Terrorism impact lingers over UN rights forum
* EU will act against Russia over rights abuse in Chechnya, says Germany
* Resolution against China ruled out
GENEVA: The shadow of persistent terror attacks worldwide and the impact of sweeping security powers on civil liberties hung over the annual meeting of the United Nations top human rights body as it opened on Monday.
As tributes were paid to the victims of the deadly blasts in Spain last week, as well as recent attacks in Israel and Iraq, ministers and officials admitted they were grappling with the dilemma of how to balance security needs and human rights concerns.
Germany’s Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer warned the 53-nation UN Human Rights Commission that “terrorism targets the basic values of open democratic societies”.
“Even if the concrete questions are difficult to answer, in principle the response can only be that freedom and security must go hand in hand,” Mr Fischer said. Spain’s Foreign Minister Ana Palacio earlier called off a scheduled keynote speech at the meeting, which came days after 200 people died in bombings in Madrid.
“The sad truth is that there can scarcely be a country in this hall which has not been touched by terrorism in the last couple of years,” said Mike Smith, the Australian envoy chairing the meeting.
Acting High Commissioner for Human Rights Bertrand Ramcharan urged the assembly to find ways of monitoring the impact of sweeping security measures on human rights.
Mr Fischer said Germany would support a Mexican resolution in the commission aimed at appointing an expert to keep an eye on civil liberties amid the growing security clampdown.
Several Western countries have also been accused by pressure groups of compromising on human rights concerns in hotspots of abuse in return for support in the fight against terrorism.
Nonetheless, Mr Fischer confirmed that the EU would take action against Russia in the commission over its human rights record in its conflict with militants in Chechnya. Mr Fischer ruled out EU action against China in the UN commission, and told journalists on the sidelines of the meeting that the 15-nation bloc had been unable to agree on the issue. Amnesty International urged the UN body to maintain surveillance in Iraq despite the Saddam regime’s overthrow. —AFP