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Press Release


Commission on Human Rights
59th session
9 April 2003

The Commission on Human Rights opened debate this afternoon under its agenda item on "integration of the human rights of women and a gender perspective", hearing a series of countries describe national efforts to eradicate violence against women and improve the situation of women overall.

Radhika Coomaraswamy, Special Rapporteur on violence against women, its causes and consequences, said actions taken around the world to eradicate such violence included the development national plans of action, law reforms, new legislation, sensitization of criminal justice systems, provision of support services for victims and data collection on what was once an invisible crime.

Kyrung-Wha Kang, Chairperson of the Commission on the Status of Women (CSW), said the CSW systematically worked to enhance its role as a catalyst for the use of the gender mainstreaming strategy. All stakeholders had an ongoing responsibility to clarify and incorporate a gender perspective into their respective areas of work, and to develop and implement practical measures to eliminate the disadvantages and discrimination encountered by women.

Azse Feride Acar, Chairperson of the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women, said that throughout its work, the Committee had requested that the issue of violence against women be assigned high priority and that such violence, including domestic violence, be recognized as a violation of the human rights of women.

The High Commissioner for Human Rights, Sergio Vieira de Mello, spoke briefly, thanking three independent experts of the Commission who were relinquishing their functions in implementation of the mandate-limitation provisions introduced by the Commission

Earlier in the afternoon's extended meeting, which began at 2 p.m., the Commission concluded debate on civil and political rights, hearing from the end of a long list of non-governmental organizations contending, among other things, that the current war in Iraq was a violation of such rights, and that more had to be done to prevent religious discrimination and to end violence based on religion.

Addressing the meeting were Representatives of Pakistan, Bahrain, Paraguay (on behalf of the MERCOSUR countries), Argentina, Greece (on behalf of the European Union), Syrian Arab Republic, Canada, Cuba, China, Mexico, Ireland, Viet Nam, Lithuania (on behalf of the Nordic and Baltic countries), India, Sri Lanka, Algeria, Russian Federation and Chile.

The following NGOs delivered statements: Agir ensemble pour les droits de l'homme; International Association Against Torture; Human Rights Watch; International League for the Rights and Liberation of peoples; Pax Romana; Young Doctors Without Frontiers Tunisia; International Fellowship of Reconciliation; Interfaith International; Union of Arab Jurists; Women's International Democratic Federation; Comité international pour le respect et l'application de la charte africaine des droits de l'homme et des peuples; European Union of Public Relations; Asian Centre for Organization Research and Development; International Federation for the Protection of the Rights of Ethnic, Religious, Linguistic & Other Minorities; and Indigenous World Association.

Angola, Turkey, Egypt, Madagascar, Cameroon and Cyprus spoke in exercise of the right of reply.

The Committee will reconvene at 9 a.m. Thursday, 10 April, for an extended meeting at which it will continue its discussion of the human rights of women.

General Debate on Civil and Political Rights

MARION TOURNE, of Agir ensemble pour les droits de l'homme, drew the attention of the Commission to the human rights situation in Cameroon. Following the action of the "Operational Command" created by the President of the country to fight against banditry in the coastal region, a serious event had taken place. A number of individuals were still documented as missing, while many others were victims of extra-judicial executions. Complaints lodged by the families of the victims had been ignored without any follow-up.

The Special Rapporteur on extra-judicial executions and a number of non-governmental organizations had requested the Government to carry out an investigation of the situation. Today, there was a situation of impunity in the country. Deaths in prisons also continued to take place.

MIGUEL MELIVILU, of International Association Against Torture, said that he was a Chilean doctor and had come to the Commission to denounce human rights violations committed in Chile by the Ministry of Justice's department of legal medical service. The following offenses were committed: false identification of the bones of disappeared detainees, false determination of causes of death, falsification of public documents, illegal exercise of the medical profession, usurpation of power, obstruction of justice and hiding of information. Specialists who denounced these offenses were dismissed.

According to article 13 of the Declaration on the protection of persons from enforced disappearances, the Chilean Government had the obligation to carry out thorough investigations into the fates of victims of enforced disappearances. After 12 years of a democratic regime, the Chilean State had still not complied with this international obligation. The Government had shown no political will to address the question of detainees who had disappeared during the military dictatorship.

LEILA FREIH, of Human Rights Watch, said the Commission had the opportunity to respond for the first time to the disastrous state of human rights in Turkmenistan. For years, Turkmenistan had been one of the most repressive countries in the world. The Government tolerated no opposition and had either imprisoned dissidents or forced them into exile. It also kept the media under tight censorship. The Government allowed no religions other than Sunni Islam and Russian Orthodoxy, and it actively persecuted religious and ethnic minorities.

An assassination attempt on the Turkmen president in November 2002 had set off a new wave of repression. The Commission was called upon to ensure that the Government implemented the recommendations of the Special Rapporteur on torture with particular emphasis on introducing judicial review of detention; holding accountable those responsible for torture; ensuring that evidence obtained by torture was not admissible as evidence; and allowing the Committee against Torture to receive individual complaints concerning violations of the Convention against Torture.

JULEN MENDOZA, of International League for the Rights and Liberation of peoples, said that since 11 September, the international community had been witnessing systematic violations of human rights and the international law, characterized by the war against Iraq, which was illegal under international law.

In the name fighting terrorism, some States had continued to restrict the human rights and fundamental freedoms of persons. The war against Iraq had been justified by its supposed possession of arms of mass destruction, the fight against terrorism, and the defense of human rights. The international community had accepted the fight against terrorism with obligations to respect the fundamental freedoms and human rights. With regard to the war in Iraq, the international community was witnessing a serious violation of international law and human rights recognized by the United Nations.

