Looking back on history of abuse Chiles president urges UN to champion

Recalling the human rights abuses suffered by her country decades ago, the President of Chile today urged national leaders gathered at the United Nations for its annual general debate to end impunity for violations.“Exactly 30 years ago, the General Assembly received terrible news: Orlando Letelier, the former Foreign Minister and Defence Minister of President Allende, had been brutally murdered on the street in Washington, DC,” Michelle Bachelet said. “The delegates were moved by that crime and today I remember it with emotion to illustrate how we have learned the lessons from the past.”Stressing that nothing justifies the violation of human rights, she declared her country’s firm rejection of impunity. “I assure you all of our commitment and enthusiasm to participate in the initiatives designed to promote human rights and democracy,” she said, welcoming numerous advances in the field, particularly the adoption of the International Convention on the Protection of All Persons from Forced Disappearance.Guatemalan President Oscar Berger Perdomo also looked back on his country’s history, saying that compared to 1996, when peace accords ended the war there, the human rights situation had improved greatly.“At the same time, we recognized that much remain to be done,” he said, noting that the UN has an office in the country and has been invited to support a Commission to Investigate Illicit and Clandestine Groups.Voicing support for indigenous rights, he said the General Assembly should soon adopt the new Declaration on this issue.Esteban Lazo Hernández, the Vice-President of Cuba, spoke about the results of the recent Non-Aligned Movement summit, held in Havana, which produced consensus on a number of pressing issues. Among these, “the Summit clearly and firmly pronounced itself against terrorism, double standards in international relations, coercive unilateral measures against any nation, ‘regime change’ policies and the failure of developed countries to fulfil their commitments in economic and social areas.”He also criticized current United States policies towards Cuba. “The Bush administration has stepped up its brutally hostile measures against Cuba with new economic sanctions which further intensify the longest blockade human history has known,” he said. “The very Government of the United States recognizes that it is spending more, today, in persecuting and punishing those who have business dealings with Cuba than in monitoring the finances of those who attacked the Twin Towers.”Néstor Carlos Kirchner, Argentina’s President, reflected on his country’s history and its relevance to the work of the UN. “In the field of human rights, after over two decades of sustained democratic rule in the Argentina, we experienced in 2003 a true paradigm shift,” he said. “In response to the mandates of the whole society, the three powers of the State have adopted, within their respective scopes, coinciding decisions against impunity, preserving memory, truth, justice and granting reparations.”Based on its own experience, Argentina had strongly supported the enshrinement of human rights at the centre of the UN’s work “so as to upgrade the institutional level of their treatment to that already given to development and to the maintenance of international peace and security.”Martin Torrijos Espino, the President of Panama, said that considerable time and energy had been devoted in recent years to reforming the UN, based on the profound conviction that it was an indispensable organization for humanity. Critics, he said, should honestly question what the world would be like without the UN. Governments were the objects of daily scrutiny by their peoples, and they often received severe criticism, but nobody suggested doing away with the government. People tried to make governments better for the same reason that they wanted the UN to improve, because it was equally necessary. He said that denunciations of human rights violators made at the UN had an enormous power of deterrence. While acknowledging that there had been horrendous violations during the Organization’s existence, he stressed that the situation had improved over decades past. Leonel Fernandez Reyna, President of the Dominican Republic, hailed recent efforts to reform the UN, including the creation of the Human Rights Council and the Peacebuilding Commission, but emphasized that the process would remain incomplete without changing the Security Council. That 15-member body must be expanded to make it more representative of the various regions and national interests of the world, he said.He welcomed the Council’s recent decision to extend the UN Stabilization Mission in Haiti (MINUSTAH) for six months, asserting that the Dominican Republic “has assumed a strong commitment to the re-establishment of stability in Haiti.”Ecuador’s President, Alfredo Palacio, noted the gross disparities in health indicators across the world, citing the example of life expectancy, which was more than 80 years in Japan while barely reaching 36 years in Botswana.“We must guarantee greater equity in health expenses throughout the world in order to overcome the huge differences between the few dollars invested per capita in poor countries and the thousands of dollars invested per capita in the developed world,” he said.President Palacio called for strengthening the UN World Health Organization and making a “huge” mobilization of financial resources to reduce inequality in medical services.“This will allow the development of health systems and models capable of ensuring explicit benefits to each and every one of the inhabitants of the planet.”