GENEVA, 17 MARCH 2004
STATEMENT BY HE Mrs. MANUELA FRANCO, SECRETARY OF STATE FOR FOREIGN AFFAIRS OF PORTUGAL, TO THE 60th SESSION OF THE COMMISSION ON HUMAN RIGHTS (General Debate of the High-Level Segment,
, 15 – 18 March 2004) Geneva
Mr. Chairman, Ambassador Mike Smith,
I wish to take this opportunity to congratulate you, chairman Ambassador Mike Smith, on your election to the Chair of the 60th Session of the Commission of Human Rights, which I am sure you will lead to a successful outcome. I hope that the goal of ensuring full respect for the rights of the individual will remain the guiding light of this Commission, so that its focus on human rights violations, whenever and wherever they occur, will continue to represent an opportunity for redress to the many who aspire to a life of dignity and freedom.
I would like to congratulate the newly appointed High Commissioner for Human Rights, Madam Louise Arbour, to wish her success in her endeavours and to assure her that Portugal will extend full cooperation to her, as we always did in the past with the previous High Commissioners. Let me also congratulate the High Commissioner ad interim, Mr. Bertrand Ramcharam, whose remarkable work I particularly wish to commend.
I also take this opportunity to pay tribute to the memory of Mr. Sergio Vieira de Mello, whose committed work in the defence and promotion of Human Rights we often praised. Mr. Vieira de Mello, let me recall, fell murdered by those who cannot abide any other rule but the rule of their own desire.
Such were the attacks in Spain last week. Once again the terrorists turned their bloodlust loose on the unprotected, this time onto the Madrid commuters that went to work early morning last Thursday. If nothing else, the sinister detail of the date chosen according to the calendar of insanity, should be sufficient to dispel any doubts that might remain as to the wickedness of the promoters of death and destruction, who, under the pretext of upholding old truths, degrade all truth to meaningless triviality. What is enshrouded in a veil of righteousness is in fact a value vacuum.
After passing moral judgment on such actions the peoples of the UN must move to the next step, which is to take responsibility for preventing these dark forces from achieving their objectives.
Let there be no illusion. This is not just a mafia putting on a scary show. We are deep into the realm of politics, faced with a deliberate attempt to highjack the rule of reason, the very foundation of the Rights of Man.
The precious freedom that we - as individuals - have achieved over the centuries has been built on the separation of the City of Man from the City of God. For better and for worse, in good and bad times, we are inheritors of a tradition that is first rooted in the fact that life is the highest good or the value itself. Now, if instead of upholding the rule of reason we fall in the trap of rationalizing the unacceptable and start figuring out myriad explainable causes for such barbarian behaviour, who knows how soon someone might recommend rolling back the same individual freedoms that are the very foundation of western prosperity.
The 11 of September 2001 laid out a potentially terrifying road-map for the 21st century.
The psychological and media impact has already proven to be a huge inspiration for all future acts of terrorism. The times demand we face up to terror.
There is a cost, a moral, political, and now often personal cost to defending our beliefs and the way democratic societies are organized. But the cost is worth paying, given the alternatives.
Like elsewhere in the world, Europeans and their forefathers died by the millions in the many religious and ethnic wars that ravaged Europe across the centuries. But the lessons of European history are there for all to see. You can have liberty without democracy, but not democracy without liberty.
Politics, and human rights, are becoming global. None of the answers to the often-hideous questions thrown up are easy. Moral matters are now part of politics and the politics of many nations. However, ethics have not taken over. Many times we hear that the application of moral standards is often – indeed, one could say always – selective. Such is the nature of foreign policy, the expression of national interests.
This, of course takes us to one of the main points of discussion facing the community of nations: that is the idea of the nation-state, and the related concepts of sovereignty and the legitimate use of force.
The concept of "sovereignty" has been given many, even incompatible, meanings over the centuries, but at its core is the notion of autonomy, which in political terms means the capacity to defend oneself, to establish self-respect and to demand respect from others.
Today I will not dwell on that question. Let me just say that this issue has been at the core of the UN work of protection and promotion of Human Rights for the past 30 years. One can even venture to say that the human rights field has been a field battle for an ever shifting border between national sovereignty and the right and even duty of international intervention in defense of human rights. International intervention in specific cases of human rights violations is in fact the main cause for the recurrent accusation of interference in the internal affairs of states, in itself the main reason for the criticism of “politicization” of the work of this Commission on Human Rights. How could it not be political? Isn’t the relation between the State and its citizens the very essence of politics and human rights? And if the United Nations find ways to pressure member states into complying with accepted standards of behaviour, is that not desirable?
