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[Luxembourg 2005 Presidency of the Council of the European Union]
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61st session of the Human Rights Commission: Question of the violation of human rights and fundamental freedoms in any part of the world

Date of Speech : 23-03-2005

Place : Geneva

Speaker : Alphonse Berns, Ambassador and Permanent Representative of Luxembourg to the United Nations Office at Geneva

Policy area : General Affairs and External Relations

Mr Chairman,

I have the honour to take the floor on behalf of the European Union.

The Acceding Countries Bulgaria and Romania, the Candidate Country Croatia *, the Country of the Stabilisation and Association Process and potential candidate Albania, align themselves with this declaration.

In the context of the debate initiated by the High-Level Panel's report, the European Union has had an opportunity of reaffirming its view that the Commission on Human Rights should remain one of the main bodies within the United Nations system charged with ensuring that human rights are guaranteed and respected. The European Union undertakes to play an active part in ensuring that the Commission's potential is fully exploited.

The European Union is convinced that the Commission on Human Rights should retain the possibility of examining the human rights situation in particular countries, this being an essential part of its mandate. The Council stresses the importance of resolutions on the human-rights situation in specific countries and reiterates its opposition to the practice of no-action motions, which is contrary to the spirit of dialogue that should prevail within the CHR.

The European Union will present significant initiatives, both geographic and thematic, under different agenda items. In particular, it will introduce resolutions on the human-rights situation in Burma/Myanmar and the Democratic People's Republic of Korea and, jointly with the United States, on Belarus. The European Union will voice its concern regarding the human-rights situation in Uzbekistan.

The question of Israeli settlements in the occupied Palestinian territories will be the subject of a European initiative that takes account of recent developments in the Middle East.  The European Union will cooperate with the Governments of Afghanistan and Colombia to ensure the adoption of a statement by the Chair on the protection of human rights in those countries.

In view of the seriousness of the situation in Darfur and in the light of the recent report by the International Commission of Inquiry, which identified serious violations of human rights and humanitarian law, the European Union strongly condemns those violations and calls on the Government of Sudan to bring an immediate end to impunity.  The seriousness of the situation calls for a resolution which, on the basis of the report by the International Commission of Inquiry and its recommendations, will ensure that the serious violations of human rights and humanitarian law in Sudan are condemned and that an end is brought to impunity.  For the European Union, the best way – but not the only way – of achieving that is through close cooperation with the African Group.  The members of the European Union also hope that the current negotiations in the UN Security Council will lead swiftly to the establishment of a UN mission in Sudan and referral to the International Criminal Court, for which the European Union reaffirms its constant support.

The European Union will work with the DRC and Burundi, encouraging them to continue their efforts to improve the human-rights situation in their countries with the support of the international community.

Lastly, and without going into detail here, the European Union will support other initiatives defending human rights in the world, such as the Swiss initiative on Nepal.

The European Union is fully determined to fight racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and religious intolerance, including antisemitism.  The Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union reaffirms the prohibition of any discrimination based on sex, race, colour, ethnic or social origin, genetic features, language, religion or belief, political or any other opinion, membership of a national minority, property, birth, disability, age or sexual orientation.

The European Union is firmly committed to advancing the full enjoyment of human rights and fundamental freedoms by women. We strongly reaffirm the principle of equality between women and men and the need to ensure effective gender mainstreaming, as we stated when examining and evaluating the Beijing Declaration and Programme of Action.

The European Union is opposed to the death penalty in all circumstances and systematically upholds this position in its relations with third countries.  It considers that the abolition of the death penalty contributes to the enhancement of human dignity and the progressive development of human rights. This position is rooted in a dual belief in the inherent dignity of all human beings and the inviolability of the human person.  We note with satisfaction that the general trend is towards abolition of the death penalty.  We will do all we can to bring an end to the use of the capital punishment.

