19 October 2006
General Assembly
GA/SHC/3858

Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York

Sixty-first General Assembly

Third Committee

23rd & 24th Meetings (AM & PM)


THIRD COMMITTEE APPROVES DRAFT RESOLUTIONS ON HUMAN TRAFFICKING, LITERACY, AGEING,


CRIME PREVENTION, KIDNAPPING; CONTINUES CONSIDERATION OF HUMAN RIGHTS ISSUES


Experts Share Views on Rights to Health, Right to Development,

Migrants’ Rights, Human Rights in Occupied Palestinian Territory


The Third Committee (Social, Humanitarian and Cultural) today approved without a vote a draft resolution in favour of encouraging international partnerships to combat trafficking in persons.  It also approved, also without votes, draft resolutions on literacy, ageing and social development, crime prevention and criminal justice, and kidnapping.


Continuing its review of human rights issues, the Committee heard as well from a number of Special Rapporteurs on human rights issues with the most time being devoted to the situation in the Occupied Palestinian Territory.  Other speakers addressed the rights to health and development, as well as the rights of migrants.


The draft resolution on improving the coordination of efforts against trafficking in persons would have the General Assembly encourage the development of bilateral, subregional and regional partnerships in counter-trafficking efforts.  The Assembly would request that the Secretary-General improve on the fledgling inter-agency coordination group on trafficking in persons in order to enhance cooperation and facilitate a comprehensive approach by the international community.  The Assembly also would urge Member States to ratify or accede to relevant treaties, including the United Nations Convention against Transnational Organized Crime and its Protocol to prevent trafficking in persons.


“The resolution clearly acknowledges the need to make our struggle against human trafficking a global effort of partners,” said the representative of Belarus, its main sponsor.  Only by acting together, he added, could there be a groundbreaking shift for the better in efforts to eradicate all forms of slavery from the face of the Earth.


Another draft resolution adopted today on implementation of the International Plan of Action for the United Nations Literacy Decade would have the General Assembly appeal to Member States to develop reliable literacy data, strengthen political will and mobilize adequate national resources to achieve the goals of the Decade; welcome the offer by the Government of Mongolia to host the Asia-Pacific midterm review of the Decade in collaboration with the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) and the Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP); and request all relevant entities of the United Nations system, particularly UNESCO, to work with national Governments to address the needs of countries with high illiteracy rates.


The draft approved by the Committee on follow-up to the Second World Summit on Ageing would have the Assembly encourage Governments to mainstream ageing issues into poverty eradication strategies and national development plans, call upon them to promote a bottom-up participatory approach to implementation, and call upon the international community to help fund research and data collection on ageing.  The Assembly would also stress the need for additional capacity-building at the national level to promote implementation of the Madrid International Plan of Action on Ageing and encourage Governments to support the United Nations Trust Fund for Ageing.


Also approved today was the draft on strengthening the United Nations Crime Prevention and Criminal Justice Programme and the role of the Commission on Crime Prevention and Criminal Justice as its governing body.  That text would have the Assembly authorize the Commission to approve, based on proposals of the Executive Director of the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), the budget of the United Nations Crime Prevention and Criminal Justice Fund, including for administrative and programme support.  The Assembly would also request that the Advisory Committee on Administrative and Budgetary Questions submit its comments and recommendations on the UNODC biennial consolidated budget to the Commission.


The Committee approved as well a draft on international cooperation in the prevention, combating and elimination of kidnapping and in providing assistance to victims.  That text would have the General Assembly vigorously condemn and reject once again kidnapping under all circumstances and notes with satisfaction the publication of the operational manual against kidnapping prepared pursuant to the Assembly resolution 59/154.  The Assembly would also call upon Member States that have not yet done so to strengthen measures to combat money-laundering and to cooperate and legally assist in the tracing, detection, freezing and confiscation of kidnapping proceeds, as well assist and protect victims of kidnapping and their families.


The Committee went on to hear a report from John Dugard, Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Palestinian territories occupied since 1967.  He said the situation in Gaza, in particular, had worsened since 25 June as it had been subjected to a brutal assault that was continuing.  Israel’s actions had been excessive; the whole population had been terrorized and property had been randomly destroyed without military purpose.  A humanitarian crisis had been imposed on the population by the destruction of power plants, water supplies, bridges and schools; by restrictions imposed on the import of medical supplies and foodstuffs; and by the closing of borders.


