Bahá'í Library Online
.. . .
Back to Newspaper articles archive: 2003

Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms

Monday, 7 April 2003, 12:56 pm
Speech: US State Department

Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms

Ambassador Jeane Kirkpatrick, Head of the U.S. Delegation Remarks to the 59th of the UN Commission on Human Rights Geneva, Switzerland April 1, 2003

This Commission's most essential task is exposing and helping to ameliorate egregious abuses committed by governments against their own citizens. Year in and year out, the United States monitors the human rights situation around the world and reports the findings in our annual Country Reports on Human Rights Practices.

Recently some changes for the better which have occurred, give hope and demonstrate the efficacy of efforts to improve respect for human rights around the world. In Bahrain, for instance, the first constitution was adopted; in May, free and fair Municipal Council elections were held; and in October, men and women went to the polls for the first time in nearly 30 years to elect a national parliament. Morocco held free and fair elections in September, and in Qatar, a new constitution has been adopted and municipal elections will be held in April. We applaud their commitment to democracy.

Democratic political institutions and practices continued to develop in East Timor, with the ratification of a constitution, the election of a president, and efforts to increase respect for the rule of law and human rights protections. We also wish to draw attention to the notable strides taken in Taiwan, particularly the consolidation and improvement of civil liberties in a manner consistent with reforms to make its electoral system free and open.

Sri Lanka made progress in implementing a cease-fire agreement between the government and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil-Eelam. The overall level of violence and abuses has declined sharply. Nevertheless, the situation in Sri Lanka bears continued monitoring as there have been unconfirmed reports that the LTTE continued to commit extra-judicial killings and to conscript children.

In Afghanistan, I am pleased to note, systemic human rights violations have gone the way of the Taliban, and the number of individual cases of abuse has declined considerably. Serious problems remain in some outlying areas where the authority of President Karzai and his government has yet to reach, but the new government is firmly committed to democracy, the rule of law and the protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms. The U.S. and many other nations are working closely with the Karzai government to help Afghanistan complete its transition to democratic and pluralist political and social structures.

When we survey the globe, we see that the worst situations are also, in almost every case, the most long-standing ones. These are the ones that present a direct challenge to the effectiveness of this body, and to its member governments. As political scientist B.J. Rummel has demonstrated, over the past century far more men, women and children have been killed by their own governments than in war. Other scholars have corroborated these findings, and have also observed that governments who do not respect the rights of their own citizens are those least likely to respect the rights of their neighbors. This Commission should ponder and confront as a first priority this phenomenon of "Death By Government."

Saddam Hussein's control over Iraq has been officially exercised since 1979 - almost one quarter of a century. His effective control over Iraq has lasted longer. Saddam Hussein's absolute personal power has been characterized from the beginning by extreme brutality. His one man, one party police state is a model of arbitrary government. Allow me to elaborate.

There is no question who is in control and therefore who is responsible for the conduct of the Iraqi regime. Saddam Hussein is President, Prime Minister, Chairman of the Revolutionary Command Council of the Arab Ba'th Socialist Party, which under Iraq's provisional 1968 Constitution governs Iraq, and Secretary General of the Regional Command of the Ba'th party. The most recent justification of the regime's "right" to continue to govern was a "referendum" in which Saddam received 100% of the votes. Of course this alleged "referendum" included neither secret ballots, nor opposing candidates, nor free speech, nor assembly. Most voters were reported to fear reprisal if they did not vote for the sole option on the ballot.

Civil and political rights exist under Iraq's Constitution "in compliance with the revolutionary, national, and progressive trend." The Special Rapporteur on this Commission observed in October 1999 that citizens lived "in a climate of fear," and noted, "The mere suggestion that someone is not a supporter of the President carries the prospect of the death penalty." The government, the Ba'th Party, or persons personally loyal to Saddam Hussein control all print and broadcast media in Iraq. The 1968 Press Act prohibits the writing of articles on 12 specific subjects including those detrimental to the President, the Revolutionary Command Council and the Ba'th Party. Foreign broadcasts are routinely jammed. Books may be published only with the authorization of the Ministry of Culture and Information.