IONG NIAN KANG, of Pax Romana, in a joint statement with the International Catholic Movement for Intellectual and Cultural Affairs and the International Movement of Catholic Students, said that in its war on drugs, the Royal Thai Government had exerted strong pressure on the police and provincial authorities to produce quick results. In response, police appeared to have used lethal force in arresting drug suspects. So far, the police had admitted to 46 killings. The high number of extra-judicial killings demonstrated that the Government had failed to take effective measures to ensure the right to life.

The Government, being a State party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, must conform to its international treaty obligations by protecting the right to life, the right to a fair trail and the presumption of innocence. Failure to investigate human rights violations signaled a deterioration of the rule of law and creation of a culture of impunity.

MOHAMMED ELYES BEN MERZOUL, of Young Doctors Without Frontiers Tunisia, said the organization associated itself with civil society organizations which strived to eliminate poverty. Cooperation, as well as meaningful dialogue, was needed to provide a peaceful and truly democratic world. The Covenant on Civil and Political rights as well as the Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural rights could only be achieved through the solid promotion of democracy and a culture of peace.

The Organization was concerned by the increase in extremism noted in recent years. The promotion of a peaceful world required the United Nations to adopt new mechanisms – mechanisms that promoted international solidarity. Such mechanisms must avoid politicization, double standards and selectivity. The positive role of non-governmental organizations in creating a peaceful world was stressed.

NOVZIN DOLMA, of International Fellowship of Reconciliation, said the Fellowship had been closely monitoring the systematic infringement of the right to freedom of religion in Tibet. As a result of efforts by the Chinese Government to impose a "patriotic education" campaign upon both religious and lay communities, the situation had reached a critical stage in which many were questioning the future of Tibetan Buddhism in its country of origin.

"Patriotic education" was part of the national "strike hard" campaign launched in China in April 1996. Although the official aim of the campaign was to combat crime and corruption, in Tibet it was directed against "splinter" activity, such as support for Tibetan autonomy and allegiance to the Dalai Lama.

AKRAM CHOWDHURY, of Interfaith International, said the organization was concerned about the civil and political rights situation prevailing in Bangladesh. Following elections in 2001, hundreds of people were reportedly subjected to violent attacks, including rape, beatings and burning of their property. They were allegedly attacked by Bangladesh Nationalist Party supporters because of their perceived support for the Awami League. Initially, the Government reacted by denying such violations had ever taken place. However, an inquiry was subsequently begun. To date, no information had been provided about the findings of the investigation into the atrocities.

Concern was also expressed about a crackdown by the Government in response to growing domestic and international concern about increasing lawlessness in Bangladesh. There were mounting allegations of torture in army custody during the operation. Houses were raided and people were detained incommunicado and denied access to lawyers and family members. At least 40 people had died after arrest between 17 October and 9 January 2002.

ASEEL DAWOOD, of Union of Arab Jurists, said the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights guaranteed the right to self-determination and to a nation's own style of government. This was in theory, since in reality the inalienable right to self-determination was being violated all the time.

The American and British Administrations had chosen to ignore the right to self-determination as well as the right to life of the Iraqi people, despite international opposition to their war of aggression. They were currently bombing the entire country, killing civilians, using depleted uranium and violating just about every human rights principle and norm. As they were bombing and destroying Iraq, reconstruction projects had already been awarded to companies from the aggressor countries. It was hoped that the United Nations could play a role in ending this war of aggression, for the Iraqi people and also in order to regain its prestige and respect.

OZGUL DILEKCI, of Women's International Democratic Federation, said that, Turkey which had shown itself to be an exemplary country in the Middle East, was not the same since the Kurdish Workers Party had ceased its armed struggle. Since the forceful change of Government in 1980 by the military and the Constitutional reform, anti-democratic laws had entered into force. Although some changes had been introduced to allow teaching in the Kurdish language in August 2002, those rights were not able to be used by the concerned groups because of repression.

The Kurdish people had been demanding their rights peacefully and democratically. Although the Justice and Development Party that took power in November 2002 had promised to democratize society, no significant steps had been taken. The leader of the Kurdish Congress for Democracy and Liberty, Abdullah Ocalan, had been in prison and was not able to receive visits from his lawyers or family.

ROBERT BUENZEYI, of Comité international pour le respect et l'application de la charte africaine des droits de l'homme et des peuples, said that in the era of globalization certain regions of Africa, such as the Great Lakes region, had become zones of non-law where grave human rights violations were committed with total impunity against the civilian population, particularly in the east of the Democratic Republic of the Congo. These violations included summary executions, collective rapes, torture, deliberate transmission of HIV/AIDS, living burial of women, sexual violence against displaced persons and refugees, and destruction of property.

These violations had not ended with the signing last week of a final instrument of inter-Congolese dialogue, since new massacres continued to be committed at this very moment in Ituri in the east of the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Concern was also expressed at human rights violations against the civilian population in Liberia, Cote d'Ivoire, Palestine and Iraq.

RUBY MALONI, of European Union of Public Relations, condemned the statement made by the Amir of a well-known and acknowledged terrorist group in Pakistan to the effect that killing Hindus was the best approach to the 56-year-old dispute between India and Pakistan over Kashmir. This single statement, coming at a time when the democratic, liberal international community was united in an effort to eradicate fundamentalist terrorism, had demonstrated starkly the ethos of religious intolerance that had taken hold in Pakistan with overt and sustained encouragement from successive military dominated establishments.

