Magazine article UN Chronicle

Human Rights Commission Condemns Hostage-Taking, Launches Study on Religious Freedom, Reviews First Report on Torture

Magazine article UN Chronicle

Human Rights Commission Condemns Hostage-Taking, Launches Study on Religious Freedom, Reviews First Report on Torture

Article excerpt

Human Rights Commission condemns hostage-taking, launches study on religious freedom, reviews first report on torture

A strong condemnation of hostagetaking, the launching of a new study on religious freedom, and review of a first global report on torture were among the actions taken at the forty-second session of the Commission on Human Rights (Geneva, 3 February-14 March).

The Commission also proclaimed 2 December as the "World Day for the Abolition of Slavery in All its Forms', to be observed annually.

The 43-member body, a subsidiary of the Economic and Social Council, adopted 63 resolutions and 9 decisions on matters ranging from alleged human rights violations in certain countries and regions, to rights of particular groups, including migrants, minorities, and children, to realization of economic, social and cultural rights.

By a vote of 41 in favour to none against with 2 abstentions (Bangladesh, Syrian Arab Republic), the Commission, for the first time, strongly condemned the taking of hostages, "whoever those responsible and whatever the circumstances', and whether the hostage was chosen at random and whether or not he was a national of a State on which it was intended to put pressure.

It also demanded that all persons responsible for taking hostages, whatever their motives, should immediately release those they were holding, and called on States to take any measures necessary to prevent and punish the taking of hostages and to put an immediate end to cases of abductions and unlawful restraint on their territory. Whenever requested by a State, the Secretary-General was to employ all means at his disposal to secure the immediate release of persons held hostage.

In another action, the Commission decided to appoint for one year a Special Rapporteur to conduct factfinding in the field of religious freedom. To be named by the Commission Chairman, the Rapporteur would recommend "remedial measures including, as appropriate, promotion of dialogue between religious communities and their Governments'. It acted by a vote of 26 to 5 (Bulgaria, Byelorussian SSR, German Democratic Republic, Syrian Arab Republic and USSR), with 15 abstentions.

The body also urged States to provide adequate constitutional and legal guarantees for freedom of thought, conscience, religion and belief, and expressed deep concern over reports of incidents and governmental actions in all parts of the world which were inconsistent with the 1981 Declaration on the Elimination of All Forms of Intolerance and of Discrimination Based on Religion or Belief.

Another Special Rapporteur, Professor Pieter H. Kooijmans of the Netherlands, appointed in 1985 to monitor alleged cases of torture worldwide, in his first report on that subject to the Commission called torture "the plague of the second half of the twentieth century', which was widespread and occurred in "a rather systematic way' in a number of countries.

"Harsh and brutal' treatment, he reported, had become a habitual concomitant of interrogation during detention. In some cases, equipment for torture was provided through the same channels as equipment for normal services. In some countries, torture seemed to be used to stamp out all traces of political opposition. In other cases, the infliction of severe physical pain was part of the penal system and considered a necessary part of repressive as well as preventive justice.

The Commission decided to continue Professor Kooijmans' mandate for another year, and appealed for contributions to the United Nations Voluntary Fund for Victims of Torture.

The Commission strongly condemned the South African regime for its "brutal repression and in discriminate torture and killing' of opponents of apartheid, and condemned its "wanton acts of aggression and destabilization' against front-line and other neighbouring States.

The Commission also condemned Israel for its policies and practices in occupied Arab territories, reaffirmed the right of the Palestinian people to establish "their independent and sovereign State', and strongly condemned "all the terriorist actions' perpetrated against the Palestinian inhabitants of the occupied territories. …

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