Third Committee Approves 6 Draft Resolutions amid Competing Views on Sovereignty, Customary Norms in Use of Death Penalty

GA/SHC/4189
17 November 2016
Seventy-first Session, 50th & 51st Meetings (AM & PM)

Third Committee Approves 6 Draft Resolutions amid Competing Views on Sovereignty, Customary Norms in Use of Death Penalty

Amendment Reaffirming Sovereign Right to Develop Domestic Legal Systems Passed by 76 Votes in Favour, 72 Against, 26 Abstentions

An intense discussion on the international legal standing of the death penalty and national sovereign rights to determine domestic judicial systems dominated Third Committee (Social, Humanitarian, Cultural) proceedings today, as delegates approved an amended draft resolution calling for a moratorium on that practice, by a recorded 115 votes in favour to 38 against, with 31 abstentions.

The text was one of six covering a range of issues relating to the promotion and protection of human rights.

Before the vote, the Committee approved an amendment reaffirming the sovereign right of all countries to develop their own legal systems, which passed by 76 votes in favour, 72 against and 26 abstentions.

Singapore’s representative said he had felt compelled to introduce the amendment because the original draft had not addressed his country’s concerns.  One-sided and fundamentally flawed, it attempted to impose the values of one group of countries upon others.  Furthermore, there was no consensus on the death penalty.

Presenting a differing view, New Zealand’s delegate emphasized that sovereignty required compliance with international human rights commitments.  He welcomed the emerging customary norm that considered the death penalty “running afoul” of the prohibition of torture and cruel, inhuman or degrading punishment. Canada’s representative, also speaking for Australia, Liechtenstein, Switzerland, Iceland and Norway, voiced regret that a “hostile amendment” had passed and disassociated himself from it, one of several delegates to do so.

In response, Singapore’s representative objected to delegations disassociating themselves from particular parts of the text, describing it as a “pick and choose” approach that nullified both the vote on the amendment and the Committee’s own rules of procedure.  Such behaviour set a dangerous precedent.

Also today, the Committee approved by a vote of 131 in favour, to 3 against (Palau, Ukraine, United States), with 48 abstentions, a draft resolution on the “Combating glorification of Nazism, Neo-Nazism and other practices that contribute to fuelling contemporary forms of racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance”.  Several delegates expressed their concern about a rise racism and xenophobia, with Belarus’ delegate recalling the anniversary of the Nuremberg Tribunal and condemning attempts to rewrite history, which revealed the dangers of racism.

Acting without a vote, the Committee approved a draft resolution on the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, by which the General Assembly would call on States to create opportunities for resettlement and ensure inclusive, non-discriminatory policies in their related programmes.  It would further call on the Office of the High Commissioner to address the root causes, as well as the economic, environmental, developmental, security and social impacts of large-scale refugee populations in developing countries, notably least developed countries and economies in transition.

Speaking before that action, the representatives of United States and the United Kingdom stressed the need to ensure that humanitarian aid reached internally displaced persons.

The Committee further approved, without a vote, four draft resolutions on:  intensifying global efforts for the elimination of female genital mutilation; human rights in the administration of justice; combating intolerance, negative stereotyping, stigmatization, discrimination, incitement to violence and violence against persons, based on religion or belief; and on freedom of religion or belief.

Also today, Egypt’s representative introduced a draft resolution entitled “Globalization and its impact on the full enjoyment of all human rights”.

The Third Committee will resume its work at 10 a.m. on Friday, 18 November.

Action

The representative of Egypt introduced a draft resolution entitled, “globalization and its impact on the full enjoyment of all human rights” (document A/C.3/71/L.37), noting that it highlighted development as an integral component of human rights and would call for measures to narrow the widening gap between developed and developing countries, he said.

The representative of Burkina Faso, on behalf of the African Group, introduced a draft resolution on intensifying global efforts for the elimination of female genital mutilation (document A/C.3/71/L.15/Rev.1) which she hoped would send a strong message for the elimination of that practice.

A Secretariat official then announced that action on L.15/Rev.1 would be deferred pending distribution of that text.