It was this ethos that had resulted in the continuing massacre of Hindus in Indian-held Kashmir and in repeated attacks against Christians, Ahmediyas, Shias and other minorities in Pakistan. It was therefore imperative that faith be treated as an individual concern and that respect for various faiths became the centerpiece of contemporary living. For this the onus lay on nation States to fashion their policies in such a manner that equality for all was not only granted but ensured, and that determined action was taken to rid the world of the spectre of violence borne of religious intolerance.

GEORGE KORETH, of Asian Centre for Organization Research and Development, said new forms of medieval modernism, such as ethnic cleansing, religious pogroms, cross-boarder terrorism and avenging of historical wrongs, were being perpetrated with impunity, rendering the international community and international law almost helpless and impotent. Over the last few years, 3.5 million people had been annihilated in an African country, and during the last decade over 1 million had been ethnically cleansed in a corner of Europe. During both these massive offenses, the Commission and the UN had been spectators, divided and helpless.

The concept of the sovereign nation-state was a medieval anachronism, and needed to be replaced by a more modern concept which would respect the primacy of fundamental human rights; and the Commission and the UN system needed to move from a post-facto role to a seriously needed preventive role, both before and during the early stages of human rights violations.

NIKOS LYGEROS, of International Federation for the Protection of the Rights of Ethnic, Religious, Linguistic & Other Minorities said that as a result of the Turkish invasion and occupation of a large part of Cyprus, 37 Cypriot indigenous populations had been forced to abandon their ancestral homes and continued to be refugees in their own country.

Unfortunately, the UN plan for a Cyprus settlement violated the right of the refugees to return to their properties. It restricted freedom of movement and settlement, provided for racial discrimination in the exercise of political rights, prevented access to international courts and provided for the continuing presence of illegal settlers. The UN plan absolved Turkey of any responsibility for human rights violations and for not paying compensation to people it had deprived of their property.

RONALD BARNES, of Indigenous World Association, said his intervention served as a diplomatic protest of the illegal annexation of Alaska. Many were now aware of the illegal 1867 Treaty of Cession between Tsarist Russia and the United States, and realized that it could not apply to the recognized Alaska Indigenous Peoples. On the matter of Hawaii, in 1993, the United States Congress had passed Public Law 103-150 for the Hawaiian Kanaka Maoli Peoples' illegal overthrow of their Hawaiian Kingdom in 1893.

The United States had expressly admitted to violating international law and to denying the Hawaiian peoples' right to self-determination. The law called for reconciliation – yet no actual process had begun. The Indigenous World Association refused to cede the territorial integrity of their land based on the premise that the land was for the white race.

Rights of Reply

A Representative of Angola, referring to the report of the Special Rapporteur on the right to freedom of expression, said Angola was just emerging from the oldest armed conflict that the African continent had known. During the conflict, the authorities had avoided declaring a state of emergency that might go counter to the promotion and protection of human rights. The democratically approved Constitution had also been operating normally during all those days. The fundamental rights of Angolan citizens had not been affected, despite the situation imposed by the war.

A Representative of Turkey, speaking in right of reply, said the question of missing persons in Cyprus was a human tragedy borne out of over three and a half decades of conflict which had affected both sides of Cyprus. However, the Turkish Cypriot side was the first and by far the bigger victim of the missing persons episode. Furthermore, the vast majority of the Turkish Cypriots missing were civilians, whereas most of the Greek Cypriots listed as missing were military personnel, many of whom had in fact been killed by the Greek Cypriots themselves in internal fighting during the coup d'état. Instead of cooperating with the UN Committee on Missing Persons in Cyprus, the Greek Cypriot side had chosen to exploit the missing persons issues for propaganda purposes.

A Representative of Egypt said non-governmental organizations had referred to the situation in Egypt. He clarified that the Egyptian Constitution gave rights to all citizens without discrimination and that Egypt had respected all international human rights instruments. Egypt had also established a national commission of human rights to deal with human rights problems that might arise. It was also clarified that the emergency efforts referred to by non-governmental organizations were not contradictory to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. Concerning the purposeful suffering allegedly imposed on people, only those who were responsible for crimes were punished and strictly sanctioned. The Egyptian Constitution guaranteed the same rights to all without discrimination, including the Copts, who were a significant part of Egyptian culture and history. All historical and religious institutions were also respected. Concerning the Baha'i people, there was a distinction to draw between defending one's religious rights and engaging in acts that were against the law.

A Representative of Madagascar, referring to the reports of the Special Rapporteur on torture and the Special Rapporteur on the right to freedom of expression, said that the individual Ali Sarety, who had been responsible for the support committee for the presidential candidate of Marc Ravalomanana, had been arbitrary detained by members of the security forces of the outgoing President between 11 April and 17 May 2002. The individual had been treated in the medical centre of Saint Damien for neurological problems due the beatings he had been subjected to during his arrest. He was at present free, according to information the delegation had received.

A Representative of Mauritania ,speaking in right of reply, said Mauritania was a multiracial and multicultural country. This diversity was a source of harmony and social cohesion. However, this did not prevent unscrupulous individuals from claiming the status of refugee in Europe, and many NGOs had been manipulated in this respect. Mauritania was a democratic society with 20 active political parties operating in the country and representing every community.

A Representative of Cameroon said that under items 9 and 11, one non-governmental organization, namely Agir Ensemble pour les droits de l'homme, had focused its statements on the lack of human rights in Cameroon, coming down hard the law enforcement. But it should be stressed that the activities of "Operation Command" had officially been put on the back burner, and the national courts were looking into allegations of human rights violations. The situation in Cameroon, as in most developing countries, was moving towards modernity and the promotion and protection of human rights. However, it was not an easy task and any assistance would be appreciated.

