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Human Rights Watch's Priorities for the 61st Session of the U.N. Commission on Human Rights

Letter Sent to Members of the Commission on Human Rights

Your Excellency,  
The upcoming session of the Commission on Human Rights provides an important opportunity for all Members to advance their priorities regarding the protection and promotion of human rights throughout the world. To support all Member States in these critically important efforts, we would like to offer the following recommendations concerning priority issues.

Furthermore, the recently released report by the High-level Panel entitled "A More Secure World: Our Shared Responsibility," offers an opportunity for thorough reflection on the overall functioning of the United Nations human rights system and creates a momentum for the much needed action. We look forward to the opportunity to share with you some of our own thoughts and recommendations concerning the role and the work of the Commission on Human Rights.  
The Role of the Commission and its Working Methods  
As described in the High-level Panel report, the Commission's ability to perform its mandate "has been undermined by eroding credibility and professionalism." There are a number of steps that in our view the Commission needs to take in the context of this year's session to address this central issue.  

1. Ensure Full Cooperation with Human Rights Monitoring Mechanisms:  
The failure of states to cooperate with human rights monitoring procedures ("special procedures") should be taken up as a matter of grave concern by Commission members. Several countries have either simply ignored the pending requests for visits by special procedures or have abruptly canceled scheduled visits. For example, Russia has never fully complied with the 2001 resolution of the CHR that asked several special procedures to conduct a visit to Chechnya; China, after many years of negotiations canceled a visit by the Special Rapporteur on Torture just days before it was supposed to begin; and the United States has not provided access to places of detention requested by several special procedures in the wake of the Abu Ghraib scandal. This dangerous practice of noncompliance with requests by special procedures must be stopped.  
In addition, we call on States to respond promptly and substantively to Communications by special procedures, to implement recommendations by special procedures and by reporting to the relevant special procedure on follow-up action taken.  

We urge Members of the Commission - both in bilateral contacts and in public pronouncements - to press states to cooperate fully and promptly with requests by special procedures. We also urge you to include specific language about the need for timely cooperation in all resolutions relating to procedures that have been affected by non-compliance. In particular, the resolutions on torture, arbitrary detention, enforced disappearances and extrajudicial executions should all include such language. Each country-specific resolution should also urge that the state cooperate fully with all special procedures.  

2. Actively oppose the use of "no action" motions on country initiatives:  
In recent years, the Commission's work has been substantially undermined by the use of the so called no action motion. The use of this measure effectively puts a gag order on the possibility to even discuss certain situations and thus is contrary to the purpose for which the Commission was established. During the upcoming session, there is a strong chance that the ongoing campaign against country resolutions will again manifest itself this year in an even more frequent use of no action motions.

We urge your Government to oppose the use of "no action" motions and to reach out early in the session to other Commission members to dissuade them from the use of this procedural measure. We also urge your Delegation to speak out against the use of "no action" motions in statements during sessions, including in the high level segment speeches.  

3. Make public commitments regarding human rights:

Previous High Commissioners, several States, and nongovernmental organizations have highlighted the importance of linking commitment to human rights to membership in the Commission. During the high level segment or at opportune moments during the Commission, States wishing to be members of the Commission or which are already on the Commission should make public commitments regarding human rights. Such commitments could include, for example:  

  • A commitment to cooperate fully with the Special Procedures of the Commission on Human Rights, including by issuing a standing invitation for all such procedures to visit their country.
  • Presentation of a national plan of action on human rights, as required by the 1993 Vienna World Conference on Human Rights.
  • Ratification of all or most major human rights instruments and the review of any reservations to treaties already ratified with the aim of eliminating restrictive ones.
  • Completion of all outstanding reports to U.N. treaty bodies before becoming members.
  • A commitment in all voting and deliberations on Commission resolutions to be guided by the Commission's purpose to promote and protect human rights.
  • A commitment not to table or vote for any "no-action" motion on country resolutions.

We urge your Government to consider making such commitments during the Commission and to encourage others to do so. We also urge your Government not to support actively or tacitly, candidates to the Commission that have been responsible for crimes against humanity or other massive and grave human rights violations. Only by opposing inclusion of such members can the Commission be restored to its former standing and credibility.  

