Third Committee Approves Six Drafts on Strengthening Elections, Migrants’ Rights, amid Discord over References to International Criminal Court, Poll Observance

GA/SHC/4219
9 November 2017
Seventy-second Session, 44th Meeting (PM)

Third Committee Approves Six Drafts on Strengthening Elections, Migrants’ Rights, amid Discord over References to International Criminal Court, Poll Observance

The Third Committee (Social, Humanitarian and Cultural) approved six draft resolutions today, addressing free and fair elections, as well as migrants’ rights, while also taking up topics ranging from torture to terrorism.

A text titled “Strengthening the role of the United Nations in enhancing periodic and genuine elections and the promotion of democratization”, introduced by the United States, proved particularly contentious, with the Committee rejecting three amendments proposed by the Russian Federation before approving the text as a whole by a recorded vote of 148 votes in favour, to 0 against, with 14 abstentions. 

By its terms, the General Assembly would strongly condemn any manipulation of election processes, coercion and tampering with vote counts, particularly by States, and call on States to respect the rule of law, the human rights and fundamental freedoms of all persons and the will of voters.  It would also request the United Nations Development Programme to continue its democratic governance assistance programmes, in particular cooperation with organizations working to strengthen democratic institutions, and links between civil society and Governments.

Before approving by consensus a draft resolution on torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment, the Committee rejected, by recorded votes, two proposed amendments by Sudan seeking to delete references to the International Criminal Court.  By the terms of the text, the Assembly would call on States to adopt a victim‑oriented approach in the fight against those practices, as well as urge States to establish, maintain, facilitate or support rehabilitation centres for victims.

An omnibus text on the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, approved without a vote as orally corrected, would have the Assembly invite the High Commissioner to coordinate efforts to measure the impacts of hosting, protecting and assisting refugees, with a view to promoting burden- and responsibility‑sharing that was more equitable, predictable and sustainable, and to begin reporting on the results to Member States in 2018. 

The Assembly would strongly condemn attacks on refugees, asylum seekers and internally displaced persons, and urge all States to fight racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia, related intolerance and hate speech.  It would strongly reaffirm the Office’s purely humanitarian and non‑political character in providing international protection to refugees and seeking durable solutions to their situations, and reaffirm that voluntary repatriation remained the preferred solution.

Several delegations expressed concern about operative paragraph 13 of the resolution, with Switzerland’s representative cautioning that when parties to a conflict did not meet the needs of persons under their control, they must accept assistance from impartial humanitarian organizations.  It was a point echoed by Australia’s representative, on behalf of several countries, who outlined that responsibility under international humanitarian law.  Consent to humanitarian assistance could not be withheld for arbitrary reasons.

By a draft resolution on cooperatives in social development, approved as orally revised, the Assembly would invite Governments, international organizations, specialized agencies and local, national and global cooperatives to observe the International Day annually, on the first Saturday of July.

By a draft resolution on the follow‑up to the Fourth World Conference on Women, submitted by the Chair and approved without a vote, the Assembly would request the Secretary‑General to accelerate his efforts to achieve the 50/50 gender balance at all levels throughout the United Nations, and call upon the Organization itself to significantly increase its efforts towards that goal.

A text dedicated to the victims of terrorism would have the Assembly proclaim 21 August as the International Day of Remembrance of and Tribute to the Victims of Terrorism.

At the outset of the meeting, Cuba’s representative introduced a draft resolution on mercenaries, underscoring the importance of strengthening legal frameworks to address the use of mercenaries and urging that proposals be put forward to address existing deficiencies.  He also introduced three other draft resolutions covering, respectively, international cooperation, the promotion of a democratic and equitable international order, and the right to food.  

The Third Committee will reconvene at 10 a.m. Tuesday, 14 November to take action on draft resolutions.

Action

Rights of Peoples to Self‑Determination

The representative of Cuba introduced a draft resolution titled “Use of mercenaries as a means of violating human rights and impeding the exercise of the right of peoples to self‑determination” (document A/C.3/72/L.34).  The draft devoted attention to the grave problem of the use of mercenaries, he said, recognizing efforts by the Working Group on that matter.  He underscored the importance of strengthening legal frameworks to address the use of mercenaries and urged that proposals be put forward to address existing deficiencies. 

Promotion and Protection of Human Rights

Next, the representative of Cuba introduced a draft resolution titled “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/C.3/72/L.30), urging Member States to adopt the text by consensus.

The representative of Cuba also introduced a draft proposal titled “Promotion of a democratic and equitable international order” (document A/C.3/72/L.31).  The draft reiterated the need to promote the full enjoyment of human rights by all, he said, calling on States to cooperate with the Independent Expert on the matter.

