Office of High Commissioner for Human Rights Increasingly ‘Action-Oriented’, She Tells Third Committee as It Hears from Special Rapporteurs

23 October 2013
GA/SHC/4076

Office of High Commissioner for Human Rights Increasingly ‘Action-Oriented’, She Tells Third Committee as It Hears from Special Rapporteurs

23 October 2013
General Assembly
GA/SHC/4076
Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York

Sixty-eighth General Assembly

Third Committee

23rd & 24th Meetings (AM & PM)

Office of High Commissioner for Human Rights Increasingly ‘Action-Oriented’,

She Tells Third Committee as It Hears from Special Rapporteurs

Marking its twentieth year of operation, the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) had become increasingly action-oriented in response to a steadily growing number of requests from Member States for engagement and assistance, the High Commissioner told the Third Committee (Social, Humanitarian and Cultural) today.

“Respect for human rights should be at the heart of the United Nations response to conflict, from the very early stages where human rights information is a tool for early warning and prevention,” said High Commissioner Navi Pillay, in reporting on the increased number of OHCHR field presences, country/regional offices and human rights components of United Nations peacekeeping missions.  She also recounted her visits to such countries in conflict as the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Yemen and the Central African Republic.

The High Commissioner’s presentation of the annual report on the work of her Office began the Committee’s consideration of specific human rights issues, including the situations in several countries, violence against women, extreme poverty and minority issues.

Ms. Pillay said there had been positive developments in the advancement of the human rights agenda, as seen in the willingness of the Government of Egypt to host an OHCHR regional office for North Africa in Cairo.  Discussions were also under way with the Government of Myanmar on establishing a country office.  OHCHR had also provided consistent support to the Human Rights Council and its mechanisms as they addressed human rights issues around the globe.

Turning to the situation in Syria, she reported that, while much recent attention had focused on the use of chemical weapons there, there was shocking evidence of the wide range of human rights violations persisting in the country.  “The bloodshed, suffering and litany of international crimes documented by the commission of inquiry during its two years of painstaking work are truly unconscionable,” she said.

The Human Rights Council had also established a commission of inquiry on the human rights situation in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, conducting a series of public hearings, she continued, urging the authorities there to cooperate with the relevant commission of inquiry, including by allowing direct access.

On a similar note, she urged States to cooperate with OHCHR’s special procedures, which were intended not only to identify and report on human rights violations, but also to engage constructively with national authorities in addressing and resolving issues.

Noting that the Vienna Declaration clearly identified the inextricable link between democracy, development and human rights, she pledged that OHCHR would work hard to ensure that the post-2015 development framework would properly reflect the lessons of the Millennium Development Goals, and actually advance fundamental human rights in the same spirit with which it addressed the protection and promotion of women’s rights, the rights of persons with disabilities and the rights of migrants.  On the latter, she said she was “shocked by the latest boat tragedy off the coast of Lampedusa”, and urged all Governments to rectify violations of migrant workers’ rights on the home front.

While welcoming the ever-increasing demands placed on her Office, she said they had not been matched with additional resources.  “I count on Member States not only to consider increasing overall financial support to our Office, but also to reflect judiciously when establishing new human rights mandates so as to ensure they are always accompanied with the means to enable their proper implementation.”

The Committee also heard the report of the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Iran, who said that conflicting reports and a lack of quantifiable official data made it difficult to identify all the factors contributing to the evident humanitarian adversities facing the Iranian people.  He emphasized, however, that, although he was aware of President Hassan Rouhani’s “overtures”, he was not qualified to comment on their broader geopolitical implications, but a revitalized dialogue between Iran and the international community “must include, and not seek to sideline, the issue of human rights”.

Also addressing the Committee was the Special Rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights, who said her report was intended to draw attention to the unequal distribution of unpaid care work, an issue that policymakers stubbornly continued to overlook.  “It is high time that we recognized the unequal distribution of unpaid care work — fueled by discriminatory gender stereotypes about women’s and men’s roles in society and in the family — as a major human rights issue,” she emphasized.  “Across the world, millions of women still find that poverty is their reward for a lifetime spent caring, and unpaid care provision by women and girls is still treated as an infinite, cost-free resource.”

