Bahai News - Press Release HR/CN/796
10 April 1997

Press Release


(Reproduced as received.)

GENEVA, 9 April (UN Information Service) -- The Commission on Human Rights heard this afternoon and evening from a long series of non-governmental organizations (NGOs) charging various Governments with offenses.

Over 100 NGOs had signed up to speak under the Commission's review of the question of human rights abuses anywhere in the world -- annually one of its most contentious agenda items -- and by the time the meeting concluded at midnight, dozens had spoken and had accused numerous countries of violations of fundamental rights and freedoms.

Mentioned repeatedly by NGOs and national delegations were human-rights problems caused by long-running conflicts or stalemates in the Great Lakes region of Africa, in Jammu and Kashmir, and in Sudan, Cyprus, and East Timor. Also cited in several statements were Turkey, China, Iran, Iraq, Colombia, Myanmar, the United States and Nigeria. Speakers repeatedly suggested that the Commission appoint a Special Rapporteur to investigate the situation in Nigeria.

Addressing the extended session were delegates or observers of the following countries: Cyprus, Chile, Sri Lanka, Japan, Iraq, Norway, Equatorial Guinea, Solomon Islands, Bulgaria, Greece, Portugal, United States, Algeria and Argentina.

Representatives of the following non-governmental organizations delivered statements: Reporters without Borders; World Peace Council; Arab Lawyers Union; Centre Europe - Tiers Monde; International Commission of Jurists; Asian Cultural Forum on Development; Society for Threatened Peoples; International Educational Development; Pax Romana, International Association for Religious Freedom; Article XIX; International Centre for Human Rights and Democratic Development; International Association for the Defense of Religious Liberty; Baha'i International Community; International Confederation of Free-Trade Unions; North-South XXI; Latin American Federation of Associations

of Relatives of Disappeared Detainees; Women's International Democratic Federation; International Association against Torture; Christian Solidarity International; Christian Democrat International; Transnational Radical Party; International Federation Terre des Hommes; Robert F. Kennedy Memorial; Catholic Institute for International Relations; General Arab Women Federation; Permanent Assembly for Human Rights; Movimiento Cubano por la Paz y la Soberania de los Pueblos; Andean Commission of Jurists; Franciscans International; World Christian Life Community; Centro de Estudios Europeos; International Federation of Human Rights; World Society of Victimology; International Indian Treaty Council; International Pen; Indian Council of Education; International League for the Rights and Liberation of Peoples; International League for Human Rights; Anglican Consultative Council; Freedom House; World Federation of Democratic Youth; International Human Rights Association of American Minorities; Commission of the Churches on World Affairs; International Association of Educators for World Peace; American Association of Jurists; International Human Rights Law Group; International Federation of Action of Christians for the Abolition of Torture; Regional Council on Human Rights of Asia; International Federation of Journalists; Survival for Tribal Peoples; African Commission of Health and Human Rights Promoters; International Federation of Rural Adult Catholic Movements; Afro-Asian People's Solidarity Organization; World Alliance of Reformed Churches; Women's International League for Peace and Freedom; National Council of German Women's Organizations; Federation of Associations for Defense and Promotion of Human Rights; War Resisters' International; World Muslim Congress; Arab Organization for Human Rights; and International Peace Bureau.

And officials of China, Sudan, Mexico and Iraq spoke in exercise of the right of reply.

Statements in Debate

LIESL GRAZ, of Reporters Without Borders, said it would point the finger at a number of countries that flouted press freedom with absolute impunity. In Algeria, journalists continued to be targets of violence from both the Government and the Islamic opposition. Press freedom did not exist in Cuba, while Ethiopia had jailed the most journalists in Africa -- between 1992 and 1995 nearly 150 media professionals had found themselves in trouble with the law there. Because of time constraints, she could not elaborate on the situation in China and Turkey.