Thematic issues  

1. Strengthen the Commission's Work Relating to Counter Terrorism:  
Acts of terrorism violate everything the human rights movement stands for. Deliberate attacks on civilians undermine the most fundamental principles of human rights and humanitarian laws are always wrong. At the same time, many of those leading the campaign against terrorism have been reluctant to allow human rights standards to constrain their efforts. Evidence increasingly demonstrates that this approach is dangerously short-sighted and counterproductive.  
Counter-terrorism measures continue to violate human rights in many countries. Although not all of them new, these concerns have taken on a more transnational and globalized dimension since the attacks of September 11, 2001. Abuses include prolonged, incommunicado detention without judicial review; torture and cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment of detainees; the transfer, return, extradition, and expulsion of persons at risk of being subjected to torture or ill treatment; and the adoption of security measures that curtail the right to freedom of association and movement and breach the principal of non-discrimination. Of particular concern is the denial of access to international monitors to terrorism suspects held in countries all over the world.  
Several extremely disturbing details of counter-terrorism practices around the world came to light in 2004. In late April, photos of U.S. forces abusing detainees at Abu Ghraib prison in Baghdad drew attention to the consequences of a series of policy decisions by U.S. officials to bend, ignore, or cast the rules aside. Each passing day seemed to bring new evidence that U.S. mistreatment of detainees-far from being an isolated incident at Abu Ghraib-was widespread in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Guantánamo Bay, Cuba.  
In August 2004, the second highest court in the U.K. ruled that the British government is entitled to rely on evidence obtained under torture from third countries in special terrorism cases, provided that the U.K. has "neither procured the torture nor connived at it." At the November 2004 session of the U.N. Committee against Torture, the U.K. government went further, asserting the right to rely on such evidence in any court proceedings, albeit while denying that it had any plans to do so. These examples, involving countries that see themselves as countries that respect human rights, only underscore the urgent need for thorough monitoring of counter-terrorism practices worldwide by a specialized human rights mechanism.  

The Commission on Human Rights should adopt a resolution on the protection of human rights in countering terrorism that would:   

  • Emphasize the importance of the respect for international human rights, humanitarian and refugee law in combating terrorism.  
  • Establish a monitoring mechanism on human rights and counter-terrorism. This mandate should be established for an initial period of three years. It should encompass all internationally recognized human rights and extend to all states; it should be authorized to provide technical assistance to government in the design of counter-terrorism measures; it should be asked to undertake in situ visits; and it should be authorized and encouraged to consult with and exchange information with the Security Council Counter-Terrorism Committee as well as with all relevant mandate holders and treaty bodies.  
  • Ask the High Commissioner to continue her leadership role in coordinating and encouraging the work of all relevant U.N. bodies and organs on matters related to terrorism and human rights; to make recommendations on safeguarding human rights in combating terrorism; and to seek, receive and exchange information from all relevant sources, including governments, international and non-governmental organizations for these purposes.  
  • Ask the High Commissioner to provide increased resources and visibility to the work of her office on human rights and counter terrorism.  
  • Request relevant CHR special procedures and the U.N. treaty bodies to monitor counter terrorism measures adopted and implemented by member states.  
  • Urge the UN Security Council's Counter-Terrorism Committee and the Counter Terrorism Executive Directorate to assess the human rights impacts of counter-terrorist measures and work closely with the High Commissioner, U.N. treaty bodies and special procedures.

We urge Members of the Commission to actively support the Mexican initiative on counter terrorism and human rights.  

2. Promoting Corporate Responsibility:  
The United Nations has been playing a valuable role advancing corporate accountability for human rights abuses. The Sub-Commission for the Promotion and Protection of Human Rights approved in 2003 the U.N. Norms on the Responsibilities of Transnational Corporations and Other Business Enterprises with Regard to Human Rights which recognize that the fundamental obligation for upholding human rights lies with governments, but that companies do have responsibilities as well.

We urge Members of the Commission to continue to consider the issue of corporate responsibility, extend the multi-stakeholder consultation process it initiated last year, and provide for a mechanism, such as the appointment of special advisor, to clarify key concepts and help build consensus around minimum standards.  

3. Strengthening consideration of sexual orientation and gender identity issues:  
The Commission on Human Rights should adopt a resolution affirming that human rights cannot be denied on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity. Such a resolution is important not only to shed light on violations that are often shrouded in stigma and silence-but also to uphold the principle that human rights must be enjoyed equally by all people.  
Human Rights Watch and others have documented widespread and egregious abuses on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity. Almost one hundred countries still legally prohibit sexual relations between persons of the same sex. In other countries, vaguely-worded and sweeping laws against "public scandals" or "indecent behavior" are used to penalize people whose only crime is looking, dressing, or behaving differently from rigidly enforced social norms. In many countries, people detained on the basis of their sexual orientation or gender identity are tortured or ill-treated in police custody. Many people face violence in the community or family because of their sexual orientation or gender identity. Many state officials, driven by prejudice, refuse to protect them.  
In the landmark 1994 decision in the case of Toonen vs Australia, the U.N. Human Rights Committee held that "sexual orientation" should be understood to be a status protected against discrimination under articles 2 and 26 of the ICCPR. Since then, many U.N. human rights mechanisms have demonstrated concern with abuses based on sexual orientation or gender identity. Language condemning abuses based on sexual orientation and gender identity has been included in the crucial resolution on extrajudicial executions. In addition to supporting a resolution drawing specific attention to those abuses, Members States should support the inclusion of language on sexual orientation and gender identity in other thematic Commission resolutions, as appropriate.  

