23 July 1997

Press Release


19970723 Begins Debate on Human Rights Draft Resolutions and Decisions

(Reissued as received.)

GENEVA, 22 July (UN Information Service) -- The Economic and Social Council this morning proclaimed international years for volunteers, mountains, thanksgiving and culture for peace, but postponed acting on resolutions and decisions recommended by the Commission on Human Rights following prolonged debate on specific texts.

The discussion in the Council mirrored views heard during the Commission's March and April meeting, when a number of countries warned against confrontation and politicization of the procedures of the main United Nations human rights organ. A representative of Egypt said the Commission should strive to stay away from confrontation and appearances that it targeted developing countries for political purposes. But a representative of Iceland upheld the examination of specific country situations in the Commission, saying that, in line with the Vienna Declaration agreed at the 1993 World Conference on Human Rights, an expression of concern about human rights violations in a country did not constitute interference in that country's internal affairs.

The exchange of views came as delegates took up the report of the Commission, which contains a number of draft decisions and resolutions to be acted on by the Council. Referring to a resolution on abolition of the death penalty, the representative of Singapore said the text was not the subject of international consensus, and that it was therefore inappropriate to make a universal decision on it. Rather, each country should study the question carefully, he added.

Another focus of discussion this morning was the report to the last session of the Commission of the Special Rapporteur on contemporary forms of racism, which contained passages judged offensive to the Koran. A number of delegations called for the offending references to be removed. (A corrected version of that report was issued today).

This morning's debate was preceded by action on a number of draft resolutions and decisions, which included recommendations on the proclamation of 2001 as the international year of volunteers; on the proclamation of an international year of mountains; on the proclamation of the year 2000 as the international year of thanksgiving; and on a Europe-Africa tunnel through the Strait of Gibraltar. The Council also adopted a resolution on follow-up of the International Conference on Population and Development and on the United Nations University.

The Council was addressed by Cyprus, Indonesia, Colombia, Singapore, Turkey, Egypt, United States, Syria, Italy, Iceland, Poland, Lebanon, China, Republic of Korea, India, Saudi Arabia, Palestine, Sudan, Iraq, El Salvador, Israel, Jordan, Canada and Iran.

In addition, Ralph Zacklin, Officer-in-Charge of the High Commissioner/Centre for Human Rights, took the floor to introduce the report of the Commission.

The Council will resume its meeting at 3 p.m. today to vote on the resolutions and decisions submitted by the Commission.

Resolutions on International Years

Through a resolution on the International Year of Volunteers, 2001, (E/1997/L.24/Rev.1), the Council invited governments, the United Nations system and intergovernmental, volunteer and non-governmental organizations and community-based organizations to collaborate and identify ways and means to enhance the recognition, facilitation, networking and promotion of volunteer service in the preparations for and observance of the Year. It also designated the United Nations Volunteer programme, without prejudice to existing priorities, as the focal point for preparations, implementation and follow-up of the Year. The Council requested that the Secretary-General take specific measures, within existing resources, as well as through support from voluntary sources, to give widespread publicity to the preparations for and observance of the Year.

The Council passed a resolution on proclamation of an international year of mountains (E/1997/L.31) which invited governments, in cooperation with relevant international and regional organizations, to undertake awareness-raising activities on the problems and challenges faced by mountainous countries and communities. The Council encouraged governments and intergovernmental organizations to coordinate regional and international cooperation and facilitate the exchange of information and experience among the specialized agencies and relevant international and regional organizations, research institutions and non-governmental organizations on the issues related to mountain regions. The Council requested the Secretary-General, in consultation with governments and relevant international, regional and non-governmental organizations, to submit to it at the substantive year of 1998 a report on the desirability of proclaiming

- 3 - Press Release ECOSOC/5734 23 July 1997

an international year of mountains and on other ways and means of ensuring the sustainable development of mountain countries.

Through a resolution on the year 2000: international year of thanksgiving (E/1997/L.35), the Council invited all Member States and interested intergovernmental and non-governmental organizations to do whatever they could in their respective areas of expertise to contribute to the preparation and publicizing of the year and recommended that the General Assembly, at its fifty-second session, proclaimed the year 2000 as the international year of thanksgiving.

In another resolution (E/1997/L.37), the Council recommended that the General Assembly proclaim, during its fifty-second session, the year 2000 as international year for the culture of peace. The Council recommended that the programme of the activities and the scope of the year should focus on respect for cultural diversity and promotion of tolerance, solidarity, cooperation, dialogue and reconciliation, and should be based on activities at the national and international level. The Council recommended that the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization should be designated as the focal point for the year and should bear the responsibility for coordinating programmes and activities with other bodies within the United Nations system and other organizations.

