Commission on human rights starts consideration of child rights

15-Apr-99

HR/CN/914

Special Representative of Secretary-GeneralOffers Special Agenda to Help Child Refugees Fleeing Kosovo

GENEVA, 15 April (UN Information Service) — The Commission on Human Rights this morning started its consideration of the rights of the child and heard the Special Representative of the Secretary-General on the impact of armed conflict on children present a special agenda to respond to the needs of child refugees fleeing Kosovo.

Olara Otunnu said thousands of refugee children in Albania and the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia needed food, clean water, basic health services, safe housing, toys, trauma counselling, and schooling. They also needed protection from recruitment into the conflict and from efforts to lure girls and young women into international prostitution networks.

Mr. Otunnu said throughout the world, it was time to implement protection for children during armed conflicts. Standards existed, and it was no longer acceptable that they continued to be ignored.

Also this morning, the Commission was addressed by Gustavo Bell Lemus, Vice-President of Colombia, who said education was the most suitable means of dissemination and consolidation of a genuine human rights culture. Colombia had entered into a peace process aimed at arriving at political agreements with the political agents of violence. Since the assistance of the international community had proved of fundamental importance in the peace process in the past, and would be for the future, assistance must be timely, generous and unaccompanied by conditions affecting its sovereignty.

Dr. Peter Piot, the Executive Director of UNAIDS said the human rights of people living with HIV had been violated and many people had been murdered because they had been presumed to be infected. As more and more people died there was a fear that governments would opt for community and national rights at the expense of privacy rights and rights for medical information.

Catherine von Heidenstam, Chairman of the Working Group on a draft optional protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child on involvement of children in armed conflicts, said she had informed the members of the open-ended Working Group that she had seen no possibility to reach an agreement. She would continue broad, informal consultations to try to finalize an optional protocol by the year 2000.

Ofelia Calcetas-Santos, Special Rapporteur on the sale of children, child prostitution and child pornography, said, among other things, three main catalysts for protecting children were the justice system, the media, and education; many reforms in these areas were being initiated in many countries to deter potential abuses through stiffer penalties and avoidance of multiple victimization of children who sought redress in the courts.

Ivan Mora Godoy, the Chairman-Rapporteur of the Working Group on a draft optional protocol on the sale of children, child prostitution and child pornography, said a major obstacle remained with regard to the scope of the draft optional protocol regarding the sale of children. The Working Group had recommended that the draft optional protocol be adopted in time for the tenth anniversary of the Convention on the Rights of the Child.

Earlier in the meeting, the Commission concluded its discussion on the integration of the human rights of women and the gender perspective. Representatives of Pakistan and Egypt spoke in right of reply.

Representatives of Cuba, Japan, Germany (on behalf of the European Union), Colombia, Madagascar, Guatemala (on behalf of the Latin American and Caribbean Group), Botswana, Romania, Venezuela and South Africa also spoke on issues related to the rights of children.

The following non-governmental organizations also addressed the meeting: World Federation of Trade Unions, World Muslim Congress, World Muslim League, Indian Council of Education, Liberation, and the Women’s International Democratic Federation.

The Commission will reconvene at 3 p. m. to continue its debate on the rights of the child.

Rights of Child

The Commission under this agenda item has before it document (E/CN. 4/1999/64) which is the report of the Secretary-General on the abduction of children from Uganda. It contains information provided on the matter by the Government of Uganda, the Government of Sudan, the Special Representative of the Secretary-General, and international organizations and non-governmental sources. The document concludes that many children have been abducted, and much work remains to be done.

The Commission is also considering document (E/CN. 4/1999/70) which is a report by the Secretary-General on the status of the Convention on the Rights of the Child. This Convention has considerably progressed since its incipience. Many States have ratified it. The Committee on the Rights of the Child has continued its work on the promotion and protection of the rights of children, notably in the cases of displaced children, child soldiers, children with disabilities and children at risk of sexual abuse.

The Commission has before it the report of the Special Rapporteur on the sale of children, child prostitution and child pornography, Ofelia Calcetas-Santos (E/CN. 4/1999/71) in which she speaks about her working methods and activities; international developments relating to sale of children, child prostitution and child pornography; the special focus on sale and trafficking of children; international developments relating to trafficking; and her missions to Belgium and the Netherlands. She thanks the Governments of Belgium and the Netherlands for their open and fruitful dialogue with her, and says that her reports on the missions will be issued at a later date.

