29 October 2013
General Assembly
GA/SHC/4080

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

Sixty-eighth General Assembly

Third Committee

31st & 32nd Meetings (AM & PM)


Progress Cannot Be Hostage to Favoured Agendas, General Assembly President Says

 

as Third Committee Continues Discussion on Human Rights

 


“The Third Committee [Social, Humanitarian and Cultural] does not function in a vacuum,” the President of the General Assembly said today, emphasizing that the issues on agendas of the Main Committees were all inter-related.


But that did not grant licence to hold the Committee’s progress hostage to any one set of considerations, Assembly President John Ashe ( Antigua and Barbuda) said upon his first appearance before the Committee.


He began his remarks by reminding members that the Committee’s mandate derived from United Nations Charter principles reaffirming faith in fundamental human rights, the dignity and worth of the human person, and the equal rights of men and women.  In everyday terms, that meant a concern for basic values.  For example, poverty must not prevent anyone from enjoying his or her basic human rights, and people must feel secure and protected within society.


Highlighting several important areas of consideration that would have a direct bearing on the Committee’s work, he noted that negotiations aimed at strengthening the United Nations human rights treaty body system were set to resume shortly.  That important process was necessary to ensure that the system functioned effectively, and to uphold international human rights norms and standards.


Also addressing the Committee were two experts on the human rights situation in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea. Michael Kirby, Chair of the Commission of Inquiry for that country, said he had conducted public hearings involving victims of and witnesses to human rights violations, in Seoul, Tokyo and London.  He had heard from ordinary people who had faced torture and imprisonment for watching foreign soap operas, or for holding their religious beliefs.  One repatriated woman had recounted how she had been forced to drown her baby in a bucket because the child had a foreign father, he said, adding that those who had considered racial purity an evil notion of the past “need to think again”.


Marzuki Darusman, Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, stressed in a statement read out on his behalf that there had been no overall improvement in the dire situation of human rights in the country since his last report.  He continued to receive reports of arbitrary detention, torture and inhumane treatment in prison camps, as well as enforced disappearances.


The representative of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea reiterated his Government’s rejection of the Special Rapporteur and of the Commission of Inquiry mandate, describing them as the result of “political plots, manipulations and fabrications” against his country.  Similarly, the report was a product of hostile politicization and double standards.


Five other experts addressed the Committee:  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; the Special Rapporteur on freedom of religion or belief; the Special Adviser of the Secretary-General for Myanmar; the Special Rapporteur on the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association; and the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Palestinian territories occupied since 1967.


Participating in the interactive dialogue were speakers representing the European Union Delegation, Australia, Canada, Czech Republic, Switzerland, United Kingdom, Maldives, Norway, Japan, United States, Republic of Korea, Lao People’s Democratic Republic, Cuba, Venezuela, China, Libya, Egypt, Belarus, Indonesia, Sudan, Djibouti (on behalf of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation), Singapore, South Africa, Russian Federation, Bahrain, Iran, Zimbabwe, Ethiopia, Observer State of Palestine, Mauritania, Syria, Qatar, Brazil and Pakistan.


The Third Committee will meet again at 10 a.m. on Wednesday, 30 October, to continue its discussion on the promotion and protection of human rights.


Background


The Third Committee (Social, Humanitarian and Cultural) met this morning to continue its consideration of the promotion and protection of human rights, with eight experts expected to deliver presentations throughout the day.  For background information, see Press Release GA/SHC/4076 of 23 October.


Democratic People’s Republic of Korea


Michael Kirby, Chair of the Commission of Inquiry on the situation of human rights in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, presented his report (document A/68/392).  He said the world spotlight had been on the nuclear weapons developed by the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, but it was time to broaden the focus and shine a light on the country’s human rights record.  The Human Rights Council had mandated his Commission to investigate reported systematic, widespread and grave violations of human rights with a view to ensuring full accountability, in particular for violations amounting to crimes against humanity.


