Report on the Activities of Dominicans for Justice and Peace, and Franciscans International

March 19 - April 27, 2001
Palais des Nations, Geneva

I. Introduction

At the outset, it was evident that the 57th Session of the United Nations Commission on Human Rights would be polarized around key issues that would lead to a difficult meeting. A number of factors, both internal and external, contributed to the creation of a tense atmosphere, including

  • the deterioration of the situation in the Middle East since the Special Session on the Middle East situation  of UN Commission on Human Rights which was held in October 2000;
  • the controversy surrounding the drafting process of the Declaration and Plan of Action for the World Conference against Racism scheduled for August-September 2001, in Durban South Africa;
  • the hardening of positions on economic issues on the part of some government delegations and,
  • the composition of the UN Commission itself whose membership this year included: Algeria, Burundi, China, Colombia, Cuba, Congo, Indonesia, Libya, Pakistan, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Syria, and Viet Nam.

In this context, the role of non-governmental organizations (NGOs), such as Dominicans for Justice and Peace and Franciscans International, is to speak truth to the international community by raising human rights situations in countries and by naming the violations which are being perpetrated in various parts of the world. This requires on the part of our delegation fortitude and a belief in fundamental values as well as the hope that justice will prevail. Our participation and our public statements at the UN Commission on Human Rights are rooted in the work our brothers and sisters in the field and in the witness of two major religious families collaborating together on behalf of the poor and the voiceless.  

II. UN Commission on Human Rights

The UN Commission on Human Rights is the highest international forum for dealing with human rights violations by states. The United Nations Commission is mandated with the responsibility for the universal protection of human rights. The Commission consists of 53 elected member states represented by their governments who come together annually to deal with the most serious violations of human rights worldwide.

The membership of the Commission is drawn up on a regional basis: 15 members from Africa; 12  from Asia, 5 from Eastern Europe, 11 from South America and the Caribbean and 10 from Western and other states (US, Canada.

III. Politicization of the UN Commission

The issue of human rights is the most political one faced by the international community since human rights represent the principles and the obligations guiding the relationship between states and their citizens. The UN Commission is where this relationship is mediated. Therefore, the failures and the shortcoming of the Commission cannot be dismissed lightly with the words “it’s too politicized” since those who are the subject of debates are persons who are victims of torture persecution and other violations whose lives are sometimes in jeopardy on a daily basis. For the victims, the UN Commission is often the one place where there is some hope that action can be taken to improve the situation of human rights in their country.

IV. Dominican delegation at the UN Commission

The Dominican members of the delegation at the UN Commission included: Philippe LeBlanc OP (Canada), Pablo Romo (Romo), Albert Yohanna (Pakistan), Olivier Poquillon (France), Jelson Oliveira (Lay Dominican from Brazil); , Maritze Trigos, OP (Colombia), Marie Laure Denès (France), José Sebastiao Manuel OP (Angola), Marie-Thérèse Perdriault OP (France) and Guy Musy OP (Switzerland).

Members of the International Justice and Peace Commission of the Order also joined us during the first week of the UN Commission. They included: Marie Anne Baird OP (New Zealand), Luisa Campos OP (Dominican Republic); Maria Mayo Justel OP (Spain), Peter Murname OP (New Zealand), Ferdinand Warner OP (Trinidad and Tobago) and Klarissa Watermann OP (Germany).

V. Master of the Order visits the United Nations in Geneva

The Master of the Order, Timothy Radcliffe OP paid a visit to the United Nations and to our FI/OP Human Rights Office, in Geneva and met with members of the delegation and staff. The Master of the Order commented on the uniqueness of the collaboration of the two Families, Dominican and Franciscan, working together on behalf of the poor, the voiceless and those whose rights are violated. The President of Franciscans International, David Couturier, OFM Cap. was also present at the meeting.

VI. Our contribution to the UN Commission on Human Rights

The UN Commission deals with human rights issues from a thematic perspective and from the point of view of country situations.

At the Commission we concentrated our action on the human rights situations in the following countries: Colombia, Mexico, Pakistan, Brazil and the sanctions against the people of Iraq.

In terms of thematic issues, we focused on: indigenous rights; militarization; religious discrimination; children’s rights, the right to development, human rights of women, impunity; and the issue of landless peoples.

Dominicans for Justice and Peace and Franciscans International (FI/OP) presented five oral statements (right to development, human rights situation in Pakistan, administration of justice in Colombia, displacement of vulnerable groups in India and Brazil and indigenous rights in Mexico), and joined other NGOs on four others statements (human rights situation in Colombia, women’s rights, impact of the economic sanctions on the children in Iraq, adaptation and strengthening of the UN machinery for human rights).

