UN HUMAN RIGHTS DOCUMENTATION
A Guide to Country-Specific Research
Penny L. Parker
August 10, 1996
This guide has been updated at http://www.projecteleanor.com/2003/guide.html.
This guide is written for persons representing refugees in political asylum claims and other human rights advocates who would like to collect information about a particular country's human rights conditions. It is not suggested that the researcher only use UN documentation for this purpose. There are many other good resources that should also be consulted, including U.S. State Department Country Reports, Inter-American, European and African regional human rights commissions and courts, International Criminal Tribunals, Amnesty International reports and press releases, Human Rights Watch reports and press releases, and news wire services. This guide however will only address UN sources. Whenever resources are available on the Internet in full text or summary form, electronic addresses are also included. Links to many of the resources mentioned in this guide can also be found at the Minnesota Human Rights Library web site, http://www.umn.edu/humanrts.
There are six major types of UN documentation useful for human rights country research: 1) Country-specific reports of the UN Commission on Human Rights and the UN General Assembly, 2) Resolutions of either the General Assembly or the Commission on Human Rights, 3) "Thematic" reports of the UN Commission on Human Rights, 4) treaty body reports, 5) Security Council reports and resolutions, and 6) UN press releases.
1. Country specific reports of the UN Commission on Human Rights or the UN General Assembly
Certain countries have been the subject of scrutiny by the UN Commission on Human Rights, which meets annually in Geneva, Switzerland during the spring of each year. [Note, the Human Rights Commission is different from the Human Rights Committee. The latter is a treaty body, discussed in item 4 of this guide]. Over time the Commission has appointed independent experts or special rapporteurs to investigate the human rights situation in some of these countries. The experts file a report to the Commission at the next annual session or sometimes also periodically during the year. Some of these experts have also been asked to file interim reports the following fall to the General Assembly.
In the Spring of 1996, for example, expert reports were filed at the Commission on Human Rights concerning Afghanistan, Burundi, Cambodia, Cuba, Equatorial Guinea, Former Yugoslavia, Guatemala, Iran, Iraq, Israel/Palestine, Myanmar, Rwanda, Somalia, Sudan, and Zaire. It is anticipated that many of these reports will eventually become available on the Internet. The 1995 reports are available at the UNHCR site (the UN High Commissioner for Refugees), http://gatekeeper.unicc.org/unhcr/un/chr/menu_chr.htm.
In the Fall of 1995 interim country reports were filed by these experts at the General Assembly on the following countries: Afghanistan, Myanmar, Sudan, Iran, Haiti, Rwanda, Former Yugoslavia, Cuba, and Iraq. These reports are also available on the Internet at gopher://gopher.un.org/11/ga/docs/50/plenary.
These country-specific reports are usually very comprehensive, ranging from 15 to 30 pages or more in length. They are normally a very credible, independent assessment of the country concerned. Usually many name, place and incident reports are included in the report, useful to the researcher for corroborating specific events.
2. Resolutions of the General Assembly and Commission on Human Rights
Both the General Assembly and the Commission on Human Rights also adopt resolutions from time to time on the human rights situation in particular countries. In the case of the Commission, these resolutions often renew the mandate of the special rapporteur or expert who has been asked to investigate the country concerned. However these resolutions do not usually address particular human rights events in the country, but speak in terms of general conditions or observations. They often "congratulate" the government involved for making valiant efforts to improve human rights conditions in their country, but note regret or concern over continuing abuses.
These resolutions are usually promptly reported in the daily press releases for each body. The full text of the resolutions can be found in the final report of each organization, but these reports are usually not made available on the Internet. The final reports usually can be found in major UN depository libraries six months to a year after the relevant session adjourns. In Dallas, the Downtown Public Library is a UN depository site. Lately the General Assembly has posted the full text of some of its resolutions at gopher://gopher.un.org/11/ga/recs.