GENET SHIMOJI, of World Peace Council, said Pakistan's democracy had a somewhat different flavour than other democracies -- it had itself set up a supra-Constitutional body of non-elected individuals to oversee the elected Government, and many of the faces of this Council for National Security and Defense were inheritors of the country's military legacy. Pakistan's Constitutional and legal systems also allowed those in power to rule by decree

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and declare others to be non-citizens or second-class citizens. A democratic State based on theocratic tenets seemed an anachronism, but it existed in Pakistan, and allowed the rights of minorities to be trampled upon, temples destroyed, Hindu women forced to change their religion, Christians killed ostensively for blasphemy. Another site of concern was Okinawa, in Japan, where the presence of American military bases had been detrimental to Okinawans' enjoyment of fundamental human rights; It was crucial that efforts be made to reduce the excessive burden imposed upon the Okinawan people by these bases; unemployment on the island remained a difficult problem, especially for the younger generation; and the U.S. military bases also were a hindrance to sound and healthy development of the Okinawan economy.

FAROUK ABU EISSA, of the Arab Lawyers Union, said Israel's continued forcible settlement and blockade of the West Bank and Gaza was to blame for the deterioration of the situation in the Middle East. The stand taken by the United States in vetoing two resolutions against Israel in the Security Council was dismaying. The Arab Lawyers Union made a distinction between State violence as practised by Israel and legitimate armed struggle to stop aggression and achieve national independence. The Commission should condemn Israel's expansionist policies and its continuous violation of human rights of Arabs in the occupied territories. It should also affirm the rights of Palestinians to resort to armed struggle to liberate their land and obtain independence. The Arab Lawyers Union also differentiated between armed struggle for liberation and terrorism emanating from radical fundamentalism. The latter was a serious threat and a real challenge to human rights, as shown by the situations in Algeria and Upper Egypt. The situation of human rights in Sudan had also gone from bad to worse.

CYNTHIA NEURY, of Centre Europe - Tiers Monde, said the Rwandan genocide had been coldly planned; the killing had been foreseeable. The tasks Rwanda now faced were enormous and aid was needed. Rwanda had a huge debt burden: despite the structural adjustment programme of the International Monetary Fund, the country's external debt now stood at close to $1 billion, around 90 per cent of gross national product. Servicing this debt absorbed $55 million per year, or 46 per cent of the country's export revenues. The Rwandan people was paying the debts of its former executioners as the majority of these loans were contracted between 1990 and 1994, before the beginning of the war. The principle of the continuity of the State meant that the Government in power was obliged to honour the debts of previous Governments. However, there was a need to separate those parts of the external debt which had been legitimately contracted and that which the lending institutions should no longer reclaim.

NATHALIE PROUVEZ, of International Commission of Jurists, said that Turkey had increased violations such as disappearances, extra-judicial killings, and torture in the past year, especially in the southeast of the country; abuses by the police and army were neither investigated nor punished;

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other violations included forcible displacements which affected some 3 million people. In Peru, the taking of hostages by the Tupac Amaru Revolutionary Movement at the Japanese Ambassador's residence in Lima must be condemned; other human-rights problems lay in the hands of the Government, such as the so-called system of "faceless judges", which had been strongly criticized by the relevant Special Rapporteur; even innocent persons set free by the Government had not received adequate compensation. In Nigeria, the military Government continued to violate rights, and the transition to democracy was being conducted amidst a wave of harassment, intimidation, and arbitrary arrests; a country-specific rapporteur should be assigned by the Commission to undertake a thorough study of the situation in Nigeria and propose measures to stop widespread ongoing violations.

XIAO QIANG, of the Asian Cultural Forum for Development, said Chinese people wanted, deserved and demanded human rights. But their voices were not heard because they had been totally suppressed by the Chinese authorities. China's human rights violations were well-documented and widely known. The Chinese Government said there were more than 2,000 "counter-revolutionaries" in prison. This figure grossly under-represented the true number of people imprisoned for the peaceful expression of their political ideas or religious beliefs. Human rights were a necessity for China and without them its future stability was in jeopardy. The transition currently taking place in China would be more difficult and violent unless fundamental political and civil liberties were available to the Chinese people. A China which respected human rights would have a stable and prosperous future and would become a responsible and valuable member of the world community. The Commission needed to continue directing its attention to the persistent, systematic, institutional violations of human rights in China.