The Government of Iraq has for decades conducted a brutal campaign of murder, summary execution, and protracted arbitrary arrest against the religious leaders and followers of the majority Shi'a Muslim population. Shi'a organizations, as well as those of other religious minorities, are not recognized by the government. Those Shi'a who continue to endeavor to exercise their religious beliefs face ongoing repression and harassment by the secret police, Saddam's Fedayeen death squads and other security forces. The government consistently politicizes and interferes with religious pilgrimages, both of Iraqi Muslims who wish to make the Haj to Mecca and non-Iraqi Muslims who travel to holy cites within the country.

The Kurdish community of northern Iraq has fared no better. Kurdish areas have been the object of forced movement and population transfers. A huge number of secret police and other elements of Iraq's security apparatus are present in northern Iraq to monitor and repress Kurdish life. The infamous Halabja incident of 1988 marked the first time in history that a government utilized chemical weapons against its own citizens. The brutality of the suppression of the Kurdish uprising following Iraq's defeat in 1991 was televised throughout the world and led the Security Council to adopt Resolution 688 which, for the first time, declared massive violations of human rights to be a threat to international peace and security.

Article 3 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights states that everyone has the right to life, liberty and security of person. Although this is the shortest, clearest and most direct article of the Universal Declaration, it is the one which is most often violated by the Iraqi regime. Arbitrary arrest, extrajudicial killings, disappearance, denial of due process and vile forms of torture are all instruments present in Saddam's toolbox of repression.

There is no discrimination against women in Iraq, but they are subjected to the same harsh laws and brutal treatment as men, adapted to take account of physiological differences. Under the pretext of fighting prostitution, units of Saddam's Fedayeen death squads, led by Uday Hussein, publicly beheaded more than two hundred women throughout the country, dumping the severed heads at the doorsteps of the victims' families. The Iraqi Government uses rape and sexual assault of women to extract information and forced confessions from their family members, to intimidate members of the opposition by sending them videotapes of the rapes of their female relatives, and to blackmail Iraqi men into future cooperation with the regime. Safiyah Hassan, the mother of two Iraqi defectors was killed after she protested their murder after they returned to Iraq.

Saddam Hussein reinforces his system of fear, intimidation, and repression, with an iron grip on the political process within Iraq. Candidates for the National Assembly must be over 25 years old and "believe in God, the principles of the July 17-30 revolution and socialism." In the National Assembly "elections" of March 2000, out of 250 seats the Ba'th party won a large majority, and Saddam simply appointed 30 members to represent the Kurdish north. "Independents" won 55 seats, but according to the UN Special Rapporteur, that was because the Ba'th Party had some of its members run as independents. Uday Hussein received 99.9 % of the vote for his election.

Virtually all-important national offices are held by members of the Hussein family or by allies of his family from his hometown of Tikrit. Opposition parties are illegal; membership in some is punishable by death. The government does not recognize any of the political groups or parties formed by Shi'a, Kurds, Assyrians, Turkmen or others. To engage in political dissent runs the risk of death, torture, imprisonment or simple disappearance for one's self or family members.

The appalling human rights situation in Iraq, which I have only barely described, is not the cause of the current military operations by the U.S.- led coalition inside Iraq. But the effect of the outcome will most certainly be to improve that situation and to restore to the long-suffering Iraqi people their personal freedoms and dignity.

I would like to quote from a statement by the trustees, including myself, of Freedom House:

"The post-war effort to bring democracy to Iraq will not be easy. There are many at home and abroad who are skeptical of even making an attempt to establish democratic governance in an ethnically and religiously complex country ruled for decades by a brutal tyranny. Such concerns cannot be lightly dismissed. But, we are confident of one thing: that the Iraqi people - like the peoples of post-war Europe, Africa, Asia, Latin America and Central and Eastern Europe - desire peace, seek the protections of human rights rooted in the rule of law, and want democracy.

