|Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York|
Sixty-fifth General Assembly
24th & 25th Meetings (AM & PM)
Unprecedented Pressures on Farmland — with 30 million Hectares Lost Annually — Poses
‘Direct Threat to the Right to Food of Rural Populations’, Third Committee Told
Rapporteur on Right to Food Leads Off Day-Long Discussion; Also Hears UN Experts
on Debt, Internally Displaced Persons, Human Rights Defenders, Freedom of Religion
The world was witnessing a situation in which pressures on land and water were increasing at “unprecedented speed,” with dramatic consequences for millions of farmers, fishermen and indigenous people and their right to food, the Third Committee (Social, Humanitarian, Cultural) was told today.
Reporting on an inquiry that he had been carrying out for the past two years, using questionnaires, consultations and workshops, the Special Rapporteur on the right to food, Olivier De Schutter, said, each year, up to 30 million hectares of farmland were lost to environmental degradation, conversion to industrial use or urbanization - a trend made worse by increased competition between food and energy crops and speculation on farmland by private investors.
The report he was presenting, then, examined what should be done in order to ensure that those pressures on land did not have a negative impact on the enjoyment of the right to food by those who depended upon the land for their livelihoods, he continued. Rural populations grew. The plots cultivated by smallholders were shrinking. Farmers were often relegated to less fertile soils. “This poses a direct threat to the right to food of rural populations,” he said.
Closely examining the situation over the past several months, he had presented a report to the Human Rights Council that contained 11 principles relevant for application to large-scale land investments. Based on existing human rights obligations, the principles were, in a sense, the best practices recommended to Member States, and he expressed hope that oversight bodies, such as the Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, could take inspiration from them to more closely monitor developments. He also noted his participation last week in the thirty-sixth annual session of the Committee of World Food Security in Rome – its first session since its reform in November 2009, following the need to improve global governance of food security after the global food price crisis — and said work had continued on the voluntary guidelines on land tenures.
Stating that “security of tenure” was key to protecting the rights of land users, he said, however, that it “should not necessarily take the form of titling schemes that transpose the Western concept of property rights in developing regions,” as, in the past, such schemes had frequently been captured by local elites or been unaffordable for the poorest. Instead, he argued that States should encourage communal ownership systems, strengthen customary land tenure systems and reinforce tenancy laws to improve the protection of land-users.
He added that land reform had often failed without rural development – such as well-resourced extension services and investments in the production process, including in storage facilities, communication routes and farmers’ cooperatives. “Agrarian reform only succeeds when it goes far enough in the support it provides to its beneficiaries,” he said.
During today’s session, the Committee heard from United Nations experts on foreign debt, internally displaced persons, human rights defenders, and freedom of religion or belief, with each having a question and answer session with delegates.
Cephas Lumina, Independent Expert on the effects of foreign debt and other related international financial obligations of States on the full enjoyment of all human rights, particularly economic, social and cultural rights, spoke critically of policy conditions, including privatization and liberalization of the trade and financial sectors, which are still being attached to loans and debt relief mechanisms. “It is important to underline that conditionality is largely ineffective and undermines country ownership as well as national policy space and the ability of governments to regulate for the benefit of vulnerable groups and in favour of their development agendas,” he said.
Walter Kälin, presenting his last report in his capacity as Representative of the Secretary-General on the Human Rights of Internally Displaced Persons, said the overall number of persons internally displaced by armed conflict and violence remained high, and that number displaced by natural disasters was ever increasing. The millions displaced in Haiti and Pakistan earlier this year were “only the most visible tip of the iceberg.” National, regional and international mechanisms would need to be strengthened to prevent forced displacements and to address underlying causes, and that called for more commitment and political will of the international community and affected States.
Margaret Sekaggya, Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders, spoke of violations committed by, and the responsibilities of, non-State actors such as armed groups and private corporations. Paramilitaries often tried to stigmatize the work of human rights defenders and legitimize campaigns of violence against them, she said. Of particular concern was the harassment, threatening and even rape of women human rights defenders. States had a responsibility, under human rights law, to, first, ensure defenders did not suffer from violations by non-State actors and, second, to provide defenders with an effective remedy to violations, including investigation and prosecution.
Heiner Bielefeldt, Special Rapporteur on freedom of religion or belief, reminded States that they must promote an atmosphere of tolerance for religious diversity. Demonization of religious minorities continued in many States, and incitement to religious hatred could lead to violence and human rights abuses, such as homicide or attacks on religious sites, he said. Any advocacy of national, racial or religious hatred constituting incitement to discrimination or violence was prohibited by law and States were thus obliged to take action. At the same time, limits on the freedom of expression deemed necessary to prohibit such incitement should be defined with utmost diligence, precision and precaution.
In other business, the Committee heard the introduction of a draft resolution on the rights of the child.
During the question and answer session with the Special Rapporteur on the right to food, the representatives of Cuba, Switzerland, the United States, the European Union, China, Food and Agriculture Organization, Maldives, Ethiopia and Botswana spoke.
Additionally, during the question answer question with the Independent expert on the effects of foreign debt the representative of Cuba spoke.
Questions and comments for the Representative of the Secretary-General on the Human Rights of Internally Displaced Persons were put by the representatives of Azerbaijan, Norway, Switzerland, Canada, European Union, Liechtenstein, United States, Armenia, Georgia and Austria.
The representative of Zimbabwe also made a statement.