Ms. Calcetas-Santos recommends, among other things, that the sale and trafficking of persons must be unequivocally condemned as being an affront to human dignity; international standards with regard to sale and trafficking should be set; bilateral and multilateral cooperation is imperative if the problem of trafficking of children is to be addressed; all law enforcement agents, border police, customs and immigration officials, and members of the judiciary in the countries affected should be sensitized to issues of trafficking and the rights and needs of the victims; priority should be given to the ratification and the effective and accelerated enforcement of existing conventions and instruments on trafficking of persons and on slavery and slavery-like practices; and other sanctions aimed at deterring the sale or trafficking of children should be considered.

Also before the Commission is an addendum report (E/CN. 4/1999/71/Add. 1) by the Special Rapporteur on the sale of children, child, prostitution and child pornography, Ofelia Calcetas-Santos, on her mission to the Lao People’s Democratic Republic on the issue of trafficking of children. The Special Rapporteur considers that the Lao People’s Democratic Republic has the advantage of still being in a position to concentrate on preventive measures to protect children from exploitation and abuse. However, if these measures are not put in place and unless the Government gives them priority and adopts coherent programmes of activities, the country might find itself in the same situation as some of its neighbours in Asia afflicted with conflagration of child exploitation and abuse.

The Special Rapporteur recommends, among other things, establishment of accessible schools coupled with training of qualified teachers, at least at the primary and secondary levels; and a nationwide sustained information campaign on the risks of trafficking. Bilateral or multilateral cooperation must be achieved with countries sharing borders, particularly Thailand,including institutionalized and systematic exchange of information, in order to prevent children from crossing the borders. Livelihood programmes for out of school youth should also be instituted with the cooperation of the business sector.

Also being considered by the Commission is a note (E/CN. 4/1999/72) by the Special Representative of the Secretary-General for children and armed conflict, Olara Otunnu, which announces the availability of the report submitted by Mr. Otunnu to the General Assembly (A/53/482, annex).

The Commission also has before it a report (E/CN. 4/1999/73) by the Working Group on a draft optional protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child on involvement of children in armed conflicts on its fifth session. The report includes information on the organization of the session including election of the Chairman-Rapporteur; participation and documentation; general discussion and proposals which included the Special Representative of the Secretary-General’s request for support of all participants in the Working Group in bringing political pressure to bear; and follow-up with State entities.

Before the Commission is a report (E/CN. 4/1999/74) by the Chairman-Rapporteur of the Working Group on a draft optional protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child on the sale of children, child prostitution and child pornography on its fifth session. The report includes information on the organization of the session; discussions on the draft optional protocol including definitions, penalization and protection of children; exchange of views with the Special Rapporteur and members of the Committee on the Rights of the Child; and discussions on the working methods of the Working Group.

Also before the Commission is a note (E/CN. 4/1999/105) by the Secretary-General on the programme of action for the elimination of the exploitation of child labour which draws the Commission’s attention to the report of the Secretary-General to the Subcommission on the Prevention of Discrimination and Protection of Minorities on the implementation of the Programme of Action (E/CN. 4/Sub. 2/1998/12).

Statements

Dr. PETER PIOT, Executive Director of UNAIDS, thanked Poland and other sponsors for having presented a very important draft resolution on HIV/AIDS. Government mortuaries in some capital cities had been reported to be overflowing and age-old traditions of respect for the dead were being ignored because of the number of burials. In some places bodies, particularly of infants, lay unidentified and uncollected.

Mr. Piot said human rights of people living with HIV had been violated and many people had been murdered because they had been presumed to be infected. He cited the example of Mrs. Laminini who had been stoned to death in South Africa after going on television and speaking of the issue. In violation of the Convention on the Rights of the Child, nearly half a million children had been born with HIV despite the availability of affordable and cost-effective drugs that could reduce this number.

Women and children were at greater risk because they were subordinate to males, especially in sexual relations, Mr. Piot said. Minorities, men who had sex with men, immigrants and people in the developing countries, were also at greater risk. As more andmore people died, there was a fear that governments would opt for community and national rights at the expense of privacy rights and rights for medical information.