3. "Thematic" reports of the Commission on Human Rights
Less understood and appreciated for human rights research purposes are the so-called "thematic" reports of the Commission on Human Rights. These can be valuable resources. They are devoted to a worldwide investigation of a particular type of human rights abuse (arbitrary executions, torture, etc.). The reports are submitted each year by a special rapporteur or a five-member working group, depending upon which structure (group or individual rapporteur) was adopted when the thematic mechanism was first initiated. Because of the desire to be impartial and comprehensive, the reports tend to cover a large number of countries. Name, place and event details are often addressed. There are usually 2 to 5 pages covered for every country named in the report. Sometimes the rapporteur or working group involved also visits a particular country during the year and files an addendum to his or her report chronicling the particular situation in that country.
Because of the many more countries named in these thematic reports than in any other resource made available through the UN, a human rights researcher is much more likely to find annual information on the country he or she is investigating in these thematic reports than in the other available resources.
Beginning in its Spring 1995 session, the UN began making the full text of these thematic reports available on the Internet. A summary of the countries named in the 1995 thematic reports was prepared by the author and can be found at the Minnesota Human Rights Library site, http://www.umn.edu/humanrts/chrsum.txt. Links to the reports themselves can be found at http://www.umn.edu/humanrts/thematic/reports.htm
There are now thirteen different thematic mechanisms reporting annually to the Commission on Human Rights. However, country-specific discussions have evolved so far only in the reports on disappearances, summary or arbitrary executions, torture, arbitrary detention, racism, independence of the judiciary, freedom of opinion and expression, and religious intolerance. A summary of the countries named in the 1996 thematic reports is included in the appendix to this guide. As of the date of this guide these reports were not yet available on the Internet but it is anticipated they will be posted shortly to one or more sites, including links to them at the Minnesota Human Rights Library mentioned earlier.
4) Treaty body reports
Most States are parties to one or more human rights treaties and each such State must periodically report on the human rights conditions in their country to the relevant treaty committee. A smaller number of countries have also agreed to permit individal human rights complaints against them to be submitted to the relevant treaty body for adjudication. The committee usually issues some comments on the occasion of each country's report, noting both areas of concern and areas of improvement. Sometimes these reports, as well as the press releases during the 2 or 3 day period when the relevant government fields questions from the committee, can contain useful information.
For example, Guatemala appeared before the Human Rights Committee in April of 1996, as reported in press releases HR/CT/459, HR/CT/463 and HR/CT/464 (these press releases can be accessed by using the UN press release search engine at http://www.un.org/News/Press).
The committee reports themselves are not yet readily available to the public, although they may become more accessible once the prototype database being developed at the UN offices in Geneva for such information is completed. (Annual Reports of each treaty committee, however, are filed every year with the General Assembly; they may be found at the UN web site, under General Assembly documents). Press releases from the treaty bodies are also accessible at both the main UN web site and the Geneva site (locations noted under item 6 of this guide).
The six major human rights treaties are the Human Rights Committee (charged with administering the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, or CCPR), the Economic, Social and Cultural Rights Committee (charged with administering the International Covenant of the same name, the CESCR), the Committee against torture (CAT, or the Torture Convention), the Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (the Race Convention or CERD), the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW), and the Committee on the Rights of the Child (CRC).
5) Security Council reports and resolutions
Sometimes human rights assessments are part of peacekeeping reports prepared under the auspices of the Security Coucil. In recent years this has been true for the peacekeeping missions to El Salvador (ONUSAL), Guatemala (MINUGUA), and Cambodia. Many of the periodic reports issued during these missions are now being posted on the UN web site at gopher://gopher.undp.org/11/undocs/scd.
6) Press Releases
Nearly all of the documents discussed above are also summarized in daily press releases of the relevant UN body. The main UN web site now has an impressive search engine that can locate many of these press releases, at http://www.un.org/News/. In addition, the UN office in Geneva regularly posts press releases of the organizations meeting there, including the Commission on Human Rights, and most of the treaty bodies. That site can be found at http://www.unog.ch/news/newsen/presrele.htm.