The Special Rapporteur on Violence against Women, its Causes and Consequences emphasized the importance of celebrating milestones such as the twentieth anniversary of the Declaration on the Elimination of Violence against Women.  However, “we have to take cognizance of the enormous challenges we continue to face in the struggle to eliminate violence against women”, she pointed out.

In the day’s final presentation, the Independent Expert on minority issues said that her second annual report to the General Assembly advocated a minority-rights-based approach to protecting religious minorities, in addition to one based on freedom of religion and belief.  Two areas of the report required particular attention by Member States, the first being the increasing tide of violent attacks against religious minorities, and the second being the need for dialogue and inter-faith exchanges.

Participating in the interactive dialogue that followed each presentation were representatives of China, Ethiopia, Costa Rica, State of Palestine, European Union delegation, El Salvador, Russian Federation, Mexico, Norway, Romania, Suriname, Tunisia, United Kingdom, Libya, Serbia, Switzerland, Chile, Syria, Liechtenstein, Belarus, Bangladesh, Nigeria, France, South Africa, Morocco, Iran, Angola, Netherlands, Kenya, Indonesia, Brazil, Canada, Australia, Ireland, Czech Republic, United States, Maldives, Cuba, Egypt, Slovenia, Japan, Qatar, Papua New Guinea, Cameroon, Hungary and Austria.

The Third Committee will reconvene at 10 a.m. on Thursday, 24 October, to continue its discussion on human rights and hear additional presentations.

Background

The Third Committee met this morning to continue its consideration of the protection and promotion of human rights.  Before it were the following reports on human rights questions, including alternative approaches for improving the effective enjoyment of human rights and fundamental freedoms:  documents A/68/292, A/68/207, A/68/185, A/68/211, A/68/210, A/68/210/Add.1, A/68/208, A/68/177, A/68/261, A/68/224, A/68/323, A/68/301, A/68/209, A/68/390, A/68/277, A/68/287, A/68/304, A/68/56, A/68/268, A/68/279, A/68/298, A/68/290, A/68/262, A/68/225, A/68/288, A/68/283, A/68/289, A/68/294, A/68/284, A/68/345, A/68/382, A/68/285, A/68/297, A/68/362, A/68/293, A/68/256, A/68/299, A/68/296, A/67/931, A/68/389, A/68/176 and A/68/496.

Included in the documentation were reports of the Secretary-General on the promotion and protection of human rights, including ways and means to promote the human rights of migrants; follow-up to the International Year of Human Rights Learning; the right to development; human rights and unilateral coercive measures; International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance; national institutions for the promotion and protection of human rights; globalization and its impact on the full enjoyment of all human rights; human rights in the administration of justice — analysis of the international legal and institutional framework for the protection of all persons deprived of their liberty; the universal, indivisible, interrelated, interdependent and mutually reinforcing nature of all human rights and fundamental freedoms; the promotion of equitable geographical distribution in the membership of the human rights treaty bodies; and the United Nations Human Rights Training and Documentation Centre for South-West Asia and the Arab Region.

Members also had before them the following human rights situations and reports of special rapporteurs and representatives:  documents A/68/392, A/68/331, A/68/377, A/68/319, A/68/376, A/68/397, A/68/503, A/68/276 and A/C.3/68/3.

Presentation of Reports and Interactive Dialogue

NAVANETHEM PILLAY, United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, presented her annual report covering the period from August 2012 to July 2013 (document A/68/36).  She said the work of the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) was increasingly action-oriented as it responded to growing numbers of requests for itsengagement and assistance.  It supported 60 field presences, and was holding negotiations with the Governments of Cairo and Myanmar relating to their willingness to host regional and country offices.  “Respect for human rights should be at the heart of the United Nations response to conflict, from the very early stages where human rights information is a tool for early warning and prevention,” said Navi Pillay.  OHCHR had therefore undertaken missions in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Yemen, Central African Republic, Sri Lanka and Afghanistan, in addition to having established commissions of inquiry into human rights violations in Syria and the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.  Speaking of Syria, she said that “the bloodshed, suffering and litany of international crimes documented by the commission during its two years of painstaking work, are truly unconscionable”.