Follow-up to International Conferences

In a resolution on follow-up to the International Conference on Population and Development (E/1997/42), the Council took note of decision 97/41 adopted by the Executive Board of the United Nations Development Programme/United Nations Population Fund and recommended to the General Assembly that it decide on the process and modalities, including consideration of convening a special session of the Assembly in 1999, to review and appraise the implementation of the Programme of Action of the International Conference, and further recommended that the report of the Secretary-General on the subject contain consolidated recommendations from the Department for Economic and Social Affairs of the Secretariat, the United Nations Population Fund, the regional commissions, and other relevant United Nations entities on activities to be undertaken in preparation for the review.

United Nations University

The Council adopted a draft decision on United Nations University (E/1997/L.38) which recommended that the General Assembly adopt a decision whereby, beginning in 1998, the report of the United Nations University would be considered directly by the Second Committee of the General Assembly in accordance with its programme of work.

- 4 - Press Release ECOSOC/5734 23 July 1997

Regional Cooperation

In a resolution on a Europe-Africa permanent link through the Strait of Gibraltar (E/1997/L.33), the Council welcomed cooperation to date; welcomed the seminars held on suitability of tunnel boring machines for the project and methodology for estimating the cost of tunnels; repeated its invitation to organizations of the United Nations system and non-governmental organizations to participate in studies and work on the project; and repeated its invitation to the European Commission to consider participating in the consolidation of the studies and the development of the project both institutionally and financially.


RALPH ZACKLIN, Officer-in-Charge of the High Commissioner/Centre for Human Rights, said major changes had taken place in the leadership of the human rights programme with the resignation of the first High Commissioner, Jose Ayala-Lasso, and the appointment of Mary Robinson, the President of Ireland, to replace him. The Secretary-General had also announced that the Office of the High Commissioner and the Centre for Human Rights were going to be consolidated in a single unit to be known as the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights. The highest priority would be given to strengthening and coordinating the substantive and technical support to the legislation bodies, the monitoring committees and the special procedures, special repertoires, special representatives and working groups.

Mr. ZACKLIN said that during its fifty-third session, held from 10 March to 18 April, the Commission on Human Rights had laid much emphasis on the need to build consensus in the human rights area. The Commission had adopted 63 out of 78 resolutions, and 22 decisions, without a vote. The Commission adopted for the first time a comprehensive resolution on the abolition of the death penalty; reaffirmed the importance of the right of development for every human person and all peoples in all countries; decided to appoint a Special Rapporteur on the human rights situation in Nigeria, and extended the mandates of the Special Rapporteurs/Special Representatives on the situation of human rights in a number of countries.

Mr. ZACKLIN recalled that the Commission had asked the Special Rapporteurs on the situation of human rights in Zaire and on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions, as a well as a member of the Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances, to carry out a join mission to investigate allegations of massacres in the east of that country, now the Democratic Republic of the Congo. The mission had been prevented from beginning its work, although the Secretary-General was in the process of establishing a new investigative mission under his authority to be deployed shortly.

- 5 - Press Release ECOSOC/5734 23 July 1997

As the international community approached the fiftieth anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the General Assembly and the Commission on Human Rights had already appealed to all governments, the United Nations system, international and regional organizations and non-governmental organizations to launch preparations for 1998, Mr. ZACKLIN said. All efforts for the anniversary year would effectively strengthen the promotion and protection of all human rights worldwide.

LORIA MARKIDES (Cyprus) said Cyprus expressed once again its regret and surprise over a letter from the Turkish representative circulated under agenda item 7 (d) with annexes from an illegal secessionist entity set up in the occupied territory of Cyprus. United Nations resolutions called upon States not to recognize, nor facilitate in any way, nor assist this secessionist entity. Relevant resolutions from a number of United Nations bodies were continuously disregarded by the occupying power, which invaded Cyprus 23 years ago and still occupied 37 per cent of its territory. Numerous violations of human rights had occurred since, and continued to occur. It was to be hoped that the perpetrators of these violations would at last act in conformity with their obligations.

AGUS TARMIDZI (Indonesia), speaking on behalf of the Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC), said the group was gravely concerned about the escalation in violence in Hebron and the Gaza Strip in the past few weeks. It had become all too familiar to see blatant violations of humans rights and international law still being perpetrated by Israeli occupation authorities. Israel's Government also continued to renege on its agreements and treaties, forcing the peace process to fall behind. Blasphemous acts -- such as the poster defaming the Prophet Mohamed and the Koran and attacks against the Koran in a girls school in Hebron -- were heinous and had prompted widespread protests from OIC member countries and Muslims all over the world. The OIC had reason to believe those were not isolated incidents, and was concerned about increased religious intolerance against Islam in Israel and the occupied Arab territories. The OIC countries conveyed their strongest condemnation of these blasphemous acts and urged the Special Rapporteurs racism and religious intolerance to visit Israel and condemn racial and religious intolerance and hatred against Islam.