Questions and comments for the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders were put by the representatives of Brazil, Switzerland, Armenia, European Union, Canada, Norway, United States, United Kingdom, Pakistan, South Africa, Iran
The Special Rapporteur on freedom of religion or belief took questions and comments from the representatives of Pakistan, Brazil, European Union, Switzerland, United States, Jordan, Canada, Denmark, China and Norway.
The Committee will reconvene at 10 a.m. Friday, 22 October to continue its discussion on human rights, and will hear from United Nations experts on the protection of the rights of all migrant workers and members of their families; adequate housing as a component of the right to an adequate standard of living; right to development; extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions, the independence of judges and lawyers, and the situation of human rights in Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.
The Third Committee (Social, Humanitarian and Culture) met today to continue its discussion on the promotion and protection of human rights. (For more information, please see Press Release GA/SHC/3984)
It had before it the Note by the Secretary-General transmitting the interim report of the Special Rapporteur on the right to food (document A/65/281). This report by Special Rapporteur Olivier De Schutter explores the threats posed by the increasing pressures on land and on three categories of land users: indigenous peoples, smallholders and special groups such as herders, pastoralists and fisherfolk. It explores how Member States and the international community could better respect, protect and fulfil the right to food by giving increased recognition to land as a human right. The report argues that, while security of tenure is indeed crucial, individual titling and the creation of a market for land rights may not be the most appropriate means to achieve it. Instead, the report suggests, the strengthening of customary land tenure systems and the reinforcement of tenancy laws could significantly improve the protection of land users. Drawing on the lessons learned from decades of agrarian reform, the report emphasizes the importance of land redistribution for the realization of the right to food. It also argues that development models that do not lead to evictions, disruptive shifts in land rights and increased land concentration should be prioritized.
The Committee also had before it the Note by the Secretary-General transmitting the report of the independent expert on the effects of foreign debt and other related international financial obligations of States on the full enjoyment of all human rights, particularly economic, social and cultural rights (document A/65/260 and A/65/260/Corr.1). The report, by independent expert Cephas Lumina explores the linkages between debt and trade. It argues that coherence in trade and finance policymaking can provide better sustainable development outcomes and contribute to a durable solution to the debt problems of developing countries and the realization of human rights, particularly economic, social and cultural rights and the right to development in those countries. It also briefly examines the impact of trade liberalization on debt relief and human rights; highlights some of the limitations of debt sustainability assessments under the joint International Monetary Fund/World Bank Debt Sustainability Framework, including lack of objectivity; and calls for a new debt sustainability framework incorporating sustainable development and human rights concerns. It also underscores the need for policy coherence in the areas of trade and finance, including debt.
The report concludes that: the Millennium Development Goal target of dealing comprehensively with the debt problems of developing countries has not been achieved in full; that market-oriented development strategies being imposed on developing countries by the international financial institutions are not helping those countries to achieve sustainable people-centred development; and that the reduction of poverty in developing countries requires not only debt relief and development assistance, but also changes to global trade rules so as to afford developing countries improved trade opportunities to fuel development and growth. The report’s recommendations include establishing an international agency under the auspices of United Nations to systemically address issues of coherence and consistency in multilateral rule-setting, creating an impartial and independent debt restructuring mechanism that mediates between debtors and creditors; and adopting a binding legal framework on responsible lending and borrowing elaborating legally recognized standards for responsible financing.
Also before the Committee was the Note by the Secretary-General transmitting the report on the Protection of and assistance to internally displaced persons (document A/65/282). This report is the last by the current Representative of the Secretary-General on the Human Rights of Internally Displaced Persons, Walter Kälin, whose mandate ends in October 2010. It outlines his major activities undertaken during the period from August 2009 to July 2010, as well as provides a thematic review of the responsibility of States to provide humanitarian assistance and of the rights of internally displaced persons to such assistance.
The report concludes that increasing constraints on humanitarian access have the effect of excluding internally displaced persons affected by conflict and disasters from assistance; administrative and technical barriers regularly impede the provision of humanitarian action; humanitarian actors find it increasingly difficult to defend the neutrality and independence that form the basis of their work as individual States and State coalitions seek to align humanitarian action with their own political and military agendas; and the increase in politically motivated attacks on humanitarian personnel have a profound impact on providing humanitarian assistance, with recipient rights-holders as the ultimate victims.
The Representative calls on all Member States to establish a rule-based framework to international humanitarian assistance, taking into account the Guiding Principles on Internal Displacement, as well as the Guidelines for the Domestic Facilitation and Regulation of International Disaster Relief and Initial Recovery Assistance. He also calls on humanitarian organizations and agencies to resist accepting conditions that would compromise the neutrality and independence of their operations, and reinforce their efforts to ensure that recipient rights-holders are fully involved in the planning, implementation and evaluation of humanitarian assistance.
The Note by the Secretary-General transmitting the report of the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders (document A/65/223), submitted by the Special Rapporteur, Margaret Sekaggya, focuses on her concern regarding the continued targeting and violations against human rights defenders by non-State actors and their consequences for the full enjoyment of rights by defenders. It recalls that the Declaration on the Right and Responsibility of Individuals, Groups and Organs of Society to Promote and Protect Universally Recognized Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms is addressed not only to States and human rights defenders, but to all individuals, groups and organs of society. It identifies armed groups, private corporations, individuals and the media, as the categories of non State actors most regularly accused of violating the rights of defenders, highlighting the types of violations they commit, as well as the scope of their responsibilities, including the corporate responsibility to respect human rights.
