I have the honour to deliver this statement on behalf of the European Union. The Candidate Country the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia*, the Countries of the Stabilisation and Association Process and potential candidates Albania and Montenegro, as well as Ukraine and Moldova align themselves with this statement.
During the last decades, the cause of Human Rights has increasingly gained the worlds recognition and active engagement. The responsibility for addressing human rights violations around the world can no longer be ignored. All of us, without exception, face challenges regarding our own Human Rights record.
The EU is fully committed to the promotion and protection of all Human Rights civil, cultural, economic, political and social – and will continue to firmly address human rights violations and to support and cooperate with all international and regional human rights mechanisms working to achieve the enjoyment by all individuals of their human rights and fundamental freedoms.
In this respect, the EU strongly supports the mandate and mission of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights and her Office.
The international human rights law has been reinforced with the adoption by the General Assembly of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities and its Optional Protocol, as well as the International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance. The EU is encouraged by the high number of States which have signed these instruments and hopes that this will enable their swift ratification and prompt entry into force.
Furthermore, the recent adoption of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples by the General Assembly on 13 September 2007, after more than two decades of negotiations, was another achievement for advancement of rights and ensuring the continued development of indigenous peoples around the world
Concerning instruments presently under preparation, the EU welcomes the progress achieved within the Working Group on an Optional Protocol to the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights.
The finalisation of the institutional building package by the Human Rights Council last June also deserves to be mentioned as a positive development. The Council has now the necessary tools to deal effectively and as stated in resolution 60/251 with the human rights situations in the world.
The European Union wishes to stress that the General Assembly, as the main body with universal composition of the UN, cannot remain silent in face of violations of human rights, even if the Human Rights Council also needs to address those situations. The EU will take every opportunity to call the attention of the international community to violations of human rights that demand consideration and action by all of us.
We are willing to discuss these situations in an open and frank manner and in dialogue with the countries concerned. But we firmly believe it is our duty, especially when the countries in question have remained closed to attempts by the international community and the international mechanism to cooperate in the improvement of the situation, to call the attention and mobilize the international community to achieve implementation of all human rights for all.
This is what we intend to do by presenting at this session draft resolutions on the human rights situation in Myanmar and in the DPRK. The seriousness of the situation in these two countries, which is reflected in the texts we will present, warrant, in our view, the attention and action by the General Assembly.
The EU is pleased to note that an increasing number of countries across the world have abolished the death penalty from their national legislation. The EU strongly welcomes the abolition of the death penalty for all crimes in Rwanda. It sets a powerful example to other countries around the world that a country like Rwanda, with the terrible violence it has known in its recent past, has chosen to abolish the death penalty.
However, the number of executions has increased in some states during the last year. We must remind ourselves that any miscarriage or failure of justice in the application of capital punishment represents the irreparable and irreversible lost of human lives.
As you all know, the EU, in the framework of a cross regional alliance, will introduce a resolution on the death penalty during the current session of the General Assembly and, in this context, the EU calls upon all States that still maintain the death penalty to establish a moratorium on executions with a view to abolishing the death penalty.
While closely following the situation in Sudan, the EU reiterates its serious concerns over the continued violence and grave human rights violations, such as abductions, rapes, sex slavery and abuses against children, occurring not only in Darfur, but also elsewhere in the country.
In Darfur, the situation remains characterised by gross and systematic violations of human rights and grave breaches of international humanitarian law. The EU urges the Government of Sudan to put an end to impunity bringing to justice those responsible for such abuses, including through full collaboration with the International Criminal Court. We are particularly concerned with the appointment, as co-chair of a governmental Human Rights Committee, of an individual that has been indicted by the ICC for war crimes as well as with the release of another individual that has been indicted by the ICC.
While we continue to focus on Darfur, We cannot ignore other Human Rights violations occurring elsewhere in the country. The EU urges the Government of Sudan to bring to justice those responsible for the recent cases of abductions, rapes or sex slavery and other human rights violations.
The EU is gravely concerned with the deterioration of the human rights situation in Sri Lanka. The EU is particularly troubled by the disturbing rise in abductions, enforced disappearances, arbitrary detentions, extrajudicial killings, and extortion perpetrated by the Government, the LTTE and the Karuna faction . The use of child soldiers also continues to be extremely worrying. UNICEF documented over 147 cases of recruitment and re-recruitment of children by the LTTE since December 2006, and over 145 cases by the Karuna faction in the same period
The EU is seriously concerned by the impunity perpetrators enjoy and the lack of protection given to human rights defenders, including the press. The EU urges the Sri Lanka Government to comply with international standards on human rights and to cooperate fully with relevant UN mechanisms. In this regard, we look forward to the High Commissioner for Human Rights report following her recent visit to the country. The EU calls upon the government of Sri Lanka to allow for impartial, transparent and effective investigations on human rights abuses contributing to the end of impunity in this country, and in this regard calls for a full implementation of the recommendations of the International Independent Group of Eminent Persons.
