annual session, a mixed bag
-- Amnesty international
At the closing of it's annual session in Geneva, the United Nations Commission
on Human Rights (CHR) took positive steps to tackle "disappearances",
called again for a moratorium on executions, appointed a new Special Rapporteur
on Indigenous People and took strong action on Chechnya and Iran. However,
it failed in its principal duty to protect victims of appalling human
rights violations who happen to live in powerful countries like China,
Indonesia and Saudi Arabia. Equally disconcerting was the Commission's
premature decision to drop consideration of human rights violations in
Rwanda and attacks on several of its own Special Rapporteurs.
If the CHR is to live up to its role as the world's primary human rights
body it must protect human rights on their merits rather than protect
the narrow self-interests of the governments that make up the Commission.
Sending increasing numbers of top government officials to pay lip- service
to human rights in Geneva, does not stop governments continuing to commit
grave violations at home.
A key achievement of the Commission was its consensus decision to appoint
a working group to fill a crucial gap: to establish a treaty to prevent,
effectively investigate and halt enforced disappearances. These appalling
human rights violations continue in every region of the world. The initiative
to push for this initiative was led by GRULAC, the Group of Latin American
countries and France, which tabled the resolution.
The resolution was adopted despite strong opposition from the United States
and Canada. They argued against the proposal under the pretext that other
treaty bodies already covered the issue. An independent expert will now
review existing legal norms, take account of the draft Convention On Enforced
Disappearances already prepared by the Sub-Commission on the Promotion
and Protection of Human Rights, and submit findings to the working group.
Amnesty International (AI) also welcomed the Commission's decision to
reiterate its call for a world-wide moratorium on all executions and for
the death penalty not to be imposed on anyone who committed the crime
when younger than eighteen years. The resolution was adopted with 27 votes
in favour -- the same number as last year -- and 18 against, five more
than last year, eight new Commission members among them. There were 66
co-sponsors to the resolution. AI regrets that 60 countries disassociated
themselves from the resolution in a statement made by Saudi Arabia.
The Commission continued to ignore gross and persistent abuses in some
of the most influential countries. Saudi Arabia, a member of the Commission,
ranks among the countries with the highest numbers of reported executions
(at least 123 during 2000). Floggings, amputations and secret trials continue
at an alarming rate. Yet AI's attempts to raise this grave situation met,
at most, with embarrassed silence by governments keen to preserve their
economic ties and strategic alliances with Saudi Arabia.
Following the pattern of recent years, China used procedural rules once
more to halt any scrutiny of its human rights record by presenting a motion
to take no action on a resolution on human rights in China. The motion
was adopted with 23 votes for and 17 against. That happened a week after
China launched an anti-crime campaign leading to the swift execution in
the following 12 days of no less than a reported 350 people believed to
have been summarily tried.
The Commission adopted a consensus statement by the Chair on East Timor,
but it ignored the call by UN experts and three Special Rapporteurs to
establish an international criminal tribunal on East Timor or even consider
particularly serious human rights abuses committed in Aceh and West Papua
Despite Canada's efforts to maintain the already weak mandate of the Special
Representative on Rwanda, the Commission, in a move initiated by Kenya,
removed Rwanda from its agenda. The situation in Rwanda remains extremely
volatile and demands the continued close attention of the Commission.
Reports of "disappearance" and torture or ill-treatment of detainees
continue, and many of the estimated 125,000 people held in detention mostly
accused of taking part in the 1994 genocide, are held for several years
without charge or trial in conditions that amount to cruel, inhuman and
Equally deplorable is the Commission's failure to act on the explicit
recommendation of the Commission of Inquiry (CoI), jointly established
by the UN and the OAU, to appoint a Special Rapporteur on Togo to investigate
allegations of numerous extra-judicial executions in the country in 1998.
The Commission did not even press the government to invite two Special
Rapporteurs to visit the country, as the CoI had recommended.
An encouraging sign was the Commission's determination to extend the mandate
of the Special Representative on Iran, especially since he has been unable
to visit the country since 1996. Amnesty International was concerned about
continuing reports of arbitrary arrests and imprisonment of prisoners
of conscience. The resolution was adopted with 21 votes for and 17 against,
one more in favour than last year.
The Commission adopted a strong resolution on Chechnya/Russian Federation.
The resolution, adopted by 20 members in favour and seven against, with
19 abstentions, condemns the continued use of disproportionate indiscriminate
force by the Russian military and other breaches of international humanitarian
law and human rights. The Commission underlined the slow pace of investigations
by national bodies but failed to establish an international commission
of inquiry without which there will be no effective investigations into
past grave human rights abuses and without which the perpetrators cannot
be brought to justice.
Amnesty International welcomes in particular those 33 countries that have
extended open invitations to all thematic mechanisms of the Commission
to visit their country at any time, in true spirit of effective of cooperation
with the Commission's human rights experts. All members and observers
next year should follow their example. The organization firmly believes
in the principle that, once appointed, these thematic mechanisms should
be able to function entirely independently from the Commission, although
within the framework set by the Commission for their work. Amnesty International
hopes that this principle will be fully observed in future.