We urge Members of the Commission to adopt a resolution that:   

  • Affirms the principle of the inadmissibility of discrimination on any grounds.  
  • Expresses concern at the occurrence of discrimination and violations of human rights based on persons' sexual orientation or gender identity.  
  • Stresses that the enjoyment of human rights should not be hindered on the grounds of sexual orientation or gender identity.  
  • Calls upon States to promote and protect the rights of all persons regardless of their sexual orientation and gender identity.  
  • Encourages all special procedures of the Commission on Human Rights, as well as the treaty bodies, to give due attention within their mandates to human rights violations based on sexual orientation and gender identity.  
  • Requests the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights to pay due attention to such violations, and to present a report on this issue to the 62nd session of the Commission on Human Rights.

The Commission on Human Rights should also:    

  • Integrate language condemning abuses based on sexual orientation and gender identity into its other thematic resolutions. People are subjected to torture on the basis of their sexual orientation and gender identity; violence against women is often a punishment for their exercise of sexual autonomy; human rights defenders face retaliation for working with marginalized and stigmatized groups; and people are denied basic rights in areas such as health, education, and housing. The Commission should draw attention to these impermissible forms of discrimination and abuse.

Country Situations  
We also want to bring to your attention several specific country situations where we believe the Commission needs to take specific steps and your Government, as a member of the Commission, has a particularly important role to play.  
Despite some improvements, Afghanistan continued to suffer from serious instability in 2004. Warlords and armed factions, including remaining Taliban forces, dominate most of the country and routinely abuse human rights, particularly the rights of women and girls. The international community has failed to contribute sufficient troops or resources to address the situation, and basic human rights conditions remain poor in many parts of the country, especially outside of Kabul.  
The Commission on Human Rights should call on the Afghan government to:   

  • Speed up its efforts to disarm, demobilize, and reintegrate illegal militia forces, and work toward improving its police forces and judicial system.  
  • Provide support for the efforts to design and implement systems of accountability to address Afghanistan past record of war crimes and serious human rights abuses.  
  • Increase its efforts to provide security as well as material and political support necessary to integrate girls and women more fully into the country's economic, political, and cultural life.  
  • Respond promptly to informational inquiries from U.N. Rapporteurs and their requests to be invited to Afghanistan.

The Commission should request the UN Assistance Mission to Afghanistan to work to:  

  • Increase the number of human rights monitors in the country and deploy more of them to regional centers where they can more robustly monitor human rights abuses.  
  • Publish appropriately critical reports on human rights conditions in the country, identifying warlords and other leaders who are implicated in serious abuses.

The Commission should request the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, a key member of the International Security Assistance Force in Afghanistan, to:  

  • Immediately expand its operations so as to provide much-needed security to the western, southern, and southeastern areas of Afghanistan.  
  • Immediately amend its mandate to assume greater responsibility for the protection of human rights.

Africa's Great Lakes Region  
The Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Burundi, Uganda, and Rwanda struggle with the consequences of armed conflict and massive violations of international humanitarian law that have left more than five million civilians dead and millions of others traumatized, physically incapacitated, and impoverished. Movements of refugees, combatants, and ideologies across frontiers have linked conflicts in these countries. The massacre of 162 Congolese refugees at Gatumba, Burundi in August 2004 and the subsequent Rwandan threat to invade the DRC to punish the supposed perpetrators is one example of these close connections. The support of Rwanda and Uganda for armed groups operating in eastern DRC, as reported by the UN expert panel on the arms embargo of eastern DRC, is another example; these groups are responsible for serious human rights crimes including ethnic slaughter. Still another case includes Rwandan armed groups, in opposition to the current government of Rwanda, that kill, rape, and otherwise abuse civilians in eastern DRC.  
The Commission should adopt a resolution that:  

  • Condemns continuing grave violations of international humanitarian law by armed groups and government armed forces in the DRC and in Burundi.  
  • Appoints a Special Rapporteur for the Great Lakes region to monitor cross border human rights concerns between the DRC, Uganda, Rwanda and Burundi and to strengthen efforts at achieving accountability for past massive violations of international humanitarian law in these countries.  
  • Encourages the governments of DRC, Burundi, and Rwanda to give priority to rebuilding national justice systems by investing the necessary resources and ensuring judicial independence.  
  • Urges donor governments and UN agencies to provide essential assistance to these governments in rebuilding their judicial systems.  
  • Urges the governments of DRC, Burundi, and Rwanda to set up a screening process to determine the suitability according to human rights criteria of candidates to senior army ranks and request the DRC government to review recent appointments of officers against whom evidence exists of apparent involvement in serious human rights abuses.  
  • Commends the staff of the field office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, the technical advisors in DRC and Burundi, the human rights officers of MONUC and other UN agencies, and national and international human rights organizations for their diligence in gathering evidence of grave violations of international humanitarian law in the DRC, Burundi, and Rwanda and encourage them to continue this work.

