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HR/CN/708

PEACE IN REGIONS AFFECTED BY GENOCIDE BRINGS COMPLEX CHALLENGES, HIGH COMMISSIONER FOR REFUGEES TELLS HUMAN RIGHTS PANEL

21 March 1996


Press Release
HR/CN/708


PEACE IN REGIONS AFFECTED BY GENOCIDE BRINGS COMPLEX CHALLENGES, HIGH COMMISSIONER FOR REFUGEES TELLS HUMAN RIGHTS PANEL

19960321 Indian Minister for External Affairs Also Speaks; Commission Begins Debate on Right to Self-Determination

GENEVA, 20 March (UN Information Service) -- Perhaps the most critical human rights test in Bosnia and Herzegovina currently involved the freedom of movement; in Rwanda, it was to protect returning refugees from violence and detentions while applying justice to those was applied to those responsible for mass murder, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), Sadako Ogata, told the Commission on Human Rights this morning.

Mrs. Ogata went on to say that despite formal assurances of the right of freedom of movement in the former Yugoslavia, the recent exodus of ethnic Serbs from Sarajevo and the burning and looting of suburban neighbourhoods left her concerned that political blockages still in place would prove to be at least as powerful as the roadblocks and front lines which, formerly, had separated communities during the war.

In Rwanda, meanwhile, she said there was the complex dilemma of establishing freedom from arbitrary arrest and detention, so that refugees could have the confidence to return voluntarily, but, at the same time, not conferring immunity on those who carried out the genocide. There was good reason to believe that moral and material authors of the mass killings were to be found among the refugees.

Mrs. Ogata asked for the Commission's help in arriving at solutions to those problems and in establishing "cultures" of human rights in areas where genocide had occurred.

The Commission also heard an address by Salman Khurshid, Minster of State for External Affairs of India. The panel continued its consideration of human rights violations in the occupied Arab territories, and took up discussion of its agenda item on the right to self-determination.

Mr. Khurshid said the time had come for a concerted effort to establish an international convention against terrorism that would make inter-State cooperation more effective. He said India was concerned that international human rights efforts were being steadily eroded through politicization along a

North-South divide, the selective targeting of countries, and unbalanced, less-than-thorough approaches.

Statements by non-governmental organizations focused, among other things, on the role of mercenaries in occupied regions, and on human rights violations committed against women and children. A representative of the Women's International League for Peace and Freedom said that the military training and skills of mercenaries enabled them to carry out extremely brutal and bloody actions, and that women and girl-children often were the victims.

Addressing the meeting were representatives of Egypt, Pakistan and Yemen, and of the non-governmental organizations Pax Christi International, Women's International League for Peace and Freedom, World Organization against Torture, and the International Indian Treaty Council.

Statement by Indian Minister of State for External Affairs

SALMAN KHURSHID, Minister of State for External Affairs of India, told the Commission that India was concerned that international human rights efforts were being steadily eroded through politicization along a North-South divide, the selective targeting of countries, and unbalanced, less-than- thorough approaches. Furthermore, the Commission, at times, was being used for purely political ends. That could only be counterproductive. If common goals were to be achieved, it was necessary to re-establish an atmosphere of fairness, cooperation, dialogue and assistance.

India, he said, believed that democracy, tolerance and pluralism were the best guarantees for the full realization of human rights, but it was also imperative that democratization include a strong emphasis on development -- on the economic rights of citizens.

The time had come for a concerted effort to establish an international convention against terrorism that would make inter-State cooperation more effective, Mr. Khurshid continued. For several years, citizens of India had been victims of an extremely virulent form of terrorism, and while the country had exercised enormous restraint in combating that threat in order to avoid violating the human rights of innocent people, there had been occasional individual aberrations in its measures, which the Government did not condone. But it should be made clear that the country would not hesitate to stamp out terrorism and protect its citizens.

He announced that the Government of India had pledged a contribution of $20,000 to the United Nations Voluntary Fund for Technical Cooperation in the field of human rights -- a modest start, but one on which it hoped to build.

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Statement by UNHCR

SADAKO OGATA, United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), said repatriation efforts in the former Yugoslavia and in Rwanda, two regions of the world wrecked in recent years by genocidal conflict, were proceeding, if slowly. It was a fragile process and depended on the goodwill of States, voluntary return, and on establishing conditions of safety, dignity, and especially of respect for human rights. In Rwanda, some 300,000 had been repatriated under the UNHCR's auspices over the last 18 months, but there were 1.7 million refugees still living in camps in neighbouring countries. In the former Yugoslavia, the time at last had come to prepare the ground for the safe return of 2 million internally displaced persons.

Other UNHCR efforts were under way in Tajikistan, Angola, Mozambique, Guatemala, Lao People's Democratic Republic and Cambodia, and, in many cases, focused on establishing a peaceful, lawful, economically viable atmosphere under which refugees could return and recommence normal lives, she said. Still, the bridge between repatriation and human rights was two-way -- home States had to assume a broad array of responsibilities for the well being of such repatriates.

Perhaps, the most critical human rights test for the peace agreement in Bosnia and Herzegovina would relate to freedom of movement, she said. Despite formal assurances of that right, the recent exodus of ethnic Serbs from Sarajevo, and the burning and looting of suburban neighbourhoods there, left her concerned that political blockages still in place would prove to be, at least, as powerful as the roadblocks and front lines which, formerly, had separated communities during the war. In Rwanda, meanwhile, there was a complex dilemma of establishing freedom from arbitrary arrest and detention so that refugees could return, but, at the same time, not conferring immunity on the perpetrators of the genocide -- there was good reason to believe that moral and material authors of the genocide were to be found among the refugees.

