FM Oskanian Addresses 60th Session of the UN Human Rights Commission

Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Armenia
Contact: Information Desk
Tel: (374-1) 52-35-31
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Minister Vartan Oskanian addressed the 60TH SESSION OF THE COMMISSION ON
HUMAN RIGHTS in GENEVA on 16 MARCH. On the occasion of this meeting,
foreign ministers from 70 countries addressed the Commission on global and
local human rights issues and concerns.

Less than a week after a terrorist attack resulted in massive deaths and
injuries in Spain, the Minister called for unity in implementing the ideas
that are shared in order to make possible democratic systems which breed
stability and protect the human rights of all mankind.

In his statement, Minister Oskanian reflected on the links between human
rights and development explaining that many of today┬╣s social and economic
ills can be resolved if human rights are accepted, absorbed, respected and
implemented as inarguable, inalienable, unalterable rights.

He spoke about Armenia’s commitment to the Human Rights agenda, Armenia’s
accmplishments over these 10 years, including the abolition of the death
penalty and the appointment of an ombudsman, and reforms in legislation. The
Minister cited the recent killing of an Armenian soldier in Budapest by an
Azerbaijani soldier as example of ethnic hatred. He explained that today’s
grievances in the region are the results of human rights abuses and called
on the international community to recognize the Karabakh population’s
inherent basic human right to self-determination.

Withiin the margins of the Commission Session, the Minister held a series of
important bilateral meetings. Below is the complete text of the statement.


GENEVA, 15-16 MARCH 2004

Mr. Chairman, the first time I addressed this forum seven years ago, Armenia
was not yet a member of the Council of Europe, was not a member of this
Commission, and the responsibilities and obligations facing us appeared
overwhelming. Today, as I take stock of where we were and how far we┬╣ve
come, I am pleased to say that Armenia has had a role to play in the efforts
to promote, espouse, advocate, even celebrate human rights. The freedoms
enjoyed in many countries, the freedoms that make some societies the envy of
the world, are the right of each individual man, woman and child. As
societies and governments represented here, we gather to reaffirm our
commitments and to continue the search for ways to make those ideals real.

This 60th session is symbolic of all our hard-learned lessons. The struggle
to articulate, explain, codify, legislate, impose, ensure human rights in
each society has been both international and local. We wish to achieve
universal access to and guarantee of human rights for all the world┬╣s
citizens. Whether motivated by altruism or enlightened self-interest, we
want the same civil liberties for the old and new democracies, the big and
small powers, the developed and developing nations. As a new democracy, a
small country following the path to development, we know that what happens
inside countries – large and small — can have and has had, a huge effect on
the rest of the world.

While symbols should not be mistaken for substance, they should not be
dismissed as insubstantial, either. The gains that we have made are
testimony to the truism that what is right is also good. Many of today┬╣s
social ills, and the economic ones, too, will be well on their way to
disappearing if human rights are accepted, absorbed, respected and
implemented as inarguable, inalienable, unalterable rights.

This is why older democracies – having suffered first-hand the risks of
civil societies which do not extend human rights protections — are
determined to instill good governance mechanisms around the world. That is
why international organizations include the human dimension as a significant
component of their security concerns. That is why the terror of terrorism
has imposed discussions of the elimination of human rights violations as

The driving force is not just philosophy and idealism but also politics and
pragmatism. Societies which respect the human rights of their own people are
more likely to respect the rights of their neighbors. Countries which
acknowledge that national aspirations can be given their just dues without
resorting to violence or aggression are the kinds of societies in which we
ourselves wish to live, and which we all want at our borders. Those among us
who can confront remembered wrongs without committing new ones will have
earned the right to call ourselves modern, inclusive, tolerant, neighborly.

That is what we want for our neighborhood.

>From the Caspian to the Black Sea, the Caucasus, the South Caucasus, the
Northern Middle East is a cauldron of constant dynamic change, geopolitical
fermentation, domestic and sub regional threats, and multi-power interest
and competition. An uneven distribution of resources, mixed with a bumpy
path to regional development and cooperation makes good governance based on
a respect for individual rights even more critical for the interests of
governments and citizens alike. We know that this requires a determination
generated inside our societies. It necessitates intellectual and practical
conversions that go beyond our international commitments.

Towards this end, the comments, observations and even admonitions of various
countries and international organizations on our human rights
accomplishments and goals is acknowledged, and appreciated. We know that
this is a win-win struggle, where what is good for Armenia is also good for
the region. But we also know that preaching democracy is no substitute for
the sustained efforts essential to create a healthy society, which in turn
will guarantee the health of the state. We are ready to work with all those
who comprehend the natural process of maturation needed for these changes to
be authentic and deep-rooted, not cosmetic and short-lived.

In Armenia, where human rights has been on our collective agenda for just
one sixth of these 60 years, changes have already begun to take root. This
year, the death penalty was abolished. The inherent right to life is now
guaranteed for all our citizens. Just a few months ago, an ombudsman was
appointed to hear grievances and facilitate solutions.

Armenia┬╣s minority populations, although small in number, continue to enjoy
the government┬╣s attention and equal protections under the law.