Mr. Piot said attention given by the United Nations system to the HIV problem had paid off. Countries such as Thailand and Uganda had proven that simple development strategies — depending on trust, openness, voluntary testing and behaviour change — worked. It was essential that the Commission took the following actions: the integration of HIV human rights into the work of related treaty bodies and United Nations organs; the expanding of HIV related human rights by promoting investments in monitoring mechanisms, training, media, etc; and the implementation of the International Guidelines on HIV/AIDS and Human Rights which set out concrete strategies for United Nations agencies, governments and non-governmental organizations.

CATHERINE VON HEIDENSTAM, Chairman of the Working Group on a draft optional protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child on involvement of children in armed conflicts, said the group had only held a one-day meeting; she had informed the members of the open-ended Working Group that she had seen no possibility to reach an agreement on the draft and had therefore suggested such a short session, which was enough to agree on the brief conclusions she had come up with. Meanwhile, she would continue broad, informal consultations to try to finalize an optional protocol by the year 2000.

Ms. von Heidenstam said that in consultations to date, she had seen a genuine desire to strengthen international standards for protection of children in armed conflicts, in particular by raising the minimum age for recruitment and participation in hostilities. But there nonetheless was a lack of consensus on raising the minimum age to 18. There was still general support for finalizing a draft protocol, along with increased awareness of the need to take action against the deplorable use of child soldiers.

OFELIA CALCETAS-SANTOS, Special Rapporteur on the sale of children, child prostitution and child pornography, said she felt intense frustration that her report had only been issued yesterday, giving the Commission little time to read it, despite the fact that she had submitted it last December.

Ms. Calcetas-Santos said three main catalysts for protecting children were the justice system, the media, and education; many reforms in these areas were being initiated in many countries to deter potential abuses through stiffer penalties and avoidance of multiple victimization of children who sought redress in the courts. There was a need for definitions of prostitution and pornography; a need to study the impact of prostitution and/or pornography on the lives of children, both boys and girls; and a need to study the extent of the problem in different parts of the world.

The Special Rapporteur said the sale and trafficking of children reduced them to the level of commercial commodities; in addition to sexual exploitation, evidence suggested there was a great demand for children as marketable commodities for purposes of adoption and labour. Even activities such as sports could result in abuse; children were recruited to be lightweight camel jockeys in the United Arab Emirates, and now she had received reports that head hunters in certain countries, notably in Africa, were looking for potential star athletes, giving their parents or guardians money, and then bringing boys to other countries, especially in northern Europe, to be offered to different football teams.

Ms. Calcetas-Santos said she had visited the Lao People’s Democratic Republic and Belgium and was grateful for the cooperation she had received. Vietnam had not given her permission to visit, and a visit to the Russian Federation had been postponed. She was happy to be invited to visit Guatemala in July of this year.

IVAN MORA GODOY, the Chairman-Rapporteur of the Working Group on a draft optional protocol on the sale of children, child prostitution and child pornography, said one of the most important results of the group’s fifth session was the strong desire of the delegations to create a positive and effective process of negotiations which had motivated the Working Group.

Mr. Mora Godoy said that despite the positive results, one major obstacle remained with regard to the scope of the draft optional protocol regarding the sale of children. For a certain group of countries, the draft should have the broad scope of the Convention on the Rights of the Child and for other countries, it should be limited to the sexual exploitation of the child.

The Chairman-Rapporteur said the recommendations put forward at the end of the meeting were, among others:the adoption of the draft optional protocol of the Convention of the Rights of the Child by the next tenth anniversary of Convention; the ratification of the draft optional protocol by the United Nations General Assembly and by the Economic and Social Council in the session of the year 2000; and that the delegates be permitted to return to their capitals with the results in order to facilitate further positive work in this area. He called for the collaboration of the international community with the Special Rapporteur Ofelia Calcetas-Santos.

OLARA OTUNNU, Special Representative of the Secretary-General on the impact of armed conflict on children, said that in Kosovo, children were the most traumatized victims of the current crisis; they made up almost 65 per cent of the people expelled from Kosovo.