The report also surveys States’ obligations under international law with respect to human rights violations against defenders by non-State actors. The Special Rapporteur argues that a State’s duties to respect and protect human rights include a duty to protect defenders against human rights violations by third parties. State responsibility can, therefore, be engaged for violations by non-State actors in specific situations. Further, a State’s obligation to provide victims of human rights violations with an effective remedy is also reaffirmed. The report concludes with numerous recommendations to States, non-State actors, and national and transnational corporations, as well as national human rights institutions, the International Criminal Court, human rights defenders, and the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, regarding their obligations and responsibilities towards promoting the rights of human rights defenders.
Finally, the Committee had before it the Note by the Secretary-General transmitting the report on elimination of all forms of religious intolerance (document A/65/207). This interim report by the Special Rapporteur on freedom of religion or belief, Asma Jahangir, who held the mandate until August this year, urges States to step up their efforts to protect and promote freedom of thought, conscience and religion or belief, and illustrates some issues of concern and provides examples from her mandate practice over the past six years. With regard to adequate and effective guarantees of freedom of thought, conscience, religion and belief for all without distinction, she notes with regret and concern that, in recent years, some States have adopted provisions that are openly discriminatory against religious minorities, for example, passing laws that limit citizenship or public posts only to those who adhere to the State or a particular religion, amending the national Constitution to ban the construction of minarets, and violating the right to replace one’s current religion with another or adopt atheistic views.
She also discusses minorities’ deprivation of the right to life, liberty or security of person because of religion or belief and cases of torture and arbitrary arrest or detention; practices that discriminate against women, such as female genital mutilation, infanticide and honour killings; and non-discrimination, inter alia regarding access to education, medical care, employment, humanitarian assistance or social benefits, including the question of prohibiting the wearing of conspicuous religious symbols in public schools. Additionally, the report addresses, among others: registration practices that do not limit the right of persons to manifest their religion; access to official documents and information on religious affiliation; the right to worship, assemble or teach in connection with a religion or belief; respect for religious places, sites, shrines and symbols; and freedom to establish religious, charitable or humanitarian institutions
The Special Rapporteur concludes that religious issues are particularly sensitive and that States play a very delicate role in promoting freedom of religion or belief, as well as in protecting people from abuse in the name of religion or belief. All human rights violations must be adequately addressed, regardless of the religious affiliation of the perpetrator or the victim. Numerous steps need to be taken to protect and promote freedom of conscience, thought, religion or belief, including the need for the mandate to continue highlighting discriminatory practices that women have had and continue to suffer, sometimes in the name of religion or belief.
Statement by the Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food
OLIVIER DE SCHUTTER, Special Rapporteur on the right to food, presented the main conclusions of the inquiry he began two years ago into the relationship between security of land tenure and access to land, and the right to adequate food. They were based on a questionnaire sent out to States about the measures they had adopted to ensure equitable access to land, as well as 115 communications concerning access to land that had been addressed to the Special Rapporteur between 2003 and 2009. The overall picture that emerged was impressive. “What we are witnessing is a situation in which pressures on land and water are increasing at an unprecedented speed,” he said.
Every year, up to 30 million hectares of farmland was lost to environmental degradation, conversion to industrial use or urbanization, he added. Exacerbating that trend had been increased competition between food and energy crops and, especially in the last couple of years, speculation on farmland by private investors. For some populations, particularly forest-dwellers, certain measures adopted to mitigate climate change might also affect access to land. “The consequences for millions of farmers, fishermen and indigenous people are in some cases dramatic,” he said.
He recalled a set of 11 principles based on human rights and relevant for large-scale investments in land, which he presented to the Human Rights Council in March 2010. They were based on existing human rights obligations; in a sense a set of best practices recommended to States wishing to better comply with their human rights obligations. It was hoped that human rights monitoring bodies, particularly the Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, would seek inspiration from them and more closely monitor what was currently developing.
The report before the Committee examined what should be done to ensure that pressures on land did not have negative impacts on the enjoyment of the right to food, he said. Rural populations grew, plots cultivated by small holders shrank, and farmers were regulated to less fertile soil – This poses a direct threat to the right of food of rural populations,” he said. Security of tenure was key to protecting the right of land users, “but such security should not necessarily take the form of titling schemes that transpose the Western concept of property rights in developing regions.” Such schemes had often been captured by local elites; moreover, sometimes access titling has been unaffordable for the poorest, or confirmed existing inequalities. Where titling led to a market for land rights, the results in time led to land being appropriated not by those who needed it most or could use it productively, but who could afford to buy it. Without sufficient support, small producers risked losing their land, if they used that land as collateral to obtain credit and then became heavily indebted.
States should encourage communal ownership systems, strengthen customary land tenure systems, and reinforce tenancy laws to improve the protection of land-users, he said. There had been growing experience with the use of low-cost, accessible tools for recording local land rights, or at least land transactions, to ensure security of tenure through recognition of use rights, rather than full ownership. One example was the “Plan Foncier Rural” implemented in Benin and tested in Burkina Faso, and the $1 registration process in some Ethiopians states. To ensure the protection of women and outsiders, such as pastoralists, it was important to carefully monitor what has been done at the decentralized level. Laws and social customs that provided for land to be passed, upon the death of a husband, to his sons and not his widow were a flagrant violation of women’s rights and should not be allowed. In the presence of a sometimes highly unequal distribution of rural land, strengthening the security of tenure might be insufficient and, therefore, land redistribution might be required.
More equitable land distribution might contribute to economic growth, empowerment of women and reduction of rural poverty, Mr. De Schutter said. Food security would be improved, as food would be more easily and cheaply available, providing a buffer against external shocks and providing an almost complete buffer against malnutrition. But some conditions had to be in place. It was not sufficient just to redistribute land. Well-resourced extension services and investments were equally vital. “Land reform without rural development has often failed in the past; agrarian reform only succeeds when it goes far enough in the support it provides to its beneficiaries.”
