FIVE TEXTS ON HUMAN RIGHTS APPROVED BY THIRD COMMITTEE; DISCUSSION ON REFUGEES CONCLUDES

18 November 2002
GA/SHC/3726

FIVE TEXTS ON HUMAN RIGHTS APPROVED BY THIRD COMMITTEE; DISCUSSION ON REFUGEES CONCLUDES

18/11/2002
Press ReleaseGA/SHC/3726

Fifty-seventh General Assembly

Third Committee

52nd Meeting (AM)

FIVE TEXTS ON HUMAN RIGHTS APPROVED BY THIRD COMMITTEE; DISCUSSION ON REFUGEES CONCLUDES

Approved Drafts Concern Human Rights Prizes, Elimination of Religious Intolerance,

Human Rights Defenders, Strengthening UN action, Decade for Human Rights Education

To mark the fifty-fifth anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the General Assembly would decide to request the Secretary-General to make the necessary arrangements for awarding human rights prizes in a plenary meeting on 10 December 2003, according to one of five texts approved without a vote this morning in the Third Committee (Social, Humanitarian, Cultural).

That draft decision, submitted by the Committee's Chairman, Christian Wenaweser (Liechtenstein), would also have the Assembly bear in mind the need to promote universal observance and enjoyment of human rights and recall its resolution of 19 December 1966, in which it approved the awarding of prizes in the field of human rights.

The Committee also concluded today its annual consideration of the Report of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), including questions related to refugees, returnees, displaced persons and humanitarian questions.  As they had throughout the debate, delegations this morning stressed that the implementation of the Agenda for Protection must be commensurate with the capacity of the host countries and international assistance.  To make the Agenda operational, they felt transparent mechanisms were necessary for effective international burden sharing in strengthening the capacity of the host countries.

Under the terms of two resolutions approved this morning -- on the elimination of all forms of religious intolerance, and on 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 -- the Committee would have the Assembly call upon all States and urge all Governments to cooperate with and to assist, respectively, the Special Rapporteur on freedom of Religion or Belief and the Special Representative of the Secretary-General on human rights defenders.

The other two resolutions approved this afternoon were on strengthening United Nations action in the field of human rights through the promotion of international cooperation and the importance of non-selectivity, impartiality and objectivity, and the United Nations Decade for Human Rights Education, 1994-2004. The draft decision and all the resolutions will be transmitted to the Assembly for final adoption later in the session.

The Committee also heard the introduction of seven draft texts on items related to human rights questions, including on hostage-taking, strengthening the rule of law, unilateral coercive measures, the right to development, enhancement of international cooperation in the field of human rights, the right to food and on the respect for the right to universal freedom of travel and the vital importance of family reunification.    

Those texts were introduced, respectively, by the representatives of the  Russian Federation, Brazil, South Africa, on behalf of the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) and China, as well as Cuba.

On items related to the Report of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, the representatives of Cyprus and Sweden, introduced three texts, respectively on enlargement of the Executive Committee of the UNHCR, continuation of the Office of the High Commissioner for Refugees, and an omnibus text on the Office of the High Commissioner for Refugees.

The representatives of Bhutan and Iran spoke during the conclusion of the general debate on refugees.

The observer of the Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC) also spoke, and the Director of the UNHCR Liaison Office in New York briefly addressed the Committee and made available a text of his prepared remarks.

The Committee will meet again tomorrow morning at 10 a.m., to hear the introduction of all outstanding draft resolutions, and to take action on drafts on the promotion and protection of the rights of the child and human rights questions.

Background

The Third Committee met this morning to conclude its annual consideration of the Report of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), as well as broader questions related to refugees, displaced persons, returnees and human rights.

The Committee is also expected to hear the introduction of a number of draft resolutions on items related to human rights questions, including the alternative approaches for improving the effective enjoyment of human rights and fundamental freedoms, as well as items related to the Office of the High Commissioner for Refugees.

Delegations are also expected to take action on a number of drafts on human rights questions.

The Committee will take up a draft resolution on strengthening United Nations action in the field of human rights through the promotion of international cooperation and the importance of non-selectivity, impartiality and objectivity (document A/C.3/57/L.40) by which the Assembly would call upon States to base their activities for the promotion and protection of human rights on the Charter of the United Nations, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, and other relevant international instruments, and to refrain from activities that were inconsistent with that international framework. 

By the terms of the text, the Assembly would also request all human rights bodies within the United Nations system, as well as the special rapporteurs and representatives, independent experts and working groups, to take duly into account the contents of the present resolution in carrying out their mandates.  The Assembly would also stress the continuing need for impartial and objective information on the political, economic and social situations and events of all countries.