List of countries mentioned in the 1996 "thematic" reports
of the UN Commission on Human Rights
1. Report of the Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, arbitrary or summary executions, including Add.1, Add.2 and Corr.1 (E/CN.4/1996/4).
This is the report of Mr. Bacre Waly Ndiaye, the Commission's special rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions. 145 pages. Topics include impunity, capital punishment, rights of victims, death threats, deaths in custody, deaths due to the abuse of power by law enforcement officials, paramilitary groups, armed conflicts, expulsion of persons to a country where their lives are in danger, women, minors, mass exoduses, persons exercising their right to freedom of opinion and expression, administration of justice, minorities, UN staff members, terrorism, civil defence forces, and land mines.
Situations in 93 countries are commented upon in the main report, including Afghanistan, Algeria, Angola, Argentina, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Bahrain, Bangladesh, Belarus, Bolivia, Botswana, Brazil, Bulgaria, Burkina Faso, Burundi, Cambodia, Cameroon, Canada, Central African Republic, Chad, Chile, China, Colombia, Cote d'Ivoire, Cuba, Czech Republic, Djibouti, Ecuador, Egypt, El Salvador, Equatorial Guinea, Ethiopia, France, Gambia, Georgia, Germany, Guatemala, Honduras, India, Indonesia, Iran (Islamic Republic of), Iraq, Israel, Kenya, Kuwait, Krygyzstan, Liberia, Libyan Arab Jamahiriya, Lithuania, Mali, Mauritania, Mauritius, Mexico, Mongolia, Morocco, Myanmar, Nepal, Nigeria, Pakistan, Panama, Papua New Guinea, Paraguay, Peru, Philippines, Portugal, Republic of Moldova, Romania, Russian Federation, Rwanda, Saudi Arabia, Sierra Leone, Singapore, Sri Lanka, South Africa, Sudan, Swaziland, Syrian Arab Republic, Tajikistan, Thailand, Togo, Trinidad and Tobago, Turkey, Ukraine, United Arab Emirates, United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, United Republic of Tanzania, United States of America, Uruguay, Uzbekistan, Venezuela, Yemen, Yugoslavia and Zaire.
Addendum 1 to this report (that is E/CN.4/1996/4/Add. 1 of 24 July 1995) describes the Special Rapporteur's mission to Burundi from 19 to 29 April 1995. Mr. Ndiaye reports on threats in the country to the right to life including political violence, impunity, "ethnic cleansing", the use of the media as a means of inciting violence, and alleged perpetrators of violations of the right to life. He also addresses issues of special concern, including refugees, internally displaced and dispersed persons, the plight of women and children, youth violence and killings of international humanitarian workers. The report is 31 pages.
Addendum 2 is a report by the special rapporteur on his mission to the Papua New Guinea island of Bougainville from 23 to 28 October 1995, of 22 pages. It includes a discussion of atrocities in care centers, violations of the right to freedom of movement, the right to education, the right to health and the administration of justice. He also reports on developments in the peace negotiations, the amnesty, and makes several recommendations concerning the peace and reconciliation process, education and training and the administration of justice.
2. Report of the special rapporteur on torture (E/CN.4/1996/35, Add.1, Adds.2 and Corr.1)
This is the report of Mr. Nigel S. Rodley, the Commission's special rapporteur on torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment. The main report is 43 pages.