In the West Bank and East Jerusalem, Israel continued to build a 700-kilometer Wall, mostly in Palestinian territory, he said.  Its humanitarian impact was severe, with Palestinians living in the “closed zone” unable to freely access schools, hospitals and places of employment in the West Bank.  Many Palestinians had abandoned their lands, resulting in a new category of internally displaced persons.  Such a process elsewhere would be described as ethnic cleansing, but political correctness forbade such language where Israel was concerned, he said.


Earlier in the day, the Committee heard from Paul Hunt, Special Rapporteur on the right of everyone to the enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health, who noted that by the time he finished addressing the Committee, 10 women would have died in childbirth or from complications of pregnancy, 9 of them in Africa or Asia.  Each year, there were more than 500,000 maternal deaths, most of which could have been avoided by a few well-known interventions.  He called on the human rights community to take up the issue as vigorously as it did extrajudicial executions, disappearances and arbitrary detention.  He also referred to a gross inequity in access to medicines, in a world where 15 per cent of the global population consumed more than 90 per cent of its pharmaceuticals.  He highlighted a need for a reliable system for the supply of good quality medicines that were affordable to all.


Ibrahim Salama, Chairperson of the Working Group on the Right to Development, said that the realization by concrete measures of the right to development was under way, with the Human Rights Council having endorsed the Working Group’s recommendations on introducing right-to-development criteria on a pilot basis to selected partnerships.  In the ensuing discussion, he said rhetoric over the right to development had given way to a substantive debate, but he regretted a lack of participation on the part of such fundamental stakeholders such as the international financial institutions and the World Trade Organization.


Jorge A. Bustamante, Special Rapporteur on the human rights of migrants, recalling the General Assembly’s recent High-Level Dialogue on international migration and development, said he was concerned that debate on the issue was still centred on either the perceived challenges posed by migration or on its economic aspects, failing to integrate the human rights dimension.  He also said that the International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of their Families -- which offered States the most comprehensive framework for the protection of the human rights of migrants -- had suffered from a very low level of ratification by countries of destination.


The representative of Cuba, on behalf of the Non-Aligned Movement, introduced a draft resolution on the consequences of the Israeli invasion for the human rights situation in Lebanon.


The representatives of Zimbabwe, Eritrea, Uzbekistan, Ethiopia and the United States spoke in exercise of the right of reply.


The Committee will meet again at 10 a.m. on Friday, 20 October, to consider its consideration of human rights issues.


Background


The Third Committee (Social, Humanitarian and Cultural) met today to continue its general discussion of human rights questions, including alternative approaches for improving the effective enjoyment of human rights and fundamental freedoms, human rights situations and reports of Special Rapporteurs and Representatives.  (For background information, see Press Releases GA/SHC/3856 and GA/SHC/3857 of 17 and 18 October, respectively.)


The Committee had before it a note by the Secretary-General transmitting the report of the Special Rapporteur, Vitit Muntarbhorn, on the situation of human rights in the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (document A/61/349), which had not been available on Tuesday, 18 October.  The report, which covers the human rights situation there from 2005 through August 2006, says that despite key reforms, including criminal law reform, many egregious transgressions and discrepancies existed and required effective redress.  Major challenges existed regarding the rights to food, life, security of persons and humane treatment, self-determination, asylum and refugee protection as well as the right to freedom of movement, expression, association and religion.  The report raises concern over violations of women’s rights –- particularly violence against women –- and violations of the rights of children, the elderly, people with disabilities and ethnic minorities.


The Democratic People’s Republic of Korea’s launching of missile tests in mid-2006 in the face of global opposition has exacerbated the situation, causing many humanitarian aid donours to reconsider distributing such aid.  Major flooding has also caused great harm to the population as has the decision of many countries to deny entry to refugees from the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea or adopt more stringent refugee policies.


The report calls on the Government of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea to implement all human rights treaties and instruments to which it is a party and reallocate military funding for human rights purposes.  Further, it calls on officials to allow humanitarian food aid into the country and promote sustainable agricultural development to ensure food security; give citizens travel permits; reform the prison system to include the rule of law, safeguards for the accused, an independent judiciary and access to justice; and abolish sanctions for political dissent.  It calls on them to reform laws and practices to ensure respect for civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights and train law enforcers to respect those rights.


