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Date: Thu, 26 Feb 1998 08:59:44 -1000
Subject: UN Amor Press Conf Complete
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Date: Wed, 25 Feb 1998 18:06:47 -1000
From: Transcription from video by William
Subject: UN Amor Press Conf Complete
Statement to the Press by MR. ABDELFATTAH AMOR, United Nations Special
[Translated] from the French by Mr. Amor's interpreter
Transcription from video by William
Ladies and gentlemen, I welcome you all, in particular those representatives of the press.
I should like to begin by telling you exactly what my mandate is, before you ask me any questions.
As you know the United Nations was at the origin of many documents and texts relating to the freedom of religion and belief. By way of example let me mention first the 1948 Declaration, Article 18 of which deals specifically with the freedom of religion and belief. Then there is the 1966 Covenant of Civil and Political Rights, Article 18 of which also deals with the freedom of religion and belief. In particular, on these questions of freedom of religion and belief, there is the United Nations Declaration which was adopted on 25 November, 1981, and it is called the Declaration on the Elimination of All Forms of Intolerance and Discrimination Based on Religion and Belief. But the freedom of religion and belief is referred to in many other documents, for example, the Convention on the Rights of the Child, which has not yet been ratified by the United States or by Somalia. But there are many other documents also, such as those protecting women and preventing all kinds of discrimination against them. I mention all of these documents and texts so that you are aware that there are many international documents related to the freedom of belief and the freedom to practice one's belief.
The freedom to believe is an absolute right. Nobody is entitled to judge anybody else's belief. Each person is free to believe in what he or she wishes to believe in and there are no limits on this right, even under exceptional circumstances. The freedom to express one's belief, however, can be subject to certain limitations, relating to the preservation of law and order, health concerns and also in very exceptional circumstances.
There are many United Nations bodies which provide protection for human rights in general, and for the freedom of religion and belief more specifically. And, of course, the most important body dealing with these matters is the United Nations Commission on Human Rights. The Commission on Human Rights has fifty four members, but all other states are entitled to participate, to speak and have a certain influence in it. In addition there are many non-governmental organizations which are very active in this area. The commission meets for six weeks every year and usually there are about four or five hundred people participating in it. The methods of work of the Commission include certain mechanisms and also certain special procedures. The special procedures approach allows us to monitor certain issue and certain freedoms. There are also special procedures which are geographical for each country, so we distinguish between special procedures that that deal with issues and special procedures that deal with one specific country. The issues which are covered by special procedures include religious intolerance, torture and summary executions. The geographical approach means that one looks at one specific country, for example there is one specific rapporteur on the Sudan, other on Cambodia, another on Afganistan, The special rapporteur then has a mandate to study issues falling within his area of confidence. The special rapporteur then submits his report or reports to the Commission on Human Rights, and to the General Assembly. The Commission and the General Assembly, each within its own field, then adopts a resolution which it deems appropriate. The special rapporteur works simultaneously on many different files or dossiers, each contain the information which is provided to the special rapportuer on the various countries, and there is a dossier on each country. Sometimes this gives rise to allegations. The special rapporteur will then send a communication to the state concerned, and the state responds with comments and observations. The special rapporteur also carries out visits insitu. I have carried out several visits, I have made a visit to China. I have also made visits to other countries, Pakistan, Iran, Sudan, Greece, Germany, Australia, India.
And today I am here in the United States. In accordance with my mandate, I am looking at the legislation and also situations which involve questions relating to freedom of belief and religion. And of course freedom of religion and belief also includes naturally the freedom not to have a religion and not to have any belief. During my visit, and this happens with visits to every country, I have met with representatives of the authorities of religious communities, of religions, I have met with academic researchers, and I have also met with individuals and groups, who are or claim to be victims of persecution or discrimination. And naturally I give due attention and respect to all religions, whether they be large with a numerically large number of adherents or not so large, whether they be old religions or not so old, whether they be traditional religions or not. And during this visit, I must tell you special attention has been paid to the spirituality and religions of what is now called, at the international level, indigenous peoples.
