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31 March 1998

 

COMMISSION HEARS FURTHER CHARGES OF DISCRIMINATION AGAINST MINORITIES, RELIGIOUS GROUPS

Takes Up Report of Subcommission on Prevention of Discrimination and Protection of Minorities

The Commission on Human Rights concluded this morning its review of religious freedom and the rights of minorities, with several countries describing steps taken to ensure such protections and a series of non-governmental organizations charging violations in various places around the world.

 A representative of Austria said many conflicts around the world bore the mark of unresolved minority issues which could threaten the stability and peace of entire regions, and it was in the interests of all to take appropriate action to diffuse potential conflicts well in advance.

At the end of the meeting, the Commission began review of the report and activities of its principal subsidiary body, the Subcommission on Prevention of Discrimination and Protection of Minorities. The Chairman of the Subcommission, José Bengoa of Chile, summarized the results of the group's four-week session, held in August 1997.

Speaking at the meeting were representatives of Pakistan, El Salvador, Austria, Bangladesh, China, Sudan, International Organization for Migration, Cameroon, Latvia, Norway, Iran, Cyprus, Lithuania, and Guatemala.

The following non-governmental organizations also delivered statements: African Association of Education for Development; International Federation of Free Journalists; Afro-Asian People's Solidarity Organization; International Institute for Peace; International Progress Organization; World Muslim Congress; Latin American Federation of Associations of Relatives of Disappeared Detainees; and International Human Rights Association of American Minorities and World Society of Victimology (joint statement).

The delegations of the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia and of Pakistan spoke in exercise of the right of reply.

The Commission will reconvene at 3 p.m., to hear an address by the High Commissioner for Human Rights on the situation in Colombia.
 
 

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Statements in Debate

JAI JAI VESHNO MANGE RAM (Pakistan) said the Government was committed to promotion and protection of the rights of the country's minorities. Religious intolerance and prejudice was a disease that plagued all societies, and Pakistan was working hard to establish a tolerant society. The task was made difficult by external agencies -- the country had become a target for foreign-funded terrorist activities which had cost over 600 lives; these terrorists sought to force the flames of ethnic and religious intolerance, but the Government would vigorously counter such attempts. As a member of a minority community, he could say with confidence that minorities were a vibrant thread in the fabric of Pakistani society; they were not subjected to any kind of systematic discrimination and were represented in Parliament, the Cabinet, and the bureaucracy. The incident at Shantinagar was a tragic aberration where a small group of miscreants instigated a chain of events which led to the destruction of property of Christians; the Prime Minister himself had visited the site and issued instructions that those responsible be arrested and those affected be compensated. The country had a National Commission for Minorities.

CARLOS ENRIQUE GARCIA GONZALEZ (El Salvador) said he attached great importance to the issue of migration because millions of Salvadorans actually lived as migrants in the United States, Canada, Australia and other countries. Migration was also a factor for cultural diversification and had contributed to modifying the perception of Salvadorans who worked outside the country. Moreover, it had helped them to acquire new socio-economic status and had added new values to family solidarity. Those citizens who worked outside the country had, through the assistance they provided to their families who remained in the country, had also contributed to the growth of the national economy. However, those workers were not without problems in their host countries, including racism. Whether migrant workers were ?illegal? or ?legal?, their fundamental human rights should be applied universally. Among others, they should enjoy the rights prescribed in the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination.

MICHEL DESSER (Austria) said international legal norms had been created to set the ground for practical measures to protect and promote the rights of minorities, but further measures were necessary because persons belonging to minorities continued to be particularly vulnerable to human rights violations. Furthermore, many conflicts bore the mark of unresolved minority issues which could threaten stability and peace of entire regions. It was therefore in the interest of the international community to urge Governments to take appropriate action in order to diffuse potential conflicts well in advance and to adhere to international standards which all aimed at the protection of the existence and identity of persons belonging to minorities. Minorities should be entitled to maintain and develop their own culture while enjoying equality in the larger national society. This required a process of integration, as opposed to enforced assimilation. A major step forward was taken in 1995 when the Commission authorized the Subcommission to establish a Working Group to promote the rights of persons belonging to national or ethnic, religious and linguistic minorities. This Working Group had become an important forum for constructive discussions of minority related issues. In order to make the work of the Working Group more effective, the members would need to continue to receive information on good practices, including information on constitutional arrangements and national legislation.