The Committee had before it a draft on human rights and cultural diversity (document A/C.3/57/L.41), which would have the Assembly urge States to ensure that their political and legal systems reflected the multicultural diversity within their societies.  It would also have the Assembly affirm that intellectual dialogue essentially enriches the understanding of human rights and that the benefits to be derived from encouraging and developing international contacts and cooperation in the cultural fields are important. 

The next draft before the Committee is on the elimination of all forms of religious intolerance (document A/C.3/57/L.47).  Emphasizing that the right of freedom of thought, conscience religion and belief is far-reaching and profound, that draft would have the Assembly express its alarm that serious instances of intolerance and discrimination on the grounds of religion and belief were increasing in many parts of the world.  The Assembly would therefore urge States to take all necessary action to combat hatred, intolerance, intimidation and acts of violence based on religion or belief.

The Committee would also take up a draft on 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 (document A/C.3/57/L.51), often referred to as the draft on "human rights defenders".  It would have the Assembly express its grave concern regarding human rights violations committed against persons engaged in promoting and defending human rights around the world.  That text would have the Assembly condemn all human rights violations committed against human rights defenders and urge States to take all appropriate action, consistent with the Declaration and all other human rights instruments, to eliminate such violations.

The text on the United Nations Decade for Human Rights Education, 1994-2004 (document A/C.3/57/L.54) would urge all Governments to contribute further to the implementation of the Decade's Action Plan, by, in particular, initiating and developing cultural and educational programmes aimed at countering racism, racial discrimination and xenophobia, as emphasized at the Durban World Conference against Racism.

The Committee was also expected to take up a draft decision submitted by the Chairman on the award of human rights prizes in 2003 (document A/C.3/57/L.76), which states that considering that 2003 would mark the fifty-fifth anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and recalling its resolution 2217 (XXI) of 1966, in which it approved the awarding of prizes in the field of human rights, decided to request the Secretary-General to make the necessary arrangements for the awarding of human rights prizes in a plenary meeting on 10 December 2003.

Statements on Refugees

YESHEY DORJI (Bhutan) said he wished to refer to the Report of the High Commissioner and the reference to the people in the refugee camps in eastern Nepal.  The problem was complex and was rooted in the issue of illegal immigration resulting from factors such as open and porous borders, population explosion, environmental degradation and poverty in the region, all of which compelled vast movements of population in search of better livelihoods.  It was clear to all concerned that Bhutan’s legitimate efforts to deal with the problem of illegal immigration had been exploited by vested interests.  It was factually incorrect to term all the residents of the camps as Bhutanese.  The Governments of Bhutan and Nepal had agreed that there were four categories of people in the camps. 

Concerns were raised in the report that the problem had become a protracted situation and that the bilateral process had not moved fast.  He pointed out that the camps were first set up in 1991 with only about 300 people claiming to be refugees.  In the absence of well-established screening procedures, the camp population reached over 80,000 people within two years of the establishment of the camps before any screening mechanisms were put in place.  He informed the Committee that the Governments of Bhutan and Nepal had agreed in 2001 to carry out joint field verification of one camp and to harmonize positions on each of the four agreed categories of people simultaneously. 

MOSTAFA ALAEI (Iran) said Iran believed that the implementation of the Agenda for Protection must be commensurate with the capacity of the host countries and international assistance.  In order to make the Agenda operational, it was necessary to arrange transparent mechanisms for effective international burden sharing in strengthening the capacity of the host countries.  Most of the developing countries hosting large numbers of refugees faced problems in economic, demographic and other fields, and they were not in a position to accept local integration as a solution to the refugee problem.  Less populated developed countries with stronger financial resources enjoyed better conditions for accepting refugees and their integration.  Only the creation of a transparent and realistic mechanism for this collective and international responsibility could fairly distribute the heavy burden of refugee plight among countries. 

Iran, while shouldering the heavy burden of hosting millions of refugees, was worried about the new wave of possible refugees because of the dangerous situation in the region, and warned that the occurrence of any crisis on Iran’s western and southern borders would result in a huge influx of refugees and displaced persons.  He emphasized the need to prevent a new refugee crisis, which might bring about considerable humanitarian loss.  He also underlined the need of finding peaceful solutions for the above mentioned crisis. 

S. SHAHID HUSAIN, of the Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC), said that at the last annual Islamic Conference of Foreign Ministers held last June, a resolution had been adopted on the problems of refugees.  The resolution called on Member States to coordinate their actions at the international level with a view to determining the main causes behind the exodus of refugees, and strive, in cooperation with the UNHCR, to enable those refugees to return to their homes as soon as circumstances permitted.  The OIC had noted with interest the High Commissioner’s finding that while persistent instability and strife had continued to influence movements of populations, particularly in certain countries in Africa, and of Latin America, there were no major refugee emergencies in 2001 comparable to what had occurred in the 1990s. 

