19 April 2000 (Newsroom) -- The United Nations Commission on Human Rights on Tuesday approved resolutions that included condemnation of religious repression in Cuba, Burma, and Sudan.
A text proposed by the Czech Republic and Poland and co-sponsored by the United States accused Cuba of oppressing religious groups, among other human rights violations. The resolution passed 21-18, with 14 abstentions. According to news reports, the vote was followed by a government-organized protest of some 100,000 Cubans who marched outside the Czech Republic embassy in Havana.
The government of Myanmar, or Burma as it is also known, was censured for a "continuing pattern of gross and systematic violations of human rights, including extra-judicial, summary, or arbitrary executions, particularly in areas of ethnic tension." The text also cited the southeast Asian country for "enforced disappearances, torture, harsh prison conditions, abuse of women and children by government agents, arbitrary seizures of land and property, and the imposition of oppressive measures directed in particular at ethnic and religious minorities, including systematic programs of forced relocation, destruction of crops and fields, (and) the continued widespread use of forced labor." The resolution referred to the forced relocation of Karen and Karenni ethnic minorities, who have substantial Christian populations.
London-based Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW) noted a recent attack by Burmese troops on a settlement of internally displaced Karen along the border with Thailand. According to a CSW source, troops shelled the village of Noe Boe on April 1 and torched all the homes in the area and other structures, including three school buildings and a hospital. An unspecified number of Karen were taken by the military to work as forced porters, while some 4,000 escaped across the border into Thailand. The sudden influx of refugees "created a humanitarian crisis" that aid groups are still trying to address, CSW says.
A consensus resolution on Sudan proposed by the European Union was adopted with 28 votes, but the United States abstained along with 23 other nations. The U.S. charged that the text is "deficient and does not do justice to the victims" of human rights abuses. The main point of controversy centered on the issue of the slave trade that human rights groups say is a tool of war by the militant Islamic government of Khartoum. The European Union used the term "abductions" in order to maintain consensus with Sudan, while the U.S. insisted on using the term "slavery."
The U.S. also condemned the continued persecution of religious minorities, stating that "the Sudanese government continues to harass and detain Christians and animists, raze church buildings, and persecute Muslims who do not adhere to its radical brand of Islam." The government's bombing of civilian targets in southern Sudan, including schools and medical facilities, also was cited by the U.S.
In addition, the U.S. expressed concern about the "regular and continued bans on U.N. humanitarian flights into southern Sudan," particularly the ban on flights to the western Upper Nile region and the forced displacement of thousands in the area. CSW shares the belief of other human rights groups which charge that "the exploitation of oil in this area" is a major factor in the country's civil war, which has been responsible for some 2 million deaths since 1984.
On a recent visit to the country, the U.N. Special Rapporteur on Sudan tried to examine the plight of civilians fleeing the violence in the oil exploration zones but could not reach the area because of a total flight ban imposed by the government. In an advance draft report distributed at the commission meetings, the U.N. envoy stated that he "is convinced that the oil issue, in western Upper Nile, lies at the heart of the conflict. Oil exploitation has resulted in the exacerbation of the war." CSW notes, however, that the connection and emphasis made by the official was not reflected in the resolution. That omission, CSW believes, reflects "the controversial Western interests in the oil exploitation."
"There is no doubt that the severe human rights abuses taking place in Sudan are simply not being sufficiently addressed at the international level," the group's U.N. representative stated. "We continue to be gravely concerned about the pattern of slavery and we urge the international community to use the strongest measures to bring an immediate cessation to this international crime."
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