For years, the European Union has made representations to that effect to countries all over the world.  While the European Union welcomes the abolition of the death penalty in Bhutan and Senegal, and the decision by the United States Supreme Court to prohibit the execution of those who were minors at the time of the offences they committed, it is seriously concerned at the brutal ends of the moratoria in Lebanon, India and Indonesia.  Burundi, Sri Lanka and Mauritania, too, have announced that they wish to reintroduce capital punishment.  We would beg them not to abandon their policy of abolition.  Likewise we regret the Afghan authorities' decision to interrupt the moratorium in place and the Iraqi authorities' decision to reintroduce the death penalty in their legislation.

Torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishments are totally and absolutely prohibited by international law.  We subscribe to that ban fully.  No circumstance, no objective can justify their use.  We welcome the recent accession of Liberia, the Maldives, Swaziland and Syria to the Convention against Torture and call on those countries to apply it fully. We welcome Argentina's and Liberia's ratification of the optional protocol to the Convention. The European Union calls on all states to become parties to that Convention and to the optional protocol to the Convention, and asks the states party to ensure their implementation.

The European Union continues to condemn the recruitment of children in armed conflicts in numerous parts of the world.  While the fact that the number of child soldiers has, according to some estimates, fallen from 380 000 to 300 000 in the last eighteen months is a positive development, there remains an alarming gap between, on the one hand, the standards and initiatives established to protect children, and on the other, the atrocities that are still perpetrated against them.

The European Union is still particularly concerned at the situation of children affected by the armed conflicts in Uganda, Burundi, Côte d'Ivoire, the DRC, Sudan, Colombia, Burma, Nepal and Sri Lanka.  It also calls for every effort to be made to ensure the rehabilitation and reintegration of

child soldiers and all other child victims of war as in Sierra Leone, Rwanda, Liberia and Afghanistan. In that context, the European Union welcomes the Secretary﷓General's report of 9 February 2005 on children and armed conflict, which identifies the shortcomings that still exist in the system for remedying those infringements of children's rights and proposes means of making them good.  The European Union has, furthermore, implemented a series of political, diplomatic and financial initiatives to that end.

The situation of those who defend human rights is one of the European Union's priorities.  Their work is of fundamental importance in all parts of the world. Those who defend human rights deserve special attention from the international community and enhanced protection.  The European Union condemns the deterioration of the situation of defenders of human rights in Syria, Nepal, Uzbekistan, Belarus, Turkmenistan, the Russian Federation and Rwanda; it remains concerned at the situation of such defenders in Guatemala and Colombia.

The European Union confirms its attachment to the EU﷓China dialogue on human rights, which is intended to bring about concrete, tangible improvements in the human﷓rights situation in China.  The last meeting, in February, showed that it is a valuable channel of communication which enables us to raise questions that still cause particular concern, in particular the use of the death penalty, torture, arbitrary detention and restrictions on the freedom of expression, religion and association.

We do, however, consider it encouraging that China is persevering on the road to ratification of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and repeat the hope that that ratification will be effected soon with a minimum of reservations. The European Union is convinced that the Chinese authorities' publication of a programme of stages leading to ratification would be a strong signal to the international community.  As regards the death penalty, the European Union hailed the decision to confer on the Supreme People's Court the power to review the judgments of lower courts and tribunals, but it is still greatly concerned at the extent of application of the death penalty in Chinese law and by the very high number of executions. A major step forward towards increased transparency would be made if statistics concerning executions in China were published.

The European Union noted with satisfaction the visit to China by the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention last September, and invites the Chinese authorities to examine its recommendations with the closest attention. While continuing to argue for the abolition of the system of re﷓education through labour, the European Union continues to follow the proposals for the reform of that system closely.  Finally, as regards China's cooperation with the United Nations system of human rights, a visit by Mrs Arbour to China would represent significant progress.

We welcome the fact that a European Union delegation was able to visit Tibet last September, but we are still very concerned at the human﷓rights situation in Tibet and in Xinjiang, in particular as regards religious and cultural rights.  The European Union invites China and the Dalai Lama's envoys to continue their contacts with a view to constructive dialogue. In addition, the European Union urges China once again to allow the HCR to have access to the border region between China and the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK) and to carry out its obligations under the 1951 Convention relating to the status of refugees.

The European Union regrets the fact that there has been no human﷓rights dialogue session with Iran since 2004 and hopes that further meetings will be organised as soon as possible.

