Concluding Intense Session, Third Committee Approves Final Draft Resolution on Human Rights Defenders, Sending Package of 62 Texts to General Assembly

GA/SHC/4161
25 November 2015
Seventieth Session, 56th Meeting (AM)

Concluding Intense Session, Third Committee Approves Final Draft Resolution on Human Rights Defenders, Sending Package of 62 Texts to General Assembly

Culminating a session that saw intense debate on a range of issues, from the rights of the child to States’ responsibilities to protect refugees, the Third Committee (Social, Humanitarian and Cultural) concluded its work today, approving a draft resolution on human rights defenders, which will be included in a package of 62 texts expected to be taken up by the General Assembly in December.

During today’s meeting, the Committee approved a draft resolution, by a recorded vote of 117 in favour to 14 against, with 40 abstentions, by which the General Assembly would strongly condemn violence against and intimidation of human rights defenders.  Also by that text, the General Assembly would strongly call upon all States to refrain from any act of intimidation or reprisal against human rights defenders, and would underscore the responsibility of all business enterprises to respect the rights of human rights defenders.

The representative of Norway, introducing the text as a main sponsor, presented a number of oral revisions that sought to accommodate some concerns that had been highlighted in 39 draft amendments proposed by the African Group, China and Iran.  He said the international community had to respond firmly and express strong support to human rights defenders, and government policies should ensure a free and safe environment for them to undertake their activities.  The draft resolution did not create new rights and privileges for human rights defenders, he insisted.

In view of those changes, the representative of Sierra Leone, on behalf of the African Group, withdrew its proposed amendments prior to the vote on the text.

Also before the vote, delegates from Chile and Panama said States had the primary responsibility to provide a safe environment for human rights defenders.  Similarly, the representative of New Zealand (speaking also for Australia, Canada, Iceland, Liechtenstein and Switzerland) underlined that State sovereignty could not justify undue restrictions against human rights defenders.

Expressing diverging views, delegates from China and the Russian Federation said human rights defenders should not be given special rights.  China’s speaker regretted that in recent years, certain Western countries had used the protection of “human rights defenders” as an excuse to interfere in the domestic affairs of developing countries.

The Committee also took note of a number of documents and approved its tentative programme of work for the seventy-first session of the General Assembly.

Ending its session in line with the Third Committee’s tradition, the representatives of the United Kingdom and Egypt recited poems about their work over the past weeks.

Action on Draft Resolution

The Committee took up a draft resolution on “Human Rights Defenders in the context of 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.3/70/L.46/Rev.1).

By the terms of that text, the General Assembly would strongly condemn the violence against and the targeting, criminalization, intimidation, torture, disappearance and killing of any individual, including human rights defenders.  It would call upon all States to take all measures necessary to ensure their rights and safety and to refrain from any act of intimidation or reprisal against human rights defenders.  By its text, the world body would also strongly urge the release of persons detained or imprisoned for exercising their human rights and fundamental freedoms.  It would call on States to take concrete and definitive steps to prevent and put an end to the practice of the arbitrary arrest and detention of human rights defenders.

Further to the text, the General Assembly would strongly call upon all States to refrain from, and ensure adequate protection from, any act of intimidation or reprisal against human rights defenders who cooperate, have cooperated or seek to cooperate with international institutions, including their family members and associates.  Also, the Assembly would, by that text, underscore the responsibility of all business enterprises, both transnational and others, to respect the rights of human rights defenders to freedom of expression, peaceful assembly and association and would urge enterprises to identify and address any adverse human rights impacts related to their activities.

The representative of Norway, introducing the text, welcomed the constructive discussions on the draft by all delegations, which demonstrated that the issue concerned all States.  In previous sessions, the General Assembly had expressed grave concerns about attacks against human rights defenders, he recalled.  Against that background, the international community had to respond firmly and express strong support to human rights defenders and their role for the promotion of human rights, the rule of law and democracy.

