out in that connection that none of
the 17 reservations that had been entered by the United States Government
concerned article 12. That new incident was part of the framework of
repression organized from the United States and aimed for decades at
democratic and popular figures and movements from Latin America.
68. The Association had filed a lawsuit for Mr. Albarracín to obtain
69. Mr. PANDITA (African Commission of Health and Human Rights Promoters)
said that, in its resolution 1996/20, the SubCommission
had reiterated its
unequivocal condemnation of all acts, methods and practices of terrorism
regardless of their motivation, in all its forms and manifestations, wherever
and by whomever committed, as acts of aggression aimed at the annihilation of
human rights, fundamental freedoms and democracy, threatening territorial
integrity and destabilizing legitimately constituted Governments, and
undermining pluralistic civil society. That statement should serve as a basis
for an acceptable definition of terrorism. There appeared to be no need for
the Special Rapporteur on terrorism and human rights to rake up controversies
over the definition by linking the issue to national liberation struggles or
struggles for the right of selfdetermination.
70. It was also important to remain vigilant in the face of new forms of
terrorism. His organization called in particular for more concrete steps to
combat and eliminate transnational terrorism. The Cuban Government had drawn
the attention of the Special Rapporteur to States which allowed known
terrorist groups to remain based on their soil and then operate in
page 18
neighbouring countries with total impunity. Subscribing to that observation,
the League of Arab States had proposed that States should be urged to refrain
from sheltering outlaws, prohibit hostile activity against another State,
cease interfering in the internal affairs of other States and respect their
independence and sovereignty.
71. Recently, transboundary terrorism had caused new victims.
On 25 January 1998, 23 members of the Pandit minority, including 9 women
and 4 children, had been savagely killed in the village of Wandahama in
Jammu and Kashmir. The Pandits were not the only victims. On 4 July 1995,
five European tourists had been taken hostage in Kashmir by terrorists. The
organization Harakatul Ansar, alias Al Faran, had claimed responsibility. One
of the hostages had been found beheaded a month later, and the whereabouts of
the other four were still unknown. In October 1997 the head of that terrorist
organization, Fazlur Rehman Khalil, had publicly stated in Rawalpindi
(Pakistan) that its 10,000 activists were carrying out a jihad in Kashmir
against the infidels. Pakistan seemed to have fallen into the hands of
extremist organizations supporting transboundary terrorism.
72. The United Nations system possessed the necessary legal arsenal to
eliminate the threat of transboundary terrorism; the question was whether
there was the will to use it.
73. Mrs. TANAKA (International Movement against All Forms of Discrimination
and Racism) drew the attention of the Commission to the urgency of
investigating the modern manifestations of trafficking in women and girls,
including the globalization of the international sex trade; increased
organization of the traffickers, who often benefited from the collusion of
government officials, tourist agencies and airline companies; and
diversification in the purposes of trafficking, including forced marriages and
other forms of sexual exploitation.
74. In a study conducted by her organization on the trafficking of Asian
women to Japan, it had become apparent that in most cases those women became
or remained prostitutes because of poverty and unemployment, lack of proper
reintegration services, adverse social attitudes or family pressure. It was
therefore not sufficient merely to oblige States to punish the exploitation of
the prostitution of others; they must also be obliged to address the root
causes of trafficking, penalize the traffickers and reintegrate the victims.
An independent supervisory body should also be empowered to monitor the
implementation of those obligations through the scrutiny of State reports and
information provided by NGOs.
75. To that end her organization would transmit to the Working Group on
Contemporary Forms of Slavery a draft optional protocol to the 1949 Convention
for the Suppression of the Traffic in Persons and of the Exploitation of the
Prostitution of Others, which would include provisions to empower the victims
and survivors of trafficking to exercise a certain number of rights, including
the right to bring civil suit against their traffickers; to facilitate the
work of NGOs; to penalize the culprits of trafficking and their accomplices
more severely; to strengthen the implementation of the 1949 Convention through
page 19
enhanced State reporting procedures, individual complaints procedures and
mandatory national plans of action; and to set up a special factfinding
76. Mrs. SMALLWOOD (NorthSouth
XXI) said that it was not until 1967 that
the Australian indigenous people had obtained citizenship. Because of the
genocide of which they had been the victims, they represented only
1.6 per cent of the Australian population. Between 1910 and 1970, a large
number of indigenous children had been forcibly removed from their families.