For the past decade the administration of President Aleksandr Lukashenko has eroded civil and political rights. Independent media and civil society groups survive, but are shrinking under sustained pressure from the authorities. State manipulation turned Belarus' elections into empty exercises: elections in 2004 were not free and fair, and produced a parliament with no opposition representatives. The legacy of "disappearances" of perceived opponents, for which the government refuses to pursue meaningful accountability, continues to taint the administration and to sour its foreign relations.  
A strong resolution is merited given that the Commission in 2004 saw fit to adopt a resolution on Belarus that has not been acted on, and Belarus has not cooperated with the Special Rapporteur appointed in 2004.  
The Commission on Human Rights should adopt a resolution that would:  

  • Extend for another year the mandate of the Special Rapporteur on Belarus.

and call on the Belarusian government to:  

  • Fully cooperate with the Special Rapporteur. The Commission should in the strongest terms reprimand Belarus for its refusal to cooperate with the mechanism throughout the first year of that mandate.  
  • End politically motivated prosecutions of political opponents.  
  • Cease harassment of independent media.  
  • Abolish unjustifiable restrictions on association and assembly.  
  • Pursue meaningful investigation and prosecution for unresolved "disappearances."

Although a March 2004 amendment to the Chinese constitution provides that "the state respects and preserves human rights," the provision is not justiciable. Subsequent to its enactment, Human Rights Watch has documented a pattern of human rights abuses affecting religious believers, political dissidents, people living with HIV/AIDS, labor and housing rights advocates, refugees in danger of refoulement, and activists in Tibet, Xinjiang, and Inner Mongolia.  
The Commission on Human Rights should:  

  • Call on Chinese authorities to immediately and unconditionally release all those held for the peaceful exercise of rights to freedom of religion, expression, association, and assembly, and amend Chinese laws and regulations, including the Criminal Procedure Law, to make them consistent with international standards.  
  • Urge China to ratify the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, signed in October 1998.  
  • Urge China to implement the recommendations contained in the Report of the Working Group on Arbitrary Detention (E/CN.4/2005/6/Add.4) including reform of reeducation through labor.  
  • Urge China to facilitate, without further delay and on terms fully consistent with their respective mandates, visits by the Special Rapporteur on Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, the Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Religion or Belief, the Special Rapporteur on the Right to the Highest Attainable Standard of Health, and the Special Rapporteur on Adequate Housing.  
  • Insist that Chinese courts refuse to accept as evidence information obtained through torture.  
  • Urge China to ratify International Labor Organization Convention No. 87 Freedom of Association and Protection of the Right to Organize, and Convention No. 98 Right to Organize and Collective Bargaining. Urge also that China rescind its reservation to article 8(1)(a) of the International Convention on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights which ensures the right to form and join trade unions of one's choice.  
  • Urge China to ratify and implement International Labor Organization Convention 176 on Safety and Health in Mines.  
  • Urge China to promulgate a national law barring discrimination on the basis of health status, and to revise local regulations to remove discriminatory provisions.

Despite the release in 2004 of fourteen of the seventy-five political dissidents, independent journalists, and human rights advocates prosecuted in April 2003, human rights conditions in Cuba have not improved. The Cuban government systematically denies its citizens basic rights to free expression, association, assembly, movement, and a fair trial. It restricts nearly all avenues of political dissent, and uses police warnings, surveillance, short term-detentions, house arrests, travel restrictions, criminal prosecutions, and politically-motivated dismissals from employment as methods of enforcing political conformity.  
Human rights monitoring is not recognized as a legitimate activity, but rather is stigmatized as a betrayal of Cuban sovereignty. No local human rights groups enjoy legal status. Instead, human rights defenders face systematic harassment, with the government placing heavy burdens on their ability to monitor human rights conditions. Nor are international human rights groups such as Human Rights Watch allowed to send fact-finding missions to Cuba.  
Political prisoners who denounce poor conditions of imprisonment or who otherwise fail to observe prison rules are frequently punished by long periods in punitive isolation cells, restrictions on visits, or denial of medical treatment.  
The Commission should adopt a resolution that would:  

  • Condemn Cuba's imprisonment of individuals based on their exercise of fundamental rights to free expression, association, assembly, or movement, including many imprisoned for human rights monitoring and advocacy.  
  • Call upon Cuba to release persons incarcerated in violation of their fundamental human rights, including the many dissidents, independent journalists and human rights activists who were unfairly prosecuted in April 2003.  
  • Press Cuba to undertake legal reforms to bring its domestic laws into compliance with fundamental international human rights norms, including eliminating the offense of contempt for authority (desacato, defamation of institutions and mass organizations and illegal exit, and eliminating or significantly narrowing the definition of Criminal Code provisions relating to enemy propaganda, and clandestine printing.  
  • Press the Cuban government to demonstrate respect for the freedom of association by allowing independent labor unions to operate legally.  
  • Urge Cuba to invite the CHR experts on human rights defenders, torture, independence of the judiciary, and arbitrary detention to visit Cuba.  
  • Note Cuba's failure to implement the recommendations included in previous CHR resolutions.