However, the Government of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea had so far not cooperated with the Commission, which remained available to visit and engage in a dialogue, he said.  Lacking access, the Commission had conducted public hearings involving victims and witnesses in Seoul, Tokyo and London.  It had heard from ordinary people who had faced torture and imprisonment for watching foreign soap operas, or for holding a religious belief.  One repatriated woman had been forced to drown her baby in a bucket because the child had a foreign father, he said, adding that those who had thought “racial purity” was an evil notion of the past “need to think again”.


The Commission of Inquiry had invited the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea to make representations at the hearings, but the invitation remained unanswered, he continued.  Instead, the country’s delegation to the Human Rights Council had accused the Commission of relying on “faked materials […] fabricated and invented by the forces hostile to the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, defectors and other rabble”.  While emphasizing that a commission of inquiry was neither prosecutor nor judge, he said that in this case it was the “eyes, ears and voice of the United Nations”, expected to provide a truthful, comprehensive, balanced and credible report on the human rights violations in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.  “These violations challenge the global conscience of humanity and have gone on far too long,” he said, in conclusion.


When the floor was opened to questions and comments, many speakers expressed grave concern at the country’s deteriorating human rights situation, with several expressing regret that the Commission had neither been allowed to visit nor received cooperation from the Government.


The representative of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea reiterated his Government’s rejection of the Special Rapporteur and of the Commission of Inquiry mandate, describing them as the result of “political plots, manipulations and fabrications” against his country.  Similarly, the report was a product of hostile politicization and double standards.  The Democratic People’s Republic of Korea would not tolerate such attempts at “creating animosity, undermining and overthrowing” its social system, he emphasized.  “Hostile forces” wished to force change, but the country would continue to oppose the Commission of Inquiry and to strengthen its system and protect its people, he added.


The representatives of the Lao People’s Democratic Republic, Cuba, Venezuelaand China reiterated the need to resolve the issue through dialogue and cooperation.  Cuba’s representative opposed the Commission’s mandate, saying a “political exercise” was ongoing against the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.  Venezuela’s delegate reiterated that no double standards should be used against sovereign States, while China’s representative stressed that those illegally entering her country were not refugees, adding that China had always addressed that issue properly and in accordance with international law.


Delegates asked about the conditions of detainees, including children, in prison camps; refugees returned to the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea; what the international community could do to support the Commission’s findings; the possibility of reuniting separated families; the lack of access to the country’s border areas; arbitrary detentions and enforced disappearances, including abductions of people from other States; the need for further evidence; how to protect refugees; how to further improve investigations despite the lack of access; changes in the economic and agricultural policies under the current leadership that could lead to improved fulfilment of the right to food; the possibility that crimes against humanity were being perpetrated; and what the international community could do to support the fundamental freedoms of the citizens of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.


Mr. KIRBY, responding on behalf of the Special Rapporteur, objected to the statement by the representative of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea on the Commission’s lack of impartiality.  He said he had begun the meeting by greeting that country’s delegate, who had been sitting only a few steps away, and was only the second official from that country with whom he had been able to make contact.  The Commission’s work had been carried out without preconditions, he said, adding that, having worked as a judge for more than 30 years, he was “very familiar” with all the requirements required to carry out such tasks with objectivity and impartiality.  Agreeing with the representatives of the Lao People’s Democratic Republic, Cuba, Venezuela and China on the need to seek a dialogue with the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, he reiterated his willingness to pursue that kind of approach.


In response to another question, he said people could form their own opinions about the dire conditions of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea’s citizens or refugees by consulting the Commission’s website (http://www.ohchr.org/EN/HRBodies/HRC/CoIDPRK/Pages/CommissionInquiryonHRinDPRK.aspx) and watching and/or listening to public hearings.  The words of the witnesses spoke for themselves, he added.


One way to offer support to the people of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea was to keep investigating, he said, adding that in the absence of direct access, a possible solution could be the establishment of an office for human rights in the country, similar to what had been done in Cambodia during his time as Special Representative of the Secretary-General there.


On the question of “intergenerational punishment” mentioned by one delegate, he said the first testimony, available on the Commission’s website, had been provided by a person born in a detention camp owing to accusations against his parents.  An open question for every commission of inquiry was to ascertain whether people were telling the truth, he stressed, noting that in this case, however, the testimony of the victims who had participated in the public hearings was entirely consistent with the large body of written documents and expert testimony that the Commission had gathered.


