COMMISSION ON HUMAN RIGHTS
Agenda item 16
The Humanitarian Law Project/International Educational Development welcomes the continuing attention to the issue of human rights and disability. We frequently refer to the excellent report of the Sub-Commission's rapporteur Despouy (U.N. Sales No. E.92.XIV.4) which formed the basis for the work of the Commission on Social Development.
The Despouy report highlights interrelationship between violations of the rules of war and disability. War causes immense physical and psychological harm. Humanitarian law requires that parties to war must be prepared for the medical needs of both military and civilians with war-caused illnesses or disabilities. Military operations carried out in violation of the rules of war almost always result in avoidable disability -- unplanned for by the victims and by their governments. When the needs of these injured or disabled persons are not fully met there is a double violation. This occurred in the Gulf War.
The use of weapons containing depleted uranium by the United States in the Gulf War has resulted in thousands of newly disabled persons in Iraq. In our written statement submitted under item 5 (U.N. Doc. E/CN.4/1997/NGO/[ ]) we discuss toxicity of depleted uranium. At least 2,686 tons of Uranium-tipped bullets were fired at Iraqi targets; the discards still sit in southern Iraq affecting all people in the area. At present there is no plan to address this massive radioactive pollution problem and the United States authorities now admit that key information relating to depleted uranuim use in this war has been removed from files or destroyed -- including the back-up files.
Iraqi civilians suffer exceptional disability rates from these weapons: abnormally high rates of cancers and kidney disease, abnormally high numbers of children born since the war with missing limbs and other congenital birth defects. There are similar problems with United States and British military personnel and their children -- the "Gulf War syndrome". Because of the gravity of the medical sitaution in Iraq our organization is convinced that continuation of sanctions clearly violates international law, especially to the degree sanctions effects medical care. Medical supplies, even if not "life saving" cannot be subject to sanctions. This is a fundamental principle of humanitarian law and is part of the Geneva Conventions.
We are pleased the that Sub-Commission now addresses depleted uranium and other weapons causing unacceptable civilian disabilities.
MINIMUM HUMANITARIAN STANDARDS
We appreciated the efforts made to define minimum humanitarian standards. However, we remind the Commission that the International Court of Justice, in its opinion of 27 June 1986 (the Nicaragua case) set out that the humanitarian standards in article 3 Common to the Geneva Conventions apply in all wars by all parties, even those not directly involved. Short of wars or other national emergencies threatening the existence of a state that allow states to derogate some rights, countries must comply with the full array of human rights. What happens, however, is that states invoke Article 4 derogations inappropriately. We draw attention to the analysis of Article 4 in the excellent report of Mme Questiaux, U.N. Doc. E/CN.4/Sub.5/1982/15 which apparently you have all forgotten. Because the non-derogable rights are jus cogens, they apply to any state at all times. We support the comments made by the Friends World Committee for Consultation set out in E/CN.4/1997/77 and insist that thoughful evaluation of both humanitarian law and human rights giving full consideration to the Questiaux study shows that the problems lie more with compliance than with lack of binding standards.
SLAVERY IN BURMA AND THE VOLUNTARY FUND
Our investigations show that slavery in Burma is rampant. The illegal SLORC military seizes villagers to porter the military material which is then used against the people in the area, aminly the Karen, the Karenni and the Mon ethnic nationalities. SLORC relies heavily on enforced porterage and labor to construct housing and roads and to carry equipment used in the construction of the new petroleum pipeline. Many people die from exhaustion, malnutrition or torture and other severe abuse. We will more fully address the situation in Burma under other items, but the gravity of the slave labor situation in Burma requires special attention and remedies on an urgent basis.
We note the extreme difficulties experienced by the Voluntary Trust Fund on Contemporary Forms of Slavery due to lack of funds. It is imperative that member governments of the United Nations contribute to this fund and that the Board of Trustees maintain its independent character.