It also calls on them to allow the Special Rapporteur and, as appropriate, other mechanisms to visit the country and assist in human rights promotion and protection.


The report also calls on the international community to support the Special Rapporteur’s recommendations; continue to provide food aid to those in need; respect the principle of asylum, particularly non-refoulement; protect refugees; help the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea reform its prison system and offer it human rights programmes with security guarantees and incentives for socio-economic development.


Also before the Committee was a letter dated 5 October 2006 from the Permanent Representative of Mexico to the United Nations addressed to the Secretary-General (document A/61/506), which contains the report of the Helsinki Process meeting on international migration held from 25 to 26 July in Mexico City.


The Committee was also expected to take action on draft resolutions on implementation of the International Plan of Action for the United Nations Literacy Decade (document A/C.3/61/L.4), and follow-up to the Second World Summit on Ageing (document A/C.3/61/L.6), as well as three drafts under its agenda item on crime prevention and criminal justice, including those on strengthening the United Nations Crime Prevention and Criminal Justice Programme and the role of the Commission on Crime Prevention and Criminal Justice as its governing body (document A/C.3/61/L.2), international cooperation in the prevention, combating and elimination of kidnapping and in providing assistance to victims (document A/C.3/61/L.3), and improving the coordination of efforts against trafficking in persons (document A/C.3/61/L.7/Rev.1).


Statement by Special Rapporteur


PAUL HUNT, Special Rapporteur on the right of everyone to the enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health, noted that by the time he finished addressing the Committee, 10 women would have died in childbirth or from complications of pregnancy, nine of them in Africa or Asia.  Each year, there were more than 500,000 maternal deaths, most of which could have been avoided by a few well-known interventions.


There was no single cause of death or disability for men between the ages of 15 and 44 that came close to the magnitude of maternal mortality and morbidity, he said, adding that if men had to give birth, mortality and morbidity arising from childbirth probably would be taken more seriously and attract more resources than they did today.  Maternal mortality highlighted multiple inequalities -— global, ethnic and gender -— as well as the entrenched disadvantage of those living in poverty.  He recalled that Millennium Development Goal 5 aimed to reduce maternal mortality by three-quarters by 2015.  Despite longstanding international commitments to reduce maternal mortality, progress had stagnated or been reversed in many of the countries with the highest maternal mortality rates.


He called on the human rights community to mount a global campaign against maternal mortality, which violated a woman’s right to life, health, equality and non-discrimination.  The human rights community should take up the issue as vigorously as it did extrajudicial executions, disappearances and arbitrary detention.  He noted that there were an estimated 1 million disappearances over the past 26 years, which was the same number of maternal deaths in just the last 24 months.  While all agreed that disappearances were an extremely serious human rights problem, his point was that so was maternal mortality.  Many had a role to play in the struggle against this human rights catastrophe, including Governments, managers of health facilities, the international community, and families and communities.  Donours must pay their part by helping developing countries and also by examining their own domestic policies where discriminatory maternal health outcomes demanded vigorous attention.


The second issue raised in his report was access to medicines, which formed an indispensable part of the right to health.  Gross inequity in access to medicines remained the overriding feature of the world pharmaceutical situation, with 15 per cent of the world’s population consuming more than 90 per cent of its pharmaceuticals.  He highlighted the need for a reliable system for the supply of good quality medicines that were affordable to all.  He noted problems of inadequate public funding for health and of corruption.  More research and development was needed to promote the availability of new drugs for those diseases causing a heavy burden in developing countries, and States should support such efforts in the framework of international assistance.


While States had the primary responsibility for enhancing access to medicines, that was a shared responsibility.  The Millennium Development Goals explicitly recognized that pharmaceutical companies were among those who shared this responsibility.  His report had begun to explore the specific responsibilities of pharmaceutical companies in relation to access to medicines, and he was in the process of preparing draft guidelines for States and pharmaceutical companies on that issue.


Discussion


Mr. HUNT, in response to questions on how to increase access to medicines, said the first step was to devise, through a participatory and inclusive process, a national medicines policy.  He noted that only some 100 States had a national drugs policy, and that many of those did not have an implementation plan.  Both were needed.  There also was clearly a responsibility to apply differential pricing, he said.  It cannot be right that the same price for drugs was applied to those living in Canada as in Ecuador.  There might also be a need for differential pricing within countries where there were extreme disparities in wealth.