SHAHIDUL ISLAM (Bangladesh) said the protection of minorities posed the single most important challenge to a democratic polity. Without caution and tolerance, majoritarian rule could lead to discriminatory treatment of minorities. Of course, no group could be allowed to take precedence over the needs of the State; in practice it was not always possible to ensure the necessary distance between Government and majority wishes; it was for that reason that certain protections had to be put in place. Recently a 68 point-accord had been signed between the Chittagong Hill Tribes and the Government, putting an end to two decades of controversy. A regional council would be established, to be headed by an official to be elected locally, and to have wide-ranging responsibility over such matters as land use, education, and judicial operations; a land commission headed by a retired justice was being formed to resolve all outstanding land disputes. The Hill Tribes had surrendered weapons, refugees had begun to return, and the Government was carrying out various programmes to aid in their resettlement. All looked forward to a successful enactment of the peace accords and a return to normal life in the region.

Ms. SONAM (China) said because of the differences in historical backgrounds, cultural traditions, levels of economic development and ethnic composition, States should adopt measures which were suited to their own national conditions in their endeavours to protect minorities. At the same time, the international community should exchange experiences and learn from each other in compliance with the principle of equality, mutual respect and sincere cooperation. China was a unified, multi-ethnic country. The total population of its 55 minority ethnic groups numbered 108 million, which was about 8.9 per cent of the whole population. The Government had all along attached importance to the protection of the rights of ethnic minorities and had made tremendous efforts in that regard. It was committed to protecting all legitimate rights of the ethnic minorities, safeguarding equality and solidarity among different ethnic groups and promoting the economic development of ethnic minorities. In addition, in order to speed up the economic development of the Tibetan Autonomous Regions, the central Government and various provinces and municipalities had provided assistance in a variety of forms.

REV. G. TAB KUETH (Sudan) said that as a Christian and a priest by profession, he had been preaching the word of God in Sudan for many years and had witnessed the succession in power of many Governments. It was not fair for the non-governmental organization Christian Solidarity International to portray the Government in Sudan as the National Islamic Front Government since the Christian population was fairly represented in it. The Christian population in Sudan was now enjoying its fair share in power, wealth and religious freedom for the first time in the history of Sudan. The unfounded allegations raised by Christian Solidarity International before the Commission depicted the Christian population in Sudan as being persecuted and not tolerated. This would only incite religious hatred and uncalled for confrontations. At the same time, any serious allegations regarding religious freedom in the Sudan had been subjected to objective verifications by Christians from outside the country.

PETER SCHATZER, of the International Organization for Migration (IOM), said IOM worked to protect migrants through advocating international laws and guidelines and offering advice that could be adopted and followed by migration authorities and border officials; migrants' human rights was a large field and work had to be done with long-term commitment, and IOM therefore supported extending the mandate of the relevant working group. Migrants continued to suffer serious human-rights violations, such as genocide, slavery, and torture; such threats, in turn, often were reasons for migration and escape. The United Nations and various NGOs were right to push for greater ratification of the International Convention on protection of migrants' rights. Trafficking in migrants was another complex problem, and fighting against it involved a correspondingly complex set of activities ranging from preventive measures to remedial and rehabilitative activities; here, as in so much other migration-related work, inputs and cooperation were needed from both, sending, receiving, and transit countries.

LUCY GWANMESIA (Cameroon) said the term 'minority' had yet to receive a comfortable and acceptable definition. Not even the definitions proposed by experts of the Subcommission on Prevention of Discrimination and Protection of Minorities had received unanimous approval. Categories of minorities were recognized in the Declaration; but in the absence of a consensus definition, it was feared that issues related to indigenous populations might insidiously creep into and confuse questions regarding minorities. None the less, to insist on a definition might turn out to be an exercise in futility; guidelines like those laid down and used by the working groups ought to be retained. In Cameroon, there were 243 ethnic groups, each with a distinct vernacular and traditional values. There was, however, no numerically predominant ethnic group. There did exist economically important communities with recognizable potentials within and outside the country; that was the result of group dynamics rather than policy. The Constitution of 18 January, 1996 had incorporated adequate safeguards for the protection of minorities.