Government policies should not impede on human rights defenders, he said.  Rather, they had to ensure a free and safe environment for defenders to undertake their activities.  He then presented a number of oral revisions to the text, seeking to address the concerns and amendments presented by some delegations.  He called on the Committee to approve that text by consensus and therefore send a clear message of support to human rights defenders.

The Committee then considered a list of amendments to “L.46/Rev.1”.

The representative of Sierra Leone, on behalf of the African Group, said its proposed amendments would be withdrawn in view of the changes to the text made by the main sponsors. 

Committee Vice-Chair GREGORY KEITH DEMPSEY (Canada) said that a recorded vote had been requested by the delegations of China and the Russian Federation on “L.46/Rev.1”, as orally revised.

In a general statement, the representative of New Zealand, also speaking on behalf of Australia, Canada, Iceland, Liechtenstein and Switzerland, said that human rights defenders played a crucial role for the advancement of human rights, security and development.  He expressed concerns over violations against them and supported the draft resolution under consideration.  He regretted that amendments had been tabled despite the broad consultations conducted and that delegations had called for a vote on such an important text.  He welcomed that the text included references to the families of human rights defenders, acts of intimidation or reprisals and the registration of civil society organizations.  Concluding, he underlined that State sovereignty could not justify undue restrictions against human rights defenders.

Chile’s delegate said his country had defended the actions conducted by human rights defenders.  He regretted that they were subject to attacks, threats and other abuses by non-State actors.  He then called upon all relevant stakeholders to take all measures necessary to ensure their rights and safety.  The draft text, he stressed, also called upon States to remove obstacles to ensure that human rights defenders operated freely to carry out their work.

The representative of Norway said the draft resolution did not create new rights and privileges for human rights defenders.  The text underlined the particular need to protect them against harassment, violence, torture and threat of death.

The speaker from Panama thanked the delegation of Norway for its work.  Drawing attention to the important work carried out by human rights defenders, he said that States had the primary responsibility to provide a safe environment for them free from pressure.

The representative of China noted, in explanation of vote before the vote, that the term “human rights defenders” lacked a clear and uniform definition resulting from intergovernmental negotiations.  He expressed the view that all people were entitled to the same human rights and therefore the term “human rights defenders” should not be viewed as a special group with special rights and special legal status.  Ensuring domestic peace and social stability was the prerequisite for the enjoyment of human rights.  Any violation of national law should be sanctioned, even if committed under the pretext of “human rights defenders”.  Reasonable legislation and strict law enforcement represented the only way to genuinely promote and protect human rights, he said.  In recent years, certain Western countries had used the protection of “human rights defenders” as an excuse to interfere in the domestic affairs of developing countries.  The approval of that draft resolution in the current form would only worsen the application of double standards, which was why China would vote against it.

The delegate from the Russian Federation, speaking in explanation of vote before the vote, said the issue of the rights and responsibilities of groups dealing with human rights should be in the agenda of the Third Committee.  Unfortunately, the amendments that had been presented with a view to making the text more balanced had not been taken into account by the main sponsors.  She regretted to say that the consultations had been conducted in a non-transparent manner, until the last night before the approval of the text.  She shared the view that human rights defenders were not a specific category, and expressed concerns over attempts to recognize their specific rights, which would result in dividing people and weakening national institutions in the field of human rights.

Also speaking in explanation of vote before the vote, the representative of Nigeria said States held the primary responsibility to promote and protect its citizens’ human rights.  There was, however, little or no need for the draft resolution to be before the Committee.  To that end, her delegation would vote against the text.

The Committee then approved the text by a recorded vote of 117 in favour to 14 against, with 40 abstentions.

India’s speaker welcomed the adoption of the text and acknowledged the hard work of the Member States.  To comply with its international obligations, India had become a party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.  Also, he noted, a sufficient legislative framework was available to all citizens, including the ones defending human rights.

Speaking in explanation of vote after the vote, Sudan’s delegate said the text required further work to reflect the interest of all delegations, and needed more clarity on certain elements.  To that end, his delegation had voted against the resolution.

Also speaking in explanation of vote after the vote, the representative of Viet Nam said his delegation had fully engaged in consultations at all levels.  Due to the lack of clarity and balance in the resolution, however, Viet Nam had abstained from voting on the text.