Dominicans and Franciscans also co-sponsored four public meetings at the United Nations in Geneva to increase awareness of issues in three countries. The four topics were: human rights in Colombia, extra-judicial, summary or arbitrary executions in Brazil, the human rights situation in Mexico and a Gallery of Memory about the crimes against humanity committed in the past decades in Colombia.


Sanctions against the people of Iraq

For the second year in a row, Dominicans and Franciscans made an oral intervention on the sanctions against Iraq from a humanitarian perspective. In a joint statement with Caritas Internationalis, Pax Christi International, the Maryknoll Fathers and Brothers, the Maryknoll Sisters of St. Dominic, the World Alliance of Reformed Churches and the Canadian Council of Churches, we once again brought to the attention of the Commission the destructive consequences of international economic sanctions on Iraqi children.

We stated that several articles of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child are being systematically violated, that the abuses have been described in a number of UN reports and that the situation has led to the resignation of three senior UN personnel who were responsible for the humanitarian programs in Iraq. In particular, we stressed that the humanitarian disaster is such that, according to UNICEF data, more than 500,000 children under five years of age have died as a result of the embargo between 1991 and 1995 and that there are still 5,000 children dying every month in Iraq. Further, the International Committee of the Red Cross stated that the Iraqi health-care system today is in a decrepit state while the UN Development Program (UNDP) calculated that it would take 7 billion dollars to rehabilitate the power sector country-wide to its 1990 capacity.

We also brought to the attention of Commission members that the recent visits to Iraq carried out by Caritas Europa and the third delegation of US Dominican Sisters and one Friar (Vox for Veritas III) both produced reports on the situation. The reports concluded that, because of the impact of the sanctions, children continue to suffer from high levels of malnutrition resulting in arrested development and diminished capacity to reach their full potential. Even if the sanctions were lifted today, their impact would be felt for many years to come as the very fabric of society has been damaged.

The above-named co-sponsors, in conjunction with Dominicans for Justice and Peace, and in harmony with the call of Pope John Paul II and the 1998 Synod of Bishop of Asia, requested that the international community take all means possible to bring an end to the sanctions which are killing the children of Iraq and to guarantee the respect of the rules of international humanitarian law in their regard.

The rights of indigenous peoples in Mexico

In our oral statement at the UN Commission, we declared that, despite the recent political changes in Mexico, there was ample evidence to demonstrate that there remained long-standing and systemic human rights problems related to the indigenous populations (15% of the total population of Mexico), which would require effective remedies and long-term solutions. In particular, we denounced the high rate of poverty in communities with a high concentration of indigenous inhabitants. In those communities, the rate of poverty was more than 80% while the educational system and the health infrastructures were less developed, giving rise to the highest rate of infant mortality within the whole country. There is also evidence to demonstrate that militarization of the communities is often the cause of harassment, threats, arbitrary detention and house raids against the local population. Notwithstanding the efforts made by the government, the phenomenon of paramilitarism continues to victimize indigenous peoples, causing an increase in the number of displaced persons, as in Chiapas where the number has grown to over 20,000.

We therefore recommended that the Mexican government

  1. ensure the adoption of the draft law on Indigenous Rights and Culture of the Commission for Concord and Pacification (COCOPA);
  2. adopt rules in order to operationalize the draft law, including provisions on ethnic diversity, multiculturalism and collective rights of indigenous peoples;
  3. adapt the Mexican constitution and the electoral system in order to guarantee the right of indigenous peoples to participate in the government with their freely elected representatives, either by customary usages or whatever system they select;
  4. reform article 115 of the Mexican constitution to strengthen local municipalities and to include other forms of political organizations for indigenous peoples;
  5. make the appropriate amendments to Mexican law in order to reflect the norms contained in ILO Convention 169 concerning indigenous and tribal peoples in independent countries.

Religious discrimination in Pakistan

Dominicans and Franciscans have intervened on the issue of religious discrimination in Pakistan since 1997. This year’s oral intervention was prepared in collaboration with both the Justice and Peace Commission of the Major Superiors Leadership Conference and the Justice and Peace Commission of the Catholic Bishops Conference of Pakistan. Our statement demonstrated that political leadership and martial law regimes often use Islam to legitimize the rule to the disadvantage of religious minorities leading to ethnic and sectarian violence among Muslims and the imposition of discriminatory and repressive laws against minorities. For example, the present regime in Pakistan introduced in August 2000 a new structure of local government which further discriminates against religious minorities on the basis of gender and class. While recognizing that the new structure of local government reserves seats specifically for women, minority women are not eligible for them. Moreover, the new structure of local government also discriminates on the basis of class and occupations. A number of seats are reserved for Muslim peasants and laborers, but religious minorities are not eligible for them.

We reminded the UN Commission that both Justice and Peace Commissions in Pakistan have been involved since 1985 in the struggle to end the separate electorate system and to rescind the blasphemy laws. Additionally, we stated both groups will equally continue to play a vital role in the development and prosperity of Pakistan, especially in the fields of education and health. They will also continue to play a positive role by building bridges between Christians and Muslims in the country. We also stressed that there can be no justice and no equality among the citizens of Pakistan without major changes in the existing discriminatory policies of the government.