"Democracy is not a Western concept, it is a universally desired goal. It has been defined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the Warsaw Declaration of the Community of Democracies and the OSCE Copenhagen Document among others. [We] urge a commitment to free elections, multiple political parties, freedom of association, independent trade unions, women's equality and rights, an independent judiciary, separation of religion from the state, an independent press, and religious tolerance in Iraq and throughout the region."

President Bush has said to the Iraqi people, "As our coalition takes away their power, we will deliver the food and medicine you need. We will tear down the apparatus of terror and we will help you build a new Iraq that is prosperous and free. In a free Iraq there will be no more wars of aggression against neighbors, no more poison factories, no more torture chambers and rape rooms. The tyrant will be gone .Unlike Saddam Hussein we believe the Iraqi people are deserving and capable of human liberty."

It is harder and harder for countries to escape the harsh light of international scrutiny of human rights practices. Developments in Central Asia and South Asia, and other regions - along with the Middle East examples already cited - are much more closely monitored and tied to the international human rights agenda. This is why it is vitally important that this Commission and its independent members play their role to monitor and scrutinize the situation in whatever countries require such observation. Such activities by our membership and the mechanisms utilized by the Commission can encourage and support indigenous forces of reform within affected countries.

Governments can violate rights and punish people for exercising freedoms, but they cannot extinguish the free will and the liberty of spirit inherent in all human beings, despite the most brutal attempts at intimidation and repression. We commend the examples of brave people committed to freedom and acting to advance it in oppressive regimes that so many live under.

In Cuba, a one-party state where human rights and fundamental freedoms are routinely violated, the Varela Project, organized by Oswaldo Paya, has proven a powerful tool for the Cuban people to express their yearning for an elected and representative government. For a period, Marta Beatriz's Assemblea provided another venue for Cubans to express their desire for change. The arrest last week of some 75 Castro opponents including independent journalists, librarians and Marta Beatriz herself, is both a glaring challenge to the Commission, and an indication of the increasing repression by Castro and his regime.

This brazen attempt to intimidate the growing number of Cuban citizens who dare assert their desire for more freedom, shows the regime's continuing determination not to loosen its grasp on power. Fidel Castro cannot afford to let the contagion of freedom spread. We renew our call to the Cuban authorities to respect the Cuban people's desire for change -- for change that will end arbitrary imprisonment, permit a decent standard of living, and free Cubans from the grasp of the repressive state that permeates every aspect of their lives.

Repression in Burma is marked by a range of human rights abuses covering every conceivable category: extra-judicial killings, torture, arbitrary arrest, disappearances, rapes, forced labor, and conscription of child soldiers. In this brutal atmosphere, even after years of on-and-off political arrest, harassment and constant surveillance, Aung San Suu Kyi is still wholly committed to bringing democracy and a humanitarian rule of law to the Burmese people. The regime in Burma needs to respect the will of the Burmese people expressed through free and fair elections and return the government to their lawfully elected officials.

The Government of the People's Republic of China continues to commit numerous and serious human rights abuses. Despite a promising start in 2002 suggesting China's willingness to pursue meaningful progress in human rights, recent events have raised the question of a serious deterioration in the human rights situation in China. Of special concern are the detentions of more than a dozen democracy activists, the execution of Tibetan Lobsang Dhondup without due process, the lack of religious freedom, and the continued detentions of Rebiya Kadeer, Jiang Weiping, Phuntsog Nyidrol, and others held for their political or religious beliefs. We urge the Chinese authorities to take steps to demonstrate their commitment to cooperating on human rights. In addition, we urge China to act to protect the human rights and the culture of the long-suffering people of Tibet.

Turning to Africa, in Togo, Marc Palanga, a leader of a local opposition movement, has been repeatedly arrested and tortured. In Côte d'Ivoire, civil unrest has given rise to violations on the part of both the government and rebel forces. In the Democratic Republic of the Congo, major abuses continue, but Rwanda withdrew its troops by October, and Uganda currently has only around 2,000 troops left in the country.