Next, the Committee took up the draft resolution on the “Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees” (document A/C.3/71/L.44).

By its terms, the Assembly would call on States to create opportunities for resettlement and ensure inclusive and non-discriminatory policies in their resettlement programmes.  It would further call on the Office of the High Commissioner for Refugees to address the root causes and the economic, environmental, developmental, security and social impacts of large-scale refugee populations in developing countries, notably least developed countries and economies in transition.

The representative of United States said she joined the consensus in supporting the work of the Office.  She expressed regret, however, that the draft contained language which hindered access to internally displaced persons.  She rejected any language harmful to internally displaced persons, requesting that delegates disassociate and that such language not be repeated.  She disassociated from operative paragraph 13, as it did not fully meet the needs of internally displaced.  She explained that for such reasons, the United States had not co‑sponsored the draft.

The representative of Switzerland, on behalf of New Zealand and Liechtenstein, said consensus was crucial to the work of the Office.  The needs of displaced persons must be met in accordance with international law, she said, disassociating from operative paragraph 13.

The representative of United Kingdom said his country had not co-sponsored the draft resolution and disassociated from operative paragraph 13, as it limited the scope of support for those internally displaced.

The representative of Cuba underscored the need for burden-sharing as expressed in operative paragraph 18 of the draft resolution.

Slovakia, on behalf of the European Union, said humanitarian relief must not be withheld on arbitrary grounds.

The Committee then approved the text without a vote.

The Committee then turned to a draft resolution on “combating glorification of Nazism, Neo-Nazism and other practices that contribute to fuelling contemporary forms of racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance” (document A/C.3/71/L.45/Rev.1).

By its terms, the Assembly would express its deep concern about the rise in racism and extremism and the glorification of any form of Nazism.  It would urge those States that had not done so to ratify the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination, and would encourage States to consider including in their reports for the universal periodic review and those for relevant treaty bodies information on the steps taken to combat racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance.

The representative of the Russian Federation drew attention to the history behind the resolution and regrettable attempts to deny it.  Racism was on the rise, particularly towards migrants.  The resolution aimed to falsify history and related crimes.

A recorded vote was requested.

The representative of Belarus, in a general statement before the vote on behalf of several States, recalled the anniversary of the Nuremberg Tribunal, a body which served as the basis for international law on genocide and war.  She condemned attempts to rewrite history, which revealed the dangers of racism.

The representative of Syria, also in a general statement, called the draft resolution balanced, as it adequately reflected the relevant international human rights instruments.

The representative of the Ukraine, speaking in explanation of vote before the vote, recalled the loss of life and sacrifice made during the Second World War.  The resolution had nothing to do with the spirit of the Nuremberg Tribunal.  Noting that the Russian Federation had not addressed such issues within its own boundaries, he said Ukraine would vote against the draft resolution.

The representative of the United States, also in explanation of vote, condemned all glorification of Nazism, expressing regret about the text’s narrow scope and its use by the Russian Federation to carry out attacks on its neighbours.  Such behaviour must be opposed, and as such, the United States would vote against the draft resolution.

The representative of the Russian Federation asked who had requested the vote, to which the Secretariat official replied that the United States’ delegate had made the request.

The representative of Belarus welcomed that the Russian Federation had kept the item on the agenda, as extremism was on the rise.

During her statement, the Secretariat official said that as co-sponsor, Belarus’ delegate could not make an explanation of vote before the vote.  However, she could speak after the vote.

The Committee then approved the text by a recorded vote of 131 in favour and 3 against (Palau, Ukraine, United States), with 48 abstentions.

The representative of Slovakia, speaking in explanation of vote after the vote on behalf of the European Union, said all forms of racism should be addressed.  Essential proposals by some delegations were not addressed in the text, while other proposals included were selective.  One-sided interpretations of history must be avoided, he said, stressing that for such reasons, the bloc had abstained in the vote.

