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Human Rights Conference Ends Divided

October 4, 1991

MOSCOW (AP) _ Thirty-eight nations ended a monthlong human rights conference Friday divided over whether to give investigators heightened enforcement powers.

In an ironic twist, sanctions against nations violating human rights were supported by the Soviet Union and the fledgling democracies of Eastern Europe, but opposed by many Western governments.

Canadian Ambassador Christopher Anstsis, echoing the sentiment of many delegates, said the final accord ″holds little remedy or even advice for a Europe menaced by ethnic conflict (and) unbridled nationalism.″

The final document adopted unanimously Thursday by the Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe, or CSCE, the West’s leading human rights forum, for the first time authorizes investigations of member countries without their consent.

The United States, Canada and all European nations also agreed to abandon the long-held principle of not interfering in the affairs of other states and declared human rights to be the ″legitimate concern″ of all countries.

The conference was held against the backdrop of the Yugoslav civil war, the demise of the Soviet Communist Party following the August coup, and rising ethnic tension as long-repressed nationalist sentiments are unleashed in former Communist countries.

Under the new policy, three-member fact-finding teams would investigate human rights allegations in a member nation without its consent if 10 countries demanded an inquiry, or if a committee of senior CSCE officials authorized it.

The teams would submit reports to the committee of senior officials which could then decide on follow-up action.

U.S. Ambassador Max M. Kampelman called it an historic policy that would help CSCE member states deal constructively with human rights problems for the first time.

But he conceded the CSCE has been impotent in dealing with the fighting in Yugoslavia because the conference has only ″a moral weapon.″

Because the new mandatory investigtions policy does not provide for sanctions, some countries believe it will have little impact.

A German proposal, backed by the Soviets and Poles, would have imposed sanctions on any country judged guilty of violations. But some nations were unwilling to go that far, effectively killing the proposal.

Sergei Kovalev, a leader of the Soviet delegation and a former political prisoner, said the 24-page document leaves ″a certain bitter aftertaste″ because it does not include mandatory sanctions for human rights abuses.

″The whole CSCE process proves completely ineffective and helpless,″ he said, blaming a conference rule that all decisions must be adopted by consensus.

Swedish Ambassador Henrik Amneus decried the CSCE’s failure to take new action on the rights of national minorities. Without action, he warned, ″the problem will continue to destabilize our common security for years to come.″

The document said the new procedures for investigating human rights abuses would protect the rights of minorities. But it wasn’t clear how this would be done, since the mandatory procedure has no means of enforcing any action.

In other actions, the 38 nations agreed to protect human rights during a state of emergency, a key Soviet demand following the coup.

The final document also called for protection of journalists, equality of women and men, equal rights for the disabled and migrant workers, improved conditions for prisoners, and freedom of movement - a key human rights issue in the Soviet Union.

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