Minister's Speech Delivered at CHR59 in Geneva, 19 March 2003


Madame Chairperson

High Commissioner for Human Rights

Distinguished members

Ladies and Gentlemen


It is my great pleasure, to congratulate you on your election to preside over our deliberations during the 59th Session of the Commission on Human Rights. I also extend my congratulations to all the Members of your Expanded Bureau. The collective leadership, wisdom and general stewardship of this Commission by both you and members of your Expanded Bureau will lead us to a successful conclusion of this important session of the Commission.


My delegation wishes to extend its sincere appreciation to Ambassador Jakubowski of Poland and members of his Bureau for the excellent guidance of the 58th session of the Commission under very difficult circumstances largely due to the UN budgetary constraints.


I would like to take this opportunity to congratulate Mr Sergio Vieira de Mello on his appointment as the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights. I wish you a

successful tenure and pledge a co-operative and constructive relationship with your office. I would also like to acknowledge Ms Mary Robinson’s leadership during her tenure.


The current political tensions affecting the international system should strengthen our solidarity and our resolve to deal with current challenges in a fair and transparent manner. Our collective focus should be aimed at advancing the vision and founding principles of the United Nations. As we know, the United Nations was founded on the ashes of the most devastating war our planet has known. The UN Charter in its very first paragraph explicitly states that it was created to "preserve succeeding generations from the scourge of war". To its credit the United Nations, no world war,

which would surely spell the extermination of humanity, has taken place since its founding. As regards lesser conflicts, however, it is clear that we are still confronted with significant challenges.


One of the first and most significant actions of the United Nations was the adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights as "a common standard of achievement for all peoples and all nations". This unprecedented acknowledgement of the validity of the concept of human rights at the highest international level provided the basis for the establishment of the UN Commission on Human Rights.


The Universal Declaration of Human Rights taken together with the two International Covenants on Human Rights constitute the International Bill of Human Rights whose

realisation should be the challenge for all of us within a framework of this Commission. My Government’s position is that the International Dialogue on Human Rights can no longer take place in abstract terms. The enjoyment of human rights including the operationalisation of the right to development has to be practicalised and should find expression in the political and economic empowerment of individuals and societies. The existing international consensus on the Agenda for Development as reflected in the outcomes of all the major United Nations Summits and Conferences in the economic and social development fields should encourage all of us to find practical solutions to the perennial issues of poverty, underdevelopment, marginalisation, economic disparities, social exclusion, instability and insecurity. The Johannesburg Plan of Action adopted by the recent World Summit on Sustainable Development underlined the importance of international co-operation and commitment to meet all the challenges of sustainable development with the view to achieving concrete and practical results in our global fight against poverty and under-development.


Despite five decades of the promotion of Human Rights by this body, much remains to be done to secure their effective implementation. We, like many other Member States of the United Nations, are convinced that the combating of racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance represented a major unfinished business of the international community. Not only is racism still prevalent in many parts of the world, but it is constantly mutating into new insidious forms requiring constant vigilance by the international community.


The Third World Conference against Racism was thus both timely and essential. Many of the delegates present here today were with us in Durban. They will know that we did

not achieve all that we had hoped for, but we were heartened by the important compromises achieved. South Africa will continue to strive for the effective implementation of the Durban Declaration and Programme of Action by all Member States. In this regard, allow me to share with you the steps that South Africa has taken to implement the Programme of Action. Government has established a mechanism for domestic follow-up, which includes various stakeholders such as Labour Unions, Non-

Governmental Organisations, Government Departments, and Civil Society. The National Consultative Forum against Racism will take into consideration the Programme of

Action and the African regional seminar on follow-up to the WCAR. We are ready to play a leadership role and work jointly with all the United Nations member States that actively seek the implementation of the commitments undertaken in the Durban Declaration and Programme of Action.


Chairperson


South Africa continues to prioritise the protection of the rights of the most vulnerable in our society, especially those affecting women and children. My Government is paying particular attention to the advancement and improvement of the quality of life of all women especially in our rural areas. We have adopted measures that address the previous deficiencies in respect to people with disabilities in our society. We are currently playing a leadership role within the framework of the General Assembly’s Ad Hoc Committee on the elaboration of a legally binding instrument on the rights and dignity of people with disabilities.


Chairperson


Our Government is committed to the promotion and protection of the rights of women and children. Our national legislation in these areas takes into account the provisions of international law. The elimination of violence against women and children remains a priority area for our country. The South African Government has, consistent with our commitment to advance the rights and interests of women and children, adopted a number of relevant measures to empower these vulnerable sectors of societies and to allow them to play a meaningful role in all the facets of our society. It should be emphasised that such measures have been adopted bearing in mind the provisions of international human rights law and treaties that we have internalised in our domestic law and ratified. We have also introduced a system of multi-disciplinary service centres as a means of responding effectively and promptly to the needs of women and children, who are normally victims of domestic and other forms of violence.