The EU remains deeply concerned with the deteriorating human rights situation in Iran. While recalling Irans international commitments, the EU condemns Irans systematic human rights violations such as the extended use of the capital punishment, including against juvenile offenders and the growing use of collective and public executions and the use of cruel and unusual punishments such as, stoning, flogging and amputation sentences.
We urge the Government of Iran to put an end to clampdowns and mass arrests of peaceful human rights defenders, human rights activists, students and journalists while exercising their right to freedom of expression.
The continuous climate of insecurity and impunity in the Democratic Republic of Congo, the persistent use of armed violence, arbitrary detentions, torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment, abuses against children including recruitment of child soldiers, attacks on civilians, harassment of human rights defenders and journalists, continue to be extremely worrying situations. The EU is also seriously concerned by the widespread use of sexual violence, especially in the Eastern part of the country and by the scale of violence and the inhuman methods used.
We express our support to the mandate of the Independent Expert on the Situation of Human Rights in the DRC, as an important technical cooperation procedure aimed at helping the Congolese government in its efforts to improve the human rights situation in the country. We hope that this Independent Expert visits the country as soon as possible and that this mandate be extended by the Human Rights Council next March.
The EU remains extremely concerned with the HR situation in Belarus. We regret that this mandate was discontinued in the HRC institution building process, but that should not imply a lessening of the EU’s attention to the HR situation in the country. The situation has in fact recently deteriorated with the systematic violations of civil and political rights.
We are disturbed by the recurrent threats, intimidation and illegal sentencing of NGOs and members of the civil society and we call upon the government of Belarus to comply with its obligation under international law and give full respect to the international standards of democracy and human rights.
The EUs position on the Human Rights situation in Cuba is one of concern and encouragement for a peaceful change into a pluralistic democracy, where Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms can be enjoyed. The human rights situation remains of international concern, particularly the violations of civil and political rights of its people by the government.
Although we welcome the release of a few prisoners in the last months, the EU urges the Cuban authorities to unconditionally release all political prisoners and allow humanitarian access to prisons, including by the International Committee of the Red Cross. The EU also appeals to the Cuban authorities, in view of the upcoming visit of the Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food, to further cooperate with international Human Rights bodies and mechanisms, particularly by allowing other Special Rapporteurs to visit
The EU continues to follow closely developments in the field of Human Rights in Afghanistan and welcomes measures taken by the Government to promote its implementation, such as improvements in healthcare conditions and the Supreme Courts reorganization of the courts.
However, it is with deep regret that the European Union has learned of the recent execution of 15 Afghan nationals. The EU urges the Government of Afghanistan to halt any possible further executions and to reconsider the de facto ending of the moratorium on the death penalty.
Despite all our efforts and calls for attention, the humanitarian crisis has steadily worsened, bringing misery to millions of ordinary Zimbabweans. The EU has been following attentively and has regularly condemned the continued use of intimidation, violence, arbitrary arrests and torture by the police and other security forces towards Zimbabwean citizens, in particular students, human rights defenders, opposition and civil society leaders during peaceful demonstrations. The EU regrets the systematic use of repressive legislation, but also its arbitrary application, by the government of Zimbabwe against the right to freedom of expression and association.
The EU notes the significant impact Zimbabwe could have on the region, including on regional security and prosperity. We commend the efforts made by SADC and President Mbeki in facilitating talks between ZANU (PF) and the MDC and hope that these mediations will result in free and fair elections in Zimbabwe.
The EU is highly concerned with the deepening of the humanitarian crisis in Iraq which has led almost two million Iraqis to seek refuge in neighbouring countries and over two million Iraqis to be displaced within Iraq. The EU commends the solidarity displayed by Iraqs neighbours Jordan and Syria in particular in the face of the suffering of Iraqi refugees. It underlines the importance of a continued dialogue with the countries of the region in order to improve the deplorable situation of the refugees. We follow with great concern the occurrence of human rights violations, the lack of public security, reports of torture, continued use of death penalty and difficulties in applying due process consistently by Iraqi judicial authorities.
The consequences of the very difficult security situation on human rights and on the life of the population are devastating. An important step to face this situation is to fight against impunity. We therefore urge the Iraqi government to take all needed measures in this field. We welcome the invitation to visit the country in early 2008 sent by the Government of Iraq to the Special Rapporteur on Torture.
The EU is concerned about the human rights situation in Somalia. Reports of targeted killings, the inability of journalists to carry out their work without interference and the absence of a free media is of particular concern. The EU urges all Parties in Somalia to respect internationally-recognised human rights, which are an essential element of a sustainable political process in Somalia and vital to commanding the support of the international community.
The European Union is deeply concerned with the worsening human rights and humanitarian situation in the Somali region of Ethiopia, recalling the increasing and worrying reports since the summer of extrajudicial executions, arbitrary detentions, sexual violence and torture. We call on all parties to fully respect their respective obligations under human rights and international humanitarian law, including by way of allowing the safe and unimpeded access by humanitarian organisations to persons affected by the ongoing humanitarian emergency.
