|Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York|
THIRD COMMITTEE SUSPENDS CONSIDERATION OF FIRST-EVER REPORT
OF HUMAN RIGHTS COUNCIL
The Third Committee (Social, Humanitarian and Cultural) suspended its consideration of the first-ever report of the Human Rights Council amid divisions between delegations about how to proceed.
The Chairman, in his opening remarks, noted that the General Assembly referred the report to the Committee “on the understanding that the Third Committee would consider and act on all recommendations of the Human Rights Council to the General Assembly, including those that deal with the development of international law in the field of human rights”. The General Assembly would consider the annual report of the Human Rights Council at its plenary meeting. That division of work was agreed on the understanding that the Council only began its work in June 2006 and would be reviewed before the next session of the General Assembly, he said.
The representative of Gabon, speaking on behalf of the African Group, objected to discussions going ahead without an opportunity for a direct dialogue with the President of the Human Rights Council. He asked that the meeting be adjourned until the matter was resolved. The representatives of the Sudan and Egypt agreed that it was essential that the President of the Human Rights Council address the Third Committee before it continued discussions on the report.
The representatives of Finland and Liechtenstein said that the discussion should continue as scheduled; however they did not oppose the motion to adjourn the meeting. The representative of Liechtenstein stressed that the General Assembly had decided that the Third Committee was supposed to consider and act upon the recommendations by the Human Rights Council to the Assembly, not to consider the entire report. Any presentation by the President of the Human Rights Council of its report should be made in the General Assembly plenary and not before the Third Committee, he said. That important point should be made clear.
Speaking before the discussion on how to proceed with consideration of the Human Rights Council’s report, the representative of Myanmar made a statement saying that the Council still had a long way to go to address the challenges ahead. It was important to review the existing system of special procedures, he said, with thorough consideration given to the effectiveness of maintaining country-specific Special Rapporteurs or Independent Experts. The Council should not confine its focus to civil and political rights, but must pay special attention to economic, social and cultural rights, including the right to development, he added.
The representative of Myanmar also spoke in exercise of the right of reply, in response to statements made on human rights questions during an earlier meeting, as did the representatives of China, Israel, Russian Federation, Iran, Canada, Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, Eritrea, Colombia and Japan. The observer of Palestine also spoke in exercise of the right of reply.
The Third Committee will meet again at a time and date to be announced in the United Nations Journal.3
The Third Committee (Social, Humanitarian and Cultural) met today to conclude its general discussion of human rights topics. For background, please see press release GA/SHC/3864 of 30 October.
The Committee was expected to consider the report of the Human Rights Council (document A/61/53), summarizing the work of its first session and two special sessions. The report notes that at its first session, the Council adopted the International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance and the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. The Convention and the Declaration are contained in two draft resolutions approved by the Human Rights Council and recommended for adoption by the General Assembly.
Also at its first session, the Council adopted a resolution to extend the mandate of the Working Group on an optional protocol to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and requesting the Chairperson of the Working Group to prepare a first draft optional protocol to be used as a basis for further negotiations. In addition, the Council decided to renew the mandate of the Working Group on the Right to Development for one year and to pursue work in this area through the Sub-Commission on the Promotion and Protection of Human Rights or its successor expert advice mechanism.
The Council also adopted a resolution on the Intergovernmental Working Group on the effective implementation of the Durban Declaration and Programme of Action, which requests the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights to select five experts to study the substantive gaps in existing international instruments to combat racism, xenophobia and related intolerance, and requests the Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination to conduct a further study on possible measures to strengthen implementation of the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination.
In addition, the Council took a number of decisions related to its working methods, including to extend all mandates, mechanisms, functions and responsibilities of the Commission on Human Rights; to establish an intersessional, open-ended, intergovernmental working group to develop the universal periodic review mechanism; and to establish a working group along the same lines to review and, where necessary, improve and rationalize the system of special procedures, expert advice and complaints procedures.
At its first special session, the Council adopted a resolution expressing grave concern at the violations of the human rights of the Palestinian people caused by the Israeli occupation and deciding to dispatch an urgent fact-finding mission headed by the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Palestinian territories occupied since 1967. The resolution urges Israel to immediately release arrested Palestinian ministers, members of the Palestinian Legislative Council and other officials, as well as other arrested Palestinian civilians, and further urges all concerned parties to respect the rules of international humanitarian law and to refrain from violence against the civilian population.