Responding to a question by the representative of Norway, he said the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea had enjoyed a slight improvement in fulfilling its people’s right to food.  Another positive development was that the country had signed the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.  On the other hand, however, stronger fencing had been built on the borders to prevent people from escaping.


Responding to a question about whether the human rights violations in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea could amount to crimes against humanity, based on the inquiry carried out so far, he reiterated the need to wait until the conclusion of the mandate and the Commission’s final report, which would be issued as scheduled in March 2014.  It would be unfair to jump to “hasty conclusions”, he cautioned.


He reminded China’s representative that his country was engaged in a dialogue with the Commission, saying he would gladly accept the possibility of gaining access to border areas.  He also noted that China was a State party to the Convention relating to the Status of Refugees, which included the principle of non-refoulement, the prohibition against expelling or returning refugees to their home countries.  In conclusion, he said ultimate responsibility to act lay with Member States, once the final report was issued in March 2014.  The Commission would not seek an extension of its mandate, he added.


Others participating in the interactive dialogue included representatives of the European Union Delegation, Australia, Canada, Czech Republic, Switzerland, United Kingdom, Maldives, Norway, Japan, United States and the Republic of Korea.


MAARIT KOHONEN SHERIFF, Deputy Head, Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, New York Office, read out a statement on behalf of Marzuki Darusman, Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.  She said that his report (document A/68/319) highlighted the refoulement of asylum-seekers and escapees from that country.  In late May, nine escapees, mostly orphaned children, had been repatriated from the Lao People’s Democratic Republic through China to the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, she said.  The international principle of non-refoulement — the obligation not to return asylum-seekers or refugees to a place where their lives or liberty would be at great risk — clearly applied to those who had left the country without permission, those who had fled persecution and those who left for economic reasons and to gain freedom.


Citing publicly available figures, she said 2,706 escapees had arrived in the neighbouring Republic of Korea in 2011, but the number had dropped to 1,509 in 2012.  In the first nine months of 2013, the number had fallen further to 1,041, a reversal of a trend that had risen steadily since 1998, possibly due to recently tightened border control and increased refoulement.  The Government continued to pursue a belligerent military policy, and was denying most of its people right to food.  In any given year over the past decades, millions of people had been placed at risk of serious food shortages bordering on mass famine, she said, emphasizing that it was crucial for the Government to rethink its “military first” policy so as to reallocate sufficient resources to improve living standards.


Overall, there had been no improvement in the dire situation of human rights in the country since the Special Rapporteur’s last report, she said, adding that he continued to receive reports of arbitrary detention, torture and inhumane treatment in prison camps, and enforced disappearances.  The issue of abducted foreign nationals remained unresolved, and the Special Rapporteur was also concerned about heightened social control through rights-restrictive and criminalization legislation, which in turn exacerbated the abuse of power by local officials and law enforcement agents.  Human rights groups had documented wide use of arbitrary arrest and detention by corrupt officials to extort bribes in the recent crackdown on economic “crimes”, such as engaging in private trading and possession of DVDs and CDs produced abroad.


Effects of Foreign Debt


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, introduced his report (not yet issued).  He said his work had been negatively affected by the position adopted by a few, mainly developed, countries, to the effect that the Human Rights Council was not the appropriate forum to address the issue of sovereign debt, and that there were forums better suited to address it, presumably international financial institutions and the Paris Club.  However, it was indisputable that excessive sovereign debt burdens and the resultant policy responses had an adverse impact on human rights and development, he emphasized.


Failure to integrate existing universally agreed human rights standards was a key reason for the lack of equitable progress on Millennium Development Goal 8 — the global partnership for development, he said.  The omission of human rights norms from the targets and indicators had also hampered efforts to address two major drivers of poverty and obstacles to development — exclusion and marginalization.  Human rights principles were important for development processes because they provided parameters for the resourcing and implementation of international commitments, as well as ensuring accountability for the delivery of commitments towards the achievement of inclusive, sustainable and people-centred development.