And I'd like everybody, and all groups, of whatever tendency they may be, know, through a press release that was issued, that they should request to meet with me, and the request should be submitted by fifteen January at latest. However I was not too strict with the deadline and virtually everybody who wished to speak was able to do so freely and safely, which is very necessary. I have not drawn up a final list of whom I met with but in the contacts of the meetings I have had on the spirituality of indigenous peoples, I have contacts in Washington, Chicago, New York, Salt Lake City, Los Angeles and here, these contacts numbered approximately one hundred and fifty, and I shall continue these contacts today and tomorrow in Washington. In other words, I don't think I am lacking information on this question. Full attention will be given to all the information I have received and all the notes I have taken in my meetings, and I shall then arrive at the most objective and appropriate conclusion. And as you know these reports will then be submitted to the Commission on Human Rights, and I trust as in all other cases this will be seen from the standpoint of human rights in general and the preservation and development of freedom of religion and belief , which is, as you know, my mandate.
I think I have spoken at too much length, so now if the members of the press have questions to ask, I shall be happy to answer them.
Questions from the Press, Answers by Mr. Amor:
Q: What were some of your general observations about the conditions regarding the American Indians and the Mt. Graham telescope?
A: I don't like to rush into saying things, I like to take time to consider all that I have heard and all that I have read, and then on the basis of my analysis I would arrive at my views. But what I can say at this point, and this is my impression, but just my impression, that there is indeed a question about the spirituality of the Indigenous Peoples which deserves greater attention and greater understanding. And as you know, at the international level the United Nations attaches very great importance to the question of Indigenous Peoples. As you know there are many declarations, The Declaration on the Rights of the Indigenous Peoples, there is also the Decade on the indigenous Peoples, and there is a great deal of work being done on Indigenous Peoples, and I think that the United Nations' attention to these issues, both here and elsewhere, is sustained attention. And I think that this visit here, to this country, and more specifically to this particular part of the country, will in fact lead to greater clarification of the issues, and greater understanding of questions and problems relating to the spirituality of Indigenous Peoples.
Q: What did you see and experience at Big Mountain yesterday?
A: I saw a great many things that were instructive to me and they do require very thorough analysis, and believe me, I will be studying what I saw.
Q: Were you able to speak with any of the Hopi about tribal assistance?
Q+: Could we also paraphrase that question? They just put out a very angry press release about not meeting with Mr. Amor.
A: As I said before, everybody, absolutely everybody was invited to express their wish if they had such a wish, to contribute through statements or through testimony. The first indication of any desire by persons legitimately interested in this question, occurred on the 30th of January, 1998, and I was asked to postpone my visit on the grounds that they would have some prayers to make. Obviously any visit has to be at least minimally organized. And yet my heart and my spirit were always open to everybody. And believe me even in those cases where I was not able to hear some people speak in person, I nevertheless have been given some information from some of those people. I take no position and am not in any way involved in rivalry between any particular people. I listen to everybody, and I have respect for everybody, and I alone take responsibility for what I write in my report. So if some people feel very satisfied with the way things have gone, some people feel less satisfied, and some people are not satisfied at all, that's perfectly human and I respect it, but I have denied nobody the right to speak, the doors have been open and will remain open. I do not wish in any way to become involved in internal questions of peoples. I would not wish my visit, much of which has been devoted to issues involving Indigenous Peoples, to be used to any particular end by anybody. The main goal is that there be no intolerance, discrimination or persecution of peoples.
I believe that this is what is in fact most important: I think we need to have a lot of patience and generosity of heart and spirit, visavi all those who have understood the situation, and visavi those who may feel a little disappointed. Time in the end will tell, and what is most important is the right of everybody to believe freely and to practice freely what they believe.