Under the 1948 Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of
Genocide, such a policy amounted to genocide. Australia had ratified that
Convention in 1949.
77. The indigenous people of Australia constituted a fourth world in the
midst of a wealthy developed country. The infant mortality rate of indigenous
children was three times greater than that of other babies; indigenous life
expectancy was 25 years lower than that of other Australians; and indigenous
unemployment was five to six times greater than that of other Australians. In
remote rural areas, indigenous communities still lacked basic infrastructure,
such as clean drinking water. Politicians were currently trying to take away
the land rights of indigenous people. Funding for the Indigenous Affairs
Department was being cut, and racial intolerance was being allowed to enter
the political spectrum.
78. In Kakadu National Park, indigenous people were opposing all uranium
mining, because for them the land was sacred. The Government reasoned purely
in terms of economics and did not consider the indigenous people's cultural
ties to the land. Her organization called on the United Nations to take the
concerns of the indigenous people of Australia into account and to intervene.
(Coalition against Trafficking in Women) said
that the prostitution and trafficking of women and girls had reached epidemic
proportions in many Asian countries, and in Taiwan in particular. Thailand
was the major sending country, and Japan was the major destination, where some
150,000 women and girls were working in the Japanese sex industry, roughly
80 per cent of them Thais and Filipinas, and 20 per cent Korean and Taiwanese.
Taiwan was the hub of the traffic, one consequence being that Taiwanese girls
and women were being increasingly targeted by the pimps and traffickers:
between 60,000 and 100,000 women and girls worked in the sex industry, and the
figure was much higher when migrant women workers were added.
80. There were three central means of recruitment. First of all, in recent
decades brokerages and agencies had been introducing “international brides”
into Taiwan and, according to the Taiwan GrassRoots
Women Workers' Centre, by
the end of 1996 there were 130,000 such women. Once in Taiwan, they were
moved into prostitution and other forms of sexual exploitation or transferred
to Japan to work in the sex industry there. Secondly, since the 1950s women
from 10 indigenous tribes of Taiwan had been targeted by the sex industry,
which had strong ties to organized crime. Some 5,000 of them had reportedly
been sent to Japan. Thirdly, Chinese minority women refugees in the northern
border zones of Thailand and Cambodia who could not work in either of those
page 20
countries because of their refugee status, were also targeted. After being
sent to Taiwan with migrant worker status, they were forced to work in the sex
81. One very urgent problem was health. Because of their illegal status,
women could not receive welfare or medication. Given the alarming proportions
reached by AIDS in Thailand, the figures for HIV positives and AIDS in Taiwan
remained underestimated. With the development of the ThailandTaiwanJapan
linkage, the AIDS situation was extremely alarming, given the lack of
systematic investigation or transparency. As Taiwan remained a closed State,
the international community should be aware of the increasing danger of the
epidemic and provide women and girls with access to the international
82. It was obvious that the situation of trafficking in women in Taiwan had
become worrisome. The Commission was therefore urged to take the necessary
measures to provide easy and direct access for Taiwanese NGOs to
United Nations bodies and specialized agencies. The Special Rapporteur on
violence against women should conduct a thorough investigation and report on
trafficking in women and girls, the international bride market and domestic
labour and prostitution in southeast
Asia, including Taiwan.
(World Movement of Mothers) said that in many countries,
the place and role of mothers in society was not recognized. Aid and payments
to mothers, according to the particular circumstances or the country
concerned, made them perpetual welfare recipients. The World Movement of
Mothers believed that mothers were workers in their own right and that the
status of mother, whether she stayed at home or engaged in an occupation
outside the home, should be established. Mothers should be legally and
financially entitled to choose the number and needs of their children, based
on the stability of the family, particularly if the children were disabled or
needed special attention or assistance.
84. She called on the Commission to render justice to mothers and urged all
countries to give them the place they deserved.
The meeting rose at 6 p.m.