Making a general statement, the representative of Luxembourg, speaking on behalf of the European Union, regretted to say that human rights defenders were facing increasing risks.  It was the primary responsibility of States to protect all human rights and fundamental freedoms.  In that regard, the European Union urged all States to create a safe environment for human rights defenders to ensure that they operated freely, with access to funding and resources, in order to carry out their important and legitimate work.

Making a general statement, the speaker from the United States said civil society leaders had a lasting impact on the society.  Drawing attention to violations and abuses against human rights defenders, she stressed that States must fully comply with their international obligations.  She also thanked Norway for its important work and noted that her delegation had voted in favour of the text.

The Committee then took note of a number of documents.

Under its agenda sub-item 72(a) on the implementation of human rights instruments, the Committee took note of the following: report of the Committee against Torture (document A/70/44); report of the Secretary-General on the United Nations Voluntary Fund for Victims of Torture (document A/70/223); report of the Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (document A/70/55); report of the Committee on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of Their Families (document A/70/48); report of the Secretary-General on the United Nations Voluntary Trust Fund on Contemporary Forms of Slavery (document A/70/299); and a note by the Secretary-General on the Special Fund established by the Optional Protocol to the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (document A/70/273).  It also considered the following notes by the Secretary-General that transmitted the annual report of the Chairs of the human rights treaty bodies (document A/70/302) and the eighth annual report of the Subcommittee on Prevention of Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (document A/70/425).

Under its agenda sub-item 72(b) on human rights questions, including alternative approaches for improving the effective enjoyment of human rights and fundamental freedoms, it took note of the following reports of the Secretary‑General: 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/70/258) and on the follow-up to the International Year of Human Rights Learning (document A/70/166).  It also took note of the report of the Committee on Enforced Disappearances (document A/70/56).  In addition, it considered the following notes by the Secretary-General transmitting the reports of the: Working Group on the issue of human rights and transnational corporations and other business enterprises (document A/70/216); Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders (document A/70/217); Special Rapporteur on the human rights of migrants (document A/70/310); and Independent Expert on the effects of foreign debt and other related international financial obligations of States on the full enjoyment of all human rights, particularly economic, social and cultural rights (document A/70/275).

Under the same sub-item, it considered the following notes by the Secretary‑General transmitting the Special Rapporteurs’ reports on: adequate housing as a component of the right to an adequate standard of living, and on the right to non-discrimination in this context (document A/70/270); the right to education (document A/70/342); promotion of truth, justice, reparation and guarantees of non-recurrence (document A/70/438); extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions (document A/70/304); the independence of judges and lawyers (document A/70/263); the right of everyone to the enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health (document A/70/213); the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression (document A/70/361); extreme poverty and human rights (document A/70/274); trafficking in persons, especially women and children (document A/70/260); the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association (document A/70/266).

Continuing under the same sub-item, the Committee also considered notes by the Secretary-General transmitting the report of the: Independent Expert in the field of cultural rights (documents A/70/279 and A/70/279/Corr.1); Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms while countering terrorism (document A/70/371); Independent Expert on human rights and international solidarity (document A/70/316); and Special Rapporteur on human rights and unilateral coercive measures (document A/70/345).  It also recognized the note by the Secretariat on the report of the Secretary‑General on the right to development (document A/70/111).

Under its agenda sub-item 72(c) on human rights situations and reports of Special Rapporteurs and representatives, the Committee took note of the following notes by the Secretary-General transmitting Special Rapporteurs’ reports on the situation of human rights in the Palestinian territories occupied since 1967 (document A/70/392) and on the situation of human rights in Belarus (document A/70/313).

Turning to the agenda item related to the revitalization of the work of the General Assembly, it then approved, without a vote, the “Tentative programme of work of the Third Committee for the seventy-first session of the General Assembly” contained in document A/C.3/70/L.110.

Ending its session in line with the Third Committee’s tradition, the representatives of the United Kingdom and Egypt recited poems about their work over the past weeks.

For information media. Not an official record.