He stressed that particular attention should be paid to the cross-cutting human rights principles of equality, participation, transparency, accountability and international cooperation in articulating the new development goals and indicators.  More particularly, the new global partnership should be framed in terms of the principle of international cooperation, a legally binding obligation of all States.  In that way, the new global partnership would help support progress towards sustainable development and realization of human rights for all.  It would also help to avoid perpetuating a “donor-recipient” relationship that could only diminish the prospects for an environment conducive to meeting the new development goals.  Unfortunately, that had been the case under the current development framework, he said.


Freedom of Religion or Belief


HEINER BIELEFELDT, Special Rapporteur on freedom of religion or belief, presenting his report (document A/68/290), said women were exposed to complex forms of human rights violations based on religion or belief, and on sex.  Examples included forced conversion, in combination with forced marriage and discriminatory family laws.  Calling on religious leaders to end female genital mutilation, he said other harmful practices like enforced “sacred prostitution”, widow burning and honour crimes perpetrated in a climate of impunity, or condoning dowry killing, were not protected by freedom of religion or belief.


On the conflict between freedom of religion or belief and women’s right to equality, he pointed to the misconception that any progress on the equality of men and women was a defeat for religious freedom, and any insistence on the former seemed to hinder gender-related anti-discrimination policies.  By empowering groups that traditionally faced discrimination — including women — freedom of religion or belief could serve as a normative reference for questioning patriarchal tendencies, thereby leading to more gender-sensitive readings of religious texts and far-reaching discoveries in that field.


He emphasized that the voices of women, including their different and possibly conflicting assessments of religion, should always be taken into consideration, because policies aimed at eliminating stereotypes in the field of gender could sometimes produce or reproduce them.  To avoid that danger, freedom of religion or belief should be systematically integrated into gender-related anti-discrimination programmes as an element of their own quality management, he said.  Conversely, policies of promoting freedom of thought, conscience, religion or belief should systematically incorporate a gender perspective.


In the ensuing interactive dialogue, delegates asked about the State’s role in relation to freedom of religion, requested examples of positive synergies between protecting freedom of religion and protecting gender equality, and enquired about secularism.  They also asked about concrete measures to address stereotyping and persecution.


Mr. BIELEFELDT emphasized that the interpretation of religion should be left to individuals, saying the State’s role was to protect their rights rather than making binding interpretations of religion.  Sierra Leone and the Organization of Muslim Sisters in Indonesia were examples of positive synergies between freedom of religion and gender equality, he said.  As for secularism, it was not a threat if perceived as a constitutional arrangement giving space for belief to unfold, he explained.  However, ideologically enforced secularism contravened human rights.


On stereotypes, he suggested investing in education and communications as tools to disseminate information on the freedom of religion and belief.  He also recognized the persecution of religious minorities, stressing, however, that each religion could be a minority depending on different circumstances.  “It is not the business of the State to make distinctions between what is real religion and what is a cult, because human rights protect and promote people and not religions.”


Participants in the interactive dialogue included representatives of Libya, Norway, United States, European Union Delegation, United Kingdom, Egypt, Belarus, Indonesia, China, Sudan and Canada.


Remarks by General Assembly President


JOHN ASHE (Antigua and Barbuda), President of the General Assembly, said that the Third Committee’s mandate derived from a statement of Charter principles that was simple yet forthright:  “To reaffirm faith in fundamental human rights, in the dignity and worth of the human person, in the equal rights of men and women […] to promote social progress and better standards of life in larger freedom, to practise tolerance and live together in peace with one another as good neighbours.”  In practical everyday terms, that meant a concern for some quite basic values, among them, the universal nature of human rights; that poverty must not prevent anyone from enjoying his or her basic human rights; that poverty must be eradicated; that people must feel secure in their societies; that they must be able to have decent jobs and not to go to bed hungry; and that they must feel part of their society, and feel secure and protected within it.