A Representative of Cyprus said Turkey could not deny its responsibilities concerning enforced disappearances under its occupation. The recent ruling of the European Human Rights Court, Cyprus versus Turkey, could attest to the responsibilities of the Turkish authorities concerning missing persons. The fates of the disappeared Cypriots, whether Greek or Turkish, should be clarified.

Integration of the Human Rights of Women and a Gender Perspective

Under this agenda item, the Commission has before it a series of documents.

There is a report of the Secretary-General on integrating the human rights of women throughout the United Nations system (E/CN.4/2003/72). The report examines steps taken by the human rights treaty bodies, the Commission and its human rights mechanisms and the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights. The report notes the continuing progress being made in improving the integration of gender and women's rights issues into the United Nations human rights system. It also reveals that progress is uneven, with some treaty bodies, some Commission resolutions, and some special procedures integrating gender and women's rights issues to a greater extent than other bodies, resolutions and mechanisms. The report suggests that the Commission may wish to propose steps to encourage greater gender balance in the nomination, designation and election of experts and to give greater attention to the proportion of women participating in human rights meetings and benefiting from human rights activities.

There is a report of the Secretary-General on the joint work plan of the Division for the Advancement of Women and the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (E/CN.4/2003/73). The report contains the plan of the Division of the Advancement of Women, the Department of Economic and Social Affairs and the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights for the year 2003, as well as an assessment of the implementation of the plan for 2002. The report was submitted to the Commission on the Status of Women at its forty-seventh session and to the Commission on Human Rights at its fifty-ninth session, in accordance with Commission on Human Rights resolution 2002/50 of 23 April 2002

There is a report of the Secretary-General on traffic in women and girls (E/CN.4/2003/74). The report contains an update on activities of United Nations bodies and other international organizations pertaining to the problem. It acknowledges the complexity of trafficking which encompasses various dimensions: migration, organized crime, prostitution, security, labour and health. This complexity is reflected in the approach to trafficking adopted by different entities. There is a growing acceptance that the human rights of trafficked persons should be at the center of all efforts to prevent and combat trafficking. Prioritizing protection, assistance and provision of redress to victims acknowledges that trafficking and related violations constitute a denial of basic human rights. To support a rights-based approach to anti-trafficking efforts, the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights has developed Recommended Principles and Guidelines on Human Rights and Human Trafficking, which identify core human rights principles and proposed practical steps for their implementation.

There is a report of the Special Rapporteur on violence against women, Radhika Coomaraswamy (E/CN.4/2003/75). The report documents key developments at the international, regional and national levels. The Special Rapporteur welcomes the many efforts at standard-setting and norm creation at the international level and the array of activities and initiatives taken by States aimed at the elimination of violence against women, including the adoption of amendments to relevant laws, and educational, social and other measures, including national information and awareness-raising campaigns. Despite this progress, in general States are failing in their international obligations to effectively prevent, investigate and prosecute violence against women. The report emphasizes that violence is a multi-faceted problem, with no simple or single solution. Violence must be addressed on multiple levels and in multiple sectors of society simultaneously, taking direction from local people on how women's rights may be promoted in a given context. Recommendations include the need to address root causes of violence; equal access to the criminal justice system: and impunity for gender-based violence. There are four addenda to the report. Addendum 1 covers international, regional and national developments in the area of violence against women from 1994-2003. Addendum 2 contains communications to and from Governments on a country-by-country basis, summaries of general and individual allegations, as well as urgent appeals transmitted to Governments, and their replies thereto. Addenda 3 and 4 are notes by the Secretariat which explain that the Special Rapporteur was unable to undertake missions in 2002 as foreseen.

Address of Chairperson of Commission on the Status of Women

KYRUNG-WHA KANG, Chairperson of the Commission on the Status of Women (CSW) said the CSW systematically worked to enhance its role as a catalyst for the use of the gender mainstreaming strategy. All stakeholders had an ongoing responsibility to clarify and incorporate a gender perspective into their respective areas of work, and to develop and implement practical measures to eliminate the disadvantages and discrimination women encountered in those areas. Promotion of gender equality continued to call for the consistent and systematic use of the gender mainstreaming strategy in all areas of human rights by the Commission, in addition to the targeted attention it gave to women's human rights and to violence against women.

The Chairperson said that at its last session, the CSW had held a most interesting panel discussion, the scope of which was quite comprehensive, ranging from domestic violence to trafficking and from regional efforts for the promotion of women's human rights to trends in the implementation of the Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW). Although agreed conclusions on this topic were not adopted, delegations unanimously reaffirmed their commitment to the fight against violence against women and to the implementation of the Platform for Action and the outcome document of the Special Session in 2000.

Address of Chairperson of Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women

AZSE FERIDE ACAR, Chairperson of the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women, said the Committee was responsible for monitoring implementation of the Convention (CEDAW) through the review of States parties' reports and the formulation of general recommendations. With the entry into force of the Optional Protocol to the Convention in December 2000, the Committee's mandate had been expanded to consider communications submitted by or on behalf of individuals or groups of individuals who claimed to be victims of a violation of the rights set forth in the Convention. The Committee had been pleased to observe the steady increase in the number of States which had accepted to be legally bound by the Convention. With the ratification of Afghanistan in 2003, 171 States were now party to the Convention. However, the goal of its universal ratification had not yet been attained.