In his discussions with pharmaceutical companies regarding their role and responsibilities, he said he had taken into account intellectual property issues.  He also noted that certain countries were favoured with research and development and that it was the responsibility of rich States to produce incentives to address imbalances.  Pharmaceutical companies also had responsibilities in that regard, whether legal or ethical.  Asked to provide a briefing on the draft guidelines on the duties of States and pharmaceutical companies, he said he would do so when the project was more fully developed.


In response to a question on the regulation of drugs supply, he said the critical question was equitable access for all, including in emergency situations.  On the need to regulate herbal medicines, he said the right to health required that drugs were safe and of good quality.  That was the discipline required.


Asked to elaborate on the link between access to drugs and corruption, he noted that the supply chain for drugs had many links, and that, in some countries, there was corruption in relation to each link.  He referred to comments made by the head of the Nigerian drugs authority on that issue and to a good report by Transparency International on corruption and health care.  It was the poor who suffered the most from corruption.


In his last report to the Human Rights Council, he had indicated his interest in identifying the key components of a health system that were needed to attain right to health, which likely would include a participatory drug policy, the collection of disaggregated data, and enhanced monitoring and accountability.


Asked whether international norms were sufficient to address the situation of children infected or affected by HIV/AIDS, he said that more detailed norms would be helpful insofar as they might assist in more targeted action.  On a separate point, he offered what he termed the “provocative suggestion” that as the World Bank was addressing the issue of HIV/AIDS, countries that helped shape the policies of the institution should raise their human rights concerns to help ensure that programmes were inclusive, participatory and reached the poor.


Asked about his work on neglected diseases, he pointed to his country report on Uganda which was devoted to the issue, a study on the World Trade Organization, which included a chapter on neglected diseases, and publication co-authored with the World Health Organization on human rights and neglected diseases.


Referring to a question on the medical practices of indigenous people, he drew attention to his earlier report on Peru, which included a chapter on how to promote and protect the right to health of indigenous people in a culturally sensitive way.  He was not suggesting that all the findings could be transferred, but there might be some common points.


Asked how work on indicators could help “operationalize” the right to health, he recalled that the right to health was subject to progressive realization.  States needed indicators and benchmarks to know whether they were making progress, and, if not, to then take remedial action.  More indicators also were needed at the international level to monitor whether rich countries were fulfilling their responsibilities.  In response to a separate question on impact assessments, he noted that he had prepared a preliminary study on this topic which would be presented formally to the Human Rights Council in his next report.


Asked what was missing in the World Health Organization’s health strategy, he said it would be helpful if there was more emphasis on participation and on adolescence.  He said there was a need to use the dreaded term “sexual health”, which came before reproductive health.  He also commended the recently adopted Swedish policy on sexual and reproductive health.


Responding to a question about how to involve young people in issues around maternal mortality, he said the major challenge was for young people to get access to information about sexual and reproductive health.


Asked for his views on abortion, he stressed that countries had to work out for themselves their position regarding abortion.  However, in some cases, there was a responsibility to provide such facilities in cases of emergency and in cases that were life-threatening.  He noted that 13 per cent of maternal deaths worldwide were from unsafe abortions, a figure that had risen to 19 per cent in South America.


Responding to a question on the impact of some traditional practices, such as female genital mutilation, on the right to health, he said that was an issue he would like to address in the future.  A balance must be struck between evidence-based health interventions and cultural sensitivity.


He agreed with a delegate that more South-South cooperation was needed to protect and promote the right to health.


Statements on Right to Development


IBRAHIM SALAMA, Chairperson of the Working Group on the Right to Development, said that the realization by concrete measures of the right to development was under way.  In January 2006, the Working Group had adopted, by consensus, a set of criteria for the periodic evaluation of global development partnerships as identified in the eighth goal in the Millennium Development Goals.  The consensus had been based on the work of a five-member High-level Task Force established in 2004 by the Commission on Human Rights to provide the necessary technical expertise to the Working Group on that issue.  The Working Group also recommended that the criteria be applied on a pilot basis to selected partnerships, with a view to progressively developing them.  That had been a significant step, and would contribute to mainstreaming the right to development at the national, regions and international levels, including multilateral finance, trade and development institutions.