“There are currently 51 special procedures — a record number”, she continued, expressing concern, however, over the refusal of some States to cooperate with them.  Pointing out that special procedures were intended not only to identify and report on violations, but also to engage constructively with the authorities in addressing and resolving issues, she called on Member States to allow unimpeded visits.  Another alarming trend was the intimidation and harassment of civil society actors cooperating with the United Nations, she said, noting that reprisals against human rights defenders were rising significantly.

OHCHR’s support and follow-up to the Universal Periodic Review had been unwavering, she said, noting that during the reporting period, 41 States had undergone the second review cycle.  It was a unique peer-review process between States that was increasingly recognized as a catalyst of national dialogue and cooperation.  Moreover, the human rights treaty bodies had considered 128 reports during the reporting period, she said, noting that the system continued to grow with last May’s entry into force of the Optional Protocol to the Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, which enabled the Committee to receive and consider complaints and to undertake inquiries.

She said that the principled declarations of Vienna universally endorsed the right to development and clearly identified the inextricable link between democracy, development and human rights.  For that reason, OHCHR worked hard to ensure that the post-2015 development framework would properly reflect the lessons of the Millennium Development Goals, and actually advance fundamental human rights.  On racial discrimination, she spoke about the launch of an online database to help States share their experiences of tackling the phenomenon.  In addition, it had sought the cooperation of the Union of European Football Associations and the Fédération Internationale de Football Association to access hundreds of millions of soccer fans worldwide, since the those federations were considered powerful allies in the promotion of human rights to a global audience.

OHCHR considered sexual and gender-based violence a priority, and had built a partnership with UN-Women, committing both entities to align their messages in global advocacy as well as inter-agency and intergovernmental work, she said.  “We will continue to promote an approach to sexual violence that is entirely framed in established and ratified norms and principles, including indivisibility, universality and inalienability,” she emphasized.  OHCHR was also considering sexual violence and gender discrimination in its entirety, as well as discrimination against lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender (LGBT) and intersex persons, as long-running and complex human rights phenomena.  In addition, helping to foster accountability remained a central part of OHCHR mandate and activities, she said.  “It is crucial that those responsible for grave human rights violations and other international crimes be held accountable, and this should be done at all levels, including the most senior.”

Regarding migrants, she said their deaths were neither unpredictable nor inevitable, and she was “shocked by the latest boat tragedy off the coast of Lampedusa” urging all governments to take concrete actions to rectify violations of migrant worker’s rights on the home front.  In light of the physical abuse and discrimination faced by refugees, migrants and so-called outsiders worldwide, she called on Governments to rectify violations of migrant workers’ rights.  OHCHR counted on the commitment and support of Member States in meeting their human rights obligations, including towards persons with disabilities, and in working together to ensure that the post-2015 agenda would include persons with disabilities, and respect their rights.

On the Office’s financial constraints, she counted on Member States “not only to consider increasing overall financial support to our Office, but also to reflect judiciously when establishing new human rights mandates so as to ensure they are always accompanied with the means to enable their proper implementation”.  Reflecting on the twentieth anniversary of OHCHR, she said that the achievements of the human rights movement as a whole were revealed in a constantly expanding body of treaties, institutions, laws, legal precedents and analyses; a wealth of hands-on experience and expertise at the national, regional and international levels, and a blossoming global network of civil society organizations and human rights activists who were essential agents of change.