He closed by drawing attention to the meeting in Rome last week of the committee of World Food Security, which he had attended and where the question of the protection of the rights of land users had been an important part of the discussion. The Committee had encouraged continuation of the inclusive process of development of Voluntary Guidelines on the Responsible Governance of Tenure of Land and other Natural Resources.
Question and Answer Session
The Special Rapporteur then fielded questions from nine representatives, who spoke consecutively. He clustered a number of his responses to their questions.
The Special Rapporteur, first, stated that the impact of climate change on the ability to feed ourselves in the future was an essential part to his work, and that his next report would discuss this topic in great length. He noted that, by 2020, the yield of food in certain areas of Africa would decrease by 50 percent because of changes in temperature, not even considering El Nino and other weather patterns that were becoming increasingly unpredictable and difficult to cope with. He answered the Maldives’, as well as the European Union’s, questions about the threat of climate on food policies by saying that the international community could help with a massive transfer of technology to allow agriculture to develop in a sustainable way. Agriculture was responsible for 33 per cent of greenhouse gas (and 14 per cent if they only looked at methane and nitrous oxide), so they needed to support developing countries in that regard.
Regarding questions on recommended measures to protect the security of tenure and what steps could be taken to better protect the right to land for those who depended on it for their livelihood, an issue raised by Switzerland, he stated that he put hope in the voluntary guidelines being developed by the Committee on World Food Security which were inclusive of not just the North and South, but of international agencies, civil society and farmer’s organizations. If a consensus could emerge among those groups regarding the voluntary guidelines, then that would be difficult to ignore, because of the groups’ legitimacy, he stated.
Answering the question of the European Union about safeguards against abuses resulting from customary forms of tenure, he said there was a risk that outsiders to the community would be marginalized if the allocation of land rights was left to the local chiefs, or customary forms of decision-making at the local level, and that States had to control what was done at the local level and establish constitutional safeguards to prevent abuse. Some countries, such as Madagascar, had showed that it was possible to develop a decentralized approach to rights, but with central control.
Disagreeing with the United States over whether the right to food was subject to realization, he said there were aspects of the right to food that were immediate – for example, to respect the right to food by not depriving existing access. With regard to the question about whether land redistribution could exacerbate poverty and food shortages, he said “absolutely.” In his report he described many problems with land redistribution schemes that were not well thought out, and had failed in Africa or Latin America. However, there had also been success in Asia, because reform had not just been redistribution, but supporting small farmers, developing their capacity, permitting access to credits and markets and promoting rural development schemes. All conditions of agricultural reform had to be present, or the result could be a disaster/
Concerning the European Union’s question about which measures should be a priority in moving towards the Millennium Development Goals, the answer was to move from a situation where there was a vicious circle between the rural and urban populations to a “virtuous circle”. Farmers who were not successfully farming anymore were migrating to cities and living in slums, forming the urban poor. Thus, promoting cheap food did not reward producers, because it made farming unviable for small-scale producers. It was necessary to increase support to small-scale farmers to stem the migration from rural to urban areas and to make small-scale farming viable and productive. Once achieved, it would be easier to deal with policies for the urban poor, and the interests of farmers would not be in opposition to the urban population. The exclusive focus on producing more food to make it cheap for the urban population had shown its limitations.
Responding to the Food and Agriculture Organization’s (FAO) question about the 11 principles concerning the right to food that he had recommended, he said that the principles he had outlined were based on human rights, and not voluntary or best practices. They followed from a correct understanding of human rights obligations already binding States through the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which made reference to food. States must be monitored regarding how they managed the large-scale investment in land. The principles indicated how States should proceed.
Finally, responding to China on how Governments could strike a balance between developing their economies by using land to build infrastructures, versus protecting an amount of arable land to ensure the right to food, he said that he understood Governments’ need to develop infrastructure, communication, cities and industrialization to achieve development, while also respecting the right to land. It was not possible to provide a simple answer to this delicate question. However, where farmers were not provided access to land, they should be compensated and given land of equal value so they can continue to farm. Displacement by large-scale development should also have “prior and informed consent.” He noted that he believed such standards should be extended beyond indigenous people to all communities that depended on the land for their livelihoods, as they had no other asset or social safety net. Only with prior and informed consent should displacement be allowed, as he had outlined in the 11 principles.
Statement by the Independent Expert on the Effects of Foreign Debt
The Committee then heard a statement by CEPHAS LUMINA, Independent Expert on the effects of foreign debt and other related international financial obligations of States on the full enjoyment of all human rights, particularly economic, social and cultural rights, in which he made some remarks concerning debt relief and progress towards achieving the Millennium Development Goals. Citing the Millennium Development Goals Gap Task Force Report 2008, he said that the target for dealing comprehensively with the debt problems of developing countries had not been achieved in full. It was, therefore, vital that wealthy countries deliver more effective aid, more sustainable debt relief, and commit to a fairer global trading system. Developed countries also needed to fully deliver on their commitments to cancel debts, extend debt relief to other poor countries, and take steps to help countries avoid accumulating new unsustainable debts. Privatization and trade liberalization also needed to be rethought, while developing countries should be more accountable to their citizens and ensure transparency when assuming and managing international financial obligations.