No wider enjoyment of social and economic rights could be achieved by “mere tinkering with the present international system or by superficial changes in current international arrangements”, he continued.  That was the logic of the new post-2015 development paradigm, which embraced a commitment to a more effective, coordinated and inclusive approach to development for all, including the poor and most vulnerable.  And it also advocated a new relationship between human beings and the planet, he said.  With fewer than 800 days remaining before the target date for meeting the Millennium Development Goals, there was a need to intensify efforts and remain focused on those tasks —  putting young people to work; reducing barriers to social and economic advancement; feeding the one in eight people who remained chronically undernourished; saving the lives of women and children still dying from preventable deaths; ending gender-based violence and discrimination against women, girls and marginalized and vulnerable groups; renewing efforts to eliminate systemic racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance; and addressing the many crises in countries afflicted by conflict and post-conflict situations.


Highlighting several important areas of consideration that would have a direct bearing on the Committee’s work, he noted that negotiations aimed at strengthening the United Nations human rights treaty body system were set to resume shortly.  That important process was necessary to ensure that the system functioned effectively and to uphold international human rights standards and norms.  He said 2014 would be an active year for the Committee:  the twentieth anniversary of the International Year of the Family; the World Conference on Indigenous Peoples; and the launch of the Decade of Peoples of African Descent —all mandated by resolutions adopted by the Committee and the General Assembly.


Issues related closely to the Committee’s work would play an important role in advancing the post-2015 process and in helping to define the sustainable development goals, he continued.  In that context, the resumed session would feature two significant events:  Contributions of women, the young and civil society to the Post-2015 Development Agenda, and Human Rights and the Rule of Law.  “The Third Committee does not function in a vacuum,” he said, adding that the issues on its agenda and those on the agendas of other Committees were all interrelated.  However, that did not grant licence to hold progress in the Committee hostage to any set of considerations, he warned.  “We are here as members of this Committee to work together — and I stress TOGETHER — for achieving mutually agreed solutions,” he stressed.  “Please remember that the General Assembly is seen as the conscience of the international community.”  Decisions made within that body could exert influence throughout the world, he added.


Myanmar


VIJAY NAMBIAR, Special Adviser of the Secretary-General for Myanmar, said his report (document A/68/331) covered developments in that country from August 2012 until the end of July 2013.  Key improvements had taken place since its release, he noted, saying that Myanmar was achieving dramatic changes through the establishment of new institutions and the enactment of new laws.  Steady progress had been achieved in national reconciliation through negotiations with erstwhile ethnic armed groups.  The Government had also adopted measures aimed at increasingly transforming the economy by opening up to foreign investment and trade, and introducing processes to ensure greater transparency and combat corruption.


One example of positive development was the 8 April signature of a three-year country programme with the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), the first in 20 years, he continued.  Furthermore, parliamentary sub-committees had been established on the fundamental rights of citizens and the rule of law and tranquillity, one of which was chaired by the leader of the National League for Democracy, Daw Aung San Suu Kyi.  In the field of human rights reform, the Government had announced that it would invite the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights to begin negotiations on establishing a country office in Myanmar.  On a related issue, efforts had been made to abolish the army’s recruitment of child soldiers and to release those still enlisted.


He went on to say that, while the parties to the conflict in Kachin State had committed to the further de-escalation of violence and to moving the peace process forward, one cause for concern was the continuing tensions in Rakhine State, as was the communal violence elsewhere in the country, which could potentially undermine the whole reform process if left unchecked.  The United Nations had been urging the authorities to take stronger action to prevent the worsening of tensions.  It was crucial that the international community engage constructively in helping the authorities build on the current positive momentum, while remaining fully mindful of the country’s complex political realities.


In the ensuing interactive dialogue, the representative of Myanmar confirmed that a peaceful and democratic transformation was “sweeping” his country since the current Government took office.  People were enjoying new-found democratic values, such as greater freedom of media.  Alongside political reforms, the Government had also launched “waves of economic reforms”, he said, adding that those hard-won achievements could not be undermined by the “unfortunate incidents of communal violence in Rakhine State”.  The Government had taken serious action to end the violence there and to deal with the root causes through short- and long-term plans.  Low levels of development and education, as well as the lack of employment opportunities in that state contributed to a worsening of the situation, he added.  Solutions to the problem must, therefore, also include the provision of international assistance for the overall development of Rakhine State.


The representative of Djibouti, speaking of behalf of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC), expressed the group’s willingness to find ways to cooperate with the Government of Myanmar in four areas:  national reconciliation efforts, humanitarian challenges, communal tensions and the situation of internally displaced persons in Rakhine State.