When the floor opened for a first round of questions, some delegates asked how the OHCHR mandate could be implemented with its limited resources and how the international community could further engage to ensure that the post-2015 development agenda encompassed human rights, democracy and the rule of law.  One delegate requested an update on the status of Israel’s participation in the Universal Periodic Review, while another sought details on the status of the proposed establishment of an OHCHR country office in Myanmar.  Other questions related to the rights of people of certain sexual orientations, budgetary matters and geographical balance in staffing.

Ms. PILLAY responded by clarifying that OHCHR focused on all rights, in line with the relevant treaties.  Priority areas did not mean exclusive focus on those areas, but sharpening the focus on them.  She agreed with delegates who stressed the importance of technical assistance and capacity-building, saying her Office was stepping up its efforts in those respects.  It should, however, be properly funded.  OHCHR had received requests for 27 human rights advisers, but would be unable to meet all those requests without sufficient funding.  She expressed concern at the low rate of responses to special procedure communications.  She said independent human rights experts did not just offer criticism, but provided meaningful assessments and made serious suggestions.  It was, therefore, imperative that States grant them access.

Providing an update on Myanmar’s invitation to open a country office, she said she was working with the authorities through the regional office in Bangkok.  It was important to establish the Myanmar office with a full mandate, and OHCHR had submitted a memorandum of understanding, she said.

Regarding Israel’s Universal Periodic Review, she said it would begin on 29 October, adding that it was a matter of concern both to her Office and to the Human Rights Council.  All efforts were being made to persuade Israel to participate in the process.

On the question of funding, she said her Office was facing growing demand.  While OHCHR examined its standards of efficiency, States must correct the imbalances between demand for its work and the available funding.  She urged States to provide funding through the regular budget and more voluntary contributions.  If new mandates were given without adequate resources, OHCHR must take resources from existing programmes, she cautioned, pointing out that increased funding would ensure greater predictability and stability.  OHCHR’S 2014-2015 regular budget would be adequate to continue its work, but it was unlikely to meet every request, she said.

On integrating migrants into the post-2015 development framework, she stressed the importance of including that marginalized group, the numbers of which could form the fifth-largest country in the world.

Responding to comments that her Office accorded disproportionately high priority to protecting the rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people and inventing new rights, she stressed OHCHR’s adherence to the internationally agreed rights set forth in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, as well as in human rights treaties.  They protected the rights of “everyone”, not “everyone but LGBT”.

To a question about geographical imbalance in OHCHR staffing, she said that was being addressed, citing increases in the number of staff from certain regions, including Africa, Asia and Eastern Europe.

She agreed with some delegates that human rights should be central to the post-2015 development agenda, saying her Office was actively engaged in ensuring that.

Participants in the interactive dialogue included speakers representing China, Ethiopia, Costa Rica, State of Palestine, European Union delegation, El Salvador, Russian Federation, Mexico, Norway and Romania.

In a second round of questions, delegates asked about the implications of coercive measures such as sanctions on the promotion and protection of human rights.  Others asked about OHCHR’s assessment of the cost of the human rights treaty bodies and their role in the post-2015 development agenda.  One delegate asked about the High Commissioner’s vision for the direction that OHCHR would take going forward.  Other questions related to the budgetary constraints impeding the human rights mandate, human rights protection in conflict situations and in judiciary systems, protecting and promoting the rights of migrants, and the right to privacy.  Delegates also commented on, among other topics, violence arising from the target’s sexual orientation and gender identity; referring particular violations to the International Criminal Court; the code of conduct for those holding special procedure mandates; the right to retain the death penalty; and the conflict in Syria.

Ms. PILLAY thanked Member States for their words of support and for their encouragement to her Office, before informing the representative of Libya about ongoing preparations for her visit to that country.

On the implications of sanctions and other coercive measures on human rights, she said her Office prepared the Secretary General’s report on that issue.  OHCHR also organized the meetings and workshops that informed the report considered by the Human Rights Council, recommending that sanctions should not last for long periods and must be monitored for their impact on human rights.