Portugal believes in the work of the United Nations. As a responsible contributor to the work of this Commission, we fully appreciate how the whole range of international actors have come to play a role and express themselves in the field of human rights. States, international organizations, national institutions, NGOs interact to create an environment of great relevance for addressing issues concerning the human rights dimension. Foremost among them is the perfection of an effective multilateral system where States can cooperate, debate and build common ideals into the international human rights standards. It is our strong belief that the Commission on Human Rights is the most relevant forum for an overall debate on these issues, not only in general terms but also in what concerns specific cases of serious violations.
Let me reiterate that Portugal is strongly committed to the work of this Commission. In what concerns standard setting we are proud to introduce again this year three initiatives that we hope will be adopted by consensus: an omnibus resolution on the realisation of Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, a resolution on the Right to Education and a resolution on protection of United Nations staff.
Violent conflict remains one of the most important obstacles to upholding human rights. The development of many countries is being impeded by the devastating effects of years of conflict, which drain national resources, increase poverty and prevent sustainable development. Tackling this requires clear thinking and a careful analysis of the fundamental causes of conflict.
Much conflict stems from the breakdown of nation states. Porous borders, weak national institutions, and the development of alternative allegiances based on ethnic, economic, religious and other factors, often leads to the collapse of state structures.
Within such states, we often see weak institutions and the absence of political legitimacy, coupled with a badly controlled and an unaccountable administration and poor security structures. A common factor is scant or no respect for the rule of law or for human rights.
As is the case in so many areas of conflict, easy access to weapons, and despotic individuals keen to exploit these problems, set off conflicts which then develop their own momentum. And very often, the sheer greed for wealth and power, with no direct reference to any other identifiable causes, lies at the root of conflicts, and are usually the hardest to foresee and counter.
Breaking this tragic cycle poses huge challenges to the international community, and requires sophisticated responses. Frequently, with hindsight, we realize that the cost in human and economic terms of restoring and maintaining peace is huge compared to any preventive action, had it been taken.
The need to bridge all aspects involved in state failure has led the Portuguese Prime Minister, during the last General Assembly in New York, to propose a new mechanism - a Peace and Development Commission - with the aim of addressing the whole spectrum of causes underlying the proliferation of conflicts. This proposal is based on the understanding that frequent reoccurrence of conflicts is due to a premature disengagement of the international community. A comprehensive approach is needed in order to respond not only to security threats but also to address economic and social shortfalls as well as the full respect of human rights and humanitarian law. Haiti is a case in point. A Peace and Development Commission, mandated by and working in conjunction with the Security Council and the ECOSOC, would need to be closely linked with the Bretton Woods institutions and with the UN agencies, in order to fulfill its goals.
While fully subscribing to the ideas already expressed by the Irish Presidency on behalf of the European Union, I would like to focus on the issue of East Timor, a success story of intervention by the United Nations.
For the last couple of years the international community has been able to help East Timor in the process of national reconciliation and nation-building. The first steps have been taken. Further support is still needed in order to consolidate its national institutions, legislation and infrastructures. The advisory services and technical assistance programmes provided by the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights have played a decisive role in this achievement, notably by helping East Timor fulfill its obligations under the main Human Rights Instruments.
The authorities of East Timor have clearly stated their preference – and the United Nations seems willing to meet these concerns - for a renewal of the UN peace-keeping presence to support the need for both deterrence and stability.
Both the Timorese and the Indonesian authorities deserve to be commended for their efforts to establish a fruitful political relationship between the two countries. East Timor gives an example to all of us of how a strong Human Rights emphasis can enable a society to cope in the aftermath of a violent conflict.
Security and respect for human rights cannot be separated. Without security, citizens cannot fully enjoy their human rights. And without respect for human rights, long-term security is not possible. Human rights violations often act as an early warning system.
The firm belief in the respect for the rule of law, human rights, democracy and good governance, has engaged Portugal in the Convening Group of the Community of Democracies, a network connecting countries from North and South, East and West, in the joint endeavour of promoting those values as fundamental tools for individual well being and international security.
If we are, ultimately, to have any real success in preventing violent conflict, the international community must act at all levels.
By taking firm action to address human rights violations wherever they occur, the international community can help address the root causes of conflict.The human rights mechanisms of the Commission on Human Rights play here a vital role. By promoting human rights and holding governments accountable, it also promotes the long-term security which is in all our interests.