Mr. Otunnu wished to propose a special agenda for responding to the needs of these children. Among its goals was meeting their needs for food, clean water, basic health services, and safe housing — these needs were especially acute among refugees in Albania. More than half of the Kosovo population was estimated to have family members separated. Fortunately most children were accompanied. There were signs of severe trauma among the refugee children, and trauma counsellors were needed; also needed were toys, games, and balls. Continuity of schooling should be provided for the refugee children. Funding to expand the capacity of schools in Albania and the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia was necessary. Over half the refugees lived with host families — an overwhelming burden for host families who often found life difficult to begin with; this situation could not be sustained without heightened international assistance.

Mr. Otunnu said there was little evidence of recruitment or participation of children in the Kosovo conflict, but it was important to exercise vigilance to keep the refugee camps from becoming sites for recruitment. There also were signs that young girls and women were being lured into international prostitution networks from the camps; urgent measures should be taken to prevent this from occurring. Most disturbing of all was the situation of children remaining in Kosovo — little was known about them. Humanitarian access to these children must be demanded.

He had witnessed intolerable conditions among refugees in the small town of Kukes in northern Albania, the Special Representative said. Some 300,000 Kosovar refugees had entered Albania there; over 80,000 remained in the town. About 40,000 had neither host families nor organized camps, and many of them were children. They lacked food, water, and decent shelter. Governments at the Commission must come forward now and offer facilities and food to these refugees; non-governmental organizations must be involved, too — he had not seen much evidence of them in Kukes.

Throughout the world, Mr. Otunnu said, it was a time to implement protection for children during armed conflicts; standards existed, and it was no longer acceptable that they continued to be ignored.

GUSTAVO BELL LEMUS, Vice-President of Colombia, said the challenge of an emerging human rights culture called on the restructuring of the present system of human rights promotion and protection based on a strengthening of international cooperation and continuing dialogue. A long-term task of establishing a scale of values, sufficiently dissuasive and convincing to prevent attacks on human beings, had to be undertaken. Education was the mostsuitable means of dissemination and consolidation of a genuine human rights culture.

Mr. Lemus said a comprehensive process of education reform had been undertaken by the Government of Colombia which was designed to radically change the archaic mechanical and memory-based traditional concept of education. In the serious civil war situation between the Government and armed bands which flouted all humanitarian parameters with their violent actions, the civilian population and its human rights were threatened. The internal armed conflict, the continual violations of human rights, and the economic, social and ecological wreckage had led the Government of Colombia to enter into a peace process to reach political agreements with the political agents of violence. Civil society had supported this and the international community had approved it. Energetic measures had been taken to strengthen and professionalise the armed forces and a Human Rights Office had been set up in the Ministry of Defence to develop a preventive and educational policy in the armed forces. The reorganization of the national police force which began in 1990 had yielded tangible results, including a significant drop in the numbers of reports of violations of human rights.

Mr. Lemus said the Government was committed to deal with the factors behind the conflict. These included, among others: the elimination of absolute poverty, the correction of social and economic inequalities, the promotion and protection of human rights, the quantitative and qualitative development of the education and health services, the restoration of the ecosystem and the consolidation of a highly participative democratic system. These were the principal elements of the Plan of Colombia. Since the assistance of the international community had proved of fundamental importance in the peace process in the past, and would be in the future, assistance must be timely, generous and unaccompanied by conditions affecting Colombia’s sovereignty.

REFAQUET ALI KHAN, of the World Federation of Trade Unions, said under the Vienna Declaration and Programme of Action, States were committed to do away with the violations of human rights. In war situations and armed conflict, States were also committed to prevent the violation of women’s human rights including, among others, rape, sexual assault and other forms of torture. In certain war situations, the State security forces had not protected the girl child and women as were the horrific cases in Sudan, Rwanda, Bosnia and Kosovo. An environment for the abuse of the girl child had been created by rapid population growth and socio-cultural norms that led to discrimination between male and female children such as the case in Pakistan and Afghanistan. The international community was called on to ostracise all such societies which discriminated against women through constitutional, institutional and legal means and which also encouraged extremism, fundamentalism and terrorism.