With the floor open for comments and questions, delegates asked about the release of prisoners of conscience; additional steps by the international community to help maintain the current momentum; the focus of the Special Adviser’s efforts in the next six months; achieving sustainable peace in Kachin State; the question of Rohingyacitizenship; the opening of a new fully fledged Norwegian Embassy in Yangon; and the points to be raised by the Working Group of the Security Council on Children and Armed Conflict during its visit to Myanmar in November.


Mr. NAMBIAR said he would attempt to address some of the questions generally, and thanked the representative of Djibouti, who had expressed OIC willingness to help address the situation in Rakhine State.  On the issue of citizenship, he reminded the Committee that the Government had made a clear statement of intent.  Even though a final settlement was challenging to achieve, and there were limitations to dealing with the community’s situation, substantive progress could be made to that end.


He said that, in the months ahead, his office would focus on issues relating to the national reconciliation process in several parts of Myanmar, including the resettlement of displaced persons, and on the conduct of national census.  On the former, he said the Government had already undertaken a dialogue with donor countries.  It was important, however, to take into consideration the large number of ethnic groups with diverging positions, which made the situation particularly complex.


The broadening of interfaith discussions from local to national was a sign of the efforts undertaken for settlement of the communal tensions, he said.  The scope of that issue could be further widened by moving it to the regional level, because similar concerns pertained to other countries of the region, and also because Myanmar was scheduled to take over the presidency of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) in 2014.  In that context, Myanmar could certainly share its experiences and best practices in nation-building and interfaith dialogue.


Addressing the question of how the international community could help the reform process, he warned that, given the degree of international interest and the willingness to help, the coordination and coherence of support in order to avoid confusion and duplication of efforts would be a major question.  In that respect, consultations were crucial, as the Government would express the kind of assistance and coordination with which it felt comfortable, while providing clarifications on national specificities.


He concluded by addressing a question from the representative of Guatemala about the forthcoming visit to Myanmar by the Security Council Working Group on Children and Armed Conflict.  The visit could be used to provide suggestions to the Government on how to root out the recruitment of child soldiers, but also to reach out to civil society, he noted.


Delegates participating in the interactive dialogue were representatives of Switzerland, Singapore, Canada, Norway, Australia and Indonesia.


Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and of Association


MAINA KIAI, Special Rapporteur on the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association, presented his first report (document A/68/299), saying that since 2011, a year marked by a historic turn of events in the Arab world and beyond, he had gathered a wealth of information, including the experiences and testimonies of victims who had had their rights to freedom of assembly and of association violated in all parts of the world.  As well, he had produced substantive legal and policy analysis on various aspects, which he had shared with the Human Rights Council.


In the context of elections, he said he had received numerous complaints from individuals and groups concerning the excessive use of force by law enforcement officials in dispersing protests advocating for electoral reform or challenging election results.  In such incidents, as in Guinea and Iran, hundreds of peaceful demonstrators had been killed and many more injured, while others had been arrested and detained, as in Azerbaijan and Venezuela.  Further, States had criminalized participation in and organization of peaceful assemblies under various guises, such as crimes of outrage against the constitutional order ( Ethiopia), participating in illegal gatherings ( Bahrain), or mass disorder ( Russian Federation).  Peaceful assemblies should be subject, at most, to prior notification, not the issuance of a permit, he said.  Further, in the context of elections, the threshold for imposing restrictions should be higher than usual and more difficult to meet.  Unimpeded access to information, including through the Internet and social media, should also be guaranteed.


Turning to the right to freedom of association, he expressed concern about the heightened risks that political leaders and supporters, particularly from the opposition, faced in time of elections.  In many countries, those who voiced or had voiced dissent were subjected to harassment, arbitrary arrest and imprisonment, as in Belarus and Egypt.  However, everyone had a right to form or join a political party, and no one should be compelled to belong to one.  Pointing out that access to funding for associations was also an integral element of the right to freedom of association, he said access to funds could be an enormous enabler for political parties in achieving their goals, but funding might also have perverse effects on democratic potential.  For the latter reason, reasonable limitations on campaign expenditure might be justifiable in some cases, he said.  Noting that civil society organizations were also key actors in electoral processes, he expressed concern over a tendency by States to label them as “political” and then attempt to restrict their activities.


