GENEVA, 20 MARCH 2001
STATEMENT BY H.E. MR. JAIME GAMA, STATE MINISTER AND MINISTER OF FOREIGN AFFAIRS OF PORTUGAL, TO THE 57th SESSION OF THE COMMISSION ON HUMAN RIGHTS
I wish to congratulate you on your election to the Chair of the 57th Session of the Commission on Human Rights. I extend my good wishes to all the members of the Bureau. I also express our appreciation to the former Chairman, Ambassador Simkhada.
We have been informed yesterday by the High Commissioner for Human Rights that she is not seeking a new mandate. We respect her personal decision. I would like to take this opportunity to express our profound gratitude to the invaluable work undertaken by Mrs. Mary Robinson over these last three years as High Commissioner and I am firmly convinced that her strong commitment to the protection and promotion of human rights everywhere in the world will continue.
While supporting the intervention made this morning by my Swedish colleague on behalf of the European Union; I would like to address some issues that are of particular relevance to my country.
I reaffirm the importance Portugal attaches to the promotion and protection of Human Rights. They are inalienable, flow from the dignity of the human being, which is prior to States and Governments.
This does not mean that the actions of the State and of the international community are not essential to assure Human Rights are developed, promoted and protected. Human Rights have evolved from a "first generation" of rights to encompass economic, social and cultural rights. These rights require action by the State not only to respect and protect them but also to create the conditions for their fulfillment.
The scope of Human Rights has widened and various compliance mechanisms have been established and are becoming progressively effective. Governments must create conditions for the protection of human rights both at the domestic level, by adopting and implementing adequate measures; and at the international level, by adhering to international conventions and ensuring their implementation.
Portugal sees Human Rights as an essential guiding principle in shaping its policies. For this reason, along with our EU partners and other States, we strive for the universal abolition of the death penalty, as a fundamental contribution to the enhancement of human dignity and the progressive development of Human Rights.
And yet the acknowledgement of the central role played by Human Rights is only a first step towards ensuring their respect. Human rights violations continue to take place in many regions and countries. The respect for the individual is often forgotten in the name of race, sex, belief, religion, ethnicity or opinion. In these circumstances we cannot stay Idle. Only a constant and persistent action can prevent the violation of human rights and we shall spare no efforts to this end. That is why we gather here.
We should not neglect what can be done in the field of prevention, namely through education. We have the duty as Governments to promote in our societies a culture of tolerance and respect.
Education is a valuable tool. A full understanding of the nature and contents of Human Rights is needed. Through education we help new generations to recognize their own rights and those of others. Education is also important to avoid the recurrence of past errors.
In this context, I would like to announce that this year my country is introducing a specific resolution on the Right to Education, for this is a vast and important theme on which we already have a Special Rapporteur.
Portugal will also be presenting its traditional Resolution on the realization of economic, social and cultural rights that has enjoyed the widest support from this Commission.
Allow me to highlight certain specific situations that will be reviewed by this Commission.
In East Timor, several issues are yet to be solved. We must promote accountability, the full disclosure of the truth and national reconciliation. On the other hand, the situation of the refugees in West Timor remains a source of deep concern; they lack food, shelter and basic sanitary conditions; their fate remains uncertain. Many are still being deprived of the right to freely choose to return to their land. In addition, militia groups remain active, intimidating refugees and even attempting to infiltrate East Timor.
This Commission has played an important role in the progress achieved in East Timor, by keeping the issue in its agenda since 1992 and by holding a special session in September 1999. Portugal expects that the Commission will continue to be seized of this question until a satisfactory outcome is achieved in all the outstanding points.
The situation in the Middle East, notably In Palestine, deserves our particular attention. We believe we must have a balanced approach when addressing this question, pointing out the violations that have been committed In the conflict, whilst continuing our efforts to achieve a peaceful solution.
I would also like to raise the specific situation of the eight Portuguese citizens who have been taken as hostages in the Angolan province of Cabinda. This is a flagrant violation of the most elementary values of human dignity. It is an attempt against both Human Rights and Humanitarian Law. By denouncing this intolerable action, Portugal hereby appeals for their immediate release and asks for the solidarity and support of this Commission and of the international community.
2001 is also the year of the World Conference Against Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and Related Intolerance. This is an unique opportunity for us to promote the eradication of such phenomena, while promoting the values of diversity and the contributions of every people to the progress of mankind. We hope this Conference, to be hosted by South Africa, will be a major and decisive step in the fight against racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance.
Portugal's commitment to the fight against racism and racial discrimination is demonstrated by its policies and its comprehensive legal system, which provides ample protection for all those who are victims of any act of racial discrimination.
The universal principles and values I have mentioned guide us both in theory and in practice. Within the European Union - which has just approved a Charter of Fundamental Rights, whose preparatory work was launched during the Portuguese presidency in 2000 - as in other multilateral organizations, my Government constantly seeks to promote and defend Human Rights and fundamental freedoms.
It is in this spirit that Portugal will continue to work in this Commission. Portugal has always sought to promote dialogue, mutual understanding and credible and just solutions. And we hope to continue to contribute to the valuable role played by the Commission and the United Nations as a whole in the field of Human Rights.
Thank you very much.