Summary to the 1998 Sub-Commission on Human Rights

August 3 - 28, 1998
Palais des Nations, Geneva

50th Session of the U.N. Sub-Commission on Prevention of Discrimination and Protection of Minorities

The delegation of Franciscans International and Dominicans (FI/OP) at the Sub-Commission consisted of the two coordinators: Philippe LeBlanc OP and John Quigley OFM, the Executive Secretary, Alessandra Aula, three participants: Miguel Concha OP, Sergio Gorgen OFM and Rodrigo Amédée Péret OFM, two observers: Guy Musy OP and Kathie Uhler SFO, a guest: Diane Laake and three interns: Miroslava Bokorova, Aymon Othenin-Girard and Olivier Poquillon OP.

At the UN Sub-Commission, the FI/OP delegation addressed a number of country situations including Brazil, Colombia, Mexico and Pakistan as well as thematic issues related to these countries such as the petitions of the Landless movement (Brazil), the rights of indigenous peoples, the rights of minorities, the administration of justice (legitimization of paramilitary groups and the International Criminal Court), the link between the rights of the child and the debt, and the effects of land mines. During the session, we presented seven oral statements, submitted one written communication on Brazil and prepared a communiqué for both families after the adoption of the resolution on Mexico. The delegation networked and planned strategies with other non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and stayed in touch with brothers and sisters at the local level. We also expressed our positions to many Sub-Commission experts and some governmental delegations.

After two years of activity, in cooperation with other NGOs, we were successful in our efforts to obtain a positive vote on a resolution dealing with the human rights situation in Mexico at the Sub-Commission. For the first time, a UN resolution forces the government of Mexico to justify its human rights policies before the international community. Further, the Mexican government will not be allowed to ratify all the international treaties just to show its “good faith”, but will be held accountable also for their implementation.
The case of Mexico was also an example of collaboration between our sisters and brothers in the country and the Geneva Office which allowed us to achieve a resolution. Fr. Miguel Concha OP, the Prior Provincial of Mexico (also the founder of the Fray Francisco de Vitoria OP Human Rights Centre) participated in the Sub-Commission meeting and was engaged in working with Mexican NGOs present as well as in persuading the experts on the necessity that the Sub-Commission take action on Mexico.

The Sub-Commission on Prevention of Discrimination and Protection of Minorities is a UN body of 26 independent experts subordinate to the Commission on Human Rights, which created it in 1947. The Sub-Commission meets every year for four weeks during the month of August in Geneva. The 26 experts of the Sub-Commission are chosen by geographical distribution (8 for Africa, 4 for Asia, 3 for Eastern Europe, 6 for Western Europe and Other States and 5 for Latin America) among individuals proposed by governments and are elected by the Commission on Human Rights for a 4 year period, half of the body being elected every two years. The most important tasks of the Sub-Commission are to draw the attention of the Commission to gross human rights violations and to prepare reports and studies for the Commission and the Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC).


SUB-COMMISSION ADOPTS A RESOLUTION ON MEXICO

We strongly denounced the fact that the Mexican government is imposing a social and political isolation on the indigenous communities in addition to maintaining tight military control over their lives. Moreover, the suspension of CONAI (National Mediation Commission) on June 7, 1998, after four years of activities, was another signal that the Mexican authorities are dismantling the necessary conditions for dialogue and negotiation. All these events have to be connected with the governmental lack of will to respect the San Andrés Accords signed in February 1996 with the Ejercito Zapatista de Liberación Nacional (EZLN) and to implement the provisions on the rights and culture of indigenous peoples.

In our interventions, we urged:

  1. the Sub-Commission to adopt a resolution on Mexico requesting the Commission on Human Rights to appoint a Special Rapporteur with the mandate to examine all aspects of the human rights situation in the country, with a special focus on the State of Chiapas,

  2. the Mexican government to disarm all paramilitary groups operating in Chiapas and to hold them accountable for their violent and illegal acts against indigenous peoples,

  3. the signatories to the San Andrés Accords to honor them, to re-establish mediation and re-initiate dialogue with all parties,

  4. the Mexican government to cease its repression and defamatory campaign against the Catholic Church, namely the diocese of San Cristobal de las Casas and its bishops and priests.

In conversations with diplomatic missions and experts about Mexico, we pointed out that the recent events in Chiapas and in other places of the country; the increasing number of displaced persons among the indigenous population, the deterioration of their living conditions as well as the government’s bad faith concerning the implementation of the San Andrés Accords are generating a general unrest and that a civil war is bound to break out again in Mexico.