Addendum 1 contains a summary of the actual communications transmitted to Governments and replies received, of 159 pages (each communication is discussed in the original language only - either English, French or Spanish). Situations in 72 countries are discussed, including Albania, Algeria, Argentina, Austria, Bahamas, Bahrain, Bangladesh, Bolivia, Brazil, Bulgaria, Burundi, Canada, Chile, China, Colombia, Cote d'lvoire, Cuba, Denmark, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, Egypt, Equatorial Guinea, Ethiopia, France, Gambia, Germany, Greece, India, Indonesia, Iran (Islamic Republic of), Iraq, Israel, Italy, Jamaica, Japan, Kenya, Latvia, Libyan Arab Jamahiriya, Mauritania, Mexico, Mongolia, Morocco, Myanmar, Nepal, Norway, Pakistan, Peru, Philippines, Republic of Korea, Romania, Russian Federation, Saudi Arabia, Slovak Republic, South Africa, Spain, Sri Lanka, Sudan, Syrian Arab Republic, Switzerland, Togo, Tunisia, Trinidad and Tobago, Turkey, Turkmenistan, United Arab Emirates, United Republic of Tanzania, United States of America, Uzbelkistan, Venezuela, Yemen, Yugoslavia and Zaire.
Addendum 2 is a report of the special rapporteur's visit to Chile from 21 to 26 August 1995 (25 pages). Topics include the current treatment of cases of torture occurring before 1990, recent complaints of torture received by the special rapporteur, common features, arrest on suspicion, the attitude of police authorities toward torture, legislation and procedural rules, and criminal legislation.
3. Report of the special rapporteur on the independence of the judiciary (E/CN.4/1996/37)
This is the report of Mr. Dato'Param Cumaraswamy, the Commission's special rapporteur on the independence of judges and lawyers. 61 pages. Topics in his report include the use of "faceless" judges in Colombia and Peru, the establishment of an International Criminal Court, the Johannesburg Principles on National Security, Freedom of Expression and Access to Information, the media and the judiciary, the Beijing Statement of Principles of the Independence of the Judiciary in the LAWASIA Region, mechanisms for appointment of judges, conflicts between the legal profession and the judiciary, commercialization of the legal profession, and the Cairo Declaration on independence of judges (from the Third Conference of Francophone Ministers of Justice, held in Cairo from 30 October to 1 November, 1995).
Allegations of human rights violations are commented upon in 22 countries and territories, including Albania, Argentina, Australia, Cambodia, China, Colombia, Egypt, Hong Kong, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, Namibia, Nigeria, Pakistan, Peru, Singapore, Sudan, Tunisia, the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, Uzbekistan, Yemen and Zaire.
4. Report of the Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances and
Add.l. (15 January 1996) (E/CN.4/1996/38).
This is the 15th report of the Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances. 117 pages, including annexes. Disappearances from current and past years are reported or investigated for 65 countries, including Afghanistan, Algeria, Angola, Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Burkina Faso, Burundi, Cameroon, Chad, Chile, China, Colombia, Cyprus, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, Egypt, El Salvador, Equatorial Guinea, Ethiopia, Greece, Guatemala, Guinea, Haiti, Honduras, India, Indonesia, Iran (Islamic Republic of), Iraq, Israel, Kazakhstan, Kuwait, Lao People's Democratic Republic, Lebanon, Libyan Arab Jamahiriya, Mauritania, Mexico, Morocco, Mozambique, Nepal, Nicaragua, Pakistan, Paraguay, Peru, Philippines, Rwanda, Saudi Arabia, Seychelles, South Africa, Sri Lanka, Sudan, Syrian Arab Republic, Tajikistan, Thailand, Togo, Turkey, Turkmenistan, Uganda, Uruguay, Venezuela, Yemen, Zaire, and Zimbabwe.
The working group is composed of five members including Mr. Ivan Tosevski of the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (Chairman-Rapporteur), Mr. Agha Hilaly of Pakistan, Mr. Jonas K.D. Foli of Ghana, Mr. Diego Garcia-Sayan of Peru and Mr. Manfred Nowak of Austria.
5. Report of the special rapporteur on freedom of opinion and expression, including
Add.1 and Add.2 (E/CN.4/1996/39).