Emphasizing the importance of country offices, she highlighted their monitoring role as one of the key benefits of the in-country presence of human rights advisers.  The latter helped Governments develop technical expertise on human rights through capacity-building and the transfer of knowledge.

She said a detailed cost assessment of the treaty bodies would come in the form of a report of the Secretary General, to be released on 15 November.  All costing, including capacity-building and direct assistance to States parties would be addressed, she added.  On the role of treaty bodies in the post-2015 development agenda, she said they could monitor implementation of the sustainable development goals because they were important accountability mechanisms.

Regarding OHCHR’S direction going forward, she stressed the challenges posed by budget restrictions, especially in light of increased Member State requests for its support.  The Universal Periodic Review had increased their receptivity to OHCHR, but it was unable to respond to the 27 still pending requests for advice due to budget constraints.  The Office must sharpen its focus to ensure that its work had a greater impact.

Participants in the dialogue included representatives of Suriname, Tunisia, United Kingdom, Libya, Serbia, Switzerland, Chile, Syria, Liechtenstein, Belarus, Bangladesh, Nigeria, France, South Africa, Morocco, Iran, Angola, Netherlands, Kenya, Indonesia and Brazil.

AHMED SHAHEED, Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Islamic Republic of Iran, presented his third interim report (document A/68/377), saying he had carried out his work without visiting that country, through meetings with its representatives in Geneva and New York.  There had been cooperation and constructive dialogue with the Iranian authorities in addressing alleged human rights violations and in offering support and advice to advance the domestic promotion and protection of fundamental rights.  Another pillar of his work was to draw attention to human rights issues and individual cases of alleged human rights violations, where domestic mechanisms had failed to deliver accountability, remedy and redress.

He said a visit to Iran would improve his ability to investigate claims about the impact of sanctions on human rights in the country, an issue of great importance.  Conflicting reports and a lack of quantifiable official data made it difficult to identify all the factors contributing to the evident humanitarian adversities facing the Iranian people.  He emphasized that although he was aware of President Hassan Rouhani’s “overtures”, he was not qualified to comment on their broader geopolitical implications, but a revitalized dialogue between Iran and the international community “must include and not seek to sideline the issue of human rights”.

Against that background, three broad conclusions could be drawn, he continued:  the recent positive overtures were only preliminary steps towards tangible and sustainable systemic reforms; the “tensions between various aspects of Iran’s laws and international human rights obligation” remained an obstacle to progress in that field; and the failure of the Iranian authorities to address the systemic weaknesses in its legislative and policy framework had, and continued to have, an “obvious impact on the realization of human rights on the ground”.  The sober reality of human rights in Iran represented a powerful reminder that human rights reform must be a central aspect of the new Government’s legislative agenda, he said.

In the ensuing interactive dialogue, the representative of Iran described her country’s recent presidential election as an example of democracy consistent with religion which had demonstrated that the Iranian people and Government believed in the ballot box as the basis of power, societal acceptance, legitimacy and enduring human rights.  The election’s momentum should be used to adopt a new and constructive approach by all relevant parties to cooperation and dialogue, she said, emphasizing that an impartial, balanced and non-political approach that acknowledged positive human rights developments in Iranian society was imperative.

Describing the report just presented as a non-objective and counter-productive exercise, she said it could lead to further polarization and politicization of human rights in the Organization, adding that, on that basis, Iran rejected the creation of the Special Rapporteur’s mandate.  The rejection was not, however, a refusal to cooperate, she stressed, saying Iran intended to continue its cooperation with United Nations human rights treaty bodies.  However, the report ignored the good standing of women and paid insufficient notice to Iran’s legal system and Islamic culture, she said.