Referring to the Bretton Woods institutions, he said policy conditions, including privatization and liberalization of the trade and financial sectors were still being attached to loans and debt relief mechanisms. Privatization of public utilities, deregulation, removal of subsidies, and promotion of exports and foreign investment were typically required. The adverse impact on basic social services, and their contribution to poverty, was well-known; “however, it is important to underline that conditionality is largely ineffective and undermines country ownership as well as national policy space and the ability of governments to regulate for the benefit of vulnerable groups and in favour of their development agendas.” Trade liberalization ran against the World Trade Organization’s goals of raising living standards and safeguarding sustainable development; it also negatively impacted on the realization of human rights. In the opinion of the Independent Expert, “the provision of debt relief and new loans should not be made conditional on privatization, investment deregulation and trade liberalization, all of which have proved ineffective and harmful to heavily indebted poor countries.” He supported, however, conditions to ensure citizen participation in poverty reduction strategies, as well as transparency and accountability in the use and management of loans or funds freed up by debt relief.
The World Bank/International Monetary Fund joint Debt Sustainability Framework for Low-Income Countries was a problematic aspect of multilateral debt relief initiatives, he said. Assessments under the Framework focused almost exclusively on the capacity of a country to service its debts in terms of export earnings and government revenues, without due regard to other demands on those resources. Political and institutional characteristics which affected the capacity to repay debt were also not taken into consideration. He supported proposals by debt relief campaigners and others to redefine the concept of debt sustainability in a way that would take human development imperatives into account.
Primacy should also be given to the achievement of national development goals and human rights, rather than an improvement of debt repayment, he said. Recalling that sustainability assessments were carried out by the International Monetary Fund and World Bank, which were both creditors, he said that such assessments should be conducted by an impartial and independent panel of experts appointed by both creditors and debtors; to that end, he called on Member States to consider the establishment of an independent “sovereign debt workout mechanism” under the auspices of the United Nations.
Turning to global trade, Mr. Lumina said trade restrictions, agricultural subsidies and other trade-distorting impediments should be removed. Subsidies by developed countries to their own agricultural sectors were undermining prices and income opportunities for farmers in developing countries, threatening their right to an adequate standard of living. Moreover, conditions set by developed countries requiring developing countries to remove their agricultural subsidies pointed to a lack of consistency in global economic governance. Agreement on the Doha Round as soon as possible was critical. Global economic policy-making needed to be coherent; trade, debt and finance policies could not be considered in isolation. Moreover, such policy-making had to be consistent with the realization of human rights, particularly economic, social and cultural rights and the right to development.
Question and Answer Session
Responding to the representative of Cuba, the only delegation to speak during the question and answer period, Mr. Lumina said that the detrimental effects of conditionality on the development prospects of low-income countries had been shown in a number of studies. Policy conditions denied those countries the opportunity to pursue development agendas that they had designed themselves according to their national priorities. Moreover, the demands of international institutions might not always be in the best interests of development, with privatization as an example. If one were to give a scale of success for privatization, “I think it would be 2 out of 10”. When privatization was imposed, other conditions were imposed, as well, and persons with no income would find themselves paying for services that had previously been free.
Representative on Human Rights of Internally Displaced Persons
WALTER KÄLIN, Representative of the Secretary-General on the Human Rights of Internally Displaced Persons, presenting his last report to the General Assembly in this capacity, said that the last years had been marked by important advancements which had firmly established the human rights of internally displaced persons. Among others, the Guiding Principles on Internal Displacement had been recognized by the international community as an important international framework for the protection of internally displaced persons, and many countries had already either adopted or were in the process of developing national legislative frameworks, programmes and policies that incorporated or referred to the Guiding Principles. Last year saw the adoption of the African Union Convention on the Protection and Assistance of Internally Displaced Persons in Africa, the first legally binding regional instrument of its kind. There had also been normative and conceptual advancements regarding types of internal displacement, such as, due to natural disasters and climate change, on the process for achieving solutions. Those achievements could not be underestimated, as they helped to ground policies and programmes in a set of common standards based on a human rights framework.
At the same time, the overall number of persons internally displaced by armed conflict and violence remained unacceptably high, affecting over 27 million people, he said. The number of persons displaced by natural disasters was ever increasing, with the millions displaced in Haiti and Pakistan earlier this year was “only the most visible tip of the iceberg.” There was a great need to strengthen national, regional and international mechanisms to prevent forced displacements, as well as address the underlying causes, which would require more commitment of the international community and political will on the part of affected States. Challenges during displacement were no less, as he had been repeatedly reminded when meeting with internally displaced persons. “For them, life is a daily struggle to provide for their families and secure a future, after they have lost everything.” Their lives and welfare were often still in grave danger, for reasons that included the lack of access to timely humanitarian assistance.
In his report, he said, he had elected to examine the duty of the State to provide humanitarian assistance and the corresponding rights of internally displaced persons, as ensuring humanitarian assistance was one of the key challenges that he identified in the area of internal displacement. “The Guiding Principles, which are based on and reflect international human rights and humanitarian law, clearly stipulate that the primary responsibility to provide humanitarian assistance to internally displaced persons lies with States,” he said, noting that internally displaced persons were entitled to such rights as life, food, education, water and housing.
National authorities were obligated to discharge these rights in good faith, but, in practice, many factors impeded access to humanitarian assistance, including armed conflict and violence, he added. Because humanitarian workers often had to rely on international military actors to secure corridors and convoys, there was a risk that their profile of impartiality would be undermined. The general state of insecurity in weak States and the erosion of the neutral character of humanitarian actors through such associations were two factors that were blamed for the trend of increased violence against humanitarian workers. Because of those challenges, he called on all States to shape a rule-based framework on international humanitarian assistance that took into account the Guiding Principles and encouraged the establishment of national humanitarian coordination structures.
