Experts on the human rights situations in Myanmar and Iran, as well as on thematic topics such as trafficking in persons, were among those presenting reports to the Third Committee (Social, Humanitarian and Cultural) today, as delegates began general debate on those reports and introduced five draft resolutions on other aspects of social development.
Vijay Nambiar, Special Adviser on Myanmar, presented the Secretary-General’s report on the human rights situation in that country in the context of its ongoing peace process and democratization. He described “significant” political changes that had taken place following the historic November 2015 elections, including the presence of Daw Aung Sun Suu Kyi at the General Assembly’s seventy-first session. While there was “cautious optimism” about Government efforts to improve the situation in Rakhine State, recent violence there had created cause for concern.
In the ensuing dialogue, Myanmar’s representative underscored the serious efforts underway to find a fair and durable solution to the situation in Rakhine. The Government was also cooperating with the High Commissioner for Human Rights. Given its progress, it was time for the United Nations to assist Myanmar in its democratic transition, based on regular modes of engagement without any special human rights procedures, a point later echoed by Mr. Nambiar, who encouraged States to consider other options of engagement to support the transition.
Delegates welcomed the positive direction the new Government had taken to achieve peace. Several expressed concern about recent attacks in Rakhine and rights violations against minorities, among them, Egypt’s representative, who, on behalf of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation, drew attention to the deteriorating situation of the Rohingya community and restrictions on their rights.
In an interactive dialogue Michael Lynk, Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Palestinian territories occupied since 1967, delegates reiterated concern about rights violations in those territories and the ongoing occupation. In response, Mr. Lynk said that the occupation was only becoming more entrenched, mainly due to Israel’s settlement expansion. Palestinians were not on path to self-determination, which should be a concern to the international community.
Rita Izsak-Ndiaye, Special Rapporteur on minority issues, described rights violations faced by minorities during humanitarian crises, such as displacement and discrimination. Delegates shared those concerns, with representatives of Hungary and Norway requesting more support for minorities and more data on their situations. In her response, Ms. Izsak-Ndiaye stressed the need to ensure the full inclusion of minorities in all sectors of society.
Elisabeth da Costa, presented the final report of the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Iran, Ahmed Shaheed, noting that, while Iran’s engagement had improved over the past five years, he had never been granted access to the country. Children were at risk of early and forced marriage, while ethnic and religious minorities were subject to arbitrary arrest, detention and prosecution. The rights to freedom of expression and association were severely restricted. Iran was still the country with the highest number of executions per capita.
Iran’s delegate responded that recent legal reforms had been ignored and, along with other delegates, decried the politicized, duplicative and partial nature of the mandate. Other delegates called on Iran to meet its international human rights obligations and expressed concern about the detention of individuals with dual citizenship.
Heiner Bielefeldt, Special Rapporteur on freedom of religion or belief and Maria Grazia Giammarinaro, Special Rapporteur on trafficking in persons, especially women and children, also presented their reports.
In other business, the representatives of Thailand, on behalf of the Group of 77 developing countries and China, Mongolia and Canada, introduced five draft resolutions on issues related to social development and the protection of the rights of children.
Speaking in the general debate were representatives of the Dominican Republic (on behalf of the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States), Indonesia (on behalf of the Association of South-East Asian Nations), Finland (also on behalf of Sweden), Argentina and Switzerland.
The Third Committee will reconvene at 10 a.m. on Monday, 31 October, to continue its discussion on the promotion and protection of human rights.
The Third Committee (Social, Humanitarian and Cultural) continued discussions today under its agenda item on the promotion and protection of human rights. For further information, see Press Release GA/SHC/4172.