Most delegations acknowledged and welcomed the recent positive steps taken by President Rouhani, but expressed deep concern over the increasing number of executions carried out in Iran, including those carried out in public, and the targeting of media professionals and religious minorities, among other things.  Delegates also asked about concrete steps that Iran must take in order to improve the protection and promotion of human rights; the status of the Custodianship Bill, which allowed a custodian to marry his adopted daughter at the age of 13; signs of improvement in the situation of executions; the juvenile death penalty; the possibility of allowing the Special Rapporteur and other thematic rapporteurs to visit Iran; the unjustified oppression of the Bahá’í community; the release of political prisoners; how the international community could support the creation of a vibrant and free civil society; measures to rehabilitate political prisoners after release; the status of restrictions imposed on women’s access to certain professional fields; access to digital information; and updates in the report reflecting changes undertaken by the Iranian Government.

Mr. SHAHEED said he could not reply in detail to all the questions, but would provide broad answers.  He said he did not accept information from any group advocating violence, and since the report had a word limit, he could not give space to comments by the Government.  On sanctions, he said he had dedicated a whole section of his report to the topic so that delegations could refer to it for answers.  The report had been finalized in July, and in the time between then and now, some developments had occurred in Iran but the Government had lacked the time to undertake any substantial change.

However, President Rouhani had made a number of pledges to improve Iran’s human rights record, including by issuing a “civil rights charter”, he said.  It would call for equality for all citizens without discrimination on the basis of race, religion or sex.  It would also call for greater freedom for political parties and minorities, and ensure freedom of assembly, among other things.  On the topic of executions, he said the Government had received a number of recommendations in different forms and from different United Nations entities and bodies.  If it complied with them, and with the provisions of the core international human rights treaties it had ratified, many of today’s questions would not have been asked, he said.

Participating in the interactive dialogue were representatives of Canada, Australia, European Union delegation, Ireland, Switzerland, Czech Republic, Belarus, United States, Norway, Maldives, Russian Federation and Brazil.

RASHIDA MANJOO, Special Rapporteur on Violence against Women, its Causes and Consequences, presented her report (document A/68/340), saying it illustrated the strong link between violence against women and their incarceration.  Evidence suggested that incarcerated women had been victims of violence at a much higher rate before entering prison than was generally acknowledged by the legal system.  While some were incarcerated for committing crimes, without extenuating circumstances linked to prior violence, the undeniable link between violence and incarceration, and the continuum of violence during and after incarceration, was a reality for many women globally, she emphasized.

She went on to say that women were imprisoned for many reasons, including for illegal activities committed in response to coercion by abusive partners; for links to others engaged in illegal behaviour; for crimes such as prostitution despite having been coerced into the trade; and for obtaining abortions, including in cases of rape in countries where abortion was illegal or legal in limited circumstances.  Female sex-workers were administratively detained for purposes of rehabilitation in some countries, while in other, women were imprisoned for “moral” offences such as adultery or extra-marital sex.  The incarceration of mothers led to questions about the care of children left behind, and about young children living in prison with their mothers.

There were no universally agreed standards for determining which circumstances warranted incarceration, and whether it was in the best interests of children, she said, noting that most countries instituted policies that based such decisions on the age of the child.  Citing her 2013 thematic report to the Human Rights Council, she said it focused on the issue of State responsibility for eliminating violence against women.  As a general rule, State responsibility was based on acts or omissions committed either by State actors or by actors whose actions were attributable to the State.

She said the basic guiding elements in respect of State responsibility to act with due diligence included:  recognizing the problem; reviewing current policies to identify problem areas; modifying laws and policies to prevent harm or protect a right; ensuring accountability on the part of both State and non-State actors; addressing root causes of violence and discrimination that intersected in the actual experiences of women; punishing and/or rehabilitating perpetrators; providing compensation and other remedial measures to victims; reporting to an international body in respect of measures taken towards compliance; and monitoring cases and indicators so as to modify policies.

She also reported on her 2012 visits in to the Solomon Islands, Papua New Guinea, Bosnia and Herzegovina and Croatia, saying that the past year had revealed how much more still needed to be done in responding effectively to violence against women and preventing it.  Emphasizing the importance of celebrating milestones such as the twentieth anniversary of the Declaration on the Elimination of Violence against Women, she pointed out, however, that “we have to take cognizance of the enormous challenges we continue to face in the struggle to eliminate violence against women”.  Inequalities, including gender discrimination and gender-based violence, must be a top concern for the post-2015 development agenda.