LOBSANG NYANDAK, of the World Society for Threatened Peoples, said that, contrary to Chinese claims, it was a well-known fact that Wei Jingsheng, Maksum Abbas, Ngawang Choephel and Gedhun Choekyi Nyima were currently detained in prisons in China, Tibet and Eastern Turkestan. There were other facts demonstrating that the Chinese authorities had been involved in gross and systematic violations of human rights and fundamental freedoms in Tibet for the past four decades. Tibet had become a Chinese colony where the economic, social and cultural rights of the Tibetan people were violated on a daily basis, and in which the 6 million Tibetans had become a minority in their own land. What was taking place in Tibet encompassed the horror of the holocaust, the racial intolerance of apartheid and the inhumanity of racial cleansing. It was a racial, cultural and religious genocide which demanded the attention of the international community before it was too late.

ROSE PILEGGI, of International Educational Development, speaking on behalf of a number of NGOs, said grave concern was felt over continued armed conflict and human-rights violations in Sri Lanka, and the new military

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offensive in the Tamil homeland; the civilian Tamil population continued to be a target of military operations, disappearances, rape, torture, arbitrary arrest, and detention; there was still an embargo of food and medicine imposed on the northeast of the island; there were more than 825,000 displaced Tamil civilians. The Commission must adopt a resolution calling upon the Sri Lankan Government to cease all military operations against Tamil civilians, to withdraw occupying forces from the Tamil homeland, and lift the blockade on humanitarian aid, and calling on both parties to the conflict to secure a political solution that recognized the right of the Tamils to determine their political future. Great concern also was felt over brutal human-rights abuses in Iran, especially against women; and over the effects of war damage, depleted uranium, and the economic embargo against Iraq. The sanctions applied to Iraq, as they affected humanitarian aid to civilians, violated the Geneva Conventions and should be considered null and void.

SALVADOR MANEU, of Pax Romana, said that in Guatemala, even after the signing of peace accords there in December, the mandate of the independent expert should be extended for another year; to curtail it, as suggested by the Government, would be premature, and would prevent the Commission from having an exhaustive study on the situation of human rights there, and prevent it from exerting firm support for the peace process. Arbitrary detections, and torture carried out by the Army in Peru against the population in general and indigenous peoples in particular were a great concern; the Commission should consider appointing an independent expert for the country. In Colombia, widespread human-rights abuses committed by Government forces and paramilitary groups were growing worse every day, and there was an atmosphere of widening violence and impunity; the Commission should follow the situation there closely. In Equatorial Guinea, conditions had not improved and there were grave and systematic human-rights abuses; the mandate of the Special Rapporteur should for the country should be extended.

MAURICE VERFAILLIE, of the International Association for the Defence of Religious Liberty, said the exercise of fundamental rights -- and in particular the individual or collective rights related to freedom of religion, of belief and worship -- was generally sound in those countries where democracy functioned properly. The Commission and Subcommission on human rights had contributed to this development. However, there were a number of countries where these rights were violated, either because a religious belief did not correspond to the dominant ideology, or because existing laws inadequately protected such rights. Fed by extremism and fanaticism, religious activity had sometimes resulted in incomprehensible dramas. The actions undertaken against sects occasionally resembled crusades. Fear had lead to the adoption of legislation such as the recent amendment to a law submitted to the Knesset which would ban any change of religion. Sufficient international legal instruments existed to combat the new social problems arising from the activities of sects and new religious movements.

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JANET BAUER, of Article XIX, said the system of government-by-decree in Nigeria was inimical to the promotion of human rights; information clearly revealed a pattern of systematic abuses and violations there. The Commission must appoint a Special Rapporteur for the country. Recent statements and actions by China suggested that rights and protections now in place in Hong Kong would be compromised; the Commission must make clear to the Government that existing standards must be maintained, and should incorporate that into a text on the situation of human rights in general in China. In Burma, the continuing deterioration in the human rights situation was of great concern; worry was felt over the well-being of Daw Aung San Suu Kyi; the Commission must renew the appointment of the relevant Special Rapporteur for another year, and the military Government must ensure at least one in-country visit for the Rapporteur in the coming year.