Dialogue on Human Rights in the Occupied Palestinian Territories
The Third Committee opened with a continuation of its discussion of the human rights situation in the occupied Palestinian territories, which had begun the previous day with a statement by Michael Lynk, Special Rapporteur for human rights in the Palestinian territories occupied since 1967. Several delegates expressed support for the Special Rapporteur’s mandate, commending him on including the issue of the right to development in his report. Many sought his opinion on measures the international community could take to ensure that Israel was held accountable for its rights violations. Israel’s delegate objected that the mandate was biased. The Human Rights Council, under which the Special Rapporteur’s mandate rested, had been taken over by some of the world’s worst human right violators and had fixated on “the only democracy in the Middle East” while ignoring other violations around the world.
Mr. LYNK replied that the occupation was not lessening; to the contrary, it was becoming more entrenched. The Palestinians were not on path to self-determination, and that reality should be of concern to the international community. The occupation existed because of Israel’s settlement project, without which there would be no need for it. It was a tribute to the international community that it had devoted so much attention to the Palestine question. However, the occupation was almost 50 years old and the occupying Power had faced virtually no consequences. Thus, to questions about measures that could help end the occupation, he answered, in turn, with a question: “Does the occupying Power need to realize that its status in the international community depends on allowing Palestinians to exercise their inalienable right to self-determination and on ending the occupation?” Further, he raised the question of whether there should be a resolution at the United Nations or an advisory opinion at the International Court of Justice on whether the occupation was illegal.
Also participating in the discussion were representative of Jordan, Senegal, Indonesia, Cuba, Qatar, Norway, South Africa, Morocco, Saudi Arabia, Maldives and Turkey, as well as the State of Palestine and the European Union.
Dialogue on Human Rights in Myanmar
VIJAY NAMBIAR, Special Representative of the Secretary-General on Myanmar, introduced the Secretary-General’s report (document A/71/308), which provided an overview on the peace process, democratization and development in that country. The report considered the significant political changes that had taken place after the historic November 2015 elections, he said, stressing that the presence of Daw Aung San Suu Kyi at the General Assembly’s seventy-first session had garnered great interest. The process of democratization, reform and reconciliation in Myanmar started with the 2010 general election which, he said, despite its flawed character, had replaced the military junta with a putative civilian Government.
Dialogue and cooperation had flourished since then, he said. Daw Suu’s decision to contest the April 2012 by-elections and her subsequent victory had changed the political paradigm and path of the country. Despite such progress, democratic governance must be consolidated further, he said, noting that the coordinated engagement of the United Nations’ good offices had been a key factor in the positive changes achieved in recent years. On the situation in Rakhine, he said the Government had taken steps towards a peaceful settlement, notably by establishing a Central Committee for the Implementation of Peace, Stability and Development in Rakhine state, and an Advisory Commission. While there was cautious optimism that the Government was working to improve the situation, recent violence had created cause for concern. More must be done to protect minorities in the country, in close collaboration with civil society. Steps taken to promote reconciliation included the strengthening of women’s participation in the peace process and the signing of a joint action plan with the United Nations to end the use of child soldiers.
The representative of Myanmar, noting that the Government had prioritized peace and national reconciliation, expressed appreciation for the international support in that regard. The inclusive Union Peace Conference in August had marked a vital step towards lasting peace. The Government was making serious efforts to find a fair and durable solution to the situation in Rakhine. In response to attacks on police posts there, it had taken all its actions within the law and provided food and basic supplies to affected communities. Myanmar also had cooperated with the United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, held annual human rights dialogues and was a member of the Human Rights Mechanism of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN). Given such progress, it was time for the United Nations to assist Myanmar in its democratic transition based on regular modes of engagement without any special human rights procedures.
Delegates welcomed the progress made in Myanmar, and at the same time, expressed concern about recent attacks, asking what could be done to better protect minorities, and more broadly, support peace and democratization.
Mr. NAMBIAR replied that humanitarian access to Rakhine state would be granted next week and that the situation was being closely monitored. He encouraged the international community to monitor the security situation and remind the Government to address any concerns about its security presence in country’s north, stressing that the effects of security operations on local communities must be monitored to prevent human rights violations. Noting that the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and the United Nations country team had supported the transition, he said hate speech and incitement to violence must be tackled, while minorities must be protected. The Organization should continue its high level of engagement with Myanmar, including through a local presence for OHCHR. It was also important for the Special Rapporteur on the situation to continue her work.
