Commission on Human Rights
Fifty-fifth session
Agenda item 9
April 1999

Statement of International Educational Development/ Humanitarian Law Project

Oral Presentation by Karen Parker

International Educational Development is pleased to announce our sixth annual Armed Conflict in the World Today: A Country by Country Review. We again welcome the participation of the Parliamentary Human Rights Group (UK). This year there are five more wars than last year, bringing the current number to 38. There was also an increase in the number of countries with serious and violent unrest: these 30 additional countries could explode into full-blown war at any time.

Africa alone has 16 wars, and at least seven near wars, producing millions of deaths, hundreds of thousands wounded and disabled, millions displaced and millions facing starvation. For example, in Sierra Leone, the closing of the Bo/Kenema roads since the January 1999 new offensive by Sam Bokarie and the Revolutionary United Front (RUF) against Freetown and other parts of the country, has placed hundreds of thousands of people at risk of starvation. Several days ago, a small food consignment was taken in, but the situation is exceptionally precarious. The regional political body ECOWAS has sent military forces (ECOMOG) to Sierra Leone as part of the 1997 Conakry Accord, but to date has been unable to defuse the armed conflicts between the Kabbah government, the RUF and other factions, including Johnny Komorah's Armed Forces Revolutionary Council (AFRC) and the Kamajors militia. The AFRC is reportedly brutalizing civilians, causing yet more displacement and sheer misery. The international community should take much stronger action to bring about a lasting peace in Sierra Leone.
As bad as the situation is in Sierra Leone, there are equally bad wars taking place in Sudan, Somalia, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, the Republic of the Congo and Burundi, with only slightly less catastrophic wars in Rwanda, Uganda, Lesotho, the Comoro Federation, Liberia, GuineaBissau, Angola, and between Ethiopia and Eritrea and Morocco and Western Sahara. Regarding Western Sahara, we note yet again that the UN mandated referendum for Western Sahara is postponed. Africa should receive much more attention of the international community, given the sheer numbers of wars and the enormous and tragic consequences of them.

In Asia, the war in Sri Lanka continues, and the Sinhala government rejects all international efforts to encourage dialogue and negotiations. The situation in Burma is especially grave, in part because of the long failure of the international community to address the illegal nature of the regime in control there, and the continued failure to address the ethnic nationality questions in that region that have led to the armed conflicts. In Kashmir, the United Nations acted fifty years ago and mandated a plebiscite of Kashmiris to resolve the issue. Unfortunately, the United Nations has yet to carry out its mandate, and the parties to the controversy are brandishing nuclear weapons. In Indian-occupied Kashmir, the Indian armed forces continue to commit serious violations of the Geneva Conventions, and the civilian population is essentially cut off from effective international monitoring and assistance.

We welcomed the removal of Indonesian ruler Soeharto and the installation of Mr. B. J. Habibie as head of state. We are encouraged by the efforts he has made to date to resolve the illegal occupancy of Indonesia in East Timor. However, he has yet to begin to resolve the situation in the Moluccas and Acheh, including especially the legal status of these areas in light of the 1948 Round Table Conference Agreements under United Nations auspices. In Acheh, there are new findings of past atrocities at the hands of the Indonesian military forces, and the situation remains tense. In the Moluccas, violence has broken out between Javanese colonizers and the Moluccan people, which appears to be provoked and orchestrated by the Indonesian authorities to divert attention from the past abuses and to affect the June 7, 1999 national elections. We have submitted a written statement under agenda item 5, where we more fully discuss these issues. We urge the Commission to demand that the Indonesian authorities undertake sincere negotiations with the political leadership of the people of Acheh and the Moluccas, including with the governments in exile of those areas, to resolve the status of both areas in conformity with the Round Table Conference Agreements.

Our organization has worked intensely on the situation in Mexico for the past 5 years. We have been stunned by the sheer numbers of human rights and humanitarian law violations there, as well as with the brutality of the Mexican authorities. In December 1997 there was a massacre of the indigenous population in Acteal which could only have taken place with at least the collusion of the Mexican authorities. We carried out a number of on-site investigations in Acteal, and we have permanent representation in the area, where we work closely with Mexican groups. In February 1999, we awarded Mexican human rights activist Rosario Ibarra our first Dag Hammarskjold Prize. Ms. Ibarra has been a member of the Mexican parliament and is currently Human Rights Advisor to Mexico City's mayor, Cuauhtemoc Cardenas. In 1998, and to date in 1999, we have prepared 4 reports on Mexico with our findings. In December 1998, the government of Mexico issued a "White Paper" on the events at Acteal with which we take strong issue - the "White Paper" contains many factual discrepancies, and its conclusions contradict much of the physical evidence and testimonies we have compiled there.

Now the government of Mexico has sought to undermine the San Andres Accords negotiated with the Ejercito Zapatista de Liberacion Nacional (the EZLN). The EZLN arranged for a national referendum called the "Consulta Nacional," the results of which show that, of the 2.5 million voters, over 90% indicated that the government should implement the Accord.

Reports of continuing violations, including massacres, continue unabated in Mexico. We presented our videotape of the massacres at Union Progreso and Chavajeval to the High Commissioner and the Sub-Commission. We have also submitted a written statement on Mexico under agenda item 10 at this session. The Commission must take note of the condemnation of Mexico apparent in the reports of Commission thematic rapporteur and working groups. The Commission should also note that the Sub-Commission, repsonding to the clear evidence of widespread gross violations of human rights in Mexico, adopted a resolution on Mexico. It is imperative that the Commission on Human Rights also adopt a resolution in which it appoints a Special Rapporteur for Mexico.