He also outlined his country-specific activities of the past 12 months. He had just returned from Haiti, where an estimated 1.3 million people were still living in camps or settlements, nine months after the earthquake in January 2010 – a situation which needed to be addresses, he said. He called on the Government of Haiti to stand up for the principle of balancing the right to property against the economic and social rights of the earthquake victims, to ensure that there were no forced evictions without due process and to increase the presence of both the police and the United Nations Stabilization Mission in Haiti (MINUSTAH) to combat violence, particularly against women and children. He also called on development donors to support neighbourhood reconstruction projects and humanitarian donors to continue funding assistance.
Additionally, he had visited Iraq, where an estimated 1.55 million persons remained displaced since 2006. While encouraged by achievements, such as the adoption in 2008 of a national policy on displacement, he urged the Government, in coordination with the international community to address the problem of settlements in the outskirts of Baghdad in dire and hazardous living conditions. He had also undertaken a follow-up visit to Georgia, stating that the Government had made progress in the implementation of the Action Plan for internally displaced persons and invested in collective centres and housing for them, but that challenges remained. Regarding Abkhazia, he noted that the main obstacles concerning return prospects of those displaced from that region remained political.
He concluded his presentation by welcoming the new mandate holder, Chaloka Beyani, whose experience included drafting and participating in the negotiations of the African Union Convention on the Protection and Assistance to Internally Displaced Persons in Africa.
Question and Answer Session
MR. KALIN then responded to questions and comments from ten representatives, including those of Azerbaijan and Armenia who referred to Nagorno-Karabakh. The guiding principles were very clear, he said. Internally displaced persons had the right to choose whether to voluntarily return or to integrate into the place where they were. But conditions for return had to exist, and they did not exist in the context under discussion. Progress needed to be made in peace talks, with the rights of internally displaced persons addressed, including their right of return.
On the main challenges and priorities faced by the mandate, which were raised by the representatives of Norway and Switzerland, he said that he had set those out in his last report to the Human Rights Council in March 2010. Without repeating them all, he said the goal of the mandate should be to ensure that all internally displaced persons enjoyed their human rights to the full. A strong normative framework was needed, but strengthening that framework would be a challenge. States that had yet to do so were urged to adopt laws, policies and strategies in line with guiding principles. There was more room for action by regional organizations, following on the example set by the African Union.
In order for a strong normative framework to be implemented, there needed to be a political will to protect the human rights of internally displaced persons, he said. Much goodwill had been seen, but in too many situations internally displaced persons had been neglected and a climate of impunity existed. He had had good access to many countries, but not all, and access to those States with serious situations should be given to the new mandate holder. The capacity for implementation was lacking at many levels in many countries and the mandate holder could only contribute to capacity-building to a limited extent. One challenge would be strengthening the capacity of the United Nations system to do more to strengthen the capacity of other levels; doing so would require donor support.
Turning to a question from the representative of Canada regarding Sudan, he said he had been working on both southern Sudan, after the peace agreement there, and on Darfur, as Rapporteur of the group of mandate holders entrusted by the Human Rights Council to enter into a dialogue with Sudan. While a visit to Darfur had been agreed, precise dates had not, and it was hoped the new mandate holder would be able to visit. The situation in southern Sudan was very much a matter of concern. The dangers there included large-scale displacement. “We have to be ready to prevent that,” he said.
To the representative of the European Union, he said that issues relating to housing, land rights and property were an underlying cause of displacement, and a key obstacle to durable solutions. More needed to be done in the area of humanitarian access, and it was encouraging to see the Red Cross and Red Crescent develop a set of standards on humanitarian access. Governments had to look at their own laws that restrict humanitarian access, which many Security Council resolutions now called for. He drew attention to “gaps” between the humanitarian and recovery phases of crises; “way too often” the former was in place but the latter failed to follow suit. That was apparent in Haiti. It was an issue linked to funding mechanisms and different logistics that needed to be addressed.
In reply to a question from the representative of the United States, who asked him if it was possible to quantify shrinking humanitarian access, he said that the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs was carrying out a project on humanitarian access that was addressing that matter. One measure was the number of kidnapping and killings of humanitarian workers, which had been increasing. “The trend is going in the wrong direction, not the right direction,” he said. Ways needed to be found to ensure that humanitarian actors were seen as neutral and impartial, even in cases where peacekeeping was robust. A certain distance needed to be maintained between peacekeeping and humanitarian workers.
The Chair then gave the floor to the representative of Zimbabwe to make a statement, after he explained that the right of reply was not allowed by the rules during an interactive dialogue. The representative said that land reform in her country had been carried out in accordance with its laws. As far as Zimbabweans were concerned, land reform was necessary and long overdue. It had been a success, contrary to what other Member States in the room believed. Food insecurity in Zimbabwe a few years ago had been the result of a host of issues, including economic sanctions that had been unfairly imposed. The situation in Zimbabwe should be assessed with information that was accurate.
Introduction of Draft Resolution
The representative of Uruguay, on behalf of the Group of Latin American and Caribbean Countries and the European Union, introduced a draft resolution on the Rights of the Child (document A/C.3/65/L.21). This was an omnibus resolution that emphasizes the challenges faced in promoting and protecting the rights of the child, including discrimination, poverty, the right to food, education and health care, and the right to a life free of violence. The needs of specific groups of children are addressed, including those of children in situations of armed conflict. The implementation of the rights of children during early childhood is highlighted. The draft resolution focuses on national policies essential to protect and promote the rights of children. Similar resolutions in the past have enjoyed broad support; it was hoped that this would again be the case.
