Jul 30, 2002

Report on the 58th Session of the Commission on Human Rights in Geneva

The 58th Session of the Commission of Human Rights met in Geneva from March 18 to April 26, 2002. The Commission debated a wide series of human rights matters including the follow up to the World Conference on Racism; the occupied Palestinian territory; and the effects on human rights of efforts to combat international terrorism in the wake of the September 11th attacks in the United States.

The UNPO General Secretary, Erkin Alptekin, Director General, Karl van Habsburg and staff attended the session and helped lobby on behalf of Members. Members from Cabinda, Chechenia, East Turkestan, The Moluccas and Tibet were also present. Interventions were made on the human rights situation of the above Members, among others, and a number of agenda items relating to the political and economic situation of UNPO Members were discussed. A number of urgent interventions, including the situation in Cabinda, were unable to be made, due to the continued rescheduling of the agenda and the curtailment of time allotted to NGOs. Under the agenda item on the violation of human rights in any country, resolutions were adopted on Burundi, South-eastern Europe, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Iraq, Sudan, Cuba, Afghanistan, Myanmar, Sierra Leone and on the matter of Lebanese detainees held in Israel. A draft resolution on the Republic of Chechenia was defeated on roll-call.

Though no further resolutions relating to UNPO Members were passed, several state interventions did raise the question of important human rights violations. The statement of the delegation of Spain on behalf of the EU expressed concern about human rights violations in Xinjiang (East Turkestan) and Tibet: “Widespread use of the death penalty has increased in the framework of the “strike hard” campaign, which also resulted in further serious infringements of the right to due process of law of detained and accused persons. The Chinese authorities continue to withhold information about the impact of the campaign. Furthermore, capital punishment is used without respect for minimal legal standards.” These concerns, however, did not materialise into support for a China resolution. The statement also welcomed approval of Indonesia’s autonomy laws for Aceh and Papua, as well as the Malino peace agreement in the Moluccas, which were mentioned in Indonesia’s statement. The questions of continued violations of human rights in West Papua and the Moluccas (see article) were discussed at length in two briefings, the latter co- organised by the UNPO.

During the Papua briefing a report entitled “The abduction and Assassination of Theys Hiyo Eluay was premeditated and politically motivated”, was distributed. The report also divulged information on the spread of Jihad militias into Papua in 2001, and that around 3000 Jihad members were already present in Papua.

The rise of terrorism was also a great concern of the Committee following the events of September 11th , though much emphasis was also put on the balance between human rights and security. The report of the High Commissioner (E/CN.4/2002/18) referred to a joint statement on the issue by 17 rapporteurs on the occasion of human rights day: “The special rapporteurs and experts expressed their deep concern over anti-terrorist and national security legislation and other measures adopted or contemplated that might infringe upon the enjoyment by all of their human rights and fundamental freedoms. They warned against human rights violations and measures that have targeted particular groups such as human rights defenders, migrants, asylum-seekers and refugees, religious and ethnic minorities, political activists and the media…Ensuring that innocent people do not become victims of counter-terrorism measures should be an important component of anti-terrorism strategy…In order to construct the solid human rights culture required to root out terrorism, there is a need to bridge the gulf between human rights norms and their application in reality.”

Questions relating to these issues were broached in several briefings. In a briefing on State Terrorism raised several interesting questions, among them, how the repeated broadcasting of the September 11th incident was used to instil terror into the minds of people to allow governments to push through and implement harsher and often unjustified security measures. Thaung Htun, of the National Coalition of Burma pointed to greater difficulties at the UN level. How should the international community respond to a state controlled by a government who overthrew the legitimately elected government by force of arms? Regarding the struggle with the ethnic minorities in Myanmar, he observed the military was deliberately targeting civilians to terrorise them to the extent that they will be afraid to support ethnic groups. This policy of terrorism has led to an estimated 2 million internally displaced people. Impunity, use of torture and increasing military budgets were also topics of great concern both within the Commission and in various briefings. Mogomadov Magomed of the Association of Lawyers of Chechenia brought the issue of impunity for war crimes committed by Russia to the attention of the Commission, suggesting the need for a war crimes tribunal on Chechenia.

On the issue of rising military budgets, the NGO Conscience and Peace Tax represented a new form of conscientious objectors: people who are ethically or religiously opposed to paying taxes for military spending. They advocate a ‘Non-Military Security’ or ‘Peace Building’ Fund, which could be used to support conflict resolution work that is currently under-resourced, and would also allow conscientious objectors the opportunity to contribute in a constructive way to creating a more just, secure world.

An issue of vital concern to UNPO members, addressing self-determination disputes as a part conflict prevention strategy, was also broached in a statement by Pax Romana to the Commission. They noted that the UN Security Council has only acted by setting up transitional administrations in East Timor and Kosova after massacres of genocidal proportions, and continued: “Biased application of self-determination makes however that many other, and equally urgent, self-determination disputes on five continents are insufficiently addressed or not addressed at all. These cases include, but are not limited to, Palestine, Western Sahara, Kashmir, Tibet, East Turkestan, Chechenia, Zanzibar, Cabinda, West Papua, Aceh and Puerto Rico. In this context, the recent Union of States between Serbia and Montenegro reminds of the wide range of forms of self-government as possible outcomes of exercising self-determination.

Pax Romana recommended the Commission on Human Rights request the Sub-Commission to elaborate a working paper on the implementation of the right to self-determination as a contribution to international peace and security. The UNPO lobbied for mechanisms to protect and guarantee the implementation of existing arrangements for self-government and peace accords. A distinct peoples’ participation in a state should be subject to negotiation and consent, rather than being taken for granted or pursued by means of coercion.