Participating in the dialogue were representatives of Singapore, Norway, Egypt (on behalf of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation), China and the United Kingdom, as well as the European Union.
Dialogue on Freedom of Religion or Belief
HEINER BIELEFELDT, Special Rapporteur on freedom of religion or belief, dedicated his last thematic report (A/71/269) to an overview of violations of that right, which could originate from States, non-State actors or a combination of both. Some infringements remained largely under-reported, including criminal legal provisions which, on the surface, did not touch on religion or belief — such as anti-extremism laws — but which imposed unreasonable burdens on certain religious communities. Education was another area warranting systematic monitoring. Religious intolerance did not originate from religions themselves; there was scope for interpretation in all of them. Human beings were ultimately responsible for open-minded or narrow-minded interpretations. “Theocratic” regimes typically stifled any serious intellectual debate on religious issues. Hence, it was no coincidence that opposition against those regimes always included critical believers of the very same religion the Government pretended to protect.
Some Governments violated freedom of religion or belief in the interest of exercising political control over society as a whole, he said. Massive violations of that right were currently taking place in countries characterized by systemic political mismanagement, such as corruption, cronyism and ethnocentrism. While States remained the duty-bearers for the implementation of human rights within their jurisdiction, the international community must live up to its obligations, too, and it had largely failed to protect the rights of refugees and internally displaced persons. While some States had opened their borders and shown solidarity, others had indicated they would merely be willing to accommodate refugees from religious backgrounds close to their own predominant religious traditions.
In the ensuing dialogue, delegates expressed support for the Special Rapporteur’s mandate and asked for recommendations on ways to promote diversity, accountability, and to address the root causes of violations of religion and belief.
Mr. BIELEFELDT began by addressing the treatment of minorities, which was indicative of the climate in a society. While the representatives of the United States and Yemen had raised the issue of the Bahá’ís, he said nonbelievers and followers of non-traditional beliefs were also vulnerable. While extra attention to minorities was well justified, one should not take freedom of religion and belief to be in the interest of minorities alone. Majority religions should be more involved in issues of freedom of religion and take responsibility for protecting minorities, not simply because it was the right thing to do but because it was in their own interest.
He called for greater dialogue between members of the same faith groups, noting that there were many examples of good practices in his report. Further, religiously colorized hatred was not a natural law. There were situations in which Shiites and Sunnis lived together peacefully, despite some peoples’ beliefs that conflict between the two faiths was inevitable due to age-old animosities. To the contrary, conflict between the two stemmed from an artificial attempt to poison relations. Finally, he emphasized that it was impossible to work on freedom of religion without addressing gender.
Also participating in the discussion were representatives of Poland, Denmark, Iran, Germany, Norway, United Kingdom, Ireland and Canada, as well as the European Union.
Dialogue on Trafficking in Persons
MARIA GRAZIA GIAMMARINARO, Special Rapporteur on trafficking in persons, especially women and children, presented her report (document A/71/303) and highlighted that trafficking was a systemic outcome of conflict. Welcoming increased international interest in that linkage, she noted that trafficking victims were entitled to the same rights, due diligence, protection and prevention against such abuse during times of conflict as otherwise. Her report highlighted conflict-related trafficking from three perspectives, the first of which was trafficking of persons fleeing conflict. For example, unaccompanied children from Afghanistan and Sudan in refugee camps in Calais and Dunkirk, both in France, had been illegally traded for sexual exploitation by people who had promised them passage to the United Kingdom.