The representative of Liechtenstein, speaking on behalf of Canada, Iceland and Switzerland, expressed full support for the fight against racism.  She regretted, however, that changes made to the text had narrowed its scope, expressing concern about constraints to the freedom of expression, which must be carefully balanced in the fight against racism.

The representative of Cyprus said that her country’s position had been guided by that of the European Union, noting that the draft resolution could have been improved if differing views had been taken into account.

The representative of Greece opposed the draft resolution and recalled the effects of the Second World War on Europe, noting that for such reasons, he had abstained.

The representative of Belarus, in a general statement after the vote, said all glorification of Nazism must be addressed and that lives lost must be honoured.

The representative of Azerbaijan said she had voted in favour of the text as a way to honour those who fought Nazism.  Indeed, the rise of extremist parties was a grave concern as it endangered societies.  She also expressed concern that Armenian education did not sufficiently address the glorification of extremism and violence.

The representative of Armenia said his country had fought in the Second World War and also fought Nazism.  It had suffered the first genocide in the twentieth century.  Armenia was not in a position to respond to fantasies expressed in previous remarks.

Following distribution of the text, the Committee then approved by consensus the draft resolution on “intensifying global efforts for the elimination of female genital mutilation” (document A/C.3/71/L.15/Rev.1).

By its terms, the Assembly would express its deep concern that the practice continued, and call on States to focus on prevention, strengthen advocacy and ensure that national action plans were comprehensive.  It would also urge States to condemn harmful practices, promote gender-sensitive educational processes, devote adequate resources to the elimination of female genital mutilation and take targeted measures for refugee women and migrant women.

The representative of Argentina then introduced a resolution entitled “moratorium on the use of the death penalty” (document A/C.3/71/L.27).  He revised operative paragraph four, adding the words “through domestic decision-making” to its end.  He also deleted operative paragraph 9, which would have required States that had abolished the death penalty to refuse extradition requests for offences punishable by death under the law of the requesting State.

The representative of Singapore then took the floor on behalf of a cross‑regional group of countries to introduce an amendment to the draft, contained in document A/C.3/71/L.54, which reaffirmed the sovereign right of all countries to develop their own legal systems, including by determining appropriate legal penalties in accordance with their obligations under international law.  He explained that he had felt compelled to introduce the amendment because his concerns had not been addressed in resolution L.27, which was one‑sided and contained fundamental flaws.

There was no consensus on the death penalty, he said, and the resolution attempted to impose the values of one group of countries on others.  While he welcomed the oral amendments introduced by Argentina’s representative, he found the change to operative paragraph 4 puzzling.  The phrase “through domestic decision-making” was not clear and appeared to be a code word for “sovereignty”, he said.  He considered the amendment “too little and too weak”, warning that it weakened the principles of the Charter of the United Nations.

The representative of Botswana expressed support for the amendment proposed by Singapore, as did the representative of Egypt, who also reiterated the latter’s concern about the State sovereignty.

The representative of Italy requested a vote on the amendment.

The representative of Brazil, speaking in explanation of vote before the vote, said he would vote against the proposed amendment contained in L.54.  All States had had an opportunity to comment on draft resolution L.27 and it had been revised accordingly by the sponsors.  The proposed amendment did not add value to the text but implied that the issue of a moratorium on the death penalty did not fall within the purview of the United Nations and should be debated at the national level only, which was not a position Brazil could support.

The representative of Switzerland said her delegation would vote against the amendment.  The cosponsors of L.27 recognized the sovereignty of States, but that principle did not prevent the General Assembly from making recommendations on criminal justice.  It was legitimate for an Assembly resolution to deal with that important issue, as the link between criminal justice and human rights was incontestable.  She recalled that according to Articles 10 to 14 of the Charter, the Assembly could issue recommendations that were not infringements on the rights of States.  The draft resolution was respectful of the diversity of views within the membership.

The Committee then approved the amendment by a vote of 76 in favour to 72 against, with 26 abstentions.

The Committee then turned to draft resolution A/C.3/71/L.27 as a whole, as orally revised and amended.

The representative of Micronesia, in a general statement, said an amendment had just passed, but he had dissociated from that paragraph.  He invited all countries that had voted against the resolution in previous years to support it this year.