Over the past year, the Committee had continued to re-examine its working methods. Last April, members of the Committee had developed strategies to encourage States parties to report; established new modalities for a constructive dialogue with States parties; established a format for concluding comments; and discussed the revision of reporting guidelines. Throughout its work, the Committee had requested that the issue of violence against women be assigned high priority and that such violence, including domestic violence, be recognized as a violation of human rights of women under the Convention. The Committee had recommended gender training for all public officials and health workers to sensitize them about all forms of violence against women, as well as awareness-raising campaigns. The Committee had addressed different aspects of violence against women, including violence against women and girls, against victims of trafficking, and violence against older women. It had focused as well on the issue of multiple discrimination faced by minority, indigenous, migrant and refugee women which was often manifested in the most extreme forms of gender-based violence.

Presentation of Report of Special Rapporteur on Violence against Women

RADHIKA COOMARASWAMY, Special Rapporteur on violence against women, its causes and consequences, said that every country in the world had taken some action to eradicate violence against women over the last decade. Countries had developed national plans of action, undertaken law reforms, passed legislation, sensitized their criminal justice systems, provided support services for victims and collected data on what was once an invisible crime. Country-by-country analysis clearly showed that international concern with regard to the issue had acted as a catalyst and had persuaded many countries to take some steps to deal with domestic violence, rape, trafficking and sexual harassment and many other forms of violence against women in the family, in the community or perpetrated or condoned by the State.

There had been major developments over the last decade in the area of violence against women during times of armed conflict, the Special Rapporteur said. Another significant development during the decade had been in the field of trafficking. Despite differences of opinion and antagonistic viewpoints, there was now a protocol on trafficking to the International Convention on Transnational Crime which contained a definition of trafficking that attempted to meet modern manifestations of the problem, with its strong link to female migration and female poverty.

Another important matter was for the world to remain united in its efforts to eradicate violence against women, the Special Rapporteur said. There was a need for States to reaffirm their political will and commitment in respect of their obligations contained in the Declaration on the elimination of violence against women and General Recommendation 19 of the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW). One of the greatest causes of violence against women was linked to control of their sexuality. That was a sensitive issue, but a very important one. Recognizing women's rights to sexual autonomy and sexual health would be a major step forward in eradicating violence against women.

Interactive dialogue on violence against women

A Representative of Greece, speaking on behalf of the European Union, asked about strategies on women's reproductive health. Also, the Special Rapporteur was asked to elaborate on recommendations on women, peace and security and what had been the greatest hurdles in the elaboration of Security Council resolution 1325.

A Representative of Canada asked about violence against women in the community, family and in the State. Impunity for perpetrators of domestic violence seemed to be a real problem, he said, and asked what advice the Special Rapporteur would give to her successor on this silent form of violence.

A Representative of the Russian Federation said the resolution adopted last year by the Commission had not empowered the Special Rapporteur to produce a report. In this connection, what financial resources had been used to prepare the 400-page addendum 1 of the report? Concerning annex 1 of the report concerning the Russian Federation, it was noted that very little information was from official sources. Most came from random critics. Concerning allegations of rapes of Chechnyan women by Russian Federation forces, the Special Rapporteur was asked to supply the names of these victims and the perpetrators of such crimes so an investigation could be undertaken.

A Representative of Switzerland informed the Special Rapporteur of its nation-wide campaign against violence again women within and outside the family.

A Representative of Cuba said the delegation would also like to hear about the legal basis of the report, as had been highlighted by the Russian Federation. With respect to Cuba, the Special Rapporteur had not included the well-documented replies of the Cuban Government. Did she not appreciate the views of Governments?

Responding, the Special Rapporteur said the heavy addendum referred to had been part of a special report because of the ten-year benchmark set. She had received a waiver from the New York office in order to produce it. It was not a fully comprehensive report; it was a work in progress. Governments had been informed about this addendum and all responses that had been received had been included. For countries that had not responded, she had relied on information from the Office of the High Commissioner and CEDAW. As Special Rapporteur, she had requested a visit to Chechnya for the last three years and she hoped that her successor would be able to carry out this visit.

With regard to reproductive rights, it was not particularly an area of her expertise. However, a best-practices document had been published and she urged interested delegations to look through this document. With regard to resolution 1325 of the Security Council, she said that women had for too long been seen as victims in situations of armed conflict. Women could have an important role to play in conflict resolution.

Concerning the issue of impunity, she said that support services as well as legal mechanisms needed to be strengthened. One of the greatest contributions of the women's network was to have developed a legal framework dealing with violence against women perpetrated by private actors.

Statement by the High Commissioner for Human Rights

SERGIO VIEIRA DE MELLO, High Commissioner for Human Rights, noted that three independent experts were relinquishing their functions in implementation of the mandate-limitation provisions introduced by the Commission. These were Param Cumaraswamy, Special Rapporteur on the independence of judges and lawyers; Radkika Coomaraswamy, Special Rapporteur on violence against women; and Louis Joinet, Independent Expert on the human rights situation in Haiti. All three had made outstanding contributions in their respective fields. They had been courageous voices for the victims and had helped the international community to make important headway in the protection of human rights.

The role of the independent expert, whether in thematic working groups or in the position of Special Rapporteur, was an important one in the human rights work of the United Nations. These experts gave of their time freely, were not compensated – save for travel and accommodation while on official missions – and had to deal with difficult and sensitive issues of conscience. Sometimes they took flak from different sources for the courage they showed.

General Debate on Integration of the Human Rights of Women

MANSOOR AHMA KHAN (Pakistan) said the rights of women in Pakistan were firmly anchored in the Constitution which guaranteed their equality and non-discriminatory treatment before the law. Several provisions underlined the principles of equal rights and equal treatment of all citizens without any distinction, including on the basis of sex. In the general elections held in October 2002, 78 seats had been reserved for women in the National Assembly. Seats had also been reserved for women in all the provincial legislatures. In the Government's devolution plan, aimed at development of institutions at the grass roots level,. Women's representation was 33 per cent.