AMJAD YOUSAF, of the World Muslim Congress, said the treatment meted out to women during conflicts was abhorrent, and it was easy to see why they were treated so cruelly — they were usually unable to defend themselves; targeting them brought their menfolk to their defence, where they could be arrested, tortured, and killed; and fear for the safety of womenfolk made all but the most determined men abandon their pursuit of the right to self-determination.

Mr. Yousaf said Indian troops in Indian-held Kashmir knew all this very well, and had used rape as an extremely effective weapon of war. The Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) focused almost exclusively on discrimination and was most applicable in times of peace. A separate international convention was needed to address the problems of rape and sexual assault of women during armed conflicts.

SHAH GHULAM QADIR, of the Muslim World League, commended the Special Rapporteur for her study on systematic rape, sexual slavery and slavery like practices during armed conflict and drew attention to conditions which had illustrated these in Bosnia and Herzegovina and Kosovo where Serb forces had resorted to rape and violence against women to force the Kosovars to flee from their homeland. Kashmiri women had also been subjected to a pattern of sexual violence by Indian forces according to international non-governmental organizations and Amnesty International reports. Effective international action was required to put an end to crimes against women and girls in situations of armed conflict. States and perpetrators must be prosecuted under international criminal law.

A. S. KHOLI, of the Indian Council of Education, said though the Commission had passed a number of resolutions, the situation of women had not improved at all; violence against women was widespread and long-standing, and cut across ages and cultures; it persisted unabated despite the adoption of legislation condemning most crimes against women. There was a wide gap between the legal framework and daily reality.

Mr. Kholi said all of south Asia could be described as a classical belt of patriarchy which relegated women to a residual category in society; the patriarchy had “God” on its side and insisted that men should lead, control, and make decisions for family and State. The emergence of fundamentalist religion had a direct result in increased oppression of women. These issues must be addressed directly by the Commission.

IQBAL SINGH, of Liberation, said education had a vital role to play in fostering respect for human rights, understanding of different cultures and the establishment of a fair and just society. Violations against women were wide spread and inherent in many countries such as honour killing (Karo Kari) to which law enforcement had taken a lenient view. Violence in families had to be addressed by the Commission and governments were urged to implement protective laws. Tamil women in Sri Lanka had been subject to rape and torture by the military and one million displaced people had been denied the right to food, shelter, medicine and clean water.

AIDA AVELLO, of the Women’s International Democratic Federation, said women in Afghanistan were suffering sexual apartheid under Taliban laws; they were being turned into outright slaves; it was the worst form of violence; all schools were closed, and women teachers had been sent home. Many lacked any means of assistance. There must be international action to restore their rights.

Mrs. Avello said there were many reports of violence against women, including in the territories occupied by Israel, where detention of women violated all sorts of rights; in jails in the United States, including Puerto Rico; in Iran, where stoning continued to be practised, in response to “crimes of honour”; and where the sexes were separated more and more. There also were problems with women’s rights in Djibouti, Colombia, Mexico, and Peru.

RADHIKA COOMARASWAMY, Special Rapporteur on violence against women, said she had been deeply disturbed by the intervention of the Government of Indonesia, which had questioned her integrity and professionalism — such allegations were bad-faith attempts to discredit the work of Commission mechanisms. During her visit to Indonesia, she had been firmly convinced that the Government had welcomed a new era in its protection of human rights — but its response before the Commission made her want to seriously reconsider this assessment. The response indicated a refusal to begin a process of taking responsibility for prior human rights violations.

Mrs. Coomaraswamy said she was worried that the refreshing changes she had welcomed in her report were now under threat. Recent developments also served to heighten her fears. She was amazed that the Indonesian Government had claimed she was not sincere in her meetings with Government officials. And she was worried that since her visit, non-governmental organizations and victims had written to her reporting that they had received death threats and threatening phone calls for having spoken with her. She had passed on these allegations to the Indonesian Government. She hoped the clock would not be turned back to an earlier era when human rights were violated in Indonesia with impunity.

Right of Reply

The representative of Pakistan, speaking in right of reply, said his country guaranteed full equality and rights to women; the Government was making every effort to eliminate all forms of discrimination and violence against women. Pakistan deplored “honour killing” such as had been referred to, and thought it was abhorrent. The Government wished to stress that the isolated incident referred to was not reflective of a pattern or Government policy. The Government of Pakistan would take all necessary measures to ensure protection of women against violence.