The representative of Slovakia, speaking on behalf of the European Union, said he could not subscribe to the notion of the amendment and dissociated from it.  The essence of the resolution remained unchanged and the European Union would continue to both vote for the resolution and co-sponsor it.

The representative of the United Kingdom, associating himself with the European Union, regretted that the amendment had passed.  He trusted that resolution would gain support and give impetus to a world-wide moratorium on use of the death penalty.  In the two years since the last adoption of the resolution, some States had considered reinstating the death penalty in response to terrorism.  The United Kingdom did not support the death penalty, even in such trying circumstances, notably as it did nothing to aid victims.  He called for a response to terrorism that did not generate hatred that would recruit future terrorists.

The representative of Argentina said it was unfortunate that the amendment had been approved.  Argentina, together with Paraguay, Uruguay, Costa Rica, El Salvador, Honduras, Dominican Republic, Brazil, Mexico, Panama and Colombia, wished to disassociate from amendment L.54, but would vote in favour of the resolution.  He encouraged other delegates to disassociate from the amendment.

The representative of Canada, also speaking on behalf of Australia, Liechtenstein, Switzerland, Iceland and Norway, said her country had a long-standing support for the resolution and opposed the use of the death penalty in all cases everywhere.  Advocating respect for international safeguards, she noted that no justice system was infallible and any miscarriage of justice could not be reversed.  Canada regretted the “hostile amendment” being adopted and disassociated from the paragraph now included.  Given the importance of the issue, Canada would vote in favour of the resolution and encouraged all others to do so.

An observer for the Holy See urged all to abolish the use of death penalty, adding that Pope Francis had followed the issue closely.  Rendering justice did not mean seeking punishment for its own sake, but rather, ensuring that the purpose was rehabilitation of the offender.  There was no just punishment without a hope for the offender’s return to society.

The representative of Angola praised the commitment of so many delegations in negotiations on the draft, noting that there was growing adherence to the subject matter.  The death penalty amounted to cruel and inhuman punishment, and Angola encouraged all to support the draft resolution as a step toward its total abolition.  Angola disassociated from the amendment just approved.

The representative of New Zealand said sovereignty required compliance with international human rights commitments, recognizing and welcoming the emerging customary norm that considered the death penalty “running afoul” of the prohibition of torture and cruel, inhuman or degrading punishment.  New Zealand interpreted the operative paragraph in the amendment in that light.

The representative of Albania, associating with the European Union, said her country remained a co-sponsor of the resolution, but disassociated from its amended version.

The representative of Israel said that while his country had co-sponsored the resolution and would vote for it, he expressed regret about the amendment and disassociated from it.

The representative of Armenia said his delegation would vote in favour of the resolution, but in light of the amendment’s approval, would dissociate from the new operative paragraph 1.  Armenia would continue to support the core objectives of the resolution.

The representative of Mongolia said that while his country would continue to co-sponsor the resolution and vote in favour of it, it disassociated from the new operative paragraph 1.

The representative of Ukraine said his country had co-sponsored the resolution but aligned with the European Union’s position.  In its national capacity, Ukraine disassociated from the amendment made by operative paragraph 1.

The representative of Chile disassociated from the new paragraph introduced through the amendment, stressing that the concerns it raised had been properly addressed in the text.  Chile opposed the death penalty in law and practice.

The representative of Haiti disassociated from the amendment.

The representative of Cabo Verde asked that his country’s position be placed on record.

The representative of Fiji said he supported L.27, welcoming work by Argentina and Mongolia in that regard.  While Fiji would continue to support the resolution, it disassociated from the amendment just approved.

The representative of Singapore, in explanation of a vote before the vote, said the amendment expressed the strong will of the membership and reaffirmed States’ rights, regardless of the content of the resolution.  He expressed regret that it had been viewed as hostile, as it was unfair that the reaffirmation of a fundamental principle was seen as such. 