This the report of Mr. Abid Hussain, special rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression. The main report is 35 pages. The special rapporteur indicates that he has received complaints of potential human rights violations in 103 states and territories, but has been able to follow up on only a small proportion due to inadequate funds and staff resources. Country situations commented upon in his report identify 43 countries, including Albania, Algeria, Argentina, Bangladesh, Brazil, Cameroon, China, Colombia, Cuba, Egypt, Ethiopia, Gabon, Georgia, Indonesia, Islamic Republic of Iran, Ireland, Israel, Kenya, Democratic People's Republic of Korea, Republic of Korea, Lebanon, Malaysia, Mexico, Morocco, Myanmar, Nigeria, Pakistan, Paraguay, Peru, Poland, Sierra Leone, South Africa, Sri Lanka, Sudan, Tajikistan, the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, Tunisia, Turkey, United States of America, Viet Nam, Yemen, Zaire and Zambia.
Addendum 1 of this report (E/CN.4/1996/39/Add. 1, 21 November 1995) reports on the special rapporteur's mission to the Republic of Korea. 16 pages. Principal observations and concerns noted in the report include the case of Mr. Hwang Sok-yong, the National Security Law, infringements on the freedom of opinion, freedom of expression of detainees, freedom of expression in the workplace, the Performance Ethics Committee, and the press and media.
Addendum 2 of this report (E/CN.4/1996/39/Add.2, 11 March 1996) contains the report of the Special Rapporteur's visit to the Islamic Republic of Iran. 17 pages. Topics covered include several individual cases of concern, the practice of issuing fatwahs, the plight of the Bahai's, certain aspects of the national legislation, and certain gender-based restrictions in the country.
6. Report of the Working Group on Arbitrary Detention, and Add. 1 (E/CN.4/1996/40)
The main report summarizes the activities, conclusions and recommendations of the Working Group on Arbitrary Detention (36 pages). Addendum 1 contains the decisions adopted by the Working Group during its 11th (November-December 1994), 12th (May-June 1995) and 13th (September 1995) sessions (115 pages). Countries concerned include Algeria, Bangladesh, Benin, Bhutan, Colombia, Cuba, Democratic People's Republic of Korea, Ecuador, Guatemala, Indonesia, Iraq, Libyan Arab Jamahiriya, Morocco, Pakistan, Palestinian Authority, Peru, Republic of Korea, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, Uzbekistan, and Zaire. The decisions are reported in their original language -- either French, English or Spanish.
This working group is composed of five members including Mr. L. Joinet (France) (ChairmanRapporteur), Mr. R. Garretón (Chile) (Vice Chairman), Mr. L. Kama (Senegal), Mr. K. Sibal (India) and Mr. P. Uhl (Slovakia).
7. Report of the special rapporteur on racism, including Add. 1 (visit to Brazil), Add.2 (visit to Germany, in French only), Add.3 (visit to France, in French only), and Add.4 (visit to Great Britain, in French only) (E/CN.4/1996/72)
[Note: Addenda 2, 3 and 4 were not issued in time for the Commission to consider them at this
year's session. They will instead be discussed at next year's session.]
This is the report of Mr. Maurice G1é1é-Ahanhanzo, the Commission's special rapporteur on contemporary forms of racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance (40 pages). Topics covered include a meeting with the European Commission against Racism and Intolerance, consultations with UNESCO, his mission to Germany, his mission to France, his mission to the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, and incidents of antisemitism throughout the world.
Addendum 1 of the report (dated 23 January 1996) contains the special rapporteur's report of his mission to Brazil from 6 to 17 June 1995 (30 pages). Topics include historical, geographic, economic and social overview, constitutional prohibitions against racism, miscegenation and multiracial democracy, manifestations of racism in education, employment, housing, and the media, the situation of coloured women, violence against children and child labour, land ownership problems, anti-Semitism, governmental measures and Constitutional guarantees relating to Indian lands.
Addendum 2 of this report (dated 22 March 1996) contains the special rapporteur's report of his mission to Germany from 18 to 27 September 1995. 34 pages. It was apparently only released in French. Topics include origins of xenophobia and extremism, measures taken by the government to control violence and extremism, and problems encountered in integrating
foreigners into the society.
