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World: Parliamentarians Move To Protect Rights And Preserve Resources

  • Lisa McAdams

Prague, 15 September 1998 (RFE/RL) - The 100th Conference of the Interparliamentary Union (IPU) in Moscow closed this past weekend with nearly 700 parliamentarians from 127 countries adopting a wide-ranging set of resolutions on human rights, the preservation of world water resources, and the fight against illegal drug trafficking and organized crime.

During the five days of debate, participants also discussed the political and economic turmoil in Russia, events in Afghanistan, the peace process in Cyprus and the Middle East, and nuclear non-proliferation.

It is the first time an IPU conference, which brings together representatives from national parliaments around the world, was held in Russia. Russian President Boris Yeltsin opened the event by highlighting what was no doubt on the minds of most participants -- the country's economic and political crisis.

Yeltsin said that international financial markets had entered a period of instability and that the Russian people were suffering the effects of an unstable economic situation to which, he said, "both internal and external factors have contributed."

However, Yeltsin said it was his "firm belief" Moscow would manage to overcome its crisis. Yeltsin said that what matters most is to seek international mechanisms for preventing future economic crises and neutralizing their consequences.

Turning to the main item on the conference agenda -- human rights -- Yeltsin said a lot remains to be done in Russia, but the promotion of human rights was one of the government's "top priorities."

The conference coincided with the 50th anniversary of the adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human rights. The conference delegates recommended world governments and parliaments to promote the abolition of the death penalty, torture and the inhumane treatment of prisoners.

The resolution also stresses the need to settle problems of refugees and victims of military conflicts.

Special attention was also devoted to problems of women's rights. This issue was discussed in committees of the conference and a separate meeting of women parliamentarians was held on the sidelines of the Kremlin event. However, no separate document was adopted on the problem.

IPU officials told RFE/RL that the main resolution urged governments and parliaments to mark March 8, of the year 2000, as a day of peace, development and democracy based on the growing role of women.

Parliamentarians also urged all countries to sign a U.N. convention in defense of United Nation's staff and workers participating in humanitarian operations. And, they launched a special appeal on the closing day of the conference, calling for the release of Vincent Cochetel, a delegate of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) who was taken hostage in Chechnya six months ago. Russian State Duma Chairman, Gennady Seleznev, said that "every effort would be made to secure Cochetel's release."

On another issue of special concern, the conference recommended that governments and parliaments "implement globally valid minimum standards for basic supplies of potable water and water-related sanitation services. They also urged global cooperation on matters related to international water supply. More than one-fifth of the world's population has no access to safe drinking water.

Finally, the conference participants called to expand international efforts to combat the consumption and illicit trafficking of drugs and organized crime. In a resolution, delegates recommended the development of drug control strategies to reduce demand through education, prevention, treatment, public awareness, and community anti-drug coalitions. They also recommended that states, governments and international organizations provide the human, technical and financial resources needed to limit the supply and demand of illicit drugs and offer treatment and rehabilitation to addicts to facilitate their social reintegration.

Each year, the IPU also hears reports by special committees on the sidelines of the conference and this year noted an alarming lack of progress in three areas: strengthening of international humanitarian law, the banning of anti-personnel landmines, and talks over the disputed island of Cyprus.

But, for the first time, IPU sounded a note of optimism in the Middle East, despite the current standstill in peace negotiations.