On her second point, trafficking during conflict, she underlined that trafficking of migrant workers into conflict zones was a hidden issue, which often resulted in women and girls being subjected to both labour and sexual abuse. On her last point, trafficking in post-conflict situations, she emphasized that peacekeeping operations continued to be the occasion for “shameful incidents” of sexual violence, abuse and exploitation. A large, militarized and predominantly male international presence fuelled the demand for goods and services produced through trafficking for labour or sexual exploitation. Recommendations from her report included six measures, among them that appropriate procedures should be established at reception centres for migrants and implemented by trained personnel in cooperation with civil society organizations.
When the floor opened for questions, several delegates asked about best practices on how to address trafficking and protect victims. Germany’s representative wanted to know how States could sensitize the media without infringing on press freedom, while the delegates of the European Union and Switzerland asked for recommendations on integrating human trafficking into the Global Compact on Migrants and Refugees, which States would soon negotiate.
Ms. GIAMMARINARO highlighted that trafficking was a systematic outcome of conflict and must be addressed within that context. Anti-trafficking should be fully integrated into the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and the Global Compact. In places with large movements of migrants, it was important to establish anti-trafficking procedures in cooperation with non-Governmental organizations and others capable of interviewing migrants and identifying indications of exploitation and trafficking. Member States should also help at-risk people find employment. Those measures must be integrated across actions. The International Labour Organization Alliance, as part of Sustainable Development Goal 8.7, was an example of good practice; it engaged businesses to ensure that self-regulatory tools were implemented, especially in the supply chain.
Also participating in the dialogue were representatives of the United States, United Kingdom, Lichtenstein, South Africa, Morocco and Eritrea.
Introduction of draft resolutions
Under the agenda item on social development, the representative of Thailand, on behalf of the “Group of 77” developing countries and China, introduced drafts on “Implementation of the outcome of the World Summit for Social Development and of the twenty-fourth special session of the General Assembly” (document A/C.3/71/L.5); “Follow-up to the Twentieth Anniversary of the International Year of the Family and Beyond” (document A/C.3/71/L.6); and “Follow-up to the Second World Assembly on Ageing” (document A/C.3/71/L.7).
The representative of Mongolia introduced a draft on “Literacy for life: shaping future agendas” (document A/C.3/71/L.9).
Under the Committee’s agenda item on promotion and protection of the rights of children, Canada’s representative, also speaking on behalf of Zambia, introduced a draft on “Child, early and forced marriage” (document A/C.3/71/L.13).
Dialogue on Human Rights of Minorities
RITA IZSÁK-NDIAYE, Special Rapporteur on minority issues, focused on the human rights of minorities in humanitarian crises, stressing that those populations were particularly vulnerable and often targeted because of their identity. There was a correlation between crises and minority status. In humanitarian crises, for example, minorities were more likely to be displaced and subjected to discrimination. Further, a lack of accurate and disaggregated data made a much-needed analysis of their situations more difficult, she said, underscoring the need to gather more detailed information.
She went on to say that minorities often lived in fear and therefore were more hesitant to share information about their situations. They faced numerous challenges in humanitarian crises, including attacks and threats to their lives, marginalization, a lack of access to basic services and issues related to land rights and security of tenure. She recommended that Member States build resilient minority communities and provide timely and adequate assistance to minorities during humanitarian crises. In addition, the Secretary-General should develop a comprehensive United Nations strategy to ensure the systematic integration of minority rights into all programming.
When the floor opened, Austria’s representative asked whether the Special Rapporteur saw synergies between her mandate and the work of other treaty bodies or special procedures. The European Union’s representative shared the concern that minorities faced greater problems during crises, and asked how the international community could better address that issue. Several delegations queried the Special Rapporteur about disaggregated statistical data.
Ms. IZSÁK-NDIAYE emphasized that people who collected data must understand why they were doing it, and that they must be members of the minority groups’ own communities. Guarantees also should be in the system to ensure that the information was not abused. To the question about synergies, she said the participation of non-governmental organizations should be encouraged, reminding delegations that there was a voluntary fund to enable minorities to travel and participate in the deliberations of the Forum on Minority Issues. Regarding other aspects of her work, she said she had done research on Universal Periodic Review recommendations and was currently looking into research on the second cycle.