Trafficking, an emergent global evil, is the object of an interagency plan
to eradicate the local conditions and mechanisms that enable this crime.

The National Plan of Action for Children was approved to coordinate
Armenia┬╣s obligations and programs for children – a vulnerable group whose
basic quality of life indicators are paradoxical, just like those of their
parents. Our kids are the victims of drastic and still incomplete economic
and social transitions. Their access to nutrition and medicine is sometimes
in jeopardy, but not to culture and education. This same dilemma is at the
root of our implementation of the Millennium Development Goals, which when
met, will go farther than any declaration to protect the basic rights of
each individual citizen.

Just as those goals are still not completely met, neither are programs to
grow an independent judiciary. The road plan is there, but we still have far
to travel. We are working with the Council of Europe on judicial and
electoral reforms. The same is true for a fully participatory transparent
legislative process. The existence of laws does not mean that their
implementation is full and comprehensive. Our laws on press freedoms
continue to be reformed in line with Council of Europe standards. We are
committed to arriving at improved legislation. But we also know that
legislatively facilitated press freedoms have still not resulted in an
intellectually and fiscally free and responsible press.

That we can even make these lists, and slowly cross off some of the items
listed there, is ample indication that we are fully engaged in one of
society┬╣s hardest tasks: to equally and broadly allocate the rights,
privileges, benefits of human civilization.

But, Mr. Chairman, the world is not there yet. Even as the world champions
human rights, we tolerate excessive human wrongs.

We tolerate atrocities, massacres, ethnic cleansing so long as they happen
in distant lands. We tolerate their memories and approve the deniers. We
tolerate historians who claim that there are circumstances in history that
justify ethnic cleansing and its logical progression, genocide. Armenians
have experienced these inexplicable human wrongs for a hundred years. We who
have suffered these crimes have declared that the best way, the only way to
restore faith and confidence is for perpetrators and victims to acknowledge
the past, and move on to the future. Ironically, it is we the victims who
have and who continue to make these unconditional offers. The perpetrators,
old and new, do not. We do so, moved by a need to restore relations between
peoples who have been and will continue to be neighbors. It is not for
history┬╣s sake alone that we insist on acknowledging the past, but for the
sake of the future. The political obstacles, the economic blockade that
exist today are left over from an unfinished and unreconciled past. We want
to move on to a collaborative and cooperative future. For that, our
neighbors must sit with us today, in the present, with a will to recover
that which the past has erased.

In our neighborhood, the past is not buried in history. Today┬╣s grievances
in our region are the consequences, expressions and manifestations of human
rights abuses, not their causes.

There were no refugees and no territorial issues when the people of Nagorno
Karabakh, legally, in accordance with the legislation of the time, followed
all necessary steps, to opt for self-determination. The state abrogated its
responsibility to provide safety and security for its population. Instead,
the response was military aggression.

It is very telling that a sovereign government responded to its people┬╣s
democratic calls for self-determination with military means. Moreover, the
violent, military response was not directed against the population of
Nagorno Karabakh alone, but also against Armenians in Sumgait and Baku,
miles away from the territory and population of Nagorno Karabakh.

This was ethnic cleansing — the first time that ‘solution’ was brought to
and utilized in the former Soviet space — even before it showed its head in
the Balkans. The Armenians who were driven out were the first refugees in
the former Soviet Union.

Despite Armenians’ continuous victimization, despite recent memories of
pogroms and deportations, despite the continuing fragile defensive,
protective position of Armenians in Nagorno Karabakh, Armenians continue to
express readiness to arrive at some compromise settlement. This is not
diplomatic talk. The Armenians of Nagorno Karabakh have held legitimate
elections, are building a civil society based on legislation which protects
human rights, and are preparing for the day when their own rights to
self-determination and a life of peace and dignity will be recognized.

Mr. Chairman,
Unfortunately, the past is not behind us. Earlier this month, in Budapest,
in a North Atlantic Cooperation Council training program, the concept of
cooperation was shockingly shaken by the murder of an Armenian soldier by an
Azerbaijani officer. This expression of ethnic hatred is more than
disturbing, as we continue to search for solutions that will allow us to
coexist in peace in this region.

That is why we continue to call on our neighbors to join us in searching for
ways to go forward. In a complex, problematic neighborhood, heavily burdened
with history, we know full well that human rights, when equally and
indiscriminately protected, will mean the ability to protect the safety,
security and dignity of entire populations, whole countries and regions. It
truly does start with each country, one person at a time.

Mr. Chairman,

We wish to join in welcoming Justice Louise Arbour to her new position as
the new High Commissioner for Human Rights. We would have wished her good
luck even had this meeting taken place a week ago, and we do so, even more,
today. In the wake of the shocking, frightening, inexplainable horror that
hit Spain and the world just a few days ago, I must repeat that which we all
know: there is a way to beat the terrorism, to defeat those who are bent on
destroying a way of life. That way is to unite in implementing the ideas
which we all hold dear, in making possible the democratic systems which
breed stability, in protecting the human rights of all mankind so that we
never again need to protect ourselves from ourselves.

Thank you.