ROMANS BAUMANIS (Latvia) said his multi-ethnic country had not witnessed, as an independent State, such things as ethnic cleansing, racially motivated violence or ethnic disputes. Latvia considered that democracy was the only road to achieving the peaceful and harmonious co-existence of all ethnic groups. As part of the country?s institutional framework, the National Human Rights Office had been established as an independent organ for the protection and promotion of human rights and fundamental freedoms of all the inhabitants of Latvia, regardless of their social and ethnic background. Latvia had also implemented the majority of recommendations made by the Organization of Security and Cooperation in Europe's High Commissioner on national minorities. Latvia had always welcomed transparency in handling its human rights issues. Yet there had to be some sense of proportion regarding the amount of attention given by the Commission to those issues and to factual problems. Instead, the Russian delegation was using a magnifying glass to scrutinize the problems in Latvia. Latvia could not suggest that it did not have any problems; but it welcomed a constructive dialogue based on respect rather than tendentious allegations and rhetoric which did not help to reduce the fears many Latvians still had of their eastern neighbour.

JANNE HAALAND MATLARY (Norway) said political ideologies based on a materialistic conception of the human being had failed, among other things because they suppressed the inherent spiritual need of mankind. One must also beware of the non-political materialism which reduced the human being to a mere market actor or commodity; today there was a growing recognition of man's spiritual nature in almost all States, yet there also was continued suppression of religious liberty in many places. Without freedom to worship, there could be no real political freedom -- nor freedom of thought and conscience. It was becoming increasingly clear that the promotion and defence of religious liberty was one of the most pressing items on the international agenda and that it would require priority in future -- and at the same time, all must accept that it was a topic of great complexity. Some quarters called for an additional, legally binding international instrument, but Norway had its doubts about the usefulness of such an approach; instead it saw a need for legal clarification of some of the questions left by different wordings of the Universal Declaration and other international instruments. Priority should be given to having leaders of religion or beliefs, Governments, and others work together to develop a plan of action. She also wished to draw attention to the Oslo Conference on Freedom of Religion or Belief to be held from 11 to 15 August.

ALI KHORRAM (Iran) said tolerance was the cornerstone of protection of human identity and promotion and protection of human rights. Without tolerance, human rights principles and instruments were but mere words. It was a prerequisite to the international community's endeavour towards attainment of world peace, social justice and friendship among peoples and nations. Without tolerance, the ideal of ?all human rights for all? was either unteachable or short-lived; and without tolerance, the chances for war and violation of human rights were greater. Many had become victims of intolerance, losing their lives or being denied their rights. The recent unspeakable horrors of large-scale genocide and ethnic cleansing in Bosnia, Rwanda and Burundi were reminders of the consequences of intolerance. That was a heavy price that one could not and should not afford.

PETROS EFTYCHIOU (Cyprus) said it was of vital importance for the Commission to give full and careful consideration to cases of intolerance and discrimination which were the result of conscious and systematic Government policies to promote broader national goals and interests. Cyprus represented such a case in which military might and territorial ambitions had been combined in the systematic pursuit of a policy of erasing thousands of years of cultural and religious heritage from the territory of the Republic of Cyprus. Turkey invaded and had occupied Cyprus since 1974, targeting not only the territorial integrity of the island but the beliefs and cultural heritage of its people as well. Unfortunately, there was no time to enumerate all of the 500 churches, monasteries and cemeteries that had either been destroyed or desecrated in Cyprus. And that was just the tip of the iceberg, because the extent of the violations went far beyond any verbal picture that could possibly be given in a short time.

AUDRIUS NAVIKAS (Lithuania) said the Constitution of the country approved by citizens in a referendum in 1992 laid down the fundamentals for exercise of freedom of religion -- individuals had the right to have their own convictions and freely express them and freedom of thought, conscience, and religion were not to be restricted. Such freedom was subject only to those limitations prescribed by law and only when such restrictions were necessary to protect the safety of society, public order, health, or morals, or the fundamental rights and freedoms of others. The 1995 law on religious communities and associations of Lithuania recognized nine traditional churches and religious communities; among them were the religions practised by almost all national minorities. By a manner prescribed by law, other religious communities and associations could be registered and granted the rights of a legal person and therefore could enjoy the same protections, provided that the activity of these communities did not violate human rights and freedoms or public order, and their teachings and rituals did not contradict morality or the law.

GHENNET GRIMA, of the African Association of Eduction for Development, said in Saudi Arabia there were many cases of women from Africa who either committed suicide or died of unknown causes; others had disappeared. The women had gone there in the hope of earning a livelihood as housekeepers, only to end up in the hands of abusers.