We are particularly pleased that Kenyans exercised their right to elect a new government in a process that was free and fair. In Sierra Leone, the civil war was officially declared over in January, the Revolutionary United Front was disarmed, and presidential elections were held that were relatively free of violence. War also ended in Angola with a consequent decline in the number of human rights violations, but with a worrisome increase of abuses in Cabinda Province.

Turkmenistan's already poor human rights record worsened dramatically following an attack on President Niyazov's motorcade in November. The accused have been convicted in summary trials, there are credible reports of the torture of suspects, and many family members of the accused have been subjected to government harassment.

In Kyrgyzstan regional by-elections for seats in the Legislative Assembly held in Osh in October 2002 were marred by serious irregularities. Since Spring 2002, the few remaining independent newspapers have been unable to publish without interference, and the leading independent newspaper "Moya Stolitsa" was besieged with lawsuits in December 2002 which threaten its existence. Nevertheless human rights and political activists continue a lively debate in Kyrgyzstan, and the Commission and its members should support their activities. We commend the government for registering the U.S.-funded Media Support Center Foundation, which will provide a non-government printing facility and training for journalists.

In Kazakhstan, harassment of journalists continued, the Government selectively prosecuted opposition figures, and a new registration law had the effect of reducing the number of political parties participating in the political process.

The United States believes it important that the Commission address the serious human rights abuses that have occurred in Chechnya. We recognize Russia's right to defend its territorial integrity and itself against terrorism. The broader conflict in Chechnya cannot be resolved militarily and requires a political solution. Human rights violations by Russian forces in Chechnya need to be curtailed, and abusers held accountable.

We believe that most Chechens desire peace and an enduring political settlement to the current conflict. The aim of any political process must be to convince the Chechen people that it is a sincere and legitimate effort to end the violence, end human rights abuses, reconstruct the region and address legitimate grievances. The holding of last week's referendum has begun the search for a broad political process. We are encouraged by the proposals on the elements of a political settlement made by President Putin and other senior Russian officials. We urge these officials and others to make every effort to create a positive environment in which a political process can continue.

We note with great sadness that young children were pulled into many conflicts, including those in Burma, Nepal and Sri Lanka. In Colombia as well, both paramilitaries and guerrillas have unlawfully recruited children, and there is evidence that guerrillas forcibly pressed children into their forces. In Cote d'Ivoire, the unlawful recruitment of child soldiers in the armed civil conflict, particularly by rebel groups, remains an issue of concern,. In Burundi, the government stated that it would not recruit child soldiers in its war against rebel forces, however, there are unconfirmed reports that children under the age of 15 continue to serve in armed forces performing tasks such as carrying weapons and supplies.

In Iran, the government's already poor human rights record has substantially deteriorated. Citizens continue to lack the right to change their government, and the government actively represses organized forms of political opposition. There are numerous reports of extrajudicial killings, torture, stoning, flogging, harsh prison conditions, as well as arbitrary arrest and detention. The judiciary remains subject to government and religious influence. Despite the initiation of some judicial proceedings against government officials, many officials continue to engage in corruption and other unlawful activities with impunity.

The Iranian Government infringes on citizens' rights, restricting freedom of speech, press and assembly. Women and religious and ethnic minorities face violence and discrimination.

The status of Bahais, and other religious minorities, has deteriorated. Property has been confiscated, harassment at schools continues, and short-term detentions have increased. At least four Bahais were among those imprisoned last year for reasons related to their faith. The government fueled anti-Bahai (and anti-Jewish) sentiment for political purposes; Bahais, Jews, Christians, Mandeans, and Sufi Muslims reported imprisonment, harassment, or intimidation based on their religious beliefs. Discrimination continues in areas of employment, education, and housing.