In 2004, while pursuing a military offensive against guerrilla groups, the government continued negotiations for the demobilization of paramilitary groups. The negotiations have been accompanied by ceremonies in which thousands of purported paramilitaries have turned in weapons to the government. At the same time, however, paramilitaries have been flouting the OAS-monitored ceasefire they declared at the start of negotiations, while consolidating their control over vast areas of the country. And the demobilization process continues to lack an adequate legal framework to ensure the dismantlement of complex and economically powerful paramilitary structures, or to provide for the effective investigation and prosecution of paramilitaries implicated in the commission of atrocities.  
Members of the Commission should:  

  • Support a broad mandate and increase in the budget and staffing of the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights in Colombia.  
  • Request that the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights be allowed to make public its findings in Colombia on a regular basis and asks the Office of the High Commissioner to report to the General Assembly (as well as the Commission).

Urge Colombia to:  

  • Implement the recommendations made in these reports.  
  • Condemn the military recruitment of children under the age of eighteen and urge all parties to the conflict in Colombia to demobilize the children in their ranks.  
  • Urge Colombia to invite the Commission's Special Procedures to visit the country, in particular the Special Rapporteur on the independence of judges and lawyers and the Working Group on Arbitrary Detention.

Respect for basic human rights in Iran, especially freedom of expression and opinion, deteriorated in 2004. Torture and ill-treatment in detention, including indefinite solitary confinement, is used routinely to punish dissidents. The judiciary, which is accountable to Supreme Leader Ali Khamene'i rather than the elected president, Mohammad Khatami, has been at the center of many serious human rights violations. Abuses are carried out by what Iranians call "parallel institutions": plainclothes intelligence agents, paramilitary groups that violently attack peaceful protests, and illegal and secret prisons and interrogation centers run by intelligence services.  
The Commission should adopt a resolution that would:  

  • Re-establish a special mechanism to monitor and report on the human rights situation in Iran.  
  • Call on the Iranian authorities to facilitate and expedite the requested visits by the U.N. Special Rapporteurs on torture, and freedom of religion and live up to its own commitment under the standing invitation for monitoring procedures with respect to all future request by these procedures.  
  • Make public and time-based commitments to full implementation of the Working Group on Arbitrary Detention and other Special Rapporteurs' recommendations.

Call on Iran to:  

  • Ratify the CEDAW and CAT treaties, and announce an official review of reservations entered upon ratification of other major human rights instruments.  
  • Release all political prisoners.  
  • Authorize an independent and impartial investigation into judicial abuses by the Office of the Chief Prosecutor.  
  • Abolish the death penalty for juvenile offenders (persons convicted for offences committed under the age of 18) as a first step towards total abolition of the death penalty.  
  • Amend the press law to safeguard freedom of the press and permit publications closed by unlawful judicial procedures to reopen.  
  • Establish strict limits on the use of solitary confinement in prisons, as well as the use of videotaped confessions.  
  • Establish and enforce strict limits on incommunicado detention, and ensure prompt access to lawyers and family members for detainees. Courts should not admit as evidence incriminatory statements obtained through use of coercion.  
  • Initiate a program of action to identify and address discrimination against minority groups.

Human Rights Watch's latest report on torture in Iraq highlights the systematic use of arbitrary arrest, prolonged pre-trial detention without judicial review, torture and ill-treatment of detainees, denial of access by families and lawyers to detainees, improper treatment of detained children, and abysmal conditions in pre-trial detention facilities. Persons tortured or mistreated have inadequate access to health care and no realistic avenue for legal redress. With rare exception, Iraqi authorities have failed to investigate and punish officials responsible for violations. The Iraqi Interim Government led by Prime Minister Ayad ‘Allawi and presented to the international community as a sign that the violence and abuses of the Saddam Hussein government was a thing of the past, appeared to be actively taking part, or was at least complicit, in these grave violations of fundamental human rights.  
Human Rights Watch recognizes the enormous difficulties inherent in reconstituting the country. Nonetheless Iraq remains bounds by it obligations under international law. The Iraqi Transitional Government emerging after the January 30, 2005 elections, have legal obligations under human rights treaty law and customary law. The Committee against Torture (CAT) has expressed concern that deferral of notification of arrest coupled with deferral of access to counsel in the in the first forty-eight hours amounts to detention incommunicado, thereby creating conditions which might lead to abuses of authority by agents of the States.  
We thus call on Members of the Commission to:  

  • Establish an independent expert under item 19 to:  
    a) monitor and report on human rights concerns in the country and make relevant recommendations to the Iraqi government authorities and to Multinational Force governments.  
    b) assist the Iraqi authorities in establishing an independent National Commission for Human Rights, as provided for under Article 50 of the Transitional Administrative Law, to include a mechanism for the investigation of allegations or complaints of physical or other abuse by detaining officials.  
  • Request the Iraqi Transitional Government to provide access for UN special procedures to places of detention under the authority of the ministries of Interior and Justice.  
  • Urge the Iraqi government to ratify the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (CAT).  
  • Urge the Iraqi Transitional Government to adopt national implementing legislation to enable the international treaties it has ratified to become domestically applicable, notably the ICCPR and the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC).  
  • Urge the Iraqi authorities to ensure that conditions in detention centers conform to international standards, including the U.N. Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners and the Body of Principles for the Protection of All Persons under Any Form of Detention or Imprisonment.  
  • Urge the Iraqi authorities to grant access to detention facilities under the authority of the ministries of Interior and Justice to independent and qualified domestic and international monitoring organizations.