On the issue of violence against women, the Special Rapporteur should be appreciated for the work she had done. Though on many occasions the members of the Pakistani delegation had not entirely agreed with her approach and reports on various issues, they believed that her efforts for eradication of violence against women should be commended. Other areas of great concern in respect of continued violence against women were armed conflict and situations of foreign occupation. In such situations, heinous crimes often were perpetrated by the occupation forces.

ALI A. AL-ARADI (Bahrain) said women had achieved a high degree of development in the country. The status of women had improved substantially. Since a national charter had been adopted, women had started to participate in all levels of society. They occupied high posts, including at the ministerial level. Bahrain was aware of the fact that women could play an important role in civil society. Many commissions and associations had been set up with a view to protecting the rights of women. The Council of Women, for instance, represented all sectors of activity and was charged with developing national strategies for the promotion of the rights of women.

The accession of Bahrain to the International Convention on the Elimination of all forms of Discrimination against Women was another stone added to the edifice protecting women's human rights.

LORENA PATINO CARDOZO (Paraguay), speaking on behalf of MERCOSUR (Argentina, Brazil, Uruguay and Paraguay), Bolivia and Chile, said that in 1998 MERCOSUR Foreign Ministers had decided to hold a special meeting to consider the human rights of women and the legislation in existence to promote and protect those rights. In the year 2000, the States of MERCOSUR had decided to implement the conclusion of its work – the gender mainstreaming of its public institutions and policies. The high level of ratification of international, regional and national human rights instruments by MERCOSUR States on the protection of women was not in itself enough. The challenge before the MERCOSUR States was the efficient implementation of those human rights instruments.

It was true that the social and economic situation of women had improved in the region. For example, 40 per cent of the labour force in Latin America was now women, and their rate of employment had increased faster than that of men. Despite higher levels of education reached by women, the positions available to them were generally of a lower standard and at a lower salary. Regarding the situation of women, they were often subject to dual discrimination on the basis of poverty and gender. In some countries in the region, women faced triple discrimination because of their gender, social status, and race. MERCOSUR was determined to implement, through proactive public policies, instruments protecting the rights of women. The focus of the region would be on labour, health, education and on the provision of legal tools for battling domestic violence.

TASSOS KRIEKOUKIS (Greece), speaking on behalf of the European Union and acceding and associated countries, said great progress had been achieved in the promotion and protection of the human rights of women. All the major UN conferences had concluded that the human rights of women and the girl child were an inalienable, integral and indivisible part of universal human rights and thus had spurred political will to improve the status of women and protect their human rights worldwide. Many steps had already been taken with regard to the elaboration of standards and of a legal framework for the promotion and protection of human rights of women, gender equality, both nationally and internationally, and for the empowerment of women. The Union welcomed all measures taken by States in that direction. However, despite progress, many States were failing to implement their international obligations, continued to violate the human rights of women and girls, and had not established mechanisms for enforcing those rights and for redressing such violations.

Harmful traditional or customary practices, including female genital mutilation and crimes committed in the name of honour, were forms of violence which could prevent the full enjoyment of human rights. In no case could social, cultural or religious factors be invoked as a justification for such violence. It was the obligation of States to eradicate all forms of violence against women and the girl child in the family. That obligation entailed the duty to actively address and repeal any custom, tradition or religious consideration countering human rights of women. In particular, States should eradicate torture-like cultural practices that caused severe pain and suffering to the victim. Trafficking in human beings, especially women and girls, was an extreme form of violence worldwide. It was also one of the fastest growing forms of transnational organized crime, involving high earnings and very low risks for traffickers. Elimination of trafficking required holistic, interdisciplinary and long-term approaches that would address each aspect of the trafficking cycle and explicitly recognize the links between trafficking migration and transnational organized crime. In Europe, trafficking in human beings had become a growing problem and thus it featured among the political priority areas of the Treaty on the European Union.

SOUHEILA ABBAS (Syrian Arab Republic) said the Syrian Constitution guaranteed women's rights and emphasized equity between men and women. Some pieces of legislation even gave women more rights, protecting them, for example, from physically demanding labour. Measures had also been taken to ensure that women enjoyed greater economic freedom. Women were active at all levels of society, including in diplomacy and the judiciary. Thirty per cent of members of Parliament were women. Women had a great impact on the development of society, given that they constituted half of society.

Syria had recently hosted a forum called women and development. The forum, held with the participation of major personalities from the Arab world and promoters of women's rights, was aimed at improving the situation of women. The abolition of discrimination against women was essential if sustainable development was to be achieved. It must be stressed that in several parts of the world women were affected by war and economic blockades. Women in the Golan were denied basic rights such as the right to health. The international community was urged to put pressure to bear on Israel to stop its occupation of Arab lands. Syria also condemned the war waged against Iraq in the name of colonial greed.

CHRISTOPHER WESTDAL (Canada), speaking on behalf of Australia and New Zealand, said integrating the human rights of women into the work of the Commission and throughout the United Nations system was critical. Much work remained to be done to eliminate violence against women. Despite the existence of international norms and standards that condemned all forms of violence against women, and the obligation of all States, duly diligent, to prevent them, such violence was still widespread across the globe. It blighted women's lives with fear and insecurity. It was also a standing obstacle to the achievement of peace, equality and development. The report of the Special Rapporteur had highlighted the importance of recognizing the impacts of violence on women's and girl's sexual and reproductive health, increasing their vulnerability, for example, to HIV/AIDS, and impeding their right to exercise control over reproductive decisions free of discrimination, coercion and violence.