In the ensuing interactive dialogue, some delegates asked about alternatives to incarceration, the role of family in protecting women, and community-based sentencing.  Others enquired about ways to fight femicide at the global level.  Several questions related to specific cases in certain countries, such as violence against women in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, and Cuban detainees in the United States who were not allowed to contact their spouses.

Ms. MANJOO responded by saying that equality and non-discrimination were among the guiding principles of the struggle to eliminate violence against women, adding that stereotyping underpinned the oppression of women.  Alternatives to incarceration were listed in the report, and included house arrest and supervision.  Italy was a good example of a country offering such alternatives to women with children, she said.  Such mothers and their children were assigned to residential facilities where they had access to work programmes, an innovative alternative that took into account the role of women as children’s primary care givers.  She also stressed the importance of accountability, noting that accountability was an exception now, rather than the norm.  It must become the norm, she stressed.

Responding to a delegate of the United States who disagreed with her point about migrants, she said immigrants were detained without trial.

Participating were representatives of Switzerland, Liechtenstein, Cuba, European Union delegation, Egypt, Slovenia, Nigeria, Canada, Japan, United States, South Africa, Qatar and Papua New Guinea.

MAGDALENA SEPÚLVEDA CARMONA, Special Rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights, said that her report (document A/68/293) intended to draw attention to the unequal distribution of unpaid care work, an issue that policymakers stubbornly continued to overlook.  Women around the world performed the vast majority of that type of work, which included cooking, cleaning, caring for children and older persons, and fetching water and fuel.  In all countries, when unpaid work was taken into account, women worked longer hours than men, and yet received less financial reward or recognition, she noted.  Women living in poverty spent even more time on unpaid care, because they could not afford time-saving technologies or outside help and had limited access to the services and infrastructure that could reduce the burden.

“It is high time that we recognized the unequal distribution of unpaid care work — fueled by discriminatory gender stereotypes about women’s and men’s roles in society and in the family — as a major human rights issue,” she emphasized.  Inequality in that matter underlay many other aspects of discrimination against women and had, therefore, much wider implications for gender equality.  Assuming disproportionate care responsibilities throughout their lives also created multiple obstacles for women, which prevented them from enjoying many of their human rights equally with men, such as the rights to education, health, social security and water and sanitation.  Particularly critical was the right to participation.  Among the most significant factors restraining women’s capacity for further involvement in public and political life was that care work tied them to the home, that men did not share it, and that there were no services supporting it.

She called on all States, whatever their level of development, to position care as a social and collective responsibility.  From equality legislation to investment in infrastructure and providing public services, there were a wide variety of areas in which different States should take action, taking into account their specific challenges in achieving gender equality.  In all cases, however, policymakers must apply a care perspective, she emphasized.  They must always examine whether any specific policy or intervention was sensitive to the demands of unpaid care work and its gendered distribution, and whether it implicitly reinforced care work as women’s sole responsibility or, by contrast, challenged negative gender stereotypes.

“Across the world, millions of women still find that poverty is their reward for a lifetime spent caring, and unpaid care provision by women and girls is still treated as an infinite, cost-free resource,” she said.  Recognizing, reducing and redistributing unpaid care work must be a central plank of the struggle for gender equality.  Otherwise women living in poverty would not be able fully and equally to enjoy the benefits of development or their human rights, and the intergenerational transmission of poverty would continue, she warned.  The potential of the post-2015 global development framework to eradicate poverty, tackle inequality and boost the enjoyment of human rights would be greatly enhanced by including the relevant commitments and by encouraging States to consider the care economy when creating and pursuing goals and targets in employment and social protection.

Delegates asked how the gender inequalities deriving from the fact that women were mostly burdened with unpaid care work related to extreme poverty; migrant women’s right to work; and how equality could be achieved between men and women in an unregulated sector, such ascare work.