The speaker said that in Ethiopia, Islamic and Christian religious leaders were still languishing in jail. Believers had been shot dead by the police on what both confessions respectively considered to be holy ground. As for the rights of minorities, the Ethiopian Government delegation asserted that there were constitutional guarantees, but that was far from the reality. In fact, a minority ethnic group that had come to power through the force of arms seven years ago was still dominating a multi-cultural and multi-confessional Ethiopia.

ALGIS THOMAS GENIUSAS, of the International Federation of Free Journalists, said the Government of the Russian Federation was abusing the concept of minority rights and citizenship. For the last six years the Russian Federation had persistently raised the accusation that the Estonian and Latvian Governments discriminated against their Russian-speaking minorities. The Russian Federation had taking to arguing that Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania had not been occupied and forcibly annexed by the Soviet Union between June and August 1940. That was an outrageous assertion. The laws and rules for obtaining citizenship in Estonia and Latvia were comparable to the ones in effect in the United States. A blanket conferral of citizenship on all residents of Estonia and Latvia, the Russian Federation?s chief demand, would legitimize and set in stone the effects of a deliberate policy of population transfer started by Stalin and carried out by the Soviet Union during its occupation.
 

MASOOMA ALI, of the Afro-Asian People's Solidarity Organization, said the difference between civilized society and barbarism was that the former sought to fashion its instruments of State to reduce oppression and punish oppressors, while the latter revelled in oppression of minorities by the majority. India and Pakistan, during 50 years of independence, had taken quite different paths. India, with all its travails and many aberrations, had sought to put into place a Constitution and a legal and institutional structure that guaranteed equality for all, regardless of caste, religion, or ethnic background. There was no perfection yet, but the effort was there. Pakistan had a history of successive regimes in which the trend of governance had not been secular; the new President had declared that he intended to consolidate the Islamization of Pakistan. Islam was a tolerant religion, but there was concern that the recent pronouncements could herald an era of further oppression not only of religious minorities but of women; minority communities in Pakistan were concerned and felt insecure. Democracy unshackled by religion and other constraints was the best guarantor of the rights of minorities.

TATIANA SHAUMAMIAN, of the International Institute of Peace, said her group had been distressed that the promise that the Indian sub-continent held in terms of its resources and the quality of its manpower had not been fully realized. One of the reasons for that was that, on occasion, the region had been wrecked by intolerance based usually on religion; that negated the fruits of economic development. On another issue, recently, the United States had declared the Pakistan-based Harkat ul Ansar a terrorist organization. That organization, which had been functioning for years from Pakistan, had, by its own admission, been sending its armed cadres to India, Tadjikistan and Myanmar to carry on a jihad against the 'infidels'. The consequences of that brand of religious fanaticism were quite apparent in Indian Jammu and Kashmir. Nearly 300,000 Kashmiri Hindus had been driven out of their homes after large numbers of their community were tortured and murdered by the fanatics of the Harkat in the name of establishing their version of God's kingdom in Kashmir.

LUDOVICA VERZEGNASSI, of the International Progress Organization, said minorities looked to States to help them protect their culture and heritage. But today, unique heritages and cultures were destroyed to fulfil the ambitions of some States. This was the fate of the people of Jammu and Kashmir, who were held hostage to Pakistan's desire to incorporate the state into its territory. At a time when the people of Pakistani Kashmir should be channelling their energy to economic development, they watched their land being turned into one big military training camp, and they had no avenue of appeal. Pakistan used Azad Kashmir to send bands of mercenaries to destroy the fabric of society in Jammu and Kashmir, killing Kashmiri Muslims in the process. Minorities had born the brunt of the trouble in Pakistan, and now that policy was affecting neighbouring countries like Afghanistan. States which allowed policies of xenophobia and discrimination needed to be educated and needed to modify their instruments of governance so that minorities were given their rights.

M. AHMAD, of the World Muslim Congress, said the denial to Albanian minorities in parts of former Yugoslavia of their basic rights illustrated the process of deprivation of minority communities. Similar violations occurred among the Rohingyas, inhabitants in northwest Burma, who were persecuted, raped, murdered, and pushed into forced-labour camps under the SLORC regime. The thousands-year-old caste system of India was another example of severe intolerance; rapes and murders of lower-class women by upper-class men were not so uncommon even today. Indian Muslims, the largest national minority, were the most deprived; they were at the bottom of the socio-economic heap, and the Hindu nationalist party that had just formed a Government was fundamentally hostile to India's Muslims. One of the party's leaders had previously led Hindu militants in the destruction of the 475-year-old Babri Mosque in Ayodhya, and large-scale anti-Muslim programmes had followed. There was a need for intensive efforts to overcome such deep-rooted prejudice.