He expressed deep concern about the Committee’s procedure, taking issue with an “a la carte” approach to approving resolutions.  He objected to States disassociating from a text, which was a “pick and choose” approach that had nullified both the vote on the amendment and the Committee’s own rules of procedure.  Such behaviour changed the work of the Committee.  He requested that his procedural concerns be placed on record and that a legal opinion be sought.  There were many flaws in the draft resolution but he would not disassociate from its paragraphs as a matter of principle.  Singapore would vote against the text and he urged others to do so, as well.

The representative of Syria supported the views expressed by Singapore’s delegate, adding that he was proud of the amendment.  The draft resolution was being used to interfere with States’ internal affairs, and as such, he would vote against it.  He expected the Secretariat official to provide a legal opinion on the procedural issues raised by Singapore.

The representative of Peru disassociated from the amendment, as it was unnecessary.

The representative of Trinidad and Tobago said her country maintained capital punishment for murder and treason with appropriate safeguards, stressing that the matter was one of national legislation.  She affirmed the national right to decide on the issue and would therefore vote against the text.

The representative of the Comoros said he wished to change his vote on the amendment in favour of the amendment.

The representative of Papua New Guinea expressed his intention to vote against the draft resolution.

The Secretariat official replied to the representative of the Comoros that a vote could not be altered after it had been cast.  He would comment on the procedural issues raised by Singapore’s delegate at a later time.

The Committee then approved draft L.27 by a recorded vote of 115 in favour to 38 against, with 31 abstentions.

The representative of Lesotho said he abstained from the vote.  He supported the amendment because it restated States’ sovereign right to observe their legal systems.  Although Lesotho had cosponsored the resolution, he wished to withdraw sponsorship in light of the amendment, recalling that prior to the final vote, several delegations who sponsored the original resolution had dissociated from the amendment proposed by Singapore, thereby calling into question the good faith of that country.

The official from the Secretariat said Lesotho could not withdraw sponsorship from an approved resolution, but that his position would be noted in a footnote.

The representative of India said every State had a sovereign right to determine its own legal system, which was why he had voted for the amendment.  He had voted against the resolution because it contravened statutory law in India.

The representative of Myanmar said that although the death penalty existed in his country, it had not been carried out since 1988.  Myanmar had abstained from the vote based on the belief that a moratorium should not be imposed on sovereign States, but rather, States should be encouraged to institute a moratorium at their own pace.

The representative of Qatar, on behalf of Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and Bahrain, said that execution was a sovereign right.  She supported amendment L.54 because it guaranteed the sovereign right to develop laws.

The representative of the Russian Federation endorsed many points of resolution, but had not sponsored the text this year.  The document had drifted from its original purpose.  He objected to the text’s inclusion of an expanded list on the use of the death penalty, which in some cases clashed with international law.

The representative of Sudan said he had supported the amendment and voted against the resolution because it tried to impose concepts that had not been internationally agreed.

The representative of Iran welcomed the amendment and took positive note of the attention being paid by sponsors to the importance of dialogue on the death penalty.  However, there was no agreement in international law on the death penalty.  Governments had a sovereign right to determine the best punitive measures to ensure the safety, security and well-being of their citizens. He had therefore voted against the resolution.

The representative of the United States emphasized that the issue must be addressed through the domestic systems of Member States.  Capital punishment was legal under international law, she said, while underscoring that methods of execution designed to inflict undue pain should be prohibited.

The representative of Bangladesh recalled that the death penalty was part of the legal systems of many sovereign countries.  In Bangladesh, it was reserved for the most severe crimes.  His delegation had supported the amendment proposed by Singapore and voted against the resolution.

The representative of Morocco said his country had had a de facto moratorium on the death penalty since 1993.  He had abstained from the vote.

The representative of Yemen said all States had a sovereign right to choose their legal systems without interference.  Article 6 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, to which his country was a party, permitted countries which had not abolished the death penalty to impose it for the most serious crimes.  He had voted against resolution L.27.

The representative of Japan said his delegation had voted against the resolution because decisions on the death penalty should be determined by the State.  In Japan, the death penalty was applied only to the most serious crimes.