The representative of Egypt, speaking in right of reply, said that Freedom House, a non-governmental organization, had made allegations against his country. Egypt objected to these unfounded allegations. Egypthad always applied international conventions and it denied the kidnapping of girls. Egypt respected the rights of all peoples. The Copt authorities had been consulted on religious tolerance matters and according to them, Freedom House had sought to divide the religious community. Marriages between Christians and Muslims in Egypt existed and Egypt sought a society with respect for all religious beliefs.

Statements

RYUICHIRO YAMAKAZI (Japan) expressed its distress at the plight of children in armed conflict, including the current situation in Kosovo as revealed by the report of the High Commissioner for Human Rights. Japan commended the efforts of Olara Otunnu, the Special Representative of the Secretary-General for children in armed conflict, and reaffirmed its strong support for his work. Existing international norms and standards had to be implemented, and in this regard, their inclusion in the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court was welcomed.

Mr. Yamakazi said the issue of injury to children by land mines; the sale of children; economic, social and cultural rights of children; and the needs of children in post-conflict situations needed attention. Japan supported the work of the World Health Organization and the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) in their initiative to eradicate polio. It voiced concern for the alarming spread of HIV/AIDS and called on a special United Nations session on population and development in June to unite various efforts of the international community in tackling this issue.

WILHELM HOYNCK (Germany), speaking on behalf of the European Union and the countries of Central and Eastern Europe associated with the Union, said the rights of the child must influence all the work of the Commission; these rights could not be promoted in isolation — all aspects of human rights related to children. In fact, the state of children’s rights in a country were an indication of that country’s human rights situation in general.

Mr. Hoynck said attention needed to be paid, among other things, to the universal ratification of the Convention on the Rights of the Child; to the removal of reservations to the Convention which severely limited its effectiveness; to enhancing the right to education; to improving children’s health, including providing greater protection for children against HIV/AIDS and greater help for children who suffered from or had been orphaned by the disease; to ensuring equal treatment of girls, who often were denied education or suffered other kinds of discrimination; to ending the recruitment and use of child soldiers; to combatting sexual exploitation of children; and to reducing the incidence of exploitative child labour.

FARALALAO RAKOTONIAINA (Madagascar) said the Madagascar Government was taking numerous steps to respect the provisions of the Convention on the Rights of the Child, which the country had ratified. There were Constitutional protections, and in Madagascar tradition, the child was king. But in a situation of widespread poverty, children often were expected to contribute to family survival. Protections limiting child labour were extensive, and an assessment of the nature of child labour was under way to permit designing of a programme to regulate existing child labour and eventually to eradicate it. Compulsory and free education was called for in the Constitution. However, it was clear that no one could eliminate child labour without eradicating poverty — more international aid for combatting poverty was thus needed.

Ms. Rakotoniana said Madagascar was working in cooperation with non-governmental organizations to eradicate any occurrences of trafficking in children, child prostitution and child pornography. A law on paedophilia was in the course of adoption. Great efforts were made to avoid legal detention of children or sentencing of juveniles convicted of criminal offences. The number of children so held had drastically declined.

LUIS PADILLA MENENDEZ (Guatemala), speaking on behalf of the Latin American and Caribbean Group (GRULAC), said countries of the region gave enormous emphasis to child rights. Full informal consultations were needed to spur progress on the draft optional protocol dealing with the participation of children in armed conflict.

Mr. Menendez said the draft optional protocol on the sale of children, child prostitution, and child pornography needed further work; the draft needed to be expanded, for example, to cover aspects of the sale of children that were not related to sexual abuse — abduction, trafficking, and sale of children should be prohibited for any purpose. It should be ensured that adoption of children did not involve sale of children; overall the term “sale” should not be construed in a limited fashion.

LEGWAILA LEGWAILA (Botswana) said the protection of children in Botswana began at conception, in that the health system provided facilities aimed at ensuring that every child was born healthy and alive; health care continued after birth in numerous ways, including vaccination against the six preventable childhood diseases. Government policy on adoption ensured that the interests of the child came first. Sexual abuse and exploitation of children by anyone, let alone rape; indecent assault; sale of children, or slavery; and prostitution and operation of brothels were prohibited and drew statutory penalties in Botswana.