In the ensuing interactive dialogue, delegates asked the expert to elaborate on the obligation of notification before holding an assembly, the emphasis on freedom of assembly and of association in election monitoring missions, and the responsibility of organizers.


Mr. KIAI urged delegations that had voiced concern over the objectivity of his report to send him an official invitation to visit their countries so that he could obtain more information.  On the issue of notification and registration, he said notification of assembly within a reasonable time was required to allow authorities to deal with administrative issues, including traffic control.


Asked whether freedom of assembly and of association was emphasized sufficiently in election observer missions, he replied “no”.  The right to vote was associated with other rights that came before, during and after elections, he said, stressing the need to look at the entire period.  On the responsibility of organizers, he said they should not be blamed when some protestors turned violent. That was the criminal responsibility of individuals.  If the organizers used violence, the law would be enforced against them as individuals.  The same principle applied to a case in which a father should not be held accountable for crimes committed by his son.  Placing responsibility on organizers was wrong under international law, and should be wrong under domestic law, he emphasized.


Participants in the dialogue included representatives of Norway, United States, European Union Delegation, South Africa, United Kingdom, Switzerland, Russian Federation, Czech Republic, Bahrain, Maldives, Indonesia, Iran, Venezuela, Egypt, Zimbabwe and Ethiopia.


Human Rights in Occupied Palestinian Territories


RICHARD FALK, Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Palestinian territories occupied since 1967, introduced his report (document A/68/376), noting that despite repeated efforts, he had made only one visit in five years of discharging his mandate.  He expressed concern that consistent non-cooperation on the part of the Government of Israel, which had hampered his mandate, would continue, emphasizing nevertheless that the inalienable right of Palestinians to self-determination had been unmistakeably furthered by the General Assembly’s vote in November 2012, conferring on Palestine the status of non-Member Observer State.


He said the report considered the activities of international corporations in relation to Israeli settlements within the normative framework of international humanitarian law, international human rights law and international criminal law.  To elaborate on the potential legal implication of corporations in international crimes, the report used two case studies, the first of which examined loans granted by an Israeli subsidiary of the European banking group Dexia to Israeli settlements.  The second examined the promotion, advertising and sale of properties in Israeli settlements by the privately held Re/Max real estate company, based in the United States.


The Special Rapporteur then presented a set of recommendations:  if current diplomacy failed to produce a solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the General Assembly should request an Advisory Opinion from the International Court of Justice as to the legal consequences of the prolonged occupation of State of Palestine.  Israel should cease the creation and expansion of settlements, return Israeli settlers to the Israeli side of the Green Line and provide reparations to Palestinians who had suffered damage from settlement-related activities since 1967.  All companies enjoying relationships with settlements comparable to those used as case studies should review their arrangements to ensure they were in accordance with international law and the Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights, he said, adding that Belgium and France should compensate Palestinians who had been negatively affected by Dexia Israel’s involvement with settlements.


In the ensuing dialogue, many delegates voiced concern that the issue of Palestine had not been resolved for so long, and asked the expert to elaborate on measures to keep pressure on the 500 companies tied to Israeli settlements, and on the latest developments in the Gaza Strip.


Mr. FALK warned that the United Nations would lose its credibility if the problem remained unresolved.  Leaving Palestinians without rights, land or resources for decades was the cruellest failure of the international community to uphold fundamental human rights, he stressed, adding that the situation in Gaza had reached the “absolute edge of catastrophe”.  He said his emphasis on corporate responsibility was a small step towards the end goal, a gesture that “we are doing more than just saying that we take the issue seriously”.  Calling for solidarity with civil society, he underlined the need to resolve “one of the greatest injustices of our time”.


Participants in the dialogue included speakers representing the Observer State of Palestine, Cuba, Mauritania, European Union Delegation, Russian Federation, Norway, Syria, Qatar, Brazil, South Africa, Libya, Iran, Maldives, Indonesia and Pakistan.


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For information media • not an official record