Chairperson


On the question of Palestine, there can be no doubting that the human rights of the Palestinian people to self-determination, which includes the issue of statehood, has been denied for too long. It is unacceptable that after fifty years of successive United Nations General Assembly and Security Council Resolutions, the inalienable right of Palestinians to self-determination has not yet been realised. The apparent lack of commitment towards honouring the implementation of all the United Nations resolutions on Palestine is a cause of great concern to my Government and we call on the International Community

to co-operate towards meeting this legitimate struggle for statehood by Palestinians. The situation of the Palestinian people has not improved but deteriorated over the years. A just and sustainable settlement that recognises the right of Palestinians to statehood and the right of Israel to exist within secure borders would bring lasting peace to both nations. We are of the view that the international community must do everything possible to contribute to ending this ongoing tragedy. For this reason, South Africa has been hosting a series of meetings between Palestinian and Israeli opinion-makers. We did this in the conviction that through sustained dialogue between the parties concerned the barriers of mistrust would begin to erode, thereby strengthening processes to secure peace and security.


As a country, which voluntarily disarmed itself of weapons of mass destruction, South Africa strongly believes in a world free of all weapons of mass destruction. Ideally, no member state of the United Nations should possess such weapons. Our collective vision for making the world safe for democracy and for preserving international peace and security is predicated on the core principles and purposes of the Charter of the United Nations. Acting outside the provisions of the Charter of the United Nations will invariably erode into the legitimacy of our organisation and such actions cannot inspire confidence amongst its general membership. To ignore the views of the majority of the members of the United Nations, including those of the Security Council itself on fundamental questions of international peace and security and its concomitant disarmament programmes is a development of major concern to my government.


The growing pattern and practice of regime changes in various parts of the world undermines everything that the United Nations stands for. This practice also ushers in new concerns about the nature of the current international political system, which is seemingly being evolved outside of the parameters of the United Nations. It was with serious concern that we watched the United Nations inspectors depart Iraq, thus closing the possibility of the completion of the peaceful disarmament of that country.


The peoples of the world have recently expressed their opposition to war through mass protests in various cities across the world. To ignore this massive public opinion is in itself hardly democratic. These peoples of the world oppose the extreme measures being resorted to by some, which have the potential to precipitate yet another war with all its pains and suffering, culminating in massive humanitarian disaster and destruction.


In recent times we have witnessed the horror of terrorism that threatens to become a permanent feature of this millennium. Such acts challenge our determination to maintain peace, stability and security. We therefore, have to respond collectively with determination against the perpetrators of such wanton acts of indiscriminate brutality that violate all basic tenets of human rights, including the right to life itself. It is important that

in our collective efforts to implement measures countering terrorism, we should uphold the principles and norms provided for in international law, especially human rights and humanitarian law.


Chairperson


We are also aware that the immense challenges of conflict resolution cannot be fully met if we fail to make drastic inroads in the reduction of poverty and underdevelopment. For this reason South Africa reiterates its call for this body to adopt the necessary steps to address these issues, including the concretisation and operationalisation of the right to development. The Monterrey Consensus and the Johannesburg Plan of Action

furthermore underline the importance the international community attaches to the need to restructure present patterns of globalisation in order to facilitate sustainable development. We should also strive to place the interests of the developing countries at the heart of the current round of negotiations of the World Trade Organisation.


The inaugural Summit of the African Union in Durban July 2002 emphasised the importance of mainstreaming social and developmental agenda including human rights and good governance on the entire continent’s development programmes. The African Commission on Human and Peoples Rights continues to play a meaningful role in the

promotion and protection of human rights in Africa and has become an important partner in the realisation of the goals and objectives of the African Union. The African Union has adopted the New Partnership for Africa’s Development as a macro-economic recovery programme for sustainable development on our continent.


Chairperson,


In two days from now South Africans will celebrate Human Rights Day, as the international community will also be celebrating the international day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, and in their celebration will also remember the lives of those whose human rights were grossly violated during our struggle for a free and democratic, non-racial and non-sexist South Africa. Our celebrations will coincide with the international community’s celebration of 21 March as an international day for the elimination for racial discrimination.


Finally Madam Chairperson


In order to effectively address the complex challenges facing us, the need for States to act collectively for the common good of humankind is now more urgent than ever before. Only through our concerted efforts can we hope to ensure a better life for all.


I thank you.

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2003 Department of Foreign Affairs, Republic of South Africa