As she was nearing the end of her mandate, she then provided a few general observations on its six years. It was difficult to look at past and current conflicts and not see ethnic and minority identity dimensions, she said, adding that identity was emotive and important to all. It involved everything in people’s lives and limitations on how they lived, making it a symbol of not having dignity or having one’s rights respected. Dignity had to be equally guaranteed for everyone, and that lay at the heart of protection of minorities. She urged the United Nations to recognize that every part of the system should promote minority rights.
Also participating in the interactive dialogue were representatives of Hungary, United States, Russian Federation, and Norway.
Dialogue on Human Rights in Iran
ELISABETH DA COSTA, presenting the final report of AHMED SHAHEED, Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Islamic Republic of Iran, highlighted progress and challenges in that country. The Government’s engagement with United Nations rights bodies had improved over the past five years. However, the Special Rapporteur had not been granted access to the country throughout his mandate, which was now coming to an end. While Iran had made positive legal reforms to strengthen the rights of the accused, those changes had not contributed to sufficient progress in the human rights situation, in part because there was a gap between the law and State-sanctioned practices that violated fundamental rights. Further, national laws and practices restricted the rights to freedom of expression and association and peaceful assembly, and journalists and human rights defenders had been persecuted by Government agencies. Iran executed more individuals per capita than any other country, she pointed out.
In addition, laws, policies and practices continued to institutionalize the “second class status” of women and girls, she said, noting that the age of majority was 9 for girls and 15 for boys, effectively depriving children above those ages of protections under the Convention on the Rights of the Child. Moreover, the minimum age for marriage was 13 for girls and 15 for boys, placing girls at risk of early and forced marriage. Ethnic and religious minorities were also subject to abuses, such as arbitrary arrest, detention and prosecution. She encouraged the international community to continue to engage Iran on human rights, as such efforts had shown positive potential thus far.
When the floor was opened, several delegates expressed concern about use of the death penalty in Iran, the targeting of dual citizens, and the rights of women, children and minorities. Delegates of the United Kingdom and European Union expressed concern about the severity of punishment for drug-related offences in Iran, asking how the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights could engage the Government on alternative punishments for such crimes. Some asked the Rapporteur for his opinion on the role that the international community could play in bringing about tangible improvements in those areas.
Several delegates voiced opposition to the Rapporteur’s mandate, saying it violated the principles of non-selectivity, impartiality and objectivity, and argued that the Universal Periodic Review was a more appropriate instrument for investigating human rights violations in specific countries.
Mr. SHAHEED responded that the whole idea of the country mandate had come about in the 1950s and 1960s, when the United Nations felt the need for a protection mechanism. The Iran mandate had shown the efficacy of those mechanisms. In most cases, the Government had responded positively to issues he had raised. To those who believed country-specific mandates were a form of political pressure, he clarified that his mandate was not an instrument for condemning Iran, but rather for engaging the Government constructively.
Once his mandate had begun, he said Iran’s response rate to United Nations communications had increased to about 40 to 50 per cent. Domestic discourse on human rights had also improved, thanks, perhaps, to the efforts of the Third Committee. Moreover, revision of the country’s capital punishment law could result in a decline in the number of death penalty cases. He saw Hassan Rouhani’s election to the Presidency as a sign of a new approach and a healthier discourse on rights issues.
On the issue of drug trafficking, he suggested the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime be invited to consult Iran on human rights issues. He called for greater engagement with Iran, including greater investment, though he emphasized that investors must avoid accentuating discrimination in the country.
In response, Iran’s representative expressed strong disagreement with the Special Rapporteur’s assessment of the impact of his mandate. Rather than encouraging progress in the human rights sphere, the mandate had been destructive. Iranian society was vibrant and progressive, yet sensitive to foreign interventions.