Israel and the Occupied Territories  
Parties to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict continue to ignore basic standards of human rights law and the laws of war. The current intifada, now in its fifth year, has resulted in the killing of more than 4,200 people and injured tens of thousands of people. The overwhelming majority of casualties were civilians. More than three-quarters of the dead were Palestinian.  
The intensity of violence by Israeli security forces and Palestinian armed groups involving harm to civilians varied with political developments. Other Israeli violations such as house demolitions, restrictions on freedom of movement amounting to collective punishment, and illegal settlement expansion continued at a high level.  
Commission members, bearing in mind the parties' obligations as High Contracting Parties to the Geneva Conventions, should:  

  • Condemn systematic violations of international humanitarian and human rights law by Palestinian armed groups as well as Israel.  
  • Call on Israel to investigate and hold accountable security forces suspected of unlawful killings of civilians.  
  • Call on the Palestinian Authority to investigate and hold accountable security forces under its control or armed groups under its jurisdiction who are responsible for carrying out attacks targeting or causing indiscriminate harm to civilians, or perpetrating extrajudicial executions.  
  • Condemn the harmful impact of the separation barrier's route on Palestinian rights of access to work, family life, water, education, health, and freedom of movement. Express concern about the barrier's potential violation of Article 55 of the 1907 Hague Regulations, which prohibits making permanent changes to occupied territory that do not benefit the protected population.  
  • Urge Israel to end all settlement activity on lands occupied in 1967 as a violation of customary international law, Article 49 (6) of the Fourth Geneva Convention, and human rights law.  
  • Call on Israel to cease all house demolitions that do not meet the criteria of absolute military necessity, and to provide full reparations and compensation to owners of unlawfully demolished homes.  
  • Call for the inclusion of human rights norms and a dedicated human rights monitoring mechanism in all peace negotiation frameworks.

On January 29, 2003 a ceasefire was announced by the Nepalese government and the Communist Party of Nepal (CPN-Maoist), bringing some hope that Nepal's long civil war was reaching an end. This was one reason the Commission has not adopted a resolution on Nepal before. But those hopes were dashed when the CPN (Maoist) withdrew from unproductive negotiations and resumed fighting in late 2003. Both parties have engaged in systematic human rights abuses and violations of international humanitarian law with impunity. Reports suggest that hundreds and perhaps thousands of civilians have been killed by both sides.  
The Nepalese government has failed to uphold much of the pledge it made during last year's Commission hearing to abide by its human rights and humanitarian law obligations. The Nepalese army has carried out extra-judicial executions of villagers and suspected Maoists, arbitrary arrests, "disappearances," and harassed and intimidated press and NGOs, and interfered in the work of the judiciary. According to the United Nations Working Group on Enforced and Involuntary Disappearances in 2003 and 2004 Nepal recorded the highest number of new cases of "disappearances" in the world.  
Nepal's National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) has received reports of 1,234 cases of "disappearances" perpetrated by security forces since May 2000. Human Rights Watch's recent research in Nepal (October 2004) indicates that the actual number of "disappearances" may be significantly underreported.  
The other side to the conflict, the CPN Maoist forces, has a dismal human rights record. The Maoists have killed civilians, recruited children as soldiers, executed party cadre suspected of disloyalty, and engaged in widespread extortion and abduction against the civilian population.  
On February 1, King Gyanendra and the Royal Nepalese Army seized executive power in Nepal and imposed a state of emergency. The King has suspended fundamental constitutional rights, including freedom of assembly and expression, the right to information and privacy, the right to property and the prohibition against arbitrary detention. The King has ordered that the media only print information approved by the National Security Council, and has formally banned for the next six months, under threat of arrest, any information criticizing "the intent and spirit" of the state of emergency. The government has detained nearly two hundred local political leaders, human rights activists, journalists and student activists throughout the country. Because the constitution does not allow the King's actions to be challenged in court, Nepal's population is effectively at the mercy of the security forces, which have a history of widespread and serious violations of human rights.  
The Commission on Human Rights should adopt a resolution under item 9 that would:  