Mr. Legwaila said the criminal justice system accorded juveniles fair trials and equal treatment before the law. Efforts were being made to extend special help to disabled children and to increase their participation in the educational system, which in general was free from primary to secondaryschool. The Government was committed to providing education to all, both children and adults. Botswana condemned without equivocation the recruitment of child soldiers.

CRISTIAN TABACARU (Romania) said that the constitutional norm which assured children the right to enjoy an environment of protection and assistance of their rights had not been realized during the period between 1990 and 1996. In light of this, the Romanian Government had created a Department for the Protection of the Child (DPE) in order to elaborate strategies of reform and for the promotion and implementation of these strategies. The principles included: reform of the relevant bodies to assure an effective promotion of the rights of the child and to be accompanied by necessary conditions to realize them; administrative decision-making decentralization; and the institutional restructuring and creation of new services for the child. Romania had developed its strategy of reform based on international norms and called on the international community to deepen its technical and financial assistance to the country to put these reforms into effect.

ALFREDO MICHELENA (Venezuela) said the omnibus draft resolution before the Commission on the rights of the child had this time included a section on children in conflict with the law — a useful addition, as it increased the coverage of child rights. Sale of children, child prostitution, and child pornography remained matters of concern — it was still necessary to confront the root causes, which was the aim of the draft optional protocol being developed. Articles to extend such protections to children also had been included in the Convention on the Rights of the Child — a number of paragraphs had been added to the Convention towards the end of its negotiation.

Mr. Michelena said Venezuela now had a new regime for the protection of children and adolescents which had been praised as one of the most advanced pieces of legislation on the subject. It had been in effect since September 1998.

AYMEE HERNANDEZ QUESADA (Cuba) said it was regrettable that the definitive reports of the Special Rapporteur on the sale of children, child prostitution and child pornography and the Working Group on the same subject had not been available, which would make the discussions on this issue incomplete. Cuba actively participated in the discussions on the effects of armed conflict on the child. It supported the results reached by the Working Group and stated that the analyses should not be limited to child soldiers. Concerning the draft optional protocol on this subject, it should not have focused on the most serious of these violations which detracted from the original intentions of the Convention. Cuba took pride in its advances with regard to the rights of the child and its commitment that not one Cuban child died of a violation of its rights. Cuba’s gigantic efforts in infant health care was known to all. Cuba called on the Commission to prioritize the issue of the systematic violation of its rights by the United States through the economic, commercial and financial blockade.

PITSO MONTWEDI (South Africa) said child rights were protected by the South African Constitution, which stated that every child had the right to family care or parental care; to basic nutrition, shelter, basic health-care services, and social services; to be protected from maltreatment; and to be protected from exploitative labour practices. South Africa was recovering from a past where the lives of its children were assaulted and devastated in many ways, particularly by the destruction of the vital chain of institutions essential to the healthy transformation of children into well-functioning adults — the family home, the neighbourhood communal structures, an effective educational environment, and a wider socio-economic support system.

Mr. Montwedi said that in order to implement the Convention on the Rights of the Child, South Africa had developed a comprehensive approach and a National Programme of Action. The Department of Justice, meanwhile, had begun efforts to establish legislation that would govern juvenile justice in the country. The Government also was taking steps to combat the commercial and sexual exploitation of children and to eradicate any use of children in armed conflict.

CORRECTION

The statement by Edouard Decazes of the Sovereign Military Order of Malta, which appeared in press release HR/CN/905 of 9 Apri, should read as follows:

EDOUARD DECAZES, of the Sovereign Military Order of Malta, spoke of religious intolerance. The conclusion had been reached that a world without intolerance or discrimination based on religion was still far away. In most cases, religious intolerance was not publicly avowed, and was often accompanied by hypocrisy, lies, and even rationalization. Religious tolerance was progressing with a desperate slowness. The Sovereign Military Order of Malta called for the end of the suffering of all victims of religious intolerance. Governments should put an end to the humiliation and suffering of religious minorities, whom they have persecuted because of their beliefs. Supplementary measures should be taken by the General Assembly to fight religious intolerance in specific instances. Countries which were champions of religious tolerance should be recognized.