GUSTAVO CASTRO GUERRERO (Colombia) said the country rejected unilateral sanctions and unilateral policies toward's Colombia's difficulties, but that it welcomed multi-lateral, United Nations programmes and actions. The country favoured the opening an office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights in Colombia, which should be given independence and not interfered with from Geneva. The country also understood it was necessary to address the problem of poverty, and requested greater international cooperation in that field. Colombia urged all to maintain cooperation with Colombia in an objective way to preserve the dignity and rights of all human beings; non-governmental organizations (NGOs) should understand that their credibility depended on acting in a fair and

- 6 - Press Release ECOSOC/5734 23 July 1997

impartial fashion. The point overall was for cooperation rather than accusation and confrontation. Recently the President of Colombia had announced the creation of a National Peace Council.

SEE CHAH MUN (Singapore), speaking on behalf of 30 delegations, said they wished to express their reservations regarding the resolution on the question of the death penalty (1997/12), contained in the report of the Commission. There was no international consensus on the abolishment of capital punishment, (document E/1997/23) therefore it was inappropriate to make a universal decision on that. Rather, each country should study the question carefully. For those reasons, the 30 delegations were disassociating themselves from the resolution.

AHMET ARDA (Turkey) said the document circulated by Turkey and questioned earlier had been prepared and circulated in accordance with United Nations requests and contained responses to most of the allegations made in the previous statement.

MOUNIR ZAHRAN (Egypt), on behalf of the African Group, said the Commission•s agenda was very crowded, but that all items should still be considered within given time limits and resources. The Commission was urged to carry out its work without seeking additional meetings and should consider shortening its period of upcoming sessions to four weeks; should strive to stay away from confrontation and appearances that it targeted developing countries for political purposes; should avoid political differences, selectivity and double standards, all of which weakened it and undermined its objectivity; and should refrain from using human rights to meddle in the internal affairs of countries. At the Commission•s last session Egypt had abstained from voting on resolutions on Iran, Iraq, Cuba and Nigeria because it believed that double standards were being used. Another very sensitive issue was the report by the Special Rapporteur on racial discrimination and xenophobia which had insulted Islam and contained incorrect information. All those offensive references in the report and in the discussions of the Commission had to be removed. (A corrected version of that report was issued today in document E/CN.4/1997/71/Corr.1.)

SETH WINNICK (United States) said the observer of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) had so far failed to correct remarks made before the Commission on Human Rights, and subsequently convincingly refuted, that the Government of Israel had deliberately infected some 300 Palestinian children with the HIV virus. Therefore the United States wished to put on record its abhorrence at, and rejection of, such malicious, patently false and uncorrected statements; this was particularly true when one noted that the observer from the PLO placed his allegation in the context of "genocide", abasing the meaning of the word. The United States strongly believed that the honourable course of action would be for the observer to retract the remarks and apologize.

- 7 - Press Release ECOSOC/5734 23 July 1997

HYSSAMI TAHER (Syria) said Arabs were Semites and had never been anti-Jewish; they considered Judaism to be a holy religion. However, Arabs stood against Zionism as a racist and settler movement and as an occupying force. In accusing Islam of being anti-Semitic, the Special Rapporteur on xenophobia and religious intolerance had exceeded his mandate and provoked Arabs and Muslims. Syria stressed the importance of resolution 125 of the Commission which asked the Special Rapporteur to remove his incorrect statements.

MARIO ALESSI (Italy) said the statements made on the Commission resolution on capital punishment called for clarification of several points. The country remained attached to the humanitarian principle on which the resolution was based, and remained convinced that the Commission was eminently qualified to address the matter, the purpose being to stimulate subsequent development based on free commitments of States. The dissociation that certain countries wanted to record in this forum did not alter those facts or the fact that the measure was passed by an overwhelming majority of the Commission.

STEFAN L. STEFANSSON Iceland) said the country welcomed the appointment of the new High Commissioner for Human Rights, Mary Robinson, as well as efforts to restructure the Centre for Human Rights. It also welcomed the plan of the Secretary-General to reform the organization, which included making human rights a cross-cutting issue in all of the Organization•s activities. The Vienna Declaration of 1993 and Programme of Action recognized that human rights were a matter of priority for the international community; yet, despite the commitments undertaken by States, it remained a matter of deep concern that the gravest violations of human rights and fundamental freedoms continued to occur on a daily basis in virtually every region of the globe. Iceland wished to emphasize once again, in line with the Vienna Declaration, that an expression of concern about human rights violations in a country did not constitute interference in that country•s internal affairs.