FRIEDRICH KIRCHER, of the Latin American Federation of Associations of Relatives of Disappeared, said that in Chiapas, Mexico, despite the San Andres agreements, the social exclusion of the indigenous population had continued with the Government deliberately breaking the accord. The Government had ignored the rights of the indigenous people to the resources in their territory; it had also blocked them from effectively participating in their cultural activities. Also, in Colombia, although the 1991 Constitution had recognized the country as a multi-cultural and multi-ethnic nation, the situation of the indigenous people had not improved. Instead, some 20,000 of them had been forcibly displaced since 1996, with their lands falling prey to speculators who sold them to foreigners. Meanwhile, in Western Sahara, where a referendum on self-determination was set to take place, arbitrary detention and the blocking of the identification of voters were being carried out by Moroccan authorities.

ABDUL MAJID TRUMBOO, of the International Human Rights Association of American Minorities and World Society of Victimology, said the 1992 Declaration on the Rights of Persons Belonging to National or Ethnic, Religious and Linguistic Minorities, which obliged States to promote and protect equal rights, had regrettably not entirely achieved the desired results. For example, the situation of African-Americans remained a cause for concern, as the resource gap between affluent and poor schools and between white and minority schools in the United States was staggering. In India, discrimination against minorities remained unabated and unchecked. Dalits or Untouchables continued to be harassed and persecuted; the Sikh minority was equally victim of persecution. There was fear about the safety of the Christian community of India, while Muslims, the biggest minority in that country, continued to reel under the scourges of poverty, backwardness and illiteracy. There was therefore a dire need to ensure effective implementation and promotion of the Declaration.

LUIS ALBERTO PADILLA (Guatemala) said migratory flows had occurred for centuries. One wondered what would have happened in Europe if the hundreds of thousands who left for work decades ago had not been given welcome and work in the countries they went to. But now, in the so-called developed countries that had resulted, migrants were termed undesirables. Such countries benefited from low-priced labour performed by migrants; they had the obligation to support the human rights of such workers; and neither overpopulation nor migration problems would be solved unless the underlying structural factors were addressed. Policies and funding must be provided for promoting sustainable development in developing countries; the industrialized countries must meet at least the minimum established goal of 1 per cent of GDP for development aid; otherwise, migratory flows which the developed countries apparently did not want would not decrease but increase. The world's rich countries must increase funding for sustainable human development and must redouble their efforts to support fledgling democracies in the developing world. Steps also were needed to combat the dangerous practice of illegal migration, whose entrepreneurs often cost migrants their lives.

ABDELFATTAH AMOR, Special Rapporteur on religious intolerance, in concluding remarks following the discussion surrounding his latest report (document E/CN.4/1998/6 and Add. 1 and 2), said he appreciated all the suggestions forwarded to him during the debate. Among the States he had visited recently, Australia and Germany had contributed positively to the functioning of his mandate. The efforts of Norway to promote religious tolerance was also exemplary. He took note of the cooperation of the Government of Saudi Arabia with all mechanisms. Furthermore, Viet Nam, which until yesterday had not extended an invitation to him to visit the country, had made it known to him that he could now do so. He appreciated the efforts of countries such as Sudan, Cyprus and Egypt to keep him informed about new developments in their territories.

Right of Reply

ZORAN TODOROV (The former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia), in response to a statement made yesterday by the Transnational Radical Party, said the group?s statement contained untrue and incorrect information related to the status and rights of Albanians in his country. It was an indisputable fact that the Constitution of the country showed that it was a sovereign State which derived its sovereignty from its citizens, regardless of their ethnic origins. Besides Macedonians, there were other groups living in the country, including Turks and Roma minorities. The process of building a civil society in the country was well advanced, and the information presented on the Albanians in the country gave an entirely wrong impression about their status.