Also speaking during the interactive dialogue were representatives of Venezuela (also speaking on behalf of the Non-Aligned Movement), United States, Syria, Germany, Switzerland, Zimbabwe, Norway, Canada, Russian Federation, Belarus, Czech Republic, Japan, Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, Cuba, China, Eritrea and Pakistan.
MILDRED GUZMÁN MADERA (Dominican Republic), speaking on behalf of the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC), said historic and contemporary migratory flows had created the region. There should be greater international understanding of migration patterns. Migratory flows within a region should be safe and well-regulated, and the dignity of migrants and their families should be protected. She urged States in transit and destination areas to work together in seeking solutions. International migration required an integrated approach, and the human rights and fundamental freedoms of children needed to be protected.
She went on to stress that irregular migration should be approached from a human rights perspective in line with international agreements. Rejecting the criminalization of irregular migration, as well as xenophobia against migrants, she urged the international community to protect migrants from criminal groups. In addition, migrant workers must be protected, she said, stressing that the right of migrants to a voluntary return to their countries of origin was also important. Countries implementing selective policies toward migrants must end them. The United Nations was the best forum to discuss the issue of migration.
DIAN TRIANSYAH DJANI (Indonesia), on behalf of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), reiterated the bloc’s strong commitment to human rights and the Committee’s work. Human rights should be treated in a balanced, impartial manner, he said, stressing that ASEAN continued to strengthen its collaboration with the United Nations in a number of areas, including the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.
He went on to share achievements in advancing human rights, noting that States continued to mainstream human rights, raise awareness among young people and strengthen women’s and children’s rights. They also had increased civil society’s participation in relevant human rights bodies, as well as developed regional action plans on human rights protection and on supportive legal frameworks. Efforts were also underway to promote the rights of persons with disabilities and to end violence against children.
KAI SAUER (Finland), also speaking on behalf of Sweden, said access to information was one explanation for the success of those countries in creating prosperity and welfare for their citizens. But around the world, the space for civil society had shrunk and new threats to freedom of expression and media had undermined the foundations of democracy. Together with their Nordic and Baltic neighbouring countries, Finland and Sweden were training journalists to support free and independent media in areas affected by disinformation and propaganda. He reviewed the history of national legislation protecting freedom of the press Sweden and Finland, noting that the Swedish Parliament had passed the world’s first Freedom of the Press Act 250 years ago. However, developments in the wider world had shown the need for more work to advance freedom of expression globally.
He went on to say that female journalists and researchers were regularly subjected to online harassment, including rape threats, cyberstalking, and blackmail, citing the “Gamergate” events in which several women in the global video game industry had been targeted. The 2030 Agenda’s Target 16.10, which called on States to “ensure public access to information and protect fundamental freedoms,” was relevant to achieving all the other Goals. Everyone needed equal access to an open, free, secure and equal Internet where individuals could exercise their right to freedom of opinion, expression, association and assembly. Human rights, he underlined, applied online as well as offline. All States must respect and protect the right to privacy in digital communication, and international cooperation was crucial to ensuring those objectives.
MARTÍN GARCÍA MORITÁN (Argentina) associating himself with the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC), said development and human rights were mutually reinforcing. Violations of the rights of older persons had increased, and an international agreement was needed in that context. Reiterating his call to protect people regardless of their sexual orientation, he rejected the execution of and discrimination against people based on their sexual orientation or gender, stressing that all people must be protected. He called on the international community to protect migrants and refugees from discrimination and attacks.
Ms. LAISSUE (Switzerland) expressed concern over persistent human rights violations in a number of countries, often under the pretext of security concerns, as well as over restrictions imposed on civil society and reprisals and violence against human rights defenders. She called for increased international efforts to protect civil society actors, stressing that rights violations often preceded violence and therefore must be addressed. She also encouraged States that had not done so to abolish the death penalty, as it violated the right to life, and called on all States to cooperate with all international human rights mechanisms, as special procedures must be able to access areas under their mandate.