At its second special session, the Council adopted a resolution strongly condemning the grave Israeli violations of human rights and breaches of international humanitarian law in Lebanon. Under the terms of the resolution, the Council decided to dispatch a high-level commission of inquiry comprising eminent experts on human rights law and international humanitarian law “to investigate the systematic targeting and killings of civilians by Israel in Lebanon”.
Statements in Right of Reply
Exercising the right of reply, the representative of Myanmar said it was regrettable that New Zealand and Canada had continued to address country-specific situations and to politicize human rights issues with groundless accusations against some countries, including his. Despite being in the same region, New Zealand had shown itself to be totally ignorant of the socio-economic situation in Myanmar, such as its economic growth. The rate of infection of HIV/AIDS was lower than in other countries facing the problem. Regarding the right to food, New Zealand should consult Food and Agriculture Organization statistics that showed that the level of malnutrition was lower than the regional average. Myanmar could also not accept the allegation that it had been unwilling to cooperate with the international community, as recent visits by international officials had demonstrated.
The representative of China noted that Canada, in its statement on 30 October, had made some self-criticism that had not gone far enough. The Canadian Government had no political will to improve the situation of Canada’s indigenous peoples and to protect their fundamental human rights. After the 11 September attacks, discrimination against Muslims in Canada had become worse. Excessive use of taser guns by police had led to the death of suspects. Canada was a wealthy country, and it should not use its standards to criticize others. No country could claim to have a perfect human rights record. The Human Rights Council and the Third Committee were the correct forums for debating human rights; there should be more modesty and openness, and less arrogance and hypocrisy.
The representative of Israel agreed with his Palestinian counterpart on the importance of context. The situation of the Palestinians today was one of their own making, however. They had been free to elect a government that would work with Israel, but it did not. Israel was deeply concerned by the humanitarian situation and human rights of the Palestinian people but, sadly, that interest was not shared by the Palestinian leadership, with Hamas only interested in terrorism. Hamas must recognize Israel, implement agreements concluded with Israel and halt acts of terrorism. Just a week ago, the Hamas Foreign Minister had said that Israel was a foreign element in the Middle East that would never be recognized. Israel had embarked on a number of security measures to limit the number of terrorist attacks; recently the French Foreign Minister had reconsidered his position on the wall after learning that terrorist attacks in its vicinity had fallen by 80 per cent. The lack of genuine commitment on the part of the Palestinian leadership meant that Israelis and Palestinians had been left waiting.
The representative of the Russian Federation referred to what he called the anti-Russian rhetoric of the delegation of Georgia that had included unsubstantiated claims against his country. The ongoing anti-Russian campaign by the Government of Georgia had been based on misinformation to the international community and on trying to brainwash the inhabitants of Georgia. The problem boiled down to trying to resolve the conflict in Abkhazia and South Ossetia. Prospects for better relations depended on Tbilisi’s behaviour; Georgia had to take measures to show that it wanted to improve relations with Russia.
Also speaking in exercise of the right of reply, the representative of Iran responded to the statement made on 30 October by the representative of New Zealand. He noted that the Government of Iran had always accorded priority to the protection and promotion of human rights and fundamental freedoms. He drew the attention of the Committee to recent United Nations reports, including one on the situation of human rights and fundamental freedom of indigenous people in New Zealand, which recommended that that country’s Bill of Rights be amended to protect the human rights of all citizens regardless of ethnicity or race. All countries should safeguard human rights and not allow anyone to take the system hostage to their political agenda. Member States should resist that dangerous phenomenon, and the principles of non-selectivity, non-politicization and no double standards should be upheld.
The representative of Canada then took the floor to clarify the points made in his statement of 30 October. Never would Canada claim to have a perfect human rights record, he said. His delegation had acknowledged in its statement some of the issues it struggled with and some of the ways in which it was attempting to deal with them. There was nothing so frank in Iran’s statement, which did not mention its own human rights challenges or what they were doing concretely and specifically to address them.
Noting that the representative of Iran had referred to a number of United Nations reports on Canada, he said that such reports were available in part because Canada cooperated fully with United Nations mechanisms. Such reports were widely discussed within Canada itself. Human rights activists and aboriginal leaders spoke openly on those issues and were not arrested for doing so. Canada was taking concrete steps to address the challenges and was committed to the empowerment of First Nation individuals, with a particular focus on women and children.