NEHAL HASHIM (Pakistan) said a sponsored NGO had delivered yesterday a litany of falsehoods and fabrications about the so-called situation in Karachi. The speaker had no idea what he was talking about. The Mohajirs in Pakistan were descendants of people who migrated from all over India to Pakistan in 1947; they were not an ethnic or linguistic group; all they had in common was migration; the Mohajirs had been subject to a well-organized campaign of terrorism from abroad; the situation was being resolved. Three NGOs also had spoken today to accuse Pakistan of terrorism in Kashmir; but the 600,000 Indian armed forces were the ones causing terror in Kashmir; those who spoke should at least remember the religious fanatics who had destroyed an historic mosque and massacred thousands of innocent Muslims in their own country, and had now elected the sponsors of that grave offense to the leadership of the country. The Commission should pay attention to that problem.

Work of Subcommission on Prevention of Discrimination and Protection of Minorities

The Commission this morning began considering the work of the last session of its main subsidiary body, the Subcommission on Prevention of Discrimination and Protection of Minorities, held from 4 to 29 August 1997. The Subcommission?s report (document E/CN.4/1998/2) lists draft decisions recommended to the Commission for adoption on the following issues: indigenous issues; prevention of discrimination against and protection of minorities; privatization of prisons; freedom of movement; and human rights and their relationship to terrorism, states of emergency, and scientific and technological developments.
 

Draft resolutions recommended to the Commission for adoption concern a wide range of subjects including the situation of human rights in the Congo, Bahrain and the Democratic People's Republic of Korea; migrant workers; racial discrimination; evictions; indigenous issues; impunity; the rights to drinking water supply and sanitation services; and the rights of women to adequate housing and to land and property.

The Commission is also reviewing an analytical report of the Secretary-General on minimum humanitarian standards (document E/CN.4/1998/87), which concludes that it is appropriate to reiterate and emphasize the horrific impact on the lives of million of individuals of the many situations of internal violence which continue to plague the world. There is clearly a close relationship between the existence of these conflicts and human rights abuses, the report states. It is therefore timely and appropriate to look again at the tools at hand to prevent these abuses. One of these tools is international law, and as regards internal violence, we have legal standards from both human rights and humanitarian law. Beyond the question of legal standards, there are other tools at hand to ensure respect for human rights in situations of internal violence and conflict. It might be useful to draw on existing sources of information to develop a more comprehensive picture of the most serious and frequent human rights abuses in such situations, including the context in which they occur.

An addendum to the Secretary-General's report (document E/CN.4/1998/87/Add.1) contains views and information received from 12 States and two United Nations bodies.

The Commission is also considering the report of José Bengoa, Chairman of the Subcommission at its forty-ninth session (document E/CN.4/1998/88). Mr. Bengoa states in the report that the Subcommission's new agenda, based on the systematic grouping of topics, has proved to be extremely rational and has contributed to the high level of its discussions, particularly those on racism and migrant workers and new forms of xenophobia, as well as on the effects of these factors on economic, social and cultural conditions in the modern world. The agenda also enabled the Subcommission to establish a relationship between racist and xenophobic trends and questions connected with new forms of work, migrant workers, transnational corporations and major migratory movements. However, the Subcommission should rationalize the work of its fiftieth session even further.

Under the discussion of the work of the Subcommission, a report of the Secretary-General on the United Nations Voluntary Trust Fund on Contemporary Forms of Slavery (document E/CN.4/1998/89) states, meanwhile, that despite the financial difficulties and limited funds available, the Board of the Trust Fund was able to meet from 17 to 19 March 1997. On December 2, 1997, the High Commissioner for Human Rights sent a letter to all Governments appealing to them to respond favourably to requests for contributions to the Fund to enable the Board to meet from 25 to 27 March 1998. As of 31 October 1997, only $8,500 were available under the Trust Fund.

Statements

JOSE BENGOA, Chairman of the Subcommission on Prevention of Discrimination and Protection of Minorities, introducing his report (see above), said that in compliance with the request by the Commission to rationalize the agenda, the Subcommission had adopted at its last session an agenda containing 14 items instead of 22 in 1996. The rationalization consisted partly in grouping together several interrelated issues under one agenda item, and partly in greater use of the biennial consideration of some sub-items.
With regard to the work of the Subcommission, Mr. Bengoa said its Working Groups on Indigenous Peoples, on Minorities and on Contemporary Forms of Slavery were very possibly the strongest pillars supporting the work of the forum he chaired.

Mr. Bengoa recalled that several new subjects had recently been introduced into the work of the subcommission, including women and the right to adequate housing and to land and property; the right to return, and the need for respect for humanitarian and human rights law in United Nations peace-keeping operations. The subject of terrorism and human rights had also been given particular attention last year.
 
 
 
 

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