Following consideration of the grave situation of human rights in Mexico, the Sub-Commission adopted a resolution on the human rights situation in Mexico. The result of the vote was 12 in favor, 6 against and 6 abstentions. The resolution requested the Mexican authorities to ensure the full respect for the international instruments, to which Mexico is a party, by attaching the highest priority to ending the impunity of perpetrators of serious human rights violations especially those suffered by numerous indigenous populations; and by promoting the action of human rights defenders and guaranteeing their safety. It also appealed to the signatories of the San Andrés Accords to resume the process favoring dialogue. And it requested the UN Commission on Human Rights to examine at its next session the human rights situation in Mexico and decided, should the Commission be unable to do so, the Sub-Commission to take up the situation at its 51st session.

LANDLESS MOVEMENT IN BRAZIL

Following-up the action undertaken during the last session of the Commission on Human Rights, we reiterated our grave concern about the government of Brazil’s delay in carrying out the agrarian reform as well as its non-compliance with many provisions of the International Covenants it has ratified. In our statement, we gave data of the Land Pastoral Commission related to the violations of the rights of the landless workers and the acts of violence committed against them. We also underlined the on-going impunity in the Brazilian countryside and the fact that a large percentage of the killings were promoted by State military police.

In this context, we supported the petitions of the Landless Movement of Brazil and urged:

  1. the government of Brazil to take effective measures to ensure that the judiciary concludes, without delay, the numerous pending legal proceedings concerning the assassinations of rural workers and persons linked to them,

  2. the government to promote the immediate settlement of all landless rural workers and their families,

  3. the government to respect the principles and the rights contained in the UN Declaration on Human Rights Defenders and to guarantee human rights defenders working in Brazil the right to security in carrying out their activities on behalf of victims of violations.

As a result of our promoting activities, Mr. Joinet (expert from France) expressed his interest in working with us on Brazil in order to introduce it in the future agenda of the Sub-Commission. Following the Brazilian government’s right of reply to our statement, we initiated a dialogue with the Brazilian Permanent Mission in Geneva where we provided further documents and explained our positions and expectations.

PARAMILITARY GROUPS IN COLOMBIA

Since the last session of the Commission, several massacres and many acts of violence and harassment took place in Colombia, many of them not even recorded by the international media. Each one of these tragic events has left a legacy of trauma and devastation and has resulted in the displacement of approximately one million Colombians who are now internal refugees, many of them living in conditions of abject poverty. The FI/OP delegation stressed that in many instances, foreign companies use local para-military groups (private security forces) to protect their interests. These mercenaries, hired to spy upon, to intimidate and to eliminate anyone who causes troubles, are not accountable to the elected government. However, the most serious failure of the Colombian government is its lack of will to combat paramilitary groups granting them complete impunity. The cynicism is so deeply rooted that frequently these groups feel free to give advance notice of their intention to kill through graffiti, pamphlets or telephone calls.

In our statement, we recommended that:

  1. the Sub-Commission appoint one of its experts to prepare a study on the privatization of national security,

  2. the Colombian government take immediate measures to protect the threatened communities and permanently disband the paramilitary groups by apprehending, trying and punishing those who belong to, lead, organize, support or finance them,

  3. the government enact legislation to reform the military code of justice and to make enforced disappearances a criminal offence,

  4. the Colombian government remove from active duty those members of the State security forces who support paramilitary groups through acts or omissions,

  5. the government of the United States of America close, not move, the School of the Americas in Fort Benning, Georgia, USA, which has provided instruction for some of the most serious violators of human rights in Latin America.

BLASPHEMY LAWS IN PAKISTAN

During this session, we focused our activities around the juridical and practical consequences of the blasphemy laws and the separate electorate system as these two aspects highly discriminate against all minorities living in Pakistan, especially the Christian one. In our statements, our group highlighted the procedural deficiency related to the application of the blasphemy laws. In fact, sections 295 B and C and 298 A of the Pakistan Penal Code allow little room for investigation and verification of evidence; further the law restricts freedom of expression because people fear that any opinion or remark may be construed as blasphemy. In terms of the separate electorates, this system requires that religious groups vote only for candidates of their own denomination. This measure clearly marginalizes the non-Muslim population and creates skepticism in the minority communities regarding the ability of their candidates to influence policies in government.

We endorsed the recommendations of the Justice and Peace Commission of the Major Superiors of Pakistan and in particular we urged:

  1. the government of Pakistan to repeal all the discriminatory laws, namely the blasphemy laws, section 295 B, 295 C and 298 A of the Pakistani penal code,

  2. a speedy, fair and open trial for the many blasphemy cases pending in court, and a guarantee that those accused and their families will be free from harassment and any form of ill-treatment,

  3. the government to implement all the provisions of fundamental rights which are contained in part 2, articles 8 to 10 of the Constitution of Pakistan,

  4. the government of Pakistan to promote equal rights for all citizens of Pakistan according to article 25 A of the Constitution,

  5. the government to abolish the separate electorate system.