MULOMBA MFUAMBA, of the International Centre for Human Rights and Democratic Development, said the group had been following the serious situation of human rights in Rwanda, Burundi and Zaire for five years. The Commission should renew the mandate of the Special Rapporteur on Rwanda and give him every assistance. Positive elements in Rwanda were overshadowed by the constant aggression and lack of respect for the status of refugees in camps in eastern Zaire. The trafficking of weapons and weakness in disarming criminals and in the elimination of racial discrimination were also problems. In Burundi, the democratization process had stopped with the assassination of the President in 1993, and armed conflict between two ideologically extreme camps prevented the development of an opening for moderates. The Special Rapporteur on Burundi had correctly analyzed the situation in sounding the alarm in his report. The presence of human-rights monitors there should be strengthened. Regarding Zaire, the group hoped that in the search for peace in a Zaire undergoing transition the criminal responsibility of the different parties would not be ignored and that the country could resume the democratization process that had been blocked for the last seven years.

GIANFRANCO ROSSI, of the International Association for Religious Freedom, said religious extremism was a phenomenon that was connected to all the major religions. However, in recent years, the most dangerous and terrifying manifestations of this phenomenon had been visible in Islamic movements. One only had to look at what was taking place in Algeria, where an estimated 50,000 innocent men, women and children had been killed in the name of God. Principles of equality, non-discrimination and religious liberty, which were compatible with Islamic teachings, were not applied in a good number of Islamic countries. In Iran, Baha'is were systematically persecuted because of their religious beliefs. In Pakistan, Shantinagar, a Christian village of 22,000 people, had been ransacked and burned to the ground because a page of the Koran had been profaned. Islamic extremism was alive in several other countries, notably in Sudan, Indonesia, Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Turkey.

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TECHESTE AHDEROM, of the Baha'i International Community, said the list of violations inflicted against the Baha'i community in Iran had not changed over the past 17 years. That community was still the target of executions, torture and imprisonment; it also suffered from subtler forms of discrimination, such as economic strangulation and denial of access to education. Contrary to the statement by the Special Rapporteur on religious intolerance, to the effect that the right to change one's religion was recognized within the framework of internationally established standards in the field of human rights, four of the 14 Baha'is currently detained in Iranian prisons had been sentenced to death, including two for apostasy. He wished to reiterate the call by the Special Rapporteur to the Iranian Government that it should review and set aside the death sentences; return community properties and pay compensation for the destruction of places of worship; ensure equal treatment of Baha'is by the judiciary, and re-establish Baha'i institutions.

DAN CUNNIAH, of the International Confederation of Free Trade Unions, said an increasing number of States were becoming gross violators of trade union rights. Despite the commitments undertaken at international conferences, many Governments still considered free and independent trade unions as obstacles, and not as partners in development. That retrograde attitude prevailed in countries such as the Republic of Korea, Indonesia, China, Sudan, Nigeria, Swaziland, Colombia, Costa Rica, Belarus, Lithuania and Kazakhstan, to name just a few. Because of the limited time, the International Confederation of Free Trade Unions could not describe the situation in other countries where it had recorded strong evidence of gross violations of trade union rights. Iran, Morocco, Niger, Djibouti, Chad, Turkey and Myanmar were among that group of countries. The Commission should take strong measures against those countries violating the principles of freedom of association and the right to organize as embodied in international human rights instruments.

JOAQUIN MBOMIO ONDO BACHENG, of Nord-Sud XXI, said the humanitarian discourse of the great powers and the assistance they provided to African countries could not hide the fact that those same powers sought to distinguish between "interesting" parts -- those rich in mineral resources -- and "uninteresting" ones. The so-called interventions in favour of refugees in the Great Lakes region were but manoeuvres between rival Western powers to gain influence in the area, while the humanitarian activities they sponsored were only of secondary importance. Contrary to the situation in Rwanda, little had been done to absorb and reintegrate refugees in Zaire and Burundi. Meanwhile, in the United States, blacks and Latin-Americans had been the victims of an increase of attacks by police forces. Such aggressions very often remained unpunished. Immigrant populations in America were also subjected to racist and reactionary laws.

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The representatives of the Latin American Federation of Associations of Relatives of Disappeared Detainees said that in Mexico, arbitrary detention and torture affected a large part of the indigenous and peasant population. It was essential that the Special Rapporteurs on torture and on summary executions visited that country. In Colombia there were massive and systematic violations of the rights to life, to physical integrity, to liberty, to privacy and to a fair trial. There should be urgent visits by thematic rapporteurs and by the Working Group on Enforced Disappearances. An atmosphere of impunity led to further human rights violations, especially when laws were often enacted which pardoned persons responsible for abuses or postponed investigations indefinitely. The support of the international community was also needed in Guatemala, which had signed a peace agreement recently. The mandate of the independent expert on that country because of concern that despite the signing of the agreement, human rights continued to be violated.