It was also important to work through existing mechanisms. As the Commission worked to renew the mandate of the Special Rapporteur this year, Canada encouraged continued cooperation with other rapporteurs and United Nations treaty bodies. The treaty bodies played a pivotal role in ensuring the promotion and protection of women's human rights. At the same time, the findings of the Special Rapporteur informed and influenced the work of the Commission and of other bodies and mechanisms of the United Nations system. All rapporteurs, representatives, experts and working groups were encouraged to integrate a gender-perspective into their work, including the collection of sex-disaggregated data and gender-specific information, and to develop international indicators on violence against women. Violence against women was the most common abuse of power. It undermined the dignity of individuals, families and communities. Everything one could do to end it would enhance prospects for progress in the broad struggle to promote and protect human rights for all.

CLAUDIA PEREZ ALVAREZ (Cuba) stressed that poverty was a multidimensional problem that increasingly affected women. The situation of women had worsened due to the international tendency to make structural adjustments and impose macroeconomic policies which tended to increase the sacrifices women were subjected to. Out of 1,2 billion people living in poverty, over 70 per cent were women and girls. Half a million women from the developing countries died every year from causes related to pregnancy and childbirth. There were no women more discriminated against than those having no bread, school or medicine for their children. For them, the important and necessary objectives of "empowerment" or "integration of human rights of women" were no longer essential but their survival and that of their children were. It was imperative to have a development approach that viewed women as the architects and protagonists of development.

While millions of women in the world every day saw nothing but hopelessness, social exclusion, inequality and discrimination, Cuban women could take the pride in the progress they had made. While the issue of feminization of poverty in the world was still debated, in Cuba, that term had been used for some time to refer to enrolment in higher education, where the number of females was increasingly higher. Women accounted for more than 80 per cent of people in administrative jobs; and more than 50 per cent of scientific researchers were women. They also accounted for 36 per cent of members of the National Assembly of People's Power.

LI XIAOMEI (China) said the majority of women in the world lived in developing countries. The biggest obstacle to their enjoyment of human rights was poverty. Because of poverty, many girls could not have access to even the most basic education, and had thus become disadvantaged from the early stages of life. Without economic independence, equality in the political and social spheres and in the family was devoid of meaning for many women.

Women and children were often the most direct and most innocent victims of war and armed conflicts. In the present international situation, emphasizing the protection of women's rights and interests during war and armed conflicts had great practical significance. Countries should also improve relevant legislation and should intensify law enforcement measures to strike hard at all kinds of violent acts against women as well as at various crimes against women's rights, including trafficking in women and girls.

DULCE MARIA VALLE ALVAREZ (Mexico) said that at the Beijing World Conference on Women an alliance had been formed and a commitment to women's human rights had been undertaken. Five years later, during the Special Session, the international community had adopted a series of measures aimed at stepping up efforts and achieving concrete results and the end of discrimination against women. The international community and the Commission must not depart from the path that had been set. It was necessary to step up efforts both nationally and internationally. The Government of Mexico had been working to implement the twelve areas of concern identified in the Beijing Declaration. Its National Institute for Women had been carrying out work aimed at changing policies and addressing inequalities between men and women. The Mexican delegation fully endorsed the notion that violence against women was inextricably linked to the historical inequality between men and women.

The Government of Mexico was particularly concerned about the situation of women in Ciudad Juarez. The Government was attempting to address this situation with the input of the Special Rapporteur. At the regional level, Mexico had been encouraging follow-up to the Inter-American Convention on the prevention of violence against women. It also was important to address trafficking in women and girls.

MARY WHELAN (Ireland) said the persistence of contemporary forms of slavery presented a challenge to all Governments. Trafficking in human beings was a negative feature of globalization. It thrived in conditions of economic deprivation, armed conflict, lack of education and absence of law and order. There was a distinct gender dimension to the question of trafficking which was often linked to sexual exploitation. As the Durban Declaration and Programme Action acknowledged, trafficking could also contribute to racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance.

Ireland had signed the UN Convention on Transnational Organized Crime and its two accompanying protocols on prevention, suppression and punishment of trafficking in persons, especially women and children, and the smuggling of migrants. Ireland had also signed the Optional Protocol on the Rights of the Child on the sale of children, child prostitution and child pornography. Ireland had provided financial assistance to the UN Voluntary Trust Fund on Contemporary Forms of Slavery in order to assist NGOs to participate in the Working Group on contemporary forms of slavery and to provide assistance to individual victims of such practices.

TRUONG TRIEU DUONG (Viet Nam) said gender inequality and discrimination continued to exist. In fact, due to their physical nature and inherent function, women needed special attention and care. Therefore, more effort should be exerted with a view to further promoting the implementing programmes of action for the equality and advancement of women. There was a need to erase deeply rooted thinking in many parts of the world that men deserved all respect while no respect should be spared for women.

For Viet Nam, ensuring the equal rights of women had always been a matter of principle and a goal of priority. This was guaranteed by the law and had been put into practice through specific policies and measures. Equal rights for women were clearly stipulated in the Constitution and further specified in many codes of law as well as in various decrees and circulars. Moreover, Viet Nam had joined many significant international conventions on human rights, including the Convention on the elimination of all forms of discrimination against women.