ROMAN KUZNIAR (Poland) said reform of the machinery for protection of human rights required review and reform as extensive as that carried out on the relevant secretariat; it was necessary now to put great effort into solving the many remaining human-rights problems faced by the world. Among steps to be undertaken were greater ratification of international human-rights instruments and better implementation of their standards; reform of the Commission itself, which was overburdened with empty speeches and a cluttered and confusing agenda -- such reform coming from the outside, from the Council or the General Assembly; external reform of the Subcommission on Prevention of Discrimination and Protection of Minorities; and reform of the 1503 procedure. Effort also should be made to install human-rights as a significant part of the responsibility and agenda of the Security Council.

- 8 - Press Release ECOSOC/5734 23 July 1997

AMINE EL KHAZEN (Lebanon) said Lebanon objected to the reference in the last report of the Special Rapporteur on racial discrimination and xenophobia accusing Muslims of being anti-Semitic. Lebanon hoped the Special Rapporteur would be more objective in his future reports.

LIU XINXHENG (China) said the last session of the Commission had yielded some positive results on issues of concern to developing countries, especially by focusing on development, economic, social, and cultural rights, and racism; at the same time, China felt that the work of the Commission remained seriously flawed, and had hindered its promotion of human rights. A few countries remained stubbornly bent on promoting their own ideologies and political aims, attacking other countries and creating an atmosphere of confrontation -- this was a source of dissatisfaction for many developing countries. Meaningful reforms of the Commission and human-rights system were needed so that it focused on dialogue and cooperation and abandoned its habits of imposing double standards; more emphasis should be placed on development, and politicization must be halted -- the system of country-specific resolutions, for example, should be given serious reconsideration.

CHO TAE YUL (Republic of Korea) said Korea supported the reinforcement of the Centre for Human Rights and streamlining of the Commission's work. As for the work of treaty bodies, the reporting process was a burden for both governments and those bodies; further streamlining was needed for the reporting process.

HEMANT KIRSHNAN SINGH (India) said greater efforts should be made for equitable geographical representation among the staff at the Centre for Human Rights, including at the higher levels. Reform of the Commission had occurred to some extent, especially as it sent an important signal towards a policy of cooperation and dialogue; reforms should continue so that practical improvements were made in the human-rights situations of persons around the world. The Subcommission had in the past made major contributions in various fields of human rights; the Commission, as its supervisory body, must continue to provide guidance and supervision so that the Subcommission continued to play its role as a "think tank" and did not duplicate or overlap with Commission work.

MUHAMMAD A. TAYEB (Saudi Arabia) the promotion and protection of human rights was an international objective, and Islam attached great importance to human rights. In order to achieve this objective, the Commission had to steer away from ideological differences, political confrontation, selectivity and double standards in treating issues of human rights. This Commission should not be used as a place to forge historical facts. The report of the Special Rapporteur on Racial Discrimination and Xenophobia (E/CN.4/1997/71) contained incorrect information and had to be refuted. Saudi Arabia requested that the incorrect reference to anti-Semitism on the part of Muslims and Arabs be eliminated.

- 9 - Press Release ECOSOC/5734 23 July 1997

NABIL RAMLAWI (Palestine) said the delegation was surprised at the earlier statement and letter presented by the United States relating to events at the last session of the Commission; the same fictitious allegations had been repeated about a statement he had made at the Commission, and called the statement an affront to the United Nations. He wished to assure all of respect for Economic And Social Council and Palestinian respect for the United Nations as a whole. Under Israeli occupation for tens of years, Palestinians did need the United Nations. These fictitious allegations against Palestine served as a source of disregard and disrespect for the Council; for tens of years the most serious human-rights violations had been committed by Israelis against Palestinians; he had spoken of such crimes to the Commission; he had referred to different sources, including the newspapers, as was his right. The letter circulated by the United States hid half the truth; those who hid half the truth were liars.

ABUEL GASIM ABDELWAHID (Sudan) expressed full support for the addresses of Indonesia, Egypt, Syria, Lebanon and Saudi Arabia on the report of the Special Rapporteur on Xenophobia and religious intolerance in which he accused Arabs of anti-Semitism. The report made negative references to Islam and Sudan supported the request for the deletion of the paragraph fully. This paragraph was not conducive to tolerance. Sudan also supported the statements of Egypt and China calling the Commission for Human Rights to be objective and impartial and move away from selectivity.

FAKHRI RASHAN (Iraq) said the delegation supported the statement of Indonesia on behalf of the Group of the Islamic Conference; the report of the Special Rapporteur dealing with alleged racism and anti-semitism of Arabs was not in keeping with reality; Arabs and Muslims, as pointed out, were Semites, and had never been against Judaism as a religion; and anti-semitism did not stem from the Arab or Muslim world. The delegation requested the deletion of the relevant paragraph from the report in question.

* *** *

For information media. Not an official record.