The representative of the United States said she disagreed with many of the requirements proposed in the report.

Ms. SEPULVEDA said that the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women stipulated that all States were under the obligation “to modify the social and cultural patterns of conduct of men and women”, according to which men were breadwinners and women caregivers.

Commenting on observations by the representative of Cuba, she said that country’s delegate had highlighted an important point:  women from poor countries were often forced to migrate and to engage in unregulated work that had an impact on the enjoyment of their rights.

Others participating were representatives of Chile, European Union delegation, Russian Federation and Nigeria.

RITA IZSÁK, Independent Expert on minority issues, said her second annual report to the General Assembly (document A/68/268) advocated a minority-rights-based approach to protecting religious minorities, in addition to one based on freedom of religion and belief.

She said two areas of her report required particular attention by Member States, the first being the increasing tide of violent attacks against religious minorities.  It was the primary duty of States to protect their security and to make very focused interventions in cases where relationships had deteriorated, violence had increased or patterns of discrimination had become the norm.  Protecting the security of minorities meant more than reacting to violent incidents.  It meant preventative actions, including active engagement with minorities, full understanding of their situations and security concerns, and monitoring non-State actors who incited religious hatred.  “Too often State action to prevent violence is inadequate and responses to violent acts are too little and too late,” she emphasized.

Secondly, there was a need for dialogue and inter-faith exchanges, she said, adding that she was encouraged by the many projects around the world that sought to build bridges of understanding and respect between people of different faiths.  Those projects were advanced by States, non-governmental organizations or coalitions of actors, and her report recommended that States take a leadership role in promoting such inclusive inter-faith projects and exchanges.  The role of religious and political leaders in building tolerant, inclusive societies, and in initiating and supporting national efforts, could not be over-stated.  Community, religious and political figures should be at the forefront of dialogue and inter-community cohesion efforts, publicly condemning religious hatred and violence.

“Too often leaders remain silent in the face of religious hatred or even participate in anti-minority discourse,” she continued.  “The creation of a culture of human rights and of respect for those from all faiths, by all, is key.”  To achieve that goal, States had a duty to invest heavily and consistently in educating the wider society about minority rights and the value of diversity to society.  The sixth session of the Forum on Minority Issues, scheduled for November in Geneva, would focus on issues facing religious minorities, she said, adding that the Forum would provide a unique and inclusive venue to air those issues and shape essential recommendations to help protect and promote the rights of religious minorities.

In the ensuing interactive dialogue, delegates asked about best practices, the role of interfaith dialogue and ways in which to raise awareness about minority rights in post-conflict situations.  Others asked about how to protect minorities in armed conflict and about the implications of blasphemy laws.  One delegate asked whether the Independent Expert intended to include sexual minorities in a future report.

Ms. IZSÁK said that further implementation of the Declaration on the Rights of Persons Belonging to National or Ethnic, Religious and Linguistic Minorities was a challenge in the absence of a uniform understanding of the concept of “minority”.  Urging minority communities to make greater use of the instrument, she said that during her visit to Qatar, a religious community there had not wished to be categorized as a “minority.”  In Africa, there was no established understanding of minority rights, as compared with those of indigenous peoples.  A formal mechanism such as a Government Ministry or a working group dedicated to minority issues would make it easier to implement the Declaration, she said.

Regarding sexual minority, she said that issue was outside her mandate, but she may raise a question if cases fell within it.  Responding to a question about the protection of minority groups in armed conflict, she said her role was to focus more on preventive measures and to bring minority protection issues into peacebuilding efforts.  It was also useful for her to look at other mandates, she said, recalling that she had recently talked to the Special Adviser for the Prevention of Genocide and learned about escalating tension between Christian and Muslim communities in the United Republic of Tanzania.

Participating in the ensuing interactive dialogue were representatives of Norway, Cameroon, Hungary, United States, Austria, Switzerland, Serbia and the Russian Federation.

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For information media • not an official record
For information media. Not an official record.