ALGIMANTAS RIMKUNAS (Lithuania), speaking on behalf of the Nordic and Baltic States, said trafficking in human beings, which was an abhorrent practice, had become a major source of concern in the world. The phenomenon of trafficking was a complex one, encompassing issues such as organized crime, gender inequality, poverty, sexual violence and exploitation, and slavery-like conditions. Above all, trafficking in women and children threatened their human rights. Having agreed upon a common definition of trafficking in the Palermo Protocol, the international community was further streamlining its efforts to combat all forms of trafficking, as demonstrated by the recently adopted OSCE Declaration on Trafficking in Human Beings. In the Baltic and Nordic countries, a mapping of the scope and nature of trafficking in women had been set up as a first, albeit essential, step for establishing a common understanding on the issue in the Baltic Sea Region.

In the spirit of the Palermo Protocol, a joint Nordic-Baltic information campaign had been launched on trafficking in women. This campaign marked the beginning of systematically organized long-term cooperation in the fight against trafficking, the overall objective of which was to raise awareness in all countries about the problem of trafficking in women. Trafficking was a complex trend requiring creative and firm responses. Abandoning conventional ways of straitjacketing the phenomenon into the simplistic framework and exposing trafficking in its full complexity, so as to wipe it out in all its forms, had been the roadmap that the Baltic and Nordic countries had charted for themselves. By sharing their experiences with other States, they hoped to spur united efforts to combat trafficking in human beings.

RAMANATHAN KUMAR (India) said the last half-century had seen a great improvement in the absolute status of women and in gender equality worldwide. Despite those advances, gender discrimination remained pervasive in many dimensions of life. Gender disparities in rights constrained the sets of choices available to women in many aspects of life, often limiting their ability to participate in or benefit from development. Gender equality was therefore a core development issue, a development objective in its own right. Promoting gender equality was an important part of development strategy to enable all people, men and women alike, to advance. The principle of gender equality, propagated by many Indian social and political thinkers, especially Mahatma Gandhi, during India's freedom struggle, and demanded by its young determined women's movement, had been subsumed in the Indian Constitution, thus assuring the dignity of all citizens. The actual realization of the concepts of equality, justice and dignity, thus enshrined by the founding fathers of the Indian Republic, had been achieved through a process of continuous evolution.

The Government of India had been striving to secure gender justice by substantially increasing coverage of programmes for affirmative action, reviewing laws to remove gender bias, campaigning for equal rights to women in property, credit facilities, and promoting income generating opportunities, among other things. The Indian Government had also mobilized self-help groups and cooperative societies and had set up programmes for awareness generation and gender sensitization.

HIMALEE ARUNATILAKA (Sri Lanka) said that apart from Constitutional provisions on non-discrimination, the Women's Charter, adopted by the Sri Lankan Parliament in 1993, incorporated laws ensuring equality for women, based on the Convention on the elimination of all forms of discrimination against women, to which Sri Lank was a party. This Charter contained a policy for the realization of gender equality in conformity with the Constitution and international norms and obligations. A national committee on women had been established to implement and monitor the provisions of this Charter.

In 1997, a separate ministry dedicated to women's affairs had been established. This ministry worked closely with relevant NGOs in the implementation of a national plan of action, particularly at rural and grassroots levels. The armed conflict in the North and East of Sri Lanka had had grave social and economic impacts on women in Sri Lanka, making them more vulnerable. The Government had put in place several mechanisms against perpetrators of violence against women during armed conflict. Furthermore, the Government had agreed to the establishment of a Sub-Committee on Gender Issues to secure the active participation of women in the peace process.

MOUNIA TIRECHE (Algeria) said it was important to acknowledge that the global situation for women left a lot to be desired. In several regions and countries of the world, women still lacked access to their most basic needs, such as health, food, education and access to information. In situations of conflict, women were even more vulnerable. They were often exposed to tremendous suffering. This was the situation in Iraq, where everyone could see that women and children had not been spared from suffering. With regard to such situations, States must make all means available to guarantee women a better life; end all attempts to exploit them for economic purposes; and guarantee their basic needs. To this end, the United Nations, its agencies, funds and programmes, were more needed than ever. The practice of using sex-disaggregated data in Working Groups on human rights must be mainstreamed.

It was clear that mechanisms to fight violence against women, inequality and women's exploitation for economic purposes could never be replaced by preventive mechanisms. Algerian women were aware of the need for women to participate in strategies and policies affecting their lives. Women were becoming more and more prominent in this capacity, a trend that had started with the independence of Algeria. One example of this was the level of women enrolled in school, which in some regions far surpassed the level of boys enrolled in school.

MARINA KORUNOVA (Russian Federation) said Russia supported the idea of the High Commissioner for Human Rights of stressing gender equality. The issue of gender was used by some States to pursue their own established objectives. National Governments should have a constructive dialogue with the Special Rapporteur on violence against women in order to seek solutions to the problems they encountered in that field. The confrontational attitude of some countries to the Special Rapporteur was inadmissible.

The issue of trafficking in women could be resolved through mutual cooperation between countries of destination and countries of origin. States should take appropriate measures to combat trafficking in human beings, particularly in women and girls at the national level. They should enact legislation that could effectively prevent trafficking and punish those involved in such activities. The Russian Federation had recently taken a series of measures aimed at combating trafficking in women.

JUAN EDUARDO EGUIGUREN (Chile) said Chile was committed to making women's rights a reality. With this objective in mind, it had submitted a draft resolution to the Commission on mainstreaming women's human rights in the United Nations system. It was hoped that the resolution would be sponsored by a large number of States and adopted by consensus.

At the national level, Chile put a special emphasis on the implementation of the Convention on the elimination of all forms of discrimination against women (CEDAW), which it ratified in 1989, and of the Inter-American Convention to prevent, punish and eradicate violence against women. Chile's National Office of Women had been given mandate to assess public policies and programmes aimed at ensuring the implementation of CEDAW.

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©Copyright 2003, United Nations (NY, USA)

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