At its first session in June, the Human Rights Council had endorsed the Working Group’s recommendations, he said.  Since then, the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights had been working to implement those recommendations, while the Task Force was to meet again in January 2007.  Meanwhile, a number of initiatives had been under way to enhance different aspects of international development –- in particular the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development/Economic Commission for Africa Mutual Review of Development Awareness in the context of the New Partnership for Africa’s Development (NEPAD), the Paris Declaration on Aid Effectiveness, and the African Peer Review Mechanism.  The Working Group hoped to draw valuable insight and lessons from those mechanisms, to ensure that the application of the right-to-development criteria would add value to them.


Discussion


Responding to a question from the representative of Nepal regarding countries emerging from conflict, Mr. SALAMA said the main attribute of the Task Force approach had been to address one issue at a time, and that the issue of countries emerging from conflict had not been on the agenda, although nothing prevented the issue from being addressed in the future.


Responding to a question from the representative of Cuba, he identified a number of obstacles on the way to establishing the right to development.  One had been political controversy over its definition, although rhetoric had been giving way to a substantive debate.  Another challenge had been the non-participation of many fundamental stakeholders, basically the international financial institutions and the World Trade Organization.  A third challenge involved setting out the specific content of the right to development, which meant different things to different people at different times.  Obstacles remained, but not with the same magnitude, and some had been overcome.


In response to a question from the representative of Finland regarding migration and development, he said he felt that the human rights dimension of migration and development had been sufficiently addressed, notwithstanding special debates in the General Assembly which had identified many important issues.  The matter had been dealt with in a sporadic way.  A time should come when it was addressed, but it was up to Member States to decide when.


Human Rights of Migrants


JORGE A. BUSTAMANTE, Special Rapporteur on the human rights of migrants, in his statement, said that throughout the year, he had addressed to Government communications on allegations of human rights violations, including:  arbitrary detention; inhumane detention conditions; ill-treatment during border controls; deaths as a result of excessive use of force by police and security forces; collective deportations, summary expulsions and violations of the human rights of deportees; impunity for crimes against immigrants; gender-based violence; and the growing use of subcontracting as a subterfuge for the compliance of labour laws protecting migrant workers.  Governments that had not replied were invited to do so and more importantly to take measures to ensure that migrants’ rights were respected.


He recalled the General Assembly’s recent High-Level Dialogue on international migration and development, saying he was concerned that the debate had continued to be centred on either the perceived challenges posed by migration or on its economic aspects, failing to integrate the human rights dimension.  The International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of their Families offered States the most comprehensive framework for the protection of the human rights of migrants, but it suffered from a very low level of ratification by countries of destination, and that had become the most important obstacle for realizing its objectives. 


All States had to understand that migrants were not simply agents of development, but human beings with rights which States had an obligation to protect, he said.  It was imperative, too, to identify and address the human rights and development deficits that had caused a substantial part of the migration phenomenon, such as social and economic exclusion, poverty, inequality of opportunities and gender discrimination.  People migrating in such circumstances were less equipped to confront the challenges ahead of them.  Migrants could best contribute to development if they were integrated, not marginalized.  Efforts had to be focused on initiatives that maintained and strengthened a virtuous cycle whereby the human rights of migrants would be respected, and whereby migrants would be integrated in their host countries, able to contribute to the development of both countries of destination and origin.


Discussion


In response to a question from the representative of Indonesia regarding migrant domestic workers, Mr. BUSTAMANTE expressed gratitude regarding efforts made by non-governmental organizations in upholding the rights of migrant women, especially in the area of services. 


Responding to the representative of Finland, he said a new division of the world had occurred between countries of origin and countries of destination, with the latter having failed to respond to the need to ratify and implement the convention on migrant workers.  Responding to the representative of Azerbaijan, he said returning migrants was an area that needed further attention.


Replying to a question from the representative of Georgia regarding ethnic Georgians in the Russian Federation, Mr. BUSTAMANTE said he had only learned about the issue through the media and that he was thus unable to respond, but he was grateful for her country’s invitation to visit. 


Responding to the representative of the United States, he said that one of the areas that required the greatest attention was that of the responsibilities of migrants themselves.  Those responsibilities were not only linked to legal migration, but also to irregular migration.  The matter had not been dealt with more thoroughly because of the lack of ratification of the convention on migrants.