Finally, the representative of Cuba introduced a draft resolution on “The right to food” (document A/C.3/72/L.32), stressing that the full enjoyment of that right by all continued to be a “utopian” thought and expressing concern over the plight of marginalized communities.

Social Development

Turning to social development, the Committee then took up a draft resolution titled “Cooperatives in social development” (document A/C.3/72/L.9).

The representative of Mongolia, introducing the draft, said cooperatives promoted sustainable development.  The draft recognized that cooperatives promoted the fullest possible participation in the economic and social development of communities and encouraged Governments to review legislation on the matter, he assured.  He then proposed deleting operative paragraph 12 from the draft resolution.

The Committee approved the draft resolution as orally revised without a vote.

The representative of the United States, speaking in explanation of position, thanked Mongolia for crafting a text that addressed the concerns of all delegations.

Advancement of Women

Turning to the advancement of women, the Committee took up a draft resolution titled, “Follow‑up to the Fourth World Conference on Women and full implementation of the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action and the outcome of the twenty‑third special session of the General Assembly” (document A/C.3/72/L.67), submitted by the Chair.

The representative of Qatar, who introduced the draft, said the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action continued to guide action by Member States and stakeholders.  Its full, effective and accelerated implementation had taken on added importance with the introduction of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and the Sustainable Development Goals.  It was crucial that synergies between the Platform for Action and the Goals were emphasized.

The Committee approved the draft resolution without a vote.

The representative of the United States, speaking in explanation of position, said the best way to improve the rights of women and girls was through legal and policy reforms.

Office of United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees

The Committee then took up a draft proposal titled “Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees” (document A/C.3/72/L.57), introduced by the representative of Finland, who said its main objective was to provide a vehicle for continued support to the High Commissioner’s Office.  The draft contained “unwanted editorial changes” included without consulting the main sponsor, and he called for operative paragraphs 6, 12 and 36 to be amended to their original form.

A Secretariat official said draft proposals were edited after their tabling and not prior.  The editorial changes were not out of the ordinary and editors consulted with main sponsors whenever they encountered doubts over the meaning of the text.  Regarding operative paragraph 6, editors “merely” included the formal official names of conferences and summits referred therein and did not require consultation with the main sponsor. In operative paragraph 12, editors had included language which was standard in humanitarian terminology by using “country of origin” rather than “their own country” when referring to refugees.  If the Committee so wished, the original language would be reinstated.

The representative of Australia, speaking in explanation of position also on behalf of Canada and New Zealand, commended the Office for ongoing efforts to protect asylum seekers, refugees, displaced persons and stateless persons.  She said international humanitarian law held that States must protect populations under their control.  Consent to humanitarian assistance could not be withheld for arbitrary reasons.

The representative of the United Kingdom said an increasing number of refugees depended on the Office and commended efforts to find long‑term solutions to the refugee crisis.  The United Kingdom would not support the text due to language included in operative paragraph 13 and recalled that States must allow rapid access to all relief assistance.

The representative of Switzerland expressed concern over operative paragraph 13 and said there was a need to protect internally displaced persons.  He recalled that when parties to a conflict did not meet the needs of persons under their control, they had to accept assistance from impartial humanitarian organizations.

The representative of the Russian Federation said he joined consensus on the draft and that the allocation of responsibilities must reflect the realities of the migration situation.

The representative of the United States said she joined consensus to underscore the importance of the Office’s work, but disassociated herself from consensus on the language in operative paragraph 13 and requested that the disassociation be reflected in the agenda item.

The draft was then approved as orally amended without a vote.

The representative of Estonia, speaking in explanation of position on behalf of the European Union, echoed the High Commissioner’s renewed call to assist refugees, displaced persons and stateless persons.  He recalled that States had the primary obligation to meet the needs of populations under their control, including by providing access to impartial humanitarian organizations.

Torture, Degrading Treatment

Turning to promotion and protection of human rights, the Committee took up a draft resolution titled “Torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment” (document A/C.3/L.20/Rev.1)

The representative of Denmark, who introduced the draft, said reports of torture took place in all parts of the world and the General Assembly had a duty speak against those acts.  She said a few operational paragraphs had been introduced, such as encouraging Member States to ensure the prohibition of torture of people under arrest, and to ensure that the United Nations Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners were applied.  Denmark had consulted with Member States to ensure the draft resolution was a consensus text.

The representative of Sudan, proposing amendments to the draft, said the draft resolution gave preferential treatment to the International Criminal Court.  The Court’s selectivity was not incidental and its authority and jurisdiction was a menace to the tenets of peace and inequality.  The inclusion of language in the resolution promoting the role of the Court did not serve its objective to prohibit torture.  He proposed changes to preambular paragraphs 7 and 22, and to operative paragraphs 4 and 13.