Addendum 3 of this report (dated 3 April 1996) contains the report of the special rapporteur's mission to France from 29 September to 9 October 1995 (1 11 pages, including annexes). It was released only in the French language. Topics include racial discrimination incidents, immigration, anti-Semitism, and composition of the population.
Addendum 4 of this report (dated 3 April 1996) contains the special rapporteur's report of his mission to the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland. 29 pages. This mission took place from 13 to 24 November 1995. Topics include a statistical analysis of different national origins, examples of contemporary forms of racism, education, immigration practices, discrimination in housing, and anti-Semitism.
8. Report of the special rapporteur on religious intolerance, including Add.1 (visit to
Pakistan) and Add.2 (visit to Iran) (E/CN.4/1996/95)
This is the report of Mr. Abdelfattah Amor, the Commission's special rapporteur on the implementation of the Declaration on the Elimination of all Forms of Intolerance and of Discrimination Based on Religion or Belief (16 pages). Topics include identification of legislation in this field, development of a culture of tolerance, and the status of communications dating back to the origin of the rapporteur's mandate. Country situations commented upon in the main report include those of Egypt and China.
Addendum 1 (dated 2 January 1996) contains the special rapporteur's report on his visit to Pakistan from 12 to 22 June 1995. Topics include a summary of relevant national legislation, the Blasphemy law, electoral system, the case of the Ahmadis, identity cards and passports, mixed marriages, and the situation of religious minorities in the country.
Addendum 2 (dated 9 February 1996) contains the special rapporteur's report of his visit to the Islamic Republic of Iran from 15 to 21 December 1995 (24 pages). Topics covered include constitutional provisions and concerns of the special rapporteur, Islamic criteria provided for by the Iranian Constitution, official religion, situation of minorities, religious conversion, non Muslim minorities, Sunni Muslim minority, the Bahai's and the situation of Protestants in the country.
List of countries reviewed [or scheduled to be reviewed]
by the human rights treaty bodies in 1996
1. Human Rights Committee (International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights)
In March 1996: Guatemala, Mauritius, Nigeria, Spain, and Zambia. In July 1996: Brazil, Nigeria, Peru, and Switzerland. In October 1996: Cyprus, Denmark, Gabon, Georgia, Germany, and Hong Kong.
2. Committee Against Torture
In May 1996: Armenia, Croatia, China, Egypt, Finland, Malta, and Senegal. In November 1996: Algeria, Republic of Korea, Russian Federation, and Uruguay. [Perhaps others too]
3. Committee on the Rights of the Child
In January 1996: Croatia, Finland, Iceland, Mongolia, Fedl Rep of Yugoslavia (Serbia and Montenegro), Rep of Korea and Yemen. In May 1996: China, Cyprus, Guatemala, Lebanon, Nepal, and Zimbabwe. In September 1996: Ethiopia, Mauritius, Morocco, Nigeria, Slovenia and Uruguay.
4. Committee on Economic Social and Cultural Rights
In May 1996: El Salvador, Guatemala, Guinea, Paraguay, and Spain (Guinea did not submit a report; they were reviewed anyway)
5. Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination
In March 1996: Colombia, Denmark, Finland, Hungary, Russian Federation, Spain, United Kingdom and Zimbabwe (also statement on Israel). In August 1996: Reports of: Bolivia, Brazil, China, Guatemala, India, Malta, Mauritius, Namibia, Panama, Republic of Korea, Swaziland, Venezuela and Zaire (13) and lack of reports from: the Bahamas, Botswana, Burkina Faso, Cape Verde, Fiji, Gabon, Lao People's Democratic Republic, Lebanon, Lesotho, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, Solomon Islands, Somalia and Togo. (13)
6. Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women
In January 1996: Belgium, Cuba, Cyprus, Ethiopia, Hungary, Iceland, Paraguay, Rwanda and the Ukraine.
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