The representative of Egypt said the text lacked balance and failed to accommodate the diverse views of the membership.  He welcomed the amendment to operative paragraph 4 and stressed that neither side should impose its position on the other.

The representative of Moldova, in a general statement, said her country had consistently supported the resolution, which it had cosponsored.  She dissociated herself from the oral amendment.

The representative of Mongolia said she hoped the debate on the issue would eventually move forward so that the death penalty would become a thing of the past.

The representative of Viet Nam said choosing a legal system was a sovereign right that should be respected.  He welcomed the amendment, noting that in Viet Nam, capital punishment was restricted to the most heinous crimes.  The Government had reduced use of the death penalty, such that only 16 crimes were punishable by death.

The Committee then turned to a resolution on “Human rights in the administration of justice” (document A/C.3/71/L.28/Rev.1), introduced by the representative of Austria, who thanked delegations for their constructive engagement and invited all to co-sponsor the text.

Acting without a vote, the Committee then approved the draft resolution, which would have the Assembly urge all States to consider establishing, maintaining or enhancing independent mechanisms to monitor all places of detention, including by making unannounced visits, and to hold private interviews without witnesses with all persons deprived of liberty.

Further, the Assembly would recall the absolute prohibition of torture in international law and urge States to take all measures to prevent and respond to all forms of violence against children within the justice system.  Governments would be invited to provide tailored and interdisciplinary human rights training, including anti-racist, multicultural, gender-sensitive and child rights training, to all judges, lawyers, prosecutors, social workers, immigration and police officers and other professionals concerned, including personnel deployed in international field presences.

The representative of the United States thanked the sponsors for incorporating some of her country’s concerns, but regretted that it was not in a position to co-sponsor the resolution, due to the United States not being party to some treaty-based obligations.  Some provisions of the resolution were not in line with domestic rules and regulations.

The representative of Egypt, on behalf of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation, then introduced the draft resolution entitled “Combating intolerance, negative stereotyping, stigmatization, discrimination, incitement to violence and violence against persons, based on religion or belief” (document A/C.3/71/L.35/Rev.1).

The representative of Slovakia, speaking on behalf of the European Union, said the draft resolution was a call for States to act against discrimination with full respect for international human rights law.  Thanking the Organization of Islamic Cooperation and Member States for engaging in a positive process, he condemned any advocacy of religious hatred, hostility or violence.  The European Union was attached to freedom of expression, as it was intrinsically linked to other rights.  He called the freedom of expression an essential tool for combating religious hatred and violence, stressing that restrictions on that right should not be used as a pretext for limiting fundamental rights.  No one could invoke cultural rights as a way to limit the scope of human rights.  In that context, the European Union would join consensus on the draft resolution.

The Committee then approved the draft resolution by consensus.

By its terms, the Assembly would express deep concern about acts that advocated religious hatred and thereby undermined the spirit of tolerance.  It would also express deep concern over continued serious instances of derogatory stereotyping, negative profiling and stigmatization of persons based on their religion or belief, as well as programmes and agendas pursued by extremist individuals, organizations and groups aimed at creating and perpetuating negative stereotypes.  It would call on States to take various actions to foster a domestic environment of religious tolerance, peace and respect.

The representative of Slovakia, introducing a draft resolution entitled “freedom of religion or belief” (document A/C.3/71/L.36/Rev.1) on behalf of the European Union, said the text stressed the importance of promoting the freedom of religion or belief in response to extremism in some parts of the world.  The right applied equally to all persons and the draft resolution drew attention to the human rights of persons belonging to minorities in that regard.  Freedom of thought or religion also included the right not to believe, and to change one’s religion or belief.  The adoption of the text would send a message on importance of protecting those rights.

Acting without a vote, the Committee then approved the resolution.

By its terms, the Assembly would consider the question of the elimination of all forms of religious intolerance at its seventy-second session.  It would also request the Secretary-General to ensure that the Special Rapporteur received the necessary resources to discharge his mandate and request the latter to submit an interim report to the Assembly at its seventy-second session.

For information media. Not an official record.