We, therefore, recommended that the government of Pakistan: 

  1. take corrective measures to ensure more accountability, transparency, good governance and respect for the rule of law in the country;
  2. abolish the system of Separate Electorates and restore the joint electorate system in the country;
  3. repeal all discriminatory laws, including the blasphemy laws section 295 B and 295 C of the Pakistan Penal Code;
  4. adopt policies towards a more modern, liberal and secular Pakistan as deemed by Muhammad Ali Jinnah, the father of the nation;
  5. ratify the human rights treaties which it has not yet ratified;
  6. implement the provisions contained in the treaties it has already ratified as a sign of its intention to cooperate internationally with the existing treaty Bodies and other UN mechanisms and special procedures;
  7. invite the Special Rapporteur on the question of religious intolerance to undertake a second visit to Pakistan.

Human rights situation in Colombia

In our statements on Colombia, we said that the human rights situation in the country was not only grave, but alarmingly chronic. Between 1988 and 1997, at least 10 victims had fallen daily to the

violence perpetrated in the country. Since then and up to September 2000, this number increased to 20 daily. Further, in the first months of 2001, massacres, extra-judicial killings and enforced disappearances have intensified more than ever, especially targeting trade-unionists, academics and journalists.

We also singled out the collaboration between some members of the armed forces and illegal paramilitaries and the fact that known paramilitary compounds and activities remain unchallenged by the Colombian authorities which leads to a situation where impunity reigns in the country. We stated also that the great majority of human rights and humanitarian law violations are carried out either by State agents or by persons belonging to paramilitary groups. The latter groups tend to maintain close links with security forces and are often directly encouraged by certain sectors of the Colombian government.

In addition, we declared that the State’s efforts to comply with international recommendations for action on human rights protection issues failed to produce tangible results, either because the actions lacked continuity, had a limited impact or, as in a number of cases, had not been implemented.

We therefore recommended that the UN Commission:

  1. express, in the strongest terms, its deep concern for the grave human rights situation in Colombia;
  2. fully support the work of the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights in Bogota, ensuring that it can rely on all necessary human and financial resources;
  3. urge the Colombian government to fully cooperate with the Office of the UN High Commissioner in Bogota and to implement without any further delay its recommendations;
  4. appoint a Special Rapporteur on the human rights situation in Colombia as a complementary mechanism to the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights in Bogota,
  5. establish a mechanism of the UN Commission on Human Rights with the mandate to analyze the causes of the continuous lack of implementation of international recommendations by the Colombian government.

Chair’s Statement on Colombia

The UN Commission on Human Rights adopted the Chair’s Statement on Colombia which, as in previous years, was negotiated with the by the Chair of the UN Commission and the Colombian government. The Chair’s Statement took note of the obstacles which the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights in

Bogota had experienced in the country in maintaining an ongoing and effective dialogue with the government. It also reaffirmed its belief that a wider presence of the UN High Commissionner’s Office was of utmost importance and encouraged the opening of field offices in the country. The Statement also condemned massive and systematic abuses and grave breaches of international humanitarian law perpetrated by

paramilitary and guerrilla groups and called for intensified efforts by the government and armed groups to reach terms for a cease-fire and to respect international human rights standards. In addition, the Chair’s Statement strongly deplored the persistence of impunity, underlined that it was important that cases of human rights violations be tried by civilian courts and reiterated its concern at continued reports of human rights violations attributed to the armed and security forces and reports of collusion between members of armed and security forces and paramilitary groups. Dominicans for Justice and Peace and Franciscans International regret, however, that the link between military and paramilitary forces was not explicitly recognized and denounced in the text. We hope that the Colombian government’s invitation to the Special Rapporteur on Extra-judicial, Summary or Arbitrary Executions and to the Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances  to visit the country will be followed by a sincere commitment to implement the recommendations that they will make in their reports. The same can be said about the more recent invitation extended by Colombia to the Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Expression as well as to the Special Representative on Human Rights Defenders.


In terms of country situations, the UN Commission adopted resolutions on the human rights situations in Afghanistan, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Burundi, Cambodia, Chechnya, Cuba, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Equatorial Guinea, the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, including Kosovo, Iran, Iraq, Burma, Sierra Leone, Somalia, and Sudan. The Commission also approved three Chair’s statements, respectively on Colombia, East Timor and Haiti.

In response to a draft resolution proposed by the United States on the human rights situation in China, the Chinese delegation put forward a motion of no action which was adopted by the Commission (23 votes in favor, with 17 against and 12 abstentions). The result of the vote was that it precluded any substantive discussion of the content of the US resolution and therefore of China’s human rights record.