Canada also was concerned about the well-being of migrants, who were protected by national laws and international treaties to which Canada was a party. He said Canada’s approach to human rights domestically and internationally was to acknowledge that it faced issues, engage with all stakeholders and act to make progress. Iran’s approach, both domestically and internationally, was to deny, stifle debate and retaliate. The Third Committee deserved better and, more importantly, the citizens of Iran deserved better.
The representative of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea rejected the unsubstantiated allegations made by the representatives of Japan, New Zealand and Canada. Those who should be condemned in international forums were not the developing countries that were subjected to plunder and exploitation but countries such as Japan, New Zealand and Canada. The Third Committee should be a forum to discuss concrete measures for the protection and promotion of human rights rather than for triggering confrontation. Regarding the mention of nuclear tests, he reminded the representative of New Zealand that his Government had built strong national defence capabilities in order to protect people from violations of the right to life such as those witnessed in Iraq.
Regarding the abduction issue raised by Japan, he repeated that that matter had been fully resolved in line with the Pyongyang Declaration. He suggested to the representative of Japan that, before talking so loudly and hypocritically about peace and human rights, Japan should accept responsibility for past crimes such as the forced sexual slavery of 200,000 women, the drafting of 8.4 million and massacre of 1 million Koreans. He also read a section from the Pyongyang Declaration, which he said had established a road map for relations between two countries. He urged Japanese authorities to fully implement the Declaration instead of debasing it.
The representative of Eritrea, responding to the statement made by the representative of Canada, said that human rights were the obligation of every State. Eritrea was committed to all human rights, and did not accept any division between economic, social and cultural rights and civil and political rights. Her country was meeting its treaty obligations, including by submitting reports recently to the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women and the Committee on the Rights of the Child. As many of the previous speakers had indicated, the protection and promotion of human rights could not be achieved by applying double standards.
One of the principles of the new Human Rights Council was the need for cooperation without being selective, he continued. However, it was regrettable that some delegations were bent on the old practices that had discredited the previous Human Rights Commission. Her delegation rejected the concerns expressed by the representative of Canada, which lacked objectivity and lacked a clear understanding of the situation on the ground.
The representative of Colombia, also responding to the statement made by the representative of Canada, focused on his country’s achievements in promoting “democratic security”. Colombia valued the support provided to the Government in the process of demobilizing armed groups, including by the Government of Canada.
Regarding the situation of displaced persons, Colombia’s policy of democratic security had helped to improve the status of internally displaced persons, including by facilitating access to health, education and housing, he said. The Government also was promoting social and economic integration. His Government also attached special priority to ensuring protection for Human Rights Defenders. The country’s policy of democratic security had led to a reduction in crime, including attacks against Human Rights Defenders.
The representative of Japan, in response to the statement made by the representative of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, said that country’s representative had cited “totally unacceptable” figures regarding so-called forcible drafting, comfort women and 1 million Koreans slaughtered during World War II. Those figures were greatly exaggerated. Such unsubstantiated statements could not be used as an excuse for continuing violations of human rights by the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea. It also was very unfortunate that the representative of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea referred to past issues that were not relevant to the topic of discussion. The confusion of issues could not serve as an excuse for ongoing abductions.
He also referred to the Pyongyang Declaration, citing a paragraph in which both sides pledged that they would comply with international law and not commit acts affecting the security of the other. That provision had not been fully implemented, he said, highlighting again the abduction of Japanese nationals. He urged the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea to comply with its obligations under the Pyongyang Declaration, to provide information about those abducted and ensure the immediate return of all survivors.
The observer of Palestine said that whenever she listened to statements by the representatives of Israel, she could not help but wonder if they were aware of the atrocities that had been conducted by their Government as an occupying Power. She agreed that there were two sides to the story: the Israeli side and that of the rest of the world. Human rights organizations, even in Israel, had recognized the myriad of human rights violations against the Palestinian people.
Regarding the Palestinian Authority and Hamas, she said Israel was in no position to lecture anyone on who should govern, when there had not been one Israeli Government that had not violated United Nations Security Council resolutions. Every single Government had committed war crimes and State terrorism; every one had been responsible for civilian deaths and the theft of Palestinian land. Hamas had not been the reason for the situation. Regarding Gaza, it was an open-air prison that was still under occupation, and Israeli bombardment continued.