MAYDA ALVAREZ SUAREZ, of the Women's International Democratic Federation, said that for almost 40 years the Cuban people had tried to persist on their own path toward independence, social justice, and sovereignty. But, apparently, the cold war still continued in the case of Cuba; the United States continued to punish Cuba with a genocidal blockade carried out since the 1960s. For Cuban women, the blockade meant constant aggression, violations of human rights and violations against their children and families. It was difficult to meet basic needs for food, personal hygiene, and housing; the most inhuman phase of the blockade was the impossibility of acquiring essential medicines for children. It was hard to see how Cuba could be accused of human-rights violations when the matters involved were part of the essential political process of the country. It was time to end the mandate of the Special Rapporteur on Cuba. There were other violations of human rights affecting women throughout the Latin American continent and the world, including violence and sexual aggression against women migrant workers. In China, meanwhile, the country continued to pursue its own path to development and human rights, with the help of such NGOs as the All-China Women's Federation.

ROGER WAREHAM, of the International Association Against Torture, said the past year had seen the steady retreat on human rights which had characterized the South Korean regime in the recent past. A now infamous early morning December session of Parliament had passed several laws without the knowledge of the opposition. In Guinea, the present Government had come to power through a military coup and conducted an election in 1993. This so-called "democratic" poll had been characterized by the killing of some 24 people in Conakry alone during voting. And in the United States, actions of federal, state and local governments constituted a consistent pattern of gross violations of the human rights of the people, especially Blacks and Latinos.

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The group called on the Commission to demand that compensation be paid to the descendants of enslaved Africans by the United States and European countries.

BARONESS COX, of Christian Solidarity International (CSI), said she and a colleague had on seven fact-finding missions visited "no-go" areas in Sudan, where the National Islamic Front regime was carrying out a wide variety of human-rights abuses, including aerial bombardment of villages, arbitrary arrests, torture, chattel slavery -- especially child slavery -- hostage-taking, summary executions, abduction and brainwashing of children, and persecution of Christians, Animists, and Muslims who rejected the NIF's sectarian brand of Islam. She said she must fully endorse the conclusions of the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Sudan. There were some rays of hope, to be found in the rapidly expanding areas of northern and southern Sudan under the administration of the democratic opposition. Full details of the fact-finding missions could be found in CSI's published field reports, which were available to members of the Commission. CSI appealed to the Secretary-General to intervene personally with the regime in Khartoum to secure immediate release of all hostages, and to convene a conference of Governmental and non-governmental organizations and relief agencies to establish a mechanism to deliver humanitarian relief to "no-go" areas.

AIRO DEL CASTILLO, of Christian Democrat International, said the group welcomed the work of the Special Rapporteur for Zaire, whose reports were worthy and objective. The regime of Zaire had brought the country to chaos. It should not be forgotten that democratic parties in Zaire had fought for long years to defend human rights. In Cuba, meanwhile, 96 foreign journalists had been arrested, harassed and expelled over the past year. The Cuban Government also internally banished dissidents, which went against human rights. The Government was asked to allow its citizens to form associations and to move around freely; and to allow journalists to carry out their work without interference.

MARINO BUSDACHIN, of Transnational Radical Party, said existing rights and freedoms in Hong Kong were threatened by the upcoming Chinese takeover of the territory, as China's policy could be summed up in the word "control" -- press freedom was under siege, and Beijing would control all branches of the Hong Kong Government, including its legislature, which would be an appointed group that would rubber stamp the measures wanted by Chinese leaders; draconian laws restricting assembly and association were expected; the Commission must urge China to keep Hong Kong's current human-rights standards; further, the Commission should pass a strong resolution on China at this session, focusing, among other things, on widespread human-rights abuses in Tibet. Concern also was expressed about the increase in human-rights violations in the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia (Serbia and Montenegro), including Kosova, Sanjak, and Vojvodina; the Commission must adopt a strong resolution demanding that authorities stop violence and repression against non-Serb populations.

©Copyright 1997, United Nations

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