The representative of Denmark, in reply, said she regretted that the draft had been challenged, as her country had hosted several meetings to reach consensus on the right to be free from torture, pointing out that preambular paragraph 7 had been in the resolution for more than 10 years.  The resolution did not give any preferential treatment to the International Criminal Court.  All Member States that had participated in the discussions had seen merit in the paragraphs being suggested for amendment and Denmark would vote against the proposed amendments.

The representative of Australia, speaking on behalf of several countries and as a co‑sponsor of the draft resolution, expressed regret over the amendments to preambular paragraph 7 and called on Member States to oppose them.

The representative Estonia, speaking on behalf of the European Union, expressed deep regret over the proposed amendments to preambular paragraph 7 and operative paragraph 4.  Numerous legal instruments were referenced in the text and it was “completely wrong” to say that the International Criminal Court had been given preference.   The primary responsibility to investigate crimes lay with Member States, and the European Union would vote against the amendments.  He called on other States to do the same.

The representative of Germany said preambular paragraph 7 and operative paragraph 4 had been part of the resolution for years.  The language in both paragraphs was balanced and a deletion would send the wrong signals.  Germany would vote against the amendments.

The representative of Brazil, speaking on behalf of a group of States, said the International Criminal Court was the first permanent tribunal set up to end impunity for perpetrators of the most serious crimes.  It was an instrument for peace.  The language included in preambular paragraph 7 and operative paragraph 4 was factually correct and thematically relevant, he said, assuring that his country would vote against the amendments.

The representative of France said the draft cited a number of legal instruments and regretted that those references were being challenged.  She called for opposition to the amendments and reiterated full support for the Court.

The Committee then rejected the oral amendment to preambular paragraph 7 proposed by Sudan by a recorded vote of 21 in favour, to 101 against, with 32 abstentions.

A recorded vote was then requested on amendments to operative paragraph 4.

The representative of Switzerland, speaking on behalf of a group of States, said oral armaments to the paragraph were “extremely unfortunate” as the language had been agreed on since 2011.  It was deeply disturbing that established consensus was being attacked for reasons unrelated to the draft and she would vote against the amendment.

The Committee then rejected the amendment to operative paragraph 4 proposed by Sudan by a recorded vote of 21 in favour, to 102 against, with 32 abstentions.

The representative of Sudan, speaking in a general statement, said the Sudanese Constitution condemned all forms of torture, adding that his country was party to all relevant international instruments on the matter.  The proposal to delete preambular paragraph 7 and operative paragraph 4 had been discussed with the facilitator of consultations, he said, thanking States that had supported the proposals.  He expressed support for the draft resolution as a whole, with the exception of those two paragraphs.

The representative of the United States, speaking in an explanation of position on the draft resolution as a whole, said the prohibition of torture was a priority for her country.  The United States placed great importance on pursuing related legislation and ensuring that Government practices complied with relevant international obligations.  Its co‑sponsorship of the draft did not reflect an endorsement of all the findings included in the report of the Special Rapporteur on the matter.

The Committee then approved the draft resolution “L.20/Rev.1” without a vote.

The representative of Japan, in an explanation of position, welcomed the adoption of the draft by consensus.  He expressed concern that during informal consultations some States had attempted to include language on abolition of the death penalty, saying that such efforts were not in line with the objectives of the draft resolution.  There was no universal understanding that the death penalty constituted torture and it was up to each State to decide to abolish that practice.

The representative of the United States introduced a draft resolution titled “Strengthening the role of the United Nations in enhancing periodic and genuine elections and the promotion of democratization” (document A/C.3/72/L.23), noting that it had 90 co‑sponsors from across all regions.  The text sought to empower citizens and promote successful transitions to democracy, she said, adding that democracy did not belong to any one region, and that the text underscored the importance of sovereignty and non‑interference.

The representative of the Russian Federation, introducing three draft amendments to “L.23”, said the issues addressed in the draft resolution were important to providing assistance to elections.  The Russian Federation supported many elements, but the draft required modification.  The proposals were designed to make the text more balanced. 

She said the first amendment (document A/C.3/72/L.64) sought to introduce a new preambular paragraph which stressed the importance of involving State electoral bodies.  The second amendment (document A/C.3/72/L.65) proposed the inclusion of a new operative paragraph which would stress the importance of observer missions abiding by the principles of non‑interference in the affairs of host Member States.  The third amendment (document A/C.3/72/L.66) deleted from operative paragraph 13 the reference to the so‑called declaration of principles and code of conduct for international election observers, as that document was not the product of intergovernmental expert agreement, but rather, prepared by civil society. 

She said the Russian Federation could not agree to legitimize through a General Assembly resolution a document elaborated by a group of non‑governmental organizations without discussion at the intergovernmental level.  Expressing hope that the amendments would be accepted by the cosponsors, she said that if they were not, the Russian Federation called for a vote on them.