The representative of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, rejecting allegations by the Japanese delegation, said Japan had been driving relations with his country to their worst stage in history, for domestic political purposes. The abduction issue had been resolved, but now it had been distorted as an outstanding issue. If the Japanese authorities wanted to resolve the issue, they should inform the families and victims of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea’s true efforts in the matter. By internationalizing the abduction issue, Japan had been trying to isolate the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea and to justify its policy of militarization. Japan should ponder the impact of its position on bilateral relations and reflect upon why, if it was so wealthy, it was so poor in morality.
Statement on Human Rights Council
U WIN MRA ( Myanmar) said the Human Rights Council had already had two regular and two special sessions, but it still had a long way to go. With the adoption of General Assembly resolution 60/251, everyone had committed to adhering to the principles of universality, impartiality, objectivity and non-selectivity, constructive international dialogue, and cooperation with a view to promoting and protecting all human rights, including the right to development. However, in the Third Committee, certain countries had continued to address country-specific situations to politicize the human rights issue, and had been working to present country-specific resolutions on some selected countries. Old habits died hard; that mindset had to be changed.
It was important to review the existing system of special procedures, he said. Thorough consideration should be given to the effectiveness of maintaining country-specific Special Rapporteurs or Independent Experts. With 28 thematic Rapporteurs and 13 country mandate-holders, a heavy strain had been put on scarce resources. Factual, objective and unbiased reports were of crucial importance in dealing with country-specific situations. Some reports had contained glaring errors, inaccuracies and wrongful assertions, such as those of the Special Rapporteurs on the situation on human rights in Myanmar and on the right to food. The Council should not confine its focus to civil and political rights, but must pay special attention to economic, social and cultural rights, including the right to development. Selecting issues for the Council’s agenda should be done in a fair and balanced manner.
The representative of Gabon, speaking on behalf of the African Group, raised a point of order to ask why the president of the Human Rights Council was not before the Committee to present the Council’s report. He said the Committee should not deal with this question without first settling the question of whether the president of the Human Rights Council would appear before the Committee. If he could not be present, then the Committee should defer consideration of the agenda item, he said.
The representative of Sudan supported the statement made by Gabon, adding that the African Group wished to consider the report with the presence of the president of the Human Rights Council, to engage in an interactive dialogue and debate, and then to proceed with the general discussion.
The representative of Finland asked that the debate on the report of the Human Rights Council proceed as scheduled.
In response to a request from the Secretary for clarification, the representative of Gabon said his delegation was making a formal proposal to suspend general discussion on the report of the Human Rights Council.
The representative of Liechtenstein then took the floor, stressing that it was important to stick to the arrangement and agreement reached in the General Assembly and carry out the task given to the Third Committee. It was clear that the Third Committee was supposed to consider and act upon the recommendations by the Human Rights Council to the General Assembly, not to consider any report of the Human Rights Council, he said. It should be made clear that there was no need at all that the President present the report in the Third Committee since that task was clearly given to the plenary, according to the decision of the General Assembly. The Third Committee should not be in contravention of the decision of the General Assembly. Any presentation by the President of the report should be made in the plenary and not before the Third Committee. That important point should be made clear, he said. The Committee’s task was to “consider and act on all recommendations of the Human Rights Council,” which was a quote.
The representative of Gabon responded that the African Group remained very firm on the issue and said that the Committee should adjourn discussion on the issue while awaiting consensus. There was no consensus at present, he noted. The African Group’s position was that the President of the Human Rights Council must come and address the Third Committee in an interactive dialogue and afterward discussion on the subject could begin. The Group would not be flexible on this point and insisted on the need to suspend the meeting immediately.
The representative of Egypt supported the statement made by the representative of Gabon, noting that his delegation also was under the impression that the Committee would hear from the President of the Human Rights Council. He did not want to go into semantic debate on the decision of the General Committee of the General Assembly, which was only a recommendation. There was a motion before the Chair and he wished to see action on it.
The representative of Finland said she did not oppose adjourning the debate but asked that the bureau take a decision as soon as possible so that the debate would not be adjourned later than this afternoon.
The Chairman then adjourned the discussion until tomorrow morning, 2 November.
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