The Chairman then announced that action on the draft resolution entitled Cooperatives in social development (A/C.3/65/L.10/Rev.1), scheduled for today, was being postponed to a future date.
Special Rapporteur on Situation of Human Rights Defenders
MARGARET SEKAGGYA, Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders, noting that she had travelled extensively and participated in numerous meetings concerning human rights defenders, presented her report on the responsibility of non-State actors for human rights violations against defenders. The report focused on such non-State actors as armed groups, private corporations, individuals and media and highlighted the types of violations they committed, as well as their responsibilities. Regarding armed groups, paramilitaries often attempted to stigmatize the work of human rights defenders and legitimize campaigns of violence against them, so it was vital that Governments publicly reaffirm the importance of their work. Of particular concern was the harassment, threatening and even rape of women human rights defenders. Defenders were also victims of armed groups in time of peace, as they advocated land rights or denounced the granting of mining concessions.
She also expressed concern about attacks by non-State armed groups that were instigated by States, which provided weapons and logistical support or condoned their actions. Additionally, private corporations were responsible for violations against human rights defenders working on such topics as the exploitation of natural resources and the rights of indigenous peoples. The media was also involved in violations, subjecting human rights defenders to denigration campaigns in the press and portraying them as “troublemakers.”
Non-State actors could be held accountable for violations of the rights of defenders when such acts amounted to offences or crimes under national law, she said. At the same time, the State had a responsibility, under human rights law, to, first, ensure defenders did not suffer from violations by non-State actors and, second, to provide defenders with an effective remedy to violations, including investigation and prosecution. States should prevent such violations of the rights of defenders by taking legal, judicial, administrative and other measures. One of the major concerns raised by defenders was the question of impunity and complaints that violations of their rights were not investigated, or dismissed.
Ms. Sekaggya listed numerous recommendations in her report. First, all non-State actors should respect the rights of human rights defenders in accordance with the Declaration on human rights defenders. Second, national and transnational corporations should involve human rights defenders when carrying out country assessments and develop policies, including monitoring and accountability, in cooperation with defenders. Third, States should incorporate the Declaration on human rights defenders into domestic law and implement measures of protection granted by international and regional human rights mechanisms. Fourth, national human rights institutions should investigate complaints about human rights violations committed by non-State actors, including companies.
She concluded by saying that she remained concerned about the alleged unwillingness of certain States to investigate violations against defenders committed by third parties, and urged States to protect human rights defenders effectively. She also highlighted the initiative of the High Commissioner for Human Rights to focus the next Human Rights Day, 10 December 2010, on human rights defenders who worked to end discrimination.
Question and Answer Session
Ms. SEKAGGYA took questions and heard comments from 11 representatives, many of whom inquired about the responsibility of non-State actors. Their responsibility, she said by way of reply, did not eliminate the responsibility of States, which had primary responsibility for due diligence. Referring delegations to her report, she noted how it contained measures that States could take to protect human rights defenders. In the event of violations, investigations had to be carried out; legal, judicial or administrative measures taken; and remedies and reparations provided. The extent of such measures depended on national laws that had to comply with international standards.
Responding to the representative of the European Union on the question of engaging with non-State actors, she said that human rights defenders should be consulted at the initiation of investments or projects. They should participate in impact assessments, the design of the whole project, and establishing what the consequences of a project could be. If they were part of the implementation of an investment or project, they could be consulted if and when violations occur, and they could understand the measures to be taken by the State.
United Nations peacekeeping played a major role in the protection of human rights defenders, she said. Some operations even had protection desks. That helped to ensure that non-State actors did not exceed what was expected in the international arena. Violations were documented, protection was offered, and efforts made to ensure that non-State actors did not mete out violence on human rights defenders.
Women human rights defenders had been much affected, she said. They had been most affected in areas of conflict. They had been suffering sexual abuse and they needed protection, so that they could do their work. Without protection, violations would go unabated; that had been seen in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, where very grave cases had occurred.
The Special Rapporteur concluded by reminding delegations that the report was limited to analysing issues affecting human rights defenders; it also made recommendations that would enable countries to protect
Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Religion
HEINER BIELEFELDT, Special Rapporteur on freedom of religion or belief, said the latest thematic report (A/65/207) provided an overview of the key issues related to the implementation of freedom of thought, conscience and religion or belief. Reference in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights to the “inherent dignity” of all human beings was neither an ascribed societal status, nor a privilege granted by Governments. Rather, it was connected with every person’s “equal and inalienable rights”. It was a concept that resonated strongly in religious or philosophical traditions, across regions and cultures. Human dignity, while providing the normative basis for human rights in general, at the same time formed a cornerstone of different religious and philosophical traditions, he said.
That, in turn, enhanced the prospects of broad, lasting promotion and protection of human rights, he said. The freedom of religion or belief had a broad scope of application, protecting theistic, non-theistic and atheistic beliefs, as well as the right not to profess any religion or belief. Unfortunately, in some countries, recognition of religious practice was limited to a list of religions, with small communities, such as Bahai’is and Ahmadis, stigmatized as “cults”. Those converting to another religion or belief -– or wishing to do so -- were sometimes exposed to criminal prosecution. He emphasized that the freedoms covered by his mandate included the freedom to change one’s religion or belief.
