Sixth Committee (Legal) — 76th session

Protection of persons in the event of disasters (Agenda item 87)

Documentation

Summary of work

Background (source: A/76/100)

At its seventy-first session, the Assembly, under the item entitled “Report of the International Law Commission on the work of its sixty-eighth session”, decided to include in the provisional agenda of its seventy-third session an item entitled “Protection of persons in the event of disasters”. The Assembly invited Governments to submit comments concerning the recommendation by the Commission to elaborate a convention on the basis of the draft articles on the protection of persons in the event of disasters presented by the Commission (resolution 71/141).

At its seventy-third session, the Assembly decided to include the item in the provisional agenda of its seventy-fifth session (resolution 73/209).

At its seventy-fifth session, the Assembly allocated the item to the Sixth Committee, where statements in the debate were made by 29 delegations (see A/C.6/75/SR.1719). The Assembly decided to defer the consideration of the agenda item to the seventy-sixth session of the Assembly (decision 75/526).

Consideration at the seventy-sixth session

The Sixth Committee considered the item at its 12th, 13th, and 29th meetings, on 18 and 21 October and 18 November 2021 (A/C.6/76/SR.12, 13 and 29).

For its consideration of the item, the Committee had before it the report of the Secretary-General submitted to the General Assembly at its seventy-fifth session (A/75/214).

During the debate on this item, statements were made by the representatives of Antigua and Barbuda (on behalf of Alliance of Small Island States), Sweden (on behalf of the Nordic countries (Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway and Sweden)), Singapore, Sierra Leone, Bangladesh, the Islamic Republic of Iran, Cuba, the Philippines, Colombia, the Syrian Arab Republic, Portugal, China, the United States of America, Israel, Italy, Brazil, El Salvador, Mexico, Viet Nam, Jamaica, Guatemala, India, Ethiopia, the Federated States of Micronesia, Egypt, Nigeria, Malaysia, Kenya, Saudi Arabia, Mauritania, Thailand, the Russian Federation, and Honduras.

Several delegations welcomed further discussion on the item in the Sixth Committee and expressed appreciation for the work of the International Law Commission and the Special Rapporteur on the topic. Taking note of the increasing frequency and severity of natural and human-made disasters and the related challenge of climate change, a number of delegations stressed the imperative to develop means to prevent and mitigate the effects of disasters. Some delegations spoke about recent experiences either as an affected State or as a responding State.

Several delegations supported the elaboration of an international convention on the basis of the draft articles, which could contribute to progressive development of international law governing disaster response. Some delegations expressed openness to discussing the advantages and disadvantages of elaborating such a convention. Concern about specific aspects of certain draft articles was also raised. Other delegations expressed the view that protection of persons in the event of disasters was best addressed through guidelines and practical cooperation or found the elaboration of a convention to be premature.

A number of delegations welcomed the broad scope of the draft articles, which included both natural and man-made disasters. Other delegations stressed that it was important to preserve a clear distinction between natural and man-made disasters, as they are governed by different legal rules. Several delegations commended the emphasis of the draft articles on human rights and human dignity. Several delegations emphasized the importance of the principles of the sovereignty of States and non-interference in the internal affairs of States. The importance of attention to the particularly vulnerable and the need to integrate a gender perspective in managing disasters was emphasized. Delegations considered that the draft articles could help contribute to the achievement of various Sustainable Development Goals. A number of delegations also mentioned the role of disaster risk reduction in relation to forced displacement.

Some delegations expressed the view that the draft articles reflected existing State practice and principles of international law, and that they constituted progressive development of international law. It was also stated that some draft articles codified existing rules of international law, while others did not. The need to avoid overlap with existing or future norms of international law was mentioned.

A number of delegations referred to existing regional and international soft law instruments and initiatives on disaster risk management, including the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction 2015–2030 (resolution 69/283). Delegations emphasized importance of international cooperation in response to disasters and welcomed the exchange of good practices and relevant information. Some described relevant national policies and legal frameworks.

Many delegations saw the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic as highlighting the importance of the draft articles as well as of multilateralism and international cooperation in the area of disaster prevention and relief. Certain delegations considered that pandemics might qualify as “disasters” in accordance with the definition provided in draft article 3 (a), while others expressed doubts in this regard.

Archived videos and summaries of plenary meetings

Video   12th meeting (18 October 2021, 3:00pm – 6:00pm) | Summary

Video   13th meeting (21 October 2021, 10:00am – 1:00pm) | Summary

Video   29th meeting (18 November 2021, 10:00am – 1:00pm) | Summary

Action taken by the Sixth Committee

At the 29th meeting, on 18 November 2021, the representative of Indonesia, on behalf of the Bureau, introduced a draft resolution entitled “Protection of persons in the event of disasters” (A/C.6/76/L.20). At the same meeting, the Committee adopted draft resolution A/C.6/76/L.20, as orally revised, without a vote.

Under the terms of the draft resolution, the General Assembly would decide to examine the draft articles and to consider further the recommendation of the Commission for the elaboration of a convention by the General Assembly or by an international conference of plenipotentiaries on the basis of the draft articles, or any other potential course of action with respect to the draft articles, within the framework of a working group of the Committee, to be convened for four full consecutive days at the seventy-eighth and seventy-ninth sessions of the Assembly. The working group will report to the Sixth Committee at the seventy-ninth session of the General Assembly on the outcome of its deliberations, with a view to the Committee making a recommendation to the Assembly as to any further action to take in respect of the draft articles.

Subsequent action taken by the General Assembly

This agenda item will be considered at the seventy-eighth session (2023).

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