The OIC continued to share the Secretary-General’s conclusion that the situation of refugees and internally displaced persons in Africa continued to pose challenges, not only to the United Nations but the international community as a whole.  This required a cautious watch and a multi-dimensional approach involving not only humanitarian agencies, but also donors, civil society and the international community at large.  Concerning the Palestinian people and the Muslim population of Jammu and Kashmir, he said both had been the victims of vicious conflicts for many years.  It was incumbent upon the international community to play an effective role, through the United Nations, in coming to their rescue in their hour of need. 

Introduction of Drafts

The Committee then heard the introduction of a number of draft texts on items related to human rights questions.

The representative of the Russian Federation introduced a draft resolution on hostage-taking (document A/C.3/57/L.62), which would have the General Assembly condemn all acts of hostage-taking, anywhere in the world and demand that all hostages be released immediately and without any preconditions.  He said negotiations on the draft had been spurred due to the recent tragic events in Moscow.  The text therefore expresses concern that despite the efforts of the international community, acts of hostage-taking in different forms, continued to take place at the hands of terrorist groups and had even increased in many regions of the world

The representative of Brazil introduced the draft of strengthening the rule of law (document A/C.3/57/L.63), which, she said, had over 120 sponsors.  The text would have the Assembly express its firm conviction that the rule of law was an essential factor in the protection of human rights, as stressed in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and should continue to attract the attention of the international community.  It would have the Assembly encourage the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights to continue the dialogue between his Office and other organs and agencies of the United Nations system, taking into account the need to explore new synergies with a view to obtaining increased financial assistance for human rights and the rule of law and promoting inter-agency cooperation.

Next, the representative of South Africa, on behalf of the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) and China, introduced a draft on unilateral coercive measures (document A/C.3/57/L.64).  He said the draft made a very strong call on States to refrain from adopting or implementing any unilateral measures not in accordance with the Charter.  It also urged States to avoid and refrain from such unilateral measures that would impede the full achievement of economic and social development of the population of the affected countries, in particular women and children, that hindered their well-being and created obstacles to the full enjoyment of human rights.

Also on behalf of the Non-Aligned Movement, the representative of South Africa introduced the draft on the right to development (document A/C.3/57/L.65), which, he said forged new ground for the Committee as it was based on the agreed conclusions of the last session of the Working Group on the Right to Development, held last April in Geneva.  The Group had highlighted key issues that should be addressed by Governments, at national and international levels, in order to ensure the right to development for everyone, in line with the Millennium Development Goals.

The text would therefore have the Assembly endorse the conclusions of the Working Group and recognize that the realization of the right to development is critical to achieving the objectives, goals and targets of major United Nations conferences, summits and special sessions and those undertaken at the Millennium Assembly.

The representative of South Africa, on behalf of the Non-Aligned Movement and China, also introduced a draft resolution on the enhancement of international cooperation in the field of human rights (document A/C.3/57/L.66) by which the Assembly would urge all actors on the international scene to build an international order based on inclusion, justice, equality and equity, human dignity, mutual understanding and promotion of and respect for cultural diversity and universal human rights.  The representative of South Africa thanked the delegations involved in the elaboration of the draft resolution that had contributed to its consensual outcome. 

A draft resolution was introduced by the representative of Cuba on the right to food (document A/C.3/57/L.68) by which the Assembly, considering it intolerable that there were around 840 million undernourished people in the world, would urge States to give adequate priority in their development strategies and expenditures to the realization of the right to food.  The representative of Cuba said that the right to food had a global dimension since some regions were more affected by hunger than others.  It was alarming that, in a world that produced more food than needed, 36 million people died each year as a direct or indirect result of poverty.  She called on the Member States to support the draft, showing their commitment to the eradication of poverty and to the right to food. 

The representative of Cuba also introduced a draft resolution on the respect for the right to universal freedom of travel and the vital importance of family reunification (document A/C.3/57/L.69) by which the Assembly would call upon States to allow the free flow of financial remittances by foreign nationals residing in their territory to their relatives in the country of origin, and also called upon States to refrain from enacting, and to repeal if it already existed, legislation intended as a coercive measure that discriminated against individuals or groups of legal migrants by adversely affecting family reunification and the right to send financial remittances to relatives in the country of origin.  The representative of Cuba said the draft reaffirmed the importance of the reunification of families, particularly in hosting countries and called on Member States to support the resolution and the already existing right to freedom of travel covered in the draft.    

The Committee also heard introductions of drafts under the agenda item on the Report of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, questions relating to refugees, returnees and displaced persons and humanitarian questions. 