  • Condemn ongoing abuses by both sides to the conflict and specifically call on the Nepalese government to end the practice of enforced disappearances by security forces.  
  • Call on the King of Nepal to immediately restore all fundamental human rights and the government to release or charge all political detainees.  
  • Call on the government of Nepal to take all steps necessary to bring to an end the widespread practice of "disappearances," including investigation of all cases of enforced disappearances and holding perpetrators accountable in a credible and systematic manner.
  • Call on the CPN (Maoist) to observe international human rights and humanitarian law and in particular to cease attacks on civilians.
  • Appoint a Special Rapporteur to monitor the human rights situation in Nepal.
  • Call on the parties to revive a Human Rights Accord with commitments to respect international human rights and humanitarian law norms and provisions for effective monitoring, investigation and training components.  
  • Call on the government of Nepal to strengthen the structural and operational independence of the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) and allow the current commissioners to continue in their posts until the proper procedures can be followed for reappointment.  
  • Call for the creation of an office of the HCHR in Nepal to monitor the human rights condition throughout the country and provide technical assistance to the NHRC in monitoring and investigations, as well as human rights training to the police, army and judiciary.
  • Encourage the government to issue a standing invitation to the thematic mechanisms of the Commission to visit Nepal.

Russian Federation/Chechnya  
The events of 2004 painfully disproved the Russian government's official position that the situation in Chechnya is normalizing. Chechens believed to be linked to the rebels who committed a series of horrendous attacks on civilians in Moscow, Ingushetia, and North Ossetia, including the massacre of hundreds of school children, their parents and teachers at Beslan, and assassinated Russian-installed president of Chechnya, Akhmad Kadyrov.  
Russian and pro-Russian Chechen forces continued to be responsible for numerous arbitrary detentions during raids, looting, physical abuse of villagers, and extrajudicial executions. Those detained face beatings and other forms of torture, aimed at coercing confessions or information about Chechen rebel forces. The forces routinely extort money from detainees' relatives as a condition for release.  
More than one million Russian soldiers have fought in the second war in Chechnya, which erupted in 1999, many returning home with post-traumatic stress disorder for which the government has not provided proper treatment. As a result, the Chechnya war not only causes tremendous human suffering in Chechnya but is also having a corrosive effect on Russian society as a whole.  
The Commission should pass a resolution that would:  

  • Condemn ongoing violations of human rights and humanitarian law by both parties to the conflict. The resolution should call on the Russian authorities to immediately put an end to arbitrary detention and to observe international and Russian legal standards; to end the use of torture and ill-treatment; to put an end to the pattern of enforced disappearances; to end extrajudicial executions; and to stop harassing and threatening applicants to the European Court of Human Rights. It should call on Chechen rebel leaders to cease all attacks on civilians, including retaliatory attacks on Chechen civilians who cooperate with the Russian authorities.  
  • Insist on accountability by calling on the Russian authorities to ensure meaningful investigations into all reported crimes by troops under its control against civilians in Chechnya or Ingushetia, and for the prosecution of the perpetrators.  
  • Call on Russia to invite key U.N. thematic mechanisms, particularly the Special Rapporteur on torture, the Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions, and the Working Group on Enforced and Involuntary Disappearances. It should call on Russia to make good on its February 2005 promise to organize a visit to Chechnya for the High Commissioner for Human Rights.

The government of Sudan and the rebel groups in Darfur continue to violate a humanitarian ceasefire signed on April 8, 2004. The African Union-mediated peace talks on Darfur in Abuja, Nigeria have led to the signing of security and humanitarian protocols on November 9, 2004, but these agreements have not brought about a cessation of violence in Darfur. Throughout 2004, Human Rights Watch documented how the government of Sudan conducted, in joint military operations with Janjaweed militias, widespread and systematic attacks against civilians in Darfur. The government has used aerial bombardment and ground attacks to forcibly displace more than 1.8 million civilians, whom they accuse of harboring the rebels. The total number of conflict-related civilian deaths-including mortality from violence as well as from disease and malnutrition related to displacement-is likely to surpass 100,000. The Janjaweed militias continue to kill civilians and rape women and girls as they burn and loot villages. Despite several demands from the United Nations Security Council to disarm and bring to justice those responsible for these crimes, the government of Sudan has failed to conduct any credible investigations or prosecutions. Human Rights Watch researchers have found that the rebel movements have been responsible for direct attacks on civilian objects in violation of international humanitarian law, and for causing deaths and injuries to civilians.  
We call on members of the Commission on Human Rights to adopt a resolution under item 9 of the CHR agenda that would:  

  • Re-establish the mandate of the Special Rapporteur on human rights for Sudan and request that his or her report be submitted to the General Assembly as well as to the next session of the Commission on Human Rights.  
  • Condemn the gross abuses of human rights and international humanitarian law by the government of Sudan and its allied militias, and rebel groups in Darfur.  
  • Call on the United Nations Security Council to refer the situation of Darfur to the International Criminal Court in accordance with the January 25 report and recommendations of the International Commission of Inquiry for Darfur.