On behalf of our sisters and brothers working in Pakistan, we also continued our dialogue with the diplomats of the Permanent Mission in Geneva. We recalled the dramatic gesture of Bishop John Joseph in protesting against the death sentence of Ayub Masih and the blasphemy laws in general, and expressed our concern that the present electoral system is leading many persons belonging to minorities to stop registering themselves as voters to express their resentment.

In view of coordinating our efforts for the next UN sessions, we met Mr. Clement John (World Council of Churches) with whom we explored possibilities of a future collaboration through a joint written statement for the next Commission.

RIGHTS OF THE CHILD AND THE INTERNATIONAL DEBT

For the first time, we addressed the question of the link between the rights of the child and the debt. We indicated that heavily indebted poor countries have higher rates of infant mortality, disease, illiteracy and malnutrition than other countries in the developing world. We believe that the World Bank and IMF’s debt reduction plan the Heavily Indebted Poor Countries (HIPC) Initiative is a good idea, but it is not enough. It is too difficult for a country to qualify for this program and it provides too little relief, which is often too late. Of the 41 HIPCs that are listed by the World Bank only 8 qualify for the Bank’s relief initiative. We strongly recommend that Zambia and Honduras, at least, will quickly receive clearance as eligible for the HIPC initiative.

Together with the International Catholic Migration Commission, Caritas Internationalis and the International Cooperation for Development and Solidarity (CIDSE), we requested that the affected countries and UN agencies:

  1. cancel the unpayable debt of the HIPC by the year 2000. We appealed specifically to the governments of the United States, Germany, Japan, France and Italy to alleviate the debt relief,

  2. improve the HIPC Initiative by shortening the time frame, broadening eligibility, redefining debt sustainability, providing more relief and consult the civil society on the conditions for relief,

  3. link debt cancellation with investment in human development,

  4. ensure that decisions on debt relief are made in a transparent way, such as having a policy of participation by beneficiary groups in the project approval cycle,

  5. change the structure of international financial relations to a framework for fair and equal relationships between debtors and creditors.

RESOLUTION ON LAND MINES

As in the past, together with Pax Romana, we took the leadership among NGOs in monitoring the injurious effects of land mines and worked closely with Mr. Bengoa and Mr. Salinas (expert and alternate from Chili) in drafting a resolution.

On this issue, we urged:

  1. all States which have not yet done so to sign and ratify the Ottawa Convention to Ban Landmines as adopted in December 1997,

  2. All States to modify, where necessary, their legislation according to the wording of the Ottawa Treaty, in full respect of its articles and spirit, including the clause prohibiting any reservation to it,

  3. the Sub-Commission to reaffirm its total support for a total ban on production, stockpiling, transfer and use of land mines as well as a total destruction of the existing ones,

  4. the Sub-Commission to reiterate its request to governments and the international community to pursue an overall policy of prevention, rehabilitation and reintegration as well as to multiply their efforts in mine-clearance programs in zones affected and aid to victims of antipersonnel land mines.

We drafted a resolution on land mines and, through our advocacy efforts, our recommendations were reflected in the text the Sub-Commission adopted on this topic, which ensures that the question of land mines will again be on the agenda of the Sub-Commission at its next session.


FI/OP STATEMENT ON THE INTERNATIONAL CRIMINAL COURT

In our statement, we expressed satisfaction for the United Nations initiative to call a UN Diplomatic Conference on the Establishment of an International Criminal Court, which was held in Rome, on 15 June – 17 July 1998. We believe that the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court, which was adopted at the Conference, is a major step in forging a missing link which can provide the international legal order with power to exercise jurisdiction over persons accused of committing the most serious crimes, i. e. crimes against humanity. Global justice demands that such crimes be subject to the law.

We therefore urged:

  1. all States to sign and ratify the Statute of the International Criminal Court at the earliest date possible,

  2. the Sub-Commission to investigate the practical ways of promoting follow-up and implementation of the Statute in order to impede impunity and to give redress to the cries of victims.


    This bulletin is also available in
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    Extra copies can be requested
    at the FI/OP Geneva Office.
Oral, Written or Summary: 
Meeting Year: 
1998
Meeting: 

sc98

UN Sub-Commission on Human Rights: Fiftieth session
Meeting Name: 
UN Sub-Commission on Human Rights: Fiftieth session