In this connection the representative of Cyprus introduced a draft resolution on the enlargement of the Executive Committee of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (document A/C.3/57/L.77) by which the Assembly would decide to increase the number of members of the Executive Committee of the Programme of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees from sixty-one to sixty-four States, and would request the Economic and Social Council to elect the additional members at its resumed organizational session for 2003.  The representative of Cyprus said the enlargement of the Programme had been recommended by an Economic and Social Council decision of July 2002.  The greatest possible participation would lead to more and greater work being done in this most important field.   

The representative of Sweden introduced the draft on the continuation of the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) (document A/C.3/57/L.78).  He said that it was a sad testimony to the state of international affairs that the Office had been created as a temporary mandate to address what was thought to be a temporary problem.  With the numbers of displaced and uprooted populations increasing, the text would have the Assembly recognize the need for concerted international action on their behalf and would decide to continue the Office for a further period of five years from 1 January 2004.  It would also have the Assembly decide, no later than its sixty-second session, the arrangements for the Office with a view to determining whether the Office should be continued beyond 31 December 2008.

On behalf of the Nordic Countries, the representative of Sweden then introduced the Committee's omnibus resolution on the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (document A/C.3/57/L.79), which welcomes the important work undertaken by the Office.  The draft would have the Assembly strongly urge States and relevant non-governmental organizations (NGOs), in conjunction with the Office to cooperate and to mobilize resources with a view towards enhancing the capacity of countries, and reducing the heavy burden borne by those that have received large numbers of refugees and asylum seekers.

Action on Draft Resolutions

Following the introduction of drafts, the Committee took action on human rights question, including alternative approaches for improving the effective enjoyment of human rights and fundamental freedoms. 

The Committee approved without a vote the draft resolution on strengthening United Nations action in the field of human rights through the promotion of international cooperation and the importance of non-selectivity, impartiality and objectivity (document A/C.3/57/L.40).

The Committee had before it a draft resolution on Human Rights and Cultural Diversity (document A/C.3/57/L.41) this morning.  The representative of Iran introduced an amendment to the draft, a new preambular paragraph 12 which stated that the Assembly would be “recognizing that the promotion of the right of indigenous people and their cultures and traditions would contribute to the respect for and observance of cultural diversity among all people and nations”.

The representative of Egypt expressed his support for the new paragraph and stressed the importance of recognizing the rights of indigenous people. 

The representative of the United States called for a vote on preambular paragraph 6 which welcomed the contribution made through the World Conference against Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and Related Intolerance, held at Durban, South Africa, from 31 August to 8 September 2001, to the promotion of respect for cultural diversity, since the United States had reservations concerning the mention of the World Conference against Racism, in light of the way in which it had been conducted. 

The representative of Iran said that it was unfortunate and regrettable that at this late stage delegation would request a vote.  The discussion on the draft had been held in open negotiations, at which the delegation of the United States had been present.  He was puzzled by that delegation's latest move, particularly in light of the fact that it had agreed to the latest changes in the draft.

Making a general statement, the representative of Egypt said that he was not in favour of the ongoing process.  Traditionally, this was a consensus resolution and many people were missing today.  Most of the resolutions of this morning were traditionally adopted by consensus.  More transparency in the future was needed. 

The representative of Democratic Republic of the Congo said she was taking the floor to support the statement made by Egypt.  In the journal, only the introduction of resolutions had been mentioned, not the adoption of resolutions.

The representative of the Sudan also stressed that no voting had been foreseen.  Bearing in mind the absence of several delegations, she suggested the postponing of action until the afternoon. 

The representative of Venezuela supported the representative of Egypt and Sudan seeing as the main sponsor, Iran, had not been informed of the intent of the United States to call for a vote.  If Iran agreed, perhaps the vote could be postponed.

The representative of Cuba joined in the request to postpone action on the draft resolution. 

The Chairperson postponed action on the draft resolution until tomorrow morning. 

The Committee then approved without vote a draft on the elimination of all forms of religious intolerance (document A/C.3/57/L.47).

It then approved without a vote the draft resolution on 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 (document A/C.3/57/L.51).

Making a statement of position, the representative of Syria said her delegation would ask for the adoption for a clear position on NGOs had how they would operate.  She regretted that the text did not refer to the responsibilities of individuals and organizations to ensure fundamental rights and freedoms but listed obligations.

The Committee approved without a vote a draft resolution on the United Nations Decade for Human Rights Education 1994-2004 (document A/C.3/57/L.54). 

The Committee turned its attention to a draft decision (document A/C.3/57/L.76) entitled award of human rights prizes in 2003 which had been submitted by the Chairman on the basis of informal consultations.  The Committee approved without a vote the draft decision. 

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For information media. Not an official record.