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UN Human Rights Commission Opens Six Week Session - 2004-03-15


The United Nations Human Rights Commission has opened its annual six-week session with the Acting High Commissioner calling for the appointment of an independent expert who can monitor human rights in face of the growing threat of terrorism. In Geneva, another official, the chairman of the current Human Rights Commission meeting, opened the session Monday referring to recent terrorist attacks.

This year's Human Rights Commission opened on a particularly somber note. Delegates expressed their sorrow and indignation at the growing number of terrorist attacks around the world. They paid tribute to the former U-N High Commissioner for Human Rights, Sergio Vieira de Mello, who himself was the victim of a terrorist attack in Baghdad last August.

The Chairman of this year's Commission, Australian Ambassador, Mike Smith, pointed to the struggle against terrorism as the big challenge ahead. He extended his sympathy and condolences to the families and friends of the hundreds of people who died or were wounded in recent terrorist attacks in Madrid, Kabala, Iraq and Ashdod, Israel.

"But, the sad truth is that there can scarcely be a country represented in this hall that has not been touched by terrorism in the last couple of years. My own country lost 88 people in the Bali bombing in October 2002. And, we need to think what we as a Commission might do to protect better the rights of the victims of terrorist attacks as well as the innocents who suffer in the aftermath of terrorism."

The U-N's top human rights official, Acting High Commissioner Bertrand Ramcharan picked up on this theme. He called terrorists a plague upon the world. He said vigorous action must be taken to counter what he called their monstrous attacks. But, he cautioned that this must be done without abusing peoples' human rights.

Mr. Ramcharan called for the appointment of an independent expert to monitor the behavior of governments as they crack down on terrorist groups.

"I would ask you to reflect carefully on how the Commission might be able to sharpen its contribution to the protection of human rights in counter-terrorism strategies. And, let me say immediately, the Security Council has laid down a frame that it is the duty of governments to act to counter terrorism and at the same time, it is the duty of governments to counter terrorism within the law, with respect for the principle of proportionality and with respect fundamental human rights."

In light of the Madrid bomb attack, human rights activists said they are concerned that it might be more difficult for members of the Commission to condemn abuses committed in the fight against terrorism.

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