North Korea deserves special consideration under this agenda item. It is hard to imagine the possibility of a country whose citizens endure a worse or more pervasive abuse of every human right. This aspect coupled with the dire famine conditions afflicting North Korea, makes it truly a Hell on earth.

North Koreans have been subjected to totalitarian oppression for nearly sixty years. In a society with the most rigid controls on earth, it is difficult to obtain information, but over the years, defectors and the few international observers who have gained access have consistently spoken of the nightmarish conditions in this country. Generations of children have been completely indoctrinated to swear their allegiance to a regime which has not had to answer to popular sentiment for so long that it has lost grasp of reality. Indeed, political indoctrination takes up more than half of the total educational curriculum. Even with this kind of thought control the regime must utilize the most thoroughly brutal repression to maintain control as its inability to meet even the most basic requirements of life for its citizens threatens to undermine its grasp on power. This Commission must confront North Korea on its abominable human rights record and demand accountability by its leaders.

In Belarus, the Lukashenko regime's human rights record worsened in several areas. The regime continues to take severe measures to neutralize political opponents. Security forces beat and/or harass political opponents, trade unionists, and detainees. Agents closely monitor human rights organizations and hinder their efforts. The regime did not undertake serious efforts to account for the disappearances of well-known opposition political figures in previous years and discounts credible reports regarding the regime's role in those disappearances.

The Government of Belarus further restricted freedom of speech, the press, peaceful assembly, association, worker's rights, and religion. It intensified its assault on the independent media, with journalists jailed on libel charges and several newspapers closed down. It prevented the state union federation from becoming independent. It enacted a new law that severely restricts freedom of religion.

Belarus enjoys the dubious distinction of being the only country in Europe that has not abandoned the disastrous legacy of the totalitarian system that held sway for so long in many parts of Central and Eastern Europe. It is an affront to all the nations who have broken with their unfortunate past, and committed to the path of democracy and representative government. This affront must be recognized by this Commission, and the Lukashenko Government must be called to account at this Session. We must support the brave Belarussian people who continue to struggle against this monstrous regime.

Zimbabwe, represents another situation where a brave and persistent opposition requires our outspoken support. The Government of Zimbabwe has conducted a concerted campaign of violence, repression, and intimidation aimed at its opponents. This campaign has been marked by blatant disregard for human rights, the rule of law, and the welfare of Zimbabwe's citizens.

Torture by various methods is used against political opponents and human rights advocates. War veterans, youth brigades, and police officers act in support of the Mugabe government with sustained brutality.

In the March 2002 presidential election, violence against the opposition escalated. Irregularities in the election were widespread. The process was declared "fundamentally flawed and illegitimate" by international observers as well as the Southern African Development Community (SADC) Parliamentary Forum. Local elections held over the past weekend suffered from the same problems.

The Mugabe regime has also targeted other institutions of government, including the judiciary and police. Judges have been harassed into submission or resignation. The news media have been restricted and suppressed, with offending journalists arrested and beaten. Nearly 7.2 million people face food shortages and the possibility of starvation.

In Sudan, twenty years of civil war and unending strife have reduced the population in both the northern and southern regions of the country to a desperate state. The United States welcomes the progress being achieved in the Machakos peace talks. We judge that resolution of the conflict, when it occurs, will have an enormously positive impact on the human rights situation in this long troubled land. Irrespective of that, however, the current status of respect for human rights in Sudan merits the continued scrutiny of this Commission. The newly renewed state of emergency permits citizens to be arbitrarily detained and mistreated for airing political views. Traditional slavery by means of the abduction of women and children by government sponsored militias continues unabated and the religious freedom promised in law is not respected in practice. We judge that the Special Rapporteur for Sudan plays an important role - and one that must be continued - in encouraging greater respect for human rights in Sudan.

This Commission should make its work relevant, and face the most essential task confronting it. The victims of these abuses cry out for meaningful action.


Released on April 4, 2003

©Copyright 2003, (New Zealand)

Following is the URL to the original story. The site may have removed or archived this story. URL:

. .