The EU would like to highlight the decision of the Guatemalan Congress to establish the International Commission against Impunity in Guatemala as a matter of urgency and considers that it shows a strong commitment to fight impunity and work towards the eradication of the illegal armed groups as well as preventing their re-emergence. The EU however remains concerned about the high level of politically motivated violence in Guatemala during the electoral campaign. The EU would like to underline the importance of Human Rights Defenders in combating cultures of impunity and express concern at the continuing attacks they face in Guatemala.
The EU welcomes the efforts of President Uribes government to recover the State legitimacy and bring peace to Colombia, which has seen more than 40 years of fighting between the government, paramilitaries, armed groups and criminal gangs.
In this regard, the EU recognizes the importance of the role of the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights in Colombia on mainstreaming human rights in conflict management in the country, and therefore we welcome the newly extension of its mandate for another three years.
The EU remains deeply concerned about the protection of Human Rights in Uzbekistan, especially regarding the freedom of expression and assembly and the grave situation of Human Rights Defenders. The EU calls upon Uzbekistan to cooperate fully with all relevant UN mechanisms.
The EU is deeply concerned at the human rights situation in Eritrea. In particular, the detention without charge by the Eritrean government of members of minority religious groups, journalists, leading political figures and members of civil society contravenes international human rights agreements to which Eritrea is party. The EU also expresses its concern at the lack of freedom of speech, religion and political expression in Eritrea. We strongly urge the government of the State of Eritrea to comply with its international human rights obligations and to call on it to convene a dialogue on human rights with the EU as soon as possible.
One of the priorities for the EU has always been the protection of Human Rights Defenders, and the promotion of their work, which we consider invaluable to further the cause of Human Rights worldwide. We will continue to make use of our Guidelines on Human Rights Defenders to raise awareness to the importance of their work, aiming at the construction of an environment where HRD can operate freely and in safety.
The EU is gravely concerned with regard to the sentencing on vague accusations of several human rights defenders, including women and students, in Iran. The situation of Human Rights Defenders also remains disturbing in Uzbekistan, Nepal, Iran, Guatemala, Colombia, Yemen, Syria, Cuba, Indonesia, China, Russia, Sri Lanka, Belarus, Myanmar and Zimbabwe, only to mention a few that EU has closely been following.
The EU does not forget the work of Human Rights Defenders in promoting Economic, Social and Cultural Rights. Environmental activists, trade unionists, activists for land or health rights, to name just a few, suffer the same abuses as Human Rights Defenders of Civil and Political Rights. The main difference, according to the latest report of the Special Representative of the Secretary General on Human Rights Defenders, the work of whom we fully support, is that their efforts are seldom recognised by the International Community and therefore lack the same degree of protection and their claims are rarely addressed and often ignored.
Let me reiterate the EU’s firm stance regarding the absolute prohibition of torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment. International law does not allow for any exception whatsoever to the prohibition of torture. In this sense, the EU urges all states that have not yet done so to become parties to the UN Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment.
Allow me to take the opportunity, as we celebrate the 20th anniversary of the entry into force of this Convention, to reiterate the importance of this instrument and its wide ratification, as it counts already with 144 state parties, and call upon all State parties to comply strictly with their obligations under the Convention.
We call on all States to reject the institutionalised climate of impunity for torture acts still occurring in many parts of the world and to bring to justice all alleged perpetrators of acts of torture. The EU is also concerned by attempts to weaken the definition of torture.
We urge Governments to make it clear to their officials, including police, military and other security forces, that torture can never be tolerated, and that its perpetrators will be brought to justice, regardless of their rank or position..
We remain concerned with the reported cases of torture in Uzbekistan, Belarus, Zimbabwe, Russia, Nepal, Sri Lanka and other countries, and with the practice of inhuman punishments such as flogging and amputations in Iran, and we are also concerned with the inhuman conditions of detention centers and prisons in many countries.
We welcome the entry into force of the Optional Protocol to the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment and call upon all states to give early consideration to its signature and ratification.
Let me finalise by recalling the important role in combating and preventing torture and ill-treatment of the Special Rapporteur on Torture. The EU urges all states to fully cooperate with this mandate, allowing for country visits and giving due consideration to its recommendations. We regret that the Russian Federation has not yet been able to agree on a visit by the Special Rapporteur and strongly encourage for that to happen.
In 2008, we will celebrate the 60th anniversary of the Universal Declaration on Human Rights that underlines the importance of all human rights in achieving the dignity inherent to every human being. We are confident that if we remain firm in our actions and devoted to our goals, the year ahead of us will offer an opportunity to fulfil the vision contained in the Declaration and achieve universal freedom to live in dignity.
Thank you, Mr Chairman.
*Croatia and the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia continue to be part of the Stabilisation and Association Process.