A few small steps taken in 2004 in the direction of improving previously appalling practices do not in any significant way meet the requirements set out in last year's Commission resolution on Turkmenistan. Saparmurat Niazov is president for life. Turkmenistan has a one-party system. The government tolerates no opposition and crushes critical thinking. Government policy isolates the citizenry from the outside world. The perverse cult of personality around President Niazov dominates public life and the education system.  
Since its independence from the Soviet Union, there has not been a single nationwide election that could be considered free or fair. Turkmen opposition figures were either driven into exile in the early 1990s or imprisoned. Most of those jailed were later released, but do not dare speak out again. The open expression of alternative points of view is practically impossible and can even result in imprisonment or forced institutionalization in a psychiatric hospital. No independent human rights organizations can operate in Turkmenistan. There is no free media: the government subjects all newspaper outlets to prepublication censorship, has banned most Russian-language media, and has introduced measures to limit access to the Internet.  

To date, the Turkmen government has not cooperated fully with the U.N. human rights system, although it has ratified the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination, the Convention against Torture and other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, and other major human rights treaties. It has not filed a single report to U.N. treaty bodies.  
The Commission should adopt a resolution that:  

  • Establishes a mandate of a Special Rapporteur on Turkmenistan who should report to the General Assembly and to the Commission at its 62nd session.
  • Censures the abuses perpetrated by the Turkmen government.

The resolution should also call for the Turkmen government to:  

  • Ensure fair and open trials for all those charged in relation to the November 25 assassination attempt, and the guarantee of due process to all those detained; retry those already convicted in full compliance with international standards and release them prior to trial.  
  • Allow international monitoring of all trials in order to promote transparency.
  • Grant international monitors access to prisoners, including those charged in relation to the November 25 events.  
  • Grant all prisoners access to visits by family members, specifically with a view to allowing relatives to ascertain that those convicted remain alive and in good health.  
  • Cooperate fully with the Special Rapporteur on Turkmenistan and with all thematic procedures of the Commission.

The United States  
The United States continues to reject the applicability of fundamental rights and protections found in U.S. and international law to persons apprehended in its global campaign against terrorism. It refuses to apply either laws of war or human rights standards to the nearly 550 men at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, held in indefinite and largely incommunicado detention; it has begun proceedings to try terrorist suspects before military commissions that do not meet fair trial standards; it has sent or assisted in the return of individuals to countries where they face torture; and it has "disappeared" a number of suspects. Top U.S. officials, including the Secretary of Defense, have approved the use of coercive interrogation methods, which violate the Geneva Conventions and the Convention against Torture and other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (CAT). In January 2005, now-Attorney General Alberto Gonzales claimed that CAT's prohibition on cruel, inhuman or degrading (CID) treatment does not apply to U.S. personnel in the treatment of non-citizens abroad, indicating that no law would prohibit the CIA from engaging in CID treatment when it interrogates non-Americans outside the United States.  
The Commission on Human Rights should:  

  • Condemn the use of "disappearances," torture and other prohibited mistreatment of detainees by the United States.  
  • Call on the United States to reject all forms of torture and other prohibited mistreatment, either in the United States or abroad.  
  • Call on the United States to fully and impartially investigate, in accordance with the CAT, all allegations of torture and cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment.  
  • Request that the United States grant the Commission's Special Procedures access to terrorism suspects held by the United States anywhere in the world.  
  • Request that the United States provide without delay due reports to the Human Rights Committee and the Committee against Torture.

In the past few years, the Uzbek government has come under increased pressure from the international community to improve its human rights record. The government has made some reforms in legislation, but these have not been implemented in practice. It has also increased its engagement with select local and international actors on specific human rights issues, but these gestures have not translated into more systemic change and have been undermined by other setbacks to human rights, particularly the deepening of restrictions on civil society. Authorities steadfastly refuse to allow independent domestic human rights groups to register, restricting their operation and rendering them vulnerable to harassment and abuse. Since May 2004, at least four human rights defenders have been beaten by unknown assailants and numerous others have been subject to arbitrary detention or house arrest. In some cases, the government uses the law on psychiatry to silence and persecute human rights defenders and activists.  
The government has made no visible progress on ending the use of torture in practice and only minimal progress on implementing the recommendations made by the U.N. Special Rapporteur on torture after his visit to Uzbekistan in 2002. Torture and ill-treatment remain pervasive throughout the Uzbek criminal justice system, and occur with near-total impunity.  
We call on the Commission to adopt a resolution that would call on Uzbekistan to:  

  • Implement the recommendations of the Special Rapporteur on torture.  
  • Stop harassment and persecution of human rights defenders.  
  • Register civil society groups.  
  • Register political opposition parties such as Erk, Birlik and Ozod Dekhonlar and cease any harassment against opposition political activists.  
  • Ensure genuine media freedom, including by allowing newspapers closed since early 2002, when censorship was officially lifted, to reopen.  
  • Reform the 1998 Law on Freedom of Conscience and Religious Organizations to bring it into conformity with international law, as per the recommendations of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, issued in June 2003.
  • Release from custody those convicted solely on the basis of religion-related charges.

We thank you for your kind attention to these important issues. Please feel free to contact us if we can be of further assistance.  
Joanna Weschler  
U.N. Advocacy Director  
Loubna Freih  
Geneva Director

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