The UNHCR did not have ready answers to difficult questions involving repatriation and respect for human rights, but it was doing its best and sought the support of the Commission in arriving at comprehensive solutions, Mrs. Ogata concluded.

Right of Self-determination

The Commission also took up the agenda item on the right of peoples to self-determination and its application to peoples under colonial or alien domination or foreign occupation. With regard to the latter, the Commission has before it the report on the question of the use of mercenaries as a means of violating human rights and impeding the exercise of the right of peoples to

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self-determination (document E/CN.4/1996/27), by Special Rapporteur Enrique Bernales Ballesteros.

In the report, the Special Rapporteur observes that international and national standards to prohibit and sanction mercenary activities were insufficient; and that States lacked the required political will to act against that phenomenon. The report indicates that the persistence of the illicit acts attributed to mercenaries demonstrated that the authors enjoyed impunity.

The Special Rapporteur recommends that the Commission urge member States to take serious measures against all mercenary attempts aimed at eliminating or repressing political opposition. Refusal of passports and visas and the prohibition of transit facilities to mercenaries could be among the measures taken. He also recommends that all foreign mercenaries found in armed conflicts or participating in mercenary activities in Africa should be expelled.

With regard to the attempted coup d'├ętat against the Comoros on 28 September 1995, the Special Rapporteur recommends that the Commission demonstrate its support for the independence and sovereignty of that State and the right of its people to self-determination. Mr. Bernales Ballesteros further recommends that Bob Denard and the other mercenaries involved in the coup attempts be brought before competent courts. As for mercenaries involved in the armed conflict in Sierra Leone, there was information indicating that they were legally recruited, trained and armed by a security agency headquartered in Pretoria. All mercenaries in that country should leave the territory immediately in order to allow the free exercise of the right of self-determination.

Statements

MOUNIR ZAHRAN (Egypt) noted with satisfaction the progress made since the last meeting of the Commission, most notably, in regard to agreements reached in Washington, D.C., and Cairo which, it was hoped, would lead to a lasting peace in the Middle East. Other bilateral and multilateral negotiations to improve economic conditions for all the peoples in the region were welcomed. However, recent acts of terror represented a threat to the peace process; they had been rightly condemned by the international community as a whole. Egypt had participated in each stage of the peace process and hoped that efforts would continue to complete the timetable of activities designed to ensure a just and lasting peace.

SYRUS QAZI (Pakistan) said that the recent incidents in the Middle East should not be a pretext to slow down the peace process, which was giving hope to many people of the region. Palestinians should be given the right to self-determination. Although Pakistan regretted the recent incidents, it was

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of the view that the process had to be enhanced in order to bring an everlasting settlement to that conflict.

FARAG BIN GHANEM (Yemen) said the international community had universally condemned the violation of human rights perpetrated by the Israeli authorities in the region. The resolutions of the Commission and other international bodies to end those violations had failed to find a response from the Israeli authorities. Israel had refused to deal with the Special Rapporteur on the question of the violation of human rights in the occupied Arab territories, making it impossible for him to conduct his humanitarian mission. It was clear from other reports reaching the Commission that thousands of Palestinian citizens were being held in prisons; houses were being destroyed; collective punishments had been extended to a blockade of towns and villages; schooling and trade had been affected; and children and the elderly had died for lack of care. A just and comprehensive peace could only be achieved by a total Israeli withdrawal from the occupied territories and by ensuring the right of the Palestinian people to self-determination.

ALESSANDRA AULA, of Pax Christi International, said bombings against Israeli civilians were aimed at disrupting the peaceful co-existence of both peoples. The closures of the Palestinian territories had resulted in suffering by the Palestinians and had already left victims.

The representative of the non-governmental organization then turned to the situation in Chechnya, where he said the Russian authorities had failed to respect international calls to respect the rights of the population. He urged the Russian authorities to give all international humanitarian organizations access to the Chechnyan territory.

MARY-FRAN BARBER, of the Women's International League for Peace and Freedom, said the Special Rapporteur on the use of mercenaries had made it clear that mercenary activity was carried out in secrecy, illegally in many cases, and with the use of third parties in order to disguise the real origin of the effort. The military training and skills of mercenaries enabled them to carry out the most brutal and bloody actions within a conflict. Women and girl-children were particularly at risk in those situations. The public needed to be educated to contradict the ideology that mercenaries were heroes who fought for causes in which they deeply believed. Her organization urged States, while reducing the size of their armed forces, to recognize their responsibility to provide alternative job opportunities for decommissioned soldiers. It also called upon States to enact legislation making any third party involvement with mercenaries a crime.

FERNANDO MEJIA, of the World Organization against Torture, said the assassination of Israeli Prime Minister Rabin, as well as more recent terrorist attacks, had endangered the hopes of the Palestinian people. His organization urged that those responsible should be brought to justice.

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Moreover, measures to prevent such acts of violence must be strengthened in accordance with the law. The Special Rapporteur on torture had emphasized that legislation relating to the region currently authorized secret detention. In the absence of evidence to substantiate allegations, additional spurious accusations had been brought in order to impede their release. There had been many reports of inhuman and degrading treatment of those detained, and his organization urged the Commission to condemn such practices in the strongest terms.

ANTONIO GONZALEZ, of the International Indian Treaty Council, underlined that it was the denial of their basic human rights that had led to violations and the perpetration of genocide against indigenous peoples. The United Nations did not recognize the right of self-determination of indigenous peoples. But the United Nations did not invent human rights. Long before the coming of colonial Powers, indigenous peoples used to exercise their rights. Their right to self-determination had to be respected. The confiscation of their lands and their cultural heritage had to come to an end.

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For information media. Not an official record.