Statements in Right of Reply


Speaking in exercise of the right of reply, the representative of Zimbabwe dismissed the unwarranted accusations made by the representative of Finland on behalf of the European Union.  He recalled that the High Commissioner for Human Rights had talked about the need for dialogue and cooperation in addressing human rights issues, and that that was also the basis for the establishment of the new Human Rights Council.  The European Union displayed a holier-than-thou attitude, pointing fingers at other countries while choosing to downplay their own violations, he said.  In Zimbabwe, there was due process for those who broke the law.  The European Union spoke at length about torture but did not support a resolution on Guantanamo Bay.  Many European States were involved in “snatches” or extraordinary renditions but still had the audacity to present themselves as human advocates.  The General Assembly resolution on the establishment of the Human Rights Council, which emphasized dialogue, cooperation and universality, should guide the tone and approach to human rights issues generally.


Also taking exception to the European Union statement, the representative of Eritrea noted that his country was party to most human rights instruments and was making serious efforts toward the full realization of all human rights of its people.  Contrary to the assertions made, every person in his country was entitled to religious freedom.  The issue was not about religious freedom, but abuse of religion to avoid the national service obligation, which applied to all able-bodied citizens above age 18.


The representative of Uzbekistan also took issue with the European Union statement, which was politically motivated, and applied double standards and a selective approach.  In the context of reform of the human rights system, his State had hoped for more constructive dialogue.  The European Union had misled the Committee on two points, first by accusing Uzbekistan of not implementing the recommendations made by the Special Rapporteur following his visit to the country.  He said that 20 of the 22 recommendations already had been fully implemented.  The second was the accusation that Uzbekistan did not cooperate with human rights institutions.  Uzbekistan had submitted periodic reports to various United Nations organs, cooperated with all special mechanisms and responded to requests.  His country also had actively cooperated with the specialized agencies of the United Nations to establish indicators for the Millennium Development Goals.


The representative of Ethiopia also took the floor to refute the “baseless allegations” of the European Union, noting that the country had held free and fair elections in May 2005.  Some in the opposition then planned violent and disruptive actions, forcing the Government to take measures to restore law and order.  The detentions and trials of those accused in instigating the violence were being conducted with due process and in line with international obligations.  The trials were fully transparent and open to family members, journalists, and members of the international community.  The European Union wrongly characterized the detention of the accused as “arbitrary”.  She added that the country was in the process of finalizing new media laws with input from international advisers.


Also speaking in exercise of the right of reply, the representative of the United States took offence at the suggestion that Guantanamo Bay represented an act of torture.  The United States had no interest in being the world’s jailer and would like to close Guantanamo.  His country was working with members of the international community to transfer remaining detainees where possible.  He noted that the President had recently signed the Military Commission Act of 2006 establishing procedures for trying enemy combatants in compliance with the Geneva Conventions, and that that legislation incorporated due process safeguards.


Introduction of Draft Resolution


The representative of Cuba, on behalf of Member States of the United Nations that were members of the Non-Aligned Movement, introduced a draft resolution on the consequences of the Israeli invasion for the human rights situation in Lebanon (document A.C.3/61/L.13).  He noted that the elimination of conflict and the achievement of peace were fundamental to preparing a path for development and human rights.  Lebanon had undergone terrible trauma last summer where suddenly people found themselves deprived of the most fundamental human rights, including the right to life.  Members of the Non-Aligned Movement presented this resolution as a relevant and timely initiative.


The representative of Azerbaijan noted that the draft also was presented on behalf of Member States of the United Nations that were member States of the Organization of the Islamic Conference.


Action on Draft Resolutions


The Committee adopted -- without a vote -- draft resolutions on literacy, ageing and social development, crime prevention and criminal justice, kidnapping, and trafficking in persons.


They included a draft resolution, as orally revised, on implementation of the International Plan of Action for the United Nations Literacy Decade (document A/C.3/61/L.4).


The Committee then adopted, as orally revised, a draft on follow-up to the Second World Summit on Ageing (document A/C.3/61/L.6).


As well, it adopted, as orally revised, a draft on strengthening the United Nations Crime Prevention and Criminal Justice Programme and the role of the Commission on Crime Prevention and Criminal Justice as its governing body (document A/C.3/61/L.2).  The chairman said the draft would now be referred to the Fifth Committee, as it addressed budgetary matters.


The Secretary then read out a statement of programme budget implications on a draft on international cooperation in the prevention, combating and elimination of kidnapping and in providing assistance to victims (document A/C.3/61/L.3).  The Committee went on to adopt the draft.