In another unfortunate decision, the UN Commission voted to end the mandate of the Special Representative on Rwanda and to end consideration of Rwanda under its agenda item on the question of human rights violations anywhere in the world. The resolution was initiated by Kenya on behalf of the African group. During the discussion, a number of Western countries had proposed amendments

to prolong the mandate of the Special Representative for another year, but these were defeated on a technicality.

Human Rights in the Occupied Arab Territories, including Palestine

At the Special Session of the UN Commission on Human Rights, in September 2000, to deal with situation in the Middle East, members requested the UN High Commissioner on Human Rights Mary Robinson to visit the region and report back to this session. They also created a human rights inquiry commission to look further into the situation and asked that Special Rapporteurs visit the region to investigate the situation according to their mandates.

At this session of the UN Commission, members adopted five resolutions on the Middle East dealing respectively with the right to self-determination of the Palestinian people, including their right to establish a sovereign and independent Palestinian State; the Israeli settlements in the occupied Arab territories; the situation of human rights in the Syrian Golan; the human rights situation of the Lebanese detainees in Israel and the violation of human rights in the occupied Arab territories, including Palestine. Specifically, this last text, in light of the reports submitted by the UN High Commissioner, the Special Rapporteur and the human rights inquiry commission, expressed grave concern at the deterioration of the human rights and humanitarian situation in the occupied Palestinian territories, condemned the disproportionate and indiscriminate recourse to force, which could not but aggravate the situation and increase an already high death toll as well as it urged Israel to make every effort to ensure that its security forces observed international standards regarding the use of force. Further, the resolution strongly deplored the practice of so called eliminations, or extra-judicial killings of certain Palestinians as well as the closures of and within the Palestinian territories.


Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights and fundamental freedoms of indigenous peoples

The UN Commission decided to appoint, a Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights and fundamental freedoms of indigenous peoples for a three-year period The resolution on the special rapporteur was led by Mexico on behalf of Latin America countries provide for the following functions: (a) to gather, request, receive and exchange information and communications from all relevant sources, including governments, indigenous people themselves and their communities and organizations, on violations of their human rights and fundamental freedoms; (b) to formulate recommendations and proposals on appropriate measures and

activities to prevent and remedy violations of the human rights and fundamental freedoms of indigenous people; (c) to work in close relation with other special rapporteurs, special representatives, working groups and independent experts of the UN Commission on Human rights and of the Sub-Commission on the Promotion and Protection of Human Rights.

Death penalty

The UN Commission adopted a resolution concerning the death penalty with 27 votes in favor with 18 against and 7 abstentions. The Commission (a) called upon all states parties to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, that had not yet done so, to consider acceding to or ratifying the Second Optional Protocol to the International Covenant, aiming at the abolition of death penalty; (b) urged all States, that still maintained the death penalty, (i) to comply fully with their obligations under the Covenant and the Convention on the Rights of the Child; (ii) to ensure that the notion of most serious crimes did not go beyond international crimes with lethal or extremely grave consequences and (iii) not to impose the death penalty on a person suffering from any form of mental disorder or (iv) to execute any such person.

Resolution on the defamation of religions

Again, this year, the UN Commission adopted a resolution on combating defamation of religions as a means to promote human rights, social harmony as well as religious and cultural diversity, tabled by Pakistan, on behalf of the Organization of the Islamic Conference. Dominicans for Justice and Peace and Franciscans International recognize the duty of all States to protect and promote freedom of religion and belief but we are concerned that the concept of defamation, as proposed by Pakistan, could be easily abused by

extremists to censure all debate on religious freedom. Procedurally, the resolution was inappropriately tabled under the agenda item dealing with racism instead under the one devoted to religious freedom. From a substantive perspective, the resolution’s title is not clear, the overall text is unbalanced as it only focuses on one specific religion (Islam) as being frequently and wrongly associated with human rights violations and with terrorism. Moreover, the links between diversity and the fight against racism were not adequately addressed and the degree to which questions of racism and questions of religious intolerance were mixed together did not help in achieving a better understanding of the relationship between the two issues.

Renewal of thematic mandates

We welcomed the renewal of the following mandates: the Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Religion or Relief (Mr. Abdelfattah Amor, Tunisia); the Representative of the Secretary-General on Internally

Displaced Persons (François Deng, Sudan); the Special Rapporteur on the Right to Education (Ms Katarina Tomaevski, Croatia); the Special Rapporteur on Torture (Sir Nigel Rodley, United Kingdom); and, the Special Rapporteur on Extra-judicial, Summary or Arbitrary executions (Ms Asam Jahangir, Pakistan). Also, we noted that, in a spirit of concrete cooperation, 33 countries have now extended standing invitations to all thematic mechanisms (special rapporteurs, representatives etc...) of the Commission to visit their country at any time.

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