Q: Could the gentleman make a comment on his understanding of the 1974 Relocation Act passed by the United States Congress against the Navajo and Hopi people in an area that he visited, Black Mesa, and on how now in 1998 this ... why he's come here with charges of ethnic cleansing, genocide, his opinion on that, because he must feel that a lot of politicians and a lot of power, a lot of good will that comes down to that there are concerns about Indigenous Peoples. Like here he went to a coal mine, that's energy, there are a lot of big city's energy coming from the land and the Black Mesa mine is employed by 99% indigenous, so to work in the mine to find the money, to find the energy. What is the tune the General Assembly is singing these days about these issues, thank you.
A: I have every respect for your question, let me now give you my answer, if I may. I have collected a great deal of documentation, I have heard many different views expressed. I've heard very many different positions expressed and some are supported much more than others and some less so. And you know this matter will be taken up within context in my report from a purely religious standpoint. And of course my report has not been written, far from it, and of course my first conclusions will be submitted to the Commission itself. Where there are people relocated by force, I would point out that there is a representative of the Secretary General who deals with this issue of forced relocation and his name is Mr. Deng.
Q: Do you see any parallels between the Jewish Holocaust and the holocaust of the American Indian?
A: I can't get into that kind of appraisal. There are some questions raised in some ways sometimes that do not promote freedom. I don't want to get into that.
Q: Has the UN done similar things like this, say in Chiapas, so that it has dealt before with this kind of problem?
A: In the United Nations many complaints received relating to religion. Some have been received from these groups, these complaints have been considered, communications have been sent to governments so that they can comment, and the situation is being followed closely.
Q: Has the rapporteur been to Chiapas ... and so why did they come here first?
A: Well, as you know, a special rapporteur is supposed to visit every country where there is some question, you would need an awful lot of special rapporteurs. I said there are rapporteurs on issues and special rapporteurs on countries. In the case of Chiapas and other situations, there may be a religious aspect to the situation which would then involve the special rapporteur on religious intolerance, but there may be other aspects of the situation which would involve more the Commission on Human Rights or the General Assembly. These visits that are carried out require an enormous amount of preparation and work and effort and it's really not easy. My predecessor, for example, who was special rapporteur from 1986 to 1993 did not carry out one single visit, and since 1993 as I told you, there have been a number of visits done and there are many others pending sometimes where the countries themselves have requested visits. I would just add that the work of special rapporteurs including the visits they carry out requires a lot of money, and as you know human rights in the United Nations is a bit of a pure? (40:13) relation, and I would also point out that not all countries pay their assessed contributions to the United Nations.
Q: When can we expect your first conclusions?
A: Well the reports for the next session of the Commission are already published and available in Geneva, that's my report on Australia, my report on Germany and the general report. This one I hope soon.
Q: Doesn't relocation from a traditional homeland as stated in the Accommodation Agreement for the year 2000 deadline for the last who have not signed to vacate their traditional homelands with the Department of Justice, United States government... Does this relocation from traditional homelands constitute religious intolerance?
A: One has to respect one's own field of competence in this work. I deal with freedom of religion and freedom of belief, the positive aspects thereof as well as the negative. And it is exclusively from this standpoint that I can take action within the context of my own mandate. When people tell me that their relocation is depriving them of their freedom of religion and belief, I listen to them. But there are also different attachments given to me of the situation by the people themselves who are involved in the relocation, I hear different views from them. This applies to my work everywhere throughout the world, I get information from many different sources, from authorities, from communities, from individuals, so I get all this information and I look at it and analyze it. I have to consider if what people tell me falls within my mandate. I listen to a lot of different people and I listen to them all with the same open mind and the same open heart. I get so much information, and the information doesn't always support each other, sometimes there is differences in the information in the way they look at things. And this in fact what constitutes the difficulty of my work, how do I listen to all this and then be fair. So what I do is try to be as objective and as fair as I possibly can be, and above all I am honest in what I do.
Thank you all very much.
... many prayers ...