The Secretary then read out a statement of programmed budget implications on a draft on improving coordination of efforts against trafficking in persons (document A/C.3/61/L.7/Rev.1).  The representative of Belarus, its main sponsor, said the draft clearly acknowledged the need to make the struggle against human trafficking a global effort of partners.  Only by acting together could there be a groundbreaking shift for the better in efforts to eradicate from the face of the Earth all forms of slavery.


The representative of Nigeria then thanked Belarus for its initiative and hard work, and extended sincere appreciation to all other delegations for having made contributions that had enriched the text.  It was hoped that the same spirit of cooperation would prevail as a concrete demonstration of the determination to combat the scourge of trafficking and slavery in the twenty-first century. 


The representative of the Philippines said that a holistic approach to the issue demanded no less than global cooperation, and respect for human rights had to be the foundation of every fight against criminality.  The humanity of victims of trafficking could never be forgotten or transgressed.


The Committee then adopted the draft, as orally revised.


After adoption of the draft resolution, the representative of the United States said that under the law of her country, trafficking in persons was the largest manifestation of slavery today.  Trafficking was synonymous to modern-day slavery; the resolution highlighted the problem of grappling with demand for trafficked persons, as well as with the supply.


The representative of Palau commended the initiative, but expressed concern over its plan to base a working group in Vienna, as many small and developing countries would have difficulty in being present for its meetings there.  Initiatives would be welcome to make participation for such States more accessible.


The representative of France said his country favoured the coordination of international efforts against trafficking in persons, although it felt the draft was premature in light of the Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons, especially women and children, supplementing the United Nations Convention against Transnational Organized Crime.


The representative of Colombia said that, while his country did not co-sponsor the resolution, trafficking in persons was an important issue for his country, which recently had adopted a national strategy to address the issue.


The representative of Libya called the adoption of the draft a very historic moment, and a step forward in intensive efforts that the world would be exerting to combat any kind of crime against humanity.


The Committee postponed action on a draft resolution on crime prevention and criminal justice (document A/C.3/61/L.14) until a later date.


Occupied Palestinian Territory


JOHN DUGARD, Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, noted that there was nothing startlingly new in his report as it told the old story of serious violations of human rights and international humanitarian law against an occupied people by a State that claimed to be committed to civilized legal values.  It was worse than last year as the situation in the Occupied Palestinian Territory had worsened and continued to worsen.


The situation in Gaza, in particular, had worsened since 25 June as it had been subjected to a brutal assault that still continued, he said.  Israel’s actions had been excessive, with direct attacks on civilian targets and a failure to distinguish between legitimate military targets and civilians.  The whole population had been terrorized.  Property had been randomly destroyed without military purpose.  A humanitarian crisis had been imposed on the population by the destruction of power plants, water supplies, bridges and schools; by restrictions imposed on the import of medical supplies and foodstuffs; and by the closing of borders.  Poverty in Gaza stood at 75 per cent, which was mainly attributable to Israel’s siege.  In short, the people of Gaza had been subjected to collective punishment in clear violation of article 33 of the Fourth Geneva Convention. 


In the West Bank and East Jerusalem, Israel continued to build a 700-kilometer Wall, of which 80 per cent was built or would be built in Palestinian territory, he continued.  The humanitarian impact of the Wall was severe, with Palestinians living in the so-called “closed zone” unable to freely access schools, hospitals and places of employment in the West Bank.  Many Palestinians had abandoned their lands, resulting in a new category of internally displaced persons.  In other countries the process would be described as ethnic cleansing, but political correctness forbade such language where Israel was concerned.  He also noted a 40 per cent increase in the number of checkpoints and roadblocks throughout the West Bank.  A serious humanitarian crisis prevailed in the West Bank, though not as extreme as in Gaza.


The humanitarian crisis was in large measure the result of termination of funding of the Palestinian Authority since Hamas was elected to office, he said.  In effect the Palestinian people had been subjected to economic sanctions —- the first time an occupied people had been so treated.  Israel violated international law as expounded by the Security Council and the International Court of Justice and went unpunished.  The Palestinian people were punished for having democratically elected a regime unacceptable to Israel, the United States and the European Union.  Sadly the United Nations must share some of the blame for the humanitarian crisis as it effectively condoned the taking of measures against the Palestinian people in its role as a member of the Quartet. 