Moreover, as a human right, freedom of religion or belief could not depend on registration of religious groups by the State, he said. Making such registration required would contravene the essence of the freedom. In many countries, however, such requirements were used to control or restrict the exercise of the freedom. Describing two forms of discrimination in the context of freedom of religion or belief, he said religious minorities in many countries faced obstacles in the education system, labour market, when accessing public health services, or building places of worship. Gender discrimination was also at play. Women in discriminated communities often suffered from gender discrimination, while religious traditions sometimes appeared to justify, or even call for, discrimination against women.
Gender discrimination also followed from religious traditions that were at times invoked to deny or dilute the equality in rights of men and women, he said. That issue was at the centre of heated controversies within religious communities, with many members claiming that traditional justifications of gender discrimination stemmed from cultural rather than religious contexts. “Whatever the justification, all practices that are contrary to women’s rights should be condemned and combated,” he emphasized. He called for careful analysis on the issue of inter-religious marriages, quoting his predecessor in saying “it can no longer be taboo to demand that women’s rights take priority over intolerant beliefs that are used to justify gender discrimination.”
Reminding States that they were obliged to both respect the freedom of religion or belief and actively protect it from undue third-party interference, he said they must also promote an atmosphere of tolerance for religious diversity. Demonization of religious minorities continued in many States, and incitement to religious hatred could lead to violence and human rights abuses, such as homicide or attacks on religious sites. Any advocacy of national, racial or religious hatred constituting incitement to discrimination or violence was prohibited by law and States were thus obliged to take action. At the same time, limits on the freedom of expression deemed necessary to prohibit such incitement should be defined with utmost diligence, precision and precaution. He concluded by reminding delegates that the freedom of religion or belief was vital for building a holistic system for human rights protection, based on due respect for the inherent dignity of all persons.
Question and Answer Session
The Special Rapporteur on freedom of religion or belief fielded questions from ten representatives, grouping the answers into themes.
Regarding questions about the failure of multiculturalism, he responded by saying “no,” that multiculturalism could not possibly have failed. Some politicians said it should be abandoned, but multiculturalism was not just a reality, but a natural outcome of a human rights approach to building society. If societies were built on freedoms, they would naturally become pluralistic, and multiculturalism was an appreciation of that fact. Of course, multiculturalism was a concept that needed to be clarified, but he would never abandon it.
Concerning the need for respect, he said that “respect” was a key term that should be applied in a broad way, highlighting both respect between groups and within groups. Society should become aware of the real diversity among human beings, who were the ultimate rights holders, and should respect diverse opinions and beliefs.
As to the relationship between freedom of religion and freedom of expression, he said that it was a complex issue that deserved very careful analysis, but they were universal human rights and had a lot of commonalities. They were both rights of intellectual freedom, guaranteeing possibilities of the exchange of ideas, and crucial for the intellectual development of individuals and societies. Of course, that raised the question of the limits to freedom of expression. Article 20 of International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights played a big role, because it clarified that freedom of expression in the form of hate speech that incited hostility, frustration and violence could not be under human rights. This was a limit that was drawn, and the challenge was how to work the issue out in a precise and cautious manner.
Regarding the concept of defamation, he shared the view that it must be replaced and moved away from. He noted that the Special Rapporteur on all forms of discrimination expressed the opinion that the concept should be abandoned, because it was the source of a lot of confusion. There was no denying that concerns existed that must be taken up, but the right way of channelling them would be to use the concept of incitement to hatred in Article 20 and, then, to see where the limits were.
With regard to women’s rights, he sketched out three elements of his strategy: identify problems of women’s rights in the context of women, studying, for example, the report of the Special Rapporteur on violence against women; determine a clear normative stance, as various treaty bodies, including the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women and the Human Rights Committee had pointed out that invocation of culture or religion cannot justify violations of women’s rights; become aware of the potential changes in religious traditions, which had changed and would change over time regarding gender practices. He did not claim that anyone could predict outcomes, but what was important was to give dissenting voices their appropriate share of public attention and, then, to see what happened.
As to the question of freedom of religion including cults, he reiterated that his two predecessors had repeatedly pointed out that it was not the business of the State to operate as the guardian of people’s consciences. Understanding of freedom of religion must be broad. The State was in charge of protecting the population against harms, but that was something that fell under the limitation clauses, Article 18, and should be applied with the utmost caution.
Concerning inter-religious dialogue, he said that he shared an appreciation for it, and felt it was important for inter-religious dialogue to be inclusive in order to reflect real pluralism in a country. It should be more than just an exchange of traditionally dominant groups, but should give a chance to minorities and dissenting voices, in order to reflect the diversity as it existed in a country. For dialogue projects to be productive, they had to have a broad understanding of the subjects. He noted that it was also good to shift the topics discussed and not to just focus on religions issues, but on, for example, common political projects. It was also important to experience complex identities, and the religious part of identity might be important, but people also cherished other parts of their identity or other concerns. By shifting the topic, it was possible for people to get a sense of diversity as well as commonality, which could be fruitful.
Regarding an early warning mechanism, he discussed what could be done in the long-term to prevent atrocities and violence. It was important to combine early warning with early action; one way of doing that would be through human rights defenders, as the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders had discussed. Empowerment was at the heart of human rights, especially of those in vulnerable situations. Additionally, education was important for inter-religious dialogue, because it not only provided knowledge or information about religion, but included components of face-to-face action, through training, which was as important.
Finally, with regard to anti-discrimination legislation, he said it was important and should cover not just the public sphere, but the societal sphere at large, as also mentioned by the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders. It was important to combine anti-discrimination legislation with efficient monitoring. He noted that the Uganda Commission for Human Rights was a good example of efficient monitoring.
* *** *For information media • not an official record