The representative of the United States, in explanation of vote before the vote on draft amendment “L.64” called a vote and said her Government would vote against the amendment.  Resolution “L.23” was not primarily about election observation missions, she said, adding that the amendment inappropriately drew attention away from the focus of the resolution, and could undermine the ability of the United Nations election assistance division to provide assistance.  She urged delegations to vote against the “hostile” amendment.

The representative of Estonia, on behalf of the European Union, said the bloc opposed the amendments, calling on all Member States to support the resolution as tabled.  Resolution “L.23” underlined the importance of regional instruments and of respecting the free will of voters.

The representative of Switzerland, also speaking on behalf of Australia, Canada, Iceland, New Zealand, Norway and Liechtenstein, said the resolution already covered the issue of election observation and so the amendments were not needed.  Switzerland would vote against the three amendments and called on all other delegations to do the same.

The representative of Timor‑Leste said his delegation would like to withdraw its support for the amendment and instead support the resolution.

The representative of Malawi said her country would no longer support the amendment.

The representative of Venezuela reiterated his country’s co‑sponsorship of the amendment.

The Committee then rejected draft amendment “L.64” by a recorded vote of 39 in favour, to 79 against, with 32 abstentions.

Turning to the second amendment, “L.65”, the representative of the United States said the proposed amendment drew attention away from the importance of ensuring that States respected the will of the people.  She urged Member States to vote against it.

The representative of Venezuela said the amendment was important, stressing that his country always had international observers in its elections.

The Committee then rejected the draft amendment “L.65” by a recorded vote of 40 in favour, to 77 against, with 29 abstentions.

The representative of the United States called a vote on amendment “L.66”, saying the “vexatious and hostile” amendments should not have been submitted.  Throughout the proposal, the Russian Federation had sought to delete previously agreed language which had been adopted for years. 

The representative of the Russian Federation, in a general statement to the representative of the United States, said that for many years her country had introduced an amendment, and each time, had explained its position, urging the United States to take into account the position of delegations supporting the amendment.  The United States had stubbornly refused to hold discussions on the point of that paragraph.

The representative of the United States, in point of order, asked if sponsors of amendments to proposals could make general statements.

A Secretariat official responded that co‑sponsors could indeed make general statements.

The Committee then rejected the draft amendment “L.66” by a recorded vote of 25 in favour, to 88 against, with 34 abstentions.

The Chair then called on the Committee to take action on draft resolution “L.23” as a whole and noted that a recorded vote had been requested.

The representative of the United States asked the Chair to identify which delegation had called for a recorded vote.

The Chair said the Russian Federation had called for the recorded vote.

The representative of Norway said the draft highlighted the link between free and fair elections, and stability.  Stressing the role of regional and subregional organizations in providing electoral assistance, he said human rights were universal.  States had the primary responsibility to oversee elections.  He would vote in favour of the draft and urged other States to do the same.

The representative of China, speaking in explanation of vote, said he would abstain, noting that there were multiple forms of democracy around the world, with no one‑size‑fits all approach to improve democratic practices.  He stressed the importance of the principle of non‑interference and expressed deep disappointment that it had not been included in the draft.

The representative of South Africa said her country placed high premium on the Vienna Declaration and Programme of Action which emphasized the interdependence of democracy, development and respect for human rights.  The omission of the nexus between economic development and democratization reflected inadequacies in the draft.  States committed to democratization should not have to choose between “printing ballot papers” or feeding their people, she stressed, noting that South Africa would continue to engage with the resolution in the future in the hopes those issues would be given due attention.

The representative of the Russian Federation said free elections were a key element in the life of all States.  As a result, the basic goals of international assistance must be the protection and encouragement of the right to free elections and referenda.  She expressed support for most elements of the draft and strongly condemned illegal interference in the internal affairs of States.  Expressing disappointment over the reluctance of co‑sponsors to compromise on certain issues, she expressed hope that the United States would remember that the draft was of great importance to all Member States.

The Committee then approved the draft resolution by a recorded vote of 148 in favour, to 0 against, with 14 abstentions.

The representative of Singapore, speaking in an explanation of vote, recognized the importance of free and periodic elections.  Under existing legislation in his country, persons with disabilities could gain assistance from a presiding officer when voting, and the vote remained secret, he assured.

International Day of Remembrance

Turning to the promotion and protection of human rights, the representative of Afghanistan introduced the draft resolution “International Day of Remembrance of and Tribute to the Victims of Terrorism” (document A/C.3/72/L.24).  The draft aimed to promote international solidarity with victims of terrorism and he urged Member States to adopt it by consensus.

The Committee approved the draft resolution without a vote.

For information media. Not an official record.