Discussion


During the discussion that followed, Mr. DUGARD first addressed the question posed by the observer of Palestine, who asked how the role of the United Nations within the Quartet could be reconciled with its international commitments.  Mr. Dugard noted that the Quartet had in effect condoned the use of economic measures not against the Palestinian Authority but against the Palestinian people.  He accepted that individual States had the right to discontinue support for a particular Government, but found it difficult to accept that the United Nations as a Quartet member went along without following normal procedures when deciding to impose economic sanctions.  It would be helpful if the Security Council rather than the Quartet addressed that issue.


Asked by several delegations about the way forward, he repeatedly emphasized the need for the Security Council to reassert its role in addressing the Palestinian situation.  It was unfortunate that the Security Council had delegated all authority to deal with the Palestinian situation to the Quartet when there was growing concern about the Quartet’s impartiality in the dispute.  He believed that the Quartet was too influenced by certain powers and that the United Nations role had been undermined and minimized.  He did not think the Human Rights Council or the General Assembly could achieve much in that respect.  He appealed to members of the international community, acting through the General Assembly, to put pressure on the Security Council to assume its responsibility for finding a solution to the problem.


In response to questions about what might be an acceptable solution to the conflict, he recalled that his mandate concerned the respect for human rights.  His criticism of the Quartet stemmed from its failure to pay adequate attention to human rights concerns.  However, the goal should be the resumption of talks between the Palestinian people and the Israeli Government.  Every effort should be made to secure that, he said.  He agreed with the representative of the United States on a two-State solution to the conflict, but added that every effort should be made towards permanent status talks as soon as possible in order to take care of the welfare of the Palestinian people.  He expressed misgivings about the “Road Map”, which was solely within control of the Quartet, which had not proved to be an impartial body in dealing with situation.


Responding to a question posed by the representative of Finland on the functioning of the Temporary Interim Mechanism intended to facilitate assistance to the Palestinian people, he said it had been very helpful and was working very well.  Asked about what was needed to protect the right to health of the Palestinian people, he said it was essential to ensure that medical supplies were able to pass through Gaza crossings to reach hospitals.  He said that the discontinued funding to the Palestinian Authority had impacted upon health services, noting that several non-governmental organizations working in the health sector were not able to continue with projects with the Palestinian Authority because of the restrictions imposed.


Responding to a question from the representative of Lebanon, he said that actions taken by Israel could be considered systematic violations of human rights.


Turning to the intervention of the representative of Israel, who had criticized his report as one-sided, he said it was understood that his mandate was limited to investigate human rights violations by Israelis and not by Palestinians.  He agreed that it would be helpful if Corporal Gilad Shalit was released and hoped that Palestinian prisoners also would be released.  He did not believe the security risks cited by the Israeli justified the closure of the border to goods and persons.  He also expressed concern over the use of the terms “terror” and “terrorism” by both Israelis and Palestinians to describe the actions of the other.  He spoke as a South African, where Nelson Mandela was once referred to as a terrorist by former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher.   Israel itself had two former Prime Ministers who were considered as “terrorists” by some.  He urged both sides to discontinue the use of such language, which made it very difficult to negotiate with the other side.


Asked by the representative of Iran whether he would propose a change to his mandate, he said he did not think it would be helpful for the same person to investigate violations by Israelis and by Palestinians.  A second rapporteur would be needed to investigate violations by the Palestinian Authority.  In response to a follow-up point, he noted that a serious limitation on the effectiveness of his mandate was the failure of the Israeli Government to cooperate.  He was able to speak to the Palestinian Authority and Palestinians freely, but had difficulty speaking to Israeli Government officials.  He noted that when Israeli authorities accused him of being one-sided or biased, they had no one but themselves to blame.  He did greatly appreciate that no obstacles were placed on his visits to the region.

He noted that the upcoming visit of the High Commissioner for Human Rights to the Palestinian Territory was an important step and wished her great success in her mission.


Commenting generally on the dialogue in the Third Committee this afternoon and over past years, he regretted that it often became an opportunity for Israel-bashing.  The dispute should not be seen as one between Arab States and Israel, with the United States and the European Union also involved.  The issue was a matter of concern to all Member States.  He wondered what were the views of the great silent majority.  He praised Cuba for regularly raising its concerns despite the fact that it had no clear and demonstrable interest in the dispute and wished other States would also contribute in this manner.  The credibility of the whole human rights movement was at stake in the Palestinian Territory.


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For information media • not an official record