The European Union repeats the concern it is caused by the infringements of human rights in Iran.  They take the form of arbitrary detention, disappearances following arrest, detention in secret prisons, the torturing of prisoners, the continuation of public executions, flagellation and the sentencing of minors to death.  It is not clear whether the de facto moratorium on amputations is still in force.  Non﷓Muslims, including Christians, suffer restrictions on their rights.  Persons whose religion is not recognised, like the Bahais, are still subject to discrimination and serious human﷓rights infringements.  In addition, the closure of newspapers, arrests and interrogation of journalists, and the prohibition of websites supporting reform continue.  We demand the unconditional liberation of all political prisoners.

Human rights violations in Chechnya remain a major source of concern in the human rights area.  The European Union urges Russia to take all the measures necessary to put a stop to serious violations of human rights and international humanitarian law in Chechnya and prevent any recurrence, in particular by bringing the perpetrators of human rights violations to justice.  Close cooperation with all the human rights machinery of the United Nations, the OSCE and the Council of Europe would help to establish a starting point for a negotiated political solution to the conflict.  It is essential to put an end to enforced disappearances, extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions, acts of torture, ill-treatment, arbitrary detention and abductions.

The European Union accordingly welcomes the constructive climate in which the first EU-Russia human rights consultations took place on 1 March 2005, and the commitments made by the Russian authorities.  These must be translated into firm measures for tangibly improving the human rights situation on the ground.  The European Union has noted with satisfaction that Louise Arbour has visited Moscow and been invited to go to Chechnya.  It is pleased that this invitation has been extended to the Commission's Special Rapporteurs and to humanitarian organisations and calls on the Russian authorities to prepare the ground for these visits as soon as possible. Lastly, the European Union welcomes the willingness which the Russian authorities expressed during the consultations to implement the rulings of the European Court of Human Rights, and their stated intention of protecting defenders of human rights and journalists.

The European Union is seriously concerned by the recent attacks in Bangladesh.  While it notes that initial arrests have been made in connection with the attack on 27 January 2005, the European Union remains concerned by the climate of impunity surrounding these attacks. Despite the difficulty of combating crime and insecurity, Bangladesh should take all the necessary measures to ensure individual safety.

The European Union is extremely concerned by the suspension of democratic institutions and public freedoms in Nepal and by the deterioration in the human rights situation there.  The European Union condemns the human rights abuses committed by all the parties to the conflict and calls on the Government of Nepal to free all prisoners of conscience, human rights defenders, journalists and representatives of civil society who are detained in the country. In the present context, we call on the Nepalese authorities to extend the terms of reference of the Nepalese national human rights commission and make it easier for it to do its work.

The European Union is greatly concerned by the serious human rights violations in Zimbabwe.  Repressive legislation and its arbitrary enforcement have been used systematically to intimidate the people of Zimbabwe.  Torture, arbitrary detention and violence are still very widespread.  We urge the Government of Zimbabwe to re-instate democracy, to respect the rights of its citizens, to reform this repressive legislation, to stop using the militia, the army and the police to intimidate civilians and to abide by its international human rights commitments.  We also call on the Government of Zimbabwe to ensure that parliamentary elections are held with due regard for international standards.

The European Union is still concerned at the human rights situation in Saudi Arabia.  Although pleased that Saudi Arabia has held its first local elections, we deplore the fact that women were unable to take part and do not enjoy equal rights in most areas of public life.  Guarantees of the rights of the defence are still inadequate.  There are frequent reports of torture and ill-treatment of prisoners.  A large number of crimes is punished by the death penalty. The practice of public execution continues.

In connection with item 9a on the agenda, the European Union supports a comprehensive settlement of the Cyprus question under the terms laid down by the UN Security Council resolutions and in line with the principles on which the European Union is founded. Once the island is re-united, all the people of Cyprus should be able to regain full fundamental rights and liberties.

As I have already said, there is no State with a perfect human rights record and therefore no State can be immune from international scrutiny.  We have a legal and moral obligation to work together to promote and protect human rights and fundamental freedoms.

* Croatia continues to be part of the Stabilisation and Association process.

This page was last modified on : 23-03-2005

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